Why is it embarrassing not to have romantic interest reciprocated?
September 4, 2006 5:41 PM   Subscribe

Why is it embarrassing not to have romantic interest reciprocated?

I just called a girl from one of my classes, and invited her to lunch on Wednesday. She said yes, but it was clear that she's only interested in friendship. Embarrassed that my romantic interest wasn't reciprocated, I then acted as though I had only meant it as a friendly invitation all along.

This is completely irrational. There's nothing wrong with being attracted to someone, and her lack of interest doesn't mean that I'm somehow inadequate as a person.

So why is revealing a non-reciprocated romantic interest so embarrassing?

And what are good strategies for overcoming this?
posted by socrates to Human Relations (20 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I think that the embarassment comes from the fact that one felt that he/she was correct about something and turned out to be incorrect?

But there is nothing wrong with feeling how one feels.
posted by k8t at 5:47 PM on September 4, 2006

Because the lack of interest indicates that at least one person you like doesn't initially think you're sexually attractive, and that's a bummer?
posted by bonaldi at 5:51 PM on September 4, 2006

Because now you have to (presumably) spend time with this person as a friend and, if the person knows your feelings, she will always know that you may possibly be interested in her and that's an uncomfortable feeling; knowing that a person knows about your interest and doesn't feel the same way and still having to spend time together pretending that the situation doesn't exist. Especially "as friends".
posted by jitterbug perfume at 5:55 PM on September 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: k8t: To clarify, I'm a guy.
posted by socrates at 5:58 PM on September 4, 2006

My going theory about this is that much of human unhappiness comes from comparison. When you are interested and that feeling is not reciprocated, it can be a struggle not to let this impact on your self-worth. Rejection like this tends to kick you down the ladder in comparison to all of the other monkeys, and that is upsetting. Whereas before the uncertainty let you feel like you at least had a shot, rejection collapses that waveform into the certainty that it's just one ... more ... person who doesn't think you're good enough.

Plus, now that you'll be around her, there's the ongoing misery of wanting something you can't have, as jitterbug perfume points out.

Most of the coping strategies aren't very nice. You can denigrate the other person and make them less appealing in your own eyes, if you're good at that level of self-deception. You can use the law of averages and make a lot of approaches until you're emotionally numb to the pain. Or you could start viewing the whole thing as this weird evolutionary process working upon the mating ritual of primates and become detached.
posted by adipocere at 6:05 PM on September 4, 2006 [5 favorites]

her lack of interest doesn't mean that I'm somehow inadequate as a person

But this is how many guys interpret this situation.
posted by SPrintF at 6:06 PM on September 4, 2006

You're embarassed because you lied and made the situation worse. You said there's nothing wrong with being attracted to someone, and she probably agrees. If it happens again with someone else, I would make sure to let her know your romantic intentions in a rather blase manner. If you can tell she won't recipocrate, you can gently downgrade it to a friendship and pretend to be fine with that. By being somewhat clear and assertive (in a friendly manner), you probably get bonus points. Almost anyone would suspect that you had unspoken motives that you lied about not having.

I'm guessing that most girls would be more comfortable around someone who's attracted to them than around someone who lies about his motives. As for overcoming it, ask out more people and be more detached from the outcome, while putting effort into the relationship anyway. Always have a backup plan or activity to do if a date or asking-out goes horribly wrong.
posted by aye at 6:08 PM on September 4, 2006

It bruises the ego but FYI don't give up! Maybe she just got out of a relationship and is not ready for a boyfriend. Or maybe she is nervous about guys coming on to her. It's confusing for women because it's hard to tell when a guy is interested in you as a person _and_ he wants something more OR if he just wants the something more.

Just be a friend but continue dating other people. Many friendships that eventually get upgraded and you never know if that will happen.
posted by Soda-Da at 6:08 PM on September 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's been a few years since I had to think about this stuff, but:

The general topic you're asking about is what a symbolic-interactionist sociologist would call impression management. (You might recognize the name Erving Goffman, whose book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life basically addressed the general ideas around the specific case you're wondering about.)

According to the symbolic interactionists, your face (as in "saving face") is the public image you are trying to impress upon others, and in doing so you're actively trying to manage their perceptions about you. As much as you can control this you create a definition of the situation that you try to impose on others (or, at least, have a consensus on).

When you ask a girl out and she imposes her own definition of the situation (friendly lunch, not a date) on yours, all of a sudden your impression management mechanisms fail; you need to create a new face on the fly without letting her know that you're doing so, and also try to make it seem like what you'd done up until that point was consistent with the new definition of the situation.

