Learning to Love Rejection
Rejection is not an easy experience.
But if we’re doing life right, it is necessary to learn to deliver and receive it. It can be liberating… beautiful, even. Rejection is part of the curating process that allows us to move through life with purpose and confidence. We need it to make sure we’re spending our time on what really matters to us.
Avoiding rejection keeps us in situations longer than we should be, building resentment or weariness instead of connection and intimacy. It keeps us in a state of anxiety when we bite our tongues instead of speaking difficult, but honest, truths. This repetitive omission weakens our resolve and our confidence in ourselves. And it keeps a lot of important information hidden from those who need to know it, both for our happiness and for theirs.
Rejection is part of the curating process that allows us to move through life with purpose and confidence.
When we don’t trust ourselves to foster these uncomfortable, necessary conversations, we also lose faith that others will be truly honest with us. We have to live with a nagging uncertainty of what they want. Are they keeping us around because they choose us willingly? Or because they want to avoid something unpleasant? There are a lot of ambiguities and doubts, a breeding ground for discontent.
Then there’s an explosion and our lives blow up, creating new problems without really focusing on the particulars of the old ones. We are now in a cycle of hurt, anger and avoidance, using our precious time and energy tending to unnecessary conflict. Lives are destroyed over this devastating sequence of events.
Learning to incorporate rejection into our lives competently can save us. I know this sounds dramatic, but it’s true. It is one of the most valuable skills to learn and, like driving, it vastly improves when society gets better at it as a whole.
Why do we avoid rejection?
We are often afraid of rejecting others because we don’t want to hurt them or put ourselves in an uncomfortable conversation. We let relationships wither or stagnate or morph into something abusive. We lose faith in ourselves and stop seeing the magic in others. We have impassioned monologues that we don’t share. We let our feelings develop lives of their own, untethered by feedback from the person who really needs to weigh in. It’s profoundly disconnecting.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Rejection is an opportunity for honesty, for catharsis, for new beginnings. It’s emotional and heavy, but I’ve come to find a rich, life-affirming pleasure in those “real talk” conversations. They are teeming with possibility and the seeds of happier futures.
The best rejections
As a single woman deep into my 30’s, I’ve seen my fair share of rejection from both sides of the line. Really, neither side is much “better”. I’ve cried more from ending relationships than from being rejected. There’s an anguish to having to do the ending that is excruciating — layers of my own difficult emotions while also feeling responsible for the other person’s pain. Being broken up with is discombobulating, but also freeing in some ways, like the Hanged Man tarot card. It’s not pleasant, but there isn’t much you can do aside from finding a way to accept it.
And as I’m learning, the best rejections become sort of mutual. Because nobody who truly values themselves would think it’s worth being with someone who is ambivalent. As Jon Stewart said when he left The Daily Show, “this show doesn’t deserve even a slightly restless host, and neither do you.”
The best endings are actually new beginnings. We show our true colors when we are told “no”, and that often dictates whether a relationship gets a clean break or just takes on a new form. A man I dated last fall who declined to say we were ever together could not respect my decision to end it (whatever “it” was). He continued to call — and plead and shame and lie — for months. My assessment that it was a dangerous relationship was proven to be right in the stark light of rejection.
The quality of any ending is what makes the difference. We can practice them with dignity and respect or self-serving avoidance. We can practice difficult conversations with those closest to us or we can wait for things to explode. We can anticipate the reality that most things will end and find some grace in that, or we can put our head in the sand and pretend we’ll always get our way.
A bad example, and then a good one
Dating has been incredibly different since March. I find out, and quick, if there is a connection worth my energy and the risk of introducing someone new into the social circle. We seem to get to the meat of another person more quickly.
I had one date early in March, introduced by a friend, who was gung-ho to meet me and then, after a seemingly good video and then in-person date, was suddenly unsure if he wanted to continue. Rather than let that be the guide (a little “fuck yes or no” is appropriate here), he asked me to give him time. I was taken aback but wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially because of our mutual friend’s endorsement. For the next 5 days, I spiraled and he communicated almost nothing. Then finally, he texted a rejection.
This is a crappy example and one I would not recommend (at least if you want someone to respect you after). I was furious and hurt, but ultimately grateful to learn that we were not compatible, romantically or otherwise.
Thank you, next.
A few weeks later, a man I’ve known as an acquaintance for years started calling and invited me for a camping adventure in the mountains. We had a great time, got along really well and I could tell there was some potential. But I learned over the course of the weekend that he is overwhelmed running his business through the pandemic and would not have much time for me for the foreseeable future. He called me later that week and we discussed it honestly. It was a bummer, but I don’t want a partner who can’t pay attention to me. I would end up feeling neglected and resenting him. I felt light after that conversation, almost giddy; and that’s what a good rejection can do. It permits people, kindly and clearly, to move on.
The quality of any ending is what makes the difference.
There’s a breezy contentment in developing this skill collectively — knowing that people in our life are capable of ending things that aren’t working for them gives us a sense of confidence that those who are here are here on purpose. Those are the relationships that you want when life gets hard. Those are the people who will fight for you and have your back.
And learning to accept a rejection, even be grateful when it happens, is a very resilient quality to cultivate in ourselves. Can we tolerate disappointment? Can we let something go we want so badly? Can we find a way to look at our “failures” so that instead of something to avoid at all costs, they are just another flavor of the miraculous human experience?
It hurts in the moment, but afterward, there is a clean slate to try again. To grieve, to heal, and to rise up and face the next moment with courage and an open heart. To know that we are capable of curating our relationships so that we can fall in love with being alive today and tomorrow and the next day.
It’s hard, but we can do it.