Sunday, July 29, 2018

Dating and how to handle the sting of rejection (an exercise)

In the dating world, learning to handle rejection is tough. Whether you have to deliver the news that someone isn't right for you or whether you're on the receiving end, it can feel terrible.

Finding the right person isn't always easy and people mismatch all the time. But a mismatch will often feel like rejection. There can be a million reasons that have nothing to do with you (or them) as to why things aren't a good fit. For example, maybe you remind them of someone else. Maybe they're not over an ex. It could be anything. It isn't a statement about worthiness. 

You understand this when it's you who has to "reject" someone, but when on the receiving end, it's harder to remember. But all of us have seen both sides.

Even if it *was* you, it's still not personal. If someone didn't like some trait you had, how exhausting would it be to pretend you were what they wanted? Welcoming rejection is the biggest gift you can give yourself because it will weed out those who are wrong for you.

Friends have asked me, "It didn't work out and my heart is raw all over again. How can I keep doing this?"

It's really hard to stay in that ring, isn't it. To tell yourself to try again, don't lose hope.

So I have a little exercise that can help.

Write yourself a letter from your future self. (This can work for almost any situation you're struggling through, not just dating.) 

This future self wants to reassure you that guess what? You're okay now. There's more perspective on the other side and from this vantage point, they can send some love back to where you are now. While things didn't necessarily work out as you wished, your future self knows you've regained your footing and you're hanging in there. 

The letter might look like this. Here's what I wrote myself when I was going through such a time:

. . .
Dear self,

You are a beautiful and worthy human being. You are sweet and kind and genuinely care about people. Yes, you are hurting now, but you should know that one person's reaction to you doesn't define you. If there is anything that is your fault in that painful scenario, it is in believing that someone else's frailties signify your worthiness. Your own frailty is in hoping that love and will alone is enough.

This is a painful process, this putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. You don't know where it will land. You've successfully embodied the teachings of buddhists who say "live in the moment!" to the point where it's hard to imagine a future in which you will be in love again and feel loved back. I know it feels like that will never happen, but you are doing the hard work now that points to being in a stronger place later (the magic 8 ball says "all signs point to yes").
Some days all you can do is breathe.

So, breathe.

When you are in a place where you can climb again, you will... put one foot in front of the other and attempt to ascend this mountain.

You are now building a life for yourself where you get to call the shots, you get to decide what you want it to look like. In the past, it was defined by others. Now it's defined by you. That's scary, you don't know how. Having never quite done just this, you're unsure of your footing, but that's ok. You will make mistakes and learn from them. Like a baby learning to walk, you will fall down and get up and try again and again. It's not the falling down but the getting up that matters.

So fall, often.

Love, as much as possible. If the love isn't returned, well, you loved regardless of it being returned, right? You gave it because you could not help it, you felt that way and it was a beautiful gift, it shows that you are a person capable of deep caring. Don't be scared to do this over and over again; one of the most beautiful gifts we can give in life is to truly care about another person. That doesn't make you bad. Yes, it hurts, but that you were able to experience that kind of depth alone is worthy of recognition. One day your efforts will be returned to you and you will be surrounded by the kind of love you can freely give. It's hard to picture now -- you don't know what that will look like, but it will be there. Because if you can give love like that, some of it is bound to return.


. . .

Take your letter out and read it whenever you need to feel some hope. Or write another. Tough times bring with them the gifts of empathy, depth, and kindness and life continually gives us opportunities to grow resilient from hardship. It's from this future place that your self can send back comforting words.

This works even in the bleakest of situations. Let's say I was going to be hit by a bus tomorrow. What would today be like if I thought about nothing but how my life would be ruined soon? Would I be joyful? Would these thoughts prepare me and help ease the pain of the doomed future? Nope. The thoughts would only further drain from today. 

But thoughts are powerful. 

If I instead imagined a future in which I will win the lottery, suddenly I feel hopeful and energetic. Maybe I'll spend time cultivating friendships and passions.

None of us has a crystal ball to see the future. Will I win the lottery? Will I be hit by a bus? I have no idea. Either outcome is equally unknown to me. 

Choosing to believe that someday will be okay is the choice that will make today feel gentler. And anything that makes today feel better can make it easier to take steps that will benefit your future self (who always appreciates good self-care).

You've been through tough times before and made it through, and you will again, and your future self knows this and can be a wonderful ally to call upon when needed.