Rejection is a funny thing, It can impact you negatively, or it can make you stronger.
by Teela Clayton
A yellow light filters through a stained-glass window, making the dust particles appear as glitter. The air is still. There is silence, broken only by the occasional scrapes of chair on impeccably polished parquet. I’m sitting in the library – my sanctuary – finishing the last of my A Level Physics homework. I’m nervous. Fidgety. My heartbeat feels irregular and there is a slight damp patch on the back of my shirt, but what I’m about to do feels right. I am, after all, surrounded by books, tomes of all description, some aged like the walls around me, but no less beautiful. I am in the place I belong. With him. Ross Fox. And as I look up and his eyes of blue lagoon meet mine, I seize my moment.
“Ross,” I say, trying to appear at once coy and sexy. “Would you like to go out for a drink with me?”
There’s a pregnant pause, in which time galaxies are forged, and destroyed, the ocean folds into itself, a baby is born, someone, somewhere realises their punt has paid off and smiles, and the librarian chastises me for speaking as a couple of lower sixth look on smugly.
But unfortunately, that punt is not mine.
No, he says emphatically, clicking his pen as if to underscore his rebuff.
And as he coolly packs his things away – despite being in the middle of something – and flees the library, I am left with a burning sense of embarrassment.
Did I mis-read our charged encounters?
Does he have a girlfriend? Boyfriend?
Does he have a hitherto undisclosed religion which forbids him from drinking?
Perhaps he just isn’t thirsty?
And another question, but I burn it, bury it so deep that no-one but me knows it is there.
Why is rejection so impossibly hard to bear?
I’ve encountered it many times since that fateful brush off in the library and it never gets any easier. It permeates every aspect of life, from the spurning of a love interest to being overlooked for a job or promotion, with cursed WhatsApp group chats and their political incommunicado in between. Don’t even get me started on those militant school mums and their sorority-style initiations.
It’s not even as if you can escape it by not putting yourself out there. Rejection will hunt you down and find you in an ignored Facebook or LinkedIn friend request. It’s there when you discover you’ve been unfollowed on Instagram or Twitter. It will laugh in your face when your contribution in the staffroom is enough to kill the conversation. It will show up uninvited when your peers are praised, or nominated, or recognised. A little voice inside you will think, ‘what about me?’ if others around you get an opportunity.
Social media has amplified the shame and upset, now us rejects can see the chosen counterpart enjoying the ‘Gram friendly fruit that was so ripe for the picking. We watch from the side-lines as others enjoy outings we weren’t invited to. We plaster on a smile and ‘like’ the wedding photos of that ex that refused to be pinned down.
We say ‘no worries’ when someone else gets picked instead of us.
But you start to feel as if you’re not good enough. It erodes your confidence. You dull your shine – just a little – to protect yourself. And you promise yourself that next time, you will handle it better. You won’t take it so personally. You’ll retreat to lick your wounds and come back roaring.
And you will. Because every rejection builds your resilience. Sometimes we fall and others we fly. And no-one is immune. I’d like to think Ross Fox is out there somewhere, having faced rejection himself.
I wouldn’t know. Too proud to accept his friend request.
Teela Clayton is account executive at SLBPR. You can say hello on Twitter at @TeeClayts
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Image via Britt Reints