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Rejection, Subtlety, And All The World’s A Stage….

Of all the words that can open a conversation, a phrase involving the word “incompatibility” is typically up there with “We need to talk..” and “I’ve been doing some thinking”. When you preface any conversation by remarking upon the general level of incompatibility between you and another person, what follows is inevitably going to be a form of rejection. The context of the remark, and the intent of anything that follows, is irrelevant.

Well, it is not actually irrelevant, of course…it probably makes a huge difference to you in one way or another. It probably makes a huge difference to the other person, as well. However, it doesn’t detract from a certain level of implied rejection present in the comment.

This applies to most situations, be it in the workplace, disagreements with friends, the reason someone doesn’t want to go out with you, or is choosing to end a relationship. Between all people, there’s a certain level of incompatibility. Dismissing things, feelings, people, or ideas on that basis really is just a form of rejection, albeit a really kind and thoughtful one, and one that’s often based in logic rather than feeling. It’s also one you really can’t dispute, because the conversation would go a lot like this:

“I think we have too many incompatibilities for “XYZ” to be successful”.

“I don’t see it that way. I intuitively feel that you’re wrong/have misjudged the situation/are personally rejecting me.”

“Well, I do see it that way. It’s not rejection, but you can take it however you want.”

Really, you can’t go much past that point. That’s sort of the end of the line for any conversation relating to the situation, and there isn’t any lack of clarity there. You know how that person feels about you and your interactions.

Today (which was actually yesterday), I told a story about a relationship that ended very amicably and without drama, and it was a more personal form of the hypothetical conversation referenced above. Of course, it was longer than three sentences, but those three sentences were the intent behind the breakup. And, because there is really nothing that can be said when someone says “We have too many incompatibilities for this to work”, it was one of the least drama-filled breakups I’ve ever been through. Not to say it didn’t hurt like hell. It did, for a long time. We are still friends, in that casual sort of way people are when they are friends after a breakup, and when I think of him, there’s no bitterness or egocentric “I hate you because you rejected me”.

(It’s kind of like when you ask someone why they don’t pay more attention to you, and they respond, half-jokingly, with “Because I have enough common sense not to.” :P )

You *have* to see these things as a type of rejection, because they really rather are. Just because the answer isn’t “Because I don’t like you” doesn’t make it not rejection. It just makes it less mean. :P

Considering these things and reflecting upon this past breakup in my life—how I saw it when it happened, and how I feel about it now—made me decide to write a blog on the topic of criticism, rejection, insecurity, feeling less than accepted, and all that not-good stuff.

That being said, I’ve gotten rather awesome at handling various types of rejection in all spheres of my life. I, of course, do not like rejection or criticism or disinterest in any form—-editors sending back my work for revision upsets me, as does feedback that implies my work is less than perfect—and, along the same lines, criticism and rejection in my personal friendships doesn’t bother me any less. Yet, I’ve learned to handle all of these things with a lot more grace and attitude of “c’est la vie” than I used to.

People have, over the years, told me this is something that happens to people around the age of 30. As your sense of who you are and what you want, need, and value becomes more solid, the emotional reaction that accompanies someone not liking you, someone criticising you, someone not being attracted to you, someone finding flaw with your work, someone thinking you’re replaceable, someone defining how they wish to interact with you in terms of limitations…it’s not quite as earth-shattering as it was 10 years earlier. It’s somehow less personal, and more about “this is how life works”.

That being said, it’s totally not without effect, either. The reason most of the world doesn’t put themselves out there and walk around wearing their heart on their sleeve is that rejection sucks, even the nice kind, even the teasing kind put out there by people who genuinely care about you, and the logical, obvious kind that’s..well, obvious and makes sense on a purely intellectual level (which is not always where the fundamentals of human interactions are formed.)

After recounting my drunk texting weekend drama, a friend of mine laughingly told me that I lacked in subtlety (which, of course, I naturally took as a criticism, although it was meant as a compliment…like me, this friend finds subtlety an overrated virtue). I thought about this, and realised that of course he is right, but it’s also partially why I have struggled with any form of criticism or rejection throughout my life.

