If you have ever dared to date, you are probably a reject.
I know I am, and I think that’s great. Getting rejected means I had the courage to try. Dating is weird, and often uncomfortable, and anyone brave enough to put themselves out there, to spend valuable time with a person statistically unlikely to be their match, deserves a medal. Or at least a cookie.
I try to always keep some important truths in mind: I am responsible for my own happiness, it is totally natural for me to desire a romantic partner, and if I take care of myself and keep trying, everything will work out.
Of course, as the Young Woman in my book Are You My Boyfriend? can attest, trying means getting rejected. Time and again she is told no: “No, I’m not your boyfriend, I’m emotionally unavailable.” “No, I’m not your boyfriend, I’m more into your friend.” “No, I’m not your boyfriend, I’d rather spend my time moping about the last girl who let me down.”
No, no, no is all she hears, so what does Young Woman do? She goes on. She meets someone else, trusts in possibility, and even when disappointment follows, she keeps moving forward.
I hope it’s okay to have a cartoon as a role model, because I want to be just like her.
It can be tough not to take rejection personally when the interaction that provokes it is as personal as it gets. Like the time someone told me on our first date that unless I would be open to a threesome, it wasn’t going to work. Yeah, that felt pretty personal. And it’s true that when a guy lets me know it’s over, or doesn’t pursue me to begin with, he is essentially saying, “I don’t want you.”
But there are two pronouns in that assertion, and after I’ve heard it, I only need to pay attention to one of them. He doesn’t want me: that’s his choice, to do with his needs or his issues or goals or limitations or whatever. That’s all him, and that’s all right. He can have himself.
Because regardless of whom else is interested, I want to be with me, and I always will. The only rejection that can truly hurt me is self-inflicted, and the only approval I ultimately need is my own. Whatever the outcome of any date (or even potential date), I’m totally okay.
And honestly, so is any guy who I might try to let down easy — the rejection game works both ways. I haven’t always understood that, as I once had a penchant for harboring unrequited crushes, but in recent years I’ve been the one to end things more often than not. It turns out that being the rejector isn’t much easier than being the rejectee, but it helps to know I’m not passing judgment on my (soon-to-be-former) partner, so much as acknowledging my own inability to accept him.
I’ve gone on some great dates with some great guys and yet chosen to never see them again. I still sometimes think about the friendly, compassionate, ambitious young man I met online who taught me to properly play Ping-Pong and shared my artistic interests. I felt a real connection to him—except not when we kissed. I didn’t know how to tell him exactly that, so I said I was busy a few times instead, and he was smart enough to stop trying. These days I’m more likely to use my words than the slow fade (a little, “I’m sorry but I’m just not feeling this” goes a long way) but the point remains that he was a fantastic person. Just not the right person for me.
In some ways, dating disappointments are like not getting a job: you’ll probably never know why you weren’t chosen, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t a strong candidate. I actually had a guy once ask for what amounted to an exit interview. He wanted me to list the specific reasons I was breaking up with him so that he could improve himself for future relationships. I appreciated his request — wouldn’t it be great if rejection came with a feedback form? — but there was nothing I could say. “You shouldn’t change who you are,” I told him. “What isn’t working for me will appeal to someone else.” He had a girlfriend last I heard, so I guess I was right.
We all deserve unconditional acceptance, but the path to getting there is necessarily rife with rejection. And with consistent self-care, confidence, and persistence, the process is worth the payoff.