Rejection Isn’t Personal – How to Meet the Pain of Rejection with Compassion

Alex may not have wanted me, personally, but the “rejection” isn’t personal. It’s subjective; a projection of his own reality. Other’s opinions and preferences have little to nothing to do with us. They most definitely do not have bearing on our value.

After a week of exchanging lightly sarcastic and flirty texts, Alex and I arranged our first date. We met on a beach in the late afternoon, a ferry ride away from my house. Cassie, my dog, spent 90 minutes chasing a worn green tennis ball across the sand while Alex and I got acquainted. With each inquiry, we uncovered all we have in common.

  • I drive a sweet Volkswagen van; he’s a huge fan and owned one until recently.
  • He’s had a successful career in commercial work and television; I’ve moonlighted as the face of Tulalip Casino TV ads, and appeared on Amazon Video Shorts selling camping gear. (totally amateur on my part, but still so fun to say I did!)
  • He’s passionate about fly-fishing; I spent countless summer months casting for salmon with my dad.
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I can’t reveal Alex’s true identity, but here’s a fun photo of me at a casino shoot!

First dates are meant to suss out compatibility, but it’s a delicate balancing act. We expect a genuine introduction, but don’t need to show all our skeletons. Too much digging can result in over-analyzing and sabotaging potential.

There’s bound to be areas of disagreement. That’s ok. I’m pro-discernment (it’s fair to be picky!), but incompatibilities at this early stage should be judged lightly. Who cares if he’s considering moving out of state in two years, is undecided on future children, or would rather spend evenings home playing cards than seeing live music?

It’s JUST a first date.

Alex and I achieved this comfortable balance. Not too hot, not too cold. No overt sexual innuendo, but he was charming and more-than-friendly. I thought so anyway. The air cooled as the sun went down behind the ocean. Alex asked if I was hungry and we spent the next few minutes reading yelp reviews of local restaurants and negotiating gastropub vs. sushi.

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Sunset View before the night turned sour.

The Gastropub won. I was buoyed by the fact that he wanted to continue through a meal. We’d intended the date to be casual and open ended. If we hit it off, we agreed it could range from a quick walk on the beach to other end of the spectrum – an overnight stay at the house his company was renting on the island. He’d mentioned the spectacular water view and hot tub. “Since you’re taking a ferry such a long way, maybe you’ll want to crash over night.”

I firmly informed him that hot tub time wasn’t guaranteed, but I wasn’t ruling it out. Safety and responsibility come first, yet I was optimistic. on dates. When Cassie and I hopped in the car and headed to the ferry terminal, there was a sexy little bikini and toothbrush neatly tucked away in my bag.

It wasn’t love at first sight, but I found him attractive and intriguing. I don’t make a habit of casual sex, one night stands, or even first date kissing. But I’m not averse if it feels right. As we laughed together at the beach, then swooned in tandem over a bacon/date/cheese appetizer, it was starting to feel right.

Alex ordered a glass of red wine and I had my standby- Ice tea. The customary question-answer transpired as I deigned to order alcohol. “I don’t ever drink.” I said, smiling. “How long has that been your choice?” He asked. (BTW – that’s a nice approach to glean info without sounding critical.) I answered, and we moved on from the subject; no awkward silences, no need to press the issue.

Per Alex’s prompting, I’d ordered an expensive crab risotto entree. It was full of rich seafood, butter and oregano. We shared bites off each other’s plates and I asked for a box to take the rest of my large portion home. He paid the bill and held the door open for me as we walked out into the late evening.

We arrived at my car and I set my “doggie bag”  on the seat. When I turned around, Alex stood a few feet away fidgeting with his hands. Ignoring my trepidation, I brightly asked “What’s next? What’s our options?”

His eyes got big. He swallowed. “Um, yeah. We have options. Sure.” I quirked an eyebrow at him. “What’s up, Alex?”

His seemed to have trouble forming words. “Well, so. I’m trying to. You know. I need to. Um. I need to listen to my intuition. What I’m trying to say. I just didn’t see this – us- going anywhere.”

It was painful to watch. I took mercy on him. “You’re saying we don’t have chemistry? Right?”

“Yes! Exactly. I’m so sorry.”

Contorting my face into a tight, fake smile and opening my eyes wide as possible to repress unwanted tears, I said “Oh, GOOD!!” in a loud, overly cheerful voice.

Only it wasn’t good.

I’ve never been turned down on a date. I’ve been “ghosted.” Disappointed. Avoided. Dumped. Blocked even. But never has a man looked me in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, our few hours together have shown me how much I don’t like you. My intuition says this won’t work. I’d like you to keep your clothes on and go home.”

I have to give him credit though; he was so contrite. “Tiffany, you’re really nice. Thanks for coming all the way out…You can still crash at the house. You can have my room, I’ll sleep on the couch.”

