I was on the phone with a friend the other day trying to determine the intent behind a text message that simply read, “cool.” A few days prior she had had a few glasses of wine and, against her better judgment, told someone she was seeing via text message that she really likes him. “Cool” was his response, and it was driving her insane.
She couldn’t for the life of her decipher whether “cool” had a positive or negative connotation. For a good half-hour we debated: Is it loving or nonchalant? To the point or a little too passive? I pointed out that the real problem was that “cool” wasn’t punctuated; there was no period or exclamation mark or ellipsis, just the naked word sitting there on her phone taunting her with its ambiguity.
What’s most tragic about this situation is that my friend is, in most cases, a composed, level-headed fountain of wisdom and insight. And yet, for some reason, this one word was the snag that unravelled the whole sweater.
It’s hard to watch your friends in times like that, mainly because we’ve all been there before—head over feet, self-compromisingly “in love” with someone who just isn’t giving you enough. Still, you keep pushing forward.
Somewhere, some time ago, someone told us that we need to fight for our relationships. That genius, much like my friend’s “cool” maybe-boyfriend, needed to be a bit more specific about what that implies, because it’s under that ideology that I think a lot of us end up making our biggest mistakes— we lose sight of what we’re actually fighting for.
I often liken my love life to the pathetic fallacy found in a Bronte novel: a long and winding road tented by storm clouds and rain. Kidding. But give me a few more years and we’ll revisit that analogy. I can say that it hasn’t been easy, though. And that’s primarily because I often confuse “fighting for it” with fighting for a person. Therein lies the misconception: To fight for a relationship should involve both parties actively trying to make it work. So often, however, the fight is one-sided, with someone struggling to hold on to a person instead of a relationship. And once you’ve started down that path, it’s hard to find the perspective to evaluate your actions with a clear head and an open mind.
It also doesn’t help that I have a friend who is the exception to the rule, the one person who fought for someone and won. The problem is that stories like hers happen to one in a million, so while I’m undeniably inspired by it, I also can’t help but resent them for statistically screwing over the rest of us.
The reality is, for the most part, if you’re fighting that hard and not seeing any real, tangible results, you’re fighting a losing battle. And not to sound all self-help book-y about it, but we’re better than that.That’s why, when we find ourselves hunched over a cellphone trying to solve that all too familiar text puzzle, we should really be spending that time trying to decide whether that text is even worth the analysis in the first place. From my experience, it’s not. Rarely is.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try; some people need winning over. Still there’s a fine line between indulging in the thrill of the chase and putting ourselves second for someone else. The line is chickenwire thin, but at least if we’re aware of it we may step more cautiously. It’s at that point that we’re able to glance down at our buzzing cellphones, read some ambiguously nondescript text message and have the clarity and self-assuredness to casually respond, “cool.”
Click here for Dan Levy’s article on kindness.