Imagine yourself on a warm summer day, strolling down the sidewalk of your favorite city, slow and serene. Just you and your thoughts.
Just you and the smells of the shops and restaurants that you pass. Just you and the sound of traffic. Just you and the strangers around you, behind you, beside you, toward you.
You feel calm, like a rock in the middle of a stream, as the people part and flow around you. You feel the warmth of the sun on your face and you are glad you have nowhere to be and nothing in particular that needs your attention. You are not doing anything. You are just… being.
The air is alive, electric. Possibilities are everywhere and you breathe deeply, absorbing the smells and the sights and the sounds.
And then… you see her.
She is casually walking toward you, stopping occasionally to look in shop windows, and she is beautiful to you. She wears a simple dress, unadorned and soft, floating about her as she moves, with the sunlight shining through it, tracing her shape, her form. It’s that kind of dress.
Time slows down and you catch your breath. She is getting closer, unaware that you are watching her, absorbed in her own reverie, window shopping. It is obvious she is not in a hurry. And now she is even closer.
Here’s the question: what will you do?
What will you do?
You know exactly what you want to do. You want to stop her as she is about to pass and say something charming and confident. You want to smile and ask her name. You want to ask her to join you for coffee around the corner. And if she joins you for coffee, you want her to sit with you, fully attentive, enthralled by your easy manner and compelling conversation, as you regale her with stories and fun and witty repartee. You want her to be so intrigued by you that she offers you her phone number – without you even asking. And then you want to call her tonight! And the next night. And the next. You want to tell her she is beautiful to you, and that you can’t wait to see her again.
You want to do all those things.
But you can’t. You can’t… because you are afraid.
You are afraid that if you try to stop her and say hello, she will smile a weak smile at you and then keep going. Or she will ignore you. Or she will shake her head and avert her eyes and duck around you.
You are afraid that if she does stop and she does tell you her name, then you will draw a blank, and you will look foolish and awkward as you desperately try to think of something interesting to say.
You are afraid that even if you don’t draw a blank and you manage to engage her in some semblance of conversation and you ask her to join you for coffee, she will decline and say she has a boyfriend. Or she will laugh at you. Or she will look you dead in the eye and say, “No, not interested.” And walk away.
You are afraid that even if she does agree to join you for coffee that, well, maybe she is just bored and has nothing better to do. Besides, you certainly are not her type anyway. After all, you are sure you are too short for her and you are sure she likes a different hair color than yours and you are sure you aren’t good looking enough for her.
And then even if she appears to like you, and she does ask you to call her and she gives you her number, then you are afraid you will have no idea what to do with it. Should you call her right away? Should you wait three days? A week? You have no idea.
And then even if you do manage to get up enough courage to call her, how should you act? How should you sound? Should your tone be upbeat, fun and carefree, or suave, assured and direct? Or should you just be yourself? And, for that matter, how do you be yourself anyway? Why would she ever be interested in you being yourself?
And finally, if you do compliment her and tell her she looks beautiful today in her simple dress that floats about her when she moves, then you are afraid she will view it as supplication. No, you can’t compliment her. Instead, you must act distant and cool and aloof and uninterested, because if you don’t, she will think that you are needy and clingy and too available. You hate acting like that – why can’t you just be natural and real and not play these games? Ah, but if you don’t, you are sure you will lose.
And there you have it. She is almost upon you now, but it doesn’t matter because in a fraction of a second, your mind has conjured up all of these negative scenarios.
And so as she passes by, all you manage to put together is a thin-lipped smile and a nod in her direction and, well… she may or may not have noticed; you can’t really tell. And it makes you very sad.
Well, you are not alone.
This is how most men live their lives: they spend their time watching her pass by. They fail to act, letting what could possibly be the most fulfilling romantic encounter they have ever experienced quietly pass them by.
It is all because of our deepest fear: the fear of rejection.
