Same stories, different endings

From the book It’s Not My Fault by Henry Cloud and John Townsend:

One day at a seminar, I talked with a woman who was despairing over her dating life. She had withdrawn from the dating scene after a few rejections, and she now had virtually no hope of ever finding a relationship.

At the start of the year she had been determined to improve her somewhat nonexistent dating life. She had set some great goals to get things moving. She even surrounded herself with a support group and joined a dating service to meet new people. She got a couple of “matches” and went out with the guys. She had a decent time and was looking forward to a second date with both of them. But the calls never came. The men did not want to go out on second dates with her. Both of them had “moved on.”

The woman was devastated. She withdrew from her supportive friends and stopped checking her e-mail for activity on the dating site. She turned into something of an MIA in the dating world. But worse than that, she felt awful.

When I asked her what was going on inside, she said things like, “I am such a loser. No one will ever want me. I don’t know why I even tried. This is never going to work, I will always be alone.”

I did not have much time to talk with her, but none of my encouragement or suggestions seemed to help. Her mind was made up. From her point of view it was hopeless and would never be any different.

Fast forward to a week later. I was talking to another woman who also committed herself to reviving a stagnant dating life. She, too, had set some goals and joined a dating service.

At first nothing happened. She got no responses. But instead of seeing herself as a loser, she asked herself “I wonder what is wrong with the way I am doing this?” She called a friend who had been successful with online dating and got her to help rewrite her profile.

Soon the matches began to happen. She liked two of the men she dated and wrote back to them saying she had had a great time and would love to see them again. But nothing happened. Apparently neither of the men desired to see her again.

“Bummer,” she said. But she continued her pursuit of dating.

Then another guy appeared on the scene, and they went out one evening. She liked him, and he called again. And again and again and again. She was having a good time and beginning to like this man quite a lot. So far, so good. Until . . . she got an e-mail saying, in effect, “It has been great hanging out with you, but I don’t see a future for us. Hope this finds you well, and good luck.”

Here she thought things were going well and instead she was faced with the classic let’s-be-friends situation. Stunned and bewildered, the poor woman went into a little mini-shock. She was quite sad for a while and cried a bit with her friends. But then she regrouped and came to me for help.

She explained her feelings. “Well, that experience was tough. I really liked that guy. I thought things were really beginning to click with us, and I still don’t know what went wrong.” As she and I unpacked it together, we uncovered one of the problems. Her desperateness had caused her to become something of a people pleaser with him. In trying so hard to get him to like her, she had become less herself and, as a result, less interesting. Predictably, he lost interest and moved on.

However, she learned from that insight, and the next time she did it differently. She relaxed and became more herself As a result, she found greater freedom in her dating. She was no longer bound by her concern about whether the man was interested, but instead allowed herself to be authentically who she was in the dating process. That was a big growth step for her.

Then it happened. She called me one day and said, “I think I have found him.” And you know what? She was right. They married a year later.

Coincidentally, that same week I ran into the first woman again. “How is your dating life going? I asked, thinking that by now she might have turned it around.

I could tell instantly that this was not the case. Her eyes began to water, and her chin began to quiver. “Not too good,” she said. “Not too good.”

I empathized with her and asked if she wanted to talk about it. She did, and I heard a very sad story. She had not been on any dates since that rejection of more than a year ago. She still felt that she was a loser, and no one would ever want her.

I reflected back to the last time we had talked and what had occurred. Then it hit me. She and the second woman had the exact same story–up to a point. Both had experienced a season of nothing good happening. Both had committed to changing that. Both had gotten active and stepped out into the game. Both had received some initial responses, and both went on a couple of dates. But that is where the similarities ended. From there one went into despair and took a thousand steps backward, and the other moved on toward reaching her goal. Same story, very different outcomes. What was the difference?

Was one woman more interesting? More attractive? More appealing in some way? Is that why one reached her goal while the other one didn’t? Not at all. The outcomes were determined by the way these women answered the questions we listed at the beginning of this chapter. Look at how the two answered these questions and you will see that they responded to failure in very different ways.

Q: When you failed, what did you do as a result?

A: One withdrew and quit, and the other learned from her failure and kept going.

Q: Did you feel bad about yourself?

A: One saw herself as a loser, and the other didn’t.

Q: Did you withdraw from the pursuit of whatever it was that you failed at?

A: One did, and the other didn’t.

Q: Are you now doing the thing you failed at then?

A: One isn’t, and the other is happy in a relationship.

Q: Are you doing it successfully?

A: One isn’t, and the other is.

Q: Is there anything you would like to do now that you are not doing because you might fail?

A: One would like to be dating or in a relationship. The other doesn’t have to worry about that anymore and has moved on to other goals.

These two women did the exact same things, up to a point: the point of failure. And from there, one went on to success and the other didn’t. How to respond to failure is one of the most important lessons you can learn in life.

It’s Not My Fault by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

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