Yes, I made him a cherry, I am dead serious.
The heavy symbolism of this particular fruit was over my head at the time, but I must have intuited enough to know that offering him my cherry was offering him myself. The next day he passed me the following note:
Dear Lindsay, thank you for your cherry. I don’t know if Sarah told you or not, but I want us to be just friends.
The letter didn’t give a reason. It didn’t apologize. There was no mistaking the message it contained: I don’t want you.
* * *
With many things, when we grow up we lose the innocent, effortless perfection of childhood; such is the case with rejection. As a teenager I learned the “I like you, but…” method: I like you but I’m already seeing someone. I like you but I’m not looking for a relationship. I like you but I’m moving to Siberia next week.
No matter how well intentioned or earnestly spoken, this strategy has always struck me as patronizing—as if the guy is scared I’m too fragile to handle the news that I’m not the love of his life, or even his sex life.
I much prefer Alan’s tell-it-to-you-straight method: you’re not to my taste. I don’t need any more reason or justification than that; taste is limited and fickle, and it’s rare to find someone who suits yours. This kind of rejection makes me feel not offended but relieved: I don’t have to prove myself or fight for your affections anymore. After that initial flash of disappointment, it’s quite a freeing feeling.
That’s why, when the need to reject someone recently presented itself, I thought it would be a great opportunity to brush up on my honesty and go with the straightforward approach:
Friday was great and fun, but after some thought, I've decided that I want to keep things platonic between us.
He asked why. I elaborated:
No particular reason, but I just don't think I feel that way about you. I guess these things are out of our control.
I wasn't prepared for his response, which was filled with spiteful-sounding sarcasm. I suppose I could have just been reading it wrong—such are the perils of electronic communication. Nonetheless, it left a bad taste in my mouth. Had I been too brusque? I sought advice from a friend, who showed me a copy of her own recent rejection letter for comparison:
I've really been enjoying hanging out with you the past few weeks, but I'm afraid after last night that our relationship may be heading in a direction I'm not really ready for. I love talking with/gchatting, climbing and biking with you, and I hope we can continue to do all of that. I just also wanted to take a step back and reassess because I'm not really looking for something romantic right now...
Sorry if this unnecessary. I just want to be as upfront with you as possible because I think you're awesome and I hope we keep hanging out. I just don't want to mislead.
Anyway, hope you're having a good day today, enjoying the rain. It's beautiful out, isn't it?
It’s a paragon of sensitivity, right? I can’t imagine someone responding sarcastically to such a beautifully-wrought rejection. But despite its kindness, it’s still total bullshit. She just didn’t find him attractive—same as me.
* * *
Before things ended the way they did with the boy I rejected, we watched the movie Man on Wire. Philippe Petit, when asked why he would string a wire between the two World Trade Towers and dance across it for 45 minutes, responded simply, “There is no why.”
His statement feels particularly applicable here. We’re always looking for reasons why we’ve been rejected, but are there ever any real reasons? Any reasons I try to come up with all sound painfully, ridiculously banal: too tall, not enough money, not smart enough, not funny enough. No, if I like you, I’ll forgive you almost anything. We might not end up together, but it’s not for lack of feeling.
Trying to quantify dislike is just as silly an exercise as trying to explain why you do like someone. When I started dating my last boyfriend, my mom asked me what I liked about him. “What do you like about Dad?” I shot back.
She thought this a hilarious response, but the humor was lost on me. What could I have possibly said? He’s nice, he’s funny, he’s a good guy—as if I could fall for anyone, or everyone, who possessed these common qualities?
No, attraction doesn’t work that way. The ones I’ve rejected didn’t stand a chance—being a little funnier or a little smarter wouldn’t have helped them one whit. Any number of people might fit your little picture concerns, but when you zoom out, the overall impression might not be that impressive. When it comes to attraction, the whole can be much more than the sum of the parts—or much less.