When I moved to Toronto to escape the heteronormative pressures of the suburbs, nothing could have prepared me for the attention I was going to receive. I’m not bragging — it was merely circumstantial. The city hosts a sizeable, tight-knit queer community, so when I moved in one block away from the “Gay Village,” a street teeming with the city’s most popular gay bars and businesses, people took notice of the new queer in town. 

This surge in interest worked wonders for my confidence. I was averaging four dates a week and, though I’m not proud to say it, these experiences made me a proficient ghoster. I was in a new and exciting phase of my life, and I didn’t want to be bogged down by commitment

I felt bad about the ghosting, I really did. I knew the right thing to do was to tell these people the truth, but I didn’t have the heart to do it. “I’m a people-pleaser,” I’d convince myself. As both a bona fide Cancer and radical empath, I couldn’t gather the courage to tell these guys that I wasn’t into them, or that I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship. Yes, I get that I was selfish.

Eventually, things got messy, and to this day I have no idea how to reject someone without feeling like a heartless monster. Clearly, it’s a worthwhile skill to learn, so here I am.

Plan and prepare.

Like most difficult conversations, you’re going to want to be in the right headspace when it comes time to reject someone. First, make sure you are 100% ready to break things off. 

You don’t want a situation where you are unsure and can be easily convinced into not going through with what you know is the right decision,” says April Davis, owner and founder of LUMA, a luxury matchmaking service.

It sounds extra, but open your Notes app and jot down the reasons this person isn’t for you. That way, you know in your heart and mind the exact reasons you are walking away. It will give you peace of mind. 

“Prepare what you plan to say, and be ready to adapt based on what the other person’s reaction is,” Davis adds. “Practice in front of a mirror if it helps you.”

Claire AH, dating coach and owner of Friend of a Friend Matchmaking, agrees that you can only benefit from proper planning. Would you prefer to field their questions now or later? Do you want to debrief with them? Are you open to keeping in touch? “Of course, nothing is set in stone, but the more stability you feel going into it, the easier it will be to stand your ground,” she says.

Don’t procrastinate.

While it’s perfectly normal to want to put off an unpleasant conversation, it’ll only make things worse. “This is because you’re giving your heart time to win the battle against your logical thinking and, therefore, giving yourself enough time to reconsider something that you know, deep down, is for the best,” Davis says. “The longer you drag out the rejection, the longer the other person will assume things are going great, which makes the rejection that much harder to accept when you finally get around to it.”

Avoid specifics.3

When rejecting someone, you want to be honest, but you want to do it in a tactful and gentle way. To inform that, Davis and AH both believe you should come equipped with a reason for the rejection. Davis recommends keeping the script you-focused by using “I” statements. Saying something as simple as “I’m not happy” or “I’m not feeling it” is totally valid. 

“If you can avoid unnecessary platitudes (‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ ‘You’re too good for me,’ etc.) that’s probably for the best,” AH says. “And don’t give specific feedback — it’ll just make them feel worse.”

“If you can avoid unnecessary platitudes (‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ ‘You’re too good for me,’ etc.) that’s probably for the best,” AH says. “And don’t give specific feedback — it’ll just make them feel worse.”

Stand your ground.

One you’ve said your piece, their retorts and display of pain might encourage you to retract your decision, but don’t give in. “This just ends up stretching out the uncomfortable process, leaving you frustrated and unsatisfied while giving the other person hope,” Davis says.

Experiencing guilt is normal, says Deanna Cobden, dating and relationship expert at Dateworks. “Realize that you’re feeling this way because you are a compassionate and caring person,” she says. “Yes, it will hurt them now, but it really is the best for you both in the long run. It’s natural to feel guilty, but in the end, you are not personally responsible for their emotions or happiness.”

Decide how to move forward.

The conversation has happened, but things aren’t quite over yet. You still need a course of action for moving forward. “Get clear on your boundaries and how willing you are (or are not) to receive texts and calls afterward,” Cobden says.

If you agree to hold off on communication for now, don’t feel obligated to reply if they reach out. “If you don’t keep strong boundaries, you aren’t doing anyone any favors,” Cobden says. “It just leads them on, and you end up in a toxic loop and completely emotionally exhausted.” 

If they keep at it, block their number and them on social media. Or, if you’re not ready to  do that (or feel it’s too cruel), stop responding to texts, don’t answer calls, and mute or unfollow them. Whatever you do, do not like photos or leave comments — it will only get their hopes up and lead you both back into the toxic cycle.

Go through the normal healing process.

Breaking up with someone can be just as tough as being broken up with, so go easy on yourself. If you’re feeling blue, standard post-breakup self-care is a good idea. Take time to grieve, hang with friends, and binge “Cheer.” If you’re the type of person who tends to check in with a therapist or coach after a big life change, now is a good time to do that.

“Just know that you’re not a monster,” AH says. “Breaking up with someone is a nearly universal experience. As long as you do your best to be kind and respectful, you did everything you could.”