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Date Posted: 09:01:25 05/04/02 Sat
Subject: New tactic in the dating game The phone call that says get lost
Oliver Burkeman in New York
Saturday May 4, 2002
From the choicest bistros to the grimiest dives, the ritual will be repeated this weekend, as every weekend, by hopeful singles in a thousand New York bars: the ceremony, central to the dating scene, known as Asking for Her - or, less commonly, His - Telephone Number.
But if a surprisingly large proportion of those asked in New York these days seem only too happy to hand over their contact details, it might be worth noting that the number they whisper is frequently the same one - 212 479 7990. New Yorkers, always at the cutting edge of the dating game, have a particularly cutting new resource at their disposal: the Rejection Line, a professional, hassle-free way to tell would-be dates to get lost with none of the awkwardness associated with actually telling them.
"Unfortunately, the person who gave you this number does not want to talk to you or speak to you again," an overly chirpy male voice informs callers who dial the line. "We'd like to take this opportunity to officially reject you." Then, by means of a touch-tone system, it allows users to speak with a "comfort specialist", hear a "sad poem", or "cling to the unrealistic hope that a relationship is still possible".
Mean-spiritedly, there isn't really anyone on hand to take calls - just an answerphone on which users have left every message from "Oh my god, that is awesome!" to a genuinely furious-sounding "You guys suck!". But Jonah Peretti, 28, who co-founded the Rejection Line with his sister Chelsea, 24, and runs it on a voluntary basis, prefers to remain uninvolved in his clients' emotional problems.
"We started it as a sort of an experiment in viral media, to try to create something and see how it spreads. But it's also a parody of the dating scene," Mr Peretti said. "It's the idea that it's needed that is funny - that dating has become so dehumanised that people need an automated system to help them reject people." Between 500,000 and 1 million people have called so far, he estimates - including, in defiance of every law of dating, some women who had been given the number by men.
"We don't necessarily agree with the way somebody uses the line," Mr Peretti said. "We heard a story of someone using it to break up with his girlfriend who he'd been seeing for six months."
A national or international service had been suggested, he said, but "we don't really have an interest in there being a bunch of rejection lines in every city in the world being used as a cruel way for people to humiliate each other".
Elayne Savage, a Californian psychologist and author of the book Don't Take It Personally!, on coping with rejection, could not agree more. "My guess is there will be a lot of hurt feelings on the rejected side," she said. "It all boils down to being respected. If somebody's been dating somebody regularly and they just stop calling, or they just phone up and say it's not working, that's not respectful either."
Mr Peretti said he had heard of plans to emulate his idea in Britain. There is nothing to stop people giving out the Rejection Line's number in Britain, of course - but it is unlikely to sound quite as convincing with the caveat "dial 001 first".
212-479-7990 (Date rejection)
323-883-1779 (Entertainment industry rejection)
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