The Fine Art Of Rejection: How to Gracefully Say “No”

Ah, the awkward moment. Your friend or partner has surprised you with a sweeping grand gesture, and you realize that it’s not exactly your cup o’ tea. Your friend asks you to come on a really expensive bachelorette’s weekend, but you can’t afford it. Your boyfriend wants to introduce you to his parents, but you’re not ready for that milestone. Someone cooks you a massive roast chicken dinner, but you’re a vegetarian. How do you handle it? What do you say?

Clearly, as this video below will attest to, not all of us know how to handle “no” with grace. This lady, whose boyfriend surprised her with a sweeping proposal (mariachi band!) in a food court packed with people, had no clue how to handle such a situation. Maybe she loved him and wanted to marry him, or maybe she didn’t, but we’ll never know. After the poor lovesick bloke got down on one knee, instead of handling the situation with a level of grace and respect, she selfishly ran out of the place. You could make the argument that his grand romantic gesture was humiliating for her, but it was clearly done with the best intentions (a.k.a. love). Her public humiliation of him just strikes me as malicious:

Her reaction is not only heartbreaking to watch, it’s also makes my inner Emily Post cringe. There is a way to handle such sticky situations that honors the person on the giving end while still making sure your needs are met.

Here’s a less high-stakes analogy that I have to endure frequently: I don’t drink alcohol. At all. I’m a complete teetotaler. I wish that it was for some uber-cool reason like being a recovering alcoholic or something bad-ass and vice-worthy, but really, it’s simply because I don’t like the taste of booze. At the same time, I love to par-tay. I love doing the whole go-shorty-it’s-your-birthday-put-your-thing-down-on-the-dancefloor thing when my girls and I hit the club. I’m all about givin’er, but for most people that would involve imbibing a level of stupor-sauce before, during, and after. On nights out, my girls (and the occasional fellas) are frequently insisting I drink. I’m never sure why (either they don’t want to drink alone, or they think I won’t have a good time otherwise) but more often than not, someone buys me a drink, and it falls upon me to have to refuse it. They’ve already paid for my drink, there’s no substitutions, exchanges, or refunds. Oh cripes, how to handle this delicately…

First the gushing thank you: “Aw sweety, that’s so generous of you!”
Secondly, the polite refusal coupled with a warning for next time: “I don’t drink, unfortunately, I wish you would have asked me ahead of time.”
Followed by the alternative: “How about I hold onto this drink for you? When you’re done yours, you can have mine!”
Finished off by appreciation-gesture: A big hug or playful-whack on the bum ought to drive the lurve home. Actions speak louder than words. Hugs say “I love you even though you’re a careless nitwit sometimes.”

Obviously, this cavalier approach to rejecting a marriage proposal might not be apropos, but surely the ideas behind it can be applied. If you’re not ready for marriage, but your fella pops the question anyway, tell him you love him. Hold him close and tell him how much his gesture means to you. Only say what you mean, don’t lie. And obviously, when the room has cleared and you’re alone with him, tell him your thoughts and feelings.

As awkward and nerve-wracking as it is for him to propose, it is equally awkward and nerve-wracking for you to summon your response.

And like it or not, you’ll be judged harshly on how you handle it. If not by him, then by me. You’ve been warned.

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    • Idy

      Wow, just yesterday I was having this same conversation with someone about my non-alcoholic habits. Thank you for helping me get around the awkward situation!!!

    • Anna

      In no way do I think she was malicious. I think she was just shocked and did not know what else to do. I know that I hate public attention, it makes me absolutely freak out. So if my boyfriend were to propose to me in public, I might (in fright) say sorry and leave, because my natural inclination in the face of attention is to flee. If you are proposing to someone, you should know them well enough to know whether or not they would appreciate something public. If you know the person might be uncomfortable and you do it anyway, then you are selfish because you are only doing it to bring attention to yourself.

    • Dani

      Malicious? No way.

      This is why you should talk to your significant other about the possibility of marriage before you go ahead and do something boneheaded like this.

      You’re basically forcing the person you’re proposing to to say yes, since if they leave or say no they’re being “malicious” for humiliating the asker. I can’t think of a worse position to be in than to be asked in a public situation like this.