I’m Sensitive, Afraid of Rejection and Push Men Away

I'm Sensitive, Afraid of Rejection and Push Men Away

Evan,

I wanted to see if you had any tips about modifying my own behavior, because I'm driving myself (and a progression of men) at least a little batty.

Reading your blog has been so useful to me over the last 2 months of intense dating, thank you. I try to – and often do ­– successfully apply your advice. It's been up, and down, and absolutely wonderful and then total hell. I'm 34, attractive to people who like my physical type, and I do okay - many men like me, and I like some of them back. I have the usual frustrations with bad dates, vapor trails, and the men who are just emotionally available enough to keep me around but won't let anything progress, but I've learned to accept this as part of the ride.

But I'm very emotionally sensitive and naturally very defensive, and it's killing me. When a man pulls back just a little bit - even very early on, and very possibly just in my head - I start to freak out on the inside, to write the death warrant on the non-relationship, and to become tense about the whole affair. I write “you're obviously not interested - nice to know you” emails way too quickly, leaving men going “Wait. What?" They often stick around to work it out - I swear some of them even *like* it - but I've poisoned the natural progression of our discourse, and I think the long-term effects are usually negative.

I know this is bad. I logically know it's very bad. But when I'm in the middle of an “it's over and he doesn't like me! I must defend myself!” attack it feels 100 percent like the only course of action. Then I write the email/leave the voice message and... instantly feel horrible. I sit in dread of the response. I suddenly see the mature, thoughtful way I could asked them what was going on with them that I didn't take.

Do you have any mechanisms, anything at all, for heading off this behavior at the pass? I feel like a slave to my fears of rejection, and it's causing a “let me reject you before you reject me!” nuclear reaction that slimes everything in radiation and leaves everyone, self included, emotionally flayed. I hate it.

Thank you, even if you just read this! Your blog really is the best.

Best,
Emily

Oh, Emily.

I’m about the last person you should be asking for advice on defending yourself.

I’m constantly writing long-winded, emotional, poorly-thought-out responses to the various ways that my words are minced, mangled, and misinterpreted – and every time I do, I feel a piece of my soul break away.

Being understood is tiring work.

If you consistently fly off the handle that every man in the world isn’t following your imaginary script as to how he’s supposed to act, you’re essentially writing your own unhappy ending.

Being right requires constant maintenance.

And letting everyone know that you’re right is like a full time no-paying job.

Which is the key point – there are NO REWARDS for being right.

All you do is end up alienating the people who have the potential to care for you.

Are your negative impulses “correct”? I’m betting they often are.

But if you consistently fly off the handle that every man in the world isn’t following your imaginary script as to how he’s supposed to act, you’re essentially writing your own unhappy ending.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Heather

    Holy moly, is that good timing or what, Evan.

    Emily could be me, in most instances. I try to give a guy a little time before I write the blow-off emails, generally 1-2 weeks of the weird behavior. Other than that though, I totally understand where she is coming from. Being rejected over and over again can really hurt, especially for us women, because try as we might, we do take some rejection personally.

    I was getting way too good at writing, sorry, no thank you, please do not call/write again, best of luck emails. If I saw something that even remotely looked like a red flag, I bailed out. I’d ignored too many red flags in my life, with awful consequences, to continue repeating that crazy behavior, and so I believed in walk away, before they walk all over you.

    I was even prepared to write my now-boyfriend off; I had just been given news about how my Mom’s cancer was alot worse than we’d thought, and I had just been rushed to the hospital for emergency hip replacement surgery. I thought, “yep, he’ll think this is too much drama for him, so be ready for the rejection text/email/call. It’ll come, so be ready.” And I even asked my nurse to give me another dose of morphine before I texted him, so I could just be numbed out when the rejection came!

    But no, he stuck around with defensive, scared little me and has continued to stand by me. He actually feels bad for me having gone through what I’ve been through, and has been supportive and continues to remind me that he’s not here to hurt me.

    I’m glad that you posted this; it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Yes, we need to change and back off of the “REJECT!” button, absolutely, but it still is nice to know I’m not the only one out there who feels that way.

