Imagine yourself at the edge of a cliff. Your best friend...a good friend...a friend...is beside you. Water is below. He says he's going to jump.
There's nothing dangerous about it. You can see that. Plenty of room for clearance. Rocks are non-existent. The water is deep enough. At this distance there's no true danger upon impact. Except he hesitates. It's not the jump that he's worried about. It's the swim. Treading water. Climbing back up. He hasn't used these muscles in a while, he says, and he's not sure his leg will work after the last injury. But you know these are just excuses. You know, as well as he, that he's going to eventually jump. It's just a matter of when.
So what do you do?
Let's flip the narrative and the roles.
Imagine that cliff is a girl...Or a boy. I really don't care how you swing, but for me it's a girl. And you're the one that wants to jump, and by that I mean "ask her out." You and your friend both know you're going to do it. There's no inherent danger. He tells you to just go for it. But you can't. Why? Cause: excuses. Still - he knows you want to. You know you want to. You both know it's only a matter of when.
Here's the problem. Girls are not cliffs. Cliffs are not girls. Girls are human beings. They are animate. They have their own feelings. Their own problems. Their own goals.
But this isn't about the girl...really...this is about whether or not you're going to stop being a coward and do the thing you know you're going to do. This is about what your friend does in this situation, or what you would do if you were him. This is about having a friend there at all.
I walk out of the ballroom with my friend, Danny, into the drizzling winter night. Despite the dismal weather we're in pretty high spirits. The slam poetry competition was better this week than the other two or three times I've been in the past. For me it was a good night to be out and be alive. I was inspired. Emotionally charged. Contemplative.
"So are you going to ask her out?" Danny asks. This isn't the first time tonight. We had talked a bit about it before the competition. During the break. In between poets and snapping and synonyms and repetition. He was really pushing me, for reasons unaware, but I tried to brush it off again with a simple excuse.
"Not on facebook. Nah. I just don't want to do that." I reply with a true statement. But it's not enough. He just wants me to go for it. "It's just like online dating, except you know the girl, all you gotta do is ask her out to lunch."
But it's not that simple. Is it?
"F*** online dating. In person." I say. "I want to do it in person."
"And if you don't see her?"
"Then I don't. It's not the right -"
"Timing? Stop waiting for the perfect moment."
Let me back up for a second. I have no problem asking girls out when I want to. In the past I've pursued girls with all the best intentions, albeit none of the logic. To me I didn't want to just find love. I wanted to manufacture it. If I saw someone that I liked, I would find a connection, and I would accept the challenge that was "Get her to like me back."
This worked well for a while. I could be clever when I wanted to be. I could be sensitive when they needed it. My interests could bend and sway depending on whatever side of the spectrum she resided. I played the game of hearts so well you might have called me a shark. Except instead of searching for one night stands or temporary connections I was out for permanence.
You see - I was codependent.
I loved having someone to call my own. I loved receiving validation in the form of a relationship. I craved that feeling so much I hated letting go. And if I ever saw someone who I thought was a catch I pursued her by any means necessary.
I won't say that I ever lied. I will say I was manipulative.
In hindsight I can see that the majority of my connections were manufactured. They were based on real feelings but they weren't always based on real experiences. I would become so caught up with infatuation I ignored any warning signs, red flags, or pure logic in favor of raw emotions. And always because of something I wanted.
Under the street lamp where Danny parked his car I tell him as much. "Don't you ever just want to be sure that you're crossing paths?" I ask him, ignoring the water building up on my glasses, the slight chill, and the lack of understanding. "Naturally?"
"You've already crossed paths." He replies. Still not listening. "Twice."
I don't have an answer for this. So I begin to agree with him. I pace back and forth along the sidewalk. Noticing how wet my shoes are as they shuffle across the cement. Part of me is worried that she's going to freak out. Danny keeps saying I'm over thinking but I assure him I don't want her to overthink it. "She already knows I like her. Of course I just want to get to know her and be a friend, but now that someone has told her 'the obvious' what if she gets worried because she doesn't feel the same way?" I can tell I'm making a good point so I continue, "Relationships are clearly not on her radar at the moment. I've known that from the beginning. The problem is I'm not ready to have that conversation and have her tell me that."
"So don't have the conversation." Man this guy can be stubborn. It's like he's not even trying to hear me out. But that's not what bothers me about the situation. What bothers me is that he's never pushed me like this.
I've talked to Danny about girls before. That's what friends do. We talk about girls. And Star Wars. But also girls. We're both at a similar stage in life. Single adults in their late twenties - early thirties - just trying to find the right person. We talk about anyone we have crushes on. We talk about dates we've been on. We talk about girls we're talking to or considering. In all the times I've brought up this girl or that girl, he's never pushed as hard as he's pushed for her. In fact, the first time I ever mentioned her, it was because he was getting tired of me being stuck on this other girl, and I threw her name out so I didn't have to deal with his sighs and moans anymore. Ever since then he won't let go.
And I couldn't understand why. As I stood there, hands in my pockets and confident in my views, with a look of confusion on my face, I contemplated whether or not he was seeing the same situation I was. I was worried about the water. I was worried about my swimming capability. I imagined rocks I couldn't see, below the surface, waiting to break my ribs. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to climb back up.
But he was seeing these things as they were: excuses. And he knew as well as I did that there really wasn't any danger here. Not like the other girls. Where it may have been low tide, or the cliff was too high, or there wasn't enough drop-time to cover the distance before I hit the rocks. In fact he knew that in the case of her - things were all pretty clear.
He knew full well I was going to jump. Eventually. And he just wanted me to do it.
I was appreciative for the support. I told him as much. In fact it was that lack of support that probably got me into trouble with my past relationships. (I can't honestly think of one where I had a friend beside me to either hold me back or push me forward.)
"I would expect you to do the same," he eventually told me, "whenever I come up to a similar situation."
And that's when I realize: I brought him to the cliff.
He wasn't being the stubborn one - I was. He wasn't shutting me out - I was the one who wouldn't listen. In the case of our friendship, and on our journey together, he's gotten to know me quite a bit. He sees things about myself, about what I need, probably more than I'm able to realize. He understands my capability to second guess, over-complicate, and exaggerate even the simplest of feelings. So whenever I brought this girl up, initially, I essentially told him, "Let me show you something." and I walked him up to this cliff. And though I was focused on the view and the prospect of one day diving into those waters, he already knew that this was perfect for me - or at least good enough. All he was doing was telling me as much.
If I didn't want his opinion though, I should never have lead him here.
Girls are not cliffs. I understand that. But the metaphor is not really about the girl. It's about the friendship.
As you and your best friend are standing over that cliff I bet you're going to take in a few considerations. Worried about your friend's well-being, you survey the land, the water, the tide, the rocks, and the distance. You know he's reckless and going to jump, but you want to make sure he's going to be safe. That's what friends do.
But while you've been doing that he's been hesitating. He's second guessing and letting the nerves control his system. In your eyes everything looks fine. Everything looks safe. But he's not worried about that. He's worried about the swim. The climb back up. Treading water. The old injury.
So what do you do?