Fear of rejection?

Originally Published: January 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 25, 2014
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Dear Alice,

I am an undergrad who knows many people at Columbia. Interestingly enough while I am a very outgoing person and a very self-confident person, I am very shy when it comes to initiating a relationship. I know that I simply am afraid of the big "R" (rejection). I know that this is normal, but I feel that my fear is possibly causing me to miss out on a chance of having a good relationship.

I have been asked out a few times this year, but the guys did not interest me at all (one was divorced with two kids, the others I found nice but dull). All my friends are male, and I talk to them about my problems, but it hasn't helped at all. How can I gain self-confidence in the area of romance (I don't have a problem once I am in a relationship), and why is it that all my friends are males? Am I seen always as the sister or mother type? (Don't get me wrong, I am not interested romantically in any of my friends.)

Sincerely,
Fearful of Rejection

Dear Fearful of Rejection,

Dating can be a nerve-wracking process. There's always the possibility you'll fall for someone and risk being rejected, or that others will fall for you and you'll be the rejecter. What probably motivates you to understand your dating-related insecurities, though, is that there's a chance you'll land yourself a wonderful, mutually satisfying relationship.  

The first step toward understanding is awareness — and you seem to be well on your way. Many people find that being single and/or dating provides opportunities to learn about themselves, other people, and their preferences. In your case, you notice that your generally positive view of yourself turns negative when faced with dating and the possibility of rejection; you're most comfortable in a stable relationship; and you prefer to hang out with people you already know pretty well. It's worth pointing out that you feel self-assured and outgoing when you're hanging out with your friends.

You could be looking to your guy friends to provide comfort during your singleness. Maybe they see you in a similar way, maybe not. Maybe they see you as a sister or mother figure, but it's really hard to say. Hey, maybe they just dig you for who you are! In any case, it's good to have supportive friendships. Since you have a great social support network, it could be easier for you to find some date-able dudes through those connections.

Now might be a good time to remind yourself what you have to offer. You can start by making a list of your strengths and positive qualities. Is it possible that you tend to focus more on your shortcomings and reasons why desirable partners might decide to reject you when faced with the initiation of a date? If so, how do you think you've come to these ways of thinking? Since you feel confident and outgoing when the pressure's not on for dating, what's different about dating situations that zaps these strengths?

Just as dating can be considered a process, building self-esteem and gusto is often a process. Isn't it amazing how people can feel self-assured in one situation and self-doubt in the next? This process of building self-esteem involves precisely the sort of critical thinking and inward reflection you're already doing. During this process, it might help you to make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC). Meeting with a counselor could help you become less fearful of rejection in many ways.

Your ability to identify your situation and willingness to work towards a resolution gives you a head-start on building the confidence to take a chance on love!

Alice