The image of John Cusack holding a boombox over his head blasting Peter Gabriel in Say Anything… has become an emblem of unrequited love.
If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, after Cusack’s character Lloyd Dobler is gently rejected by his girlfriend Diane Court, played by Ione Skye, his best friend tells him to not give up. Back then, being a man meant fighting for the girl at all costs (and serenading her via a large music apparatus). But even though it worked out for Lloyd and Diane in the end, is telling a man to never give up on a woman really a great lesson? Because while wearing down a girl or tricking her in some way so that you can get closer to her is a rom-com staple, those behaviors IRL will get you slapped with a restraining order.
Obviously, nobody likes being rejected. But are women better equipped to deal with it than men? Or more to the point, are men even able to admit that they’re being rejected, or do they think women are just a boombox serenade away from returning to them?
According to Suzanne Degges-White in Psychology Today, men and women tend to take rejection very differently. Women will often blame themselves for being rejected; men, on the other hand, will tend to blame the rejector as they see it as an affront to their masculinity, leading them to lash out in various ways to protect their sense of self.
As a woman on the internet, men lashing out after rejection is a reality I know all too well. And I’m by no means the only one. There are Tumblrs devoted to men freaking out after the most mild of rejections. It can take just a simple “I’m not interested” to get a man to go from “You’re sexy” to “I would never fuck you, you ugly cunt.” Worse: A lot of these freakouts come after honest, direct and even kind communication.
Which funny enough, is exactly what almost all of the men who responded to my call for how they’d like to be rejected said they wanted it to go down.
Marc, a 42-year-old in the Bay Area, says he prefers direct rejection, yet didn’t think “I just want to be friends” met that standard. “I got friend-zoned, and it really bugged me,” he tells me. “I stewed over it for a few days. Halfway through a bottle of scotch, I thought it would be a good idea to email her and tell her how I felt. I poured my heart out in a drunken email. She responded with ‘Don’t contact me ever again.’” At least Marc finally got the direct, honest rejection he craved.
Ghosting frequently comes up as an all-time pet peeve. Manos, a 27-year-old in Greece, was overwhelmed with doubt after being ghosted several times. As such, he says he prefers being told why the woman is dumping him and then using that information to “not screw up again.” He does admit to, however, doing much worse. “I once told a girl I’d rather stay friends right after we had sex,” he confides. “I didn’t think anything was wrong with that at the time. In my head it was a ‘give it a go, see if you like it’ situation, but she had genuine feelings for me that I hadn’t picked up on, so she didn’t take it well at all.”
While we’re on the topic of double-standards, Brian, a 43-year-old in Michigan who likewise hates getting ghosted, had his ass handed to him when he was the one who did the ghosting. “She eventually sent me an email that was very clear about how much I had hurt her, and I felt like an absolute monster,” he tells. “Honestly, my self-esteem is low enough that on some level I assumed she would just be okay with not hearing from me. But it turned out not to work that way.”
All of these guys at least recognize that women probably ghost or lie when rejecting men because they face greater odds of receiving threats or even violence perpetrated against them (something that depressingly happens enough that it, too, has inspired a Tumblr). “Some dudes aren’t mature enough to handle their feelings after a rejection and lash out violently,” Marc acknowledges. “There’s a number of true crime cases that prove it.”
Along those lines, although Jay, a 52-year-old from South Carolina, has been hurt by rejections that weren’t as direct and honest as he prefers, he kind of gets why. “I might know that I have no intention of violence, but how could the woman know that?” He also makes reference to this famous Margaret Atwood quote: “I always think of that concept of men being afraid of being laughed at and women being afraid of being murdered.”
Only one man offers up a completely different way he wants to be rejected. “I sense that you’ll get a lot of ‘direct and honest’ answers to your question. I doubt that’s true, though,” says Jeff, a 53-year-old in Michigan. “I mean, if I don’t find a woman to meet certain standards for attractiveness, am I supposed to be honest with them? If someone isn’t attracted to me, just stop communicating. I don’t need reasons. I don’t need data. I’ll get the gist.”
And so, Jeff actually prefers a mean or inconsiderate rejection — a masochist after my own heart. “It moves the onus off of me and makes it easier for me to move on as I can say something in my head like, ‘What an asshole! I’m glad I didn’t go down that path.’”