Reader C. H. asks:

I’m afraid to ask this girl out because I’m pretty sure she’s going to reject me. I’m completely paralyzed by this, and I feel like she’s already rejected me. What can I do to get over this?

Dear C.H.:

A friend once told me in college that my biggest problem was that I was too likeable and never experienced rejection. This was partially true. The other side of that coin was that I was too afraid to put myself in a situation where I could possibly be rejected. I’ve always tended to hang out with people who are going to like me. I think this is pretty common — most of us prefer being liked to being disliked. And it played into my dating life, too. I never pursued anyone I wasn’t at least 98% sure was pretty solidly into me (usually because he was pursuing me, of course). It was safe this way. Things were easy.

But this kind of risk aversion played into other parts of my life, too. It also kept me from trying new things. I probably could have been an awesome addition to the crew team. Or not. But I never tried. Theater was safe; sports teams, not so much.


rejection makes you stronger

Rejection makes us stronger. Image: Stefano Valle / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Perhaps the biggest issue this fear of rejection promoted has to do with my writing. In spite of the fact that writing is the one thing I enjoy doing above all others, I decided not to pursue it in college. Furthermore, I hardly ever let anyone read what I wrote. What if it wasn’t all that good? What if someone rejected me as a writer? I would never send something to a publisher, for sure. That rejection would be too much to handle.

And what a safe life I led!

And what a boring one!

The fact is, rejection is a completely natural part of life. Just like dying! It’s true. Just like experiencing the death of a loved one, rejection helps us grow. It can’t all be puppies and rainbows all the time. You’d turn into a flabby, boring, waste of space.

After college and a stint at some pretty cruddy jobs (in spite of having a fancy pants undergraduate degree), I decided I had to at least try to find some validation in my writing, somewhere. So I applied to seven MFA programs and kept my fingers crossed.

I got rejected from six of them. I was accepted to one. You can imagine how excited I was to be accepted at that point.

Since then, rejection has been a lot easier. Why? Because I went on living and breathing even though NYU didn’t want me in their MFA program. Even better, I kept writing.

Could the actual rejection be any worse than the torture you’re putting yourself through imagining how the rejection is going to occur? You have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Now I set myself up for rejection all the time. I date people I’m not sure are totally crazy for me. (Most of them, it ends up, aren’t even remotely crazy for me.) I apply to jobs I have absolutely no chance of getting. I play on a kickball team and run with a running group, even though I have absolutely no athletic skill whatsoever.

Is it embarrassing? Sometimes. Do I suffer heartbreak? Often. Does it make me a stronger, better person? Indubitably.

So man up, amigo. Ask the girl out and get the rejection over with. You’ve probably already tainted any chance you have with her by expecting the rejection, anyway, but you’re going to feel a ton better when you know for sure, from her own mouth, that she’s not into you. And you’ll have more confidence to ask out the next girl. The only way you’re going to get out of this paralysis over your imaginary rejection is to actually undergo the rejection.

And imagine how much better you’re going to feel after this rejection when the next girl says yes! Having a bit of vinegar makes the sweetness that much sweeter.

A friend said to me recently: “I compare rejection to bike accidents. Sometimes they fuck you up, but after having so many of them, most of them don’t amount to anything. And if I’m getting in wrecks, at least it means I’m trying.”

So get in a wreck. Do it a lot. You’ll be less afraid of failing. The paralysis will go away.

Tell you what, you ask the girl out, and I’ll send a story to the New Yorker. Deal?


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