  2. 2
    dan

    Oh, I know this person….I used to say “No guy has the 1000 page weird rule book in your head”….and she would fire off these long e-mail missives to dudes in the early stages of dating over nothing really (a minor miscommunication / misunderstanding / slightly different expectations)…I called them ‘letter bombs.’ I think it may have to do with anxiety.

  3. 3
    Laya

    Emily, I feel for you as I have been there at different times in my dating life. While I was never one to send many angry, “screw you,” emails or telephone calls, I have had internal freak outs followed by fixing behavior. I usually took responsibility/blame for things gone wrong…if guy pulls away, I must have done something to turn him off. I no longer react or feel this way (with therapy and lots of reflection).

    So my suggestions to you, which is what has helped me is to ride out the feelings you are really trying to avoid or preempt..in your case and most dating scenario that feeling is the horrible feeling of losing the person because he has rejected you. You preempt the feeling of rejection by rejecting him before he rejects you. This way you don’t find out if he was going to reject you…These feelings could be real or imagined but what is still triggered is fear, unworthiness etc. You don’t need to react or act on your negative feelings (meaning sending emails, being bitchy etc…) just sit on them. You face you fear as well. I’m basically reiterating what Evan has said.

    The thing is when you freak out all over the guy, I found that not only did I still fear being rejected but now I know I had done something to warrant the rejection for real. Inevitably he does usually pull away, confirming my fear, which is a whole cycle of horrible feelings. It really is a brutal cycle that makes you feel weakened and less confident to go back to the harshness of dating.

    1. 3.1
      Bec

      Omg u just blew my mind! I never thought of it that way @ Layla. I push them away first so I don’t have to find out if they were ultimately going to reject me then wonder down the road did I react to fast? Which has actually put me in some unhealthy dating with my ex. It’s the same over and over, we make contact and think I reacted to fast then do a do over and same thing again… This has had a bad an imbaressing impact on my self esteem. Now that I’m thinking of it so what if he rejects me? I’ve been rejected before and I lived and can’t even remember his name. I think the best thing u can do for dating is start a relationship w yourself. Everything I have going is my mind telling itself your not good enough so don’t even bother. So that’s what I’m trying to do… Is love myself first. Build a solid relationship with me. I can’t expect someone else to tell me im good enough if I don’t even believe it myself.

  4. 4
    Mia

    I am very good at being pleasant around men and never doing the emotional freak outs, panicked calls, and so on, but I had to teach myself to be that way. I have 2 phones, only one of which is used for dating. When I’m feeling insecure, I’ll leave it at work over the weekend, let it die and not charge it for a couple days, or leave it in the car when I go out. I date multiple men at once and make lots of fun plans for the weekend when it’s becoming apparent that the guy is not gonna ask for a Saturday night date by Wednesday. If I freak out, it’s in the privacy of my own home or with gfs – NEVER with the guy i barely know. He is not my therapist.

    The problem is, I still have no relationship to show for my sane dating behavior! A guy I was dating even commented in passing that I had been more understanding than anyone about his busy schedule, and was more sane and rational than most women. But he still didn’t want a serious relationship.

    Dating advice always makes it sound like women are so emotional and pressuring with men that men will fall at your feet if you are not that way. I’m curious to hear from guys — how common is it to meet a woman who’s not pursuing or freaking out on you or trying to control you? Does a woman who’s not engaging in that bad behavior win a lot of points with you? Do you even notice?

    1. 4.1
      ScottH

      Evan states, and I believe it to be true, that if you make a man feel good, he will stay and if you make him feel bad, he will leave. There are probably other conditions to staying but make him feel bad, and you should expect a person with self respect to get up and leave.

  5. 5
    Andrew

    “Men do what they want, not what you want.”

    There are times when the best wisdom is served briefly and succinctly.