Choking back tears and laughter, my first thought was wonder what the rest of the crew is like? Maybe someone worth meeting there…..

NO. I don’t need a consolation prize.

I think I WON’T do that. I’ll catch the last ferry home. Thanks again, for the ridiculously expensive risotto. I feel bad I ordered it. I wish I would have known how you felt before I ordered. I totally appreciate your honesty though. Truly.”

Busying myself getting Cassie out of the car, I allowed Alex the time to walk away and for both of us to keep a shred of dignity. As soon as she was leashed and and we’d taken a few steps, the tears fell.

What the fuck? What’s wrong with me? What did I do?

My thoughts went crazy, scrutinizing every single detail of the night. What turned him off? I checked my outfit: Not slutty. Not boring.  He’d chosen me initially based on photos, and I looked just like myself.

Was I too aggressive? Too chatty? He was soft spoken, but held up his side of the conversation. Maybe I was overbearing. Did I share too much about my past? I didn’t think so. Alex asked about my daughter’s dad, and I answered honestly but simply that we’d tried to make it work; we’d married twice. Alex shared too. We both disclosed a little about former flames.

I was forthcoming that I’m not very close to my mom or brothers right now. Alex said he couldn’t imagine that. He praised his tight knit family and called his stepmom one of his heroes. Maybe he couldn’t picture adding me as a branch on his family tree.

But I wasn’t interested in putting down roots together. We never even broached the subject, “What are you looking for? Marriage? Kids? How soon?”

My biggest fear is that I’ll be judged by my former addiction and won’t find someone who can overlook it and love me unconditionally, but my sober lifestyle didn’t seem to phase Alex. Of course, I never gave him the chance to condemn me; I never mentioned drugs or probation.

For undivulged reasons, Alex deemed me unattractive enough to spend even one more minute with. Although he kept repeating I was “really nice.” I guess that counts for something.

I’ve yet to ascertain Alex’s reasoning. The following evening, I sent a lighthearted text asking if he’d participate in a post-date survey. I admitted I wasn’t convinced we had a long term future based on our short 180 minutes together, but I had fun and was surprised by the blunt termination. His reply was cryptic. “My head and heart are still buffering. Perhaps I could respond later today?”

But the response never came. I’ve been left to ponder and dissect my weaknesses alone, wondering where I failed. (I still think maybe I over-shared when I mentioned my ability to eat a pound of bacon in one sitting. But if you can’t love me for that, we’re doomed anyway.)

My first reaction to rejection is shame. It feels like a sharp weapon, and causes deep painful injuries if we allow it. I default to self-condemnation and self-doubt. But there’s another option. I don’t have to be a victim, and I don’t have to turn to self-loathing. It’s totally possible to reframe my thinking. (Hint: I learned this in Mindfulness courses!)

I can choose to understand that nothing is personal.

Alex may not have wanted me, personally, but the “rejection” isn’t personal. It’s subjective; a projection of his own reality. Other’s opinions and preferences have little to nothing to do with us. They most definitely do not have bearing on our value. (For an excellent explanation of this phenomenon, check out The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.)

Example: Let’s say Alex won’t date me and feels aversion toward me because I’ve been married before. (I think the odds of this are good. He did seem a little shocked when I explained my previous weddings.)

I have choices.

  • Chastise myself for being married and divorced, therefore not acceptable. Shame myself for being impure and less than enough. Hate myself for not being lovable.

or…

  • Realize Alex’s reality is only personal to him. His opinions were cultivated over decades. His parent’s divorce likely skewed his viewpoint. His religion, background, culture, memories, and experiences are the deciding factors. Not me.

Alex’s decision has nothing to do with my worth or quality. I can allow Alex to have his experience and keep my ego out of it. His perspective is based on the conditioning of his consciousness.

It just so happens his consciousness was conditioned to say NO, he ultimately did NOT want to soak in a hot tub with me wearing a Costa Rican made, Brazilian cut bikini that night. Or ever. (To be fair, I didn’t exactly tell him about the suit.)

Letting go of the personal nature of an exchange with another human isn’t easy or immediate. I’m still irked. I still have a shred of hope that he’ll text and let me know what the hell he was thinking and what ultimately made up his mind. What if he’s hanging on to crucial info that could help me improve for my next date??

But instead of suffering needlessly, clinging to negative feelings or letting this sabotage my self-esteem, I see it as a chance to develop self-compassion.

When I became single and began dating, a very close friend told me that this era of my life: “Isn’t about finding the right guy. It’s about you. What you’re really doing is dating yourself.”

She’s so exactly right. (Thanks Tori! You’re brilliant.) I’m not doomed to feel rejected. And even though Alex didn’t show me any love, our date was nowhere near a failure. It’s a golden opportunity to practice the only love I really need right now; radical self-love.

Cheers to Loving Yourself Wholly,

Tiffany

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