Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

How Do I Become Someone Women Feel Safe Rejecting?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: This might seem like a weird question, but it is something i’ve been thinking about. I apologize if my phrasing is awkward, English isn’t my first language.

I consider myself a feminist and I am sympathetic to the situation that men put girls in. You often talk about how women feel the need to give a “soft” no,  or not to reject at all, but to give a false hope since they might be afraid of the consequences if the reject too harshly. Everything from name-calling to physical abuse and such.

Consent and eagerness to go on a date is important to me. If they’re not stoked on going on a date, I don’t want to go on that date. However, when asking girls out I sometime get the “How nice! However I can’t that day since I am doing XYZ”.

Even though this is a rejection the fact that she said that it was nice/used another positive adjective, I feel like she didn’t reject cause she necessarily didn’t want to, she just couldn’t that particular day.

However, if a girl were to reject a guy as softly as possible, she would probably frame it as not being able to, rather that not wanting to. So how do I distinguish between those scenarios? I would hate to be a pushy guy, who doesn’t take no for an answer.


Nervous Scandinavian

DEAR NERVOUS SCANDINAVIAN: Before we get into this, NS, I just want to make a slight correction for clarity’s sake: women aren’t giving “false hope” when they use a soft “no”. A soft no is more about providing a plausible reason why that person (guys and non-binary folks will use soft no’s too) can’t do the thing. This way, it’s easier to believe that they aren’t saying “no” out of disinterest but because circumstances outside of everyone’s control won’t allow it. This means that the person doing the refusing doesn’t feel rude for saying no (or doesn’t feel at risk by doing so) and the person being refused can save face and not take it as a rejection of them, personally.

As a general rule, people generally recognize a soft no when they hear one. Most of the time, when we question whether that was a soft no or a genuine impediment, it’s because we don’t want to take it as a no, and so we latch onto the conditional. However, there are times when it may be hard to tell.

How can you tell the difference? Well, a good rule of thumb is that someone who is into you will make an effort to see you. If someone would like to go on a date with you and has a conflict of some sort — they’ve got an appointment that day, for example — they will usually make a point of suggesting an alternate day or time. If you ask someone on a date and they say “I can’t that day because XYZ, but I’m available next week…” then that’s not a soft no, just a scheduling conflict. If all they give is a reason why they can’t, then it’s almost certainly a “no, thank you”.

Now the way that you can be someone that women feel comfortable refusing or turning down is to take rejection with good grace. The more you can take a “thank you, but I’m not interested” like a gentleman and not get upset or change how you behave, the more comfortable people will be. And there are ways that you can signal in advance that it’s ok to say no. While I’m not a fan of pre-rejecting yourself, you can always invite the no; “Hey, it’s totally cool if not but would you like to…”

Of course, if I’m being honest, I’m not a huge fan of this approach for most things as it tends to come across more as “It’s ok if you don’t want to go out with me, I wouldn’t want to go out with me either.” However, if it’s a large ask — finding out if a platonic friend is open to going on a date, for example — then inviting the no is telling them in advance that you’re going to be cool if they turn you down, which can help diffuse potential awkwardness.

But let’s say you’re in a position where you get “I can’t, I’m doing XYZ that day” and they don’t propose an alternate day… but you’re genuinely unsure whether that’s a no or not? Leave the ball in their court. Tell them “Hey, no problem. Let me know if you change your mind,” and then just move the conversation on to something else. If you do this, it’s important to not keep circling back to ask “Well, how about now?” You’ve made your interest known; if she decides she would like to go on a date with you, she presumably knows where and how to find you.

And here’s the thing: being able to take “no” in stride means you’re more likely to hear “yes”. It doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to turn that person around and get a date, but it does mean that you’re the kind of person people feel comfortable with. And that, in turn, means that those people will be more likely to want to pursue something with you. Attraction can’t exist without comfort and safety, after all.

Good luck.

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I wanted to write in with an update to my situation. I wrote in previously about a new friendship that felt like it was falling apart (July 2019, “Why Is This Friendship Fizzling Out?”). Your advice was to not assume it had anything to do with my worth, and I really appreciated that. It helped put things into perspective and let me see the situation clearly.

That friend I wrote in about did turn out to be a bit of a narcissist after all (I don’t throw that term around lightly). However, I did manage to meet another person in that group who has turned into a genuine and long-lasting friend. Not only did he validate what I was experiencing with the original friend, but he also treated me like I would expect a friend should – being emotionally engaged and attentive, friendly, kind, having good boundaries, a 50/50 back and forth, etc. Not only that, but it sounds like that original friend group completely imploded recently and I’m grateful I wasn’t in the middle of it all.

So thank you for encouraging me to take a step back! It gave me the opportunity to put energy into a better connection which is ultimately what I wanted out of the entire situation. Plus this new friend brought along a separate but smaller and quite lovely group of people. Slowly I am building up my social network and it feels very wholesome and good!

No Longer Sick and Abandoned!

DEAR NO LONGER SICK AND ABANDONED: Thank you so much for writing in and letting us know how you’re doing NSLA! I always love to hear back how things have been going for folks who’ve written in before.

Glad to know that you’re doing better and building a stronger social network! Here’s to building stronger boundaries, better communication and better friends.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (; or to his email,