When I started dating again I thought the hardest part would be sifting through hundreds of boring profiles online, or the number of times I’d get all dressed up to go on disappointing dates, or unwarranted sexual advances, or not getting any dates at all.
The hardest part was none of those things.
All of those anxieties paled in comparison to the moment when I met someone I actually liked. Daniel* was one of those guys who was just quirky enough to be interesting. He had a somewhat radical view on politics, an impressive collection of oddities and antiques, and constructed an array of beautiful wood furnishings that decorated his apartment. His time in the military took him to dangerous and exotic locales that broadened his perspective of beauty standards and the world. Best of all, he had a sense of humor that could always make me laugh aloud.
Daniel was exactly the kind of guy I had been hoping to find, except for his pesky little problem of not really wanting to be with me. Although there was an undeniable attraction between us, he made sure to keep me in the “friend zone.” We shared deeply personal conversations about our families, our dreams for the future, our hopes and frustrations. We’d kiss and caress in various stages of undress and he often invited me to stay for the night. Incidentally, he requested we abstain from sex believing it would create a false sense of intimacy or it would complicate our relationship. I thought for sure he’d eventually see me as a partner worthy of his love and affection, but when I refused to see the writing on the wall he had to unequivocally spell it out for me.
His rejection was an insidious cancer that fed into all my insecurities. Why wasn’t I good enough for him? What made me so undesirable? How did all my other happily coupled friends figure out how to do this so easily? I became obsessed with the idea that Daniel was seeing other women, younger women who looked more exotic and made fewer demands on his time and affections. I thought I had a chance at love and somehow I messed it all up. Again.
That was the hardest part of dating. Not the “it was nice meeting you, but I don’t think we’re a match” kind of rejection, but the “negativity spiral of self-loathing and depression” kind of rejection that results from the soul-crushing ache of unrequited love. Worse than that, my fear of rejection falls second only to my fear of loneliness, thus creating an endless loop of hope and desolation in my life from which there appears to be no escape. That can be very scary.
Starting a new relationship, if you’re willing to do it right, requires an uncomfortable amount of vulnerability. The closer you get to someone, the more you need them to see you in your entirety so you can trust they’ll accept you for the good, the bad and the ugly. I think we call it “falling” in love because it requires us to take that leap of faith. It’s a leap many of us are no longer willing to take after hitting rock bottom with a resounding thud one too many times. I lived in fear of rejection and failure until I attended a special retreat created by relationship expert, Matthew Hussey. Among the many things I learned there, some of the most valuable were guidelines to overcoming the fear of failure:
1. Create a mindset for growth that accepts failure as part of the process. Sometimes my fear of failure was more intimidating than the failure itself and that often resulted in a self-fulfilling prophecy. There would also be times when I did everything right and things still didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. That’s okay. Only a fixed mind avoids challenges and expects perfection from themselves or others all the time.
2. Measure success on effort-based actions instead of results. I began believing that the only real failure is inaction. Once I learned how to enjoy the journey, it became easier to ignore the bumps in the road.
3. Practice Gratitude. It was difficult to find gratitude with all the things I perceived I was lacking, but it truly is the key to greater happiness. Gratitude stopped me from putting my happiness on hold until I could get what I wanted. Even my failures could provide me with something to learn from. When nothing went the way I planned, I learned to be grateful for the lesson.
4. Remove the judgement from failure and forgive yourself. The more I kept beating myself up over what went wrong in the past, the less strength I had to face what happened next. Try giving yourself a clean slate to deal with yesterday’s problems, accept the challenges of today and move on towards the future.
Don’t let the fear of rejection or failure diminish your capacity to love. The beautiful thing about love is no matter how much you give away, it always finds a way to replenish itself. I understand it is human nature to want external validation; however, my fear of rejection and failure did not begin to fade away until I truly believed I didn’t need external validation to be whole and happy.
If falling in love is sending an invitation that says, “Welcome to my weird and my wonderful. Come as you are to this rare opportunity to embrace my unique beauty and please accept this heart with care and loving kindness.” then rejection is getting that invitation back marked, “Return to Sender.” Before you’re ready to take that leap of faith, make a vow to embrace your unique beauty and accept your own heart with care and loving kindness before sending out your invitations. Self-love is the first and only guest you’ll ever need in attendance.
*Names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.
Author: LeVonne Lindsay
Editor: Travis May