Romantic chemistry is a tricky, fickle business, and it’s usually something we get wrong quite a few times before we ever manage to get it right. But even knowing that romantic rejection is common, even downright unavoidable, that still doesn’t mean it hurts any less.
In one study, it was found that the brain regions that support the sensory components of physical pain also have a hand in processing social pain (such as an unwanted breakup, or being turned down for a date). In this particular study, participants who had recently experienced an unwanted breakup were shown photos of their ex partners (ouch!). The result: some of the same regions of the brain that light up for physical pain also lit up for images that induced social pain. So, when we say, it hurts, we really mean it! Being rejected actually hurts!
You can’t always avoid social and romantic rejection in your own life, but what you can do is use these moments to grow, to learn more about yourself, and to build yourself into the sort of person you want to be. Below we’ve laid out some basic steps and thoughts to keep in mind as you work through a brush with unrequited love.
1. Don’t take it personally
“It’s not you, it’s me” is one of those cliched phrases we’ve heard so many times that it sounds hollow now, but it’s really the truth when it comes to romantic rejections. When someone declines a date, a relationship, or whatever it may be, it’s really just as much about the rejecter as it is the requester. There are a million personal reasons someone might turn you down for a date—maybe their lives are hectic at the moment, or they’re already in a mess of romantic feelings of their own, or maybe the both of you just don’t click the way they need right now—but none of this means that somebody else won’t find you absolutely irresistible later. Once again, chemistry is tricky. It isn’t about who’s “good enough” to date and who doesn’t measure up. Matching up with just the right person, at just the right time, is just plain hard. It requires trial and error.
As much as you can, remind yourself that this has nothing to do with your desirability to future partners; it’s only a lack of suitability to this one particular person and this one particular person’s particular needs. And as long as we’re dredging up tired clichés that also happen to be true, remember that there are plenty of fish in the sea.
2. Be kind
Turning someone down for a date, or breaking off a relationship, are not easy things to do. Most people don’t enjoy hurting someone else’s feelings and will go to great lengths to spare themselves that guilt or discomfort. So, when someone turns you down, try to meet them with compassion. This moment of rejection is difficult for both of you, and the best way to grapple with your own hurt feelings is to choose to be kind, to be understanding, and to be graceful and dignified. This is a chance to choose to be the best version of yourself. It didn’t work out the way you hoped, but you can still come away from it looking good.
The best thing you can do here, for you and for the other person, is to say that you understand, that it was worth a shot, and that you wish them well. The more easily we offer compassion to others, the more easily we can offer compassion to ourselves.
3. It’s OK to feel hurt, but it’s no one’s fault
When someone rejects us romantically, sure, we’ll say it again, it hurts! It’s OK to feel that pain, to sit with it a while, to grieve our romantic feelings loss, but it’s important to remember: just because someone has done something that hurts us, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they wronged us in any way. It’s natural, when feeling hurt, to feel as if we’ve been attacked, but a romantic rejection isn’t an attack or wrongdoing. It hurts, but it’s no one’s fault. If the chemistry isn’t there, then the chemistry just isn’t there.
So, even when it hurts, try not to think about who deserves the blame for the way you feel. We’re all out here searching for something, trying our best. Make sure you don’t say or do anything to make them feel guilty, or to make them answer for your pain; That won’t make you feel any better anyway.
4. Distance is good
It can be tricky to put distance in between you and the object of your unrequited affections, especially if the person is a friend or someone you see often. But distance may be just the thing you need right now, or else you may find it difficult to get your mind off the painful episode. It’s always appropriate to say, “I just need a bit of space for a while to work through some feelings.” If this means hiding their Facebook posts for a while or canceling some social calls, that’s perfectly OK too. Right now, your mental and emotional well-being are your number one priority.
5. Keep busy
Don’t let yourself sit about too much, feeling sorry about everything. You need to get out of your head. Throw yourself into your passions instead. Get out and exercise however you prefer. Learn a new skill. Pick up a new hobby. Catch up on work. Catch up with old friends. When, in blue times like these, we busy ourselves with our hobbies and self-development, not only do we distract ourselves from that blueness, but we can also build ourselves up, grow in our own identities, and boost our self-esteem.
6. Keep Looking
We are hardwired to fear rejection. Instead of letting this one romantic rejection build into that natural fear we all have, try to use this as an opportunity to grow, and to find your courage. Think of it this way: the worst just happened, and you’re still here. Your life didn’t end. Tomorrow is still on its way. Choose to let this make you braver instead of more discouraged. Try saying yes to all the social invitations that come your way for a while, and get back out there. To find the people we really click with, we need to keep at it, keep looking, and keep introducing ourselves. Right now, as you’re out there looking for your person, somewhere someone is out there looking for you too.