One-Foot-Out-The-Door Syndrome

I propose a new psychiatric diagnostic label, the one-foot-out-the-door syndrome (OFOD.) The syndrome is quite common and quite destructive to the people so afflicted. It refers to a strong tendency to flee a relationship at any sign, however slight, of disapproval. The basic motive is the fear of being hurt, usually by rejection. To avoid the hurt, the party strikes first and ends the relationship, either passively by not calling/texting or not returning calls/texts, or by direct attack on perceived inadequacies of the other party.

Madeleine, being attractive, had no problem meeting men after her divorce. After dating several men, she fell in love with Bruce, a bright handsome man who she believed wanted to marry her. Then she discovered he was seeing someone else and he dropped her. Madeleine felt stupid, was enraged at Bruce for being dishonest and in pain for being rejected. Her subsequent relationships were dominated by OFOD! Men were frequently attracted to her and she had little difficulty dating. However, when they began to become intimate, OFOD emerged. Being afraid of being hurt, she found faults in all of them. If there was the slightest sign of waning of attention, these faults became amplified, and Madeleine took her other foot out the door. Clearly the men were not perfect, but her reasons for ending relationships were much more due to her fear of being hurt than their faults. It is now some 15 years after her divorce and she is finding it increasingly difficult to meet men.

Vic, 40 years old, has not had a serious relationship in over ten years. His friends tease him for being fussy and demanding an 18-year-old Playmate. The truth is OFOD. Vic is 5’7” tall and convinced no woman would be interested in short men like him. One of his earliest girlfriends, Gail, whom he was in love with, broke up with him and, being hurt, he withdrew. He repeated scripts to himself that his rejection was due to his height and that it was close to impossible for any woman to be interested in him. Vic is a nice guy, has his own business, boat and house that many women would want. After being rejected and hurt, he never contacted Gail. Years later, they met and she was married. She criticized him for not trying to reconnect, and told him that she loved him and had expected him to call. They both had OFOD!

Both Madeleine and Vic regarded rejection as catastrophic. It represented different things to them. To Madeleine, it represented that men are not to be trusted. While to Vic, it validated his feelings of inadequacy. To both, the pain of rejection was to be avoided at all costs. They denied themselves the opportunity to develop rich, meaningful relationships.

One compelling reason is that they catastophized rejection. Many women prefer tall men and some men deceive to get laid. Nevertheless, rejection, although unpleasant, is hardly catastrophic, especially compared to loneliness. What amplifies rejection is the destructive scripts about negative self worth that follow.

I look at rejection as being a part of living. People have different tastes and different priorities. A restaurant menu may have 50 items on it and we reject 49 of them when we make a choice. The rejected items would be eliminated if no one wanted them. Just because I can’t stand lamb stew, it doesn’t make it bad. Some women prefer tall men and some men prefer large-breasted women. So what? Vic admitted rejecting some women and didn’t expect them to withdraw from the social scene because he felt no chemistry. Yet he overreacted when he was rejected. When Madeleine fell for Bruce, she goofed in an area where it is easy to goof, but she remained the same person with the same attractive qualities.

Being hurt is central to social exploration. If we want a relationship, which I think is true for most of us, we become vulnerable to rejection. And when it happens, as the old song so wisely counsels, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.”