Being rejected means you have no proof you can socialize well.

We have some big hangups about free choice and consent in social relationships. (And sexual too, but that’s a story for later.) And the title of this post is a big reason why. If not the biggest reason.

We see reciprocation– someone saying yes to us in a social situation– as evidence that we are skilled socially. We see a person saying no to us as a sign we have failed. And that’s a big mistake.

Because always framing a rejection in terms of YOUR failure to charm someone, misses the important point that the other person always has free choice. And their “no” is a referendum on their preference, in that moment in that time– NOT on you. They don’t have to have a reason for saying no. You could be perfectly OK at socializing. You could even be very charming. It has to do with THEIR free choice.

The other reason seeing a Yes as a sign of our good people skills, and a No as a sign of our ineptitude is a big mistake? Because it then puts us in a position of trying to coerce yeses out of people… because only successful reciprocations are evidence that we are good at this socializing thing.

Damn other people’s free choice. The ability to socialize well is a highly sought-after quality in our society, and to employers; and even to doctors and the legal system. And the way we prove our likeability is by getting other people to choose us. Popular people, by definition, have a lot of people like them and choose to spend quality time with them.

And if they won’t choose us of their own free will? Why, we’ll make them choose us.

Because how else are we going to prove we’re not social failures?

I don’t understand people’s mystification about social anxiety or where it comes from. Because modern social life is designed to foment anxiety. Every social encounter, no matter how small, has high stakes. Every person you meet is a potential job, love affair, new experience. And being turned down for any of that, feels like losing a piece of your life.

Hell, not only that: with every rejection, you’re losing some proof that you can socialize well. Others around you might start to think you’ve socially inept, or even that you have Asperger’s… unless you can make other people say yes to you in enough numbers to counterbalance that.
Sometimes, if you’re especially dangerous, you may even sexually assault people. Naturally, to force them to give you proof you’re romantically charming.

Who has time to care about someone else’s free agency, when your own reputation as a socially healthy and likeable person is at stake? You have no time for rejections! You have no time to let a silly little bunch of Nos make you lose your competitive edge in the game of life.
Why… a few years later you might be up for that Wall Street job, and you’re going to lose that to that slick, oily, schmoozy classmate of yours who gets girls just a bit more effortlessly. Or that other classmate with the 10,000 Facebook friends. Or that other one who’s been “Most Well Liked” since high school and FSM knows when. They have proof they can socialize. They have evidence… a lot more than you.
And you’ve been slacking. Your career is at stake. Your life is at stake. The winner is the most popular one, the one with the most Yes and the least No in their column. Must… get… that… Yes… come what may!

Sound ridiculous enough yet? Good.

It’s time to stop seeing acceptances as proof we’re good with people, and rejections as proof we’re not. Because thinking we’re in 100% control of how people react to us leads us down some very bad paths.

Why we should be VERY careful what we’re conflating with emotional intelligence.

Anyone who has caught my postings elsewhere on the web knows that I feel a bit cautious about emotional intelligence. To name a few reasons:

    • The way it enjoyed universal, unquestioned approval for many years;
    • The way it, indirectly, holds up status-quo seeking as the most emotionally healthy attitude;
    • The way it, even if unintentionally, pathologizes criticism of society and social dynamics;
    • The way, corollary to the previous two points, it ends up boosting privilege.

We already have enough of society propping up privilege. It would be very dangerous indeed if being privileged became reframed as emotionally intelligent. Because so many of us believe emotional intelligence is an unalloyed positive good. We all want to have good emotional and mental health, and to take whatever actions are necessary to get there.

So, forgive me if I have a problem with so many of the people who are held up as examples of great EQ. They, quite frankly, look to me like the privileged.
As if it doesn’t matter how destructive the prosperity gospel is to both our spiritual life and our economy– all that matters is if it gives some of us self-confidence– which has long been held to be a necessary ingredient for high EQ.
As if nothing could matter more than calm. Notice how much mental health advice is all about accepting your lot in life and not trying to make it better. (Even right down to the famous Serenity Prayer.) Notice how much of it frames thinking as a problem, inferior to emotion and intuition. (Thinking is not superior OR inferior to feeling. They are equal co-partners.)

My intuition tells me that who you hold up as an example of your concept, speaks much louder than your description of the concept. So you can tell me all the time that EQ is not all about lulling yourself into bovine complacency. But if that’s the main emotion of all your high-EQ exemplars– if there’s no dissenter, no social critic, no– well, emotional person with high EQ that you can point me to– then I will feel less than enthusiastic about getting on board the emotional intelligence train.

UPDATE 7/13: My response to No More Mister Nice Blog’s discussion on the politics of punishing the poor. Why do the poor have to be punished? Because they fail the marshmallow test, of course. *facepalm*