The Pain of Rejection
Growing up in a small town in Arkansas, I was a happy little girl. My family was caring and encouraging. Everyone in my class of 18 students was my friend. I never felt left out or unwanted. For me, the fear of rejection didn’t happen all at once. It sort of crept up on me, starting the first day of middle school, when every fifth and sixth grader from the town’s four elementary schools came together on one campus.
As I sat in class on the first day, I looked around at the other students. I didn’t recognize a single face. Every one else seemed to know at least one or two people. They were all chatting about their summer vacations. Not one of them seemed to even notice me. For the first time in my life, I felt lonely and isolated.
At lunch time, I found some of my old friends. I ran up to them and started asking what they had done on summer break. Already, they had new friends. They were not mean to me, but somehow I felt left out. After lunch they returned to their class with their new buddies and I wandered off to my solitude amongst strangers.
Eventually, someone did say, “hi,” to me. My face turned bright red. Her name was Shelly, and we quickly became friends. For the rest of fifth grade, I hung around with Shelly and another girl named Tina. Then sixth grade came around. At least I knew what to expect. Neither Shelly nor Tina was in my class. Making new friends this time was a little easier, but I was still disappointed by how fast Shelly and Tina made other friends and forgot all about me.
During those two years of middle school, I was awkward and shy. It seemed like everywhere I went, I was surrounded by strangers. The hallways, lunchroom and even the bathroom were full of people who were laughing with their friends, never taking notice of me. I quickly learned to just do what I had to do and not make eye contact.
During the next summer vacation, a new family moved in next door to me. Mom forced me to go over and introduce myself to the new girl. Her name was Wendy. She was the same age as me and seemed nice. I showed her around town and tried to make her feel welcome. We became good friends over the next few weeks. Our friendship seemed to come easy. It was the first time in a long while that I didn’t feel alone and abandoned. I even began to look forward to junior high.
Seventh grade started out great. On the first day of school, Wendy and I rode the bus together. We had the same home room. I introduced her to the few people that I knew. The best of friends, we had lunch together, and did our homework together after school. We had slumber parties and shared our deepest secretes with each other.
I was just starting to feel normal again when one day between classes, Wendy handed me a note. This was nothing unusual; we passed notes all the time. I went into my next class and opened it. The words on that piece of paper ripped my heart out. Wendy didn’t want to be my friend any more. She had made friends with a girl name Robin, and Robin didn’t like me. I had been dumped by my best friend.
I was so embarrassed. Tears were welling up in my eyes, and I ran to the bathroom. Why didn’t anyone want to be my friend? I was a nice person. I was fun to hang out with. It must be my clothes or shoes. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me the expensive brands that the other kids wore. Maybe my hair had something to do with it, too. I couldn’t figure out what I had done to deserve this. Wendy and I had not had an argument. I thought that we were getting along fine. It didn’t make sense to me.
After that, whenever I would see Wendy, which was often, I felt uncomfortable. I felt worthless and unwanted. I wished that I could just crawl inside a hole somewhere and hide. Total rejection is very painful. My feelings were hurt and I felt betrayed. I spent the rest of my school years as a very shy, insecure person. To this day, I have very few friends. I have lots of acquaintances, but I am not interested in becoming too close to many people.
After high school, I married a man that I worked with. He was promoted and we got transferred to another town. It was easy to go to work in a new place with my husband at my side. No one there knew what a nerd I was in school. We all had to wear uniforms so my clothes were just as awful as everyone else’s. Besides, my husband was the boss, so they sort of had to like me.
Am I over my fear of rejection? In a way, I guess I am. I simply stopped caring what other people think of me. If you like me, fine; but if you don’t, well, that’s fine too. I do still have feelings of not being quite up to par. It is hard for me to trust people; I expect them to reject and betray me. I try not to let these feelings stop me from doing what I want to do. I am happy with who I am.
A few years ago, I was back in my home town visiting my parents. We were eating lunch in a little diner. A miserable looking woman walked in with two cute little girls. It was Wendy. To my complete surprise, she came right over to our table. She seemed happy to see me. I could not figure out why. She told me that she was recently divorced and looking for a job. I couldn’t help but feel a little satisfaction that her life had not ended up picture perfect. At the same time, I couldn’t bring myself to be mean to her. I invited her to join us.