In today’s society, a man feels that if a woman rejects him in any way – however politely and kindly she does it – she has somehow invalidated his very masculinity. He can’t help but feel that she is indirectly rejecting him as a man. He simply isn’t good enough for her. And by extension, he is not good enough for anyone – including himself.
It doesn’t matter what her reasons are – she might be sad today, or not feeling pretty, or newly broken up with her boyfriend, or happily married, or frustrated with her career or her life… or whatever. He still takes it personally.
Even the most confident of men among us – those used to being constantly in the company of women – get rejected now and then; they still feel a twinge of hesitation when they encounter a woman that takes their breath away.
The fear of rejection is a man’s deepest fear, and it causes him to hesitate, to catch himself, to pause with that oh-so familiar sinking feeling in his stomach. In other words, without her even saying a single word to him or even noticing him at all, he has already rejected himself.
She doesn’t have to reject him because he has already done it for her.
The truth is, the fear of rejection is ingrained in all of us, including her. We have been conditioned by society to believe that we simply aren’t good enough. It feels natural to us that others will reject us because we have lived with the fear of rejection our whole lives. We wear this fear around us like a blanket; we have grown accustomed to it.
In addition, the root of most of the problems in our relationships is our fundamental fear of rejection. For even in a seemingly stable and otherwise happy relationship, the latent fear of rejection can simmer just beneath the surface, manifesting itself occasionally (or often) in acts of jealousy or anger or selfishness or petty arguments.
We are born with only one fear: the fear of loud noises. All other fears are acquired as we move through life. When we were four years old, we all could sing. When we were four years old, we all could draw. But then we started to go to school and for the first time, we began to compare ourselves to others. We looked over at another kid’s drawing and for the first time, we felt that maybe we couldn’t draw.
Society has ingrained in our consciousness the notion that we might not be as good as someone else. Or, equally common, our parents conveyed to us through their words or their actions from an early age that we simply were not good enough.
Men spend their lives trying to compensate for this perceived lack of value. They try to wear the right clothes, get the right job, drive the right car; all in an attempt to distract her. We hope that maybe she won’t notice – and ultimately reject – the real us.
So here we are today: men fear women because they feel that she has the power… the power to validate them. To most men, if a woman agrees to see them or date them or marry them or love them, it gives him value. He feels like a man, like someone has accepted who he is. Unfortunately, he feels the reverse is also true: after all, if she rejects him by not agreeing to any of these things, then is she not invalidating him?
One of the saddest phrases for a man to hear from a woman is, “Don’t take this personally, but…” She may sincerely not want to hurt him, but in reality, a man can’t help but take it personally.
What happens is this: he feels the rejection, polite or not, as a direct invalidation of his very soul. It sends a man into paroxysms of self examination. “Why?” he asks, “What is it about me that she didn’t like? Am I not tall enough? Charming enough? What did I do? What didn’t I do? Why?”
And the cycle repeats.
I once saw a sign in a hotel lobby in Vienna (of all places) that said this: “If you could see yourself the way others see you, you would be amazed.” I thought about that sign for a long time, and you should too. For if you do, you will discover that it truly is the answer to the fear of rejection.
Always remember that no matter what the outcome, no matter how she responds to you, you are still you! You never lose. Never forget this, for it is the key to overcoming your fear of rejection.
And then… do it anyway. Even successful, confident speakers and performers get butterflies just before they go onstage. It is natural. The difference is that they do it anyway. They don’t fail to act. They don’t necessarily have less fear of rejection than the rest of us; instead they take a deep breath, steel themselves, and do it anyway – in spite of their fear.
Success breeds confidence and confidence, as we know, breeds success.
So the next time you see her, don’t hesitate. Instead, approach her with a smile, knowing in your heart that she too is afraid of rejection, that she too is nervous about how she appears.
Don’t reject yourself on her behalf – before you have even met her! Acknowledge your fear, and then do it anyway.
Remember: No matter what happens, you are still you. You never lose!