I'm trying to get rejected by six women this year. This goal is modest on its face, amounting to just one rejection every two months, but in the year 2000 I really only got turned down by two. So six seems challenging, but achievable.

This game came about for a number of reasons. It isn't a competitive thing, except in the sense that I'm trying to beat my own record. In truth, the best way to explain it is to take the analogy of ice hockey, a game I have never played.

My friend Jon grew up in suburban Connecticut, where winter sports are a kid's only active-recreation option for a good 70% of the year. He played ice hockey, although he wasn't a star. Although he was firmly geek-identified even then, he wasn't the sort who was last-picked, either. (Do they even pick teams in ice hockey, or is it all organized and preordained?) His father would arrive at the rink maybe halfway through his practice, and watch from the empty bleachers as he skated around and did his thing. One day, as Jon skated over to the gate-or-whatever at the end of practice, with his helmet in hand, his father, with a thoughtfully bothered look on his face, regarded his son in that I've-got-something-to-say way, which kept Jon silent for a moment. Then his father said to him, "You know, if you were really trying out there, you'd be falling down more."

Since Jon told me this story, that phrase has stuck with me. Because, you see, it isn't that Jon's father wanted him to go out there and practice falling down. It's that if Jon were pushing himself, really trying to be a better player instead of just getting by well enough to feel okay about his game and not get laughed at or scorned, falling down would just be happening more often. And, eventually, so would some new things that Jon hadn't been able to do on the ice before.

That's the best way I know of to explain the Six Rejections Game. I've gotten good at telling this analogy, because it's always the first thing I have to say to my women friends after I tell them about the game, and they say with sadistic cheerfulness, "Well, ask me out then, I'll reject you!" Well, uh, thanks I guess, but that's not the point.

The point is that I've always feared rejection, rejection of any kind, enough to get me to stop doing a lot of things. I take it personally. It's difficult for me to make myself believe that other factors may have led to my rejection, besides the myriad reasons why I suck. A rejection as small and meaningless as a friend choosing to sit with someone else on a roller coaster has been enough in the past to trigger a downward spiral of destructive thoughts, insecurity, body issues and ever lower self-esteem. For me, the Six Rejections Game is a personal challenge to toughen up, and to practice relating to my rejections differently.

Other reasons the Six Rejections Game is healthy, growthful, and generally not sick, dammit:

  • It turns a negative into a positive, by virtue of the game-ness of it. For the hypercompetitive, this can work especially well if you're playing with friends and getting ahead. However, I find that the sheer absurdity of trying to get rejected for some ulterior purpose helps take a lot of the sting out of the affair.
  • I never, ever ask someone for their number, or out on a date, or whatever, if I don't actually want to succeed with this woman and believe that I potentially can succeed with her. I have not, and will not, make any throwaway moves just to rack up a point. I don't want rejection that badly.
  • Playing this game adds enough incentive to make me more open to spontaneity. See Rejection #2, below.
  • Perhaps the greatest thing about playing a game like this, is that you get to tell people about it and watch them boggle. It is a subversive and important act to ask people to reconsider the value of failure. (Subversive in American culture, anyway. In England, everything's different. I think it was the late Douglas Adams who said in a Slashdot interview, "Failure in America is like cancer, it simply isn't funny on any level." Whereas England's idea of a comic hero is Arthur Dent, who doesn't really accomplish anything in life besides getting humiliated and getting by.)
Of course, as I'm finding out, no game will work magic for you. You still have to play it. And it's really more of a sport than a game, as the exact mechanisms of how you go about getting what you're after leave so much room for different approaches, poor sportsmanship, and injury. But I have felt the game's effects in my whole life, the effects are on the whole positive, and I recommend that anyone else feeling stymied in the growth of their romantic life give it a try.

