This story appears in the November 2016 issue of Playboy. Subscribe

Q:I met a woman on OkCupid; we’ve gone on five dates and slept together once. Although I find her attractive, a spark is missing. I like hanging out with her, but I definitely don’t want us to keep dating. I’ve been texting her less often and mentioning other women, but she still asks me out. How do I put her in the friend zone?

A:You’re just not into her. It happens. You cannot feign chemistry—and don’t try, because pheromones will win every time. It’s important for you to realize that no matter how you present it, the term friend zone implies rejection, and not many people take kindly to being rejected. Unless the two of you are as serene as high priestess Gwyneth Paltrow and puppy dog Chris Martin, a “conscious uncoupling” is tricky to navigate, particularly if you don’t have much history together. That said, it’s not impossible, as long as you avoid the mistakes most men make when trying to bail on an intimate relationship.

First off, don’t suddenly start acting squirrelly, being less responsive or flaking on plans. Instead of ripping off the Band-Aid, you’ll only be tugging on it hair by painful hair. In this attempt to avoid confrontation, you’ll end up hurting her more.

You should also not bench her. That’s when a man knows he can’t give a woman the commitment she desires but keeps her in his orbit for occasional sex or companionship. A common example of this is asking her to “Netflix and chill” every time you sense she’s pulling away. When you know she has feelings for you but have no intention of taking it to the next level, this is an egregiously selfish move.

Whatever you do, don’t pull the most common of break-up tactics and ghost her. Many argue that in today’s age of low-stakes dating, disappearing without any explanation is acceptable behavior. I disagree. It’s the most cowardly way to disengage. Ghosting leaves the other person in a purgatory where he or she will never stop wondering, Was it something I said? To ghost someone shows zero respect for their feelings and betrays a complete lack of integrity. No one wins.

Lastly, if you want to stay friends, there’s only one way to go about it, and it’s the scariest: Tell her the truth. Recently I went on a few dates with a man I liked. He knew I was looking for something serious because I was up-front with him from the get-go. Four dates in, he told me his feelings didn’t match the intensity of mine. Yes, I was disappointed, but I appreciated his candor. Because of that, he and I are now friends—after enough time had passed to allow my bruised ego to heal. Which brings me to the most important thing to remember when friend-zoning someone: Even if you’re honest about what you want, you can’t control the outcome. In the end, whether she wants to stay friends with you is her decision. Do your best to express your feelings honestly—something many men find difficult but that returns dividends. Your willingness to be forthright will reveal just how much you respect her, and that’s a step in the right direction.

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