In the section on pain, we recounted writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s salute to ex-boyfriend Jim Smith, who showed his courage in recovering from a near fatal motorcycle accident. As impressive as the ability to stoically endure physical pain is, in our modern, relatively pain free society, most of us more frequently encounter other forms of pain, and it is one of these other forms that Jim Smith truly showed his manliness. After recovering, more or less, from his accident, he fell in love, and brought his friends together at the famous Rainbow Room in Manhattan to celebrate his good fortune as a survivor and man in love. On the dance floor, he asked the woman he loved to marry him, and she said yes. But then, before the dance was over, she changed her mind.
Gilbert again: “There are moment’s in a man’s life that define whether he is a gentleman or whether he is something much less. Consider Jim’s response at this sad moment. He returned to our table hand in hand with Virginie. There was a smile on his face. He immediately ordered up three more bottles of champagne. He winked at me. He joked with his friends. He showed no signs of the beating his heart had just taken. He didn’t breathe a word of what transpired. He was great company that night. At the end of (the night), Jim raised his glass. “To life!” Jim toasted.
Now any man can raise the glass and drink the champagne when the girl has said yes. But when the girl has said no? That’s when the toast becomes truly heroic. Champagne might seen an odd choice for Jim Smith that night, but it was the right choice. Champagne, after all, is for the great moments of a life, and this was perhaps Jim Smith’s greatest moment. He could barely smile, but he was laughing. He could barely walk, but he had danced. He had been soundly refused, but he accepted this refusal with perfect dignity, refusing to shame either the girl or himself. It was the finest act of courage I’d ever seen.”
Most of us might not have the character of a Jim Smith, but we still do what we can. Here is a note written by a man who had recently fallen in love with a woman he had first met many years ago. Much to his surprise and disappointment, he found out one night at dinner that she was married. He was shocked and disappointed, having had every reason to believe she was single and available, hopefully to him. Here’s the note he wrote her the next day:
Any mistakes were mine: I haven’t dated in a very long time, so I should have been more careful not to confuse your interest in friendship for anything else; probably just wishful thinking on my part.
Ever since I first met you many years ago, I thought you were a beautiful, desirable woman, and nothing has changed. I hope your husband realizes how lucky he is. Good luck to both of you.
PS No need to respond; you’re a kind person so you’ll let me have the last word.
If you need to refine your skills in manfully handling rejection, which even the luckiest of us will face far more often than we wish, I recommend reading Mr. Darcy’s pursuit of Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. He gets off to a rather bad start, but knows how to gracefully regroup.