This is one way to look at this art exhibit. (Image/An Epic Education)
When I wasn’t crying over my divorce and broken family, I was mostly getting dating wrong.
Must Be This Tall To Ride wasn’t about helping anyone. It wasn’t about strengthening relationships, preventing divorce, or improving ourselves.
It was simply about me being a trainwreck and amusing myself by sharing stories about it.
I had just turned 34—at the time, the oldest I’d ever been—yet found myself the least secure and most afraid that I’d ever been. Being that it came at the same time that I was also setting new personal records for being sad and angry, it was a pretty bad time.
But even at my worst, my brain is always trying to problem-solve.
I just lost my wife. My home and life are incomplete without a partner. There’s a void now. I should begin trying to fill that void, I thought.
If MBTTTR was anything, it was me chronicling what I perceived to be rejection—first from my ex-wife, and then from people I never even met on online-dating sites.
Losing half of my son’s childhood is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But my wife CHOSE that over staying with me—THAT’s how unlikable I am, I thought.
I failed at marriage—who would want me?
I have a kid—who would want to deal with that?
I don’t have as much money as that guy. I’m not as smart as that guy. I’m not as attractive as that guy.
It was one big Hey Matt, You’re Not Good Enough festival.
When I first started dating I was a teenager and in my early 20s. I was nothing but hope and confidence, youthful energy and fearlessness, as well as the most physically attractive version of myself that I’d ever be.
I was CONSTANTLY surrounded by women my age who were in similar life circumstances, both in and outside of school. Pretty much everyone around me was close to my age and single.
The possibilities were endless.
I dreamed big, chased what I wanted, and usually got it. Dating? It was mostly easy.
You Must be This Tall to Ride
I’m not very tall. (5’9”-ish.)
When I was young, I never even thought about my height beyond the basketball court. I wanted to dunk on people and it totally sucks that I never have. But outside of sports, my height wasn’t on my radar as anything that would ever matter.
But then I woke up one day divorced and 15 years older.
I didn’t feel youthful. I didn’t feel confident. I didn’t feel like I had my whole life ahead of me.
I had JUST failed at literally the most important job I’d ever had, and done the ONE THING I swore I would never do—get divorced.
I was an emotional disaster. I’d totally lost confidence in myself and was afraid of everything.
And now, this broken version of myself was tasked with finding a romantic partner in a life where I’m almost never surrounded by women my age, or in similar life circumstances like I’d been 15 years prior.
This problem is why people invented online dating—something that in my estimation is both good and bad.
When I was 19 or 20, my dating competition—not that I was ever thinking about it as any type of competition—consisted mostly of the other guys around me—and I mean, literally in my physical proximity. They were mostly people I knew and liked, and were within a few years of me, age-wise.
But as a middle-aged dude? None of that was true anymore.
I was just a few photos on the screen.
That’s what I’d been reduced to.
Some mediocre stats, underwhelming photography, and a digital poster child for cliché divorced single father red-flag-waving trainwreck.
It didn’t matter what I thought about. It didn’t matter how I felt about people—or about the world. It didn’t matter what good I had to give.
For some, the only thing that mattered was that this one dude was driving a Mercedes and was 6’3” tall. And that I didn’t. That I wasn’t.
There is ALWAYS some tall, rich, super-attractive dude. And that guy will ALWAYS be more appealing than the short, divorced, middle-class guy when you’re swiping left and right.
It was a hard pill to swallow at first.
This is how people meet now, and I can’t compete.
Rejection—the idea of not being good enough and trying to deal with it—is what this place was built on.
Must be this tall to ride.
Everyone Changes Their Mind About You After You Do
Whether they come via blog comments, emails, or in real-life conversation, I get some form of this question a lot: How do I move past rejection?
It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out how I was going to do it. I’d finally had enough of feeling shitty.
When I first started dating and writing after divorce, every day I felt like no one would like me like they had the younger me.
And now? I don’t feel bad every day. People like me.
The question of whether I’m good enough no longer hangs over my head.
