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unnecessary uncertainty

April 12, 2022

Uncertainty is a part of life. We can’t know everything, and we can’t predict the future. Some people think they can, but they’re wrong.

Uncertainty also makes us feel crazy. It’s hard to decide what to do when you can’t get information you need, or when you can’t predict what’s going to happen tomorrow. When we don’t know, we get agitated, anxious, impulsive. In some cases (like if you don’t know for sure if your spouse is cheating on you), you can feel like you’ve lost it. Knowing a terrible truth feels better than not knowing.

If uncertainty is a part of life, and if uncertainty can make us feel crazy, then feeling crazy from time to time is a part of life. Which is why I’ve advised people to get comfortable with uncertainty. The better you get at managing uncertainty, the better off you’ll be. The more you fight it, the harder your life will become.

Except there’s an exception, I think: the exception of unnecessary uncertainty.

Let me tell you about this woman I know (let’s call her G) and her male friend (let’s call him B). G and B had been friends for about a year. They both were dating other people, off and on, and so theirs was primarily a platonic friendship, off and on. Except every now and then, and especially when they were single, B would start flirting heavily with G. He’d compliment her in a non-platonic way. He’d say suggestive things. He’d even hint at dating her.

G was picking up the signals B was putting down, and she was into it. She liked B: they got along; he was cool and attractive. Except whenever G would broach the subject of actually dating rather than just hinting at it, B would back off. He’d flirt until a romantic involvement became realistic or imminent, and then he’d pull away and make an excuse as to why they couldn’t date. G would then feel rejected and pull away as well.

Time would go by, and then they’d somehow reconnect and rekindle the friendship. But it wouldn’t be long before B was be back at it, making overtures toward G and suggesting they engage in a non-platonic way. And sure enough, as soon as G would suggest developing the relationship into something romantic, B would say, “Well… we can’t… because....” And they’d pull away from each other all over again.

But G couldn’t detach because his friendship was truly valuable to her. He seemed to truly care about her. He was there for her in ways no one else was, supporting her through tough times when she would have otherwise had to manage alone. She didn't want to let that go.

This sort of thing happens every day, and chances are this has happened to you. Sometimes it happens in a friendship, other times it happens in a workplace, sometimes in a family. Sometimes B is a woman and G is a man, or both are the same gender (or non-binary). The context almost doesn’t matter. The people don’t matter. The situation is equally frustrating: a person in your life says one thing but does another, or does one thing and says another.

Which leaves you feeling uncertain.

Which makes you feel crazy.

And yet, it’s hard to let go. There’s history, or genuine care, or opportunity for growth, or whatever else keeps relationships going. You can’t just walk away.

Or so you think. And so, you do what I have advised many to do: you get comfortable with uncertainty. You accept it as part of life.

G (who is a real person) tried to manage her uncertainty. She persisted because uncertainty is to be expected in life, and because the friendship had value.

But over time, the confusion created too much dissonance, and the dissonance made her too anxious. She never knew where she stood. Either B was sabotaging something he really wanted, or he was lying to her when he suggested more. Or something else. I mean... who knew?

So, one day, she called him out. She described the pattern she saw and asked him, point blank, why he would suggest intimacy over and over again, only to declare it could never happen. Maybe his answer wouldn’t be what she wanted to hear, but she hoped an answer would give her peace.

Except his explanation didn’t add up; his reasoning sounded abrupt and poorly thought-out. Her uncertainty didn’t abate; in fact, that she had to deal with it made her angry.

So, she decided to make a choice between a friendship without certainty and a life with less uncertainty. If she hung on, chances were high that her discomfort would persist. If she let go, she could put her energy into other friendships that came with more security, more peace. Ultimately, she realized that whatever he gave her didn't compensate for what the uncertainty he caused did to her.

So, she chose a life with less uncertainty. She ended the friendship, and immediately felt a sad, empty space where B used to be. But that night, she slept like a baby. And when she woke the next morning and thought about her other friendships, she was filled with a vibrant sense of energy.

Today, she feels no regret.

Some uncertainty is unavoidable, and that uncertainty you should learn to manage. But uncertainty that's not necessary… it’s up to you whether or not to keep it. Own that choice, and a sense of peace might follow. And perhaps even a good night's sleep.

That is all.

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