Rejection: Man, Woman

plum blossoms

I got a rejection letter in the mail today. The rejection letter was from/for a fellowship that was by all definitions a longshot for me (add in the current economy, and make that longshot a pipe dream, given the influx of applicants for such things now). I didn’t think I would get the fellowship, but I still put myself out there, and I still dared to hope and desire.

I sensed a rejection before I even tore the envelope open; it was an anorexic envelope that included one sheet of paper, a sheet that was filled with three typed sentences that took up only a little more space than the fellowship’s letterhead logo:

Ms. Zilka:

I am sorry to inform you that your application for a 2010-11 ***** Fellowship was not selected by the review committee. The committee is able to award only two fellowships this time, and it received over 140 applications, so please forgive the impersonality of this letter. We do sincerely wish you well with your writing plans, and we wish we had more fellowships to award.

I swallowed a sigh and walked into the house, the mail cradled in my left arm and my iPod in my right hand. I peeled the mail off my arm (I was sticky with sweat from a workout that entailed going up and down hundreds of stairs) and set it down.

Then, I sat myself down. I had been hurt worse from rejections before; I had sort of expected this, but I really am just sick of being hurt by rejections. I thought of all my friends who seemed to handle rejection better than I did, and thought of what they tend to say: “They suck, they don’t know what they’re missing! I guess I didn’t fit their mold, I’m too unique. They only pick one type of writing, my writing’s too radical. Wow, they suck because they don’t know how great I am.”

The voices were all male. Because these were things said by all my male writer friends. Hrm. Coincidence, I thought. Mostly, I was sad about how I couldn’t pick myself up. I was sad that I couldn’t find a way to boost my own ego, and that I would allow myself to go to emotional hell and back, each and every time I faced an emotional hurdle.

Because I couldn’t find a way to affirm myself, I went to my Facebook page and wrote a status update that read,

“Instead of running out & eating a donut for consolation/therapy, I’m going to do what a friend of mine did & ask to hear nice things from my friends here on my FB wall, instead. (please let there not be zero nice things).”

Within an hour, ten friends leapt to my rescue and wrote beautiful things in the comments. They were things I should say to myself, but somehow never do (what I tend to do is criticize myself into oblivion–and on most days I tell myself, “Keep going anyway”). I was so overwhelmed by the thoughtful generosity and kindness of my friends that I decided to compliment them in return. The thread has turned into a lovefest, one that reminds me of the importance of friendship (I vowed a few years ago that I would have GREAT female friendships in my life).  If you’re not the mushy kind, you may barf now–but even you may be touched by what my friends wrote on my wall.

My friends prevented me from going into a tailspin, one with which I am very wearily familiar. Thank you to all of them.

Coincidence or not, none of those first ten responding friends were men (as of this writing two hours after posting a request for “nice things about me” only one male friend has posted–and he is an especially empathetic soul from my college days). And p.s. I have a ton of male friends on Facebook.  Dudes, I do not fault you–because I am wondering if there is just a different venue of support when it comes to ego-boosting here, when it comes to the genders.

I can’t help but bring up the patterns–they are too obvious to ignore: the pattern that (most, but not all) men know to boost their own egos and the pattern that (most but not all) women don’t take rejection well.  Also, there’s the pattern that women can express their support and ask for support, perhaps, in a way that men don’t/can’t.  I wonder if women get their ego boost from external sources, like I just did.

I wonder if boys/men get rejected over and over from an early age in ways that girls/women do not. I can think of one example, dating, in which men are expected to initiate the request way more than women. I remember that in college, whenever I would ask a guy to go out on a date with me, the answer would inevitably be yes. When I asked why it was that I always got “yes” as an answer (even from men that I thought were “out of my league”), a male friend said to me in a “duh!” voice, “Because women never ask men out. We’re going to fucking say yes if you ask us out!”

I wonder if boys/men face a different emotional battlefield and thus develop thicker skin. I have never seen the men closest to me in my life, cry more than once, each, and that was when facing incredible emotional trauma. I was shocked by the nature of their weeping, like a rusty machine trying to move, their tears falling but their bodies unfamiliar with the mechanism of crying so that the sound came out in an unwilling way, so that I heard an almost choking sound. Women, for the most part, cry more often than men. We may face a battlefield, and we may have issues with vulnerability, but I wonder if it’s nothing close to what men face in terms of being able to show vulnerability. We cry. We ask for support. We receive support. I’m not sure men can do this to the same effect.

I once made a comment about how “men love playing video games, especially little gameboys with little screens that they manipulate with their thumbs.” My Famous Pulitzer Prize Winning Writer Mentor gave me a sharp look and said, “Think about what it is that is done to boys and men that makes them want to shrink life down to a little box and their thumbs.”

