On rejection and connection

ENGLISH – May was an eventful month for me externally but also emotionally. I thought I had been prepared. Since it was my last month in Sweden, I was almost planning on spending that hour I had at the central station on my last day in tears.

But life is full of surprises, and the big meltdown came a week earlier instead, during my weekend in Stockholm. I had had the strong feeling that I should go. First I thought it was to meet up with a friend. That fell through but the feeling I should go to the capital one more time remained. I decided to make this weekend a little practice in spontaneity and solo traveling.

I thought that the whole logistical side of it, the planning as little as possible, would be my big challenge this weekend. It turned out to be the easy part. I got a hotel no problem, and the couple who drove me up to Stockholm asked if I wanted to go back with them on Sunday. Those had been my main concerns beforehand, no matter how many times I told myself that the worst thing that could happen would be that accommodation and transportation would be expensive if I booked them last minute.

It was only on Saturday that I realized that the real challenge with this trip was something entirely different. After having walked around all morning and early afternoon (which is my way of connecting with a place), I decided to go back to the hotel, take a nap, and then maybe head out again towards the evening. As I was lying there on my bed, a thought suddenly appeared: what a strange weekend, ever since I left the house on Friday, it’s been as if I were invisible.

That thought triggered an emotional wave that I hadn’t been prepared for. That’s when I realized that I had come with expectations, too: That I had had this strong feeling I should go to Stockholm because there were people waiting here for me. Encounters that were somehow significant, and wanted to be made before I left the country.

That’s what usually happens when I am going somewhere by myself: I end up meeting new people, and I don’t even think it has anything to do with me in particular, it’s just what happens when we’re untethered from our everyday life and any roles we might (think we) have. It’s the traveler’s spirit that opens us up and makes us easy to approach. But this time: nothing.

The couple I came to Stockholm with didn’t really talk to me. When I tried to start a conversation, all I got was monosyllabic answers. It didn’t bother me much at the time, since I’m generally more uncomfortable with forced small talk than silence.

That car ride in the beginning of my trip tied in with everything else that far: the only people that had talked to me were waiters and waitresses at the cafés I’d been to, and even those interactions could hardly count as conversations, they were always kept to a minimum. I even recalled one specific situation that hadn’t paid much attention to at the time: I had been standing in line at a store, and the cashier was being super chatty with the customer before me. When it was my turn, all he said was something like “That’ll be 35 kronor”. That was all I got from this person who had just been über friendly and social!

Seeing how everything that had happened up until that point had made me feel completely invisible or unwelcome at best, really hit me. At first it only hurt, and I didn’t understand what was going on. My instant reaction was to question myself: what had I been doing wrong, what kind of weird vibes was I sending out to make people feel that they didn’t want anything to do with me?!

It was only in the evening that things started to make sense. I began to understand that this wasn’t a mistake when another thought entered my mind: there is only one place that has had the power to make me feel so completely invisible, lonely, rejected. And that’s Sweden. That’s when the fog started to clear: this was exactly why I had to come to Stockholm one more time, and this was also why my plans to meet up with a friend here had fallen through.

Up until this point I had mostly been thinking I was leaving Sweden because I just didn’t have the feeling I should stay, and that I was drawn to other places now. The thought had never occurred to me that if there are places and people that we fit in and connect with effortlessly, that the opposite is also true: there are places where we can try as hard as we want but we will never be able to force that sense of belonging.

I had been able to see this about other areas of my life: that my belief that life is hard had attracted both relationships and work places into my life that fit that belief set. Somehow I had managed to overlook the fact that the belief in the necessity to struggle also had made me choose a place where that was true for me as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel a deep love for Sweden and I have many pleasant memories from my time here, and I am grateful for everything. Just like I have many pleasant memories and much gratitude for the work places and my relationship that I let go of last year. That’s the thing that made it impossible for me to question anything but myself for so long: there is good to be found in every person and every situation. That will always be the case because life is complex. Yet all the good things will never be able to make up for when something essential is off. There is no judgement in that. It just what it is. And when it comes to loneliness and feeling rejected: that was something that had also always been there for me, from the very beginning when I first came to Sweden. I just hadn’t really wanted to acknowledge that. That weekend made me do it.

The truth as I see it is this: there is a place where we belong (maybe there are several, maybe it changes throughout life). Life gives us signs to point us there – including other places telling us “This isn’t your place”. The thing is, though: we need to choose what to do with these signs. We are free and able to choose something that is not right for us.

That is what hurt so much: the realization that I had been stubborn to insist on making something work that never could. Like I said, I’ve had this realization twice in the past year, with work and with my relationship. And every time I had one of these insights, I thought “OK, I get it now, I can see what I’ve been doing”.

Clearly, I have more blind spots than I thought. So as much as there was relief in seeing that it was not anybody’s fault, and that it was not me sending “weird” vibes that made me unapproachable, I was mainly feeling the pain that I had suppressed for as long as I had insisted on playing the struggle game. The pain of being rejected and insisting on trying to fight that rejection.

For me, it’s wanting to be liked by everybody that triggers this kind of behavior: if there’s someone (or, apparently: a place) who doesn’t seem to like me, I tend to not want to accept that. Instead I start to try to figure out ways to change it. But the truth is: we are no blank sheets of paper. We come here with different qualities, and that means that we are good matches with some people and places who in turn have their unique qualities. Other combos are just not great. There’s nothing to be done about that and it’s nobody’s fault.  And it’s not rejection in the sense that we aren’t loved or lovable.

Like I said, there is good to be found in everything. The pain I felt that weekend was part of the healing process. It was probably important, too, that I had false expectations, because would I have gone otherwise? Not so sure … However, there was not only pain this weekend, there was a whole lot of good, too: it was above all an opportunity for me to see how much I enjoy my own company. Maybe that’s confusing (or maybe it’s just confusing when trying to put it into words) but I was not only feeling lonely and rejected, I was also feeling very content with being who I am and with being with just me. That means a lot to me.

And then, on the way back it finally happened. I met a fellow traveler in every sense of the word. Her name was Hidaya, and we talked, played each other music, sat in silence, and it was all there: that instant connection where you know you get each other. We met up one more time later that week in Gothenburg, and I am sure it wasn’t the last time. And this, too, is part of my Sweden experience. It’s one of the many gifts I’ve been given. Thank you. For all of it.

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