A family friend emailed me about her oldest daughter, who is having a hard time trying to break up with her boyfriend. The issue? He just won’t accept it. He’s trying to convince her that she’s making a mistake, and she’s too nice to ignore his calls. That brutal combination is wearing her out.

 

It’s called selective hearing, a common problem in those who spend a lot of time around the opposite sex.

 

So, what are you supposed to do when the person you’re trying to not date won’t get the hint? Or worse, when they just won’t take no for an answer?

It’s not easy; no one wants to have to be brutally honest, rubbing all of someone’s annoying traits and horrible habits in their face. Nor should it come to that. But remember: The hardest messages to get are the ones we don’t want to hear.

It comes in all forms, at all stages of relationships, too. Take my dad for example. It's hilarious, taking note of when he responds to my mom, and even more interestingly, when he doesn’t. When she talks about unloading the dishwasher: nada, zilch, nothing. But when her next request—spoken from the same location at the same tone—involves figuring out where they should go for dinner, magically, he hears her.

My dad turns 60 next month. Do I think he should get his hearing checked? Sure. Do I think he might benefit from a hearing aid? Perhaps. Do I think hearing loss is really his problem? Not a chance.

I’ll tell you what my dad’s got. It’s called selective hearing, a common problem in those who spend a lot of time around the opposite sex.

Unfortunately, this ailment occurs in both genders, at all ages, and there is no cure on the way. But there is a way to deal with people who just don’t get it.

BE DIRECT AND CLEAR

I thought I could just do the fade out last year when I didn’t want to date this guy anymore. I didn’t respond to his texts and calls as quickly, and made excuses when he asked to hang out. But when he persisted, I knew he wasn’t getting the hint. I had to be straight with him. I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea that we talk or see each other anymore.

Ouch.

Rejection hurts. But lying and leading someone on does much worse damage. So get the message across—direct and clear—sooner, rather than later. Don’t let it linger. People will hear what they want and act accordingly, looking for any window of opportunity. It’s like the old joke, “I would only date you if you were the last man on Earth, and we were responsible for keeping the species going.” “So, you’re saying there’s a chance?”

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED…

...try, try again. You can give her one more fair chance to hear you out and understand why you feel the way you do, but be careful not to get stuck in a circular argument. Once you realize she’s not on the same page as you—and she shows no chance of getting there either—you have to move on.

If that doesn’t work, then you have no choice but to ignore her. She'sasked for it at this point, so don’t sweat it. Delete her contact from your phone, unfollow her on Twitter, and defriend her on Facebook. She'll get the point loud and clear.

On the other hand, it’s unnecessary to tell a woman that you don’t want to talk to her anymore. If that’s the case, then just stop speaking to them.

ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS

Maybe even more important than your honest message is how you act after delivering it. Sending mixed signals by saying one thing and doing another will only put you right back where you started. It’s not nice, either. If you say you don’t want to talk anymore, then don’t text her a few days later—or ever—asking how she’s doing. She will interpret that as you caring, and be tortured wondering why you don’t want more.

Stick to your guns and she will respect you and your decision. And even if she doesn’t, you’ll still be able to respect yourself because you’ve done the correct thing. Be a man of your word, no matter how hard it is to do so.

I think we’d all be better off if we felt comfortable enough saying, “I’m not that into you.” But protect yourself by doing your part to be a little more alert to the signals of others. You need to recognize that a faraway look in her eyes might not be her imagining the two of you on a beach somewhere, but instead checking the room for escape routes.

Can you hear me now?

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