I never thought there would be an exception to this rule.
Not for me. I am a woman’s woman. I like romantic comedies. I wear skirts. I will almost always take “her” side in an argument. I am that girlfriend, who will tell you the truth if you ask for it. It’s in my nature. I’m a Leo—loyal to a fault.
Elizabeth (not her real name) and I have been friends since the seventh grade. Our lockers were close to each other. So were our houses. We grew up in a small town in Northern California. Like me, she was a girly girl, and a Leo. We bonded. Over the last thirty years, we have shared countless birthdays, Christmas parties and heartaches. But never a man.
Until last summer.
I was in Prague working when she IM’d me. Elizabeth is a makeup artist on commercials and music videos. That day, she had worked with a man who said he knew me. And boy, did he. Marco (not his real name either) and I went back to that same small town in Northern California. We met at age nineteen, through a mutual friend. He was dangerous and dashing and separated from his wife. I had fallen hard. He had not.
Then, two years ago, I went to see a play in Los Angeles. Marco is now an actor, and every bit as handsome as he’d been at nineteen—a Marlon Brando type, complete with the motorcycle and white t-shirt. When I saw him onstage, the old flame sparked in my chest. I stood in the lobby and spoke to him afterwards. Anyone could see by the way he looked at me that the attraction was still there. But so was whatever it was that had stopped him from giving me his heart. Or was it? He had been in the midst of a divorce when we met. Maybe it was just bad timing. We traded contact information and promised to get together.
After a few emails, it became apparent he was again in a relationship.
He had been living with a woman for several years. Disappointed though I was, I thought perhaps we could be friends after all these years. We didn’t have to act on our attraction. I invited him to come to a poetry reading I was giving. During the exchange, he made a suggestive comment.
I replied, “Are you flirting with me?
And he wrote, “Who, me?” followed by a winky face.
I let him know that I would love to see him at the reading and he was welcome to bring his live-in girlfriend along; I didn’t want to be inappropriate. He told me he and his girlfriend didn’t have any of that kind of “jealousy or anything” going on, and that he thought of me as an old friend. But he never showed up at the reading. And while we did stay in touch, running into each other now and then in LA, commenting on each others’ Facebook status, we never did get together.
It did not surprise me that he and Elizabeth connected.
And what was more, he had just broken up with the live-in girlfriend. I was jealous. But I thought, Elizabeth is drop dead gorgeous, talented, confident, and also single. Why wouldn’t he be interested? He had asked her out before he left the set, and she had given him her number. She wanted to talk to me—she asked, “When was a good time to call?” She is also like me in this way—a woman’s woman who values and respects her friends. I knew she was going to ask me if I was all right with her going out with him. And I couldn’t say yes.
It had been twenty years since I was involved with this man. He was not interested in me. My friend hadn’t been on a date in a long time. I thought, maybe he’s the one for her, what do I know? I wanted to be able to say yes. I wanted to be excited for her. I love this woman as much as I love my own sister. She practically is a sister to me. Which only made it harder.
A few years back, I was in a similar situation with another friend.
We were not nearly as close. But the relationship with the guy was fresh. When he had asked my friend out only weeks after I’d hooked up with him, I was devastated. At first I had told her, “Fine, go for it, he’s not my boyfriend.” And then I thought better of it. It was time I started being honest about how I felt. So I had called her back.
“What you do is up to you,” I told her. “But if you go out with him, it will hurt me.” She thanked me for the information. It was tense when we hung up the phone, but she cancelled the date. She chose our friendship over the guy. It was a revelation. It was the first time in my life a woman had done something like that for me. And you better bet that woman has my undying loyalty. Afterwards, though, I felt small and I wasn’t sure why.
This time, I told myself, I needed to question my motives.
What was this really about? Was I in love with this man? No. Not now.
Did I feel my friend had done something wrong? No. She was calling me first. Clearly, she was seeking permission.
And I knew without a doubt that if I told her how I was feeling, she would not go out with him.
What did I stand to lose? I had to admit, it was just that I wanted him to be asking me out. I wanted him to want me. It was my ego. My pride. Not my heart. And ultimately, I knew this was not about me and I shouldn’t make it about me. I wanted to grow, rather than do the same thing I’d done last time I faced a similar situation. I wanted to be a bigger person. But I couldn’t call her and tell her I was okay with it either. I’d be lying.
Perhaps, I rationalized, I should warn her? He was a bit of a bad boy. A heartbreaker. Not. Husband. Material. But anyone could see that. Hell, I had seen it, and still went ahead and fell for him. It was just my head attempting to rationalize, justify, minimize and deny. She is a big girl, I told myself. She can make her own decision. I decided to wait to call her back until I felt I would be all right, no matter what she said. I would do my best to let it go. I would love myself through this, knowing that no matter what happened, I would be okay.
It took ten days.
I cried. I obsessed. I meditated. I did not return her calls. Finally, it passed. I was at peace. I loved her and I knew that no matter what she said, I would not be angry or hurt or judgmental. So, I sat in my bed with the computer in my lap, listening to the rain pummel the cobblestone street outside my little Prague apartment, and I Skyped her. She picked up right away.
They had gone on a hike. He brought a basket of blueberries. It was a beautiful day. They went back to his place. And then he invited her to “lounge” in his bedroom. She resisted, but we both knew this was a red flag. And much to my surprise, I was able to talk my friend through the following weeks. Not so surprisingly, he behaved with her much the same way he had with me, making it clear that what happened all those years ago was not about me either. It had never been about me. Just like this situation was also not about me. Nor was it about my beautiful friend. This man was who he was, and he was the same person with everyone. At least he was consistent.
The real surprise was what happened next.
Over the following year, I began to have a sweet affair with my friend. I don’t mean like that, people! I mean emotionally. Our friendship grew in ways I never could have imagined. After all these years, she let me see her cry for the first time. She finally told me how she had felt when her mother died a few years after we’d graduated from high school. I had a window into the soul of woman I’d known for so long, a window that had been closed to me before.
This experience changed me. I know now how big my heart can be. I know my own capacity for love—not only of a man or of my friends, but also of myself. And I am certain it has changed Elizabeth, too. I know she is grateful for the chance to grow because of the experience. That fella may still be the same person he’s always been. But she and I will never be.
HEARTBREAK to HEALED
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