By Erin Davidson
So, I am a little late to the party. I was fortunate to enjoy a secure and loving romantic relationship from the ages of 17 through 24, a time when people often feel the most lost and alone. As a result, it is not until the age of 25 that I have begun to explore the monsoon-clusterfuck that is modern-dating. While that descriptor was fun to write, it is not entirely fair—for the most part dating has been a butterfly-in-the-stomach, fun-filled experience. I shamelessly support the use of dating apps and their ability to connect people to folks outside of one’s typical social network. Stand-up comedian? Great! French pastry chef? Yes, please. Marine Biologist? Cool, I too, love dolphins. I also somehow managed to score tickets to see Louis CK on a first date, so all things considered I savoured quite the ego boost from my foray into dating. Entering the world of Tinder for the first time felt like stepping into the cafeteria on the first day of high school, with everyone enthusiastically waving for me to join their table.
Then, unsurprisingly, I experienced my first rejection.
I got hit with the age-old “I think we’d be better as friends”, by someone I had been on a couple dates with and was excited about. Rejection in romantic relationships is a normal and formative part of adolescence and young adulthood. Yet, it was a milestone that I gleefully and unknowingly bypassed. Just like that, the excruciating vulnerability of dating became a stark reality for me.
For the first time I was without the safety net of my long-term relationship and was struck with the complete lack of control I have over another person’s feelings or interest in me. I did what all advice columnists, BFFs, and therapists advise against and I took it deeply personally. This rejection sent me deep into the archives of my brain and dusted off all the paperwork filed under “insecurities”.
I spent a week feeling trapped by this experience of rejection. I kept replaying the brief moments this guy and I had spent together and tried to identify what it is that I had done to lead to this person’s disinterest in me. I was consumed with my flaws and felt mortified by how deep my pain was considering how little we had known each other.
Somewhere between episodes of Sex and the City and spoon-fulls of maple praline ice cream, I was reminded of an experience I had shopping a few weeks earlier and I could not help but draw some similarities to my recent dating experience.
While shopping, I came across the most beautiful one-piece bathing suit I had ever seen. It had a saucy low back and tastefully placed cut-outs around the hips. The colour combination was both unique and strikingly beautiful—an exotic blend of coral, deep violet, and turquoise. I already had mental images of the vacation photos I would take and an estimate of the Instagram likes that would ensue. After stroking the smooth material for a little longer than might be considered socially acceptable, I fondled the cardboard tag to reveal a whopping $250 price sticker. I started to do some mental math around what I could sacrifice that month to justify the cost (lattes, taxi rides, the exact amount I owe in rent…). Keep in mind, this is all before I tried the suit on. I eventually talked myself into bringing the bathing suit into the fitting room. Already envisioning myself as a bronzed beach goddess, I stepped into the suit one leg at a time, scooped my breasts into the fabric, and hoisted the straps over my shoulders. I turned around to look in the mirror to reveal the least flattering piece of fabric I have ever worn. I looked as though I would fit right in if TLC had a show combining My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Toddlers in Tiaras. After glancing in the mirror, I laughed to myself and felt relieved that I could continue buying groceries and paying rent as usual that month.
While I know that trying on clothes, especially swimsuits, can often be tests of body image and self-esteem, on this particular day, at no point did I think there was something inherently wrong with me or my body. The bathing suit simply… Did. Not. Fit. At some point in my life I had internalized the notion that not all articles of clothing will work for my body (dare I make another TLC reference here and cite my former obsession with What Not to Wear?). It is for this reason that we go shopping to try things on. So why couldn’t I apply the same logic to romantic relationships?
An important similarity between my experience shopping and dating was that I ignored my initial gut instinct. With the bathing suit, I knew I could not afford the $250 price tag, but despite my better judgement, I tried it on. This mirrors the apprehension I felt to enter into a new relationship while I first started dating, given that I was fresh out of a long-term relationship and had plans to leave to travel for the summer. Upon experiencing the rejection, there was a small part of me that felt a sigh of relief, just like how I felt knowing that I would not have to shell out $250 for a piece of spandex fabric. This feeling of relief is insight into how I was ignoring what was best for me at that time.
Out of retail-induced insights, debriefing with close friends, and talking with a therapist, here are the truths I have compiled to help bounce back from romantic rejection.
- Allow yourself the space to feel the feelings—the hurt, the sadness, the grief, the shame— these are all valid and important emotions. No matter how self-confident or self-aware you are, if you open yourself up to someone you are interested in, it is going to hurt if they do not reciprocate your feelings. The trick is knowing that the difficult feelings will not last forever, and to stop yourself before the negative emotions about an experience of rejection turn into an attack on your self-worth.
- Stop trying to figure out where you went wrong. Really, stop. Mentally replaying your perceived blunders is a fruitless and cruel form of masochism. This is certainly easier said than done, particularly when a rejection is experienced as traumatic. In these situations, reliving the event is a natural reaction. Healing will come when you understand that regardless of what you could have said or done differently, the type of person you want to be with is someone who will not need you to change and will love all the parts of you.
- Build a mentality of abundance rather than scarcity. While I truly believe that the concept of one soul mate is right up there with Santa Clause, I am prone to a scarcity model of dating. By this I mean that as soon as I start having feelings for someone, I irrationally begin to think that they are the best and only dating option out there. When in reality, there is a multitude of people on this planet to be compatible with.
Finally, it is important to understand that relationships are more about the space between people rather than the individuals themselves. While dating, it is common to feel that you are being judged as a human being, when really there is so much more that creates successful relationships, such as timing, compatibility, and chemistry. In the face of rejection, it is easy to, as I did, pull out the list of your insecurities as explanations for the other person’s disinterest. When, in reality, attraction is based on multiple complex and nuanced factors which are often below awareness—you might remind this person of an annoying aunt they have, you might laugh more frequently than they like, or your impeccable Napoleon Dynamite impression may have freaked them out—all things that you cannot control or that you would not want to change because they are an essential part of who you are.
Someone else’s romantic interest or disinterest in you is out of your control and is not a reflection of your self-worth. As I learned from the swimsuit, sometimes things just do not fit. These days I am dipping my toe back into the dating pool, with a photo of the infamous swimsuit stored in my phone to serve as a reminder to listen to my gut, keep my expectations at bay, and to know that if this option does not work, there is something else that will.