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‘How Do I Get Over Coming in Second Place?’
Rejection teaches you how to please yourself.
Light Path (1959) by Helen Lundeberg
I’ve always dated pretty nice, normal guys. For years I never really related when other women would talk about how horrible the men in their lives treated them. I’ve also never really been rejected before. In my limited dating experience, I’ve always chosen men that I felt confident liked me back. What can I say? I like a sure thing.
Of course this trend didn’t continue. After a mutual end to a two-year relationship, I met a guy on a dating app that I was, for once, wildly attracted to. On paper he was pretty similar to my previous exes, but something about his personality brought out all the passion I’d seemed to be missing in past relationships.
For the first two months, he seemed to be just as into me as I was into him. He texted me nonstop, asked how my day was, called me just to chat, would pick me up and pay for coffee dates, and even invited me to his work Christmas party. Right after the party, he suddenly confessed that he felt like he was leading me on and didn’t want a relationship after all. Like me, he had also recently left a relationship, one where he had been dumped by a girlfriend of six years. I was upset and at this point, would have said or done anything to keep him in my life. I’d never felt this way about someone before.
Though he started seeing other people (and telling me details about these other women), he continued to text, call, hang out, and sleep with me regularly. For months I had supported this man through his grief about losing his ex, and I had hoped that maybe in the future we would date. There were also times when he explicitly would say things like, “I don’t want to date you now, but I could see us dating in like six months.” I know. I was so naïve.
About five months after meeting him, he abruptly ended things to pursue a relationship with another woman, one whom he had told me all about. He ended it over text, through a joke. Think, “Hey, remember that girl I’ve been seeing, she ended it with me....SIKE, we are actually dating now and you and I can’t keep talking, sorry.” Yes, I was legitimately dumped through a joke that contained the word “sike.”
It’s been many months now since all of this, and I’m still just not over it. Occasionally I look up his social media and it’s full of pictures with his new girlfriend doing extremely cute, couple-y things. It doesn’t help that this woman is the perfect combination of all the things I’m insecure about: she’s a doctor with a great career and family and is devoutly religious. It’s obvious that I just wasn’t the better option. Many times he alluded to the fact that I don’t make much money in my own career (I work in a design field), and that he’s specifically looking for a partner who’s on his level (he’s an engineer and makes a great living for himself).
So here I am, almost a year later, still obsessed with someone who clearly wasn’t that into me. I’m consumed by shame for having let it go on as long as it did. I can’t view men the same anymore, and I feel as though at any point a man I’m seeing will throw me away for someone better.
Dear Second Place,
Whenever you’re rejected, whether it’s by a guy who wants a woman with an impressive career or a guy who wants a housewife who can cook (or a swaggering boat captain or an international pop star or a can of baked beans), it’s not a verdict on your value. There’s no reason to believe that you’re inferior. He wants blue, you are chartreuse.
Now personally, if I were a man, the absolute last thing in the world I’d want is a doctor who’s devoted to god. My sister is a surgeon and she’s been busy for the past thirty years of her life. And when she’s not answering a call about a patient at two in the morning, she’s getting up at six a.m. to run fourteen miles. Marathons are her god, and if you threw Jesus and the Holy Ghost and regular church attendance into her picture, I don’t think she’d have time to sleep or eat.
If your ex were the judge of The World’s Best Sister Contest, I would definitely come in second place just like you did. But what meaning should I derive from that fact? Should I change all of my lifelong values and become a busy and important professional just to please one absurdly insensitive jackass who not only breaks up via text but also makes a joke about the whole thing and also (this is really the cherry on the dipshit sundae) uses the word SIKE while doing it?
Because in my World’s Best Future Husband Contest, a guy who puts the word SIKE in any text at all would get last place. And if I had the deep misfortune of accidentally marrying a man who might eventually use that word, and I had children with him (Oh god, think of their bad jokes and their dumb pranks, encouraged by their chumpy dad!) I would be SO DEEPLY AND UNRELENTINGLY UNHAPPY.
Your attraction for this man was like a pair of noise-canceling headphones. You blocked out his ridiculous personality and couldn’t hear his craven noises, like “You should really make more money” and “I want someone at my level” and other words that, under normal circumstances, would crush your passion for him into a fine dust, leaving you with a mild headache and no memory of why you ever liked him in the first place.
