Chapter 17 Learning Objectives
Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:
- Discover that being liked or not being liked (not only romantically, but in other areas as well) is not necessarily in anyone’s control.
Watch this video or scan the QR code to see how you deal with rejection in a relationship.
The story goes there was a famous older man who had never married. He was often asked why he had never married and his answer was that he was looking for the perfect woman. He had found her once, he said, but since she was looking for the perfect man, it had not worked out.
When someone says he or she is looking for the perfect mate, others usually reply there is no such person; or if there is, such people are so rare the odds are slim of finding them. The man in the story above was, I suspect, jokingly talking about a woman who was perfect, period, not just one who was perfect for him, regardless of how imperfect she might be for someone else. But I suspect when most people talk about seeking a perfect mate, they mean for them, not for everyone and not perfect in general. I think it would immensely increase chances for success to seek a partner that is perfect for a particular person rather than to seek someone who would be a perfect partner for anyone. I doubt anyone could be perfect for everyone. Though people often have friends who are very different from each other, it is nearly impossible to imagine anyone who could have such varied interests, abilities, tastes, and allure that he or she could be perfect for everyone and anyone. People are suited or suitable to each other, not just “suitable” in general. “Most eligible” bachelors are usually not ideal for all, or perhaps even many, single women; two young or two elderly people might be very well suited for each other but not for those twice or half their ages; two lesbians might be quite well suited to each other without being even remotely suited to the most eligible bachelors.
As I said earlier, feelings are funny things in that they sometimes seem to have no reasonable basis, and they may persist even in the face of good reasons to the contrary. Often they do not occur when you think they should. You may not be attracted to a person who you know is very good for you; you may become attracted or remain attracted to someone who you know treats you terribly or who repeatedly disappoints you. It is not clear to me that there is often any cause or any (fore)seeable cause for attraction to occur when it does, or for it not to occur when it does not. Many times you feel you can see what it is about someone that attracts you to them or that attracts other people to them. But this is not always, or perhaps even often, true. Many times you might see someone objectively better looking and/or better behaving than the one you are attracted to, but you may not thereby be attracted to the new person at all. Many people have twin siblings who look identical yet the lover of one twin may have no feelings of attraction for the second twin at all. Name any trait you tend to find appealing in a person and that you think then makes the person appeal, or be attractive, to you — physical beauty, wit, intelligence, being good with children, kindness, tenderness, pragmatism, conscientiousness, good sense of humor, etc. — and people could probably name dozens of people with that trait who you are not, and would not be, attracted to. Attraction (and rejection) just seem in many cases, particularly when they occur at first sight (or shortly thereafter) to be arbitrary, and, if not accidental, at least not predictable at all.
Hence, whether any two people hit it off, particularly in some romantic or attracting way, and particularly at first sight or first communication, seems to me to have a lot more to do with luck or coincidence than with anything else. It seems to me to be a function of the two of them together more than it is the result of the characteristics by themselves of either one of them as an individual. Few people attract everyone and few repulse everyone. A person rejected at first encounter by one person may be attractive at first encounter (even the same kind of encounter) to another. One person may find a particular “opening line” cute; another person, repulsive or infantile. One person may not like a “line” at all. One person may be attracted to someone who likes children or who likes Bach; another person may find that kind of person not to their taste. Some people tend to prefer outgoing people; others, introverted ones. Anything at all can be at once an attracting feature to one person, a rejecting feature to another, and an immaterial feature to a third.
Even in business relationships, personal characteristics and style can make a difference. Some people find friendly those who introduce themselves assertively, reach for your hand to shake it, and talk about what business they are in; others find that kind of behavior too aggressive and pushy. Once I was lectured about my appearance by my employer as we drove to a place where he wanted to meet for the first time, and wanted me to meet, someone with whom he hoped to do a lot of business. I had a job where a suit jacket or sport coat was a cumbersome problem and could easily get ruined; so I had begun simply to wear dress shirts and ties unless I knew I would be seeing someone “important”. That day I had been caught unprepared. The boss, in his three piece pin stripes, talked on and on about the unfavorable impression this important new businessman he wanted to court would likely form of him and me because I was not wearing a jacket. He was only taking me along because he needed my expertise for the meeting. When we arrived at the place of business, the highly successful owner there was wearing a T-shirt, with Mickey Mouse’s picture on the front no less. I wonder what he thought of my boss in his pin stripes.
In my own business as a photographer now I try to keep an informal style since I find that helps my clients relax under the otherwise ego threatening pressure of having their picture taken. I am serious about my work but not about myself. And I try to get my clients not to take the situation so seriously that the result will be too stiff for their liking. Usually I can achieve that, but the same kind of comment that will relax nine out of ten people will offend the tenth. I even answer my own phone at my studio, which many people find personal and therefore like, but which, I am told, really makes some people feel they must be dealing with an incompetent, unprofessional amateur. Some days when business is chaotic and harried, I become flippant on the phone, and that has both secured for me my best customers (who were looking for a photographer that could probably evoke some life from them during their sitting) and cost me some appointments I may otherwise have made. The losses cause me disappointment and temporary disillusionment with myself until I remember the clients I would not have attracted had I been more “business like”. Different people just seem to have different tastes, even in photographers, even over the phone. I don’t go out of my way to offend anyone nor to fawn over anyone, so I am always fascinated when the exact same approach is absolutely magnetic to some people while totally repugnant to others.
