One of my big motivations for settling down once upon a time was that I really didn’t do well with rejection.
A lot of people don’t. But I was very sensitive to it. No matter how many other things went well for me, I really had a hard time with the times I was rejected. They stung. Stung hard.
I’d find myself ruminating endlessly on times when I said or did the wrong thing. And part of what I fantasized about when I thought about having a serious romantic partner — back before I’d ever had one — was having a relationship in which I was always accepted. In which I could say or do no wrong.
Hey, it made sense to me at the time. That was the true love of fairy tales. Radical acceptance. Unconditional love. I’d later come to realize that the health of a bond is less about the absence of conditions (truly, there are usually a few baseline ones, like don’t try to kill the other person or their children, for example) but what those conditions are. Whether they’re superficial or fundamental.
But that would be a long way off. No, back then, I longed for a rejection-free environment. And I saw this as a stable long-term romantic relationship.
People in Relationships Have to Deal With Their Partners’ Rejections
It was only after I finally had one (I was the last single person in my friends group) that I realized how naive I had been.
Because you don’t escape rejection just by being in a romantic relationship. Even if it’s exclusive/monogamous, there are plenty of times when you’ll face some sort of minor, moderate, or major rejection. Here are just a few common examples (there are of course more than these):
- You can be trying to decide what to have for dinner and really, really want something specific. And the other person can shoot down your idea. In my own case, during my very first relationship, we didn’t have very much money at all, so all food decisions were always collective. We both had to agree. And I liked all the foods they did, but they didn’t like all the foods I liked. So a lot of times, we were eating what they wanted to eat.
- You can make a sexual advance and they can say no. This is a big one. Consent is key. And just because one of you is in the mood, it doesn’t mean the other is. And you have to learn to deal with that rejection — and to not default to thinking they don’t love you or find you attractive anymore. I exclusively dated a man for 8 years who wanted sex way less than I did. As a woman who had been raised conservatively, this threw everything I had mentally prepared myself for on its head. I had been told by everyone around me that men would have sex with anything, even inanimate objects. And then suddenly I was in a long-term relationship where my male partner often turned me down. At the time, it was incredibly difficult to deal with. And I took those rejections very personally (although always abided by the no, because consent is consent, people).
- And of course there’s the ultimate rejection, the one where it really feels like you are being rejected and not just something you wanted or was important to you. You can break up. The relationship can end. This might just happen once, but for couples who do the whole off-again, on-again thing, it’s a cycle that repeats over and over.
Learning to Deal Better with Rejection Is a Relationship (and Life) Skill That Helps Everyone
I really do believe that learning to deal better with rejection is a relationship skill — no, a life skill — that helps everyone. I wrote about it a bit more in this other article I wrote, which also talks about how some people are physically predisposed to take rejection harder.
But nothing has given me more mileage than getting better at handling rejection.
I’m not perfect at it, mind you… and I don’t think there’s anyone who really likes being rejected.
But it’s night and day looking at how I used to feel about it versus how it hits me now. I have some longer notes on exactly how this happened — long beyond the scope of a simple blog post, more akin to a book chapter or two, but here’s the bottom line.
In my own case, I basically forced myself to get rejected a lot. Put myself out there a lot and talked to myself afterward about how the sting, the pain of rejection, wasn’t actually factual info. That I wasn’t doomed because I had put myself out there and it didn’t go the way I wanted it to. That it didn’t mean that I’d never get what I wanted from someone sometime somewhere.
And then I put myself out there again.
I did this a lot professionally — both as a consultant and as a writer. I felt the sting, the demoralizing emotional pain of being rejected, and I did it again. And again. And again.
Until I stopped feeling much of anything.
Because when I took a step back, I could see that I was being appropriate in the way I asked for things, who I asked for them, and when. There was nothing wrong with asking. I just wouldn’t always get what I wanted.
And that was because other people got a say. As they should.
Look, it took forever. Years and years. But with time, persistence, and patience, I made some headway. The nice thing was that it wasn’t all rejection. Putting myself out there more hurt a lot because of the increased level of rejection, but not only did I come to deal with the rejection more gracefully, I also got unexpectedly accepted sometimes in ways that surprised me.
Again, I’m not perfect at dealing with rejection. It still hurts sometimes (and sometimes more than I’d like it to). But it’s so much better than it used to be.