Getting Rejected… Is like a bee sting

Özge Üstündağ

No doubt, we have all experienced the sting of rejection at one point or another. But, would you still want to meet an average-looking guy even though you got rejected by a dazzling “hottie”? How would you feel if the cutie from your class accepts your friendship request on Facebook? 

When we feel accepted, we intuitively want to connect more. When rejected, on the other hand, we may withdraw and even become bitter towards the person who rejected us.

Rejection fundamentally threatens our sense of worth. So, in order to avoid threats to our self-esteem (ego) and romantic appeal, we might deliberately devalue the person who rejected us.

While it may intuitively (and humanly) make sense to withdraw from and devalue the person who rejected us, what would you do if another - though less attractive - suitor wanted to meet you following a rejection from an attractive person? Well, Geoff MacDonald and colleagues (University of Toronto) just published a study this month in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science, asking this very question in their quest to discover the effects of rejection on people’s willingness to meet their suitors.

To test whether or not women would distance themselves from an attractive man following rejection and whether they would avoid association with an unappealing suitor after a “no” from the “hot” guy, MacDonald and colleagues analyzed data from 126 University of Toronto female undergraduates.

In the experiment:

1. Researchers took a picture of the participant for a “dating profile.” Each participant wrote a description of herself for the dating profile.

2. Study participants randomly got combinations of acceptance/rejection feedback from an attractive and an unattractive man - both men were created by the experimenters and a pilot study was done to test whether the attractive man really did differ from the unattractive man.

3. Based on the feedback that they received, the participants indicated if they wanted to meet the men.

4. Participants also evaluated the men on physical attractiveness, responsiveness (e.g., “person seemed supportive”) and romantic appeal (e.g., “I see potential for a romantic relationship in the future”).

Rejected participants avoid “the next best”

While participants were more interested in meeting the attractive man when he accepted them, their interest quickly declined when he rejected them. Moreover, the unattractive man’s feedback did not influence the participants’ decision to meet the attractive man.

An interesting finding was that the women in the study rated the attractive man as significantly more attractive when he was accepting rather than rejecting. Moreover, the attractive man was rated more positively on both responsiveness and romantic appeal when he was accepting. In contrast, the rejected women not only devalued the attractive man, but their interest in meeting the accepting, unattractive man also declined.

To double-check the results, researchers went through exactly the same procedures with another group of female participants and obtained nearly identical results.

So, does rejection really make us bitter and withdrawn? According to the results of these two studies, the answer seems to be “yes.” While we probably do not need scientific explanations for the pain we feel when we experience rejection, the evidence is accumulating that rejection is a threat to our self-esteem.

The study further suggests that acceptance by an unattractive man following a rejection from an attractive one might be alarming for the romantic seeker as it suggests that she deserves less. While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, how you respond to rejection might come down to how much value you place on attractiveness in your romantic relationships.


  • 1. MacDonald, G., Baratta, L. P., & Tzalazidis, R. (2015). Resisting connection following social exclusion: Rejection by an attractive suitor provokes derogation of an unattractive suitor. Social Psychological & Personality Science. DOI: 10.1177/194855061558