My progress so far this year (names have been changed):

  • Rejection #1: Lisa, January. Equal parts responsible adult and indie rock chick. Short, black hair, dances like she's tough. Technically had a boyfriend while I was pursuing her, but the boyfriend was bad and usually absent. Mode of rejection: wandering away while I was in mid-sentence trying to talk to her at a party. What I learned: when someone seems happy that you asked for their phone number, you have not really gotten a piece of positive information - a lot of women just like being asked for their phone number.
  • Rejection #2: pretty sure her name was Misty, late March. This was totally random. I was actually seeing a woman in March and throughout much of the spring (open relationship), and felt sure I was going to get behind on the game and start missing my targets. But then this woman with the long incredible golden hair I'd been eyeing from across the room all night at this party was deposited five feet in front of me as I left, her and her friend trying futilely to get a cab in San Francisco. I told her she had amazing hair. Then within minutes I was driving the two of them back to Bernal Heights, with a stop for late-night Salvadorean food at this place on Mission. I gave her my email address and said I'd be very sad if she didn't use it. She said she would. Mode of rejection: She didn't. What I learned: Just bloody well ask her if you can call.
  • Rejection #3: Colleen, August. As you can see, I did in fact get a bit behind. This was my favorite rejection so far, though. She was great about it, and we both walked away smiling. We met at a bar, watching a mutual friend's band play, had fun talking, I made her laugh a lot. I noticed she had left to head for her place nearby, and I got to do that nice romantic thing where you chase after her, and walked her to her door. Mode of rejection: hedged hemming and hawing until I said we should at least talk to one another again sometime. What I learned: as fun and funny and open and honest as it might seem to actually bring up the Six Rejections Game when asking a woman if you can call her sometime, it is probably not a great tactic overall.
  • Rejection #4: Rhiannon, October. Met her at a friend's birthday party, then realized she was the same woman who had wanted to get in on the Risk game I was trying to hook up. Schwing! Long blonde hair, which I'm suddenly into. Our first conversations were sort of awkward and halting. Wait, actually, all of them were. Mode of rejection: this is where it gets complicated. First she kept having conflicts for game days, then I actually technically asked her out, and she kept having mixups there for a couple weeks... and kept insinuating other friends of hers into the plans. Finally, on the day of a firm dinner date, she calls and says she forgot she'd promised to take her roommate to the Parkway, could we do that instead?

    Now, I'm an optimist, not an idiot. Thoughts that I was being blown off did cross my mind. But I decided to keep an open mind and go try to enjoy myself.

    The movie was Rat Race.

    Not only did I not have a decent movie to watch while failing to connect with her (on a comfortable couch, no less), but it was her second time seeing the movie. To be fair, she didn't laugh that often (much more than I did, though). But, if her professed enjoyment was genuine, and if we also assume that she was actually clueless that I was trying to schedule time alone with her, the resulting picture of moronicity is just more than I can bear to think about. So, I will instead assume that her frequent dodges and hedges were, in fact, the stunted attempts at communicating disinterest I feared they were, and call this a rejection.

    What I learned: you know the little voices in the back of your mind that tell you you're doomed to failure, that the things you want to believe are positive signals are anything but, and that you are utterly wasting your time? Those voices that so often stop you from taking any action at all, and that stand between you and greatness? Sometimes they're right. Your instincts are more valuable than you might think. But, if you're playing the Six Rejections Game, ignore them anyway. You have numbers to make.

  • Update - Rejection #5: Pandora, November/December. I know, the fake names are getting less and less believable, but her real name actually is this cool. So is her red hair and goofy smile. This was the first authentic geek chick I've really ever asked out. She's studying mushrooms. It all happened via email. We did indeed go out, to see the excellent Waking Life which had naturally come up in our conversation online, and then spent a long time wandering around in search of someplace warm in which to chat, not finding anything. Mode of rejection: email, naturally. I told her, directly, that I'd had trouble figuring out how into it she was, and asked if she wanted to go out again. To her credit, she responded just as directly. I really like that. Then I sent her a link to this page. And the conversation continues!
Finally, the rules:
  • If it gets all the way to sex, or (if you prefer) to whatever you consider a Relationship, you can't count it as a rejection. (I had a very funny conversation this week with that same woman I was in the open relationship with, in which she believed I'd already counted her in the total, and seemed almost hurt when I said I hadn't.)
  • Six is a guideline for those people with very low current levels of romantic activity. I tripled my total from the previous year to arrive at six. Try tripling yours.
  • Going for "easy" rejections such as those already married, friends who've agreed to collude, relatives, etc., is highly unsportsmanlike.
Good luck out there. May the best loser win.

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