  6. 6
    Amanda

    This article is perfect timing for me as well! The problem is that I don’t have emotional outbursts in normal dating scenarios but I am definitely triggered by the guy I’ve been smitten with over the past 2 years. And even though there is a good chance he is not emotionally available, I’m not sure if it’s me or him? The whole push/pull thing just seems like a good excuse for him not to move the relationship forward because he can do some pretty jerky things and then nail me when I respond with a melt down. It’s like I stay in this scenario to try to become stronger and I feel more weak than ever. The more he distances, the more I want him. It’s almost like I’m addicted to the rejection, followed by feeling like I have to ‘prove’ I can handle things. I’ve been sensitive my whole life and I HATE it about myself! I recogonize that many of my melt downs are from not feeling like I can openly communicate with him. Then I hold it in and eventually erupt into a basket case. But once he’s labeled you to be a crazy drama girl- is there any hope for a future? And if he is so quick to remind me this is my fatal flaw, why does he stick around.

    1. 6.1
      Christina

      Hi Amanda,

      I went through a similar thing with my bf for a year and decided to end it recently. Your statement – “It’s like I stay in this scenario to try to become stronger and I feel more weak than ever. The more he distances, the more I want him. It’s almost like I’m addicted to the rejection, followed by feeling like I have to ‘prove’ I can handle things.” is so familiar to me. I went into it with an openness and a willingness to compromise, it turned into him blaming me for any and every scenario, preying on my weaknesses so he can escape all responsibility. This is the same man who wants to marry me, this is also the same man who I don’t want to marry. Now I have some distance, I see it more clearly. Of course he is sticking around, who else would deal with his lack of responsibility and getting his way all the time. 

      Several things I learned, instead of taking ALL responsibility, if someone is interested in a committed relationship, he takes some of it because it is a partnership and you navigate things together. Everyone has baggage, it’s a matter of who wants to deal with what. As we try to improve ourselves, it is a chicken and egg thing to a certain extent. A more sensitive person would trigger you less and a more communicative person would allow you to talk things through. Ask yourself what you need and leave those who don’t have it. Find someone you bring out the best and brings out the best in you. A sensitive person usually has great gut instinct and is usually sensitive to others, a wonderful plus in a secure and communicative environment.

      There is extreme drama like calling a million times a day, getting pissed about the smallest thing or being paranoid. (which I do not do by the way, even though I am a sensitive person). It appears to me you are self-aware and instead of hating yourself for who you are, focus on accepting yourself and work on learning self-soothing techniques. It’s something we all have to learn. That doesn’t mean we choose people who test us to make us better people. Love isn’t pain or agony. We can only be better people in the right environment. This environment we can create outside of a relationship as well.

      Another is that if someone doesn’t take the step to commit or wants their way all the time, the answer is clear. You might not want to hear this but it is still true. He is just not that into you. Period. He is sticking around for the benefits and not want to deal with anything else, ask yourself how sincere is that. In the best marriages with 2 emotionally healthy people, it is already challenging, why add on more unnecessary challenges.

      Like Evan said, be the CEO of your life.

      1. 6.1.1
        Karmic Equation

        Is this the same Christina, Asian with the bf she met via OLD?

        If yes, is this the same bf you’ve been so happy about or the bf before him?

        1. Christine

          Karmic, I think you might be thinking of me with this comment–no, I didn’t post this 6.1 message and it’s someone else.  I’m still very happy with my boyfriend now.  Just yesterday during a phone call, we said how perfect we are together.

          The breakups that I have had never came that suddenly.  I was always sad after them, but never surprised.

    2. 6.2
      Karmic Equation

      It’s a common stereotype, crazy people are the great in bed. Many men are willing to put up with “crazy” to for great sex…for a short period of time. Usually they’re not going to marry her.

      If you do behave erratically, calm sometimes, then explode inexplicably, then, no, he’s not going to believe you’ve changed and become sane if you stop the explosions. ?You only have one chance to make a first impression.”

      If he’s labeled you “crazy” then even if you were to behave sanely for the rest of your life, he’ll just believe you’re just trying to con him.

      So, forget about him. Learn to control yourself to the extent that your behavior is considered normal, not crazy, for the next guy.

