The Coward’s Choice & Meeting People You Have Faded Out Of Your Life
“It’s OKAY to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave.”
― Mandy Hale
will admit, I have made the coward’s choice many times in my life. I have knowingly lost/ended/faded out contact with a person/people for some reason (without actually talking to them about it), and we were left with a horrible sense of awkwardness, estrangement and resentment towards each other.
Over time, all these built up emotions fester, and when you actually meet again you don’t know what to do.
Generally, you try to avoid them as best you can and when you do accidentally meet, you pretend like you didn’t see the other person, or you ignore them in the most obvious way possible. (I once pretended to not see someone by staring really hard at a shelf in the supermarket, or suddenly no longer turning my head to the right side of the room. Can you imagine the embarrassment?)
That is what the coward’s choice is about: Deciding to give in to the fear of confrontation, rather than facing that truly awkward situation with authenticity and vulnerability – and making everything even more uncomfortable by behaving like a complete idiot! (Or is that just me?)
A reason we feel bad about these encounters is because we know deep down that we did something that wasn’t in accordance with who we feel we are. This can inspire a feeling of regret and the desire to talk about it with the affected person/people. From a selfish point of view, we can also desire relief for ourselves by talking about what happened, because we can’t let go by ourselves – and maybe we are looking for words of forgiveness and emotional release.
On the other hand, it can also be about our anger towards a specific person or people and their actions. We get so upset with them, or they with us, that it feels necessary to fade out the toxic relationship. However, even though we go our separate ways, the negative emotions remain and build up over time. At some point, we cannot (or do not want to) talk about it with the other person anymore, without accidentally, or purposefully, hurting their feelings.
Instead, whenever our pathways cross, we are too chocked by our emotions and too scared of confrontation that we decide to pretend like the other person doesn’t exist.
No matter what our individual reasons are, there is something that we have left unresolved and that we can’t authentically stand for, communicate, or let go.
When my family and I were out to dinner around Christmas, a group of people that played an integral role during my teenager years sat at a table across from us. I was completely mortified. A jolt cursed through my entire body and I could feel how my hands and feet turned icy cold.
Nonetheless, for the entire duration of the dinner I couldn’t focus on anything else but looking nonchalant and playing it cool. I would not be caught dead glancing over in their direction, and instead pretended to be deep in conversation with my family.
Back when I let the group fade out of my life, it made sense for the person I was and the circumstances I was in, to let go of them. However, I never clearly communicated myself and why I felt I needed to let go, and even though I have moved on since then, I deeply regretted not being honest with them. Thus, whenever I ran into one of them, I was stunned by a carousel of emotions – but most of all: I was too scared and ashamed to actually stand to my decisions of the past, and allow myself and the others to be humans with emotions.
I honestly feel that letting go of people, even without telling them, is OK. I am not saying that it was good, or the way I did it was good, or that it would have had to be done, but it happened. For that particular point in my life, I did the best I could to my available abilities and perspective on the world.
Sometimes we do not need to have the big ‘drama breakup’ with the people we share a journey with. Sometimes, it’s OK to just let things drift apart – mutually accepting that we are headed in different directions, or that we cannot bring value to each other anymore. (Fading out is always a two-sided affair) It is also not necessary to have to explain or justify the actions that were taken.
Maybe you weren’t in an emotional place that would have allowed, or needed, such an open and vulnerable conversation? I know that I wasn’t for a long time!
However, no matter how it happens, everyone involved will most likely feel deep emotions regarding the issue, which is a consequence that needs to be accepted – it is important to address these emotions and find ways to react to them, or let them go.
One way to do this is to not make the coward’s choice the next time you run into someone that landed on your “fade out” list.
“To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around.”
― Richie Norton
In the past eight years since I lost contact, I have relatively often crossed paths with individual people from the group that was sitting across from me and my family in that restaurant.