I thought about that. And I’m thinking about that now when it comes to the male psyche and ego and their ability to handle rejections. That perhaps males have to figure out a way to survive by developing internal mechanisms to boost their own egos. Because the world won’t do it.

For the record, my Facebook status asking friends to say nice things about me was not my own idea; a friend (who happened to be male) had asked for “nice things” on his Facebook wall only a few hours earlier. In a few hours, my wall was filled with amazing and generous and thoughtful and kind and intimate comments. His was filled with funny, witty banter about how he didn’t smell, how he could make good howler monkey noises, and other humorous remarks expressing resistance to comply with his request.

The only people who said truly nice things about him were women.

I lament the fact that I can’t find a way to boost my own ego.  But maybe those who know how to boost their own ego have had to fight bigger wars, and thus that ability comes at great price.

There are men who take rejection hard–there are men who have killed themselves over rejections.  Some of the kindest, most empathetic and encouraging words I’ve received in the wake of rejection are from men. And there are women who can brush off rejection.  But what I’ve witnessed is what I’ve witnessed, and the pattern I’ve seen is real.

I have no answers, only many questions–and I welcome you to enlighten me.


Filed under Literary Rejections, The World, Writing

7 responses to “Rejection: Man, Woman

  1. YouKnowWho

    There was an interesting psychology study done with the (then) popular MMORPG EverQuest where they interviewed people who practices role reversal in MMOs.

    The women who made male characters found that they were expected to do a lot more themselves and were generally discouraged from asking for help. Males who played female characters found that if they played their cards right, they were often given gifts in the form of help or items.

    Not that I would know any men who did this… I mean.. I’ve heard… you know… stories…

  2. Wow- this is an amazing and thoughtful post and I want to comment at length. But I am also on my way out the door, so it will have to wait… but great post, all the same.

  3. I know this guy who hits on practically every woman of reproductive age he comes across, and “scores” with very few of them. However, he hits on *so many* women that he still gets laid quite a lot. What’s fascinating about him is the way he handles the constant rejection, it just rolls right off him. He doesn’t make any of the usual douchey comments like “she was probably a lesbian anyway,” he just kind of seamlessly moves on because he has totally internalized the idea that rejection is in no way a reflection of his worth. I’ve tried to adopt the same attitude, and it does help. A rat can keep pushing a button for a pellet that only comes after a thousand hits because he does not view his current pelletlessness as a judgment from the Universe. I try to aim for this kind of rat zen.

    • YouKnowWho: Fascinating. Yes, when I was playing Farm Town on Facebook (yes, those were the days of summer before I started teaching), I got hired way more often at the marketplace when I was a redhead. i got hired way more often as a woman than a man. I got helped with tips on how to play the game, way more often as a woman.

      margosita: thank you. 🙂

      emshapiro: Rat Zen. I must aim for it, too. I wonder when I will internalize the idea that rejection is not a reflection of my worth as a writer. I have been rejected hundreds of times by now…

  4. Sorry to hear about your rejection and happy to hear that your friends came to the rescue! (and sorry I missed that status update). Elena’s anecdote reminds me of a line from a movie – or was it a book? I can’t remember. One male character said to the other, “Ask out every beautiful woman you meet. Eventually one will say yes.” That’s what we have to do. Rat zen is a good term for it.

  5. I usually compare video games to masturbation. Twiddling with small thing with both hands, focussing only on something for yourself…

    re: rejection: sometimes rejection is good. Example: short stories: Maybe your story needs more polish. Or, to blame someone else, your story could have been inherently not the type of story that would fit in that publication, and no amount of tweaking would change that without destroying the work. Spun that way, your rejection is due to your integrity as an artist.

    I don’t think getting rejected for art is any easier for men than it is for women. Maybe women in our society are encouraged to be more of a “team player” than men, and thus the judgement of a stranger seems more important to female writers/artists. But when you write, you put so much of yourself “out there” and exposed to scrutiny and judgement, that it’s always going to be a fragile-making experience, regardless of gender.

  6. Nate

    YKW: Exactly. When you are a man you are expected to shoulder all burdens. With that kind of pressure, ego becomes standard equipment for us –e.g. we submit to a journal too conservative to appreciate our genius. Also rather than be failed people, we try to keep rejections isolated. If you do fail, it needn’t be about anything more than that one flawed story, application, or come-on (or inane comment on a blog? 🙂 )

    Video games are so popular because there are clear, simple rules and objectives. When you fail you know why, how and what you need to do to fix it –and you can start right away with a clean slate. Personally, I miss the life lesson of Atari –that was poetic stuff: no matter how fast you got, the game could always get faster!

    I think the takeaway for all of us here is that your life outside of writing –your family, friends, dogs, garden, work, blog, etc.– is what gets you through. As long as writing is a facet of a whole life, you will always find the acceptance to continue with your art.

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