Last night as I was closing the curtains and turning out the light in my bedroom, I received a text from a girlfriend. “R U out of class yet?” I deliberated for a moment if I should respond, the heaviness of my limbs encouraging me to wait until morning, the middle school grammar begging me to flip the phone over. “Yup, crawling in bed.” My fingers hit the keys almost automatically, as if driven by some sort of external Mischievous Spirit of Texting. “: /” She responded. How could so much meaning be conveyed in two dots and a dash? I wondered as I obligatorily sent her that all-probing ubiquitous 21st century question: “What’s up?” I watched the three dots, my eyelids half mast. “Can I call u for like 2 mins while u lie in bed lol.” I groaned. Why did I have to even respond in the first place? Why can’t I ever just leave conversations dangling? “Nooo, lol, I am sooo tired, I’ll call you in am.”* I extended my arm to place the phone on the nightstand and then stopped, the : / staring me down. For some reason I couldn’t shake those beady eyes, that slanted mouth. “Unless it’s important. Obviously if you are upset over something I’m here.” The phone instantly rang.
* * * * * *
I’m one of those people who has always relied on others when I’m feeling like shit. That’s not to say that every time I break into tears I reach for the nearest set of open arms (although it’d be awesome to see the reaction of say, the stranger sitting next to me in 12 Years a Slave when I draped my sobbing being in their lap), but I do enlist my closest friends or my mom when I’m having a dark day or night of the soul.** I’ll usually make it through about 5-10 minutes of soul-contorting pain before breaking down and reaching for the phone. After all, misery does love company.
In some ways, my tendency to immediately seek out the comfort of others makes me feel weak. Sure, it was fine to tearfully call up my friends in middle school when Charlie didn’t pass back the note in math class, but I’m 28 years old now, a grown woman. I shouldn’t need to consult my girlfriends every time things aren’t going perfectly with a new guy, or I’m feeling unsure about my career, or I’m upset over being stuck on a blog post. I mean, I’m mature enough to handle my own feelings, to learn from my mistakes, to reflect in the solitude of my own mind. Aren’t I?
Well, yes and no. There is a time and place for self-introspection, for journaling and working through one’s feelings alone, and then there is a time to lean on others. The challenge is being able to recognize which method of coping the situation calls for. Not hearing back for several hours from a text message you sent to a guy you like, no matter how anxiety-producing and nerve-grinding, does not warrant a conference call with your female support group. This is not only a waste of their time, but will leave you feeling utterly pathetic when he responds 20 minutes after said call apologizing for the delay in his response because he was having lunch with his dying grandmother. Trust me, it’s better to just distract yourself with any number of wonderful activities – knitting, learning French, skydiving, actually hanging out with your girlfriends and talking about politics or philosophy or the fashion comeback of the crop top – then to destroy yourself over some dangling text message conversation. (Now, if the next text he sends is “I want to break up with you,” then you can make the call.)
On the other hand, there are occasions when you should absolutely reach out and seek advice and comfort. Last year when I was dealing with an emotionally abusive relationship, I could not have made it through without the support of my loved ones. The night I finally broke free of that damaging situation I spent all day talking with my mom and two best friends, garnering the courage I needed. I’d been struggling for a couple of months to get out of it on my own, but it wasn’t until I really reached out that I was able to do so. Some things are just too large to be contained in a single vessel. Sometimes, you just really need that shoulder to cry on.
* * * * * *
I answered the call immediately. She had been there for me over the last couple of weeks as I had been trying to make sense of a relationship, and I wanted to return the open arms and ears. Her voice was weak and watery, and any annoyance I had felt over the postponement of my bedtime quickly evaporated. For the next 45 minutes, she poured out her fears, her pain, her loneliness, her insecurities. I listened and responded as best I could, wanting to make sure she felt seen and heard but also trying to provide guidance. As we talked it out, I became more and more acutely aware of a certain symbiosis that was occurring. I recognized so much of myself in her, and through this process of sharing I could feel us both obtaining a clearer picture of ourselves. Just as a piece of art can deepen one’s understanding of the world, so too was this crying out of the soul helping both of us better grasp our own humanity.
The conversation finally began to wind down close to 1 o’clock. “Thanks for talking me off the ledge there,” she said, her voice stronger, regaining vitality. “Of course, that’s what friends are for,” I replied, grateful for the trust she had put in me. “Okay, you sound tired, I’m letting you go to bed now. Sorry that was longer than two minutes.” We shared a laugh and hung up. I rolled over and squeezed the teddy bear I’d had since birth, saying a silent thank you to all of the people who’d helped me through my own dark nights.
*I’m perfectly capable of using shorthand and butchering the English language when others do it with me, but the day I substitute “u” for “you” is the day I stop calling myself a writer.
** The woman in front of me during a screening of this film handed me back tissues and asked if I was okay. I probably could have hugged her.