Whenever this happened, I felt so horrible inside, sad, and awkward that my knee-jerk response was to ignore them and not acknowledge their existence.
Again, it is OK to make these types of choices and decide that you no longer want to be in contact with specific people. There are so many reasons why you would want to do this, but: It is important to also stand to these decisions, take responsibility for them – and be open to communicating your individual reasons, as well as allowing everyone involved to express and feel their emotions, too.
Every time we are confronted with these people, we are given the chance to address unsettled emotions, questions and reasons.
Just because we faded someone out doesn’t mean that we cannot be honest and vulnerable towards them when we do actually end up meeting them in person. By being open to communication, we have the chance to resolve the real issues that are creating this wall of ‘urgh’ between each other, so that we may occupy the same space with authenticity and without overwhelming negative emotion.
During the last years of intensive personal growth (and leaving the drama of being a teenager), I have repeatedly thought back to these people. Above all, I wished that I would get the chance to talk to them. Tell them that I understand how hurt and upset they must have felt – explain what was happening on my side – and just say sorry. Not for my decisions, but for how I chose to pursue them.
At that dinner with my family – my wish was granted. The horror! Even though I had wished for this – actually having the courage to face the situation felt terrifying. Especially since I hate confrontation and conflict.
As we paid for dinner and got up, I had to decide: Who did I want to be? Who had I grown into? Was I going to carry this wish of being able to talk to them forever without acting on it?
When my family shuffled out of the restaurant, I decided to approach their table. Shaking. Surprised that I chose to actually approach them (we are all so used to the awkward version of this scenario), the group warily looked up – waiting for what I had to say.
The first words I said were: “Hey. This feels so awkward, but I am so happy to see you.”
After these first words, I just spoke my truth: I said that I had often thought of them; that they had been part of some of the most amazing years of my life; that I missed them in my heart. I also told them that I wished I had done things differently, even though they were the right decisions for the person I was back then – and, that I carried them in my heart with love.
The silence of eight years was broken. I cried in front of them and everyone in the restaurant, and with every tear that trickled down my face – I felt relief.
I was able to express the way I felt about our parting, and how my views on the issue had changed during the years. Everything that I had secretly wanted to let them know poured out of me. I found relief in being vulnerable and just speaking my truth. To allow myself to be human before them, and to admit that I was not “totally cool” with how things went.
They didn’t say much, but they were open to my approach and positively touched by my honesty.
We are probably never going to be close friends again, or even more than acquaintances, but we don’t have to be. Refusing the coward’s choice is not about restoring the relationship to where it used to be and pretending to be best friends again (even though it can be). For me, it is about rebuilding the bridges of communication and giving other people and myself their dignity back. It is about finding relief with what has happened and addressing the big fat elephant in the room.
After I left the restaurant, still crying, I felt deep and healing relief. In that moment, the the pain of my decisions and actions of the past years fell off of my shoulders, and I was proud and happy that I had faced these people with dignity and at eye level – instead of slinking out of sight.
I am happy that in this instance I decided to be who I have become. Rather than resorting to the coward’s choice of silence, I chose love, vulnerability, and communication – while also providing the others with the space to acknowledge their own emotions.
I would have hated myself, if I had just walked out pretending I did not see them. Slighting them very dramatic Victorian style…
That day, I learnt that I have a choice; that I can decide to reconnect, be authentic and vulnerable, or choose not to. However, it should always be a choice and never a default mechanism based on my fears and comfort zone.
It is OK to be shaken by fear – but don’t let it keep you from doing what you feel is right and from being in alignment with who you are.
I hope you could draw courage and strentgh from my words – maybe you needed to read them today.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Help me round out the perspective; maybe your story is just what someone else needed to read today, too.
I send you my love,
Model/MUAH/Bodysuit/*Retouch: Cat De Pillar
Photographer: Bernd Rößler
*Only lighting and colour were adjusted; there was no body modifaction or skin correction.
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