I used to be stage 10 terrified of rejection. It was this guiding fear that controlled almost every aspect of my life. I didn’t want to admit it, but yeah, I had some demanding asshole narrating my every action. Don’t say that. Don’t wear that. Don’t stand out too much, but don’t fade into the background either. Stop. Think. Overthink. Don’t do it. Regret not doing it. And it never let up. This running monologue of how to live became the thing I relied so heavily on, but also, the very thing that made me sick.
My mom strongly believed I was actually making myself sick in high school. I’m not just talking Ferris Bueller heating-up-the-thermometer type of behavior, but instead I focused and fretted so much that my neurotic thinking would magically manifest in different parts of my body. My stomach would ache. I’d have unexplainable headaches. Fevers would spike at night when I was unable to silence nerves. My body was turning on itself.
This all culminated in one day my freshman year of high school when I was running laps during gym class. I’m not athletic…like at all. The only thing I did that somewhat resembled a sport was horseback riding for a solid two years before getting kick off and never getting back on that horse. So you can imagine that I already had anxiety about doing anything that required physical coordination, especially in front of my peers. What doubled my anxiety? The football team out on the field practicing.
So there I was, this pulsating bundle of fear of rejection and looking foolish, and as I ran past greasy-faced adolescent boys punching each other or doing push ups (I don’t know what they were doing, sporty stuff?), my cheeks were set on sudden fire when one of the boys yelled, “ARI EASTMAN LOVES *insert name of boy I had been secretly in love with for two years*!!!”
My legs kept moving but everything inside went still. I finished the lap, excused myself to the bathroom, and cried my eyes out. There it was: rejection and embarrassment before the 5th period bell even rang. I was so distraught that I couldn’t bring myself to go to the first ever football game of the year. Too many people. Too many chances to be hurt. Instead, I stayed in bed all night and watched 8 episodes of Friends.
Everyone deals with some fear of rejection at some point. And if you tell me you haven’t, you are lying to everyone, yourself included. It might never be something that severe. It can be in varying levels. Maybe it’s just a moment of self-doubt. Or that paralyzing pause after telling someone how you feel and not knowing how they will respond. We have all been there. And it will always exist, in small parts. It’s very human to be a little scared and unsure sometimes. You won’t ever become immune to rejection. But you can learn to fear it less.
I had to learn to fear it less or else it was going to swallow me whole. It wasn’t an overnight process, or something that I have completely figured out. But the moment I started being honest in who I was and trusting that was good enough was when I started being less afraid.
I sat in bed that night, sobbing, thinking about the boy I liked. The football team. That one asshole who shouted in front of my whole class. Being so scared of what others thought. I wondered, “Am I always going to be so damn scared?”
Sometimes, I still am scared. It’s the guy who reaches his arm around me and I blurt out, “I really like you,” and he kisses me instead of saying anything back. I doubt. I feel sick for a second again. I feel 14. But being honest is what pushes me forward. Being honest in who I am and how I feel is the trick to combatting the fear of rejection. If you take a chance, and are burned, you still have nothing to regret. Why? Because you tried. Do you know how many people never even try?
I would rather take chances. I would rather ask someone out. I would rather send that risky email. I want to know I’ve done something, even when the possibility of rejection was staring me straight in the face. I’m not always brave, but when I choose to push past my fear of rejection, those are the moments I know I’m truly trying.