The stories we tell over and over of our experiences in life tell a lot more about who we are than we probably realize. I know I have a number of stories I cannot seem to stop retelling. One of them, which, if you’ve followed these blogs for awhile, I know you’ve heard before. It is the story of going shopping with my mother when I was probably around eight years old. She was looking for a new throw rug for the kitchen. She couldn’t decide between two, and asked me which one I liked best. I did not tell her…not because I didn’t prefer one over the other, but because to choose one would hurt the other one’s feelings.
I hate rejection, a fact that has strongly influenced my life in keeping me from making any move which might result in it. I’d been painfully aware since elementary school how very much it hurt to be rejected...to be the last person standing there while sides were being chosen for a game.
When I decided to stop by PetSmart the other day to see about possibly adopting a cat, I walked in knowing full well that I was going to be miserable. I knew my heart would go out to every single animal there, and that having to actually choose between them would be excruciatingly difficult, and that I would feel sincerely terrible for the ones I did not choose. (I know, I know…they’re cats…or throw rugs…they aren’t aware they’re being rejected. But I am.)
I’ve told, too, the story of how, before I was aged out of the gay community’s bar scene, I was constantly frustrated because I could not bring myself to approach someone to whom I was attracted unless I had clear indication that the interest might be mutual. My single friends had no such constraints, and as a result I would watch in frustration as time and time again they’d go off to approach someone—sometimes the same person I was interested in—and strike up a conversation. Often they’d be back a few minutes later, unfazed by being rejected. But just as often, they’d end up going home together, while I just stood there, afraid to take a chance.
I went so far as to sign up for a seminar promoting itself as being specifically designed for gay men with rejection issues. There were at least 50 guys there, and after a half hour of general mingling, one of the two psychologists moderating the session said, “All right, now. The first thing we’re going to do is a series of exercises to make you feel more comfortable. We’ll take three minutes for everyone to select a partner for the exercises.” Excuse me? I paid $50 to attend this thing and the first thing they want me to do is pick a partner? I was instantly furious, but a guy I’d spoken with briefly who’d said he was as uncomfortable with rejection as I was standing near me and we looked at each other with mutual unhappiness and partnered up.
The exercises were basic…uh…basics. “Tell your partner three things you like about yourself,” etc., then the partner would do the same. Neither I nor the guy I was with paid much attention, both being too angry to do so. But after about twenty minutes of this crap, the moderator said: “All right now, everyone stand up and mill around.” I figured the next section had to be better than this. They’d come nowhere near to addressing the issue of rejection., the moderator was back for the second half of the program. “All right, now, we’ll take three minutes for everyone to pick a partner and….”
I walked out the door without looking back. It was one of the most excruciatingly uncomfortable and infuriating evenings of my life.
One would think being an author would be an odd career choice for one who feared rejection, and they would be right. But having a potential reader pick up my book in a bookstore, then put it down in favor of another has the distinct advantage of the fact that I’m not there to see it. I can live with that.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: