You Need Help: How Do I Stop Feeling Like A Loser After Rejection?

Q:

So many of my queer friends are people I briefly dated or wanted to date but who rejected me … sometimes it feels weird that that’s one of the main things that, for example, my gay soccer friend, gay friend from law school, and gay friend I met on Bumble and briefly dated, have in common in terms of my relationships with them. (To be clear, they usually don’t know this about each other — I am the one who knows they’ve each rejected me in turn.) It kind of makes me feel like a loser? Even though I know I “shouldn’t” feel that way. Like it just feels… embarrassing? Any advice for navigating this?

A:

Rejection just always kind of sucks on some level, even when we try to be super rational about it. It’s easy enough to tell yourself “rejection is not an actual assessment of my worth” and another thing entirely to make yourself actually FEEL that. Sometimes it really takes constant self-reminders. But also, I think one of the most genuinely effective ways to overcome rejection is to redirect the brain. Mentally replacing “this person rejected me because I’m not hot/cool/interesting enough” with “this person rejected me because we’re incompatible” or “this person rejected me because they have their own shit going on” can be so helpful!

In your case, there’s actually a pretty straightforward way to do that. All three of these people are your friends, which means that even though they were not interested in dating you, they were very interested in getting to know you, being around you, and building a relationship with you — just platonically. That’s actually very cool! It might help to remind yourself that these people only rejected you in one specific way. Instead of focusing on the loss, focus on the gain. You gained three friends!

One result of rejection is a feeling of loneliness, and even though things didn’t go as you had planned with these people, you still have meaningful bonds with them. I often tell people to respond to rejection by refocusing on existing relationships, like friendships. Remind yourself of what you like about your friendships with these three people. Wouldn’t you rather have these functional, fulfilling friendships than a romantic relationship that didn’t work out? Of course there’s no way to know how more-than-friendship with any of these people would have gone beyond what you already tried with them, but you DO know for sure that the friendships work! That means something! It sounds like the compatibility is just more geared toward friendship, and that means anything more probably wouldn’t have been sustainable.

They don’t ever have to know that they all share this trajectory with you in common if you don’t want them to. Honestly, I do think that with enough time you might even forget that they all share this in common or at least not feel bad about it. I think it would be good for your friendships as well as your relationship with yourself if you shift away from thinking that the thing these three people have in common is that they rejected you and instead realize that the thing these three people have in common is that they are your friends. They care about you, and whatever reasons they had for rejecting you, that’s their decisions to make. They don’t owe you explanations. (To be fair, I don’t get the sense from your letter that you want any explanations or have any hard feelings toward them, but I think it’s worth saying, because if you’re holding onto some of these feelings about the past, it could implicitly impact the friendships.)

It’s often not worth unpacking why someone rejected us, because it so often has little to do with us at all. Rejection is a choice made by someone else. It could mean anything. It could mean nothing! It’s easy to get stuck in a loop of self-blame and self-criticism. That’s why I think it’s good to redirect that energy and be self-centered in the wake of rejection, which is different than being self-scrutinizing! Quite literally center yourself. Put the other person out of your head. Tell yourself you’re hot, cool, amazing. Tell yourself other people are missing out. Focus on creative work or any projects that fulfill you. Dani Janae has some wonderful words of wisdom in this piece, especially in the last section.

You’re not a loser. In fact, you didn’t lose three people. You won three friends. And if you can remind yourself of that, you’ll hopefully stop associating them with rejection. In instances of future rejections, continue to focus on yourself — not in a self-critical way but rather in a way that prioritizes your wants, needs, and happiness. You can’t over-rely on others for your sense of self-worth. When you do need outside validation, seek it from friendships. If someone rejects you, that’s their loss, not yours.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Miami. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 300 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. this was really helpful. I was recently rejected in a pretty heart-breaking, hurtful, terrible way (this person is not my friend now so I am in a vastly different situation than OP) and it was actually the first time for me, that rejection stung so hard that it impacts my self-esteem. I have always been able to think of myself in self-love, but for some reason this particular rejection makes me look at myself in the mirror with contempt and rejection, and I am often seriously considering I will never find someone to date (which is ridiculous, I have had my fair share of dating experiences and I know I am loved and cherished by my friends and, I am a good catch in so many ways!) so this was a welcome reminder to center myself and my projects, and I would tell OP the exact same. Theres also no shame in distracting yourself with stuff that has nothing to do with dating. I am currently focusing on the amazing fact that I am moving out into my first very own apartment soon, and that I had the courage to change careers because the other one was making me unhappy. I am actively congratulating myself for those healthy happy choices, focusing on making this new space awesome for me and my friends. so, I would say: positive self-talk, remind yourself of ways in which you are loved, remind yourself of positive dating experiences in the past, and focus on stuff that gives you motivation and inspiration outside of dating and/or other people.

  2. I love this article. Thank you so much for it.

    This advice is useful for pretty much anyone and even more so when having had an upbringing based on consistent rejection, the self-blame for some of us is hard to unwire (hi, ND person here!) and that reframing of rejection is helpful to our self-value and is fair for everyone involved because it doesn’t cast blame.

    One thing I like to remind myself of when this happens is that being the one doing the rejecting is hard for many, and that not even I like everyone in the same ways – thus it gets easier to extend this courtesy!

    Thank you, again!

  3. So timely, thank you. I’m dipping my toe back into the emotional world after opening up my relationship of 27 years, and I haven’t dealt with heartbreak like this in … 37 years?!? Hoo girl. I find good advice like yours that comes from multiple angles sticks better. Thank you again for your wisdom!

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