Facing Rejection

The huge obstacle for Shys is when they're either doing the rejecting or being rejected in a relationship. One of the possibilities in any new dating situation is that it's a potentially poor match. But for some Shys, this potential reality can become so threatening, they may unknowingly bring it on themselves -- even when they're in a relationship that's working. When it's over ("Whew!"), you may even feel justified ("I just can't date; I'm no good at it"), but lonely and miserable at the same time. You may also suffer from prolonged payback. ("Nobody is ever going to love me. I'm going to turn out just like my forty-five-year-old cousin who's childless and not married.") Or, conversely, you may resist ending a relationship you no longer enjoy because you don't want to deal with the conflict of saying goodbye, or maybe you lack confidence about maintaining your boundaries if you say it's over. Should the other person disagree with the breakup, you face a potentially ugly situation.

Or perhaps you resist moving on because you empathize so strongly. "I don't want to hurt their feelings," many shy singles have reported in my workshops, always cringing, even when it's the best decision. Samantha was in such a relationship. She had been dating Tom for two years and had been racking up credit card bills on airline tickets (it was a bicoastal relationship). Trouble was, for various reasons, she knew he wasn't the man for her. "But I just can't bring myself to break up with him," she told me repeatedly. "He's such a sweet guy." It was clear that Samantha was identifying with Tom's feelings -- to her detriment. By staying in a relationship that needed to end, her pain was escalating as the illusion continued, with Tom occasionally mentioning the prospect of marriage. They were on completely different pages, and Samantha's hesitancy in ending things was creating a real problem. She was frozen in stage two for almost two years. Tom was being set up for an even harder fall, and Samantha's awareness that she was continuing a futureless relationship was making her feel weak and foolish. "I'm such a wimp," she said one evening. Samantha's situation is an example of how a prolonged stage two -- overloaded with emotion and completely frozen -- becomes a truly debilitating state. The payback that follows this frozen state adds further insult to injury.

Being the Rejecter

The difficulty of saying "No, thank you" to someone who wants the relationship to continue is directly proportional to the amount of self-criticism you heap upon yourself. The more self-critical you are, the less clear you're apt to be about your intentions. If you're very self-critical, you may find it almost impossible to tell the other person why you want to end the relationship for fear that anything you say will sound like criticism rather than a statement of what's best for you.

If you're the one who wants to end the relationship, try thinking that the sooner you say goodbye, the faster he can find somebody else who is more suited to him. You're actually setting both of you free to find a more mutually satisfying relationship. Even though breakups can be agonizing, it's not fair to hold on to someone because you don't have the guts to end it. And if you consider the "don't do unto others" rule, you wouldn't want to be bound in a relationship that's not working longer than you should be either, would you?

Your Rejector Action Plan

To make doing the deed as easy as possible, create a breakup line you're comfortable with that's simple to remember, repeatable, and doesn't sound attacking. Try something like: "After all this time we've spent together, I just don't think we have that special something couples need to make it for the long run." Chances are, sensing your vulnerability, your partner may object and even try to talk you out of breaking up with him. When that happens, simply restate your case: "I'm sorry. I don't want to hurt you. But I don't think we have that special something couples need to make it for the long run." If you add, "I don't want to waste your time, or mine for that matter," you'll appear stronger. Keep repeating yourself if you need to, then exit the situation as quickly as possible. Having a set speech that you repeat softly, but consistently, can help you with the fear of initiation and freezing or flooding. Knowing what you are going to say, you won't be overwhelmed with so many options that nothing emerges, nor will spill out more than you want to say. Your breakup line can also help to thwart payback, because you minimize the unplanned, which can trigger subsequent self-criticism.

In case your breakup line doesn't having the desired effect, have a backup "insurance policy" at the ready. Tell your former lover that there's no possibility for another chance because you're now sure that you must find someone who is something that this person is not -- your religion, not divorced, a local (you know she can never leave her hometown to move to yours), your race, or any other immutable quality that your former lover can never attain. Like your breakup line, this statement requires repeated practice. In the end, though, it is the kindest approach you can take, because it ultimately leaves no room for false hope.

Another preparation strategy involves role-playing with a trusted friend. Ask your friend to be as difficult as possible. Go over scenarios that will have the former lover resisting the goodbye. Then, when the real scene happens, it'll likely be easier than the imagined ones. You'll walk away feeling more satisfied with the outcome, which is the best strategy for warding off payback.

Getting Rejected

Vulnerable Shys tend to suffer greatly from the pain of rejection; again, self-criticism looms large. The more self-critical you are, the less you'll be able to tolerate comments you perceive as negative from your partner. Not surprisingly, therefore, the end of a relationship that wasn't your decision can be tough.

