Rebirth by a Thousand Shallow Cuts

“Oh these little projections how they keep springing from me
I jump my ship as I take it personally 
Oh these little rejections how they disappear quickly
The moment I decide not to abandon me”—Alanis Morissette, “So Unsexy”

I’m using Bumble for my online dating app. Before you can chat with anyone, both people have to like each other by swiping right. Once that happens, you’re matched and, in heterosexual matches, the woman sends the first message. Guys then have 24 hours to respond before the match disappears. After so many years of having no agency in my relationship with my narcissistic abuser, that little extra control of being the one to initiate conversations seemed really appealing. 

What I didn’t realize was that every little step it takes to get to the golden star of conversation would also be an opportunity for rejection: there are guys I swipe right on who don’t swipe right on me; there are guys I match with who unmatch before I have a chance to send a message; and there are guys I send messages to who let the message expire with no reply at the 24 hour mark. 

My inner monologue tells me stories about how all of these rejections are my fault. Guys not swiping right? My brain says things like “You’re cute, but no beauty.” or “No guy wants to take on the baggage of your divorce or kids.” Unmatched before sending a message? “That new picture in your profile must be really terrible.” No reply to my message? “You’re so boring. You never know what to say.” Everything is my fault. I’m just not good enough. 

This is the inner monologue that my narcissistic ex-husband relied on and amplified. These are the thoughts that carry the seeds of future abuse. And these little, passive rejections are a perfect, low risk opportunity to change my inner monologue. 

Why didn’t he swipe right? Maybe he hasn’t seen my profile yet. Maybe he’s just not attracted to me and that is okay. Whatever the reason for that lack of attraction has nothing to do with me. Those preferences are his. Besides, no one is universally attractive and it’s ridiculous to think I can be everything to everyone. 

Unmatched? The initial swipe right could have been an accident. It’s easy enough to do. Maybe he was drunk when he swiped right the first time. Maybe he just swipes right on everyone. Whichever it is, the replacement thoughts above are the next logical step in the process. 

No reply? Maybe he’s seeing someone else right now, but, just in case that doesn’t work out, he’s saving my message for later. (You can pay to reply to old messages.) Maybe he’s taking a break from the app and doesn’t even realize he missed it. Even if I didn’t make whatever first impression he was looking for, his preconceived notions of an appropriate greeting and willingness to judge someone after a sentence or two aren’t my problems.

I’m not totally free of the guilt associated with these little rejections, but I’m not stuck there. With a conscious effort, I can swap them for more reasonable explanations. My hope is that, with repetition, the guilt stops completely. 

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