Do you remember your first rejection? No, we’re not going metaphorical here, or talking about the first time your parent told you “No”, we’re talking about your earliest memory of being rejected by a potential romantic partner.
Let me set the stage for you. I’m 10 years old, I’m in middle school as part of a gifted and talented program for brainy types at the Upper West Side’s MS 54 (Shoutout to the Delta Program, which I didn’t realize back then is highly selective). Anyway, as you might suspect I was incredibly skilled intellectually, not so much socially. I had also hit a growth spurt, so although I was 10 years old in a junior high school, I looked tall enough to be in high school. Tall, awkward, unskilled in the ways of love, incredibly nerdy. You get the picture.
I became infatuated with a girl, and if I told you her name right now I’d be lying. I do remember that she was also tall, cute, and “cool”. Having no experience with dating, I asked my mom for dating advice and she said “Be yourself, and just ask her if she likes you”. Fun fact about my Mom, she is the type of mom who will say things like that and genuinely mean it. I was teased as a kid because my ears were large and stuck out and my mom told me, with all of the earnestness in the world, that people teased me because they were jealous. AND I BELIEVED HER! So naturally when she said “Be yourself, and just ask her if she likes you” I thought that would be a great idea. It was, in that I got a very quick and curt rejection. If I remember correctly she said she wasn’t interested, and liked some other dude in my class. It sucked at the time, but it was pretty formative, and I’m grateful that I got rejected way back when.
Anyway, that’s my first rejection story, so I ask again, do you remember yours? Was it heartbreaking at the time? Was it recent? Have things gotten better? Do you still fear rejection? I ask these questions, and shared the story of my own first rejection because I’ve been thinking about rejection a lot. I get asked about rejection a lot, whether it’s about dealing with rejection, or wondering if someone has been rejected, or even how to overcome a rejection. Some of my most popular posts are about rejection, and in one way shape or form I get asked about rejection a lot. It’s hard to really cover my thoughts on rejection in 140 characters or less when I’m on twitter, and I’m not exactly going to give people a TEDTalk when I’m asked at a bar on how to deal with rejection, but I do want to cover three things that I think help when thinking about rejection. That, and picturing little 10-year-old Demetrius adorably asking a girl out and getting shot down. It’s a great image honestly.
The pain fades
Have you ever noticed that pop culture has an obsession with never letting go. Quick, think of a very romantic love-story in pop culture, maybe just stick to movies. Okay stop! Were you thinking of Titanic, Love Actually, or The Notebook? If that’s the case, congrats, the most romantic stories you could think of are all about how people get rejected, or lose out on someone, and find the idea of dealing with that loss irreconcilable. Seriously just think about what those movies have in common: love, loss, then not getting over that loss. The Titanic, when you strip away the story that occurs in flashback, is about a woman torn from her lover by fate, who doesn’t get over him after like 100 years (Rose is 130 years old in the movie, right?). Love Actually’s most memorable scene, where Sheriff Rick Grimes shows cue cards to a pirate from the Caribbean, is about his acceptance of his love for her and the feeling of loss knowing he can’t have her. The Notebook, oh man, what a tale of love and loss. You’re telling me that James Garner, a man who was somehow the coolest person in a movie that starred Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Stavro Blofeld, AND James Coburn who was described as an actor that “projects lazy, humorous sexuality”, is going to be the guy who keeps retelling the same story of love and loss over and over again? I mean, it was touching and all, but the whole point of that, and the whole “they basically died at the same time” thing is all about not letting go. What about literature? Does Romeo and Juliet come to mind? How about Love in the time of Cholera? Most if not all of our great stories are about rejection and our relationship to it. It extends to mythology, with my favorite being the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Our fiction, our myths, and so much of so many different cultures deals with loss, rejection, and our lifelong struggle with it.
