Worried that a special someone isn't interested in you? Give it a chance, don't disqualify yourself.
In love as in life, you might miss out on great things by making faulty assumptions. As my dear friend Tita once told me, "Don't disqualify yourself; let others do that for you."
In this context, you might be worried that the wonderful, exotic, interesting person in front of you would never be interested in a schlub like you. And maybe they aren't interested. But maybe, just maybe, they could get interested.
This is an easy point to make, but sometimes it's hard not to disqualify yourself out of the fear of rejection.
Rejection really hurts. Regardless of whether you can convince yourself intellectually that it just wasn't a good fit, or that you were simply misunderstood or underestimated, or that they just happen to be more interested in somebody else at the moment, or any of the myriad other possible explanations for why they might give you a "no, thanks", you don't believe those things emotionally.
Emotionally, it feels like you've been dismissed as sub-standard. It's a referendum on who you are. Nobody likes being told that they just aren't wanted.
The good news is that you have the capacity to see the problem coming. Acknowledge that you might be rejected, and that it might happen repeatedly. Decide that you're OK with that, and are going to keep trying regardless. We do this when we're looking for employment, so why shouldn't we do it when we're looking for love?
Chalk it up to the cost of finding a great partner. Know that every time you disqualify yourself, there's at least a small chance that you're doing it needlessly. That in disqualifying yourself, you could be missing a golden opportunity to make a wonderful life-long connection.
Kyle had always loved Vermont. His grandparents had a summer place up there, and as a kid his family visited every summer. Moreover, two of his sisters lived there now, and family was important to him.
He had moved to New York shortly after college for a gig that was supposed to last five weeks, and he planned on living there no longer than that. But plans go astray, and eight years later, he was still in the big city, a place that never stopped feeling alienating to shy, small-town Kyle. He finally decided to make the big move back to the place he loved.
The catch was that he was single. He wondered what he was doing, leaving a place with a zillion gay men to move to a place with very few. But he decided that what he'd be giving up in quantity, he might be getting back in quality. He couldn't abide the New York bar scene, and maybe Vermont would have more guys he could really connect with.
He was determined to make the best of it, and after he moved, he made up his mind to go to any and every event where other gay people might show up.
He went to with his sister to a one-man play about the experience of being black and gay in Vermont. He saw an attractive man sitting in the front row, and remarked to his sister, "See him? He's exactly my type, but that's just the kind that will never pay attention to me."
In other words, Kyle was disqualifying himself. He was basing it on past experience, but of course every experience is unique. The show finished, and as they stood there talking, the man walked by without saying anything.
Kyle, feeling validated, said "See?" As if it were front-page news that a stranger happened not to stop and strike up a conversation with another stranger. Or that a gay man might not hit on another man who was talking to a woman.
Kyle was working for an HIV prevention program, and his job required him to go to a big conference. There he was introduced to Jared, one of the volunteers, who just happened to be the man from the front row at the show.
So they met, and they got to know each other, and there was even some flirtation. Jared asked Kyle out twice, but in both cases Kyle had conflicts, and to him it was ambiguous whether he was being asked on a date—maybe the guy just wanted some company.
It might seem like a short step from there to a romance, but the shy Kyle couldn't quite bring himself to bridge that gap. It turns out that Jared had spotted Kyle in church, but Kyle hadn't seen him. Jared knew the congregation, and he knew which people were new, and he'd set his sights on this one. But having found him, he wasn't getting anywhere.
Still, Kyle was pleasant and friendly, so Jared decided to give it one last shot. This time his invitation was accepted, and this time it was definitely a date. Before long, the kind of guy who Kyle thought would never pay attention to him was romancing him, and then marrying him.
But he almost missed out. If they hadn't run into each other again at the right place and time, Kyle's self-disqualification could have cost him dearly.
Then there's Molly's story, with self-disqualification on both sides that likewise nearly sabotaged a great romance. Molly and Seth knew each other from the time she was three years old. When she was 12, they had their first kiss, and spent a wonderful summer together before life sent them in different directions for several years. When she was 19 and in community college, they reconnected, and it was great.
Molly did well in community college, and transferred to Georgetown. Seth came to visit her there, and she had a fantastic time. So she was floored when he broke it off right after their visit.
She couldn't imagine what she had done wrong, and she couldn't believe he'd dumped her. She went as far as removing parts of her phone each night and giving them to different friends, so she wouldn't be able to make a drunken phone call begging Seth to take her back.
What she didn't understand was that Seth, who was a UPS truck driver at the time, had gotten a good look at Georgetown, and decided that a regular guy like him would never fit into Molly's big, exciting new world of infinite possibilities. He disqualified himself.
Unlike in the previous anecdotes, there were real consequences. Molly met someone else and married him as age 21, right after graduation, thinking that she might as well, since she couldn't have Seth. By age 22, she was pregnant.
The marriage was mostly unhappy: he was an angry man, and she found herself walking on eggshells so as not to set him off. One day, one of their daughters was upsetting him, and he hit her.
This enraged Molly, who grabbed a knife and made it very clear to him that he was not going to hit one of their daughters again. She said that instead he should hit her first, but reminded him that he'd have to sleep some time. The message was delivered, but the damage was done, and Molly wasn't any happier.
All this while, she'd seen and envied how her dear friend Deborah was living, in an obviously loving, healthy relationship. Molly had resolved to stick out her own marriage until her daughters got through school, but fortunately for her, Deborah knew better, and asked her whether this was the sort of example she wanted to set for her daughters. That logic hit home with Molly, and finally she asked for a divorce.
Then came the day that Seth's mother died. His family and her family had always been close, and her family asked her if she could make the drive from Philadelphia back up to upstate New York, to represent the family at the funeral. She thought she could handle it, so she did it.
Of course once there she saw Seth—a knife through the heart. There was the love of her life there with another woman as his wife. She hardly spoke to him, and couldn't wait to leave.
His father asked her if she could come back to their house, and she didn't feel that she could refuse, as hard as it was to see Seth. She stuck very close to the father's side the entire time, but she was able to see that something was off with Seth's marriage. And she was right—three months later, he and his wife got divorced.
Sometime after that, he called her, and suggested that they should catch up some time. Did she ever get back upstate? She was going to be there in two weeks, she replied (she made that up on the spot). He suggested dinner, and it was arranged.
To paraphrase Molly, by the time the bread arrived, the restaurant could have gone up in smoke from the heat between the two of them. Now they were finally free to have the relationship that they should have had all along, and saw each other long distance for three months.
Then she was diagnosed with skin cancer. Molly didn't think it was fair to stick Seth with that kind of responsibility, so this time she disqualified herself. Or at least she tried. Seth wasn't having it at all. He'd learned from his previous mistake, and he wasn't letting her go.
His response was to buy her a ring. Molly was treated and is doing just fine, but wouldn't have been fine at all without Seth in her life.
In all of these examples, fate intervened to throw couples back together, and we got the happy ending. I use them to illustrate just how close a call each of them was, and what all of these couples might have missed out on. But that's not how it generally works. Far more often, self-disqualification does what it typically does, and a romance never happens.
Don't disqualify yourself. Give yourself a chance, and make sure your romance happens.
Excerpted from the forthcoming book "The Last Place You Look".
Jim McCoy is a life coach, and one of his specialties is dating. If you'd like help navigating your love life, contact Jim through his website at merlincoaching.com for a free consultation.