One of the hardest things about getting better at dating is that you have to learn how to take the hit.
Back in high-school, I started studying martial arts; Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo primarily. As much as I’d told people that I was learning it for the self-discipline and the focus it taught me, just between you, me and the everyone else reading this: I wanted to be Billy Bad-Ass. I had the same fantasies of being Terry Bogard1 or VanDamme or Jeff Speakman that every other would-be ninja warrior had. But reality finds a way of stomping on those dreams with big ol’ boots. See, I was great at doing the kattas and perfecting my form and even things like breaking boards and blocks… but sparring was my weak point. I was constantly playing defense, always backing away, passing up on openings to strike… because I was afraid of getting hit.
Not surprisingly, I approached my dating life the same way: I didn’t want to get rejected, so I was continually playing it safe. It was easier to be a Nice GuyTM and follow my crush around like a lost puppy instead of sucking it up and asking her out.
But in sparring as in dating one thing was true: unless I was willing to take the hit, I was never going to get any strikes in. I could either stay on the defensive, take no risks and just tire myself out… or I could learn how to roll with the punches.
The more you fear rejection, the harder you’re making dating on yourself. If you want more romantic, social success, you have to learn how to get over your fear of rejection. You have to learn how to take the hit.
The Fear Of Rejection Is Worse Than The Pain
Let’s be frank: rejection hurts. Literally. The pain of feeling rejected, outcast or unwanted is real. But it’s not the pain that makes rejection so difficult… it’s the fear.
Everyone remembers the first time that they got rejected by somebody they liked. In fact, for many people it happened when they were young, usually in school and frequently in front of an audience. You opened your tender heart to somebody and you got shot down in flames. In many ways it forms the backdrop of your self-identity for years to come.
You were humiliated. You were crushed. It probably hurt more than you realized something could hurt. You can still remember that moment and you’d never want to face that feeling ever again. And now the mere thought of rejection brings back the memory of that pain.
And therein lies the problem – your fear of rejection is formed around the memory of that pain and the anticipation of feeling it again. It’s the fear-avoidance model of behavior – the anticipation and fear of that pain causes you to avoid the thing that caused the pain, which only makes the fear stronger and perpetuates the cycle. By avoiding the fear, you reinforce it, which causes you to avoid it more to the point that the fear is worse than the actual pain which keeps you from an important realization: the pain isn’t as bad as you remember.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying it didn’t hurt. I’m not saying it didn’t completely suck. But that pain you’re remembering is old pain. It’s pain from a time when you had no sense of perspective. And when you won’t confront that pain you’ll never realize the secret:
Rejection Only Hurts as Much As You Allow It To
Here’s why rejection hurts so much: it’s because you give it meaning. You give it power to affect you because you decide how important it is to you. How much rejection hurts is directly proportional to how much emotional investment you have in that rejection.
Don’t believe me? Allow me to present you with a thought experiment. Imagine a 9 year old girl walks up to you, looks you square in the eye and tells you that she will never, ever date you in a million billion years. What’s your immediate reaction? Laughter? “Aww, you’re adorable?” On a scale of 1 to 10, how hurt are you by this?
Now imagine that a 90 year old man walks up to you and tells you that there is no chance in hell that the two of you are ever going to sleep together. Again: what’s your immediate reaction to this rejection? Confusion? Amusement? Complete disregard?
In both of those scenarios, the rejection doesn’t hurt. If anything, it’s something to laugh at. What makes this rejection so laughable when the idea of your crush shooting you down makes your gut clench up and your heart lose its rhythm? It’s how invested you are in the outcome. You have no emotional investment in these two strangers; getting rejected by them doesn’t materially affect your life.
But then again: neither does getting rejected by that cute waitress at your favorite restaurant. Or that classmate who makes your knees weak. Or that coworker you’ve had a crush on all those years. Your life isn’t going to end. You’re not going to have to pull up stakes and move to another city in order to escape a vengeful mob. Your heart isn’t going to stop beating.
It just feels that way. You’ve imbued this one person, whether they’re a total stranger at the party or someone you’ve known for life, with such terrible power over you that you believe it can destroy you. You have taken one person, out of literally billions, and made them one of the most important people in the world, someone who has absolute control over your romantic future.
Here’s what will really happen: it will suck, and then you’ll move on. Whether that suckage is a momentary annoyance or a crippling pain is entirely up to you.
But how do you avoid overinvesting in someone?
Hesitation Brings Fear. Fear Brings Suffering
One of the worst things you can do when it comes to making your move – whether you’re wanting to approach the hottie at the bar or finally ask out your long-standing crush – is to hesitate… and yet so much of wanting to avoid rejection is built around waiting.
Waiting until the time is right.
Waiting until you’re “ready”.
Waiting until you can get them alone.
Waiting until you’re convinced that they’re giving you the signal.
You think that you’re building up your courage, psyching yourself up to make the big leap. You’re not. You’re stalling. You’re finding excuses to not do it.
And while you’re doing so, you’re continually investing ever-increasing levels of importance to this one moment. And the more important you make it, the worse the imagined rejection gets. The worse the imagined consequences get, the more you hesitate, caught in a frustrating catch-22. Worse, the more time you spend “waiting”, the harder it is for you to simply cut your losses and go. You start getting caught by the sunk-cost fallacy – you’ve spent so much time pining after this person that you can’t not pursue them. Letting go of that particular sweaty daydream would mean that you wasted all that time… and that admission will hit you harder than any rejection could.
