Rejection Is Dope (Not.)
If there is any modern phrase that I wish I could zap into non-existence, it would be, “shoot your shot.” Partially because a similar sentiment has been my long-time mantra and I’m tired of that lifestyle being co-opted in a blasé manner, and partially because it’s empowered hoards of ill-intentioned men with an arbitrary rationale to slide into my and my contemporaries’ DMs. Truly though, it’s taken the romance out of a once brilliant idea. Who hasn’t swooned at the thought of Peter McWilliams infamous remark, “It is a risk to love. What if it doesn't work out? Ah, but what if it does.”
Poetry. Sheer poetry. (It shames me to say this but I still get goosebumps thinking about it.) I know I cannot be alone in thinking that response rates would be so much better if a DM slide ended in that quote instead of a, “figured I’d shoot my shot, EYYY!” (Side note to any men reading: just own it.)
But maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s time for me to rethink my “immediate vulnerability” stance and take the romanticism out of being romantic. Not entirely, but possibly replacing it with a healthy dose of stoicism to start. My lofty ideals of love and being emotionally available worked for a time, but what about now? Was it bad advice to give to my lovely readers? Is some distance okay? For so long, when romantic advances are made out of sheer will, a rejection seems like a necessary means to some ultimate end goal. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, no? However, when romantic advances are made out of loneliness or “necessity” in that way, rejection becomes infinitely less palatable. Who’s been there?
Somewhere along the line, rejection stopped being a romantic idea and started being an intense, painful emotional labor. I don’t know if it’s come along with age, with heartbreak, or just out of that necessity in regards to time and want, but it’s tiring. It’s painful. In fact, I wouldn’t wish the cycle of attachment and disappointment on my biggest enemy. I’ve given pieces of myself to so many people who did nothing to earn it. Put even more callously, my heart has made a lot of bad investments. My daydreams have written a lot of checks that reality just couldn’t cash. And do you know what? It SUCKS.
Let’s take, for example, an old habit I once had of falling in love on the subway. I would lock eyes and let myself envision a lifetime together. It was quirky and seemingly harmless, but ended up doing some very real damage. As much as I don’t want to be a bitch about this, real life is so far from a storybook when it comes to falling in love and romance. For the sake of a story or haphazard bouts of inspiration to create something beautiful, maybe it’s worth it to fall in love for a moment before snapping back to reality, but being lovelorn is nothing to build an empire upon. Having an idealized version of what a partnership is intended to look like isn’t a bad idea for a vision board but in practice, you have to acknowledge that humans are ugly, flawed, and morning breath is never as sweet and aspirational as poems and love songs make it seem.
So if we’re not taking chances for fear of rejection, what are we doing? I think it’s safe to say that closed-off and scared of interactions and willingly sliding into the DMs are 3AM are the two polar opposites flanking the sides of a sliding scale, and most people float somewhere between the two. If you’re anything like me and dangerously close to the latter, I’m here to tell you that it’s okay, and that there’s a way to cope with it. Ever heard the phrase, “hope for the best, prepare for the worst?” I think that’s on the right track but still a little misguided. I’d say, set yourself up for success but be willing to accept a different outcome as not a failure, but a gentle nudge towards a different path.
Honestly, the only way you can get good at taking rejection is by experiencing it—sometimes, if you’re as stubborn as me, over and over again—until you see it as just another thing that happens. This is true in love and in life. Something that I learned while working at a creative agency is that if you don’t put your ideas out there, they’re never, EVER even going to have a chance of coming into fruition. You have to at least give them that chance, and even if they get immediately shot down, the worthwhile ones will come along with constructive feedback. It’s a numbers game, really. That’s how you grow. That’s how you learn. Instead of viewing rejection as inherently wrong, see it as an opportunity to learn something. Maybe that something is just, “he’s seeing someone.” Maybe it’s, “perhaps I should ban myself from speaking to workaholics.” Don’t immediately look at rejection as something that happened because you’re doing something wrong. More often than not, it’s not the case, and you must treat yourself with compassion in the face of it.
I’m not anywhere near ready to practice an entirely stoic existence, but I think that there are some key points that the aspiring self-sufficient bitch can take away:
“With regard to whatever objects give you delight, are useful, or are deeply loved, remember to tell yourself of what general nature they are, beginning from the most insignificant things. If, for example, you are fond of a specific ceramic cup, remind yourself that it is only ceramic cups in general of which you are fond. Then, if it breaks, you will not be disturbed.” (From The Enchiridion by Epictetus)
While, personally, I could never apply this logic to someone I’m deeply in love with, (a partner, or even in the familial sense with my loved ones, and deep friendships included as well) it’s a good way to look at those romantic prospects you’ve only just gotten to know. Is this person just another ceramic cup in a world full of unique and enthralling pottery? Chances are, yes.
I suppose that’s the difference between romanticizing and staying pragmatic: it’s how you look inward in the face of a situation in which you may be rejected. You see it as a chance worth taking, and that’s it. You can internalize it as a failure, or you can acknowledge yourself for pushing your limits and accept is as an inevitability. Perhaps the latter doesn’t mean that you have a lack of vulnerability or wealth of empathy for anyone other than yourself: it means that you’re practicing the art of maintaining a safe distance until the person in question earns your trust and deep vulnerability.
Don’t give of yourself to someone who may not want you. Don’t hurl your future plans in the direction of someone who could very well be disinterested. Don’t burn yourself out chasing after someone who doesn’t want you. Take your chances, sure, but know the importance of weighing risk vs. reward, and don’t dilly dally with an idealized version someone you only just met. Take your time. Go ahead and shoot your shot, but don’t lose who you are in the process.
It’s Valentine’s Day. If you have someone to celebrate with, hold them close. If you’re alone despite “shooting your shot,” buy some champagne and chocolates anyway. There are plenty more ceramic cups in the cupboard.