DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: First and foremost, I want to say I love what you do. Your column has been my geeky relationship north star for some time now. But I’ve hit a snag that I’m hoping you can help with.
Here’s the situation: When it comes to the dating scene, I feel like I’m stuck in a loop of rejection. You know those characters in movies and series who are always just on the cusp of getting the girl or guy but never do? Yeah, that feels like my life.
I’m not the type to get easily discouraged, but it’s starting to wear on me. Whether it’s asking someone out for coffee or trying to take a more serious relationship to the next level, the outcome seems to be consistent: I’m not what they’re looking for. And honestly? It’s getting harder not to take it personally. Each “no thanks,” or “I just see you as a friend,” or the dreaded ghosting feels like another blow to my self-worth.
I’ve tried different approaches: online dating, being set up by friends, joining hobby groups, you name it. The results are often the same. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a few short-term relationships, but they always seem to end with them moving on to someone “better.”
I believe in personal growth, and I’ve taken steps to improve myself, both for my own well-being and to be a better partner. But with every rejection, I find myself questioning, “Is it me? Is there something fundamentally unlovable or undesirable about me?”
So, the million-dollar question: How do I handle the sting of constant rejection without letting it erode my self-esteem? I’m hoping you’ve got some insights or strategies up your sleeve to help me navigate this. I’d hate to become cynical and jaded because deep down, I still believe there’s someone out there who’d be thrilled to be with me.
Looking forward to your guidance,
Forever Player One
DEAR FOREVER PLAYER ONE: So, here’s a question for you: if you were looking for a tasty salmon for dinner and you were in the middle of the Indian Ocean, would you be blaming yourself for being a poor fisherman? Or could you understand that sometimes, not finding what you’re looking for means you’re in the wrong place?
Now, I ask this because so much of rejection has nothing to do with us. You can, quite literally, do everything right and still fail. As Dita Von Teese once said: you can be the sweetest, juiciest peach in the world, but some folks just don’t like peaches. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the peach. It just means that some folks don’t want peaches; they want pears. Or oranges. Or they may not want fruit at all.
Rejection is something that you can’t ever fully account for, because rejection so often has more to do with other people and their own baggage. You don’t – and often can’t – know what makes someone decide they’re not into you. They may have just gotten out of a relationship themselves. They may not be interested in relationships at all. You may remind them of their ex in some ineffable way and they just can’t vibe with that. That doesn’t mean that you did something wrong; it just means that there’s something there that triggers something in them through no fault of your own.
This is also why someone dating somebody else after you – even going on to have the kind of relationship you wish you had with them – doesn’t mean they found someone “better”, objectively. It means that they ended up in a relationship with another person; end of. You know next to nothing about why they chose to settle down with that person. It may have been as simple as “that’s who they happened to be dating when they decided it was time to commit”; that doesn’t mean this person is better than you, it just means that it was a quirk of fate and timing.
Rejection – even strings of rejection – also can just be bad luck. One of the things we often forget is that random chance is random, and that means you can end up on streaks that seem improbable… including losing streaks. Even losing streaks that seem to last for years. The idea that a string of losses means we’re doing something wrong is a form of the Gambler’s Fallacy. Just because the coin keeps coming up heads doesn’t mean that you’re “due” for tails soon, because the odds aren’t cumulative. Each flip of the coin is entirely separate from the previous one. So it is with dating. And so it is with rejection. Unless you’re working exclusively from a pool of potential dates who all know each other and know exactly who’s dating or been asked to date whom, each rejection is unique and separate from the last.
We often treat dating as though it were poker, where you’re competing with other people and you need to play “correctly” to ensure that you win and they lose. It’s far more akin to blackjack – everybody is playing their own game, and their success or failure is functionally independent of what you do. Yes, you can play “correctly” and shift the odds as best you can, but chance is always going to be part of the system. Just because someone else got a lucky draw doesn’t mean that they were “better” than you or that they took the card that “should” have been yours. It just means they got a lucky draw. That’s it.
Now, you can and should do your best to optimize your chances. Some of this is self-improvement – being your best, most polished self, and so on. Some of it is demographic; you may be in an area where “your” people are just thin on the ground. Queer people in particular know this struggle; being gay or trans in a small, conservative town means that you’re not going to have as many options, if any. That doesn’t mean they’re doing anything wrong, it just means that they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Or it may mean making sure that you’re looking for the right people. If you’re a peach, you want people who want peaches. It also means looking for people who really want what you have to offer. When we say “don’t be everybody’s cup of tea, be a few people’s shot of whiskey”, what that means is that you don’t necessarily want many people who only kinda like you, you want someone who craves you.
It is important to look at what you’re doing and how, because that can influence things. But there’s a difference between “make sure you’re not doing the things that make you roll with disadvantage” and “you’re a flawed, unloveable person”.
It may mean that you’re trying too hard, that you’ve let the rejection get in your head and now you’re trying to prove something to yourself by getting a win, any win. That desperation can put people off. Or it may mean that you’re going after people who you just aren’t compatible with. Sometimes what we want isn’t the same as what’s right for us, and we haven’t balanced the two sides of that particular equation.
And still other times, the issue is that you’re not putting yourself into fortune’s path. I’ve lost track of the number of people who seem to think that if someone’s right for them, that special someone will track them down and kick in the door of their apartment and sweep them off their feet. Or you might be experiencing a lot of rejection because you’re putting yourself out there a lot and thus courting rejection more often. This is one of the unspoken issues with online dating; you’re “approaching” more people than you would in person and thus courting rejection more frequently than you would be if you were going out and talking to people in the flesh.
And yes, sometimes it can be a skill issue. Or a “your pool may be smaller than others’” for any number of reasons that don’t have anything to do with you as a person. Sometimes it’s something that can be changed and improved upon. Sometimes it’s something you have to learn to work around.
None of this is to say that rejection doesn’t hurt or that it can’t get to you. It’s gonna sting. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to sting the same every time; sometimes it’s really painful, other times, its less noticeable than a mosquito bite. But if rejection starts becoming the worst pain every time, that often means that you’ve let it get set up shop in your head rent free. You’ve ended up focusing more on the outcome – being rejected – than recognizing that not everyone’s going to be right for you and that’s ok.
If it gets bad, then take time off. Focus on other things, connect with friends, do the things that are good for your soul and make life amazing. You’ll often find that taking a break is far better than continuing to pound your head against the wall or taking another dive into the thorn hedge – both for your self-esteem and for your odds. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is to just step away for a bit and come back when you’ve had a chance to relax and recuperate.
After all: “it’ll happen when you stop trying so hard” tends to be true. Often we get so caught up in the process and outcome dependent, we forget why we started in the first place. But when we stop, take a step back, relax and reconnect with who we are and what we want… we often put ourselves in a place where not only are we at our best, but we have the energy and resources to not just recognize an opportunity, but to take full advantage of it when it appears.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com