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I have a friend named Jack. He’s one of my best friends from college. This morning we were on the phone and Jack was a mess. He was far worse than I have ever seen him, and I’ve seen Jack sitting in a snowbank at 2 a.m., naked, wearing only a Chipotle bag as a hat.
Let me give you a little background.
Jack used to live in Los Angeles. One night we were out at a bar and he met a girl named Lucia. Lucia is beautiful, in a kind of innocent way and Jack, at the time, was a serial monogamist just out of a relationship. It took them a whole 2 1/2 weeks to make their relationship official. The accelerated timeline shocked no one.
We spent the next few months as a trio, me occasionally cycling in a Bumble date or old high school flame. Then, in June, Jack moved to Philadelphia to start a new job. He and Lucia had been together five months and two weeks. Honestly, I expected them to break up when they got the news of his relocation. Jack is girlfriend obsessed, but he’s also a realist. Long distance fucking sucks – everyone knows that.
Turns out long distance sucked a little too much for Jack. One night in a fit of loneliness, and against all of my screaming at him through FaceTime, he asked Lucia to move from LA to Philadelphia and live with him.
I prayed Lucia would gently let Jack down and promise to visit soon, that she would see the insanity that is dropping everything for a very new relationship at 23 and brush off his request as a bad case of loneliness. Of course, if that had happened, I wouldn’t be writing this story.
Lucia, like so many girls in love, was over the moon about the prospects of a new adventure with her extraordinary boyfriend. Plus, everyone knows someone that made it work. Couldn’t they be that couple?
I really don’t blame Lucia. Jack is indeed extraordinary – he’s a fucking moron – but he’s an extraordinary moron. He’s also going to be a doctor, so there’s that.
Three months later, Lucia had successfully re-located across the country and holed up with her cat in Jack’s very small one bedroom. No job, no family, and no idea what a real winter feels like, Lucia had just made a big sacrifice for my friend. I really hoped, even though I had my doubts, that it would all be worth it.
Cut to this morning.
I could tell almost immediately that Jack was in a very dark place. He is 23, pursuing a highly stressful job in a new city, and like me, enjoys a good night out. He likes to travel and explore and is wildly introspective. I once witnessed him sit on a porch and chain smoke an entire pack of cigarettes without saying a word to anyone. He can get lost in his head sometimes, which is a perfect way to be in a new city like Philadelphia. That is, if you’re single and free. It is not a perfect way to be when you’re, say, cohabitating with a relatively new girlfriend.
“I love her Victoria. I love her so much, but I have never felt so trapped in my life.”
Yeah, anyone shocked?
Jack does love Lucia, I believe that for sure. I am also convinced that he will begin to hate her very soon if something does not give. The line between love and hate are often far closer and more easily traversed than we care to admit.
“I am suffocating, but she moved across the country!” he moaned. “She doesn’t even have a job! She broke her lease! She has no friends here!”
My friend was in a full-blown panic.
Look, Jack is right to be concerned. In fact, he’s right to freak the fuck out. As I said, he fucked up. He made a commitment he wasn’t ready to see through and now he’s suffocating in a problem of his own making.
This morning, as I rode the metro to work, I knew my friend was in a very hard position. What was more frightening though, and the reason I am writing this column was what he said next.
“It’ll be fine. I’ll survive. I’ll just stick it out.”
That is when I had to put my foot down.
I saw in Jack what I see in myself right now; this debilitating indecision, a suffocating confusion as to what to do next. It’s a feeling of self-imposed stuck-ness, a paralysis of sorts that I know quite well. Jack thinks because he made the initial wrong choice that he is a victim of his rather unfortunate circumstance.
Here’s the thing though. That is not actually true. Jack is not a victim of his circumstance. In the panicky haze of regret, he has forgotten that he is in total control of his choices. Jack, like most of us, has complete agency over his life, even though it doesn’t feel that way. He simply thinks he has to “stick it out” because he doesn’t feel like he is justified in making the hard, uncomfortable, rather painful decision of undoing what he’s done.
What he needed was someone, anyone, to give him permission to do the shitty thing. He needed an out.
“You’re allowed to leave Jack,” I said.
The silence hung heavy in the air.
“Yes, you can,” I pressed.
I wanted to hit him. Hard.
I understand his hesitation, I do. We’re taught to commit to things, so to back-pedal in something he was so certain about only months before felt like he was failing.
One morning in my final month of college, I found myself paralyzed in my bed as my alarm went off for what seemed like an eternity. I was supposed to be getting ready for the Foreign Service Exam, but I couldn’t move. The FSE was everything I had worked toward for three years, an exam my parents, professors, and peers expected me to take. It was an exam that would determine my future, a future I realized I didn’t want in the slightest.
It was my roommate that gave me the best gift of all. She said to me, “You thought you wanted to be a diplomat, now you think you want something different. That’s okay.”
Immediately, I knew what she said was true. Was it possible that all I needed was someone to tell me that I was allowed to change my mind, in order to believe it? My friend released me from the lie that I was stuck in that one choice. She unlocked the truth that I could backpedal, that I could put the car in reverse and get the fuck out of the future I felt somehow obligated to see through.
I wrote something last week looking for answers because I’m in that same place again. I wondered what was next for me, if I was selfish or impatient for pursuing what was “right” instead of what was “good.” The comments, even from complete strangers, did for me what I hoped I could do for Jack. The commenters cut me some slack and sympathized through their own life experiences. They echoed what I knew, which is that I am allowed to leave a “good” life to pursue a “right” life, and that was big.
It was big not because I wanted their permission, but because I needed their reminder.
When I told Jack he could leave, I was hoping to give him the same thing my roommate in college gave me five years ago, and what the commenters did last week. Once in a while, we all need permission to “do it motherfucker.”
There is no rule anywhere that says you have to be a lawyer, even if you went to law school, or that you have to marry someone because you’ve been with them for ten years. You needn’t pursue a career just because you were given a good opportunity, nor do you need to live in a city just because it’s “home.” You’re allowed to ask someone to leave, or to admit you don’t want children, or that you like weird stuff in bed. Hell, you’re allowed to break that lease god damn it. Very rarely are we actually stuck.
I don’t know why this happens because I think we all know these things deep down. It just seems to me, like sometimes we need a reminder.
This morning Jack needed to remember he is allowed to do what is right for him, which is to ask Lucia to move out, no matter how shitty it is going to be. Once I said, over and over again, “Jack. You are allowed to leave,” I think he felt the fog of panic lift a bit.
My roommate did it for me in college, the commentors did it for me last week, and I hope I was able to do it for Jack today.
To be reminded of your own agency is an incredible gift.
So I’ll say this: stop being stupid Jack. You’re allowed to do it, so just do it, motherfucker. It’s all going to be okay. .