For the vast majority of us out there dating, life is filled with rejection. From getting ghosted to getting hit with the “I’m just not ready for a relationship right now,” there are about a million and one different ways for your ego to be bruised — nay, slashed. I should know. Until I was able to develop enough resilience to know that another person’s opinion of me didn’t change anything — from the sort of love I deserved to how I perceived myself — dating was a truly emotionally exhausting task.
“Resilience is crucial,” says family and relationship therapist Fran Walfish, Psy.D. “When it comes to dating, it’s really helpful to build a thicker skin.”
For some people, resilience — the ability to bounce back, in this case from romantic rejections — comes naturally. For others, not so much.
“Rejection messed with my mind a lot,” recalls Maggie*, 26, of her single days. Even when she would finally muster up the courage to put herself back out there, she found it near impossible to shake “the fear that it would happen all over again with the next guy.”
Louis*, 27, also takes romantic rejection extremely personally. “I become obsessed with what I possibly could have done wrong to make them not like me,” he says.
According to Walfish, the tendency to take rejection personally stems from sensitivity, which, ironically enough, is a desirable quality in a partner. Still, it can quite clearly work against us if we don’t consciously work to become more resilient.
Step one: Give yourself time to bounce back.
Being resilient doesn’t necessarily mean forcing yourself to move on before you’re ready. In fact, in order to date with the best possible mindset, you need to take the necessary time to get over whoever who hurt you, especially true when you invested a lot of emotional energy in that person. “Bouncing back may be particularly challenging if you were rejected by a casual partner who you developed not-so-casual feelings for, according to Walfish, so don’t beat yourself up for being hung up on something that was official or “serious.”
Step two: Look at the big picture.
If rejection and disappointment are becoming regular characters in your dating life, Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in Colorado, says it’s worth drilling into what aspect of your dating routine needs to change in order to better protect your heart in the future. “Is there an issue with partner selection?” he asks. “Is there an issue with being too detached and calloused? Is there an issue with becoming too attached and vulnerable early in the relationship? Discerning the causes of the pattern and what adjustments need to be made is important.”
But it’s a careful balance between being honest with yourself and self-flagellating. A resilient person is also aware of the fact that not every rejection is personal. Take stock of whether the person you were seeing was lacking one of these four qualities that Walfish believes to be imperative for building a lasting relationship:
- Accountability: “You want someone who’s willing to look at their own shit and say, ‘Hey, I’m so sorry. That was me, not you,’ rather than constantly pointing the finger outward,” says Walfish.
- Kindness: While it sounds simple and a bit obvious, “people often forget that ingredient” when they’re searching for a match, Walfish adds.
- Reciprocity: “You want someone with reasonably healthy communication skills. That means they make their needs, wants, and wishes known [and also] encourage you to share yours.” What you definitely do not want is someone who squelches your voice, she adds.
- Consistent reliability: “A lot of people will go out with you and have this great connection for a week or two and then [it becomes], ‘Oops, I’m going on a business trip’ or ‘Oops, I’m so busy I can’t see you,’” says Walfish. “There can’t be [excessive] breaks and disruptions in the connection — you need someone with continuity.”
True resilience with regards to dating requires an understanding that a relationship with a person who failed to exhibit all four of these key qualities likely wouldn’t have worked out anyway. Moreover, a resilient person can reduce the risk of getting hurt again by keeping those qualities in mind when looking for future partners.
Step three: Keep up just enough of a guard.
According to Wyatt, resilience in dating requires finding the middle ground. “It’s important to avoid extremes,” he warns. “The one extreme is not allowing yourself to feel or get attached out of self-protection in case the relationship doesn’t go anywhere. The other extreme is being too quick to attach and developing strong feelings too early in the relationship. Both approaches set you up for problems.” By avoiding extremes, resilient daters get the best of both worlds — they give people a real chance without putting themselves at risk of total heartbreak.