The AOI Guide on How to Say No

Saying ‘no’ when you don’t want to do something on a date or in a relationship should be easy, right? 

But we all know that in reality, it feels tricky. You may feel awkward, worried, relieved or guilty. You may end up being mean or insensitive. Or in wanting to avoid that, you may end up not being clear enough. And our dating culture, in which we are supposed to be cool and down for anything unless we want to be labelled prudes, makes it hard to be honest about what we truly want.  

It may be complicated, but we definitely need to figure it out – it’s time we started talking about these things more. Here are some scenarios in which you might feel like saying no, and here’s how to say it.

1. When you are just not interested

When someone tries to ask you out or make a move and you’re really not feeling it, say a polite no. If the situation isn’t a scary or threatening one, a little kindness in your delivery can’t hurt. Something like a simple, “Thanks, but I’m not interested in you in that way,” will be fine.

If they’re persistent and refuse to hear it, keep saying it – politely but firmly.

2. When you don’t want to change the equation

You have a friend and happy with where things are, but they want something more. This can be tricky, because you don’t want to hurt them. 

If you’re thinking, “I really value this person as a friend, but I don’t want to take things further,” the most respectful thing you can do is to be honest about those feelings. And be firm if necessary; there may be some hurt caused, but beating around the bush, sugar-coating your response or giving a misleading answer – for instance by hinting that you’re not interested now but could be in the future, even if you don’t actually feel this way – isn’t doing your friend any favours. 

3. When you’re interested but not ready

When you’re with someone you like but don’t feel ready and just want to take it slow, have you ever wanted to say, “It’s too soon”, or “No, but just for right now”?

You might even worry that if you go ahead and say this, you’re leading someone on, or that they might take it as rejection and walk away. But it’s important to say it anyway. If the person you’re with is considerate of your feelings, they will accept your answer and won’t push you any further.

4. (Not) In The Mood For Love

You’re in a relationship with someone. But there are times when you’re not quite feeling it or you’re caught up in something else. What’s a good way of saying “Uh…can we just not?”

Sometimes these cues don’t need to be verbal – sometimes gently setting aside a lover’s wandering hand or meeting a passionate kiss with a quick peck will do the trick. Sometimes people evolve a language of their own and these things are easily understood. But sometimes a no can be taken for coyness or shyness, or maybe they just missed the signal you were sending. In which case you could say, “I don’t feel like doing this right now.”

5. When you’re just somehow uneasy

In some situations, you just feel a no – you may not know why, but you just do. Maybe there’s a power differential at play, or you feel like the other person isn’t considerate of what you want (or don’t want), or you feel like they’re taking advantage of a situation in which they know it’s hard for you to say no.

A lot of the time this uneasiness comes from their being no room for your “No”. When our hesitation and non-verbal no’s are ignored, we often lose the confidence to say no outright. It’s something to remind ourselves – to understand what is being communicated to us (if the other person is deliberately ignoring your discomfort about something, are they really interested in your feelings?), and to communicate in turn what we really feel, slowly but surely. 

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Remember, consent is not like Amitabh Bachchan in K3G – keh diya toh keh diya types. Matlab, it is not irrevocable or absolute. Rather, it is something we figure out at many different romantic and sexual junctures – from the first move to the middle of making out, during a one-night stand or a no-strings-attached or long-term relationship. For fun to happen, there has to be marzi – Marzi hai Minimum! Learning to say no when that’s how we really feel is an important skill to develop. And just as we would like someone to respect our feelings when we say “No”, we have to learn to be able to hear – and accept – a “No” too!

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