      There’s always more fish in the sea. Don’t let yourself believe he’s the last one, okay?

  7. 7
    Heather

    Dan, well it could be anxiety, or it’s also what my Mom likes to call, “psychological sunburn.” Meaning, when you get sunburned, it hurts to have anything touch that burned area. And when someone touches you by accident, you yelp and pull away. Same thing with being hurt badly in relationships. If a guy does something, even inadvertently, and it bumps up against a sore spot in our hearts, we react. It takes time to heal, just like real sunburns do, and even though we treat the burn and do what we can, it can leave marks that might never go away.

    For example: my ex husband was very cruel and abusive and called me stupid and abnormal, every chance he got. To this day, when I hear someone talking to their significant other and they even JOKINGLY call each other stupid, I want to vomit. I can’t even comprehend why people think this is funny, or acceptable behavior. My boyfriend once did not edit his text message to me and it looked like he was calling me an asshole. I was really upset and chewed him a new one for it. He re-read what he wrote and saw why I was so upset, and he apologized. I told him look, I have told you what I have been through. THINK before you SPEAK or TYPE. Words hurt.

    You may be correct about anxiety in some instances, but mostly I’m pretty sure it’s just “psychological sunburn.”

  8. 8
    Emily

    Thanks so much for posting this! I actually bought “Why He Disappeared” just this last week after my last relationship ended, and it’s fortifying what I knew logically but was ignoring when I’d let myself get dangerously tense.

    Great advice, and you’re absolutely right – I’m making myself appear very high maintenance indeed, despite being easy-going elsewhere.

    And what you say about “being correct” now and then, you’re dead-on. I think I’m freaking out way to early to know anything, as do many of my friends, and I just had an epiphany that if I KEEP freaking out it probably means the guy is setting off alarms and I should stop seeing the gentleman. The last man I dated really was everything I was afraid he was, and I should have ended things months ago. I’m not putting my intuition into practice at the right point, and that’s screwing everything up, myself most of all.

    What I’m trying to do, and it’s working so far: Early on I don’t know them well enough to make any judgements, and aside from the usual important red flags just need to enjoy their company and ignore my doubts. If they disappear/aren’t interested, really, what does it matter? They weren’t right for me, and enough men are interested that there’s no reason for me to torture myself like that. If those doubts don’t subside several dates in, then I need to face what I’m fearing and ponder if it’s a dealbreaker I’m trying to ignore.

    It’s all about balancing intuition and emotional sensitivity, I think – both useful, but both really deadly if not kept in check. I didn’t have this problem to this degree when I was younger, which suggests there’s a (Confident, perhaps?) attitude I need to re-connect with, while keeping my wisdom. Dan – it’s very much anxiety! And pure, crippling insecurity.

    Thanks again, Evan! You’ve really helped me stay calm and be myself from the beginning of my interaction with guys. I’m only 8 days into this round, but it’s already going quite well.

  9. 9
    Emily

    Oh! And heather, yay for your sweet guy! He sounds great. You’re dead on about how it’s about ignoring so many red flags in the past that it’s then easy to overreact and get out of there before they hurt you – it’s so damn hard to find that sweet spot in the middle of being too easy and being too reactive.

  10. 10
    Happy Person

    Dan 2: I know a LOT of people who have that 1000-page weird rule book in their heads!! It doesn’t happen just in the dating world. Thanks for the laugh!

