One of my best friends had been in a bad relationship for nearly a decade. He and his girlfriend would show up somewhere, and you’d do the polite thing, which was “So good to see you!” But the minute they left, everyone around them would say, “Man, I can’t believe they’re still together.” The mistake I made later was crossing the line you’re never supposed to cross with a friend.
Their relationship started in deceit and was clouded in deceit, and his self-esteem was being eroded by a woman who didn’t trust him. To be clear, he brought this all on himself. Week after week, I would listen as he shared the latest saga of her checking his texts or sneaking onto his email. He would always say, “I’m going to break up with her.” And I would get excited hoping that this romantic entanglement would end and they’d both be better off. It never happened.
But I continued to listen, because as a friend you lend a compassionate and understanding ear, even when on the inside you’re screaming, get out! One day he called to tell me about the latest situation. While they were out, his phone rang, and he didn’t answer. She had asked why, and he said, “Because we’re having dinner.” She said, “Doubt it. It’s probably some other woman.” In the next moment, I did something you’re not supposed to do. I blurted out, “I just don’t care anymore. I think she’s bad for you. I think you’re bad for her. It’s toxic. You guys don’t belong together.” I couldn’t stop it, but I knew—now I’d done it. I’d crossed that line. If they did weather the storm and marry and have children, I’d always be the guy who threw in the towel long before they did.
For a moment, I thought I should apologize. Instead, I tried to get my friend to take a big-picture view. I said, “Just imagine that you’re 97 years old. You’re talking to your son who’s in this same situation. What would you say to him?” A moment passed and he says, “I’d ask him, What are you doing? There’s great love out there waiting for you. Just find it.” I could hear the sadness and the realization in his voice. It took being honest and crossing the line from a place of love to discover something profound. We all have a 97-year-old version of ourselves waiting to be consulted, and they always know the answer. My friend ended that relationship and is currently in a healthy and happy one.
As for me, I consult my 97-year-old all the time. He’s always saying the same thing: life is short, so make your move. Should you kiss the girl? Absolutely. Should you quit the job? Yep. Even now, starting a new talk show, I could get lost and forgo a normal life. Fortunately, I have this compass that says, It’s time to go home; we’ll pick this up tomorrow. I’ve got a beautiful wife and two kids, and that’s where I’d rather be right now. And I’m pretty sure when I’m 97, I’ll be glad I made this choice.
Interview By Kara Cutruzzula
Begins long stint as host of the hit reality show Survivor; wins five Emmys.
Writes and directs his first feature film, Finder's Fee.
Founds the Serpentine Project, a non-profit for young adults in foster care.
Convinces good friend to break up with his longtime girlfriend.
Launches new self-titled daytime talk show, debuting Sept. 10.