There are people – some of them men – who won’t take no for an answer. But you haven’t tried no – or any of the variations: “Nuh-uh,” “Are you crazy?” or “The only way you’re ever getting into my pants is if you’re trying on ladies clothing at Goodwill.”
Women have a tendency to be hinty and otherwise indirect in telling a guy they aren’t interested. As personal security expert Gavin de Becker puts it in The Gift of Fear: “Rejecting women often say less than they mean,” and “men often hear less than what is said.” Men’s poor, um, hearing actually seems to be an evolutionary design feature. Research by evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton and David Buss suggests that men evolved to be poor guessers about women’s sexual interest in them – erring on the side of assuming a woman’s interested when they have no definitive sign that she isn’t (as in adult variations on “off my case, toilet face!”).
As Buss explains the likely benefit from this “sexual overperception bias,” it leads men “to believe that a woman is sexually interested in them in response to ambiguous cues such as a smile or going to a bar alone,” and thus functions to keep men from “missing sexual opportunities.” (Or – in somewhat less scientific terms – it gives a man a chance at passing his genetic material on to the next generation instead of into an old tube sock.)
You don’t have to be cruel, but something a little more hope-crushing than “I’d love to” would be a start. Saying you’re “busy” doesn’t cut it, as it suggests that all that’s keeping the guy from getting into your ladybusiness are scheduling conflicts. The most effective rejection is a direct one – like this one I suggested in Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck: “Thanks so much. I’m really flattered, but I’m sorry to say that I’m just not interested.” Though “I’m flattered” might seem condescending, it softens the blow – without being misleading. It suggests that you believe the person you’re rejecting has some merits, as opposed to what may actually be the truth: “I would rather be pecked to death by angry hens than have sex with you.”