At around midnight, just before settling down to go to bed for the evening, I began logging off of everything on my computer; couple of work files, a few side conversations, etc. An online friend of mine, who I had not spoken with in any way that’s been meaningful for at least a month (Mostly just “Hey”, and, “Sup”) popped up with a message: “Evenin’ sir”. Now I thought: I could either lie down and catch up on my novel of ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, or, have a conversation with a human being and risk a bit of sleep deprivation the following day. Feeling social for once, I chose the latter.
So we started talking, as friends do. “Hey, what’s up? How’s it going? Did you hear about the voice actor for Bug’s Bunny dying like a week back; man we’re getting old. So how about that conflict over in Palestine? You know; normal stuff. And thus the story continues.
About an hour in, we found ourselves debating the validity about Valentine’s Day: or as we both like to call it, National Live-Vicariously-Through-Someone-Else’s-Relationship-While- Watching-Titanic-Day. Personally, I prefer national Talk like a Pirate Day. Shiver me timbers, and hoist the main sail yee scurvy dogs! But I digress.
In the midst of this conversation, he tells me of his experiences on the day of love. Turns out, his usual comrade in solitude that lives nearby found someone to spend their day with. Single for quite a long time, and then: POW! “Misery loves company” suddenly didn’t have company.
Just like that, he felt as if he was dropped into a sea of people that he could no longer relate to, left with nothing more than feelings of betrayal and self-loathing for small talk. “So wait… you went to see Deadpool with him? Oh… yeah… heard it was a good movie and stuff…”. My friend being the creative fellow that he is, decided to express his feelings in terms of being in the middle of a football play, and being passed a dead fish instead of a ball. Disgusting, shocking, and infinitely confusing. Now, keep in mind, this same person is often inclined to sweep away problems with humor – I’m sure many of us can relate. Yet underneath those pixellated letters, it felt different this time. He was sincerely hurting, brooding on this feeling he couldn’t shake. While making sure to not get too touchy feely, I took the plunge to see how much this really bothered him. Turns out, this was something he’d had debilitating trouble with his entire life. Now I won’t go into too much detail, pasting word for word, but I believe a synopsis will.
So I began by reflecting his feelings, while reading a bit between the lines, and discovered that he felt hurt for feeling alone: not just as the only one in his group acquaintances without a significant other, but also never having found someone to be more than “friends” with. I may have thrown a metaphor somewhere in there while reflecting, to make it sound a little less clinical and dry. And you know what? He responded with that singular word we all yearn to hear when talking to someone we hope to understand: “Exactly”.
In that moment I heard angels singing, crowds cheering, and Morgan Freeman narrating how profound this 7 letter word really was.
At this point I began diving a bit deeper, peeling away layers of this misunderstood,
isolated guy that had never opened up deeply to anyone in his life. I mean, I had known this person for 14 years. More than a decade of jokes, good times, and talking about stuff that’s happened in the world: never really about himself. How he longs for someone to be with. How he feels pressured by society and his circle of friends with expectations of finding someone by his mid-Twenties. How it’s difficult for him to engage new people, and to find the right things to say once he has their attention. Self-esteem can be a rare commodity, and all of us wish we had more. But sometimes it’s hard to understand a person that’s shut themselves from the world because it’s gotten to be on an entirely different level. Not in the form of, “That girl is probably out of my league, so I won’t try”, but “I have nothing to offer, and realistically speaking no one will love me, so I won’t ever bother, now or later”.
We talked for an entire two hours on this subject. Me reflecting, him explaining. The
feeling was uncanny to that of talking to a stranger in crisis online: here I am, counselling my friend. But then it dawned on me; I’m not counselling my friend – that’s absolutely wrong. What I’m doing is listening. As we volunteer, our positions may be listed as counsellors but at the end of the day, we aren’t there to counsel,necessarily. We don’t give advice, and we don’t judge. We simply listen, and help others understand themselves.
When the conversation finally approached an end, he told me that I was the first person in his life that’s ever asked about this. I’ve heard this so many times as a volunteer, but to hear it as a friend truly resonated with me. We don’t need special training to sympathize with others (though that’s not to say it doesn’t help). You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (or more appropriately a psychiatrist) to get what someone’s going through.
With that said, I’m going to absolutely break my own rule and give you the same 100%
unqualified advice I gave to my friend after our encounter. A golden rule that I, myself, live by: whether you’re making a friend, talking to a significant other, comforting someone, or chillin’ at a bus station with a stranger; just be kind, and listen. It really does go a long way.