On the pain of not being wanted

Dear Madeline:

It is easy to say there are those who only want to be loved and have an imprudent and insatiable appetite. I remember one time in classical literature one of the worst tyrants working to establish his glory to be that much more attractive to a beloved.

There’s a pain from not being wanted we may be sorely tempted to dismiss as failure to feed our ego. We want to get rid of this pain by saying it drives those who cannot live without being showered with love and attention. We’re not them; our culture’s emphasis on popularity has only made us think we should be like them; stop wanting to belong and we’ll find our happiness.

Yeah, right.

I don’t think the solution is as simple as love versus pride, or even love versus pride with both being problematic. There is no ideal way to feel rejected. Recently I was treated like dirt by 4 women. I wasn’t remotely interested in any of them, but they seemed to think I was growing a second head or something. Each of them was going through a tough time; that they treated me badly was understandable, if not excusable. And yet I couldn’t shake the sting.

It took me a little while to remember that 1) I know how to deal with people and 2) I know what I want out of life. It took me a little while to remember that only part of being better at being social is having a thicker skin (i.e. dealing with the million and one trolls I’ve dealt with online). The other part is developing a sensitivity to others. That sensitivity won’t engage if the other people reject me right off the bat. But the 4 women with whom I had dealt knew quite a bit about me. The very skill of working with others better contains the trap that one has to get hurt in certain situations. One has to establish something at stake, be vulnerable in some way, in order to get something more out of social interactions.

It is true that some in love will obsess incessantly about persuading someone to love them. They’ll think that because they’re hanging on every detail, creating a vision of a couple, their beloved will see a detail, then their vision or construct, their something at stake, their vulnerability, and love accordingly. That peculiar kind of insanity, where one in thinking the beloved will see as one sees is actually making the beloved another version of himself, is not particular to romantic love. There’s a part of it that’s necessary for friendship. You have to hope someone wants to see as you see, at least for a moment.

From my experience, people nowadays are terrible at making friends. I have story after story where the ability to tell the difference between “people I hang out with” and “people I trust and admire” is nonexistent. What you’re hoping for, in love and friendship, is a little bit of imitation. Not just of you, but what you stand for, what you think is lovely or best. Our emphasis on survival, getting by or getting stuff annihilates the possibility of taking that risk.

So kudos to you, Madeline. You do take that sort of risk. You definitely do stand for something. A ton of people want to befriend you, but even better is how many compliments you give out, how many people you’re excited to meet. As long as you’re excited about others, you’ll be a bit vulnerable, but it is a weakness from a strength. I daresay it is a blessed thing, divine not only in the goods you receive that complement your character. The greatest curses seem to arise when we won’t see what’s right in front of us, when what we’ve taken for granted is gone.


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