How to Deal With Rejection: Reflections on My First Time Being Rejected
I remember my first really hard rejection like it was yesterday. It absolutely sucked. In truth, I wasn’t originally even that interested in the girl who would end up blowing me off, but I felt like there were other men out there skillfully and casually dating women with ease, and like I was somehow just this weird, odd man out. I felt like I was one of the only people in the world who didn’t have it together when it came to love and relationships and it wouldn’t be until I actually got it together that I realized that I had it all wrong all along, that very few people are successful in relationships. More often than not, it takes achieving grand success in order to realize how common failure actually is. It’s not until you look around at the desolate place you call ‘success’ and you find few peers, if any, that you realize that what you thought was a crowded happy place where everyone is successful was more myth than reality. This incorrect assumption characterized much of my life and it jaded it in ways that I’m thankful to have overcome.
Yes, this was long before pickup artists were ever a thing, I formulated this idea purely out of my own imagination, this idea that somehow everyone was successful and having a great time, socializing with ease — everyone but me, of course. How wrong was I?
When I’d see people on the streets, hanging out in groups when I was alone, or at parties smiling and having a good time while I felt distant and isolated inside, I told myself that they had access to a social world that I wasn’t even remotely privy to. Something felt wrong with me as a person, as a man. I felt odd, afraid, insecure, and generally unlikeable. Oh, how I was wrong and how I would come to grow and learn in due course as the years passed. That what it was like to be a young, ignorant, teenage boy.
A Case of Cold, Hard Rejection
It was because of this that I began to fancy a girl at the local grocery store and we would flash eyes at one another as we passed in the isles. I built up this fantastic idea in my head that I would someday waltz into the store and ask her out. In my imagination I was fresh, charming, smooth, and smiling, everything flowed like in a movie and there was no discomfort. My imagined self didn’t jive with what would actually transpire, in any way, whatsoever. In my own mind, I imagined myself from a third-person point of view — I didn’t take ownership of the fact that I would be in my own body, young, nervous, shaky and uncertain. I never took this into account and the discrepancy between the imagined world and the real world would soon become painful.
One day, after putting my moment off again and again and again, I’d finally had enough. I didn’t know this girl and my teenage self had no idea what to say, but I worked up the courage and tried nonetheless. I strolled in and repeated the line that would be one of the most soul-crushingly embarrassing things I’ve ever said: “Hey, can I have your phone number.” No introduction, no discussion, that’s what I said. I’ll own it. It was really dumb.
Bumbling. Idiotic. Messy.
She looked at me confused. “What?” she replied, understandably. She didn’t even know who I was. How embarrassing. Feelings of instantaneous failure welled up inside of me and, embarrassed, I ran out of the front door, got back in the car, and headed home with my tail between my legs. You are now entitled to one solid laugh at my expense. Don’t worry, I’ve grown a lot since then. I won’t mind. What is life if you can’t learn to laugh at yourself?
Perhaps I was a bit hasty, don’t you think? It was strange because I’d had so many successful interactions with other women before, but when it came to sparking up a conversation with someone I didn’t really know, I failed miserably. That learning experience taught me a lot.
Hey, I’ll hand it to myself, here, for trying that brazenly and for trying again once I picked up the pieces of myself and forged back into a solid, basically scooping the puddle of goo that my heart had melted into off of the floor and reassembling to someday try again. I was depressed for days. I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave the house for days afterward and I felt absolutely rotten and so unlovable inside. The nausea was so real and it swelled up inside every inch of my body.
The Reality of the Situation?
The reality of the situation is simple, I was acting like a complete moron because I was operating on a very, very bad and even arguably dangerous belief or set of beliefs that colored the character of my behavior in a negative way. Something tells me we’ve all done this a time or two in our lives, I was just feeling out the whole dating thing outside of the opportunities that would come along through my preexisting social web of people. We’ve all made total embarrassments of ourselves and that’s okay. Sometimes you’ve got to crash and burn to learn what not to do.
The truth is, I was unattractive to that person. Or at least I didn’t give that person any tangible reason to be attracted to me. I thought, as many men (or boys) do, that attraction was something that just ‘happens’ for everyone, not something that takes effort and engagement. When you’re a teenage boy, the wind blows and you get aroused and it’s sort of natural to assume that everyone else operates the same way that you do. Honestly, I couldn’t even name-drop this woman if I wanted to because I didn’t even know her name. That’s how stupid what I did was and it happened quite a lot until I grew up.
If you want to be successful at anything in life, dating, work, creative arts, or pretty much anything that involves other people, it’s better to get used to rejection now than later, because, honestly, it’s going to happen to you a lot. But it can become something we take in stride and the faster we mature, the less likely rejection is to happen to us and the less likely it is to hurt us.
