Consider a long hallway. So long that in either direction, it fades into the distance. In the middle there is a walkway. On the right, like in an airport, is a conveyor belt moving forwards. On the left is a conveyor belt moving backwards. There are no handrails and it’s easy to get on or off a conveyor belt.
You are walking along the walkway. People pass you going one direction or the other from time to time, sometimes passing you by, sometimes passing in the opposite direction. Sometimes you walk together a while with someone, sometimes you nod and wave and it’s over in a moment.
You become friends with someone near you and begin to walk together. You enjoy your time, the company makes you happy. Sometimes your friend speeds up a little, and you have to speed up too to stay together, or the same happens but slowing down. It’s the pace of life. More and more you walk together. Eventually you fall in love.
Then your friend wants to see more of what lies ahead, and suggests you both get on a forward-moving conveyor belt. You think it’s a good idea and would gladly join her. But she gets on the conveyor belt going backwards.
All of a sudden she’s moving much more slowly than you are, even though you haven’t slowed down. Your friend speeds up some to try to match you, and says, “Where are you going? I thought you wanted to be together!”
You say, “I do, but you’re on the wrong conveyor belt!” Your friend is hurt and says, “Don’t criticize me.” You are baffled. “I’m not judging you in the slightest,” you say. “You’re just actually, literally, on the wrong conveyor belt. I love you. I don’t want to lose you.”
Your friend is hurt. “You say I’m wrong all the time.” Your friend reads a book and cries with her friends and tells you you need to take more ownership of what’s going on. You don’t want to fight; you slow down even more; but your friend keeps falling behind. Now your friend has to work even harder to keep moving forward with you. It exhausts her just to keep up. “It takes so much energy,” she says. She tries her best to keep up, but all she feels is you pulling away. She slows; it all takes too much effort.
Your friend wants you to fix it; she sees how you aren’t working as hard as she is. You share what you have with her—you give her food for strength, you sing her songs, you tell her you love her, you tell her not to quit; you give all you have. But she is demoralized and falls further behind. “I work so hard. I put in so much and you so little,” she says. You try again to point out she’s on the wrong belt. There’s no way to simply speak the truth without her feeling attacked. “I’m not placing blame, I swear,” you plead. “How do I tell you I am not causing this?”
You are crying. You don’t want to lose your friend. But you do not want to go backwards. You have been there already. You want to move forward, and you want to move forward with your friend. But you can’t. It’s not your fault, but you can’t. You have to choose.
If you carry forward, your friend will call you cruel. Your friend will think you have walked away. Your friend’s heart will be broken, like yours, but she will also feel betrayed. You speed up and down for the longest time, hoping eventually she will see, sometimes even getting on the belt with her for a time, to her great relief. When you get off again, she wonders why you’ve left her. You don’t want to choose. You want her to get off the belt going backwards. You want her to see that it wasn’t your fault. That it never had to happen. You try.