Monday, March 13, 2017

Cruel to be Kind: Why Rejecting is So Much Harder than Rejection

When we go on a date, or enter into a relationship with someone, it's (usually) with the hopeful optimism that it's leading somewhere. Sometimes it works out and we end up spending the rest of our lives with that person, but a lot of times, it doesn't. Whether it be after one date, one year or one decade, we find ourselves having to partake in the inevitable "Not seeing each other again" conversation.

I hate those. Who am I kidding? Everybody hates those, except maybe sociopaths. (Stay away from them!) But as a general rule, there are a few things I hate more than having to tell someone I'm not into them.

So I don't. I, a person who champions honesty and transparency, am a complete coward and hypocrite. I am notorious (this is annoying to my friends) for not being interested in perfectly eligible men for reasons they-my friends- find trivial but I hold steadfast to. (We'll talk about standards in another post) So I lie. I make up excuses.  In the event of an emergency, I ghost...anything, really, anything but telling someone that I just don't see it happening, or they're not my type.

I've spent a good deal of time trying to convince myself that this makes me a good person, a considerate one, for not hurting people's feelings. But just as I am lying to those poor men, I'm also lying to myself: it's not remotely nice, it's mean and deceptive. And it's also something I would hate if/when it is done to me. Yet the cowardice continues.

The good (or bad?) news is that I've discovered that I am not alone in this. Most people would seriously consider limb amputation or a root canal rather than face the wrath of someone's rejected feelings. Because we're good people, right? We don't like causing someone pain, right? The more I think about it, the more I'm believe that our hesitation to reject someone is actually: Us not wanting to feel uncomfortable. Our altruistic act is actually one of selfishness driven by the fear of the unknown.  If we reject someone, the outcome is unpredictable. We don't know what their reaction will be (volatile? docile? hysterical? indifferent?) or what the fall out will be (will they let us go gracefully? Or will they start showing up at our front door at 3am drunk and crying?)  The risk of it shaking up our lives terrifies us beyond description, so we protect ourselves by claiming to be considerate. 

However, the consideration is only to ourselves, and if we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that.

 I've had conversations about this with people, and, across the board, (This has never happened!) everyone agreed on five things:

1. We hate having to reject someone. 
2. If someone rejects us, we are sad/hurt feelings, but we move on "at least we know" It's hard not to feel slighted or a jab of pain when someone tells us they don't like us. But we get over it.
3. We would rather someone tell us they're not into us than lie because (again) "at least we'll know" and "we won't have false hope") 
4. Despite appreciating #3, we can't bring ourselves to do it. We know that if someone isn't into us, we'd rather they tell us so we can't stop pining, hoping, ordering monogrammed towels and move on. We know this yet we don't follow the golden rule.
5. Rejecting is harder than rejection: we would, as a general rule be hurt than be responsible for someone else being hurt. Again, I am not sure if this is because we are kind hearted or simply don't want the extra burden of guilt. 

I had a conversation the other day with a friend of mine whose colleague is making advances towards him which makes him uncomfortable because he's not interested. When I asked how he's dealt with it, he told me he was just ignoring it because he "didn't want it to be awkward" and "figured she'd stop eventually." I told him to just flat out say no to her, that by saying and doing nothing was giving some kind of hope to her, and his disinterest clearly wasn't getting through. he still doesn't want to, mainly because the fallout is out of his control and he isn't sure he can handle the awkwardness. I called my friend selfish and mean, but quickly admitted to him, that I was a hypocrite and would probably do the same, sharing with him some of my go-to "go away tactics. The worst of which I will share at the end of this post as a "Top Tip." 

While the above is written in the frame of mind of early stages of dating it can also be relevant to people in established relationships. Leaving is never easy, though in my experience, leaving something long term is hard for different reasons-as we seem to have little problem telling those we've known and loved for a long time everything that's wrong with them. Ironic, right? That relative  strangers receive more outward consideration than those we have shared our beds, lives, and hearts with for months or years. The fact is, we don't generally hurl scathing insults at people we don't know-or exploit their weaknesses, but we do to ones we once loved. Which isn't good either.

The point is, leaving, telling someone you don't want them is always complicated and often times, it is the leavers who struggle more- for they not only have to take action to end it (whether it be ghosting or being a kind, mature adult and saying it face to face) but they have to stand by their decision: even if it means watching tears, listening to angry words, or having the other person try and question or contradict their decision.

If you are no longer interested in someone, then prolonging your relationship is doing a disservice to the both of you. But it's how you end it that  is one of the things that we just can't seem to get right...but what if we really tried to challenge ourselves to honesty-both within ourselves but also to those around us? What if we challenged ourselves to overcome being uncomfortable with being direct, and telling someone the truth-with tact and compassion-but without an excuse or escape. If we relinquished control and trusted those we reject to accept the truth with their honest reactions (stalking and crazy is not ok) so then we could just move on, truly. Because when there are lies and excuses involved, often times, only one party gets over it, and the other one is left pondering or revisiting.  

That would be my suggestion. And it's really hard and maybe some people will hate you and berate you, but wouldn't it be better to be in the firing line for someone you are versus someone you're not? It's not just about the other person, but also about having the integrity and strength of self to own up to your actions and feelings. You can do it. I can do it. We should all at least try.


Top tip: don't tell someone you're moving out of the country unless it's 100% guaranteed you are...because it's extremely awkward to be invited to a intimate dinner party a year later to discover one of the other guests thought you had moved to Africa. To be fair, I had been thinking about it- and "I am looking into conservation roles so might move to Africa and don't think it's the right time to  start a relationship" is SO much nicer than, "You're needy and borderline creepy, I felt smothered after one date."

Thanks to everyone who took part in conversations surrounding this subject and post. To the men who were always honest with me and to the friends who challenged me to practice what I preach. 

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