“You have more courage than me,” he said in response.
I had just confessed to someone that I had begun to think of him as more than a friend.
The feeling was not mutual, but having courage was my consolation prize. It’s good to be courageous, but I hadn’t thought of my bold proclamation as an act of courage – I thought of it more as an act of impatience on my own part.
I didn’t want to wait and see what, if anything, would unfold with the right portions of time and space and dare-I-say destiny. I couldn’t quite muster the energy to do the socially acceptable thing, to stick it out, to drop hints and pick up on semi-subtle cues. I just wanted to know where I stood, for better or for worse.
The quick way. Ripping off the band-aid.
For the record, you know you’re not terribly hopeful about something when you refer to getting an answer as “ripping off the band-aid.” You expect, it seems, that there will be pain involved.
So I didn’t think of it as courage. In fact, I thought of it as weakness. It was a white flag. A last call. A surrender of sorts, a last-minute take-it-or-leave-it deal because I am a fairly proactive person and wanted to get a head start in moving on if it wasn’t going to happen.
Not so long ago, I was with friends at dinner when the topic of attraction came up. I asked them, “Why are we so ashamed, anyway? Why does ‘liking’ someone always make us feel embarrassed, like we need to hide it or treat it with kid gloves?”
I wondered this because ever since elementary school when cooties are still the resident plague, we tease our friends about their crushes and threaten to reveal their secret to the person of interest, or to the entire class if we’re feeling particularly scandalous, or to anyone for that matter, because that’s how sensitive this stuff is from the very beginning.
Love is potent, to be used carefully and wisely and only in the right doses and at the right time. We handle it with care. If it were packaged it might read, “Fragile” or “Do Not Bend.” Or perhaps we wouldn’t even need these written warnings because somehow we just know that we are dealing with something volatile, something dangerously reactive, that can change forms quickly and be harmful if exposed in the wrong set of circumstances.
So why is it considered an act of courage to express this particular emotion? Is it because it leaves us vulnerable, arms outstretched and bare, with nothing up our sleeves? Is it because we always wrestle to maintain the upper hand in life, and love is one of the only things that, when done properly, strips us of that secure sense of power and superiority that we don’t quite know how to function without? Is it because for that brief, confessional moment and possibly all the ones that follow it, we assume an essence of subordination, and subordination has always left a bad taste in our mouth, unsettled, like we must still have work to do if we aren’t yet standing at the top of an impenetrable self-made mountain of infallibility?
Love removes us from our pedestal – the one we thought we were standing on. Maybe, then, it is precisely what we needed because it is life’s way of keeping our rapidly growing ego in check, of kicking us down a peg, of reminding us that just when we thought we had it all figured out, someone might walk into our life who we are for whatever reason crazy about, and that is humbling, because it shows us that we are not the be all, end all of our own existence, or of our own completeness. We need other people. We want other people. And we are not entirely in control of whether they will want us back. Maybe, in the end, that is what keeps us human.
And maybe that is why there is a certain courage in vulnerability. If nothing else, it is a reluctance to run from our own humanity, our own imperfection. Vulnerability is looking rejection square in the face and saying, “So what? It won’t be the end of me.” And I would say anyone who can do that has at least a little bit of courage.