For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with a certain kind of love story. It’s not about love at first sight, or being swept off my feet by a handsome and debonair prince. No, the love story I’ve always found the most romantic is the one about the two best friends who fall in love.
I realize that, in many ways, this love story is just as unrealistic as any other fairy tale or rom-com meet-cute. And yet, there’s something about it that I’ve always loved. I think because of the innocence that’s implied in its beginnings. Because this love story grows slowly, over time. The boy and girl are really just best friends, and as they get older they see more in each other.
I always wanted this kind of love story for myself, as unrealistic as it is. Especially since this love story sort of has a built-in expiration date. Obviously, the older you get, the likelihood of having a friendship that turns into something more diminishes.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time lately thinking of the love stories in my own life. There aren’t many, and they’re very different. One of my love stories was a friend-turned-boyfriend situation, but was not the great love story of either of our lives. And that’s okay, because what I learned with that one is that I kind of, sort of, NEED him as one of my best friends. And I’m so glad I still find that in him, nearly 20 years later (oh god, how old am I?!).
What I find interesting is that one of the love stories in my life was never really a love story. Not really. Not in actuality.
At work, we have a bulletin board up right now with a theme of “change.” We have little cut-outs of books and butterflies, and we’re supposed to share quotes about change, or book or other experiences that changed our lives. As avid a reader as I am, and as much as I believe in the power of books and the written word, I could only think of one book that I felt really changed me, and that was a stretch.
There was a boy, though, that did change me. We met when we were pretty young, brought together because our parents knew each other. When we first met, I couldn’t stand him. I thought he was rude and obnoxious and, basically, like every other boy I had ever known (except the ones I had crushes on, obviously. They were also all of those things, of course, but they were forgiven their trespasses because they were cute). Rather than try to befriend this boy who insisted on overturning my flotation device in the pool, I shot him dirty looks and tried to befriend his younger sister.
Over the course of that day, though (and I do think it was that same first day, though my memory could be betraying me and smoothing over time), something began to shift and I started to warm up to him. He was cute enough, honestly. Cuter than any other boy who had willingly talked to me. And it became clear right away that he was very smart, which I appreciated. Somehow, by the end of that long day, we had gone from rivals to friends. And, while I might not be able to name a book that changed me, that boy did.
We quickly became best friends. We had an ongoing joke that we were dating…but also not? I can’t remember our exact term, but I do remember that we had an agreement that we could always use each other as boyfriend/girlfriend when we were talking to other kids at school. This worked well, since we didn’t live super close to each other and went to different schools. Having a long-distance significant other was exotic, and we could both say we had one without really lying, since we clearly each existed. I should also note–I think he did this for my benefit. Boys were NOT knocking my door down in grade school (or ever, honestly), but he never seemed to have a problem with girls. He was cute, charming, funny, and smart. Anyway — we were sort of dating, but in name only. To my recollection we never kissed, though we possibly held hands a couple of times. We also knew that, should we attempt anything, our fathers would probably murder us.
So, the friendship was forged, and grew. He introduced me to new music, which did really change my life. I have him to thank for my love of Green Day, still one of my favorite bands to this day. I still have a drawing of a Green Day album cover that he gave me tucked inside my Kerplunk CD jacket. He also introduced me to video games, and tried to teach me to skateboard (which mostly consisted of watching him skateboard). I was in awe of his ease at making friends, how kind he was, and how talented. It made me feel so good that someone like him really liked spending time with someone like me. We would talk for hours, about EVERYTHING. Books, music, life. I loved when his parents would host barbecues in the summer because it meant I’d get to see him, and spend the day swimming, listening to punk music, and playing video games.
Our friendship lasted for awhile. As we got a little older it started to fade, obviously. We were growing up, life was getting busier. In a lot of ways, I feel like it was mostly me who failed our friendship. I could see it happening, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. I remember hitting high school, and his school came to mine for a sporting event. I was so excited to see him, and had told all of my friends about him leading up to it. I was so excited to show him off, my cute best friend. And he was there, and cute, and yet something had started to change in our friendship. That’s the first time I remember really noticing it (although it was not long before this that I confused his birthday with a pop star’s birthday, which did not go over well. I felt like an asshole). We didn’t talk much after that, and the next time I saw him was a result of tragic circumstances. When I saw him I didn’t know what to say to him — this person I had known so well, who was my person for so long was suddenly a person I realized I just didn’t know that well anymore. I didn’t know who is friends were, what his life was like, what he was up to. I wanted nothing more in the world than to fix that, find our way back to each other. And maybe, if I could have found the words or the nerve to reach out the way I wanted to, we could have. But I didn’t. And that was the end.
We’ve crossed paths a few times since then. He went to the same college that my high school boyfriend and best friend went to, and we ran into each other on campus once or twice. My family went to a party hosted by his, where I found out he was newly engaged (at the time, I think I was newly dating the man who would become my own husband). Our lives had drifted away from each other. As close as we had once been, we had shifted into the role of acquaintances in each other’s lives. Which still makes me sad.
When I think about it, I often think I’m sad about the fairytale story I imagine we could have been. But I think the thing that actually makes me the most sad is the actual loss of a friendship that was so dear to me. That had a profound impact on my life in a way few other relationships in my life have. Sitting side by side on his bedroom floor may have happened over 20 years ago now, but I remember it more vividly than I remember things that happened last week. It makes me so happy to have social media around, letting me know that, at least from the outside, he looks really happy. That his life is good, and he’s doing well. He seems like a different person than the one I knew, but in many ways he also seems the same. It makes me sad, though, that the friendship died. However it did, and for whatever reasons.
I know I’m thinking about this more now because a lot has changed in my own life. And I think about it not because I’m trying to wallow in regrets or change the past. I’ve just become more aware of how important it is to hold onto the good things, the things that really matter.
I know it’s cheesy and stupid to bring things back to Hanson, another set of boys who have had a pretty big impact on my life, but they hit the nail on the head with “MMMBop” back in the 90s. Things can be gone in an “MMMBop,” and it’s important to hold onto the ones who really care. The older I get, the more grateful I am for the friendships I have held onto, the people who have been there for me for a long time. Those relationships are harder to forge once you hit full-on adulthood. By the time we become adults, we’ve been shaped by our life experiences, walls go up, we fortify ourselves against outsiders. It makes those people we’ve known forever that much more important, because they knew us before the walls went up. They got to see us at our lamest, most insecure, most free. And yeah, as adults there are still people who make it through our fortifications, but it’s a lot harder.
As usual, I feel like I’m all over the place, and in a very different place as I close out this post than I was when I started. Where was that again?????
Oh yeah…my favorite love story. Friends who become more than friends. It’s a nice dream. But now that I think about it, maybe part of the dream is just having someone who you know that well. The friend part was always critical for me, then and now.
I don’t believe in fairytales — real life doesn’t work that way. Every now and then, though, life throws you a person who is going to make a permanent mark on your life, and your heart. Let it. Let them. Yeah, it might suck to look back one day and remember that it ended and life took you in different directions. But life is about the journey, and it’s better when you look back and find people that made a difference to yours.