Have you ever spent a few years wondering why a relationship went wrong? I’m not just talking about pining away over a lost love. I’ve worried about students who took my instruction as a personal insult, members of my extended family who treated me with caution and disdain whenever I spoke to them, fellow grad students who put me on their permanent list of undesirables. A rejection may spur thoughts of self-doubt, can make me obsess over the steps leading up to a moment when I’m judged unworthy.
I’m not tortured by every negative interaction, however. I realize on many occasions that the person who has reacted badly to an innocent remark or a harmless gesture is acting in accordance to their personal damage. I just happen to resemble someone from the past who treated them badly. Bullies and angry people do not bother me once I’ve escaped their wrath. Their intentions are bad from the outset, and I just happened to stray into their field of fire. I understand that jealous people are actually giving me a compliment when they say something nasty. I’ve achieved an accomplishment that they wish they had.
The rejections that bother me happen when I’ve spent time and effort to do the right thing, but nothing can change the negative response. Extra efforts to be polite and kind are met with greater amounts of loathing. It feels like I’ve been accused of a crime I haven’t committed. And when accusers are persistent and sure of their conclusions I sometimes begin to doubt my intentions and worth.
I’ve gotten somewhat better about dealing with rejection in recent years, however. I can usually ignore a student who angrily wishes to be ignored. I can give a friend who cuts me off (for reasons unknown) plenty of time to reconsider. And I no longer wonder why a woman dumped me thirty-five years ago after one mild disagreement. There have been enough folks in my life who have loved me when I didn’t truly deserve it to balance the accounts.
And the past five years have been crazy enough to make me focus more on the people who actually like and love me. I’ve grown too old and tired to waste energy on things that I can’t change. To misquote Groucho Marx, “I wouldn’t try to join any club that won’t have me.”
A John Malkovich character in “Dangerous Liaisons” asked a countess this question: “Why do we always feel compelled to chase after the ones who run away?” She answered, “Immaturity.” I’d add insecurity.