The Art of Letting Someone Know You're Already Taken

Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock
Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

It's totally cool for people in relationships to talk to and/or befriend new people. But after an awkward incident the other week, I've been forced to question when the appropriate time is to slide into a conversation that you are already romantically involved.

After I gave a man my number felt just a bit late in the game for him to let me know he had a girlfriend.

Picture this: I was at my favorite local Midtown bar with my best friend, grabbing a few pints after work. It’s a cozy craft beer bar replete with beer-drinking men. My friend and I started talking to a group of said men and within minutes I found myself deeply engrossed in conversation with one of them. Our back-and-forth was only interrupted once, by an invitation from one of his friends for us to all take shots. This man and I were undoubtedly enjoying a mutual attraction. My friend confirmed this suspicion when, after excusing herself to go to the ladies room, she texted me: "It looks like you and this guy are hitting it off! Should I get outta here?"

Surely if my overly supportive best friend saw a spark it couldn't all be in my head, right?

Against everything in my nature, I wrote my number on a cocktail napkin as the guy was asking for his bar tab and handed him the napkin when he turned back to me. He looked down at the napkin, and then back at me. He shook his head.

"I’m sorry," he said. "I have a girlfriend."

Damn you, liquid courage.

I snatched the napkin back, mumbled my apologies, and rejoined the larger group. Later, I played back the conversation and wondered if I had missed some clues. I couldn't recall any. But then, should there have been? To save us all some future awkward interactions, here are some simple rules to follow for when -- and how -- to tell someone like me that you're not single:

Drop your SO's name into the conversation

It is easy enough to casually drop your significant other's name into just about any conversation, regardless of whether you're being hit on. Chances are this will happen organically anyway, assuming you like your relationship in the first place. Someone just told you they saw the new Star Wars? Tell them how you and your bae saw it together last weekend. Maybe a person mentioned a show they love, which your SO coincidentally just finished binge-watching. If someone asks what neighborhood you live in, tell them where you live -- and who you live with. If someone just complimented your clothing or accessories and these were picked out by your SO or given to you as a gift from them, throw that tidbit in there when you say thanks. I think you get the point. An easy variation: say "we" a few times and the other party will either pick up on it or ask, providing you with a simple way to partner-drop.

Don't lead with the fact that you're taken

While announcing you are not single from the get-go is a surefire way to prevent unwanted advances, it is also a way to deter any and all friendly conversations. Why? Because it's obnoxious to automatically assume everyone who talks to you is hitting on you. And that's exactly how you come across when you open with your relationship status.


Subtly show off your ring

If you are married or you're a woman sporting a shiny engagement ring, there are no words necessary. If you are right-handed and want ensure your ring is adequately displayed, become temporarily ambidextrous. Hold your drink in your left hand so when you repeatedly bring it to your lips the person you are conversing with will catch a glimpse and pick up on the nonverbal cue.

Don't ask about the other person's relationship status

You may think that if you ask someone whether they're single, it's an opening for you to divulge your own relationship status. Wrong! While your intentions are noble, your question may make you seem like the interested party. The only reason you should ask if someone is romantically involved is as a polite reciprocation to talking about your own significant other.

Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

Check your phone

We check our phones constantly for texts, calls, the time, battery life, social media notifications, sports scores, and God-only-knows what else. It's a rude habit, but we often forget we're doing it -- so why not use this to your advantage? If you check your phone and see a text or call from your main squeeze, seize the opportunity to pause the conversation. Let the other person know your SO is trying to reach you and you have to call or text them back real quick.

Be direct, not a dick

Some people make it known very early on that they are interested. They will ask if you are single before you ever had the chance to use suggestions 1-5. They know what they want and they are not wasting any time. If the person you are talking to is this direct, be just as direct back, but don't be a dick about it. This person is about to feel a bit foolish so be a kind soul and soften the blow with something like, "I’m flattered, but I am actually taken." If they haven’t been too obvious with their flirting you may even be able to feign ignorance and say, "I'm taken, what about you?"

Note: this is not the time to get into how things are "complicated" with your significant other. In this situation, you are very much together.

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Lauren is a Thrillist contributor living in New York who has been betrayed by liquid courage before -- and will no doubt be betrayed by it again. Follow her on Twitter: @Life_of_LaurenB.