Why? Because I figured out something important about who gets to decide how much I’m worth.
I was letting OTHER people—or worse—what I THOUGHT other people might believe about me to dictate how I felt about myself.
I was letting other people decide who I was. What I was worth. How much I mattered.
People’s opinions—total strangers much of the time—had the power to dictate how good or bad I felt every day. Other people had the power to determine whether being alive today would feel good or feel horrible.
It was power that I’d given them.
You ever like a food, or a movie, or an activity, or a person, or whatever that someone else didn’t like?
Are you going to stop liking pepperoni pizza because some vegan says it’s gross?
Are you going to stop liking The Shawshank Redemption because some warm-milk drinker said they didn’t think it was a good movie?
I KNOW the things I like are awesome. I recognize that not everyone will agree. I make no value judgments about them as human beings on account of their different tastes and preferences, because I know that if I were THEM, having lived their identical life, I would share their identical tastes and preferences.
But MY stuff? The things I enjoy doing, or admire, or that inspire me somehow?
One day it occurred to me how irrelevant other people’s opinions were to me, and how they almost never influenced my likes and dislikes.
Then, everything changed.
Why would I ever let other people’s opinions affect my evaluation of myself?
3 Ways to Overcome Rejection or Fear of Rejection in Dating
1. Get serious about your personal values and boundaries.
Here are your choices, single people:
- Stay single, don’t date.
- Date casually.
- Date seriously, with the intention of marrying OR entering a long-term committed relationship that approximates marriage.
There are people—many people—who make getting married, or Being in a Relationship a goal. The goal is not health. The goal is not happiness. The goal isn’t about anything meaningful.
The goal is simply—Be Part of a Relationship.
When the goal is to simply NOT be single, people demonstrate the tendency to compromise their personal values and avoid enforcing their personal boundaries if it means their relationship might be in jeopardy EVEN IF it’s a shitty relationship that should have never happened in the first place.
If the long-term goal is having a sustainable committed long-term partnership with someone, why is everyone in such a damn hurry RIGHT NOW, where they’ll make a bunch of excuses for asshole behavior, because tolerating the asshole behavior somehow feels easier than having to start the dating process over again? Why is having a shitty relationship somehow better than having no relationship?
I spend a lot of time writing about divorce and how I believe men—by and large—are the biggest culprits in the typical crappy marriage and divorce story. There’s plenty of data to support this.
What I don’t spend enough time writing about (because it isn’t useful to the majority of people reading marriage and divorce-prevention content) is how I believe women—by and large—are the biggest culprits in creating the conditions for the typical marriage and divorce story to play out.
I agree that many, many, many men (and some women) seem to ‘change’ after marriage. And that their spouses feel almost duped, betrayed, and stuck when that happens.
It’s relatively easy to breakup with a boyfriend. It’s much harder to breakup with a spouse who is often a significant financial provider for a shared home, with shared bank accounts, shared vehicles, shared extended family, shared friends, and—most significantly—shared children.
Children change everything for couples, and not always in good ways. It’s easy to understand how people who have never had children before would do a crappy job of mentally guessing what the experience would be like.
But there are core needs—emotionally, psychologically, physically, spiritually—that people have. When they’re not met, something starts to hurt for the people with the unmet needs. It’s obvious to them that something is wrong.
And this is when people start compromising their principles—their self-respect—to keep their relationships intact.
I KNOW how hard that can be in marriage.
But I struggle to find reasons why it should be hard during the dating phase. Fantasizing about a happy marriage is NOT the same as actually having a happy marriage.
If someone doesn’t fulfill your core needs, you’re going to spend a lifetime feeling pain and awfulness BECAUSE of the very thing that’s supposed to help support you during life’s hardest moments.
Communicating what those core needs are effectively, and then respecting oneself enough to walk away from anyone refusing to fulfill them is the ONLY way to avoid a marriage with fundamental problems from Day 1.
Feeling rejected because someone refuses to fulfill your stated needs?
Did they really reject you, or did they just do you and your future children a huge favor?
