What to Do When Someone Tells You They Like You

Crystal Schwanke
couple in park

Intimacy can be scary. Figuring out what to do when someone finally comes clean and tells you they like you is just the tip of the new relationship iceberg. Emotions can make dealing with this difficult - but here are some strategies that may help.

When Someone Says They Like You

There are short-term and long-term processes that have to happen when someone likes you as more than a friend. The mistakes people make in these situations are the subject of many comedies and tragedies alike from Greek mythology to Sex and the City.

There are no real hard and fast rules for human relationships, no matter how many books and TV talk show hosts may like to pretend otherwise. However, there are some guidelines to dealing with affection that may help reduce the drama involved and may lead to a happy romance.

Short Term Strategies

When someone says they like you, it puts you on the spot, and you will probably feel like you need to respond immediately, whether you like them back or not. However, when you're in the moment, you may feel frozen to the spot and not know what to do. Here are a few ideas.

Say Thank You

Regardless of whether you return the sentiment, acknowledge the person has just paid you a compliment. They were probably nervous about doing so, and that makes it all the more meaningful. The first thing to say is "Thank you for telling me!" It's simple, it's polite, and it sets a tone of conversation that can help defuse some of the tension. It also gives you a chance to deal with the other short-term strategies.

Go With Your Gut

You will have an initial reaction to hearing someone likes you. It will be immediately positive or negative, and easy to tell. About five seconds later, though, the analytical mind will start to examine and tear apart this initial reaction. That's fine, it's there to protect you but never forget that initial reaction. If you don't like someone, but try to talk yourself into it ("He's rich, he's handsome, everybody else likes him!") you are almost certainly going to end up miserable. Likewise, if you do feel attraction to someone but start criticizing the feeling ("What would my parents think?") you are setting yourself up as your own antagonist. You don't have to tell the person how you feel right away, but recognize your initial reaction as being one that is true. You'll examine that later.

Choose A, B, or C

Don't let yourself get shocked into returning the sentiment because you're surprised and don't want to hurt their feelings. You have options when someone confesses their feelings.

  • A is when you like the person, and there doesn't seem to be any reason not to tell them. If you've been thinking about how much you like them then this is exactly the time to tell them, "I like you too!"
  • B is when you have been worried about this event because you can tell they like you, and you know the feeling isn't mutual. In that case, you need to tell them in the traditional way: "I like you, but not in that way." It's better to be honest if you are sure of this.
  • C is when you aren't sure and when it comes as a surprise. There is nothing wrong with saying "Thank you for telling me! Wow, that's a surprise. I need some time to process this. Can we talk more about it later?" Because the brain likes surprises (according to findings in a study Dr. Gregory Berns, an assistant psychiatry professor at Emory University in Atlanta, performed), you may get a rush of the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine, as long as the surprise isn't a negative one (as with option B). If you're not sure how you feel, taking some time to think about it will be your best bet.

Long Term Strategies

holding hands

The strategy for choice "A" above is pretty simple: Live happily ever after. Or just date awhile. Take things as they come and enjoy each other's company in this new light.

If you have to refuse their affections, remember honesty is far less cruel than leading someone on. One of the biggest fears of telling someone you like them is you may lose them as a friend. The only way to avoid this is to set and keep personal boundaries in how you spend time together, and how you show the ways you do like each other. To muddy the waters will only lead to more confused feelings and mixed signals.

If you are taking time to think about it, make sure you make it a priority. Try to find a place and time when you can focus on your feelings. Make sure that you differentiate between what are true feelings and what are outside voices trying to convince you of what you should feel, rather than what you do feel.

Moving Forward

In the end, no one can tell you exactly what to do when someone says they like you. When it happens, you are taking part in one of the most integral and beautiful parts of the human experience. It's easy to handle if you return their affections! If you're less enthusiastic about dating or entering a relationship, do make sure you're gentle with their feelings whether you're taking a few days to think about how you feel or letting them down on the spot. If you're good friends, you may find you have to work a little harder to make the friendship seem natural again because the person who confessed they like you might be feeling awkward and unsure of how to proceed.

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What to Do When Someone Tells You They Like You