Rejection, Plausible Deniability, & Bold Moves

I gave a “lunch & learn” talk about Missed Connections this past week at work. It was fun and challenging, because I hadn’t given a formal presentation about Missed Connections in over two years. My colleagues had really fantastic questions. One of the ideas we came back to in a number of ways was the idea of rejection and “plausible deniability,” so I’ve been thinking about it a bit since.

While the term has been used in governmental/military/legal contexts, it’s applicable to Missed Connections, too. If you post a Missed Connection and the object of your affections doesn’t reply, there are many ways you can rationalize this. They’ve never heard of or don’t read Missed Connections, didn’t happen to see that particular post, or maybe they read it and, heaven forbid, were trapped under some kind of rock or fallen bookshelf and just weren’t able to send you a reply. You can make excuses for why they didn’t respond until the cows come home, and just say it’s up to fate if they do. This reliance on chance or fate make posts seem, to me at least, like condensed fairy tales.

A lot of Missed Connections also deal with liking someone you already known (see “Non-Strangers” in this terrific taxonomy). When you ask someone out or make your interest known to someone who already knows you, be it face-to-face, text, DM, Facebook message, or carrier pigeon, you can be pretty sure they got the message, and it can sting a lot more when you get a no, or perhaps even worse, no response. Plus, you might “poison the well,” ruining your existing connection to them.

One colleague suggested that wearing nametags with Twitter handles (in public) could reduce the need for Missed Connections, but I don’t think this solves much. For all that people can and do flirt by Twitter, it’s still not always clear if someone is interested/available, and the risk of being rejected is still a hurdle for telling someone you think they’re rad.

As I told my colleagues, it’s a difficult thing to put your name to some of these hopes and fears about connecting to a specific person. The ratio of risk to reward for possible outcomes is pretty unbalanced. Rejection – no matter how it’s communicated (or communicated by being left unsaid) – can can feel like a kick in the teeth (or like one of my favourite Simpsons scenes, above). I don’t blame people for writing Missed Connections instead, given the psychological escape route.

But I do have a lot of respect for people who have the chutzpah to take the more direct route. Date By Numbers’ “Bold Moves October” project encourages participants to put themselves out there. The author suggests that there are only two options: rejection or success, and that even rejection can be treated as a learning experience. If you treat every situation as an opportunity, and get rejected often enough, maybe it’ll feel less like a punch in the gut and more like the irritating poppy seed that’s stuck in your teeth but that you’ve forgotten about by lunchtime. Maybe.

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