I have found that in personal relationships the same kind of thing happens to nearly everyone. Some people like you the way you are or because of it; others do not. Short of your being harmful or patently offensive to another person, rejection or attraction (particularly, but not only, at first sight) and getting along well with someone else are such a matter of luck and circumstance that in a way there is little in it of a personal nature. That is, it should not really be a matter of self-pride to hit it off with someone (since there are lots of people you would not) nor of self-defeat when you do not (since there are lots of people with whom you would). Getting along well with another person, or not getting along well with them is as much a function of the other person — their character, desires, abilities, interests, tastes, chemistry and personality — as it is of your character, appearance, abilities, personality, chemistry, etc. Hence, acceptance or rejection should not generally be taken as a reflection of just you alone, but of the two of you in combination.
Similarly with regard to dissolving some of the ties in a previously close relationship (breaking up, divorcing, changing the relationship from being lovers to being friends, etc.) Though in some cases one person is at fault for the disintegration or reduction of satisfaction, goodness, and/or attraction in the relationship, it is probably far more frequent that such disintegration or reduction is a function of the two persons in combination with each other rather than just one of them. If two people are simply not, or are no longer, very satisfactory for, good for, or attracted to each other, no matter how hard they try or how much they would like to be, then it may very likely be no poor reflection on either of them. It may be neither’s fault individually that the relationship cannot be or stay a close, active, loving one.
All this (becoming or staying in love) is short of your being patently offensive, of course, or behaving badly toward another person. (Some people may become or stay attracted to people who act bratty, brutish, or beastly anyway, but it is not to be expected.) Any behavior and appearance short of that may cause or allow you to be liked or disliked by different people. This is equally true even later on in a relationship; plenty of people who are bad spouses for each other, with no change at all make fine spouses for different mates. What pleases one person may distress another or be unimportant to a third. Similarly with what is attracting. Hence, although there is good reason to cultivate proper manners, deserved self-confidence, social ability, and whatever other knowledge, abilities, and character traits that may be good or appropriate, they are hardly any guaranty they will make some given person become attracted to you or be pleased by you — especially in those areas that are of particular psychological importance to him or her.
Even having traits that may be good for other people, is, apart from ordinary civility and common decency, often just lucky circumstance. Two people interested in history may be very good for each other but boring to others. This book may be meaningful to people whose concerns it addresses, but it will probably be thought hairsplitting and worthless to people who have no desire to think about the topic in the ways I do. I think Phil Donahue’s interview and discussion style is just about perfect, since I think he raises the key points and issues about a topic in a very short span of time and since he has the right combination of forcefulness, energy, concentration, and playfulness to get people to respond concisely and appropriately without being intimidated. Yet his style is often the object of sarcastic cartoons and editorial harpoons. One writer described Donahue’s style as wordy, contentious, and often irresponsible (because he raised issues that writer thought people should not hear discussed). But I see the work I read of that particular author as erroneous, simplistic, and irrational — the kind of work that would be most vulnerable to Donahue’s kind of analytic probing. That writer and I would probably not get along well together. Being good for someone else requires a blend (between the two of you) of interests, abilities, personalities, knowledge, and other characteristics (over and above ordinary manners and decency) that cannot be expected to be the same for everyone. It requires a “meshing” or fit that cannot be expected to be the same for everyone. It requires a meshing of qualities that would not be helpful to many other people. Once two people, whose characteristics so luckily happen to mesh, find each other, changing circumstances may alter the fit. A certain amount of effort and ability in trying to keep up with new areas of interest and importance to each other may help to overcome otherwise alienating circumstances, but even then I think a certain amount of luck is necessary for people to be able to pursue their individual interests and still remain ideally suited to (and perfect for) each other over many years.
To this extent, being good for someone else cannot be something one can cultivate or achieve just by one’s own reasonable effort. No one can prepare oneself to become or remain someone else’s ideal or ideally suited mate while also following their own interests and abilities, and letting their own good character traits blossom and unfold. That is one of the reasons that I do not believe for A to love B that A must be good for, or try to be good for, B — particularly in areas of importance for B and/or B’s development. I think that, as a human being with normal ethical obligations (to be discussed later), A has various obligations to people, including B, but they do not include the obligation to try always perfectly to mesh with B or B’s psychologically important or meaningful interests. That is asking too much of A. It is great when it happens naturally, but it cannot be demanded or expected. If and when A fails to (continue to) ideally suit B, it may not be because A loves B less or is less loving or did not try hard enough to love B. It may be just because they grew “apart” (“unmeshed”) to whatever (minor or major) extent, due to circumstances beyond reasonable control. The relationship may even have become better and thereby more loving for A, just not for B.
- Being accepted or rejected, unless one is patently offensive, wrongful, or an otherwise terrible person, should not be the ego boost or ego threat it is usually taken to be. It is more a matter of lucky meshing or unlucky clashing between or among people whether they are attracted to each other or not.
- It doesn’t bother most people that all the many people they are not attracted to are also not attracted to them, so ‘rejection’ (in the sense of someone’s not being, or no longer being attracted to them) only seems to be disappointing or devastating when it comes from someone one likes and wants to be liked by in return, particularly if time and energy have gone into cultivating or developing the relationship.
- A “meshing” or “fit”…a meshing of qualities. Once two people, whose characteristics so luckily happen to mesh, find each other, changing circumstances may alter the fit.
Chapter Review Questions
- Question: Is getting along well with another person a reflection of either of you alone? Why or why not?
- Question: What is necessary for people to be able to pursue their individual interests and still remain a viable couple?