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Second Chances: When to Give Them, When to Wisen Up

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

I think I was 6-years-old the first time I heard the timeless phrase, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”

Then, it was a no-brainer. In the simplicity of somebody tricking me out of trading the basically gourmet PB&J sandwich my mother had packed me for lunch that day for an already opened bag of smart food popcorn, the protocol was simple; that little first-grade geezer, whoever they were, was not a friend. 

The idea is simple enough, but the lines got increasingly blurred as time went on, hormones heightened, breasts (slightly) grew, and high-pitched voices developed the spine chilling, school girl giggle evoking depth that we (or I) have fallen for one too many times. 

When the betrayal that once only extended to stale popcorn for mother made sandwiches reaches new heights of invite-only group chats to which you’re not invited, inside joke exclusion, exposure of secrets, romantic relationship sabotage, and of course, deception in any sense of the word, we often can’t decipher the intentional from the accidental and subsequently who does and doesn’t deserve a second chance. 

Often, forgiveness is instinctual because of our own optimism; we want our people to be good people. We choose to see them outside of their actions. As an optimist, the pill that reads, “Newsflash: your wants, choices, and trust do not guarantee purity in the motives of others,” is one that will never cease to cling to the inside of my trachea on its way down. It persists. And despite our best efforts, truth is undeniable, unchanging, and unavoidable.  

The concept that a friend would have anything other than pure intentions, and the malice to physically act on said intentions is a concept I’ve struggled with deeply since the first time I was tricked a second time and realized the shame was, in fact, on me. This shame has only led to my weeping, snotty-nosed, and siren-red face soaking the shoulder of my mother’s shirt with a current of tears (from the PBJ conspiracy and beyond). 

Of course, my own naivety hasn’t been completely in vain. Metaphorically speaking, the betrayal of many half-opened bags of Smartfood popcorn has been beneficial in my development of the discernment that now aids me in distinguishing who of the conniving scoundrels that took my kindness for weakness this week is deserving of a second chance. 

A discernment I have the joy of now distributing to each of you. 

While I’m nobody’s victim, I am also not a stranger to misplacing my trust in ill-intended hands. This misplaced trust has brought me conflict at a multitude of levels; from the disingenuous “oh, we didn’t invite you because we didn’t think you would wanna go,” and subtle ignoring of my accomplishments to the blatant lack of recognition of my 21st birthday. Though they seem but small, these situations are felt deeply by somebody with a heart as open as mine and hopes even higher. 

Bottom line: Actions are not just actions once you factor in motive, thought process, and intention 

Imagine the following, completely fictional, scenario: It’s your birthday (maybe a major milestone, but who’s counting anyway?) and you’re excited! It’s with full confidence and assurance that you make plans to celebrate the high priority annual occurrence that is your birthday. And when you remember the dedication that you put into the celebrations of those around you, the same ones you’ve invited to your own extravaganza, the already buzzing excitement only grows steadily each day leading up to it because you just know this is going to be a good one. 

So when one friend says they can’t make it, it doesn’t sting as much. Adults have jobs, lives, and prior commitments and you are understanding; even if they were conveniently available for literally any (and I do mean any) other social event. Things happen, and they can’t come. 

Nothing kills your joy because it’s your birthday and you have a firm belief that nothing can hinder the beauty of the memories to be made. Until the next friend asks, “what time do you think we’ll be done? I can come, but I have plans for the night.” That one hurts undeniably because as a friend, your birthday should be the only social event on their agenda for the evening. 

But you understand like you always do, and only respond with “I get it, leave whenever you need to,” because even though these are two confirmed no-shows, you know that they’ll come through for you, somehow, off of the strength that they’re your friends and friends don’t let friends have unsatisfactory birthdays. 

On the day of your birthday you wake to no balloons, pastries, or flowers; not even a cup of coffee. Maybe they’ll do a cake, is what you tell yourself. You go on Instagram and the same people that you posted elaborate, carefully curated selections of photos meant to commemorate them on their respective birthdays, showing your followers that this is your friend, whom you love dearly, and today is their day and they will be celebrated to the best of your ability have simply reshared whatever bikini picture Kim Kardashian has posted.

No signs of you in sight

It’s looking bleak, and the buzzing excitement you once felt is dwindling in intensity similar to the way that a two-liter soda loses its fizz from encountering too much oxygen. Soon enough, all the bubbles will fade and you’ll fall flat. You don’t know this yet, but it’s what they’ve intended all along. You, at peak, McDonald’s sprite level fizz is just intolerable.

Instagram isn’t for everybody, you excuse their bare minimum behavior. Maybe they’ll text. And they’ve texted; asking you what they should wear. Only after realizing how self-centered it is that they’ve yet to actually acknowledge the occasion before thinking of their own attire, which takes two minutes too long, do they follow up with a “TODAY’S THE DAY!! MORE LIFE!” 

