Thursday, November 19, 2015

The art of rejection: how I got the one I didn't want to go away

"Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

"Rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac." -- Madonna

I recently went out twice with a perfectly nice guy who didn't exactly rock my world. If, as Cher sang in her 1990 hit, it's in his kiss, the one at the end of our second date was too tepid and tentative to make my knees buckle.

Maybe I'd pashed someone else because he clearly had a different experience. Within five minutes of our parting ways, he texted me to tell me how hot the kiss was and to ask me out on a third date.

Now this is where my fear of rejection kicked in -- not so much receiving it as giving it. I have such a hard time saying no, especially to a perfectly nice guy. Better to lead him on a little and give him false hope than to bluntly turn him down and hurt his feelings, which is hardly honorable, especially since I do it as much for me as I do it for him.

I hate being the dating villain, the one who doesn't return texts, emails, or phone calls. I also find it almost impossible to say, or write, "Not interested." Sometimes I figure I'll just keep the temperature at lukewarm and the person will eventually get the hint and leave the room.

After all, I always do. I know a blow-off when I get one, and I never go back for seconds. I'm the kind of dater who would rather someone go radio silent on me than tell me "I'm just not that into you." Isn't the radio silence basically saying just that without leaving behind words to be replayed in your head for weeks?

Unfortunately, not everyone dates like me. When I don't want the one I can have and I can't for the life of me just come out and say no, he's either a glutton for punishment or convinced he can break me down. In the latter cases, he can probably tell I'm the ultimate people pleaser, afraid to say no because I don't want a perfectly nice guy to think I'm a terrible person.

Or maybe he's just hopelessly delusional. Perhaps this particular perfectly nice guy thought my typing "Sure, why not?" was tantamount to shouting "LET'S DO IT AGAIN!" Despite that tepid, tentative first kiss (and my tepid, tentative acceptance of his third-date proposal), it looked like we were going out again the following week.

When the appointed time for our third date came and went and I didn't hear from him, I was relieved. Maybe this will be the end of our awkward dance, I told myself.

Of course, it wasn't. Several weeks later, the perfectly nice guy popped up again, messaging me by WhatsApp. His timing couldn't have worked more in his favor. I was at a Moet Chandon party at Sydney's Randwick Racecourse, so when I agreed to a date one week from that day, the bubbly was talking, not me.

When the second appointed day for our third date came and went without a peep from him, I was once again relieved. After more than a month of further radio silence, I was convinced my lukewarm acceptance had finally made its point. But clearly it hadn't: Last weekend the perfectly nice guy was back again, leading off with small talk.

"Boo" (followed by a ghost icon) -- I'm not kidding.

I ignored his first four messages (one of which was an apology for not contacting me sooner -- clearly he was aware of his previous missteps), but true to Madonna's words, my silence only seemed to make him more determined to get a response.

Once he got one -- "Hey man. All good. How are you?" -- he soon asked me out yet again, offering several choices: Wednesday or Friday (It was Monday), "Newtown or up your end"?

As I've recently made it my mission to expand my social circle in Sydney (i.e., not spend so many nights parked on the couch), and I still suck at rejection, I took the bait: "Definitely my end...I'm not a Newtown fan...I'm not up for making Friday night plans on Tuesday, especially since they probably won't happen."

His response told me he'd caught my drift, though he obviously still didn't "get it":

"I've noticed it's always me asking. You shouldn't act too upset when you're always expecting me to make the effort.

"If you want to hang at the comfort of your neighbourhood, when you're most free, at places you like -- then don't be so hard on me."

I didn't have the energy to explain to him that if he offers anyone a choice between close to home and far from it, anyone will pick what's most convenient for them.

I didn't have the energy to explain to him that if he leaves it up to the other person to decide where the date will happen (as he'd done for our first two outings), he shouldn't be surprised if the other person picks something that's more convenient for the other person. (In other words, prepare to commute, mate.)

I didn't have the energy to explain to him that if you initiate a specific date with someone ("next Saturday night" as opposed to "sometime next week"), the onus is on you to follow up on the appointed day.

I didn't have the energy to explain to him that if someone is truly interested, you won't always have to be the one who does the asking out. But if you continue to do the asking out, the invitee is under no obligation to reciprocate.

So I kept it simple: "I'll pass. Take care."

He responded with a few sentence fragments expressing disappointment while trying to save face. I let him have the final words because I was more certain than I'd ever been that those would be the last ones I'd hear from him.

Even a perfectly nice guy under the influence of the aphrodisiac that is rejection (or, apparently, lukewarm acceptance) knows he has to eventually let it go.
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