I have a bad habit of begging someone to accept me.
I don’t mean that literally. I don’t fall on my knees and beg. But on those rare times when I want something very badly — love, approval, attention, acceptance — I’m very likely to continue to knock on a closed door. I am so terrified of rejection that I’m unconsciously determined not to be rejected at any cost. So I’m willing to destroy myself in order for someone to choose me.
Although this can apply to a number of situations, I’m going to use romantic interest as the example.
Let’s say I fall for a woman. That doesn’t happen often, but when it happens, I fall hard. Some people believe there are many fish in the sea, but my own experience is that a woman who matches me is more like a mermaid or unicorn — and just as difficult to find.
If I spot one of these unicorns and express interest in her, she’s either interested in choosing me or she’s not. And if she isn’t interested in choosing me, that makes me want her more. I end up with a terrible need to win her — probably to prove to myself that I’m worth choosing, that I’m not someone who is going to be abandoned.
A rational and reasonable person would say, “Well, she isn’t going to choose me. Who’s next?”
Instead, something in me says, “I just need to show her how much I love her and how much I can offer to her. Then she’ll want me. Then she’ll choose me.”
But this isn’t the way the world works — and it’s not the way emotionally healthy people react to not being chosen.
A very small percentage of people are really going to “get” you and want what you are enough to make you a priority. I found myself thinking Sunday afternoon that the key is to find those people who really understand what we have to offer — who “get” us and place enough value on us to choose us — and ignore those for whom we don’t have that much value.
And I found myself thinking of a story from the early ’80s in the computer industry as the perfect illustration.
Guy Kawasaki was an Apple employee whose job it was to sell software companies on the idea of writing software for a new computer Apple was working on. At the time, computer interfaces were almost exclusively lines and lines of text on a screen. There were very few graphics. Computers didn’t have a mouse. Instead, there was a blinking C:\ prompt at which someone might enter cryptic commands such as “backup c:\diry\*.ext a:.”
Apple was working on something radically different — a graphical interface which was the parent of today’s Mac and Windows interfaces. It was radically different when Kawasaki and his partner Mike Boich were trying to sell it to software companies. In his 1990 book, “The Macintosh Way,” Kawasaki describes what it was like when meeting with such companies:
A typical meeting for Mike Boich and me with a developer would include the president of the company, the vice-president of marketing, and the vice-president of development. The dialog went like this:
President: “In order to undertake Macintosh development, we will require a development payment of $250,000 from Apple.”
Vice-president of marketing: “We will require that Apple bundle a copy of our software with each CPU. If this is not possible, you must feature our product in all of your advertising as well as buy one copy for each dealer and field salesperson.”
Vice-president of development: “We will require direct access to your engineers like Andy Hertzfeld, Steve Capps, and Bruce Horn. Furthermore, I want a tech support engineer assigned to our project full time and available to write drivers for us.”
Boich and I would rub our chins, ask them to wait until they had seen a demo, and then blast into a performance with early copies of MacPaint, MacWrite, Alice (a 3D chess game written by Steve Capps), and Andy Hertzfeld’s bouncing icon program. After thirty minutes, either their jaws would drop to the floor, their eyes would pop out, and they would have to wipe sweat off their foreheads, or we’d go back to Cupertino. [Emphasis mine]
If we stayed, we’d respond to their requests: “We are not going to pay for your development. We cannot promise co- marketing. You cannot call Andy, Steve, or Bruce. In fact, we have only one technical support engineer for all developers. And you’ll have to make your program run in 128K.”
Continuing, “That’s the good news. Here’s the bad. Our documentation isn’t completed, but we can sell you photocopied drafts for $150. Also, you’ll need to buy a Lisa for $ 7,000 because a native Macintosh development system isn’t available yet.”
Then everyone from the company would respond, “When can we get started?”
After you’ve made it clear what you have to offer to someone, you’ll be able to see a reaction. Those who “get” you and who really value what you’re selling are going to let their jaws hit the floor and their eyes are going to pop out. Those who don’t “get” you — or who sort of do, but don’t value it enough — are going to have conditions and “maybes” instead of a readiness to commit.
Kawasaki knew that if somebody was blown away by the possibilities of this new machine, he was going to be wiling to do anything it required in order to develop for it. Those who didn’t understand the revolution they were being presented with weren’t worth wasting more time with — so he would leave.
Shari Schreiber writes extensively about those who have been affected by personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. She says that those who are affected by these powerful forces learn to associate love with “painful longings.” When that happens, we unconsciously put ourselves in the position of painfully longing for someone who doesn’t want us or doesn’t value us enough to choose us.
I’ve slowly realized that there are a lot of us who do this. I seem to be surrounded by people who can’t emotionally let go of others who obviously don’t value them — who spend years in painful longing and trying everything under the sun to get someone to commit and accept them. Most of them do exactly what I’ve done in the past — tell themselves that if they’ll just hold on a little longer, the other person will realize how wonderful they are — and that person will choose them.
I suppose there’s an example somewhere of this happening in real life, but it mostly seems to be a fantasy from romantic movies.
People who don’t value us enough to choose us today aren’t going to value us more next month or six months from now or a year from now. Instead, they’re going to enjoy being pursued by someone who wants to love them, maybe, but they’re not going to value us enough to choose us.
That is the harsh truth.
The people who deserve our attention are those with the eyes to see our value. They’re the ones who deserve our love and our effort, not those for whom we will always be nothing but a nice backup plan.
Somebody wants what I’m selling. Somebody wants what you’re selling. We make ourselves miserable when we keep painfully pursuing those who don’t value us enough to choose us — for any sort of relationship.