Your attraction almost turned your life into a never-ending series of awful plot twists. On any given day, you’d be innocently gazing out the window at a downy woodpecker and that dumb pecker (your husband not the bird) would wander up and start hinting that you should really be more ambitious — more like him, a man who uses the word SIKE and doesn’t feel a drop of shame over it.
There is no end to the torment a human spouse can inflict on you when their values and beliefs and general-purpose human kindness don’t match yours. That’s why you cannot, under any circumstances, use the state of your mind and body WHEN YOU’RE IN LOVE as a compass with which to navigate your life. You can’t take longing and envy and fear and lust and mix them all together in a way that makes you try to become something you’re not. When you meet a guy who wants BLUE but you’re CHARTREUSE, you can’t take it personally. You can’t try like hell to be more BLUE. Because if you lure that BLUE dude back into your life, YOU WILL BE BLUE ALL THE TIME.
Thankfully, I stopped trying to convince men that I was worthy of them in my early 30s, and started telling guys to pay close attention to my big flaws: I was opinionated and emotional! I was demanding! I needed a lot of talking and togetherness!
Soon after that, I met my husband. We’re both flawed, but we match, so I’m not lonely and frustrated all the time, trying to be someone I’m not. I don’t take it that personally when people don’t like me now. Everyone is different. Lately, I can even enjoy and appreciate people who for sure dislike me. It’s weird but it feels good!
I know how it is to get dumped. It sucks. But the first time is always the worst. Getting dumped is just a part of life. Everyone goes through it, and if they never have? WATCH OUT! They only understand one side of the love picture. Getting dumped gives you important information. It shows you how to proceed with compassion and patience, for yourself and others. (Your ex didn’t learn this from getting dumped by his six-year girlfriend, but he’s obviously NOT A LEARNER.)
Unfollow your ex and his devout doctor girlfriend and take Instagram off your phone while you’re at it. This blue period is being made much more blue by the fact that you’re trying to become BLUE. You’ve taken your values and preferences and taste and replaced it with his values and preferences and taste. That’s the source of your depression. It’s not the loss of one chump, trust me.
Men’s preferences are arbitrary and have nothing to do with you. Dating is not taking a poll of every man alive and finding out what they like the most. Dating is not meeting one man who likes rock climbing and immediately becoming a rock climber because that one guy is super fun and sexy. Okay, maybe that happens sometimes and it’s not terrible. But dating is not a popularity contest. Each person you fall in love with is not meant to form you into a new person. If they manage to do that, you won’t be happy in the long run. Because happiness depends on knowing who you are.
It’s time to figure out exactly what you value and prefer and love and enjoy and believe in, and it’s time to stand up for those things. If you’re embarrassed that you’re in design, then maybe that’s a sign you want to make art in some new way or that you want a whole new career entirely, one that makes you feel excited and proud. Look for information in this humbling moment. Use this crisis to grow and expand and become more confident and more dedicated to standing up for what you love.
Rejection isn’t an objective verdict on your value. The only reason you treat it that way is that our culture feeds us the lie that we were born to please others and should shape ourselves based on their preferences and whims.
That’s why rejection is so good for you, as impossible as that sounds. Rejection breaks you out of the lie that you’re here to please others, and teaches you to finally trust and please yourself first. That doesn’t mean you become selfish or make yourself the opposite of a traditionally pretty and pleasing woman. It means you enjoy who you are and what you love right now, and you support your own desires and your pleasure and learn from them every day. You encourage your own whims and interests and you question the oppressive imperatives foisted on you by a punitive culture that, like this buffoon who can’t engineer his way out of a malicious break-up text, secretly wants to demean you just for being who you are.
Instead of treating this humbling era like it’s a curse and it’s caused by some major deficit in your character, try to enjoy it. Humbling times bring you clarity, and they can also bring you a white hot joy you’ve never experienced before, one that almost feels like passion when you truly welcome it.
Repeat it to yourself: Rejection is a gift. You just dodged a terrible bullet, a bullet of SIKE, a lifetime of demeaning jokes and condescending asides. You’ve got a million better adventures ahead of you. Believe it.
Who are you? What do you love? Be who you are, without apology, and love who you are. More love will rush in. Enjoy this moment, at the start of your beautiful life.
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