This autumn I’ve given talks at several young adult Catholic organizations. I keep them short because I know that it’s in the Q&A that the good stuff comes out: How far is too far (sexually) before marriage?; How do I know when I’m in love?; Where can I meet someone who’s interested in a relationship, not just a hook-up? These are terrific questions — ones I’ve written about a lot on bustedhalo.com — and the public Q&A is always interesting (and often blush-inducing as students ask me to discuss the nitty-gritty of it all!) But the private questions I get after each talk impact me the most.
A few weeks ago, one young man, we’ll call him Thomas, came up to me after a talk in the basement of his Catholic student center. “I may be a little shy at times, but I do not consider myself socially inept,” began the handsome, blond haired, 19-year-old science major. He has plenty of friends, including several close friends, and “I can chat up about any girl that I have interest in,” he assured me. “But I’ve never been in a relationship.”
Thomas has a lot of first dates, but when he’s really interested in someone, he freezes up. “I don’t have a problem with asking girls out that I only have a limited interest in. It’s simply that, when the stakes are high, I fold,” he said. “I simply end up letting them go.”
The Daisy Complex
Call it the Daisy Complex: So many of us worry ourselves sick — think of that silly game where you pluck the petals off a daisy, “She loves me… she loves me not…,” seeking an arbitrary answer — and our fear of rejection keeps us from taking the first steps to happiness.
In his head, Thomas plays out the negative scenarios: He asks her out, she says no, and the friendship is ruined — he’s lost her entirely.
Or, he asks her out, she says yes, but then things don’t work out, and everything is weird after that.
The scenarios of doom are endless. But one scenario is nearly guaranteed: If Thomas doesn’t ask her out or show his interest, she’ll never know he cares about her that way. And that, to me, is the saddest of all possibilities.
“I know it’s a problem,” Thomas told me. “I just don’t know how to fix it.”
I gave Thomas two bits of advice… and told him I’d share his story with other young adult readers who might be struggling with similar fears. Here’s my advice. What’s yours?
Don’t Wait for the Fear to Build. Go For It Early! First, get in the game. Being selective is great, but don’t wait too long to ask a young woman out or the fear of rejection will build inside you. Going for it early means asking out any woman that might be of potential interest, before you start worrying about the consequences down the line. These dates don’t need to be anything fancy — grabbing lunch together in the cafeteria, or maybe coffee, a movie or a study break — as long as it’s clear to her that you are expressing some interest, and you feel that she is reciprocating that interest. (Want to know how to flirt and reach body language? Check out one of my all-time most popular columns here .)
Fear Regret More Than Rejection. Part of the fear of rejection is a fear of the unknown. We worry about how terrible we’ll feel, and create nightmare scenarios in our head. But, while it certainly hurts to get negged, in reality, it’s not going to end your social life. In avoiding relationships, you can shield yourself from the possibility of rejection by never opening up, never admitting your feelings, and while that might prevent rejection, it also prevents meaningful and fulfilling human interactions. And now we’re talking about things to fear: If you never try, you certainly won’t succeed. If you never open your heart to give love to a special person, you’re not going to get those warm and fuzzy feelings back atcha. To fear regret more than rejection means to stop playing the “No, I don’t think of you that way” scenarios in your head, and instead fast forwarding to meeting this woman 20 years from now, admitting your crush from college and having her say, “Oh, I felt the same way. I wish you’d said something…” Now that’s crushing.
Fear of rejection — and spending countless hours in your Daisy Complex wondering, “She loves me? Or not?” — holds so many of us back in our personal lives. How would you advise Thomas overcome his fears and express interest in women he really cares about? Does this sound like you? Share your stories and thoughts below, or email me at puresex (AT) bustedhalo.com.