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Romantic Rejection: Why Does It Hurt So Much?

Rejection can be felt as if it were a physical pain.

The most important lesson that we need to remember is that rejection is a part of life across the spectrum of experiences. We don’t always win the heart of the person we pursue and we don’t always get the job we want, either. Not everyone is going to be chosen for the team and not every social situation is going to turn out the way we would like.

Rejection, as an experience, needs to be normalized, not catastrophized.

Does rejection hurt more now than ever?

Unfortunately, we’ve spent years trying to build up the self-esteem of an entire generation and have created a world in which the word, “No,” carries more power to wound adults more deeply than ever believed possible. The ‘everyone gets a trophy' mentality coupled with the instant gratification that technology seems to offer has created a world in which rejection seems like a direct attack on a person’s sense of self. The idea that just because we want something means that we can have it is a throwback to the typical mindset of a 2-year-old who is just testing out the boundaries of her power. While it would be great if we could simply blame parents for the problem so many adults face today, it still won’t solve the problem that exists in terms of “rejection rejecters.”

Simply put, romantic rejection sucks

Being rejected by a potential romantic partner is especially devastating when you’ve allowed your mind to build up a fantasy of instant chemistry, enduring love, or simply quick and easy sex. Somehow, the people who live in a world shaped and groomed by “instant gratification and on-demand porn” need to recognize that women are not just “3-D representations” of “2-D online sex partners.” A recent study (Blake, Bastian, & Denson, 2017) indicated that a man’s likelihood of responding aggressively to rejection increased significantly when he had sexual conquest on his mind as a goal of the relationship. The ease of access to sexual imagery and the tendency of people to post sexually charged profile pictures sets up a stronger expectation that there will be a sexual conclusion to even a less than satisfying meet-up or date. Unfortunately, rejection can be felt as physical pain and when the stakes are higher, in terms of expectations of relational or sexual gratification, the pain can be that much more acute.

When a young child doesn’t get her way, she may want to act out or hit back at the caregiver who is standing between the child and her desire. Ideally, the caregiver will allow the child to feel her feelings, but also train the child to know the difference between acceptable and unacceptable ways of expressing frustration. You can’t necessarily stop a broken heart or fractured ego from hurting, but we can all learn how to get through the experience without hurting others.

By normalizing the very real pain of romantic rejection, we can take away its power to overwhelm or devastate a person. It has to be “okay” to fail in life and “okay” to be imperfect.

How to cope with rejection like the adult you are

No matter where you are in your life, rejection can hurt more than just about any other emotional tribulation. There are a few things you can keep in mind and actions you can take that might keep you from being “that guy/girl” who becomes the nightmare example of what not to do after a rejection:

  1. Keep in mind that emotional pain and anger at rejection are totally normal reactions to abnormal situations. No one likes being passed over, but it’s going to happen more times in life than we like to imagine. Not everyone gets the corner office and not everyone gets to play varsity, either.
  2. Acknowledge that you’ve probably done your own share of rejecting people who’ve been more into you than you were into them. Romantic attraction is a fickle thing – some people are going to think that you’re their perfect match, while you’re thinking that you can’t get out of the coffee shop fast enough. That’s life.
  3. Recognize that if someone is just not into you, trying to prove how “right you are for her” is most likely going to do little more than repeatedly prove just how “wrong for her” she believes you to be. Being pursued can be a boost for the ego, but being stalked is a whole other thing. The more desperate a person tries to make themselves appear, the lower the value of his or her worth as a partner will fall.
  4. Keep your dignity and behave like the adult you are. It may be impossible to control the pain you first feel, but you can always control your actions. Don’t make a scene that will forever define who you are when you don’t get your way immediately.
  5. If you’ve experienced a string of rejections, maybe it’s time to objectively assess how you’re coming across to others and figure out if it might actually be “you,” and “not her.” Sometimes friends can be much more astute judges of our behavior—and getting external input about your presentation is worth the potential hurt feelings you might experience.
  6. Ask yourself if what you’re seeking is what the potential partners you’re pursuing are interested in providing. Use rejections as constructive feedback so that you can grow when you miss the mark rather than channeling your confusion or disappointment into destructive or risky behaviors. It’s okay to suffer emotional distress along the journey; we can’t appreciate success if we refuse to let ourselves experience and, occasionally, wallow in our misery and self-pity. Acknowledge the rejection, feel the pain, then find a productive place to channel the energy that will get you closer to, not further from, your goal.

Romantic rejection is a painful reaction to an often brave action—it can take courage to reach out and approach someone in an effort to begin a new relationship. When a person is met with rejection, it brings up not only frustration at being thwarted in their pursuit, but for many, it brings up a sense of shame. Recognize that this is a universal experience and one that does not measure your true worth as a person, no matter how badly you feel at the time. The pain of rejection has carried a risk since the beginning of time—and poets, artists, playwrights, and choreographers have found a multitude of ways to illustrate the ways in which the human heart can be splintered by one encounter and then made whole again by another.

When rejection happens, don’t allow it to weigh on you as a measure of your value as a person. Don’t react with vengeance or act on a desire to “get even.” Let it go, shake it off, and keep moving forward. Rejection hurts, but it’s a part of the human experience that cannot be separated from the human condition.


Blake, K. R., Bastian, B., & Denson, T. F. (2017). Heightened male aggression toward sexualized women following romantic rejection: The mediating role of sex goal activation. Aggressive Behavior, 44, 40-49.

More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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