It’s delayed, lacking depth, and deliberately disrespectful. The lyrics ‘it’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to,’ become way more relatable than you’ve ever foreseen possible and the day you once counted down the hours for is suddenly a day you wish you could cancel altogether. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It’s not. 

But you’re an optimist; you blink back the tears, answer the surface level happy birthdays with heartfelt, “thank you,” messages and proceed on. It’s still your birthday, after all. 

In the back of your mind, the premise of being presented with your favorite kind of cake, (which, if anyone had ever been paying attention, would be known as anything involving chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate) is the only thing keeping hope alive, especially after they showed up empty-handed with only side hugs and vague compliments in the place of true hype men you thought you’d be accompanied by this evening. 

Yeah, they’ll definitely tell the waiters it’s my birthday. If nothing else, I’ll get a cake

You never actually get the cake, though. You end your special day cakeless, wondering how on earth a nice girl like you didn’t blow out one candle on your birthday.  You might think that the worst part of it is that you don’t get to hear the timeless song that you never really can hear and feel the same justified joy as you feel on your actual day of birth, on any other day. But it’s not. 

The worst part is the realization that the ones you called friends made no attempts on making your special day feel special in the slightest bit. Feeling lonely at a table full of your loved ones who sat with their faces illuminated by social media feeds because they’d rather scroll through their newsfeeds than give you the slightest bit of attention or recognition on the day you should be honored the most is a feeling that cuts deeper than your lack of a cake ever could. 

When somebody makes you feel less than important on a significant day, whether it be your birthday or any other day held high in regard, it typically stems from a place of jealousy or resentment. Whatever the motivating emotion, refusal of due acknowledgment, especially when one hasn’t been deprived of the same attention prior, is a sign of narcissism. 

In my book, the narcissist doesn’t qualify for the second chance. Narcissism is so deeply rooted a character flaw that I deem any further intimate social interaction that follows the proper diagnosis as a waste of time entirely. Anybody with the drive and capability to attempt to minimize your importance is spiritually ill and therefore needs time to heal, at a far distance from you. 

This is not a discouragement of forgiveness, but it is, however, the encouragement to guard your affection with the utmost vigilance

In contrast to the narcissist, a friend who wrongs you unintentionally, through actions that have zero correlation to the character with which you’ve familiarized yourself or the manner in which they feel about you, is one deserving of a second chance. As open a relationship may seem, everyone has issues they’d prefer to handle privately. A friend who withdraws from the relationship with a lack of communication or a lack of presence due to the hectic nature of their personal lives deserves compassion. 

While we all deserve the best from our people, the ones we believe to be good people, the moment we demand priority over the mental health of others is the moment we transition from victim into an embodiment of the narcissist undeserving of any chance at all. 

As a result of my spiritual awakening, I spent the last year on a high of an unbounded distribution of forgiveness, with the rationale that holding grudges was unGodly and no longer worthy of my energy. 

This decision was both good and bad; while the implementation of forgiveness and fresh starts was good for my mental and even physical health, I noticed that the distribution of inches led to the theft of too many miles for me to count. The perception of my kindness was beyond weakness, it was now the weapon of choice of every wolf clothed in this season’s shearling couture.

I think we cheat friendship when we underestimate its ability to be flawed and anything other than easy. In reality, relationships of all natures are prone to conflict. It’s the magnitude of these conflicts that subsequently dictate the best ways to proceed in the resolutions. 

 When wronged, examine the situation in its entirety. If you find the defendant had a choice and in the end deliberately decided against the sparing of your feelings, I advise that you wisen up. Take the situation for what it is rather than what you wish it to be, and remove yourself from any situation where you’ve fallen victim to the sword of your vulnerability. 

  On the other hand, when faced with more minor conflicts such as miscommunications, PMS aggression, or distance caused by strain from a rigorous course load, I advise the granting of endless chances. Because we’re all the protagonists in our own stories, how we fit into the plots of others is not up to our determination. Those with pure intentions deserve understanding. Use your discernment to weed out the carnivores from your friendly herbivore next door.

I’ve been conned into stale Smartfood popcorn and quiet, candle-less birthdays more times than I would care to admit. I’m thankful for these lessons, both trivial and major, from which I’ve learned that all friends go through things, while real friends get through things. But, if we’re being honest, I’m finding my supply of second chances to be running increasingly low, and my tolerance to be wearing wearily thin. 

Cheyenne Paterson is a senior English major, Strategic Communications minor studying at Hampton University from Boston, MA. She aspires to combine storytelling and an editorial style of writing to increase audience engagement and advocate for brands and corporations. Cheyenne is the Editor-In-Chief for Hampton University's Chapter of Her Campus, a regular contributor to Impressions of Beauty, and the President of the Peer Counselor's organization on campus. In her free time, Cheyenne enjoys dabbling in interior design, perfecting her homemade coffee, and baking new recipes!
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