Many years ago, I made a questionable bet. One afternoon, after school, a group of friends and I were huddled in my room, working on a project. Like every other group of kids gathered under the pretense of doing something productive, not much was getting done. As we were talked about everything other than schoolwork, my head was resting on the lap of one of my closest friends at the time. This wasn’t unusual; we were like siblings. At that moment, however, she looked down at me and asked: “Would it be weird if I liked you?”
“YES.” I said, immediately.
I don’t remember her reaction. I was too stunned, and perhaps back then, too callous, to pay attention. She was probably a little hurt.
Years later, long after we had fallen out of touch, I learned through the omniscience of social media that she was getting married to her long-time boyfriend. It made me wonder what my life would have been like if that fleeting moment had played out differently. I don’t know if it would have been any better — on the phone, thousands of miles apart in one of the intervening years, she would tell me (in less kind words) that some of us are built to roam. So, I could have been right. We could have ended up miserable together: Me resenting her for tying me down to a tiny island, and her hating me for not having the guts to say that to her face. Nobody will ever know.
But I think about our alternate reality a lot, because unlike all the decisions I’ve made in life that were clearly good in hindsight, with her, I didn’t dodge a bullet. As far as I can tell, she’s living a perfectly happy and fulfilling life, and I could have been a part of it.
In the span of a few seconds all those years ago, I had placed an inadvertent bet: That my life would be better off by rejecting my friend. This is the same wager that the people around us make when they choose to blow us off. Every would-be friend, potential colleague, or unrequited lover has made that bet against us, albeit benignly.
However, unlike an ill-fated trip to the casino, the beauty of life is that we aren’t inanimate roulette wheels or slot machines — we have the power to influence whether every bet made against us will turn out to be good or bad. And although rejection will always sting, our futures are not determined by how we feel in that moment, but what we choose to do the minutes after we open an envelope full of bad news, or the seconds after we hear it on the phone. The net result of all my friend’s decisions since that day is that I’m sitting here reminiscing in front of my computer while she’s off living her best life. I find comfort in that, because the same applies to us: While we might not always be able to share our lives with the people we want to, we can always move on, while they stop to think twice.