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“I want to be honest with you Amanda. I don’t think we are a very good match.”
The message glows on the screen of my phone. “You’re a very ‘athlete’ personality and I’m not. No romantic connection for me.”
Despite the somewhat superfluous ending to the message, I couldn’t help but admire the honesty of it. Or the audacity. The undertone assuming that I had indeed thought it was a good match and budding romantic connection (I hadn’t).
Yet in the midst, I find myself almost giddy with excitement. I feel my heart suddenly beating against my chest wall, and I’m abruptly hyper alert. This is what it feels like to be rejected. Like, to your face rejected. In real life rejected. Even though it’s not really rejection because you didn’t get a good vibe and although you were trying to be open-minded and find points of interest, you are mostly overwhelmingly relieved that you don’t have to craft a high-EQ rejection message yourself. Phew.
I respond gaily, “Sure thing buddy. I wish you all the very best!” before watching him disappear from screen as he “unmatches” me and disappears forever into the cyberspace ether.
In an age where ghosting is the norm, I feel almost privileged to be provided with this information, and kudos to you Jack, 49, for doing so.
Although the situation itself—the brutal realities of the dating app world—isn’t new, my response to it is.
You see, I’ve been reflecting lately on how little I’ve been exposed to rejection and by extension—”failure”— throughout my life. Sure, I’ve been rejected by lovers in the past, but it rarely felt like true rejection. Historically, I had a terrible pattern of staying in relationships way past the expiry date, so when the time came for either one of us to end it, I was relieved rather than heartbroken.
And this theme of avoiding rejection and failure extends to other areas of my life too. I’ve never reached the second stage of an interview process and not gotten the job. I’ve never really received any “negative” feedback. Only positive nods to “opportunities for growth,” which often feel more staged than genuine.
I’m a postgrad and the lowest grade I’ve ever received in an exam was that one B, (GCSE Maths, thank you very much).
I naively waltz through life assuming everybody likes me and am rarely presented with evidence to the contrary. I think of the scene from the Barbie movie where she is confronted by a young teen at the school warning her to not approach Sasha, and Barbie’s childlike response is, “But everyone really likes me, and thinks I’m cool and pretty.”
This all seems especially ridiculous now, because lately, I’ve experienced numerous failures and embarrassing faceplants and my reactions to said events have made me realise how utterly unprepared I am to face them. My ego has been hit with a sledgehammer in such a multitude of ways, I can scarcely believe it. And there I was thinking I barely had an ego. Side note: if you think you don’t have an ego, you most definitely do.
In my sorrowful state, I start to amplify all the other events that have happened over the last couple of years, and it all amalgamates into one giant flop and failure. A failed marriage, failed friendships, more failed dating app interactions than you can reasonably imagine. A deep shame at my vast proclamations that “I’m never going to download an app ever again,” only to change my mind a week later and be subject to the same ridiculous cycle on repeat. Facing setbacks in my career. A financial crisis we were warned of but naïvely didn’t think would affect me. That year I spent nurturing the foundations of a relationship with someone I met IRL (in real life), someone I truly trusted, only for them to pull the plug a month in for some bullsh*t reason I still can’t quite fathom (my age). Nothing quite like the fresh daggers of a heartbreak to carve you wide open and leave you raw and weeping into your pillow at night wondering where it all went so very wrong.
But you see, resilience is like a muscle, and if it’s not exercised, it atrophies. And I realise how weak I have become. How safe I’ve been playing it. Avoiding failure, avoiding rejection, terrified that something might go wrong, or I might upset or disappoint someone. How I’ve been hiding out in the shadows of my life hoping that would somehow protect me.
Now I realise that in staying in my self-confined hermitage, I haven’t had the courage to dance on the edge of the precipice. And yes, dancing on said edge might involve me falling. But I never stopped to ask what was on the other side of the abyss. The painful irony is that hiding out in the shadows didn’t help me avoid failure—I got knocked into the void anyway. Earth school is tough, and sooner or later life will come knocking at our door dragging us out from the trenches of our safety zones whether we like it or not. And if we are not practiced, it will find us hiding there, weak, tentative, vulnerable.