That's hard to do, and it means that a lot of the bits that make up your public face don't work so well -- you'll say awkward things, stumble on thoughts and speech, and worry that you'd said something before the definition of the situation changed that you can't fit in with the new definition. When that happens, you think that the other people in the conversation see the "real" you instead of the impression you are managing -- you feel like you've lost control over your public face. Everyone does impression management, but no-one wants to admit that they do, and when it's obvious that it's happening it feels like you're missing some important social skills, and I think that's where the embarrassment comes from. It's not socially acceptable to expose your impression management mechanisms but you're afraid you've had to do so when the definition of the situation changed.

(On the other side of the coin, if she's smooth and catches what's going on, she'll let you find your way around the new definition of the situation and ignore any past actions that are incongruent with it, and once the two of you have implicitly agreed on the new situation it feels a lot less embarrassing because you can be engaging in normal impression management again.)
posted by mendel at 6:09 PM on September 4, 2006 [30 favorites]

I will take a slightly less intellectualized stance on this. It is NOT embarrassing; at least not for me. Rejection is part of the game of life. You simply should not feel embarrassed. Let it go. At least you had the courage to ask her out.

Many great relationships start as a friendship. Not in a sleazy way, but you don’t necessarily have to give up on the idea of being with her quite yet either.
posted by Slenny at 6:25 PM on September 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

And what are good strategies for overcoming this?

Just remember: To be male is to be rejected. A lot.
At some point or another, every two-legged creature that carries a dick will hear the word "No." Sometimes politely. Sometimes not-so-politely. That's just how it goes. Guys with three heads and body odor that peels paint from the walls -- well, we all knew they were getting rejected. Guys utterly average in every respect? Turned down. And you know something else? Totally hot, desireable guys get rejected too. All the fucking time. The reasons? Well, you never really know. It's best not to view a romantic/sexual rejection as some thumbs-up/thumbs-down referendum on your self-worth or masculinity or anything like that. It's just part of the game.

If you're noticing a pattern in your rejections -- that women say you're too nice, that you don't have any edge, you might want to look into that and do something to solve it. (Female friends are great for helping you with this sort of thing. Really, they are.)

When I was younger, rejection would just devastate me. Now, in my mid-30s, I wouldn't characterize it as fun. But I've learned to deal with it. It's part of the male experience, like higher auto insurance rates and prostate cancer.
posted by jason's_planet at 6:42 PM on September 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

why is it embarassing? because you let your guard down, showed your vulnerability, admitted to liking her - and she did not reciprocate.

it's an issue of balance of power.

and one that goes straight to the heart.

so, double-ouch.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:04 PM on September 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Unrequited feelings hurt. A lot. Lesser levels of hurt feel like embarrassment. And that's just being human.

How to overcome this? Absolutely no idea. I just think about how I would feel by not letting my feelings be known. Worse, probably.
posted by meerkatty at 7:57 PM on September 4, 2006

Just play it cool. Why is it embarassing? It burns! Who likes to get burnt? You feel second best. Welcome to humanity. The less awkwardness and pain you show to her, the better off you will be. Some girls take time. Not all are worth it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:27 PM on September 4, 2006

For me, my biggest fear is that a girl would think that my 'romantic interest' is synonymous with creepy undying love.

I would be embarassed if that is how it was interpreted, as opposed to a genuine open-mindedness about how a relationship might develop, and there was a time when I felt this impaired me in my pursuit of romance.

These days a I am a little more relaxed, if romance happens it happens.

Good luck!
posted by TheOtherGuy at 8:31 PM on September 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

There's a nice monologue about that feeling at the end of the movie 'Adaptation'.
posted by Paragon at 11:19 PM on September 4, 2006

I think it can be embarassing to be misunderstood. I've had the same "creepy undying love" concern as TheOtherGuy from time to time. I've been equally embarassed when someone interprets my interactions with them as having been flirty come-ons when really I'm just friendly, so it can go both ways. I think for some types of people the setback involved in having someone not return your romantic interests can be more major, and for some it's not.

So, if you ask out a gal semi-romantically every week and this one wants to just be friends, that's no big deal. However if you get up the gumption to ask someone out romantically once a month or once a year, then it's a bigger deal for you, can be more of a hassle, can set you back and then you think "hmm, did I misjudge, what went wrong, how do I fix this for next time...?" Similarly, if you're really itching to pair up, get married, start a family, every turned down romantic interest can seem to really matter, and people can (sometimes) see this mattering to you and then there's a mutual "aw, this really messes up someone's plans" feeling, even if it's just a simple case of the chemistry not being right.