2. Become the One Who Rejects
That sounds uglier than it’s supposed to, because none of this is rooted in superficiality.
Here’s the thing. People go on dates, and in the back of their minds, they want the person they are meeting to “pick them.” People try to say the right things, do the right things, look the right way—not because that’s necessarily the most honest and authentic and true version of themselves—but because they want this total stranger on the other side of the dinner table to give them the You’re Good Enough stamp of approval.
People do this all of the time. And then their entire emotional wellbeing is rooted in how often these strangers ‘approve’ of them.
Ugh. Sorry. Not happening.
Half of these people are assholes. Let’s start there. I don’t mean crazy, huge assholes who will do super-awful things to you. I just mean regular-sized assholes like me. Everyone’s got baggage and problems, and their own fears and insecurities.
It’s important to not let assholes with baggage and problems and fears and insecurities DETERMINE how you feel about yourself.
This isn’t a job interview where it’s only successful if the other person decides you’re good enough.
When YOU are the one who rejects, you give no effs about whether THEY think YOU are good enough. You’re spending the entire meeting working out whether you think THEY are good enough for YOU. This isn’t about judging people superficially. It’s about evaluating the relative competence and compatibility of another human being to determine whether romance and/or legit partnership would be viable.
Will it hurt a little if you end up really liking someone who DOESN’T end up really liking you back?
And I’m sorry.
But. Serious question: How much do you want to be in a relationship with someone who literally doesn’t value you enough to want the same thing? Like, how’s that going to turn out for everyone?
I probably shouldn’t try to speak for everyone here, but I feel fairly confident 99 out of 100 will agree: Divorce or horrible breakups of long-term relationships are VASTLY shittier experiences than having some attractive stranger not like you as much you like them.
Framing things in intellectually honest ways is a huge part of dealing with perceived ‘rejection.’
Which leads to…
3. Tell Yourself the Right Story
You’re not only good enough, but you’re kind of awesome. If you’re doing a bunch of things you DON’T think are awesome, then I strongly suggest giving up those sucky things for all of the awesome alternatives.
Wake up and do things you want to do. Do things you love. Engage in people and activities that set your heart on fire.
If some rando out there doesn’t think those things you do and love are awesome or interesting, is that going to stop you from loving to do them or thinking they’re awesome?
Bad things happen every day. They happen to good people who don’t deserve it, and that is universal. If you love others then you’ll always have something to lose. And all of us will.
The longer you live, the more you lose.
It’s not a tasty beverage.
But, in the context of relationships, the conventional wisdom is that you either ARE in a relationship or that you WILL BE one day.
The most beautiful, significant, lasting relationship—the one that occurs with two people who promise to love one another forever, and mean it. Two people who bring children into the world, and teach them to be forces for good in the world, and how to love romantically, and otherwise.
That only happens when all of the bad relationship stuff happens first. You only meet that amazing person when you’re not too busy wasting time and energy on people who can’t and won’t be that.
Dating failure IS NOT failure. Dating ‘failure’ is healthy relationship insurance.
Your mind deserves to be stimulated. It deserves peace.
Your body deserves to be wanted. It deserves satisfaction.
Your spirit deserves to be nurtured. It deserves whatever support you require on your life journey.
When those things happen, you are emotionally healthy.
When any or all of those things DON’T happen, you get knocked out of balance emotionally, and then every moment of life feels crappier than it otherwise would.
How do you get past feelings of rejection?
We tell ourselves the right stories. The correct ones.
The true ones.
No one gets to decide what we’re worth. Only us.
And are we really being rejected, or is someone showing themselves to be someone we don’t want to be with anyway?
It might seem like I’m advocating mind games. A bunch of psychobabble, or cat-poster B.S.
But what I hope it seems like is that you were standing on one side of the room looking at something, and seeing things one way, and I helped you find the other side of the room, where you discovered the exact same thing looks entirely different when you finally see it from the proper angle.
Here’s the way Salvador Dali intended you to view his tribute to actress Mae West. (Image/Pinterest)