Rejection Makes You Spurn New Love, Rather Than Rebound

couple relationship problems rejectionNo one likes rejection and being turned down by someone you like can be a major hit to your ego. Common wisdom has been that being rejected makes you look for a “rebound” acceptance to fill the void, even if that rebound isn’t as good as the person you didn’t quite catch. But new research published this week has found that wisdom to depend on who’s doing the rejecting. It seems that being turned down, at least when it comes to initial efforts at romance, can actually make you pickier when it comes to accepting or rejecting other offers for love.

Where did the idea of the rebound come from?

Even the most introverted human beings have an innate value for connection and relationships with other people. Our social nature allows us to live in cities, work in big organizations, and form tight knit communities that work towards common purpose. It’s because we’re so social that rejection hurts so much. Some past research had shown that people who are rejected, say by a person you want to have a relationship with, tend to try and recover by reaching out for relationships with other people.

But that’s not always the case. Other studies have shown the opposite: that rejection can push people to act antisocially. Some rejection makes people aggressive and angry and may cause them to act in a way that actually prevents them from forming new relationships. This is the friend, for example, who pushes everyone away after a bad breakup and just wants to be alone. Some researchers found that having accepting people around to lean on can help with this tendency towards relationship sabotage, but not in all cases.

What did this team of researchers test?

The team took issue with the idea that everyone is open to the comfort of an accepting relationship right after rejection. To better understand how people responded to being rejected, they recruited 126 single college women and had them make an online dating profile they were told would be viewed by two men (who were actually just fake profiles). With that done, each woman was given the profile information of each man. One man was attractive while the other was unattractive. After each man had supposedly viewed their profile, the women were randomly given a yes or no answer about whether each man was interested in meeting them. Each stated whether they’d also be interested in meeting the man, rated the attractiveness of each, and rated each on how romantically appealing they seemed.

What did the researchers find?

When women were rejected by a man, handsome or otherwise, they responded negatively by lowering their ratings of attractiveness and romantic appeal and by saying they had no interest in meeting that person. Interestingly, being rejected by the attractive man also made the women less likely to be interested in the unattractive man, even if the unattractive man had already expressed interest in them. They dropped their ratings of his attractiveness and romantic appeal. That didn’t happen when they were accepted by the attractive man but rejected by the unattractive man.

The researchers think this result is related to the way we think about status and helps to explain conflicting past research. Dating someone who’s attractive is socially valuable. A good looking beau can increase other peoples’ opinions of you and your social standing. But when an attractive person rejects you, accepting an offer from an unattractive admirer can also mean accepting that you belong with a lower status individual. The researchers think that rejecting the offer from the unattractive man helps maintain your social standing, rather than admit that you really weren’t good enough for someone so good looking. In effect, the idea of rebounding to another relationship only works if your rebound is within the range of what you think you deserve.

How does this apply to me?

The researchers think this applies beyond just romance. Rejection happens all the time in social situations and you respond by either seeking out new relationships or rejecting offers based on what you feel doing so will say about you. Being turned down by someone you admire or who’s high on the social ladder might make you less likely to accept an offer from someone lower on the totem pole, no matter how good the offer is, because you think you deserve better.