Lately my friend Gina and I have been talking about trying rejection therapy. It’s this game that I heard about on NPR. The idea is that you intentionally put yourself in situations where you know you will be rejected (like walking up to a stranger and asking for a ride to another city). Eventually you get rejected so many times that it stops feeling destructive.
It seems like a good idea to me. Managing rejection is an important life skill. If you never experience it in your career or love life, well good for you. You are a Kardashian. The rest of us gotta deal.
Then the other night I got an email that reminded me that I am already doing rejection therapy: I’m a writer.
It wasn’t a suprise. It is story I’m proud of but the magazine was a reach for me. I’ll submit to them again in the future. They will get quite practiced at rejecting me, if I have anything to say about it.
Here’s the funny thing that I noticed: this was the first time that the rejection didn’t illicit a pain response. When I first started sending stories to editors and began collecting rejections, it registered as a physical ache in my chest. Like the wound to my pride was so intense it rattled my rib cage and bruised my heart. The first two or three emails reduced me to tears and it took days to recover.
Lately, however, when I’ve been mingling at conferences or workshops, I’ve been hearing how many rejections the other writers have received and I’ve started feeling like a poser. Or, at the very least, a lightweight. They have serious battle scars and stories from the trenches that make my experience feel like – not a war – but a paper route in a middle class neighborhood.
“I fell off my bike and everything! And there was this grumpy guy who never paid on time. Also, he had a really nasty Pomeranian…”
I came home from the last one thinking “I have GOT to get some more rejections! I NEED these people to take me seriously!!!”
Notice, the thought wasn’t “I need to get more publications,” which should be the goal. It was “I gotta go get roughed up out there so I can say I paid my dues!”
I’m not sure that speaks well of me. But I can say that the morning after I got this recent rejection I gave my story a little spit shine, found another magazine that seemed like a plausible fit, pounded out a cover letter and sent that kiddo back out into the field to take some more abuse. And that seems like a good thing.
So, thanks Rejection Therapy! I appreciate what you have done for me! And for the record: you can’t have a ride either.
I don’t write much about my love life here. Long ago, in another blog far away, I used to write about it a lot. But that was back when I never imagined that I would be divorced for ten years and still live alone. The dating adventures were fun and made funny anecdotes for my goofy blog. Then, somewhere in there, it got sad. I met some guys that I really hoped to make a connection with, but it never worked out. There came a point when I realized that I wasn’t laughing at the anecdotes, I was just bitching. I didn’t stop trying to find love. But I stopped writing about it.
I’m a happy person with a full life and a lot of interests and accomplishments. The relationship piece is missing, and I feel its absence. It’s tricky because I feel so much gratitude for the life that I have. And as a feminist I feel ashamed when harping on about being lonely or feeling incomplete without a man. But I do feel incomplete sometimes. And there are times when I wonder why – exactly, why – it is that I wasn’t able to make something work with someone after all this time. My ex-husband is married with two kids. Meanwhile, I feel like I haven’t made any progress down that road since we split and went our own ways.
A few days ago I was catching up on podcasts and I listened to the first of a three-part series from Dear Sugar, an advice column which has transitioned to audio format. (I’ve written before about my love for Cheryl Strayed as a writer. Dear Sugar is her podcast.) The title was “Looking For The One,” wherein “The Sugars” (Cheryl and Steve Almond) discuss one of the most oft asked questions they receive, “Will I ever find the one?”
A quick re-cap… They related the stories of the askers, all women who are single but range in age from their twenties to their fifties, who are trying to come to terms with single-hood. They want relationships and they, like me, feel shame when they say they need a man. And like me, they also feel anxious about the complexities. What is wrong with me? Why her and not me? Am I going to be able to have children? I have a great life and this is the one thing that is missing, but if someone had asked me early on to choose between career and relationship, I would have picked the relationship. But I never got to make the choice.
I was sucked in, completely. This is my story! And they were talking about it in such a candid and empathetic way. I have been at a point where I am feeling pressure to come to terms with my situation in a final way and find some acceptance, and to hear this discussion and the letters of other women in my situation was meaningful to me. If I were to break it down to a list of the three primary takeaways (because let’s face it, I LOVE lists!), it would be these.
A). I’m not alone.
If this is the most common question that The Sugars receive, then that is informative to me. Perhaps it shouldn’t make me feel better, and I’m not sure it does. But five years ago, I had a lot of women in my circle of friends who were in the same situation. Now, there are still a few. But not many. It is good to be reminded that I’m not the only person who hasn’t found a chair this long after the music has stopped.
