I came to this understanding a few years ago; I was on bus drunk, alone, on the way home back from a bar. I’d struck out all night, being too scared to approach women, or, with the ones I did talk to, too nervous and beta. I was angry at myself and pissed at my cowardice, and I must have given off some kind of dark, brooding charm, as two similarly drunk girls on the bus kept glancing over at me.
One of them was very pretty, and she was sitting there demurely while her friend babbled loudly at her.
She would quickly turn around and sneak a glance at me occasionally, catching my eyes and looking away. This kept happening. Thinking back, she was begging me to come over.
I couldn’t do it. I wanted to, but the resistance was too great. I was too scared, too down on myself, too anxious; all sorts of excuses.
Eventually we were at my stop and I went to get off. So did she. Evidently this was her stop too. Here was another chance “oh you’re getting off here too”. Easy opener. You don’t really need anything too smart or witty, just something that connects you to her. I could have done it. I didn’t. We both get off and she walked ahead of me and I walked behind her like a stalker and eventually she turned off down another road and I went home.
I laid in bed furious. How could I have fucked up such an easy opportunity? She was so pretty, so receptive, gave me easy signs. It would have been magical, romantic, two drunk people meeting on a bus on the way home. Maybe she was just as horny and drunk and I could have gone for the same night lay. She lives so close by, what a convenient plate she would have made.
Round and round in my head this repeated, for a good week afterwards. I was kicking myself for being such a loser, such a wimp. In fact, it affected me much more considerably than it should have. I know I should have got over it, but I was just so angry and defeated, my cowardice winning once again. A damn loser who’s too scared to even talk to a girl who is interested in him. What did I have to lose? What would have happened if she rejected me?
Then I realised. Nothing. I would have been totally fine. I would have laughed it off in fact. It would have been just another rejection to add to my ever-growing list… book… tome of rejections. I would have slept fine that night, I wouldn’t have sat in class kicking myself and dreaming about her… what if? What if? What if I’d just been brave? What if she’d smiled and I took her home. What kind of girl was she, what was she into, how did she fuck, what would our kids look like? I’ll never know. Now, she’ll always be a “What if?”…
And this “What if?” is so much worse, so much more damning than a simple “No”. “No” is hard and absolute, it closes the chapter, ends the story, allows you to go off and attempt a new one. “No” gives closure.
But “What if?” hangs in the air around you for days, weeks, sometimes years. Poking at your self-hate, teasing you with fantasies, trapping you in the past. That girl in the red-dress at the party who was flirting with me, what if I’d just escalated more… what would the story have been? Now I’ll never know, I can only guess. The pretty cashier who was chatting at me… what if I just went a step further and asked for her number… well she might have said “I have a boyfriend”… then at least I’d know it wasn’t possible… I’d shut her away, erase her face. But now, she’ll always hang there as a “What if?”
This is so much worse, I realised, than just a simple rejection. Rejections can be hard and painful, but the regret, the self-hate, the dark cloud of doubt is much, much worse. I’ll take a damn rejection any day over that.
“No more what-ifs” I told myself. Just go for it. Get the answer straight out. You have nothing to lose.
It was so easy, so freeing. The "What-if" became a much bigger evil than the rejection, I began to fear the "What-if" much more than a bitchy put down. Now whenever I start getting approach anxiety, hamstering myself into pussying out, the voice in the back of my head will say “you will regret this and beat yourself up over it later, a rejection is nothing compared to that”.
And suddenly approaching becomes the easiest thing ever. It stopped being so terrifying.
And What-if? What if I’d just been a pussy, like all the times before, and hadn’t spoke to her. A whole chapter of my life would have vanished into thin air. A whole beautiful girl, unknown and forgotten; a mirage, a dream that didn’t live out. She was everything I fantasised about, and I manifested her into my reality; all because I killed that rejection anxiety and just spoke to her. All the bitchy-putdowns and cruel witch cackles in the world were worth it for just one day I got to spend with that girl.
And then my heart sunk, for all the times I had been a coward and hadn’t approached a girl, or escalated. How many of these girls would have turned out like the train-girl? How many potentially beautiful stories in the making had I killed by being a scared loser? The answer was more than 0, definitely. There were relationships there, entire stories, hanging in the air, ready for me to grab, which I threw away, destroyed, through my anxiety. Through a fear of something that couldn’t even hurt me. Fuck, so stupid. So depressing. So cowardly.
No more. No more what-ifs. No more cowardice. No longer will I kill the story before it even starts. I’ll go and speak to her, and open the book. And it may only turn out one page, or one sentence long. But I'll still get something out of it, I'll still learn something, and it’s better than not opening the book at all.
And for every failed story and closed-book, there will be some that remain open, some that are beautiful and keep you hooked, some that nourish and thrill you, some that you cherish and celebrate and follow through a lifetime.
No. No more what-ifs.