I had dinner the other night with a friend who is … well … guarded. We’ve been friends for more than two decades and I still run into his self-imposed walls every once in a while. I don’t think it is that he is shy. In fact, he’s a pretty outgoing guy. But with most people, his friendly demeanor is pretty superficial. Rarely do people get past the tough outer shell with him. I don’t think it’s because he is afraid to venture out; instead, I think he’s hesitant to let people in.
On another night last week I was having dinner with a different friend (my life is blessed). As we weighed our options, I considered ordering snow crabs. My friend wrinkled her nose and replied, “They are just too much work.” She opted for a cheeseburger and during the course of our conversation told me about an argument with her boss, revealed details about her sex life, and even cried about the recent loss of her mother. She is an open book. We are very much alike in that way. In fact, I could probably benefit from being a little more guarded with my feelings or intentions.
This week I’ve been thinking about my friend’s criticism of the crabs: “They are just too much work.” What she meant is that she doesn’t want to be bothered with cracking the hard shell. She doesn’t want to have to carefully pick to find the meat. She doesn’t want to get her hands dirty. But what she’s missing with all of those hesitations is a chance to savor the sweetness of the crab that is only known once the shell is cracked open.
My two dinner outings this week also have me thinking about the variety of people with whom I share relationships. My two dinner companions don’t know each other. If they did, I doubt they’d be friends. She is too busy splashing openly in the water while he is nested in mud, protected by a shell she has no interest in cracking. They are very different creatures in the same great, big ocean.
But let’s go back to the snow crab. There is more to the crab than his stubborn shell. For example, did you know that before mating begins, a male snow crab will hold onto a female for up to three weeks? He becomes her companion and protector, fending off other males and predators. That’s some serious cuddle time! He also then helps her molt (or undress) before mating begins. It’s all kind of chivalrous and romantic, don’t ya think? But this extended time frame could also imply the crab’s need to trust its mate; a need to build a connection and shared understanding before real intimacy happens. And since the female crab carries fertilized eggs for up to two years before they are hatched into the sea, I’m pretty sure she wants to know that the guy who put all those babies in there was worth her time!
Some people are like crabs. To say that a relationship with a “crab” is always easy would be a lie. There have admittedly been times when my frustration level with a “crab” – my inability to break through his shell – almost prompted me to walk away, to abandon the relationship for something easier. But what I’ve come to realize is that everyone operates at their own pace. We all come to trust and to love at different times. The trick, I think, is to respect each others’ boundaries and to honor each others’ needs. And like the snow crab, our eyes need to be open to the parasites and barnacles who will attach themselves to us for their own benefit.
I am reminded of the old saying: “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” That is certainly true. Each of them has their own beauty and makes their own contributions to our ecosystem. But each also has their own vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Some are just easier to catch than others. While the crab may be the trickiest to net, I’d argue this: inside that hard outer shell is often a sweet, delicious meat worth discovering. It takes patience and persistence. We may even sometimes get a little scratched up trying to find it. But when we do, the tender inside often makes all the effort worthwhile.