B). Of all the women who wrote these letters, most will find someone. And some will not.
Thank you! Thank you, Cheryl and Steve, for saying that! I can’t explain how much it made my heart sing to hear someone admit, “Actually, yeah – some of these women will not make this happen for them.”
I am so tired of reading that if I just keep trying and “put myself out there” and “never ever settle,” that I will find some dreamy and delicious relationship that was totally worth waiting for. Because it isn’t true. I could “put myself out there” and go on thousands of first dates and keep my heart open, and it still may never work out because frankly: I do not have control over the outcome.
Also, isn’t there a contradiction in telling someone to “keep their heart and mind open” and also, “never ever settle!”? At this point, after a decade of being on my own, I don’t need to be told not to settle. I have seen what my options are. If I do decide to try to make something that is less than ideal work, you can trust that I thought out that decision.
I have taken breaks from the search but, to date, I haven’t given up. I know that being alone for the rest of my life is a distinct possibility. But if it doesn’t work out, it wasn’t because I didn’t try. It didn’t work out because sometimes it doesn’t fucking work out.
C). There are many kinds of ‘life partnerships.’
There is a point in the episode where Cheryl makes a point of saying that they aren’t prescribing remedies or tactics for these women. But she did remind me that there are people in my life that have partnered with me for the long term. I have two sisters and a number of wonderful friends who are on this journey with me. They have witnessed and help me keep my history. They are loyal to me and know that I am loyal to them. They would have my back in a bar fight. Of that, I am certain.
Today is Valentine’s Day. There were years in the last decade where that little day would creep up like a bad flu and then it would hit and I would suffer through it. It wasn’t an issue this year. It was just another day. I mostly took note of it because I wanted to plan around the restaurant crowds (food: my other life-long partnership). In fact, when I got out of bed this morning I had forgotten it was a holiday. Then…
First thing in the morning, I had a text from my niece sending love and wishing me a happy Valentine’s Day. I was touched. People don’t give millennials a lot of credit when it comes to thinking beyond themselves, and yet that girl remembered to send a Valentine to the single auntie in her hermitage, and I appreciated it.
Then my friend Gina sent a message asking me to be her Valentine’s lunch date. She’s in a newish relationship and I know they had evening plans for the big day of love, but still… she carved out time for me.
My friend Stef then got in touch to ask me if I wanted to do yoga. We have a standing Sunday thing but I thought she might pass on Valentine’s to over plans with her husband. But she wanted to go. And what was I going to say? “I can’t go; I’m busy”? I went and it was great (especially when it was over).
I also got to talk to my younger sister and her son on FaceTime. And I even heard from my older sister’s family, even though they are camping and off the map for the President’s Day weekend. I didn’t expect to have either of those connections today.
I love. And I am loved. Not in a traditional Valentine’s Day way. But I don’t care. It is more than enough. It is profound. And I am full of joy and gratitude.
Don’t get me wrong; it would have been nice to get laid today. But I suppose that goes without saying.
My east coast co-workers have this idea that if I’m from Utah that I am better accustomed to the cold than they are. They are wrong. This morning I was walking the two blocks between my hotel and the office when I was slapped in the face with an icy wet wind so cold that I yelled, reflexively, “God damn!” as if I had stubbed a toe.
I had planned, for dinner, to find a sushi restaurant. But I had some work to do. And frankly it was too cold to leave the hotel. So I stayed in. However, this is the view from my hotel’s restaurant. Try not to feel too badly for me.
Tonight, I told Ira Glass that I have a dog. It may have been the shortest interview that he ever conducted, but I feel that my entire life has been validated. This happened; I may now die without regret.
Ira: Okay, you: you get the last question.
Me: I just want to know how Piney is doing.
Ira: Piney??? (There was no recollection on his face… I thought I got the name wrong.)
Me: Your dog?
Ira: I know who Piney is. I assume you are asking because you have a dog?
Ira: What kind?
Me: Yorkshire terrier.
Ira: Has he ever bitten anyone?
Me: Yes (are we seriously still talking?! Or is this like that time I dreamt I was friends with Tom Hanks’ mom?)
Ira: But he’s small so it isn’t a big deal…?
Me: Yes, that’s true.
Ira: Well… (turns to the audience) Just to explain, I have a pitbull… (Proceeds to re-cap entire episode from the dog’s emotional issues down to the search for kangaroo meat in NYC, then turns back to me.) But anyway, yes: Piney is fine.