Kristine Keller M.A.

The Young and the Restless


Face Your Fear of Rejection

Is your fear of rejection setting you up for reduced possibilities?

Posted Mar 24, 2012

Friday Night Lights. I'm not talking about the show I recently discovered and changed my life (though that'd be a safe assumption). I'm referring to the electricity and kinetic wave of energy erupting from the possibilities of a weekend. Though one shouldn't live for the weekend, I can't help but feel a certain surge of excitement every Friday evening knowing that I have 2,880 minutes to myself for the carving of whichever path I choose. It's during this time I've seen the props prepared and stage set for so many of the following burgeoning encounters. It's Friday and you're feeling your heart thump and your moxie settle when you decide to aproach someone new. Your fists clench as you inch closer to said prospect, when suddenly your moxie melts and you careen left, acting like you were really headed towards the bathroom to powder your nose. Your potential suitor makes a swift exit and you've lost your chance forever to badinage and canoodle with presumably, the person of your dreams

Studies show that whether a potential mate will or won't accept us is an important consideration in how we decide to proceed in a situation like this. Surveys administered to men at the University of Wisconsin-Madison determined that fewer than 3 percent of men approached attractive women if they were unsure of the outcome (this explains a preponderance of hysteria from my alma mater). If you're skeptical of self-reported survey data, take note of an interesting scenario created to determine what happens when men are faced with the possibility of rejection.

College men were presented with the choice of where to watch a movie: either in a tight cubicle next to an attractive woman or with a second option, view the film alone in a neighboring cubicle. However, the key is that some men knew that the same movie would be shown on both screens (next to the woman and alone) whereas some men were led to believe that different films were playing on both screens.

Presumably it's hypothesized that all men would like to hedge their bet and sit in the tight cubicle next to the foxy lady. However, this creates some risk of rejection for men who were told that the same film was shown on both screens-the woman might think (and be right) that he chose to sit in the cubicle only to be nearer to her since he had the option to view the film on either screen. But for men who were told that different films were shown on both screens, he could choose to sit closer to the woman and have her believe that his seat preference was solely based on the film being shown.

This is in fact what occurred. For men who thought the same film was shown on both screens and thus were at higher risk of rebuff from the woman, only 25% of men sat next to the attractive woman. When men were told that different films were shown on both monitors, 75% of men chose to squeeze into the tight cubicle with the beautiful woman. Men were more than twice as likely to risk sitting next to the attractive woman when their intentions were ambiguous, thus leaving less room for rejection. Researchers could be sure that men chose to sit next to the woman due to her physical attributes and not because they were interested in the film, since the investigators constantly rotated which movie played on which screen.

This scenario fits well with the notion of balance theory, which ascertains that people have a propensity for consistency in their thoughts, actions, and social relationships. Liking those who like us in return creates balance and order in our lives. However, it may not always be salient when the object of one's desire is truly showing interest-- leaving many people, like the aforementioned men at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, scrambling to ask iphone4's Siri whether they should approach their target. Since Siri has an 89% chance of being wrong in this scenario (no statistical tests for significance were actually performed to test this assumption) it's probably a better idea to evaluate whether to throw your heart on the line using your own judgment. But it's this reliance on our hasty judgment that might leave us leading a life of reduced possibilities.

The aforementioned research begs the question, are we missing out on potential paramours if we don't risk rejection? The what if's know no bounds. Think back to your hypothetical self on a Friday night-- what could have happened had you followed your irrational heart instead of your relentlessly rational head (besides, your flo-glo tinged skin was glistening, clearly obviating any need to powder your nose). What if your legs moved in resolute one-two steps and walked you straight into tall-dark-stranger and you find out this person is the Prince or Princess of Genovea. Julie Andrews could have been your mother-in-law for goodness sake! Don't you feel stupid! No, there is no periodic table for what incites human chemistry or a Kaplan course taught to derive ways to approach suitors-- and hypothetical you might never be certain whether he or she will say yes. But, the costs of remaining mum might vastly outweigh the benefits from laying it on thick. Lucky for you, it's never too late to give into the energy and possibilities of Friday Night Lights and take a cue from Coach Taylor-- clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.


Miller, R. S. & Perlman, D. (2009). Intimate Relationships. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Muehlenhard, C. L., & Miller, E. N. (1988). Traditional and nontraditional men's responses to women's dating initiation. Behavior Modification, 12, 285-403. 

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