The Observer Effect

​The other day, I was watching a video on Facebook about a group of filmmakers who were caught in a predicament: should they rescue the emperor penguins which were trapped in a ravine, or should they let nature run its course and uphold the documentarist’s code of non-intervention?   

I found the video interesting, considering that just recently, I had a talk one evening with someone I had dated in the past.

He had admitted that he was scared of confrontations, and I realized that it could’ve been the reason why he never really asked for a proper explanation when I said back then that we should stop dating.

I told him to be honest: was there anything that he wanted to ask that he had been, years back, afraid to?

He said that he had always wondered if I had feelings for him during the time we were dating, or if he was the only one who had felt that what we had was special.

I guess I was unfair at the time of the “breakup”. I told him then that we were better off as friends, and that I thought that he needed some time for himself.

Frankly, what I really wanted to say was that, I felt that our relationship was stopping him from growing.

Yes, the space we have created between us had provided a certain comfort. But I surmised that, at that point in his life, the comfort of our relationship was not what he needed. He needed to discover himself, and to be challenged to become better.

In my head, I thought that the only way he could only realize that better version of himself–career-, emotion-, and even health-wise–was having me out of the picture as a potential partner.

Being the intuitive person that he was, he told me that he somewhat felt that that was what I had wanted to happen by breaking up, although he never really confirmed it–until now.

But he also said that it wasn’t right for me to not have given him the opportunity to fully understand the reasons why I had terminated the relationship.

He made sense. I may have been wrong.

But in that moment though, I thought: by telling him the true reason behind the breakup, would I have forced him to grow as a person that he didn’t want to be or wasn’t ready to become? Would he have negotiated the relationship and promised to change, simply because I told him that he had so much unrealized potential and that our relationship was hindering him?

The thing is, I’ve always believed that it’s more sustainable for people to have changed because of a realization that they made on their own, rather than to have changed because someone else had twisted their arm into changing.

To paraphrase a popular quote: “When the student is ready, the lesson will appear.”

I didn’t want to force the lesson on him. I didn’t want to beat him with my frustration that he wasn’t growing as fast as I would want him to grow. I didn’t want to hold the relationship hostage and make it seem like I was turning him into my pet project.

I genuinely was fond of him for being the kind, wonderful soul that he was.

I also knew that I needed to step back and not intervene with his growth.

It’s funny because, had I chosen to intervene then, would things have fared well for us? Would we have become terrific partners?

I don’t know, honestly.

Maybe, with matters of the heart, we can never really not intervene. To participate in other people’s lives is to change their lives in a certain way. We cannot isolate parts of their lives into little fragments, and assess whether each fragment had been changed since we had become part of their lives.

At the end of that conversation, I told him that I truly wanted him to succeed in life. We may never have been boyfriends, but I sincerely am cheering him on at the sidelines as a real friend, hoping for the best.

I never had imagined before that it could be possible to root for someone without any agenda, until he came in my life.

So maybe I was the one who learnt an important lesson, after all.

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