If there is a skill worth learning at Stanford, it is a form of emotional gymnastics to give off the impression that if you don’t get something you want, you didn’t want it in the first place. Rejection is tough enough as is, and it stings more sharply when it’s public. So students build intricate chain-mail around their lowest moments, durable enough to endure a probing question but light enough to preserve the pretense of a happy-go-lucky personality. I see chain-mail crafted around low grades, high hopes and, most frequently, around those awkward moments when someone had the nerve to pursue a romantic interest, unsure if the feelings were reciprocated.
It’s like it’s inadmissible to be turned down. I hear a lot of self-deceiving rationalizations claiming, “I wasn’t even interested in so-and-so romantically” if there is the least indication that so-and-so wasn’t interested first. But I don’t hear many conversations to the extent of, “Man, I really like him but he doesn’t like me. Bummer.” Or even, “There’s this girl I like, but I don’t know if she’s down. Scary shit.” It’s a shame, because a preemptive denial foregoes a relationship or friendship that could pan out if you let the chain-mail down. There is no shame in feeling attracted to someone only to discover that the feeling isn’t reciprocated. It’s the nature of the beast. Otherwise we would have no angst to write love songs about.
I’m not talking only about romantic pursuits, either. Often I am too shy to make a new friend because I project that they might reject me, and I don’t think I’m alone on this one. It comes from a fiction I tell myself that I can be perfect, and rejection doesn’t fit into that fiction. It just isn’t something that happens to perfect people. So I build up a fortress of smiles and denials around the silliest things.
Ironically this makes me come across as defensive, untrusting, and frequently a bitch, when really it’s just shyness. When you have your chain-mail on, an attempt by an outsider to connect can feel like an attack on the fortress, a search for a crack in the foundation. When you project rejection onto a situation, you might withdraw from it, be it a conversation, an invitation or an innocuous “hello.” Whoever is on the other side of that “hello” could take your withdrawal as a personal rejection. And thus, we have the stalemate in new relationships between perfect people, who abound at Stanford.
The solution seems simple: stop projecting rejection. Simple, sure; easy, no way. Walking into a new social scenario without any defensive armor on might be the scariest thing I have done, and I have been hypothermic in a lightning storm. It’s scary, yes. But you can let go of the pressure to never be rejected. Embrace that possibility, and you might be able to stop projecting it as the inevitable.
Renée won’t reject you if you email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.