I can’t help but ask myself, why do we play it so safe? Why are we so scared of rejection? Or of trying something and it not working out? Why are we so scared of things that can’t physically harm us, things that only exist in the imagination?
And I watch the way my 18-month-old niece waddles around, the pure definition of a toddler. We go to soft play and she throws herself over the various array of objects without a fear in the world. We take her to the beach and she runs into the expanse of sand, as fast and as far as her legs will take her. And when she falls down, she doesn’t stop to question why she’s fallen over. In a split second, she is back up again, running, running, running. When we bathe her, she takes to pulling herself up before launching herself off the side of the tub falling down onto her bottom, covered in bubbles and laughing as she goes.
Sure, she hasn’t developed the full cognitive capabilities to question the consequences of her actions yet, but it’s precisely this raw energy I want to bottle up and store so I can draw on it in times of need. This childlike innocent courageousness. Not a fear in the world.
I then experience a synchronicity that I know is one of those divine interventions to help drive home and integrate whatever theme I’m currently pondering. I’m at the trampoline park with my two nieces watching the girls bounce giddily up and down when I see an Instagram post from the author Catherine Gray. She tells the story of how she’s now been 10 years sober and of the long journey she took to get there, through moving back in with her parents at aged 33 and working an entry-level job while dreaming of what her life could look like in the future. Her conclusion is that the life she got was infinitely bigger than the one she had dreamt of 10 years prior. She writes: “It turns out that if you keep throwing yourself at life like a kid throws itself at a bouncy castle – try, fall, get up, try, fall, get up – some surprising things happen.”
And these words resonate deep in my soul, mirroring the reverberating mesh of the trampoline floor as it’s vigorously moved by the weight of the bounding children. Words that perfectly articulate this sentiment. Words that are balm to my poor battered ego and bruised soul. And I decide right there and then that I want to approach my life with the childhood innocence of flinging myself against the bouncy castle trying, falling and getting up, trying, falling and getting up. Over and over, again and again.
Now this isn’t one of those articles where I lay out the roadmap for you on what to do next or how to do it, because I’m very much in the “doing” part of this experiment myself. Unlike Catherine, I’m not on the other side looking back and reflecting on how it all (mostly) worked out. Yet, I believe this experiment has little to do with the end result—the outcome here, somewhat irrelevant. For me, it’s the quality of showing up, despite not knowing what’s ahead, or if anything really will ever “work out.” That’s what I want to channel.
And here I’m reminded of how a butterfly exits the chrysalis, having to push and battle so that its wings strengthen and enable it to fly. It is a known phenomenon that if you try to help the butterfly out of its cocoon by cutting it open, it doesn’t build the strength it needs in its wings so it can fly. And so too, I realise, I haven’t, until now, been repeatedly challenged by failure in a way that has really strengthen the muscles needed to build strong wings. So strengthen them I shall—through cultivating a daily practice of rejection. “Normalizing” it as such.
I will message people on dating apps “putting myself out there” and learn to brush myself off when they don’t respond, ghost, or say “you’re just not for me.” I will keep submitting my writing. I will keep following up on those coaching leads, and I will play the darn postcode lottery. I will put my hand up for the opportunities I’m interested in regardless of whether I think I am appropriately qualified or not. And I will do all of this not because I think I am eventually going to get a “win” but because facing rejection, failure, and humiliation is a good practice in and of itself.
There is magic here amongst the ashen remains, in the residues of what’s left behind when the dust has all but settled. I want to dance on the precipice, like a trapeze artist in a careful balancing act, deftly but courageously walking the line.
This is the place that I want to be. Because the shadows are dark and gloomy anyways, and whilst I might risk falling into the abyss, what if, eventually, I get to dance in the light?