“Each night I ask the stars above…why must I be a teenager in love?” With this line, Dion and the Belmonts echoed for music lovers everywhere in the 1960’s what was truly a struggle for nearly all of us at some point in middle and high school. It was a romantic whimsical way of saying being a teenager in love is tough.
The gamut of emotions love causes strains mightily on the cord of fear, mainly that of rejection. When this fear translates into a reality, our reaction to it can range anywhere from typical to tragic. For Elliot Rodger, it was the latter.
Elliot Rodger apparently went crazy. Maybe not at once. A period of months and perhaps even years ran past before he decidedly went on a delusional warpath to the glory of confused revenge. Part of his reasoning for doing what he was doing was to get back women for “starving him of sex”. Reading that without knowing it actually happened might cause someone to think they’re reading through a “Family Guy” script. None the less, the horror that took place can, at least to some degree trace its roots back to a moment of rejection. Multiple moments.
If we think back to our younger years as men, we can recount story after story where we’ve felt slighted or rejected in some particular manner. We didn’t make the basketball team. Dad had to work and couldn’t play ball with us. The cheerleader we had a crush on for months checked the “no” box in the note.
Then came along larger scale rejection that cut us like a dull knife sawing away at raw meat. Rejection via unemployment, divorce, sexual ability, failing health, and even graying hair or baldness can come at us hard. Whether or not we’re kids, teenagers, or grown men, like many things in life the event isn’t even as important as the way we react to it.
There are several ways men react to rejection, especially in terms of the opposite sex.
#1: Rebound. This method catapults men into dregs of desperation that fly squarely in the face of dignity. The hot girl shot you down, or your girlfriend dumped you, so naturally, you take the Crosby Stills and Nash advice and “love the one you’re with.” This approach to rejection may seem common, but not logical. Remember, in the era of WiFi, Netflix, and fast food, not everything that gives us “instant gratification” is healthy.
#2: Drink. Here we’re trading desperation for depression. Few things are worse than seeing the guy 3:00 a.m. at the bar on his 12th beer because his girl kicked him to the curb. Becoming a slave to the alcohol may seem to be a fix, but it’s only temporary.
#3: Hang out with the guys. Now, this can easily lead to the direction of drinking, but the hope would be you’re not drinking alone and are being held with some modicum of responsibility. Besides, who better to help you out of your doldrums other than your friends who have probably all been in your shoes at some point in their own lives?
#4: Look up a favorite ex-girlfriend. You're going down a road that forks into two paths: one of embarrassment and regret; the other one of renewed confidence. The ex can laugh you off, say something similar to the fact that she’s not surprised you got rejected, and hang up the phone. On the other hand, she might reassure you that you were good enough for her for a time in your life, and opportunities will come around again. Just be aware before you make that call the results won’t always be what you’re hoping for. After all, she’s an ex for a reason, right?
#5: Focus your energy. You can sit at home chugging beers and throwing F-bombs at teenagers online during a game of Call of Duty, or you can focus the frustration of rejection in a productive way. Get a hobby, or get back to working on a project you were doing before the rejection. Get charitable with your time and energy, and serve your community in some way. Start working out. Read a book thicker than a magazine or back of a cereal box. That energy you spent into chasing the girl who shot you down needs to be released in healthy ways.
We’ve all approached rejection in different ways in our lives. Ways we’re ashamed of, but hopefully too some ways we found to be beneficial for us long term. I’ve been married for nearly 11 years, so it’s been some time since I’ve felt the sting of rejection from a woman, but when I did it lead to me listening to a lot of heavy metal and writing bad poetry.
Whatever the case, the first thing we have to do when we’ve been rejected is to accept it. This requires a bit of humility and a “hide your tail between your legs” feeling. But it’s a must. Pretending that it didn’t happen reeks of delusion and breeds an arrogance that everyone around you will absolutely hate.
In the tragic case of Elliot Rodger, not only did he seem to refuse acceptance of rejection, his reaction was to seek revenge. Not only did he want to deflect the pain of rejection, he wanted others to feel that same pain tenfold. Not only did he want to push away the reality of a life scorned, he wanted to take away the lives of others. What he did was (thankfully) a rare occurrence, yet still something that happens too often.
The good news? You’re not Elliot Rodger. Neither am I. We’ve got countless opportunities to accept and absorb the pain that comes with being rejected, and utilize that pain in a positive way. Men who are now fathers have a greater responsibility to share their own rejection stories to their kids. Our children need to know that it’s okay to be rejected; it’s just part of life. They also need to know that it’s not okay to retaliate against those who rejected them. They need to know life is a series of highs and lows, and what matters most is how we react to them. Elliot Rodger reacted horrifically in the wrong way. The privilege of making sure neither us nor our children react in a similar manner falls on us.