These people got it wrong.
Last night a friend of mine asked me for some advice on a relationship she's trying to get into. I won't say who she is so that I can say, publicly, that she had been making some stupid decisions regarding how she was going about this thing (sorry darlin' for when you read this!). In a nutshell she had created a relationship around a cute form of playacting, so that neither party had to fully commit to the relationship. This gave both of them an out when it started getting to serious by going "hahaha, isn't playacting fun, but it's all just for fun!" I've realized through self reflection and from reflection of conversations I've had with friends in my life, that many of us do this exact thing at the initial stage. We create a simple out in order to protect ourselves from actually feeling anything or from feeling any pain. The problem with creating this out, is that when one party really starts to feel more, the other is never sure if it's playacting or might possibly be really interested. That is a very very stressful place to be, it causes a lot of anxiety, and more often than not, causes the confused party to take the out to save themselves the possibility of being hurt and humiliated. I am very guilty of this same problem at times, but it's always easier to offer advice rather than follow it.
That being said, I was trying to find an analogy to help her understand an alternate method of approaching the situation, and how to solve the problem of the pesky "out". In my incoherent, very often nonsensical ramblings, I stumbled across what is absolutely the best analogy I've heard for how to live your love life to the fullest. I would like to share it with you all now, I call it "The New Englander's Guide to a Fulfilling Love Life".
I posted this on Facebook last night, but here I'll try and say it a little more eloquently and less from the hip.
Taking the step towards a real, honest, fulfilling relationship is like getting into a frigid, cold ocean in New England. Everyone in the world makes it at least initially up to their ankles. From here, the population of the earth splits into two types of people. The first type of person, everyone is guilty of considering. Absolutely everyone is tempted to wade in slowly. This makes the most logical sense. By slowly allowing your body to get used to the cold until you are all the way in you never have to experience the cold in an overwhelming way. It seems like a way to cheat your way into experiencing the full ocean without having to face the fear of the initial shock. There is one problem with this method, however, and itaffects 99.99% of people who choose this method. These people always make only halfway. As the cold spreads up their legs, a relatively non-sensitive part of the body, they are lulled into a false sense of security in that their body is easily capable of dealing with the cold water. However as soon as the rigid water reaches their crotch, and the ocean interacts with quite possibly the most sensitive part of the body, it's too sensitive for them. These people jump upwards and backwards, anything to avoid having to feel in the most sensitive parts of their body. They return to thigh level and announce that this is far enough, and that they never really wanted to go into the ocean in the first place, just "get their feet wet". They will continue to stand, content and proud in themselves that they went even this far with such a challenging feat. They will splash around, laugh, talk, and have a great time comforted in the fact that they are "in the ocean" even though they are less than halfway in. They will, at least a few times briefly submerge their sensitive crotchal region again just to prove that they can, that they are brave enough. They will scream, and laughingly run back to the safe depth, and tell their friends about how wonderful it is to go into the ocean. The problem is that they're submerging such a sensitive region for all the wrong reasons.
These people did it right.
The other type of person, though, is one who knows that the only way to fully enjoy the ocean is to put your fears aside, grab someone by the hand, and run together, as fast as possible, all the way into the ocean, past the scary depths, into the amazing wonder that is a New England ocean. To put aside your fears and submerge your entire body into the cold water. Because the moment you do that, you realize it's not as cold as you though, in fact it's actually quite refreshing. And when someone dives in wholeheartedly with you? You get to experience the joys of the ocean alongside another person. This is a true test of friendship and relationship. Because it takes a whole lot of love, trust, and bravery to overpower the part of your brain that says, "no, don't do that, it's too cold, protect yourself, it's better to wade in slowly."
Sometimes you start running in with someone, who has told you wholeheartedly that they have conquered that part of their brain and they are willing to run all the way in with you. When the critical moment comes, however, they get cold feet. You begin to sprint wholeheartedly next to them, and as you run through the breakers, into the powerful section where you are no longer running but power striding, and then the critical, wonderful euphoria moment of diving under the waves. You come up to discover them standing, arms crossed, shivering, at knee level back beyond the breakers, a look of consternation plastered across their face. What happened to that person was as you sprinted in, heart free, hair whipping, and not a care in the world, and incidentally with the largest smile on your face (as there is no way to run full tilt into the ocean without a smile on your face, for in that moment, you are truly free), they began to slow down. They began to have second thoughts, and in their brain they said "look at me, I'm running, but I'll run JUST a tiny bit slower to let my body get used to the water even a fraction of a second slower than my friend, because I'm still running, I swear, but I need to test the water at least a little bit, right? Only a crazy person just jumps headfirst without testing the waters." In that moment they reset to being the first type of person. Then the story is the same, the ocean reaches their crotch, they get afraid, their self-defense mechanisms kick in, and they back out of the deal they made with you.
In that moment, it's easy to feel like they're not as good a friend as you thought they were, that you are "inadequate", or that your traits aren't good enough for them to dive in with. Your first reaction will be denial and self-loathing, followed quickly shame at having been so foolish to think that you could just dive straight into the ocean. You forget very quickly that you actually did dive straight into the ocean. You didn't stop, you didn't look back, you conquered your fears, and you accomplished what so few actually ever can. You just unfortunately tried to do it with the wrong person. You might feel "used" or "foolish" or any of these negative emotions that shift the blame to yourself. You will almost certainly swear that you will never jump in again, it's just too easy to get hurt, or "left out in the cold".
In that moment you have to sit back and allow yourself some self reflection. You see you got to experience something your friend didn't. Something raw and wonderful. And that is not a reflection on you, or a reflection on your friend, it is just simply the story of two people at two different places. Sometimes people aren't ready to jump in, as a New Englander I have known many friends who have had to take two or three trips right up to the water's edge before they are willing to put aside their fears and submerge themselves. Sometimes people just aren't ready to commit fully to the ocean. It might hurt you now, but you can never, and will never regret jumping in. Because there is nothing so wonderful as swimming in a crisp New England ocean, and only those who have done it know what those who haven't are missing out on.
So grab someone's hand and jump. I promise you won't regret it, no matter what the outcome.
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Photo by Danny Bristoll
(fac·to·tum | \ fak-ˈtō-təm) noun - a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
I find myself hilarious, and I use this blog to stroke my own ego. Thanks for indulging me.