As I discussed in chapter five, you may be hardwired for self-blame as a result of your formative years. Often, the severest self-critics had a childhood in which there was so much chaos or other diversions in the family that the quiet child who made no fuss was ignored and, as a result, felt invisible. Or perhaps the child grew up in an authoritarian home environment where an iron rule was imposed on the household by at least one of the caregivers. Either of these situations can cause a child to become highly self-critical as an adult. Both invisibility and abundant disapproval become equated with not being good enough because a person learns to vigilantly self-monitor his or her actions to keep the peace (and avoid harm).

Grace, a divorced realtor in her early forties who thought she had finally found a man who would successfully end her dating career, came from such a household. Her father ruled the house by fear. "If you cried because you were upset, he'd say, 'Quit crying or I'll give you something to cry about.' My father made us all feel unsafe around him. I steered clear and always tried to stay on his good side." Grace came to my workshop because she had just been "unceremoniously dumped." The surprise breakup was enough to rock what little confidence she had. "If only I had worn sexier lingerie, cooked dinner for him more often, tried to be more athletic . . ." Her list trailed on. Grace was kitchen-sinking it, which is a common reaction, and it was magnifying her pain. She blamed herself for the breakup, even though she had given the relationship her all. (If this sounds like payback, that's because it is. Nothing is as certain to trigger it as a sudden goodbye.) "Maybe I wasn't worthy of his love. And maybe I'm not good enough for anyone else's either," Grace concluded. At that moment she couldn't imagine there'd be others who might be a better match for her than "Mr. Wonderful." During the first blush of disappointment, Grace couldn't put this rejection in perspective. But since then, she's been working with the tips that follow to help her see "no" in a new light.

Your Rejectee Action Plan

Reframe rejection as a blessing in disguise. Ask yourself: What do I gain by not having this person in my life? What adjustments was I making to accommodate her idiosyncrasies? What do I no longer have to put up with that I disliked while we were together? What freedoms did I forego to meet him more than halfway? Consider writing your answers in your journal or diary, which can serve as a record for identifying patterns both in yourself and in those dates that didn't work out. The more you discover about what isn't a good match, the better you can develop your own assessment about what kind of person is.

Rather than wallow in payback, take time to reflect and ask yourself insight-provoking questions, such as: "What did I learn from this experience? What am I going to do differently next time?" (If you're not sure, ask others who knew you as a couple. If you like, write your answers in a journal for future reference.) You may not agree with all of the opinions of your former lover and friends, but some of the comments might be helpful for future relationships. Like your successes, relationships that didn't go well can be equally valuable -- if only to teach you what to avoid.

When Marnie, a shy choreographer in her mid-thirties, thought about these questions, she realized that since she was no longer with Jeff -- someone she had dated for six months who ended their relationship because he said he needed to spend more time trying to make partner at his law firm -- she was free to choose a mate who wouldn't put her second fiddle to his work. "Now I have my radar on. No workaholics for me! " she said proudly. Similarly, Conrad, a computer consultant in his late twenties, realized that he'd save a lot of money on phone bills after his long-distance girlfriend of three years called it quits (over the phone, of course). "From now on," he said, "I'm only going to date women who live in my city. It's not just the phone bills. Commuter relationships are brutal. I want someone I can see a couple of times a week, not once a month."

Next, study the part of the relationship that worked or parts of other relationships in the past, even platonic ones, that worked. What did you bring to the partnership that made it satisfying for you as well as the other person? Write your answers in your journal or diary.

Finally, realize that each person walking away from a relationship is experiencing a loss. Allow yourself to grieve. You need comforting. And while you're at it, be kind to yourself and take some time to make yourself feel better. It doesn't have to be a day at the spa or a night on the town (or the prowl), although it could be. Perhaps it's a good time to take a vacation to somewhere completely unlike where you live. As you rack up frequent flier miles, you'll gain emotional distance and perhaps a healthier perspective for a fresh start when you return.

Reprinted from: The Shy Single: A Bold Guide to Dating for the Less-Than-Bold Dater by Bonnie Jacobson, Ph.D., with Sandra J. Gordon © 2004 by Bonnie Jacobson, Ph.D. and Sandra J. Gordon. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit our website at www.rodalestore.com.

Copyright © 2004 Bonnie Jacobson, Ph.D., and Sandra J. Gordon

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Bonnie Jacobson is a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association, an adjunct professor of applied psychology at New York University, and the director of the New York Institute for Psychological Change. In private practice for over 30 years, she has been conducting shyness workshops for singles for more than a decade. She lives in New York City with her husband.

Sandra J. Gordon is a formerly shy single who writes frequently about health for such magazines as Fitness, Woman's Day, More, Child, and Parents. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and daughters.

For more information, please visit www.writtenvoices.com.