The End of the Affair

You might expect a successful job candidate to relish the opportunity to turn down one offer in favor of another. After collecting rejection letters for the last couple of months it could feel empowering to finally be the one saying “no”. That wasn’t my experience. To be honest, it was one of the hardest phone calls I have ever had to make. Even after the conversation was over I found it difficult to celebrate the job I accepted because I felt so bad about the one I declined.

In a very real sense I had developed a relationship with Attractive U. I started pursuing the school back in October with my the job letter (a chaste but sincere love note), and for the next five months I took every opportunity to tell the search committee how fetching I found their department, what a good match I thought we would make. They flirted back by giving me an interview and then inviting me to visit the campus, but really the courtship was rather one-sided. AU was a beauty and I was only one of many suitors.

Last month, when AU made me an offer, I was thrilled, but by that time another opportunity had complicated things. I suddenly saw myself as the “lying flatterer” my wife accused me of being when we first dated. Turning down the AU job, I felt as though that rejection rendered all my previous wooing false. I had gotten to know not just the school, but also the people there, and, now that they had invested time and money in me, I flipped on them.

I actually made that painful phone call twice, once to the dean and a second time to the chair of the department (who I felt deserved a personal explanation). Both times I found myself stumbling over my words. Eventually, I simply apologized and told them it had been a very difficult decision.

Have others experienced this strange breed of guilt? We often talk about the bitterness of being rejected, but what about the remorse we feel when we have to say “no” to people and programs we think highly of? Perhaps there’s another underlying question here: How do we balance passion and decency when it comes to expressing our interest in a position?

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user o5com.]

Return to Top