Everything in this life seems innocent in the beginning – every turn of the page and every tiny, insignificant decision. Every lie, every affair, every addiction, every compulsion and the dawn of every vice. The first sip always tastes harmless going down. So does the first kiss.
I’ve never met a person who created a goal to become addicted to heroin, to failing out of school, to fighting their way out of a mountain of credit card debt, to gambling their savings away or to sabotaging their closest relationships.
The downfall almost always begins as though it’s no big deal – a stare that lasts longer than it should, a glance at something you know wasn’t meant for your eyes to see, a wink in response to a flirtatious comment. There is always some level of innocent disregard for the bigger picture.
So whatever you’re thinking about doing tonight, tomorrow or five minutes from now – allow me to be the tap on your shoulder reminding you that every small decision then forms a series of further small decisions which then becomes your story.
Someday Your Choices Will Have Infected You With Something.
Some years ago, I accepted an invitation for lunch from a co-worker. But not just any co-worker. This was someone I never thought I would have a relationship with. I had noticed alarming cracks in her character, and was warned of her history of problematic behavior. But, on that day, my stomach was growling, and I had communicated with her enough to have decided she was relatively entertaining and sweet. I thought joining her for a simple lunch could only be harmless.
“Sure,” I told her, shrugging. The following day, she extended the same invitation, and my answer was the same. Eventually we were interacting often enough for me to have learned her favorite kind of cheesecake, when she expected her period, the names of her three most recent love interests and her mom’s most annoying phone habits.
Somewhere in between our work-related rants and sandwich bites, we became unlikely friends. To claim we were not like-minded would be the understatement of the century. The majority of our priorities and values existed on opposite ends of every possible spectrum. But, through our repeated interactions, we formed a bond through our shared fondness for music, and I began to find aspects of her personality I genuinely appreciated.
As with every relationship, however, the more comfortable she became with me, the more layers of her character she revealed. As ours further progressed, I learned that underneath her smiling face was often a dark brew of steaming negativity and self-centeredness. I began to inherit the residue of her self-created problems, for they were sticking to me like molasses. Her chaotic eruptions were invading my head space to such a degree that I began to feel our time spent together created a dark cloud looming above my head for hours after we parted ways.
She began sending random text messages marked “Emergency” or “Call me asap.” I’d step away from shopping ventures and relaxing dinners in a panic, worried she was either stranded or injured, only to be met with yet another overdramatized account of some meaningless saga.
Most days resembled a looping scene from a Lifetime movie; she seemed addicted to her episodes of heartache, destruction and misfortune. It was like turning page after page of a grossly fabricated gossip magazine – one of those situations where it is easy to become curious enough to want to look inside, but minutes after opening the page, you say to yourself, “I’m sorry; what am I doing wasting my time with this insanity?”
I began to feel as though I was swimming around in murky waters with her, and I was ready to relinquish my pleas that we both return safely to shore. I needed to leave her alone to swim in circles if she was so adamant about choking on the swamp water.
Everyone else in her life was always the “crazy” one, the “fake” one, or the “promiscuous” one. It didn’t matter who was married, who was committed, whose reputation was at stake, who was at risk of being embarrassed or whose trust she had earned, for each time I peeled back the layers to reveal the root, it was clear that every solitary decision was made to suit her desires. And she always found a way to justify her mistreatment of others. I had never encountered such narcissism.
I became determined to set boundaries, resigning to cultivate a friendship with a more “arm’s length” type of interaction. Still, every time I attempted such, she’d douse me with her apologies, flattery and syrupy sweetness. I longed to carve a division, yet every time I tried, her sob stories, lengthy confessions and pleading apologies provoked feelings of compassion within me.
Over and over again, she’d return to being exactly who she had always been: a bouquet of roses, smiles and flattery when the lights were turned up and a pile of thorns, chaos and self-obsession when no one was watching. I wanted to be as compassionate, helpful and loyal as possible with every person in my life, but I realized that by doing so in that particular friendship, I had betrayed the person who was most deserving of my loyalty: me.
Brick-by-brick, Your Decisions Pave the Road to Your Reality
My seemingly innocent acceptance to join someone for lunch eventually led to a friendship which had begun creating a ripple effect of disruption and stress in other areas of my life. It affected my other relationships, as well as my sense of self. Such story is a small example in comparison to other events which have impacted me, but the point is this: I had encountered flashes of her self-centeredness and negativity from the beginning, but chose not to consider that those flashes made up an entire painfully dramatic movie I would resent having participated in.
As a result, my door was left ajar, therefore, I had inadvertently invited negativity into my life. Our most problematic situations often begin this way: not consciously or even recklessly, but rather one tiny compromise at a time.
It’s easy to judge others from a distance and say, “I would never do that.” or “I would never allow myself to be in that situation.” But there are countless drug addicts, battered women and business failures in this world who once felt they “would never” find themselves where they are. They made one tiny compromise at a time, which eventually paved the avenues they currently walk upon.
Few things in life are immune to being stripped of their innocence. There is always the propensity for something small to evolve into something monstrous. Everything matters – every brick you lay, every promise you do or do not keep, every opportunity you either accept or decline and every encounter you invite into your life.
Everything we allow into our world infects us with something. It may be lovely, entertaining, heart-breaking or money-making, but there will always be something.
Don’t ignore the red flags or muffle your instincts. Every small decision leads you to your next one. Eventually, this series of turns will have become your life.