What I want to say to you is this: The pain of rejection, of loss, fades. I know that you’d think that the rejection you’re feeling now, or have felt in the past, will last forever, and it might, but the intensity of that feeling fades. Just like any loss, or any pain, it dulls with time. Someone told me once that it becomes easier to accept the pain of loss, specifically dealing with death, with time. You still remember the people you love, but over time the pain of their absence fades. I think that people tend to forget that the pain of rejection, whether it’s after a day, week, month, years, will eventually fade. It will not be the same pain you felt on the first day you received your rejection. Nothing last forever, especially not feelings. You might still love and care for someone who rejects you, but the love you felt when you first met them is different from the love you felt after being one year removed from a rejection. I’m not saying that you’ll easily get over every rejection, but the pain does fade. Remember my story of my first rejection? That was 21 years ago and I cannot remember the pain I felt the day I was rejected, nor can I remember the girl’s name who rejected me (I want to say Gabrielle, but who even knows?). Rejection can scar you, but keep in mind that with enough time, all scars fade.
You can learn from it
There’s a great proverb that I love that describes my approach to life and learning “All is grist for the mill”. What it means is the everything is useful. Culturally, we think of learning as a thing we do in learning environment, like school, but I like to think that life is a great teacher. You know what the best teachers in life are? Failure. Rejection, loss, screwing up, goofs, fuck ups, all those things can teach you a lot more than succeeding ever can. Take my earlier story about my rejection. At age 10, I didn’t think of it as a learning opportunity, but now I look back and realize it was. That rejection taught me that similar interests and background, attraction, and sharing a space with someone does not guarantee that you wont be rejected by them. It’s a simple lesson, but maybe it’s one that you never learn if you’ve never been rejected. There are countless other lessons learned from the many rejections I’ve received that I could spout off, but the point is that when you’re rejected, you can learn from it. Even if what you learn isn’t directly tied to the rejection.
Let’s say that you’re like me, and rarely try to pickup women in bars. Now, why did I decide that picking up women in bars isn’t my thing? Because I’ve learned that I’m selective on some very specific criteria and that approaching women at bars, even if I’m successful, expends more time and energy than I think is worth the effort. The return (i.e. successfully getting someone’s number) isn’t worth the investment (my time) when it’s easier to do my specific filtering online. This wasn’t the result of one specific rejection, but more of a conclusion I’ve come to after several failures. It’s easier and a much better investment for me to go online, figure out someone’s dating attitudes when it comes to race and religion, then message them than it is to approach a woman at a bar, try to ask her out, go on a date, then realize she doesn’t date black men. Fun fact: This actually happened on a date and it was super awkward explaining that I’m black and maybe the date should end.
In less extreme cases, a rejection can teach you how to identify warning signs, it can show you patterns in behavior leading up to rejection, the body language that people exhibit before, during, and after a rejection, and countless other things. All rejections are grist for the mill, and you can from each of them.
It’s a blessing in disguise
Here’s a thing that people tend to take for granted: If you reject someone, or are rejected, you’re now free to meet someone new. How freeing is that feeling? I embrace rejection because of that reason, even if the initial rejection sucks. Yes, when I’m being rejected I’m hurt, while I’m largely indifferent I’ve still got human feelings (FOR NOW AT LEAST), but when I give it some time and put a rejection into perspective, I remember that getting a rejection is great because clearly the person rejecting me wasn’t a good fit, so it’s for the best in the long run. “But what if they’re the love of your life and you just needed to try harder” you say, peeking over your worn and well read copy of Wuthering Heights. To that I say, either pursue me as much as I pursue you, or be done with me. Unrequited love that eventually turns into requited love works well in fiction, and in rare cases in real life, but for the most part you get rejected by people who aren’t a good fit for you. I already name dropped Wuthering Heights, so let’s talk about that. Heathcliff gets rejected and after that rejection goes off and becomes rich. Disregarding all the vendetta stuff that comes after, he got rejected and went off and became super goddamn rich. BLESSING. The same thing happens in The Great Gatsby. Now, obviously, Heathcliff and Jay Gatsby then went on to remain consumed by their unrequited loves because they were dumb-dumbs, but you don’t have to. How great would those stories have been if both guys realized “Whoa, this rejection actually worked out really well because look how super rich I am now. No more brooding for me, I’ll just wish her the best and enjoy being super rich now!”. Sure, that’d suck from a literary perspective, but you, the person reading this, are not a literary character. You can get rejected, learn and grow, and move on. Or die in a stately manor because you don’t use your rejection to learn and grow. Your prerogative.
I just want to close and say rejection sucks, but it’s an opportunity. How you choose to look at that opportunity, and what you do with that opportunity, is up to you.
So, do you remember your first rejection? What did it teach you?
Good Luck Out There.