I was talking to my friend the other day. It was an amusing conversation about rejection. Yes, we all hate it, yes, we have to go out with our buddies, commisserate, complain, probably get inhebriated to get over it depending upon the situation, but it really is one of the experiences in life through which all of us can relate to each other. One rejection story usually brings out another from someone else, and before you know it, five or six of you are all standing around laughing because talking about it reminded you that first, it happens to even the best of us, and second, hey--the "rejector" missed out, didn't s/he?
So, I present to you: The Various Levels of Rejection.
Level One: Radio Silence
Come on, now, my friends. Is this not on the level of "I'm avoiding passing you in the hall" high-school style? I think this registers on the lowest level of them all. Do you honestly think that we can't take it? You're certainly not going to be the first, the worst, or the last. To define this category, for those of you who are confused, this is when the person in question just doesn't get in touch with you, period, regardless of how many non-confrontational methods of communication exist out there.
About a year ago, I, in an outburst of "no one is interested in me" frusteration, I joined the EHarmony service. I was pleasantly surprised when the system quickly matched me to someone in the nearby area, Eric. We exchanged questions, went through the whole step by step communcation process, and then, we decided to meet. I met him once and only once for a short date in Boston. Honestly, I think if the guy smiled once, I was going to have a heart attack in shock. Anyway, afterwards, I was thinking--well, he's a complicated person; it will probably take more than one meeting to get to know him better. Then, I heard nothing more from him--no e-mail at all, and when he came on the IM system and saw my name up there, he immediately signed off.
I thought this was rather juvenile, but hey, I'm not the one who missed out in the end.
What you can learn from this: Just say "no," be honest, open, and direct, and you won't turn into a story told at collective dinners for a laugh from better friends.
Level Two: The E-Mail/IM
Ok, we're getting better because actual communication is involved here, and some effort is required. One of these two is non-confrontational, the other is but without the face to face action a meeting one on one demands.
An e-mail at least closes things off if that is indeed your intention. You can type out your thoughts, edit them so misinterpretation is unlikely, even write something, save it, and come back to it later when the spirit moves you if inspiration is not forthcoming. E-mails are just a quicker version of the original post, so at least you know that the person you're trying to let down easy is going to get the message relatively quickly, which is good for both of you. All it takes is a few minutes here and there with your hands on a keyboard.
The IM, although a simulated conversation, is still rather unconfrontational so it doesn't get many more points than the e-mail. You could literally lie in wait for the other person to sign on, type out a blurb in the little white screen, send it, then immediately sign off. Or, you could actually have a conversation, although it won't be a long one more than likely. Again, you get the option to edit what you have to say because you can see it before you send it.
I broke things off with my last formal boyfriend almost a year ago and a big part of the problem lie in the fact that we didn't have a very close emotional connection, and I generally felt dismissed by him. Two or three days after I sent him away from the house we coinhabited, I got an e-mail from him detailing how much he really cared about me. Everything he should have said to me while we were together was there. However, given the number of opportunities he had to say them to me during our two year relationship, and even though I never doubted his sincerity, it did not ultimately change my decision. Yes, this is probably not the story you expected on this topic, but the point is the same--I appreciated the gesture, but the medium left much to be desired.
What you can learn from this: Well, if this is your weapon of choice, you at least chose something that could be considered a weapon. However, from a table of maces and swords, you picked up the three foot stick that used to have an axe head on it.
Level Three: The Phone Call
Well, you win for having the balls to confront someone directly. Unlike with writing, you run the risk of saying something stupid or at least having your words come out wrong, but the fact is that you're taking that risk. You have enough respect for the other person in question to talk directly, be honest, and what's worse, feel the sting you know you're handing over to your potential/former partner. You'll probably take a deep breath, pick up the receiver, put it down again, think too much about it, change what you were going to say, think again about actually doing it, but in the end, you put the digits in, waited for the "hello" on the other line, and said your piece. The hardest thing is knowing that you aren't going to feel much better when it's over--instead of abject fear of what you are about to do, you are left with the empty feeling of having let someone down directly and having caused and experienced that let down with that person. However, you know that the real onslaught of emotion come after the click, so although you're confronting to a degree, you are only opening a window through which what needs to be said is done so in a limited amount of time, and putting down the receiver frees you from the situation.
Years and years ago, I went out a few times with an older guy, Peter. During one of our dates, I found a folder in his car with some commentary written on it about how he couldn't find a prom date, so he was taking me out a few times in order to ask me to ensure a lack of bachelor status at this pivotal high school moment. Eventually, a few weeks later, he did call, to break off his prom date with me for someone else he prefered to take. Yes, he was a classic asshole, which was further demonstrated when he became a substitute teacher in our town school system and then decided to manifest his newly-found power by picking on my younger sister who ended up in some of his classes--very mature. However, he picked up the phone and was brutally honest--probably because he didn't care at all--but hey, he said his piece directly to me.
What you can learn from this: Phone calls are hard--it can be hard even to call someone you're interested in. However, you do earn some respect for actually doing it--none of us like hearing "you're just not into me" over the phone, but if you confront that head on and are honest, well, you get a few points for that.
Level Four: The One on One Conversation
It may not seem as if this applies to every kind of relationship. If you've only gone out with someone once or twice, you may think it's not worth the hell and high water of the one on one conversation. Usually, people tend to place this in the "breaking off a long-term relationship" category. However, respecting people is more general than that--it doesn't only apply to those whom you have shared a lot of time and energy with--in theory, it should apply to everyone with whom you had even a hint of involvment.
This is especially hard. You've got to tell someone, to his or her face, that you just aren't interested in continuing/pursuing something with him or her. And, after you say what is so hard to put into soft terms, you have to sit there and watch the rejection set in. If you talk one on one with someone, you are putting yourself in the middle of the rejection experience. As if it isn't enough to tell someone what is so hard to say, you get to see it and hear it, and the other person may go quietly or pour the contents of a glass in your lap. Congrats--well done on this for having the gusto to put yourself in a particularly bad situation in relation to someone else and subjecting yourself to whatever may ensue afterward.
I spent a very long time with one guy, John, in college. It came to a point when the relationship had to end--and it was all about me cutting it off. However, I waited until I could see him, and we talked not once, but several times on the matter. It was very hard to talk to him about it, and he was very upset--as was I--but he deserved to know from me directly regardless. Then, he ran off with the next adoring, two-dimensional chick he found at a party two weeks later, but that's beside the point.
What you can learn from this: It doesn't feel good, you'll think about it before you do it, you'll think about it after you do it, but the point is you do it. Why? Because you wouldn't want sudden "radio silence" to determine the end of anything, you wouldn't want an e-mail cutting you off without a word, and you probably wouldn't want a phone call that you'll need to recover from afterward. You believe you deserve respect? So does everyone else.
And, the added bonus is if you're one of these, after we get over you, you're the type of person that we would consider remaining friends with, and even introducing you to one of our friends in the future--maybe that good looking one you had your eye on in the first place...
The Moral of the Story: No one likes to be rejected. We all are now and again and when that happens, we have to re-convince ourselves that we are attractive, desireable, and worth someone's interest. However, perhaps "character" doesn't lie in how you take rejection--maybe it lies instead in how you choose to give it.