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The art of building a relationship is something I’ve yet to master. I think it’s because I’m bad at poker.
In poker, you place something valuable in jeopardy for a short while; Leo DiCaprio, for example, participates in games with stakes as high as $200,000. As a player, I stand to either suffer a loss or enjoy a benefit. Regardless, I can’t close the deal how I opened it, and I can’t back out once I’ve entered. For better or worse, making the bet will somehow change me—or at least the contents of my wallet.
Recently, I’ve started looking at relationships the same way. I envision the process of developing a relationship as an infinite number of little steps forward. In order to progress from one step to the next, I must take a gamble. Instead of laying down money, I’m putting a relationship on the line. And just as a round of poker either costs or makes me money, these gambles will either deepen or weaken my relationships.
If this seems a little irrelevant to you, think about the most awesome and meaningful friendships you’ve had in your life. Think about the people that you can be your ugly, imperfect, unedited self with, and try to imagine what you’d do without them. Maybe you’re picturing your dad, sister, girlfriend, or best friend. The people that I’m seeing in my mind’s eye are few in number, but I owe them my happiness.
When I think about how I got this comfortable with these people in my life, I think of the millions of moments in which I decided to let them see me as I truly am: insecure about my looks, stressed about my future, passionate about what I study, worried about my family, decidedly imperfect.
The point being that friendships are easy to start, but to turn one into the really beautiful, awesome kind, you have to be willing to do more than just smile, or laugh, or even share a living space. You need to be able to confide. You need to be willing to tell the truth about yourself. And you need to feel comfortable being your true self, whether that means being engaging and upbeat or, on a bad day, subdued or quiet or crying.
Doing any of these things seems like a gamble to me.
Opening up to people is nerve-wracking: What if I reveal something about myself that pushes my friends away?
Telling the truth is scary: What if the real reason that I don’t want to hang out—because I’m feeling overwhelmed or I need to be alone or I’d rather watch the finale of "House of Cards"—isn’t good enough? Will my friends understand me enough to know that, sometimes, even though I love them, I prefer to be alone?
Being myself can leave me fraught with anxieties: What if, sometimes, I’m too tired to play the part of the joyous, upbeat, manic pixie dream girl, and my friends decide that my friendship is a burden rather than a joy?
I realize that this way of viewing friendships and relationships might sound sad, silly, or cynical. And maybe it points to a shortcoming on my part. Maybe I should analyze relationships less or work on my self-confidence more.
But I think poker as a metaphor for relationships is worth considering, because, if you’re like me, you need the reminder every now and then that making bets is sometimes good for you. The momentary discomfort you feel when opening up to a friend is often dissolved by the advice and support they can offer in return. Acting “real” around your friends—even if that’s not always the same as “happy,” and even if it sometimes requires that they be there for you rather than simply with you—is okay. Better than okay, even: It keeps you sane.
Beyond that, it’s surprising and heartening to realize that the gambles that feel big and scary are actually not so dramatic after all. I’ve found that my friends and family are more accepting and understanding than even I expect them to be. In those moments, even amidst stress and sadness, I’ve never been surer that I’ll be okay in the end.
And after all that, the gambling metaphor is helpful because it reminds us how tenuous a friendship is—how much work and investment it takes to build one, how easily we can take the most valuable ones for granted, and how frivolous it would be to throw those away.
No paycheck—not even Leonardo DiCaprio’s—could ever be worth as much.
Lily K. Calcagnini ’18, a Crimson editorial executive, is a History & Literature concentrator living in Dunster House.
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