On Rejection

Losing The Soccer Game

There’s this story I heard where parents convinced a pee-wee soccer referee not to count points for their kids’ game. This pee-wee soccer game would have no winners or losers and the parents wouldn’t have to worry that their kids would be devastated if they lost. However, what I believe that does is the kid will lose out on essential character building. As Calvin’s dad says in the comic strip, “Calvin and Hobbes”, everything not worth doing is an experience to build character. This trait goes by other words, perseverance and grit, and it’s one of the most important life lessons. Things may not go our way, but we have the choice to continue to push on or fail to recover. The reassuring thing about the pee-wee soccer match was the referee noticed the kids were keeping track of the score in their heads, so at the end of the game, they knew who won and who lost.

Calvin and Hobbes - building character

Trading Spaces

In the film, “Trading Spaces”, Dan Aykroyd’s character is this rich stock broker who has everything going for him — a good career, a smoking hot fiancé, and a large home with his own butler. Being white and privileged, he had never faced much hardship in life. He went to an Ivy League college, has a group of posh friends, and never had to beg. The word “suffer” doesn’t seem to be in his vocabulary.

His counterpart, played by Eddie Murphy, is at the absolute bottom. He’s poor, had to fight his way in the hood, and a scam artist. At the beginning of the movie, he pretends to be a war veteran with no legs panhandling. The difference between these two characters is Eddie Murphy’s character has faced a lot of rejection in his life and had to live with it. Dan Aykroyd’s character didn’t.

As the movie progresses, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy swap places and Aykroyd finds himself at the bottom. Everything is taken from him — his job, his fiancé, and his home. When he finds out that none of those thing will come back to him, he hits rock bottom.

This film might be the worst case scenario of losing everything, but it provides a wonderful lesson. Despite hardship, we can choose to process through that and work past it. Dan Aykroyd almost that rejection overcome him, nearly meeting his end from a suicide attempt. Throughout this portion of the movie, I was thinking, “pull yourself together. You can get through this.” But I understand his behavior. It’s that resistance we have built up because we can’t process the rejection. In the end, he did pull through and eventually getting even with the people who wronged him.

The Break-up

Take a recent break-up from a close friend as an example for the denial of recognizing rejection. In this break-up, my close friend delivered the blow to her boyfriend for the fourth and final time. A few hours after, the boyfriend reached out to me to meet up with him later that week. I was hesitant at first, but eventually agreed, despite knowing he doesn’t like me. I had been talking to my close friend about her relationship more deeply than he was, and it angered him.

We met up at a local library where he showed up drunk. He was stammering through some of his sentences as he spoke. At first, he tried to ask me what he needed to do to get his life on track. I tried to give him some sort of advice, but he ended up taking over the conversation. He rambled for a good hour about his problems, where he thought the relationship went wrong, and how he planned to win her back. I tried to give him the bad news; he needed to take care of himself first. He was a mess, and despite how much we want to help with someone else’s life, we have to be selfish and take care of ourselves first.

One of the reasons the relationship went sour was the boyfriend was trying to accommodate for his partner by trying to provide her with rich, material goods. But the thing he couldn’t provide her with, the thing that mattered more, was the ability to socialize with her. When she asked him how his day was, he would give a one word answer. When she pressed him for an opinion, he gave her nothing. When they were hanging out, he would rather be on his phone playing games instead of being present with her. When things went south for him, like losing his job and facing family crises, he let that overwhelm his life. He blamed her for a lot of the downturns, even to go as far as saying she was the reason he lost his job. He resorted to cursing at her when she did made a mistake. He couldn’t blame himself for these actions until it was too late, after they were broken up.

After the end of our conversation, I thought about what he said, and I realized he didn’t get it. He was in complete denial and didn’t admit that she was not coming back. During the conversation, he talked about scenarios in which she would get back with him if he won her back. He did try to fathom she would never get back with him, exclaiming, “I’ll be happy as long as she’s happy.” However, that was followed with, “I will never love anyone else except her.” It made me think about my abysmal dating life, and how much rejection I’ve faced over the past few years. My difference is, when someone tells me they don’t want to see me anymore, I respect that and try to live on without them in my life. Of course, there’s a lot of sulking, ice cream, and hours of mindless reality television, but after that phase, I bounced back and put myself back out there.

Before we parted, he asked me if I could be his friend. I said, “it depends.” I place a no tolerance rule in my friend group for people who have to spotlight their baggage. They go into my “acquaintance” bucket. My roommate calls them the “woe is me” people. They’re like a vampire trying to leech you of all your positive energy, and when you’re done talking to them, you feel overwhelmed and can’t do much else. In the past, those friends take my advice, but never give any back. As soon as I bring up my own issues, they’re not willing to help. When I invite them to group events, they tend to bring the whole group down. I quietly ignore their pleas to grab my attention until they stop reaching out. My life is typically a lot quieter and goes back to emotional equilibrium.

Since our meet-up, he’s reached out to me a few times. Each time, he has tried to ask the world of me where he tries to force me to sympathize for his baggage. He’s going into the acquaintance bucket.

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”

— Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”