Starting at a very early age, when I started performing and making auditions a huge part of my world, I opened myself up to encounter more criticism, feedback, rejection, and other opportunities for hurt feelings than most. This sort of naturally translated into who I became as a human being…I’m quite frank, very straightforward, and some people find that direct approach to life shocking or unrefined. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I share it with the world, something reflected in everything from my personal relationships and friendships, my approach to work and art and creativity, even this blog.

In reality, I probably do encounter criticism, hurtful remarks, and rejection more often than most people, because I put myself out there in a way most people do not. Sometimes that comes across as lacking in subtlety or not caring for social propriety, and that is criticised (which could be why I’ve struggled a little, finding acceptance here in the Southeast.) Sometimes, it comes across as confidence or social fearlessness, and is something that other people (especially women my age or slightly older) have told me they wished they possessed.

It’s an odd choice for a naturally sensitive person, living not only a lifestyle but being of a personality where “I’m putting it all out there, you can judge if you want.” is normal. It’s even more odd for someone who is naturally hurt by the slightest criticism, offended by the slightest disinterest, or implication that she is somehow secondary to another person. Yet, this is obviously my natural inclination when it comes to dealing with people, since it is a tendency that’s amazingly amplified when I have been drinking and have a phone in my hand.) I don’t think it means it’s not there throughout the rest of my life, because it very obviously is…it’s more that part of me must feel some freedom in displaying that natural tendency without considering consequences.

I know I am not alone in this seemingly contradictory approach to life. I have a friend who is an actress, and has gained a certain level of success and notoriety in the business via the world of reality TV, a world that isn’t for people who aren’t willing to put everything out there for judgment and be vulnerable. It isn’t a world in which highly sensitive personalities have an easy time of it, and my friend certainly did not. The negativity and outright hostility, not to mention rejections and judgments in both her personal and professional lives, took her a very, very long time to deal with. Yet, part of what made it so difficult for her is simply being a highly sensitive person who is also quite naturally lacking in subtlety or a sense of the right way to play the game in the world. She goes her own way, is a person who is very different from most people, is hurt when others dislike her, but not enough to keep it from her path. With age, she’s lost a lot of her insecurity, and rejection and criticism doesn’t seem to affect her in the way it used to. In many ways, she and I are very similar people, and I’ve learned a lot about life from her experiences.

While television and stage and the world of performance in general are, admittedly, a different world from every day life…a lot of the same tools apply. Learning to cope with judgment or criticism, being rejected because there’s someone who comes across as smarter or prettier or a different “type”, being reminded that not everyone thinks you’re as charming or interesting as you find yourself to be, and having people label and typecast you as a matter of business are things that affect all of us, performers or not.

As for me, my friend is 100% correct in one respect. I absolutely lack in subtlety, and engage people in a way that’s more direct and requires more vulnerability than many feel comfortable with. I think, at heart, I’m just a typical New Yorker. I don’t have time for games, I’m not interested in BS and “social propriety”, and I’d rather be judged for being me than loved for all the effort that goes into trying to be someone else. I put everything out there, even when it invites rejection or would be emotionally easier to avoid an unpleasant conversation or to use discretion and keep something to myself. Yet, there’s a a part of me that’s also incredibly closed off, that few people see, that’s difficult to get to know, and probably leads people to form a picture of me that resembles a puzzle..missing a few key pieces here and there. Most people think they understand me pretty well. Most people are incredibly wrong.

I don’t like rejection, dismissal, criticism, or any form of being made to feel insecure or inferior. Yet, I leave the door open for it in all aspects of my life, most of the time, just by being me, speaking my mind, wearing my heart on my sleeve, and approaching people in a very direct fashion…and then I need to figure out the right way to deal with it when I don’t like what I hear. I’m actually so overly sensitive that I hear rejection in comments that aren’t meant to contain them, that are issued by friends who truly like and value me. Yet, simply by behaving with a little more subtlety, and approaching life a little less directly, I might mitigate some of the things I hear that don’t make me smile.

Yet, that’s not what I do. I probably never will. It really is interesting, the opposing forces built into the the building blocks that comprise my personality. :)

And I think it’s kind of awesome that a friend knows me well enough to point out that I generally lack in subtlety, but that’s exactly what’s likeable about me…at least in the eyes of some people. *laughs*

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