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You are single, feeling good about yourself, looking your best, and decide to go out for a night on the town. In the back of your mind, there is a small nugget of hope that perhaps tonight you will finally meet the person of your dreams and begin the relationship you have been fantasizing about. As you arrive at the party, bar, or dance club, you settle in to the festive atmosphere and begin to enjoy yourself when you spot that potential mate across the room. Their physical appearance fulfills all your requirements and they appear to be witty, vivacious, and fun as you observe them interacting with their friends.


Is fear of rejection keeping you single?

When it comes to dating, fear of rejection can be a major stumbling block. Whether one has a general lack of confidenceor is making a reluctant return to the dating scene following a breakup or divorcethis fear can hold us back, as fears so often do. We tend to want to avoid things that cause us pain: Research empirically confirms that rejection hurts and can be detected in brain activity. We may long to find a romantic partner, but this conflicts with an equally strong desire to avoid the sting of failure. The problem is, the fear of rejection does not prevent rejection from happening and may even amplify feelings of isolation and exclusion.

In the wild, the mating game involves a lot of rejection, which can be pretty extreme.

Take Mediterranean fruit flies: Males of many fruit fly species, including the Mediterranean, must go through a series of First, a male must establish a territory—a place where he will do all the necessary fruit fly rituals singing, dancing, etc. When a female arrives, these little fruit flies go all out. So what is the rejection rate for Mediterranean fruit flies? Ninety percent. After all that effort, they get turned down nine out of ten times.

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The similarity ends, however, with how we humans feel about and interpret rejection. Years ago I watched a documentary about Koko, the gorilla. Something about one, Ndume, must have spoken to Koko, and she picked him. Unfortunately, Ndume did not reciprocate her romantic desires. As I recall from the documentary, Ndume rebuffed her advances, even running away from a frustrated Koko. It is impossible to say for sure whether Koko suffered emotionally from this clear rejection. What we do know is that she and Ndume developed a close friendship that has stood the test of time, even though they never mated.

In contrast, when our own interest in someone is not reciprocated, we may personalize and internalize the experience, possibly even believing there is something wrong with us. More often than not, a broader incompatibility based on personalitylifestyle, or physical attraction has been detected.

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Being turned down for these reasons is nothing to fear—indeed, it should be welcomed. It saves a lot of time and frees you to move on to the next potential partner.

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Take it from great tit birds, which search for mates that have similar personalities, or barnacle geese, that look for a partner similar in size. It too is simply looking for a match—in this case another small goose. As for the great tit birds? We must admit that being rejected, say, six months or longer into a relationship is more distressing—after all, at that point, a partner does know you better.

6 s that fear of rejection is killing your relationship

Because whatever the reason, you were simply not compatible with that person. Regardless, you are free to move on and your search.

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And although the research shows that we humans reduce our willingness to take risks after experiencing rejection, I think we would be better off taking the fruit fly's approach: Find another leaf and start singing and dancing your heart out. Maybe it will pay off next time.

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Jennifer Verdolin is an animal behavior scientist specializing in social behavior. She is the author of Wild Connection: What animal courtship and mating tell us about human relationships. Worry is driven by mood, not logic. Anxiety holds your deepest yearnings. And you can subdue it for good. Three experts turn everything you know about anxiety inside out. Jennifer Verdolin Ph. Wild Connections.

Posted September 27, Share. About the Author.

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The interaction flows so well that it feels almost effortless.


Being in a relationship is one of the most vulnerable positions you can be and a degree of fear of rejection is natural.


Most people want to belong and connect with others, especially people they care about.