Emotional hills

When I was about 15 years old I was a bit of an athlete. I was one of those annoying kids who just found it relatively easy to do the basics well enough for cricket, football, running and more, so was on all the school teams and competed loads.

At one cross country race we noticed a super steep hill, which one of the school running team was scared to tackle. It was muddy and felt near vertical, and she just freaked out when she saw it. I figured that as she would need to do it during the race that she should try it beforehand, and convinced her to give it a try. She did, and proceeded to fall cartwheeling down it, landing in a heap at the bottom and putting her out of the race.

I felt guilt then as I’d never done before. It had been me that had told her it would be fine, and had even proven it would be by doing it myself first. She fell head over heels when she gave it ago while I more easily retained my footing; I came out perfectly unscathed but she ended hurt and bruised.

This tale of childhood sporting travails came to mind when I thought about some of the semi-relationships people go through in the modern dating world. I’ve lost count of the number of tales shared on Twitter of people who get taken to the top of an emotional hill by someone they build a relationship of sorts up with, whether it’s only a text-based one at first or there are actual meetings, before soon finding themselves at the bottom of it in pieces.

The person who took them there never intended for them to get hurt, far from it. On the contrary, they had even tested things out themselves and hadn’t gotten hurt during the process, but their own sure footedness was based on their own abilities to manage the situation, not someone else’s.

Emotions and relationships are very much like this. Two people can have the same conversations, go to the same places together and hear the same words, but can take away two subtly different versions of events. There are always three truths in any situation between two people; what one person knows to be the truth, what the other person knows to be the truth and the actual truth, which is neither of those two things.

It’s all too easy for someone to feel they are taking things slowly and carefully, not making promises they can’t keep while being open to opportunities and excited at potential, while the other person hears only the potential and starts dreaming and hoping. Then, when things come to a head, this discrepancy leaves both sides confused.

How could they have gotten it so wrong? What did they say to make the other person feel as they did? Should they have done something different? Why are they so hurt when the other person barely feels a thing? Why is the other person in tears when the truth is so obvious and straightforward?

Relationships are messy, never more so than at the start. Neither of you have a real good handle on how the other will act in any given situation, what things are real and which are simply throwaway comments or pie crust promises. They are confusing and unsettling, which is also part of their attraction.

Good people don’t ever intend to hurt someone with their actions or words. You’ll know deep down whether you are with a good person or whether they’re simply a fuckboy; if it’s the former then there’s a good chance that they are trying to do the best they can and are not trying to throw you down a hill, even accidentally. If it’s the latter, then it’s more likely that you’re throwing yourself head first down the hill of your own volition.

Be doubly careful with the expectations you are setting out at the beginning of a relationship. It’s easy to get carried away dreaming and to build a vision of the two of you riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after, but the odds of that happening are so small and the odds of you being hurt so large that to get lost in these dreams is more likely to lead to disappointment and heartbreak than anything else. If things feel too good to be true they usually – though not always – are.

In the end it turned out that they’d changed the course to avoid the hill altogether. I finished in the top ten out of 250 runners that day. I’ve never looked back on that race with pride. Make sure you don’t fling anyone else, or yourself, down a hill or you won’t look back with pride either.


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