I realize that the odds of her calling or emailing me are slightly less than the odds of Mitt Romney standing in line to buy an Extra Value Meal. And yet I can’t go two hours without thinking about her. Every morning, I run to the computer hoping there will be a message from her. Every time the phone rings, I imagine it’s going to be her voice on the other end of the line.
But it isn’t. And it won’t be. She stopped returning messages many months ago. I really thought she was the love of my post-divorce life, but as it turns out, I was just the like of hers. I want to say that I’ve been able to get over that pain of having my heart discarded by someone I cared about, but the truth is, I still haven’t. Trust me, I know that breakups happen all the time. Still, there is something about romantic rejection after divorce that seems to carry an extra sting that I never anticipated.
I’d had my heart broken plenty of times before I got married. For every sad split, though, I was young and/or foolish enough to figure that there would be another house party or bar night next week where I could start the process over again. When I was single and in my 20s, whether I was bailing on somebody or she was bailing on me, rejection was a plus in some ways. First, it was like a spiritual reset button, allowing you to enjoy the endless possibilities of singlehood. And second, learning to lose is simply good training for later in life.
It’s all about trial and error; the trials are more fun, while the errors are less serious. Then you get married, and rejection takes on an entirely different, and much less redeeming, meaning. The whole rationale behind committing yourself to matrimony is that you’ll never have to be shot down by a potential partner again. You agree to that whole “’till death do us part” thing, which allows you to worry about kids, mortgages and choosing between satellite and cable TV services rather than who you’ll be breaking up with next.
Then, for 50 percent of us, divorce comes along. It doesn’t matter whether you’re instigating the end of the marriage or the one on the receiving end. This Super Bowl of all rejections erases any illusion of comfort when you start dating again. It’s like being in a car accident. You get back behind the wheel to drive again, but you always remember that sick feeling of impact and flinch just a little whenever you’re driving in traffic.
It’s hard not to feel a little bit wary after going all in on a relationship post-divorce. Not only have you experienced the biggest breakup of your life, you’re also most likely at an age where finding a second serious partner is much more difficult. Even with all the single soccer moms and weekend dads out there now, the pickings are still slimmer than they were when you were younger. That puts more pressure on ensuring that any relationship you do get involved in works out. Which, in turn, makes you feel like even more of a schmo when rejection happens.
And I’ve had that feeling plenty of times these past few years. There were the dozens of unreturned Match.com messages, the calls from the ones who did get back to me that ended with them saying “I’ll check my schedule and get back to you,” the set-up dates who allowed me to buy them a few dinners and get a couple of front-seat make-out sessions in before ignoring my calls, the artist I saw for a couple of months until she texted her breakup.
I’m sure there were reasons for my various dismissals, at least half of which are probably valid. I could have been too short, too old, too obsessed with the Boston Red Sox, too consumed with my own jokes — I’ll never really know, although maybe that’s for the best. At least I know why I rejected all the women who were interested in me, even if I never expressed that reason at the end of every coffee meet-up where I was more attracted to my iced latte than to the woman I was with, and every set-up date with a sweet but laughter-challenged companion.
It was because of her, the aforementioned woman who became everything to me. For a little while anyway. She had all the qualities that allowed me stop to worrying about the sadness that comes with divorce: beauty, humor, intelligence, style and an interest in me. And now all I have left is the vision problem she left me with: All I see when looking at other women is her. Or, rather, all the qualities that aren’t her.
I realize that I shouldn’t be taking the rejection so seriously. It just happens sometimes. And no matter who or what caused your divorce, the end result is that it should be viewed as liberation rather than punishment. It’s the chance to have some later-in-life freedom that your married friends no doubt envy and a time to explore many relationships rather than quickly settling back into another one.
Besides, while rejection does suck, you can’t feel the hurt if you didn’t feel an attraction first. Feeling that connection for somebody new is the best sign that you’re moving on with your life. I’m trying to move forward. For the first time in a year, I had a second date with someone and am actually looking forward to a third. (Which, I realize, could be setting me up for more memories of her and, ultimately, more rejection.)
Still, I’m going to use G. Gordon Liddy as my romantic guidance counselor. To prove his toughness, Liddy would apparently hold his hand over a candle until his palm burned. When asked if his stunt hurt, he’d say “Yes, but the trick was to not mind the pain.” That is the perfect dating advice for anyone as consumed with rejection as I am. Sure, being on either end of getting dumped feels extra lousy when you’re still coping with the impact of divorce. The trick is not minding it.