Whether the context is dating, career, or your social life in general, getting turned down for a date, passed over for a promotion, having a call or text go unreturned, or being refused a second interview stings. If we’re told directly, “this isn’t a good match”, it can leave us with a lot of doubt and uncertainty about what we did wrong. But if a call is unreturned, or if commitments are made and not kept, it might leave us wondering why we weren’t worthy of a response, or whether the person received our follow-up communications or not.
“Don’t take it personally”
You might hear this advice from friends, family, or even from the person or persons who rejected you. In my experience, these words mean one of two things:
1. I don’t want to see your disappointment. There are people who can’t handle seeing disappointment in others or who don’t want to see someone get angry, upset, or show negative emotion of any kind. These people may use those three words in an attempt to blunt any displays of sadness or anger. They’re usually not necessary, unless you’re an explosive person who has trouble controlling your reactions. More often, it means #2, below.
2. Factors that had nothing to do with you influenced this decision. Usually, this is what people really mean. If you hear it from the person who rejected you, it’s almost certainly true, especially if it was a job interview. I remember, early in my career as a social worker, going for a round of at least two or three interviews. I met the clinical supervisor, the clinical director, the executive director, and the CEO. It came down to me and one other person–and the other person got the job. Though I was considered a strong candidate from the beginning, the other person was considered a better fit.
In a dating context, the timing could be all wrong. She might have just met someone, recently gone through a breakup and needs time alone, or gotten buried in responsibility at work. You just don’t know, unless she tells you.
Moving Forward: Dos and Don’ts
Don’t express anger. Notice I didn’t say “Don’t be angry.” You might have feelings about being rejected. Those feelings are OK. But it’s not OK to burden another with those feelings, especially when it’s a job interview or a romantic interest you’ve only met once or twice.
Don’t chase them. Don’t guilt-trip them. Don’t pester them. Don’t keep asking them whether they received your voicemail or email. If they wanted to reach you, they’d find a way to do that. Pursuing them after you’ve already been rejected shows neediness and desperation, especially if you were a strong job candidate. Express your disappointment to trusted friends, a therapist, or a coach instead.
Do remember that a clear rejection is always better than an empty promise. If you’ve been clearly told they’re not interested, it’s a gift. You can move on and pursue other leads or love interests with no doubts.
Look at what you might have done differently. A social samurai acts as if everything depends on him, all the while knowing that none of it is in his control, ultimately. We put our best selves forward, and another makes the final decision. It’s best not to overanalyze any one situation. But if rejection is becoming a pattern, it’s a good idea to find out what factors you can change. The perspective of a trusted friend or support group can be tremendously helpful in this situation. Listen to your friends’ take on things, knowing that you have the final decision on changes you make. It may be changing your look, editing your resume, going after a different demographic, or some other factor.
Informed practice is the most important thing. You need to put yourself out there, over and over, but also try to learn something from each new encounter. The two activities of practice and learning, in combination, will help you reach your goals. Practice is something you need to do yourself. Learning takes place with yourself and others. Practice without learning keeps you stuck in reinforcing bad habits and practicing your mistakes; learning without practice becomes theoretical. Do both, and you’ll get closer to achieving your goals.
Dealing with rejection also means dealing with the task of rejecting another. How we reject others says a lot about who we are as people. Next week I’ll look at how we can do that skillfully.