I’m no reptile. I don’t have skin any thicker than the average human. Rejection still stings.
And in 2019, I have to be ready for more rejection than ever. I face it on two fronts.
One is as a writer. I have at least four novel-length manuscripts ready to submit to agents and editors this year. For now, I’ve established a plan for sending out a young adult novel and a commercial fiction novel. I spend time each week researching agents and ranking them as to how closely I can speculate that their interests might match my work. (If only I wrote feminist fantasy with LGBT characters.) I send out a cover letter with the first chapters of my manuscript (always following specific submission guidelines) and wait for a response or, more likely, the response period to lapse.
No news is bad news. Form rejections are a rarity these days; instead, silence means an agent has passed on the work. The hard part is not knowing when exactly that decision was made. The sound of crickets can be disheartening, but I’m always ready, going down my list, sending out my work again and again. Yes, rejection is part of the writing process. It’s always going to be disappointing, but I tell myself I’m getting used to it.
On those rare occasions when I get a form rejection, I try to convince myself that a physical shrug is all it’s worth before moving on. Rarer still is a personalized rejection. While there’s some good that I can read into it—there are always some kind words and specific praise for the work—this type is harder to shake off. It means I was closer to acceptance...and yet still, to quote Carole King, so far away. How do you bandage a bruised ego?
I’m aggressively going to writing rejections this year after reading “I Got Rejected 101 Times” in the New York Times last month. It reminds me of a writing quote I once read: “Don’t be kind of bold. Be bold.” I shall submit. Again and again. I shall try to trick myself into thinking a shrug is all that’s needed to move on. And I shall continue writing, even when the roar of silence and the form rejections seem to indicate that this journey is a foolish dream.
The second area for rejection comes with still being single...and still looking. It can come in person, like when I order a coffee and try to glance at a nice looking man in line. If he looks my way, he invariably looks right through me. I’m so pale apparently I have become a ghost. On occasion, I may notice a guy at the gym. But he’s got his ear buds in and is staring down at his phone. He never notices me. It’s nothing personal. He just doesn’t ever look up. And, really, how am I supposed to compete with another YouTube cat video or that one with the moose in someone’s backyard? Phones have made actual eye contact between strangers only slightly less likely than a lightning strike.
So I’m stuck with online dating sites. Slim pickings after ten years. Same profiles, complete with stale profile pics showing off how aging gay men used to look. (I mention this regularly in blog posts, hoping someone will read it and actually update his images. How novel for a fifty-year-old man—who is truly that age—to have photos of his fifty-year-old self rather than a collage of his hairstyles through the ages.)
A few years ago, I’d read that the early January is when the largest wave of new profiles arrives each year. People set resolutions about putting themselves out there for dating possibilities. New hope comes with the dawning of the New Year. I’m not sure that I have any of that new hope; rather, I’m an opportunist. Let someone else’s hope make them more open to receiving a message from me.
With that mindset, I sent out a message on each of the two dating sites for which I have accounts. I may follow the same routine as my publishing journey. Send something out there, wait a reasonable period of time for the message to lapse and then send another...at least for as long as I can find possibly worthy profiles. It might take me into February at least.
I’ve broadened my search net to a hundred miles beyond Vancouver since the Vancouver pool appears pretty dry, even with the New Year. For this reason, I sent a message to an artist living on Whidbey Island in Washington. Nice looking, creative, a very positive profile. The reply came last night:
“I would absolutely love to get to know you. In all transparency, I feel like there is more likely to be a friendship then a romantic relationship. So I would feel comfortable if we moved forward with that.”
Ouch. To be clear, it’s a dating site, not a “let’s be friends” site. If Jeff lived in Vancouver, I’d be happy to grab a coffee, chat and, yes, perhaps we’d connect enough to become hiking pals or brunch buds. But the hour and a half drive to see potential-chum Jeff feels a bit much. It’s not like I ever just happen to be in the Whidbey Island area. In fact, I’ve only been there once, in the northern end. (He lives on the southern tip.)
I thanked Jeff for his honesty and indicated that, yes, perhaps we could meet and have a nice chat. I pressed the send button and then tried my best to shrug off the slamming shut of the romance door.
I can’t say I was at all successful. It’s hard when “potential” is so clearly shut down. And I woke up today feeling down, thinking sending ANY messages out on a dating site is futile. I wallowed in the likely fact I didn’t come off as even remotely attractive in my carefully selected profile photos. Winning personality, just not a looker. Yep, the shrugging didn’t work so well.
Not attractive enough.
That insecure Ugly Duckling feeling that first formed when I was ten and became firmly entrenched in my teens and twenties moves in whenever it gets the chance. I may not have a reptile’s thick skin but somehow I’m about as physically appealing as an iguana. Maybe that’s why I liked the movie “The Shape of Water” so much.
It’s hard to be in my mid-fifties and still have to face this kind of rejection. If I were solidly in a relationship, maybe I could live with my flaws. If he accepts them, maybe I can, too. Maybe I could fully welcome my aging self and the corresponding attitude of not giving a fuck. Black socks with sandals, untamed eyebrows, belly serving as a place to rest my beer can.
But I’m still out there. Still subject to that “yea” or “nay” judgment, the results feeling overwhelmingly “nay”. Vulnerability sucks.
Ready or not, 2019 will be the Year of No. I trudge on, seeking my own holy grail, the elusive “yes”. One for writing, one for dating is all it takes to be a real game-changer.