Monday 19 June 2006

Advice - easier to give than receive

I've always been someone people come to for advice. This can, at times, be a pain; equally, it can be very rewarding to be able to help someone out of a dilemma. I've learnt that it can be difficult to give advice sometimes, particularly if the recipient isn't going to like it, so I tend to start with "what I'd do is" rather than "what you should do is" and, generally, all is well.

Occasionally, very occasionally, I'll even offer advice when it hasn't been asked for. This is often a very dangerous thing to do but sometimes there really is no alternative. Let me illustrate by example, and turn the clock back to my then employer's Christmas "do" back in, I'm guessing now, 2002. After an evening of bad food and Bacchanalian consumption of various alcoholic beverages, a hard-core few were still gamely partying on in what could loosely be described as a "fun" club - you know the type of place: it has a dance floor but it's never going to play anything beyond the mainest of mainstream. I seem to recall asking the DJ for something (anything!) by The Prodigy. To his credit, he looked genuinely sorry when he replied that he wasn't allowed to play anything like that.

So I'm upstairs in this club, wandering aimlessly around, drink in hand, doing slow laps of the balcony overlooking the dancers on the floor below. And that's where I happened upon a colleague from work - for the sake of anonymity (his and mine) and to avoid getting sued, let's change the names throughout this piece and call him Ed. Ed was leaning on the balcony rail, overpriced drink in hand, forlornly staring over the side. After exchanging the sort of pleasantries that only ever exist between people that would normally never socialise yet somehow find themselves working together five days a week, I asked him what was up. Nothing, he replied, and continued to stare over the balcony.

Aside from my concern that the bouncers were going to give him a hard time (his near-full pint glass was dangling over the balcony, over the heads of the dancers below), I was more than a little worried about his demeanour - he seemed terribly, achingly sad. So I followed his gaze to the floor below and saw that he was staring at (let's call her) Jenny, another colleague. There was absolutely no doubt about it - as she moved around the dance floor in some form of novelty-record-inspired jig, his doleful eyes traced her every move. Now Ed and Jenny were, it was widely known, best friends and had been ever since they started primary school together. Yet here was Ed, displaying all the signs of heart ache and distress that I associate with unrequited love. So, partly to break his fixed gaze on the floor below, I asked Ed why he wasn't down there dancing with Jenny and the others. He answered that he would find that difficult. Now Ed was known for his ability to wax the dance floor, so I took it that the difficulty would arise from his feelings for Jenny... so I just asked him straight. "Why don't you ask her out?" He looked at me for a long time without saying anything, so long in fact that I started to wonder if I'd misjudged what I'd seen. Finally, he took a sip of his beer and replied, "If she says no, I've ruined the best friendship I've ever had." A fair point, I had to admit... but I soldiered on regardless, doubtless emboldened by a few beers of my own to stick my nose in where it probably wasn't wanted. My line of reasoning was basically this: if you never ask her, you'll never know, and if you never know you're going to wake up one day five, ten, fifteen years later and wonder "what if?" I added to this by asking what would be worse, damaging a friendship but knowing where you stood, or carrying on as you were but never knowing what might have been? He seemed to mull this over for a while, and then bought me a drink - I seem to recall we spent the rest of the evening buying each other increasing potent concoctions, and I revealed that in the past I had, not once but twice, not taken the plunge of asking someone, not at least found out, and I had regretted both missed opportunities ever since. As we got more wasted, I resorted to the "what I would do is" line... and shortly after that last orders were called at the bar, the house lights came up and we all trooped off home.

He didn't do anything about it that night. He didn't do anything about it in the last few working days leading up to Christmas either. But somewhere in our ten day break over the holiday period, Ed asked Jenny out. And she said yes. And, to the best of my knowledge, they are still together now. Whether my drunken advice to Ed played any part in this, I don't know. I hope so, but you'd have to ask him.

Anyway, what's my point in all this? I'm sure it's all very interesting to read a story with a happy ending but regular readers of this 'blog (there might be one of you out there somewhere) will sense that I'm leading to something else, so here it is. Why is it so much easier to give advice to someone else than to yourself? As I mentioned before, twice before I'd shied away from the situation Ed found himself in, and twice I'd regretted it. Yet as an outsider looking in, it's easy to see what should have been done. All of which is especially hard to swallow now that it's happened a third time. I've found myself in a position of unrequited feelings, and the longer I let them go on the less chance there is of them ever being realised. I've even had other people, friends and family, giving me the "what I would do is" line. One particularly good friend even put it firmer than that: "you have to...". But still I haven't done it. Why? Partly because, like Ed, I'd be risking a friendship and partly because, bounder that I am, it would break someone else's heart. So I do nothing, and instead the only feelings that get hurt, repeatedly, day after day, are mine.

Like I said before, I've always been someone people come to for advice. Why is it then that I can't take my own?

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