This is why the three-second rule is so important in making cold approaches – not only does it keep your brain from vapor-locking over every imagined worst-case scenario, but it keeps you from over-investing in this one person. You see them, you make your approach – if they’re into you, awesome. If they reject you… well, that’s a grand total of three seconds of emotional investment. Big fucking deal, roll on to the next person because there will be a next person. The rejection means less because you haven’t made them so vital in your imagination.
Similarly, with warm approaches, sooner is always better than later when it comes to asking them out; the longer you wait, the more of your life you’ve devoted to being in an constant state of anxiety and agitation. If you’ve been nursing your crush on the little red-haired girl for all of high-school and now that graduation is approaching that you finally decide to ask her out… well, that’s four years of your life that you’ve spent obsessing, investing and otherwise making her a larger-than-life figure, pinning your entire self-esteem on a three-second question. If you’d simply swallowed your fear, grabbed yourself by the gonads and gone for it, not only would you have not been living with such constant stress but you would have had a full four years to find someone who is into you.
Which is worse? A moment’s inconvenience or four years of frustration?
Roll With The Punches
One of the hardest lessons that I had to learn while studying martial arts is that you can’t avoid getting hit. If you’re in a fight, you’re going to get tagged eventually.
So it is with dating. The risk of rejection comes part and parcel with dating; you cannot avoid it. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something. But you can learn how to minimize the pain. When you spar, you learn how to take the hits you can’t avoid: you can deflect, you can re-direct and you can learn how to roll with the impact so it doesn’t hit you nearly as hard as it could.
With dating, you can also learn how to roll with rejection.
Avoiding over-investing is the first and most obvious part – the less that you let somebody’s symbolic importance build up, the less it bothers you if you don’t synch the way you hoped. Similarly, developing an abundance mentality is critical; after all, when you realize how many amazing women are out there in the world, the fact that this particular one doesn’t like you means less to you because there’s going to be another person just as awesome around the corner.
It’s also important to choose how you see rejection. When you’ve convinced yourself that rejection is a summary judgement on who you are, yes it feels like you’ve been kicked in your soul’s nuts. But let’s be honest here: most of the time, they barely know you. Hell, you barely know them. All that happened is that you two didn’t click. Maybe you need to work on your technique a little. Maybe you caught them at a bad time. Maybe you look like that asshole ex who emptied her bank account, banged her sister and wiped his dick on her favorite teddy bear. All that’s happened is that you’ve gotten an answer to the question “does she want to date you?” and now you’re free to move on to somebody else. Take some time, learn from your failures, then try again. Fail again, but fail better this time. Each time you get knocked down, you get back up a little stronger and a little wiser because now you know what not to do for the next time.
But before you can learn how to roll with the punches, you have to learn how to take them. And there’s only one way to do that.
The Only Way To Learn How To Take A Punch Is To Get Punched
Cold hard truth time. You’re going to get rejected. It’s going to happen. But that’s ok. Everyone gets rejected. For every insanely hot Hollywood hunk, there’s a woman who wouldn’t touch him with a borrowed vagina. Similarly there’s no babe so awesomely gorgeous that everyone will agree that they’re sex on toast.
Stephen Amell, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Michael Ealy… nobody goes 5 for 5 no matter how hunky, how famous, how rich, how funny or how whatever they may be. They’ve all been shot down in flames.
It’s up to you whether it’s going to break you or not.
But here’s the thing that’s true: you can either learn how to take the hit and roll with it, or you can let it break you. If you never learn how to take that punch, it will destroy you every time. If you never learn how to handle rejection, every rejection will shred your soul. I remember my high-school crush vividly. I followed her around like a lost puppy for four years. When I confessed my interest in her and asked her out the weekend before graduation she said no… and I was crying so damned hard I literally drove my car into a ditch. Let me tell you, having to go walk back to her house to call a tow-truck? It was the lemon juice on top of the gaping chest-wound of my soul. Every rejection was worst than the last… right up to the one that put me on the path to who I am today.
My instructor finally sat me down and gave me the cold hard truth: either I was going to have to start taking the hits or I was going to have to quit being his student because he had no time for someone who wasn’t willing to learn. I had to grit my teeth and take risks and accept that getting tagged was going to happen. And it hurt. But I kept at it. Learning to take those hits meant that I was stronger than I’d thought. I was tougher than I’d thought. I could take more than I gave myself credit for. When I got knocked to the ground, I knew I could get back up and get right back into the match. And paradoxically, being less afraid of getting hit meant that I was getting hit less. I was able to move in, take the initiative, put my opponent on the defensive.
When it came to dating, once I quit trying to avoid rejection and just roll with it, I was finally able to move forward. I was able to learn and improve.
It wasn’t easy. Getting shot down sucked… but it didn’t break me, the way that those earlier ones did. There may’ve been nights that I went home with my tail between my legs, my self-esteem feeling like ten pounds of shit in a five pound sack… but I got up the next day and went back at it again. And again. And I kept improving. And I got fewer rejections and more dates, more sex, more success.
Rejection sucks. But it’s the fear that holds you back. Conquering your fear takes away the pain. Conquering the fear lets you succeed.
But first you have to learn to take the hit.
- Look, I was a Fatal Fury kid more than Street Fighter, ‘kay? [↩]