5 Ways we are All Cowards … And What it Takes to be Brave
It was one of those classic millennial romances. We had never met but spent three months communicating via text messages. Our knowledge of one another was based solely on a collection of gifs, a few well-constructed puns, an onslaught of favorite Netflix shows, the admiration from our mutual friends, and the fact that we both “loved travel.” We also had a determined, shared commitment to not divulge anything resembling importance.
I didn’t realize how little Kirk* and I had shared with each other, until his eyes got really wide with surprise when he learned I had been a middle school teacher in Nashville. This was something foundational and important about me, and when we met for drink on a humid, December day in north Florida, I was suddenly dealing with the fact that this man knew nothing real about me.
We had texted for the better part of three months, and it was entirely ordinary. Kirk was kinda witty and went to gr8 efforts 2 misspell thangs in a sumwhut charming whey. I was at a weird time in my life, so I decided to go with it. He lived an hour from my dad’s house, and when I was visiting over the holidays he decided to drive down one morning for mimosas. We got incredibly drunk and found everything to be very fun and funny and fun times were had by all. We parted ways with lots of drunken love in our hearts, and texts the next morning about how fucking fun everything was. And then, I suppose, he travelled to that very specific region of the world where men-children tend to go, where there is no cellphone service, and he never looked back.
The idea was that neither of us cared. The idea was that nothing real had been shared, and so nothing real could be lost. A few days later, I realized this happened because Kirk and I both had been overwhelmingly obvious cowards. You’re probably one too. Here’s why:
We Don’t Share Real Things
Most of our social constructs revolve around meals or drinks, and few social interactions last for more than three hours. I have sat across countless friends over countless glasses of red wine, and carefully constructed my words to convey a general attitude of confidence, reliability and wit. I easily sidestep conversations that ask anything real of me. “So what are you making these days?” I find a way to talk about my newest batch of granola and avoid any confessions over the blank pages or lost thoughts. When I was with Kirk, we immediately ordered bottomless mimosas and avoided all talk of real life. It’s so much easier to talk and judge on movies, books, television shows, funny YouTube videos, and the greatest equalizer and divider of all: MUSIC. I once dated a man that loved Dave Mathews Band, and I was shallow enough at the time to judge him for it. After we broke up, I listed to DMB for an entire year and grew to love their jam band sets. It was the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had.
We Communicate via Impersonal Mediums
I have read so deeply into a “like” on a social media platform, that I have convinced myself that an ex was going to attempt to rekindle our relationship. And, sadly, I don’t mean this as a confession from two years ago. I mean this as a really terrible truth that was realized THIS MORNING. You know the feeling you get when your crush’s name pops up on your phone because of a text? That’s how people use to feel when someone showed up at their door. The entirety of Kirk and I’s friendship was built using the impersonal medium of text messaging. Our friendship was low-stakes, and so when we met, it was also expected to be low-stakes. We were expected to not really care that much and to just go along with it. The problem was, we are human beings, flesh and blood, and emotions run through our every vein. There was little chemistry between us, but the build up of three months of feigned apathy demanded that there be some sort of affect. There was none, and just as easily as we came together, we were able to float apart.
We are Constantly Distracted
It’s commonplace to bemoan the lack of books read this year, or the lack of articles written or projects completed. Creativity is a result of wonderment, and wonderment is most often ignited by boredom. And we are so very un-bored. There are countless articles written about the productivity of boredom and the alarming lack of it in our current world. I deleted a few apps from my phone recently, and tried to keep track of the amount of times I absent-mindedly went to open them. I lost track after about 60. My subconscious brain craved distraction. It required that I never sit in anything long enough to cause wonderment. When I think of my relationships, I am so saddened to think of how I often I break the silence. Silence is the cousin of boredom — the thing that we are so quick to quench, even though it is the thing that makes us such better versions of our selves. Silence and boredom are where the magic happens — they are where our minds wander off and we are able to imagine worlds where we don’t settle for less or where we reach really high for what we want. Sadly, we don’t let ourselves get there — we fill in that precious space with whatever we can first find. And so our immediate proximity is made up of stuff that isn’t really that great, but just really loud and busy.
We Compare Ourselves to Others
As I waited for Kirk to pick me up for our ambiguous day of drunken friendship, I became nervous. The nervousness had nothing to do with him. I wasn’t connected or committed to him (re: the aforementioned lack of anything on the line). I was nervous about ME. I was nervous that my hair was too big or that my forehead was too sweaty or that I had nothing funny or smart to say or that I didn’t actually like any hip television shows or that my arms were too fat, and also again that my forehead was sweating. It is incredible to realize the many ways a woman can hate herself. It comes out of nowhere and sticks right there, gleaming on the sweaty forehead, and no matter how many times you try and wipe it away it just keeps coming back. The thing with all the things I hate about myself, I get really stupid and start to believe that they don’t exist in anyone else. Suddenly, I live in a world where I am the only one with a sweaty forehead. And so I should crawl in a hole and swallow a bunch of dirt. Then I remember that I am in my 30s and that Amy Pohler says I should tame the beast and also that we are all beautiful butterflies. Maybe you’re better than me, but I doubt that’s really true. If it’s not your sweaty forehead, it’s some other bared-balls scenario, that when stacked up next to someone else, makes eating dirt in a hole seem like the only solution. We spend too much fucking time comparing ourselves to others for the wrong reasons. What if we did it differently? What if we found people we loved, and stacked up our strengths against their own, and reminded that little voice in our heads that we’re on the right track? What. If.
We Pretend Like We Don’t Really Care a Whole Fucking Lot
When Kirk picked me up for our boozy brunch, I could tell that he cared. There was little eye contact and fast-talking. I had been anxious and sweaty — telltale signs that I also cared. We wanted to like each other and we wanted to be excited about something. You don’t get two people texting for months on end if there isn’t a sad blend of hope and resignation within each guilty party. However, Kirk and I have both been trained really, really well in the art of apathy. I have an entire ritual for any sort of first date or outing that involves potential future first dates. I look plain and make sure to highlight chubbier areas. I want there to be no confusion over the fact that I don’t really care that much. Kirk brought his friends — a couple he had known since the womb, I think, to serve as buffers. They were lovely people, phone numbers were exchanged, shots were downed and we rallied on into the evening. The combination of it all was carefully curated to demonstrate a lack of care.
What Does it Take to Be Brave?
The second part of this headline is a joke. I have no idea how to be brave. I only know how to act brave. Kirk wasn’t brave. He has remained in a cowardly place, pretending like he doesn’t care and finding ways to distract himself with baseless conversations via impersonal text messages. I wasn’t brave because I never gave him any reason to believe that I cared. He backed off quickly, and I think the boldest thing I can admit is that I did care. It hurt my feelings that he didn’t want to be my friend, and that seemingly weak statement is the strongest I can make.
Be bold, be brave, and make some new friends along the way.
Also, be wary of bottomless mimosas.
*Names have been changed because obviously.