  11. 11
    Heatherk

    Definitely well-timed post for my life. I feel sometimes like some street gangster who sees a gun drawn when it’s just someone taking out their cell phone.
    But it can be really hard to tell – especially in the first few months – if someone is just distracted or if they’re distracted because they’re contemplating going back to an ex. It’s hard to tell if someone is inordinarily busy this month or if they’ve changed their minds about dating and are trying to hint that they would rather be just casual. Maybe after a whole month of a downshift of time spent together and more limited outings can one actually draw the conclusion that a guy has made a decision to be more casual without him actually sending me a memo that he’s changed the way he feels. But it is certainly hard to conclude that he’s changed his mind about a relationship just because he feels like hanging with his buddies for a couple of weekends or whatever. Even when a guy says he is confused it is hard to determine whether he’s just vocalizing how he feels – that he’s feeling his way through it and I just listen without drawing conclusions so he can feel safe expressing himself, or if he’s trying to convey a message that I should bail because he’s saying he’s done in not so many words.
    Sometimes I feel like I would rather just put the guy out of his own confused misery and ask him if he would rather us not be together.
    Sometimes I think that a lot of guys avoid women because they’re worried that if they break up with a woman they’ll have to watch her cry or maybe she’ll get angry and scream. So instead of giving the woman the courtesy to let her know that the relationship is done, a guy will do the fade-out. And unfortunately there are a lot of guys who do this so that when a good decent guy who would never break up with someone by fading out just happens to be really busy at work, he ends up paying for the ‘sins’ of other men because a woman he’s dating might think he’s fading out.
    I am not interested in chasing someone who isn’t interested. It doesn’t turn me on to be with someone who isn’t really into me (I’m too much of a narcissist for that) so I sometimes wonder if there’s a way to tell guys that when you’re done – just tell me your done and it’s okay – we’ll call it a day. I’m not going to have a screaming fit because someone wants out – I’m just going to say thank you for letting me know. However, if someone is avoiding me or acting weird because they think they can’t break up with me because then I might scream at them – then there will be drama.
    My ex-boyfriend said once about his days as a player (he supposedly was a reformed player when we started dating – though turns out he just got better at hiding things) that he just didn’t answer his phone too often on a girl so that she would realize that it wasn’t going to be that kind of relationship and so she would get the hint that it was a more casual and non-exclusive arrangement. He also was always warning me that if a guy isn’t answering his phone, or if he’s seeing me on a more limited basis or if he’s busy it means he’s really seeing other women and that I’m supposed to understand that I’m not the only one. He also warned me about guys who live in 2 bedroom apartments that I should know if he brings me back to his place he might actually have another women tucked in to the other bedroom at the same time. Really, he was warning me about himself – I should have known, because he always answered his phone when I called and we even lived together so he found a way to be able to hide everything without having to hint at anything.
    Most men are not like that – and I really don’t buy into any of his stories because I know plenty of male friends who aren’t like that – but sometimes it can be hard to know what’s actually going on until you observe for a while and sometimes it can be very confusing.

  12. 12
    Helen

    Evan, when I read Emily’s letter, I felt sure that the advice you’d give her was something you’ve given in the past: “mirror his behavior.” For the record, I do think the advice you gave here is good; I would just add for Emily’s sake the effectiveness of mirroring.

    Emily: If you think he’s pulling back, you pull back correspondingly (it doesn’t have to be in a confrontational way). He’ll get back in touch with you if he wants to, and if he doesn’t, you wouldn’t have wasted time or gotten embroiled in a confrontation. Spend that time doing something nice for yourself, possibly even dating others. On the other hand, if he’s attentive to you, show your appreciation for him.

  13. 13
    Deev

    Yep… that’s me. I totally relate to this problem. Fear of rejection. It’s just that after several failed relationships I now have this deep-seated fear that’s taken root that every relationship is going to fail and every guy is going to bail. It’s terrible – i panic when he doesn’t call or text, etc. Honestly at this point being on my own is better than trying to overcome this phobia.

  14. 14
    Andrea

    I don’t understand why you would be mad at a guy for not being interested. It can be disappointing, but if a guy’s not interested, it’s no reason to be pissed. It’s like being mad at gravity.

  15. 15
    Ruby

    After years of dating, I’ve learned that the best thing to do is to take things slowly, and to give a man some time to show you how interested he really is. Last year, I dated a man who freaked out on me, and I saw just how unattractive and self-defeating it was. Even if someone is unsure about you, or seems to be retreating, over-reacting is a sure-fire way to kill any chances of the relationship developing.

