Story time: Once upon a time, I had a crush on a guy. But this wasn’t just any crush; he was the first person I ever wanted to disrobe. I was about eighteen, but I’d never met anyone I wanted to be sexual with before, so this crush hit me super hard. Not only was it a huge crush, it felt like the only crush I’d ever have, because no one in the world was sexy like him. But I didn’t have any signs that he liked me back. So I waited… for two years. We hung out and developed a good friendship. All the while I lusted away, too afraid of rejection to tell him my feelings. In retrospect I’m not sure exactly what I was afraid of, except that he would somehow feel that we couldn’t still be friends if I liked him (which seems kind of bogus now).
Eventually (two years later) I decided it had gone on long enough and I made myself talk to him. It was as I suspected: my love was not reciprocated. But oddly, I was okay with it. The night before I had coached myself that although it would suck if he wasn’t into me, that was okay and whatever the consequences of finding out were, I would accept them. It would be worth it to kill the constant wondering of “There’s at least a 2% chance he can’t tell I like him and he doesn’t want to make the first move. Right?” It needed to end, and it did. I wasn’t over him right away, but gradually the charm faded and I could see other boys again (or for the first time, rather. Late bloomer problems.)
That’s the beauty of rejection. It keeps you from wasting time. You can find out quickly if someone’s into you or not, and if they’re into what you’re into (kinky? vanilla? asexual romantic? poly?)
Of course, there is the hazard that you receive a rejection for the wrong reasons, like if you push someone to make a decision too soon (before they know if they’re into you) or ask them to do something they might have wanted at a later date but feels rushed (to them) at the time. For example, I don’t like to be kissed on the first or second date, so if someone tries to kiss me too early they may get rejected.
But aside from that case, making a move and risking rejection is highly informative. Being unambiguously accepted or rejected allows you to quit guessing and wasting time. It prevents you from missing out on something you both want, and it prevents you from wasting time building up a relationship with someone who isn’t interested.
So what’s so bad about rejection? It hurts because we over-interpret it.
Rejection hurts when you use other people’s reactions to estimate your self-worth, or to predict whether other people (besides the one rejecting you) will want to date you.
This is really easy to do when you have a crush on someone, because when you like someone you tend to inflate the value of their opinions. Jamie likes Creed? I start listening to Creed. Jamie likes bubble gum ice cream? Quirky choice, but right on. It’s Jamie and Jamie knows what’s cool. So… Jamie doesn’t like me? I must suck.
When you have a crush on someone, you can feel like their opinion of you matters more than anyone else’s. But in reality, their opinions are just as petty as everyone else’s.
Many people respond to rejection with face-saving sentiments like the following: “They just didn’t give me a chance. If they actually took the time to know me, they would see that I really am good enough!”
But it’s not about whether you’re good enough (even if they may see it that way). It means you’re not what they’re looking for. They want an apple, and you’re an orange.
As I said before, people’s tastes are enormously petty, but they’re also enormously variable. Maybe Jamie (above) only likes Indian girls with short, spiky orange hair who make over $800k. Maybe Jamie doesn’t like Packers fans, or only likes really high foreheads.
Some people say not to take rejection personally. But it is personal- it’s so personal that it doesn’t mean much of anything beyond you and them. The problem is when you overgeneralize and think that if Jamie doesn’t want to get coffee with you, other people won’t either. (Or if Jamie doesn’t want to do bondage with you, no one else will. Believe me, they’re out there). It only means those things are true for Jamie, not for anyone else.
Another way people respond to rejection is to belittle the decision-making of the person who rejected them. “They just don’t know what’s good for them! They only date jerks.” This includes all that “nice guys finish last” bogus. People’s tastes can indeed be petty and sometimes ill-advised, but you have to let them choose for themselves.
So now that we’ve covered how not to respond to rejection, what are the good ways?
1) Applaud yourself for having the courage to make a move and find out. It’s not easy! Many people never make it that far.
2) If they let you down nicely, you can thank them for letting you know. This shows that you appreciate them being clear with you and that you see the value in receiving this information, even when it’s not what you want to hear. This shows maturity and makes you sound levelheaded enough to realize you’d rather be let down than led on.
3) If you wish, clarify the future of the relationship. They may worry that by rejecting you, you won’t want to be friends any longer or that hanging out in the future will be awkward. Stating what you want will allay such uncertainties. Of course, if you don’t want to see them again you can clarify that, too.
4) Remember that you decided to risk rejection because it was worth it to find out more information. Rejection is an OK outcome; you didn’t fail, you simply gained information which wasn’t what you’d hoped (but would have been true regardless).
5) Reassert healthy sources of self-confidence and self-value (i.e. ones that don’t come from other people’s assessments or from weighing successes against failures. David Burns’ Feeling Good handbook shows how to develop a healthy system of self-esteem, which is essential to reacting well to criticism or rejection.)
Good luck! Remember, life goes on 🙂
TLDR: Rejection is just moving to a state of greater information. It keeps you from wasting time wondering. Avoid extrapolating from an individual rejection to your general self-worth; this is illogical and hurtful.