Grown-Up Me Would Like a Word…
In the years that have past since then, I’ve come to learn quite a lot about rejection, mostly because I got rejected a lot in those ensuing years. Most of what I’ve learned has to do with those aforementioned faulty assumptions that we operate on when we engage with others. In time, I’ve learned that rejection is a natural part of life. It’s especially natural and commonplace in cultures that place a higher premium on individualism and competition, which just so happens to be the American culture that I live in.
In that realization, I also came to the realization that when people reject me, it says just as much about society and what society values as it does about me. Society may value things that I don’t and that’s okay. In fact, we should be proud of ourselves for our independence when society values something that’s radically immoral, which is honestly quite often the case.
There’s also the idea of what we value individually and whether or not we’re capable of seeing the value in others. I know that I’ve spent a lot of my life wholly incapable of seeing and recognizing the values that I’ve learned are important to me today — some of the values I’m explaining to you now. I didn’t always understand them. So, why should I expect people who haven’t gotten on my level yet to be able to see the value that I bring to the table?
There are a lot of reasons we might get rejected that have absolutely nothing to do with us. In dating, people might reject us just because they’re having a bad day or because they’re in a relationship they’re happy with. At work, we might get passed up for a job we wanted because someone else was close friends with the boss. We might get rejected by people because we have our shit together much more than they do and intimidate them. We might get rejected by people because they don’t understand us and aren’t as mature as us. We might get rejected by people because we make them feel a fit of deep, gnawing jealousy. Not every rejection will have to do with us being a complete failure. Often times, a lot of forces go into rejection that is outside of our control.
When we think about it, nothing outside of us really causes us to feel anything that we don’t accept and go along with. When it comes to our physical health and well-being, nothing has changed after the rejection that wasn’t present beforehand, perhaps besides our own emotional response to the rejection. However, there’s a vast world out there full of opportunity awaiting us, ready for us to seize it and take hold of it and live our lives the way we want to — in a way that’s meaningful to us.
Reject Your Rejection
Wait, what? Yes, I’m serious. I mean that, reject your rejection. Did you ever think you can do that? Well, you can.
“Reject your sense of injury,” says stoic philosopher and Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, “and the injury itself disappears.” I like that, the idea of rejecting rejection when it happens. We can learn to be stoic in rejection and embrace what happens with a clear conscience and sound mind, which should be the philosophical and personal goals of each of us.
The Single Best Way to Deal With Rejection
In my years, I’ve learned that the best way to deal with rejection is to handle it before it happens. Yes, handle rejection before it strikes. How? Glad you asked. I cannot emphasize how important it is that we become someone we’re comfortable with and happy with, someone with hobbies, with a robust work and, or social life, someone we can look in the mirror and feel genuine pride in what we see.
How often in our culture do we mistake confidence for its effects? Confidence isn’t how we walk, how we talk, it’s not a series of gestures or outside appearances, confidence is what we do with our time that makes us proud to be who we are. Do we go out of our way to be reliable friends? Do we give back to others in need? Do we strive to satisfy our intellectual curiosity? Have we worked on ourselves until we’re in complete control of our emotional selves? All of these activities — I know they can be hard — all end up forging genuine, deep, and real inner-confidence, the kind of unshakeable confidence that’s unwavering, even in the face of rejection. It’s how we can become the kind of person who faces the harshest rejections with a smile and wide, bright eyes, rather than just trying to become the smile itself. And that’s what life is all about, it’s about rolling with the punches, it’s about getting rejected and living to try again in the future, without the feintest diminishing in our sense of self.
Building a Full Life
Learning how to face adversity and building a full life are one and the same process. When we build a life that we’re truly, genuinely happy with, we can deal with adversity by turning ourselves back to our lives and basking in the creation that we’ve built. We can rest assured in our path and progress and the things we do have. Social networks, an enjoyable career, a fostered curiosity, and a stimulated intellect, all things that we can reinforce and build upon to strengthen who we are and become much more detached in regards to the outcomes of our vain pursuits. It’s important to have things that we can fall back on when other things don’t pan out and this is where diversifying who we are becomes so powerful.
Thank you for reading. Some of the books that have helped me along the way are Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Discourses of Epictetus, two stoic philosophical works that have had their hands at influencing my life and outlook. Of course, I’ve also learned a lot from plenty of trial and error, something I heartily suggest everyone does with their own lives. Now, get out there and live a little. Full disclosure: this story contains affiliate links and I might make a small commission from any purchases made.