    There are armies of men out there who aren’t ready for a serious relationship, or don’t want one with you, or whatever. The best thing to do is to pull back, and give the man a chance to come back or explain himself to you. If he’s a jerk and he wants out, he’ll do the slow fade. If he’s a nice guy, he’ll give you an honest explanation. If he’s a nice guy who is unsure of his feelings and needs more time, he will let you know that too. When my current boyfriend expressed his uncertainties to me early on, I wanted to freak out, but instead I listened, and gave him his space. It really did help.

    Relationships with an overabundance of “drama” rarely work out well in the end. Rather than letting your insecurities take over, think of dating as YOUR chance to evaluate the man’s behavior, and make sure that he’s the type of person you would want to be with in the long term.

  16. 16
    Mia

    I wonder if another source of confusion here is the approach conveyed on this blog that unless a man wants to commit to you, cut him out of your life. I do see the wisdom in that. But it can be limiting. Even the best (and best looking) women are going to encounter the problem that at least 90 percent of men they meet will NOT want to commit to them.

    If you feel like you have to cut out every guy who doesn’t fall In love with you from your life, well, that can be a lonely existence. If there’s an otherwise nice guy who enjoys your company
    But isn’t stepping up, you shouldn’t notice too much if you’re dating lots of people and staying busy. Maybe that guy could be a great friend; maybe an occasional booty call ; maybe an acquaintance who is of some professional or social value; possibly a guy to see a ballgame with or take as your date to a special event once in awhile. I just don’t believe in having a goodbye talk unless the guy was really a jerk.

    There are a lot of men who ain’t ever gonna be our husbands but still offer us something of value that we can learn from and enjoy if we just ratchet down our expectations accordingly. And continuing to see a variety of men with a variety of roles in your life is, in my opinion, a healthy way to get closer to mr. Right.

  17. 17
    Annalise

    @ Mia #4 – I feel the same. The last guy I was dating for four months consistently did all of Evan’s “rules” correctly. He told me often how he liked that I was so easy-going, calm, and “not crazy”. He invited me to meet his family on Easter. Yet after 4 months, he said he didn’t want to date anyone else, but didn’t want to have a girlfriend…
    I told him I was not comfortable with this, and he faded out over the next few weeks, to never be heard from again.
    So, Mia, I understand the frustration. There is nothing I would change about the way I acted. I am not pushing guys away, yet they appear to leave on their own. Is this one of those “there is nothing to learn” stories? Or I am being ignorant to something I am doing?
    And to Emily, I believe you can change your ways. I have trained myself to become very calm and laid back. I look for girls I know who have these qualities and model myself after them. Over time, it becomes natural. Good luck!

  18. 18
    Gina

    Evan! Thank you SO much for posting this as it describes my behavior to a “t”! My fear of rejection caused me to say stupid things to my wonderful boyfriend of 5 months, that I almost sabatoged the relationship! Thank god he’s still hanging in their with me. I am currently in therapy to learn how to deal with my issues.

  19. 19
    henriette

    Sad thing is, most of my calm, thoughtful, non-freak-out girlfriends are still single whereas the high-maintenance foot-stompers I know wed years ago.

    1. 19.1
      Lin

      indeed henriette most men do like bitchess

      1. 19.1.1
        Chris

        No. I married a force of nature though.

  20. 20
    Clare

    @ Mia, I feel exactly the same! I know there are some women who find it helpful to cut a guy out of their lives if he won’t commit when they want him to or if they are not getting exactly what they want, and this is fine if this is the approach that works for you. But I find that this doesn’t really work for me unless I am really sure I want nothing more to do with that guy.
    Admittedly, this has a lot to do with gut feel, and I would never presume to prescribe this approach for someone else, but I have a big problem with cutting someone out of my life when they still care for me and I still care for them, and there is still enjoyment to be derived from the association. And I find that very often, I am able to adjust my expectations accordingly. And I find that sometimes, time does even change one’s feelings or perspective or you mature, and the relationship has a better chance. I suppose it all has to do with what makes you happy and what is right for you.

    Evan, with regards to this article, I think your advice is so good I have printed it out and kept it in my desk!

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