From significant to insignificant facets of life, John Brier goes back on his word, breaks promises and changes his mind, all in an effort to be more honest.
“We shook on it.” That’s what my friend said after I changed my mind and backed out of our agreement. We did shake hands on it, though. The agreement was with an old neighbor who became a new neighbor. A few months ago I started noticing his truck parked in the cul-de-sac. One day when I saw him I went over and we caught up while our dogs ran in circles around us. They had to catch up too since the last time they met was when my dog was half the size he is now.
Sometime after we caught up I decided I needed a roommate since my ex-girlfriend moved out and I quit my job. I needed to fill the space and I needed to save my savings, as much as possible anyway. It seemed serendipitous that the next time I saw him I happened to be “cleaning up my apartment so I could make room for a roommate.” He said he might be interested and asked how much the rent was. I told him and we agreed to talk later.
He came over not long after and told me his current housing situation was untenable. His roommates were literally drug addicts, and they were abusive and manipulative towards him. He had to get out and was trying hard to get out before the month ended in the next couple of weeks. I agreed we could be roommates. We shook on it and agreed he would move in over the coming weekend. That was that.
But that wasn’t it. Even the night I agreed on it I felt a slight unease. I contacted my landlord previously about getting a roommate to see what the process was. He said he had to vet any roommate with an application including a criminal and financial background check. I actually mentioned this to my old neighbor and we agreed we could do a month trial, ignoring these requirements, and if we got along well we would go through the full process.
But I still felt weird about this plan. I didn’t want to go in with someone for a month only to have them not work out and be back at square one: having to find a good roommate all over again. I called my Mom and told her my concerns and she repeated them back to me, reinforcing their validity. She told me what I already knew, exactly what I needed to hear. One of those things was that I knew my friend didn’t have any income. His girlfriend was supporting him. So it was very unlikely my landlord would vet him with no proof of employment, never mind if he and his girlfriend could afford the rent.
So I messaged my old friend telling him I wanted to do this process properly. I wanted to do the $65 application fee, the background check and the credit check. No response. A few days later his girlfriend knocked on my door. He was there too, but she began the conversation asking why I changed my mind. I said hello to my friend standing behind her, his head looking at the ground shamefully, and he came up and repeated his girlfriend’s questioning tone, but he added, “we shook on it!” It was with a tone of exasperation. I apologized and repeated my explanation. I felt bad about the unsafe housing situation he was in but I didn’t want to sacrifice my housing situation either. He finally admitted why he came over with his head staring at the ground when he told me how my landlord wouldn’t like his record and his credit wasn’t good.
He’s had troubles in life, many years ago he assured me, but they showed up on his record and even if he could pay the rent my landlord might not accept it. I felt sad for him and his fucked up housing situation and I was apologetic about my flip flopping, my seeming lack of honesty, of dependability and integrity. But for the first time I finally felt honest.
Through the whole process though I was thinking about how “we shook on it.” This was supposed to be me giving “my word,” an agreement stronger than law some would say, this physical handshake. But while I felt bad about going back on it I think I would have felt worse for holding on to it. To be a man is to be honest even about past your lack of honesty, because if you can’t go back on something then what hope do you have of becoming better if you aren’t already perfect?
Likewise it may seem undependable to go back on a promise but if a promise is not made from a place of full self awareness and internal agreement what hope does that promise have of standing up in the long run? It would be better to knock it down before anything is built on top of it than to wait for it to crumble from underneath and take down much more with it.
And so it goes in my life. I’ve been changing my mind a lot over the past two years. In the beginning it was just trying out new things like finally getting eye contacts, trying spirituality, trying therapy, and trying a long term relationship. Over time though, I began letting go of things too, not just promises or “my word” but allowing myself the freedom to be who I really am.
I almost quit my job two years ago but in the process of quitting I found a much different position within the same company, so I tried it out for a year and a half and realized I still wanted to let go of it, it wasn’t what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be. So I did. A much smaller thing I let go of was drinking coffee. I started drinking coffee with my ex because she drank it, but towards the end of our relationship I let go of it. I never drank it on my own before so why was I drinking it now? No good reason. Another big thing that I am in the process of letting go of, and this one is going to be difficult, like my first long-term-relationship was, is letting go of my dog.
I’ve had him for almost two years and he’s still a puppy and will continue to be one for at least another year. I could list all the reasons why I don’t want to take care of him anymore, or why I think he isn’t right for me, but there’s really only one reason: I didn’t want him to begin with. Some friends originally found him and told me how great he was and how cute he was. With my ex-girlfriend’s encouragement I agreed to check him out and I ended up bringing him home with me.
If I had been walking down the street and seen him in a window that said “Free Adoption,” I don’t think I would have taken him home with me. I didn’t really want the responsibility, but I wasn’t honest about that when my friends were trying to convince me how awesome he was. So I agreed when I shouldn’t have. I am still in the process of reconciling this situation and my feelings, but I’m going to figure it out.
Whether someone else takes care of him in the future or not, I don’t know, but I will no longer pretend it doesn’t matter to me.
The more I go back on or let go of things, the less time I let lapse between my awareness of unease and the reconciling of it. If I’m not completely honest about something I’ve chosen to do, I won’t let it drag out until the resentment is seething. Now I’ll catch it quick and nip it in the butt, or sometimes, and this is the absolute coolest experience, sometimes I’ll be completely honest in the moment. Men have both self-created and external expectations of them, so many so that we feel like we can’t be honest, but the truth is, what makes a real man is being honest about who you are, no matter who that is, and no matter how many times you change.
Photo: Lucas/Wikimedia Commons