The secret to dealing with rejection and moving on
Crocodiles often swallow rocks, which can then tumble around harmlessly in their stomachs for years.
A bellyful of rocks may even help crocodiles control their buoyancy and digest prey. (There’s a point to this, I promise.)
There live among us people who take romantic rejection very well: I call them super-rejects. Like the rocks in the belly of the crocodile, rejections can pile up inside these super-rejects without causing any damage, until they are passed into the riverbed, unnoticed.
When you turn down one of these super-rejects, they do not send you a multi-text dirge. They do not spiral or throw themselves into the stiff, unrewarding embrace of whatever rom-com is playing on TBS. They experience a healthy moment of woe, and they move on.
The chillness of the super-reject often awes me, and then instantly unsettles me: Did he want me to break it off? But there have been a few times when I’ve turned down a guy after a few dates, or even after a slurred pickup attempt in a bar, and he’s gone off. The opposite of the super-reject is a guy I barely know who just can’t let it go. That can be really scary. Like many women, I think about the day in 2014 when a young man killed six people and injured 14 more near the UC Santa Barbara campus to “punish” women for not being attracted to him. I think about a man I read about in November who used an app he’d installed in his ex-girlfriend’s car to stalk her—the app also allowed him to control the car’s stop-and-start function.
Granted, it’s just as scary when a scorned woman overreacts. Last year, a woman in New Jersey burned a man’s house down after he reportedly booty-called her at 4:00 a.m. but fell asleep before she arrived. (The woman was “intent on having a hot date anyway,” wrote a New York Daily News reporter.) Female stalkers are almost as likely as male stalkers to threaten physical violence against their victims.
But men are far less likely to be stalked. According to the latest National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from the CDC, one in 17 men says he’s felt fearful or believed that he or someone close to him would be killed as a result of stalking, but one in six women has, and some women are even more likely to be stalked. According to the Department of Justice, 28 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced stalking, compared with 16 percent of white women.
That’s why a super-reject is such a relief. A man who takes rejection in stride, or even one who pretends to take rejection in stride, is so attractive that it often makes one want to unreject him. (Of course, that should not be the goal of a rejection response—the goal should be freeing yourself from a cycle of shame and self-judgment.)
I once had the pleasure of rejecting a super-reject. After two dates, I sent him my go-to: “Hey!!! I had fun hanging out with you, but I just don’t feel a spark here. Sorry!!!” (I always gag at the earnestness of a “spark,” but there really isn’t a less Bachelorette word.) Then I held my breath. He responded about 30 minutes later: “Nooo!!!! Thanks for letting me know, I had a really great time as well. No worries!”
I bet that when he doesn’t get a job, he writes an email like that and they hire him a year later. Maybe we’ll get married down the line. First, he nodded to his disappointment, which is cathartic for the reject and flattering for the rejecter, and he did it in a funny way. (“Nooo,” I should point out, is very different from “NO.”) When he said that he’d also had fun on our dates, I stopped imagining him seething in a basement over the hours of his life that I, a tease, had wasted. He used a lot of exclamation points, which made him seem completely nonthreatening. “No worries” let us both off the hook. It is the breeziest, most final sign-off.
“Rejection is bad, but there’s no reason to make it even more painful by piling on embarrassments.”
His was a particularly magnanimous response, but responding to a rejection like that doesn’t just soothe the rejecter. An explicit rejection is an opportunity to reclaim your dignity. Some people can do that by not responding at all, but I think it’s helpful for everyone involved to acknowledge receipt. Here’s how to handle several hypothetical rejections like the self-assured and laissez-faire super-reject we know you can be:
You got ghosted.
Everyone maintains the right to ghost until, say, date four. But it is the cardinal dick move, because it denies the ghostee the chance to politely, generously accept the rejection. The only way to keep your dignity when you get ghosted is to cut your losses and remain silent, because literally anything you say will appear mournfully desperate. Especially a 900- word rant about “UGLY B****ES who think they can just GHOST men like ME.”
You hit on someone in a bar, and they weren’t into it.
The near certainty of immediate rejection is what makes flirting with a stranger so bold. If you take your shot in a bar and get rebuffed, just say, “Sorry, have a good night!” Do not approach her again. Do not say, “Come find me later if you change your mind.” Do not say, “But I bought you a drink.” If she darts to the bathroom, don’t follow her to tell her how unconcerned with the rejection you are. Just disappear into the night. Hitting on a stranger isn’t inherently a bad choice; it’s just the inability to accept a rejection that gets people into trouble.
You received a “no spark” text after a few dates.
Use the formula of the super-reject’s text above. First, briefly and cheerfully acknowledge your disappointment (“Bummed to hear that!”). Thank the rejecter for being honest and, implicitly, for not ghosting you. Then deliver a final-feeling sign-off: “Good luck with [that thing she talked about for three hours]!” Delete her number, then spend the next 15 minutes cataloging her faults in your mind. Watch an episode of King of the Hill. Move on.
You tweet at Kumail Nanjiani a lot, but he still loves his beautiful, funny wife and still hasn’t noticed you.
[long, pitying silence]
Rejection is bad, but there’s no reason to make it even worse by piling on embarrassments. Nobody has ever regretted not sending an angry missive in response to a ghosting or a disappointing text. Be the mighty crocodile. Fill yourself up with rejection rocks until you can digest an entire capybara in a single day. Take a tenuous metaphor to its logical conclusion!
Just don’t send that indignant text.