The biggest boost to my love life came the autumn I got dumped by two women. Best part? They both told me why I was toast.
Maria resented my humor. My steady stream of quips left her feeling under attack. Leah’s grievance was melancholy. She was sad that my sense of humor built an impenetrable wall between us. Their double-whammy rejection of my humor cut deep.
At the heart of the matter, I was unpracticed at rejection. I had designed my love life to avoid being told no. This looked like: no girlfriend until college; a handful of short relationships in my 20’s; and walking away from an engagement at age 31 because I was tired of hearing what was wrong
I wanted my experience of romance to improve. I had read a stack of books on dating, attended personal development seminars and even dropped thousands of dollars on dating coaching. I was deeply introspective and wide open to constructive feedback. Anything I could see to fix myself, I would try. But the elephant in the room was that I was petrified of rejection.
The advantage of avoiding rejection is that it was keeping my feelings from getting bruised. The flipside of the coin was costlier. I was actively killing off all the opportunities to hear what I needed to hear.
Imagine steering clear of every stranger who is courteous enough to tell you that your fly is open or that you need a breath mint. You’re sparing yourself that momentary twinge of embarrassment as you zip up, but the booby prize is that you continue to go through life looking silly. However, unlike zippers and bad breath, love matters.
Love matters a lot, I thought to myself, reeling from the second rejection. I could see in my mind’s eye the familiar downward spiral on which I was about to embark: Maria and Leah didn’t like my humor. It was my new defect du jour: Humor is what’s wrong with me! Time for my soul to don latex gloves and perform a painful humor-ectomy.
I started laughing. If love mattered so much, it seemed odd to compromise my sense of humor, which is foundational to how I love. What if there was nothing about me to fix?
It hit me that I had spent my life misreading rejection. Maria’s and Leah’s pink slips were not only first-rate intel, they were free. Neither woman was even criticizing me. Rather, they were kindly and straightforwardly telling me what I was too distracted by their attractiveness to see: hell would freeze over before we would ever be compatible.
Being elated by rejection was new terrain. It was disconcerting and I liked it.
However, my resolution to use my humor as a strict litmus test for all first dates going forward was short-lived. Within minutes I received a text asking me out on my last first date. We met for brunch, fell in love with each other’s humor and eventually
I’m convinced that learning to value rejection was key.
Gideon Culman is a professional life coach and host of Legacy Talk Radio. He lives with his wife, Anna, in Washington, D.C.