"I listen quietly as he cuts things off, telling me there simply isn't enough of a click between us."
It’s a crisp May evening and I’m walking home from the cinema, my fingers locked into those of a guy’s I’ve recently started seeing. Life is good. I’m calm. Content. And then it all changes. I listen quietly as he cuts things off, telling me there simply isn’t enough of a click between us. I go mute, scrambling to find something to say that doesn’t reveal the sharp sting of hurt I’m feeling. “I… I… thought things were going well,” I attempt, feeling a rage begin to build inside me.
Anger: it’s the only defence mechanism I have right now, the only way of stopping myself from collapsing into the full, raw pain of rejection. I make some vague effort at a rant about how nobody gives things a chance anymore, as I wonder where it all went wrong. Where I had gone wrong. Then I make my escape: charging off towards my front door, getting away from him as quickly as possible. I’m closing myself off, crumpling inward like a child who’s been scolded and all I want is to get away. It’s textbook rejection.
After, in my room, I swat away tears and chide myself for feeling so wounded. What right do I have to feel so hurt, when really this romance (if you could even call it that) was so short-lived, I ask myself. It was too soon to be heartbroken, I reason, my hurt couldn’t be about him, surely? No, this was about me. About feeling sub-standard. Cast aside. Discarded. Perhaps if I had just loosened up a bit, I think to myself, really shown my personality, delivered that punchline a little better…
I ask dating coach Hayley Quinn why rejection hits us so hard, but if you’ve lived it (and really, who hasn’t?) you probably already know the answer. Rejection signals the sense that you’re somehow not enough, not wanted or valued, and it brings all of our insecurities and doubts to the fore. It links with our primal survival instincts. None of us want to be ostracised, and when someone sees all that you have to offer and decides that they don’t want it, that’s exactly how it feels. Hayley agrees.
Rejection hurts because dating forces us to be vulnerable. When you’re in a relationship, dating or out there meeting new people it can often feel like you’re being judged: and when someone doesn’t want the same kind of relationship as you, or not to have a relationship with you at all, that can feel very painful. The irony is that a lot of what we perceive to be rejection has a lot more to do with the other person’s relationship with themselves, than it is about how attractive or not you are.
While that sounds comforting, I can’t help feel a bit silly for feeling so slighted over something that lasted about as long as my good intentions often do at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Is it common for people to feel hurt even when the relationship wasn’t particularly serious, I ask Hayley. “How long or ‘serious’ a relationship is doesn’t always match up with how meaningful we feel it is,” she confirms.
It’s very common to have a long term relationship that feels easier to walk away from because both parties have agreed it’s run its course; compared to maybe the pain of missing out on ever experiencing a relationship with someone you really desire. All I would advise here is if you are hurting over someone you don’t know that well to check in with yourself and consider, ‘Did I fall for them? Or who I hoped they might be?’
Hayley has a point, but I feel that perhaps the pain of rejection has less to do with the other person and more to do with how we feel about ourselves. As a chronic people-pleaser, I get it; all of us want other people to like us, and when they don’t? Well, it hurts, and even the most self-assured among us aren’t completely immune to injury.
But is there truly a way to protect yourself against it? No doubt you’ve heard the advice ‘don’t take it personally’ but how do you do that? After facing multiple romantic rejections, Nicki, 31, has developed a coping strategy. “First I remind myself that getting knocked back just means I’m putting myself out there,” she tells me. “Then I remind myself that there is not a person among us – no matter how pretty, interesting, quirky or hilarious – who hasn’t been rejected at some point, or indeed at multiple points in their life.
“I spent so long fixating on why it seemed so easy for my friends to walk into relationships while I was always facing disappointments, and then I realised, that it wasn’t anything I was doing wrong. Now I know that it all comes down to compatibility. I just haven’t met my match yet and actually rejection has been this really great screening process. I reckon I’ll end up with someone who’s really right for me as a result.”
Hayley concurs. “I believe that feeling a degree of rejection is normal and healthy,” she encourages.
If you didn’t care what anyone thought of you then you may not be taking enough feedback from those around you. Of course this has to be balanced by healthy self esteem that says, ‘you know what, that did hurt, but I am not going to let this affect my future chance of happiness when something better suited to me does come along.’
If you’re hurting, acknowledge that feeling, Hayley suggests, connect to your support network and “gradually start to see it as an opportunity to redefine what’s important to you. As with most tough experiences, the trick is to learn from it but don’t let it define you.”
Fast forward a few weeks and I’m plonked in front of my TV, snug in my PJs with a cup of tea on my lap, scrolling through my camera roll, reflecting on the past number of weekends that I’ve packed out with fun. I look at all the smiling faces on my screen, the faces of people who’ve had my back from day dot, who’ve nurtured me, encouraged me, mopped my tears when I’m sad and congratulated me with a gin when I’ve triumphed. Then it hits me, I’m enough. I’m cared for, I’m resilient and I’m enough. Rejection challenges me but it doesn’t change me. I think of all the life-affirming people I have around me and I realise, I’ll be okay.
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