DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m in need of some advice on how to take rejection better. Not necessarily in the moment when it happens because I feel like I’ve become a pro at that, but in the days that linger on before you’ve met someone else you’re into and the person who rejected you is still in your social orbit.
Here’s a story to illustrate what I mean:
So first things first, I’m heavily involved in the stand-up comedy scene in my hometown. I perform, help run shows, and handle a lot of the marketing. This also means that I’m a familiar face at a few of the bars in town where shows take place. Second things second, there was this woman, see…like a lot of these stories go. We go from sharing smiling glances from across the bar to breaking the ice. Some nights we’d speak with each other, other nights we’d stick to our own social groups since she doesn’t normally come to the bars I do shows at for the stand-up comedy, she just has a lot of friends who go to the same places.
Anyway, on one particular night we end up socializing in the same general group after a show until the group wittles down to just the two of us, and I then proceed to ask her on a date. She tells me that she’s in a newish relationship but is flattered by the proposal. I try my best to put any nervousness she may have at ease by cracking a few jokes; departing not too long afterwards by wishing her a good night, which she smiled ear to ear at and seemed to genuinely appreciate.
So hey, seems like a positive story right? I didn’t get what I wanted but according to my own observation she seemed to find my attempt charming and I put myself out there even though I didn’t know where I would land. I haven’t dated someone in over a year due to being, frankly, devastated from losing a job I loved (albeit in a poorly paying industry), and have slowly been regaining confidence by going back to school for a higher paying career change that is finally starting to show its upside. I respect her choices and have no intentions of asking her again or even referencing it in jest.
Thing is, the next time we were at the same bar I honestly had no damn clue how to act around her. We didn’t speak, I stuck strictly by my own friend group the entire night, in the one moment where our glances met by chance I averted my eyes immediately, and I left the bar the first chance I could after getting paid. Basically I feel like I went from being a fun guy in her presence to a walled-off coward in the space of just over a week. I think a large part of this is that I’ve taught myself to roll with the punches when it comes to women turning me down because I’m confident I can/will find someone who is into me, but on some level I’m embarrassed by being the same space with someone who I’ve been vulnerable in front of, however briefly and relatively inconsequential.
So Dr. NerdLove, I’m not overly concerned about what I should do regarding this specific girl since I’ll actually be away from my hometown for the next few months for work and hopefully any residual awkwardness will have faded by then. What I am concerned with is being embarrassed about the rejection after the fact. It certainly makes me question how cool I actually am with rejection if I have a lingering shame about it. Is there a way to cope with the fact that rejection really is just irreparably humiliating and no amount of steely confidence in the moment it happens can overcome that? Is there a lesson to be learned from my letter that anyone else could benefit from?
Barfly Affected by Emotions
DEAR BARFLY AFFECTED BY EMOTIONS: So I’m gonna be honest here: you’re kind of inventing a problem for yourself, BAE.
I mean, you did everything right. You saw someone who’s a regular in your various hang-outs, you got to know her, the two of you got comfortable enough to hang out and talk on your own, you made your move without hesitation and took her refusal with good grace. While it’s a shame that things didn’t work out, those are all literally what I tell folks to do when they see someone they’re interested in.
Here’s the part that’s not quite lining up for me, BAE: why should you act any differently around her? Literally nothing has changed. It’s not as though you were harboring deep-seated feelings for her or that you had a friendship of long-standing and your asking her on a date suddenly changed the context of your relationship. Similarly, it’s not like you did anything wrong, uncomfortable or shameful when you asked her out. You asked for a date, she said “no, thank you” and you said “ok, no problem”. That sounds to me like it all went as smoothly as one could hope for.
So why would you have any reason to be uncomfortable around her? Well, the answer to that is in how you’re looking at this, not how cool you are or aren’t with rejection.
See, the issue you’re having isn’t that you were vulnerable with her, the issue is that you were vulnerable and you were rejected. It’s that feeling of “Great, I did what everyone tells me to do and it didn’t work. Glad I opened myself up to pain for no good goddamn reason.”
Which is entirely understandable; when you’re letting yourself be vulnerable with someone, it feels like you’re doing something that’s going to make you look bad. It feels like you’ve done something shameful or embarrassing and showed a side of yourself that you otherwise keep hidden. But here’s the thing about vulnerability: it’s actually a strength. It’s showing the world that you don’t find your authentic feelings to be shameful or something that needs to be hidden. When you’re letting yourself be vulnerable, you’re showing the world that you’re strong enough to be your authentic self instead of putting up a mask that you think the world wants to see. You’re living openly and honestly and sincerely, and to be perfectly blunt: most people can’t handle living like that.
The fact that you told someone you were attracted to them and wanted to take them out on a date isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. Hell, the fact that you made your move is admirable. It’s a shame that it didn’t work the way you’d hope, but the fact that you did it at all is something that you should be proud of. There’s no reason to feel awkward around her or to try to avoid her because you didn’t do anything to feel awkward about. Honestly, avoiding her is going to make things more awkward because it sends weird messages, even though you don’t intend for it to do so.
So what do you do about it? Well, the only thing you can do is just power through it. Take a deep breath, let it out slowly and then push through that initial feeling of “oh god I’m embarrassed” and act like nothing has changed. This will be easy because, fundamentally, nothing has changed. It’s all exactly the same as in the minutes before you asked her out on a date. So when you force yourself to fake it (at first), you’ll realize very quickly that you aren’t having to fake it; everything will flow smoothly and normally and you’ll relax into the familiar old patterns before you know it.
You have no reason to feel humiliated, BAE, nor do you need steely confidence to get over this. All you need to do is change the context of how you see being vulnerable. It’s not something above and beyond or something embarrassing. It’s just you leaning into being your authentic, genuine self. It’s hard at first, but the more you choose to live authentically, the more natural it becomes.
And that’ll make it that much easier to find someone who will want to go out on that date with you.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)