Yesterday I went on what felt like a teen date. I was youthful in my excitement, giddy with hormones and emotions. The first time he invited me for tea, I actually turned it down as I was reluctant to meet him too soon. He politely accepted this. But I couldn’t bring myself to stay away, and we met soon enough. So much of wooing is psychological, the timeless questions lingered in my mind- will he, will he not? It felt like a delightful game of chase. Anticipation built up in me while I prepared myself for the date, applying some makeup and draping myself in a lovely pink sari. As I stepped outside, I was met with glances of admiration from the people passing by. It lifted my confidence. It made me feel beautiful and wanted, and as though I could have anything I longed for.
Brimming with this pride, I set out to meet him. Everything felt immediately special. He even gifted me some books and a red dress. When I struggled to place the numerous books in my bag, he offered to help me and our hands touched. I felt a sudden crackle. Basking in the freshness of attraction, every little gesture seemed enchanting.
For the rest of the evening, we walked and unwound with long conversations. I spoke more than I did the last time I met him, and he listened intently all the while. With increasing familiarity, conversation became easy and comfortable. We strolled through roads and pavements that were unfamiliar to me, flanked by nostalgic white houses that seemed to be reminiscent of a different era. It took me back to a time of hand-written letters, bell bottoms and puff sleeved sari blouses. I imagined women with silver cases that held betel leaves and cherries. I almost expected a white ambassador to barrell down the road at any minute.
By the time the date ended, I was heady with this sense of the past and all the romance it contained.
When we hugged, I noticed how his arms were soft and tender. Lost in this embrace, pleasure seeped through my body. My heart fluttered as I walked away from him. I liked him. A lot.
I grabbed a corner seat in the train the next day. Cautious that no one was watching, I carefully opened out the red dress he had gifted me. It was strappy and soft, and I felt something tingling inside me- it was the same pleasure from before. I wanted to wear the dress and then feel his arms around me. I reached home after a long wait and called him, eager and desperate. I told him that I wanted him to kiss me. I was used to men infringing upon my space; but in all our time together, he done anything but that. He had been kind, gentle and patient. I knew I wanted him, deeply and passionately. But upon hearing this, his tone changed. He became serious and cautious and the words he said after would ring in my mind for days:
‘You are too valuable for me and I do not want to hinder our relationship at any time in future. It’s good if we remain as friends without sexual intimacy.’
I was taken aback and my lush dreams scrambled like a pack of cards. I wrote back to him:
“Imperceptibly, today I became a child who was weaned off from her mother’s milk. I rejoiced in those fleeting touches; when I clutched your shoulders as a car hurtled besides me. In those touches, I had a reason to lean towards you for spiritual comfort. Those light touches were like droplets, nourishing my parched body. A body that has always been conquered through penetration by patriarchal men. My body has never been loved in a way that makes it feel respected.
But I have got nothing against those lustful men. Like me, they too have suffered. Maybe they never experienced the bliss of union; the mutuality and sanctity of two bodies coming together with shared respect, love and selfless concern for the other. I have been able to confess my sexual and intimate desires to you because you made me feel protected. I knew that if you would make love to me, it will be to me as a whole person and not just as a mere outlet for ejaculation. Still, if you feel that we remain platonic, I respect your decision.”
This was my genuine response to being rejected by someone I was incredibly passionate about. As a woman who is bold and attractive, I knew I could always find other men. But they all lacked what I saw in him. He felt different, a man who spent time with me, and even gave me gifts without expecting it to ever lead up to anything else. He nourished our relationship without the goal of sexual intimacy. While I was hurt initially, my respect for him and our bond only grew once I realised these things.
But even so, my self esteem had been wounded. I was incorrigible. I sunk into the pillow, cried, and then called a friend of mind for solace. I felt better after talking to her, especially when she had many valuable things to say about coping with rejection.
“Pallavi, it’s good that you cried. Crying helps unburden one from the emotional baggage we carry in our hearts. Sharing your feelings with your friends makes you lighter. Being rejected by a potential lover is devastating when you’ve built up fantasies of instant chemistry, lasting love, and quick sex. More than the pain of rejection by the other person, it is a sort of rejection of the self, of one’s own hopes and dreams. But no one can truly shatter the self esteem you’ve built up over the years, in just one moment. You should also strive to find purpose in life by looking to a world outside of you and beyond you. Contribute to other people’s lives meaningfully. Comprehend your immense value and potential in a world that is desperately in need of you. Doing good is equal to feeling good”
Yes, rejection can hurt. But very often it has less to do with the other person and more to do with ourselves, primarily how we feel about ourselves. Part of what makes rejection so awful is that it confirms the worst fears and insecurities we have about ourselves. What if we are actually undesirable and unattractive? What if our worst critics and bullies were right all along? To overcome rejection, it is so important to overcome our own fragility and understand that validation comes in different ways; it needn’t always be sexual or romantic.
Overcoming rejection also has to be exercise in empathy. Do we really care about the other person, or do we only see them as a means to achieve the things we want- sex, love, validation? We have to recognize the other person as more than the subject of our affection and desire. They are a whole and complex person, with desires, wants and needs of their own. Understanding this is humbling. It helps us let go of the expectations, or even entitlement we may have carried during that initial rush of attraction. So yes, rejection does hurt. But what really matters at the end of the day is not how many people said ‘yes’ to you, but the grace, strength and respect with which you can handle both romantic pleasure and disappointment. A romantic relationship may fade, but an independent sense of self, humility and perspective, are things that will last you your whole life.