I find that for me avoiding feeling weird about the "just not into you" thing -- on anyone's side -- has to do with deciding to be happy about whatever I get out of the relationship with the person. Well they don't want to date me, they're still great for late night chatting or a ride to the airport. Or I don't want to date them, but I can still listen to their dating woes and make them soup when they're sick. I know there are some people who group folks in their life into romantic and non-romantic people, but I've found that having a more fluid definition of those lines (which can be weird if it's not clear, so also being clear about it) can help ease some of the unease that comes from negotiating matters of the heart with folks you don't know too well.
posted by jessamyn at 9:27 AM on September 5, 2006 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You're not inadequate, you're brave--there are a lot of guys in the class who could never bring themselves to make the call. Why does it take bravery? Because of the risk of embarrassment. I say take that bravery and use it in another way.

Maybe in this case you set up a situation in which you just out of the blue handed over to her the power to reject you--a one-sided exchange. When she exercised the power you gave her, you felt foolish. You made a gift of your thoughts and hopes to a stranger, and were then disappointed by her reaction. It's unfair, because you made a gentlemanly, respectful request. But you had no reason to expect that she would react in a particular way. It was a blind bet.

You did the right thing at the wrong time. The ability to be vulnerable to those close to you is a virtue, a sign of maturity, an essential relationship skill. Being vulnerable to strangers, however, is just masochism.

I'm more concerned with whether your tactics were suited to your goal. Calling for a lunch date is admirably direct, but not romantic. The lunch request was poorly matched to your intentions. It's just not that exciting for her to be asked formally to lunch at some future date. You pretty much asked for an interview date, in which you would continue to make a gift of your thoughts and intentions toward her, describe your qualifications, and "apply" for her approval as if she were a job. She then accepts or rejects as she pleases, as if you were one applicant among many. No fun for you, some (brief, shallow) fun for her (although it’s more likely that she would be uncomfortable for you at first, then annoyed by your persistence).

Please bear the following in mind:

• There are people at your school who are having deep, exciting, meaningful, romantic experiences.
• There are people who are plodding through traditional courtship rituals.
• There is very little overlap between the two groups.

The people in the first group know that romances don't necessarily begin with dates. Romances begin with a good emotional connection, chemistry, tension, suspense, mystery, humor, comfort, and/or coincidence.

You need to demonstrate that you belong in the first group. Don’t be a Group Two guy and schedule a future time at which to make a salesman-like dating pitch. Try to clear the way for a connection first. Make her laugh, intrigue her, show her your good side--without seeming to ask for approval. Take your neediness and her appeal out of the equation. You're just a cool guy, having fun with your life--and if she's fun, she can come along.

Imagine if you went to lunch tomorrow and decided to show a different side of yourself. Remain gentlemanly and courteous--because you should be those things anyway, to everyone, especially when nobody's looking--but don't give her undue or disproportionate respect. Avoid trying to be liked. That’s where your bravery comes in—in presenting yourself, but being indifferent to her judgment. The same courage that enabled you to call and risk humiliation should be re-deployed to this context.

Keep it light and fun. Treat her like an old friend. Tease her gently for her thinking you're easy. Make believe she's trying to charm you-- since everybody likes to be liked, it's a good guess. Imply she hasn’t won you over yet. Do not under any circumstances brag or directly try to impress her.

The combination of comfort and suspense may attract her to you. If there's a connection--which is far more likely in this relaxed, low-stakes atmosphere--it will be apparent. She'll then let you know somehow that another move would be well-received. Then you can show more.

If this interaction doesn't work out, remember that most everybody wants to be in the first group. Demonstrate that you're a Group One kind of guy, and people will ask you to lunch.
posted by Phred182 at 9:30 AM on September 5, 2006 [27 favorites]

I think that learning not to be embarassed by rejection is just part of becoming an adult. You get embarassed because you take the rejection as a valid judgement of you in some way, you hear your own questions as "Am I adequate?" and a negative answer as "No, you are not adequate," and then you take that to heart. You have to think of your own question as more like "Am I the type of guy you're into?" and if the answer is negative, then it's not a big deal.

Of course, you've also got to believe that you're selling something worth buying. And if you're looking for a girl to convince you of that, then you're starting out on the wrong foot already.
posted by bingo at 10:07 AM on September 5, 2006

Dude, how was lunch?
posted by Phred182 at 5:02 PM on September 7, 2006

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