By Brooke Ferguson
My best friend Dan has a girlfriend. She’s tall, like me. She wears cowboy boots and has a lot of energy and almost a thousand followers on Twitter. She’s a talented artist, and is launching her own business, and is friendly and pretty. Dan says that he likes her very much, and he seems happier than he has in a long time.
This is great. All I want, I’ve been saying to anyone who would listen for the past two years, is for him to be happy. He’s a great guy and he should find a great girl and be really happy. Great!
Except now I’m miserable.
Two years ago, my best friend was my boyfriend and we were living together in an apartment in San Francisco. We were indeed best friends, and roommates … and it kind of felt like that was the extent of our relationship. We were both pretty depressed and in bad situations at work (that is: we hated our jobs). We stayed in and binged on pizza and TV and movies. We didn’t really have any other friends. Everything was almost a flatline. Dan and I were both so easygoing, so low-energy, that if there was a problem we’d just shrug and go bury ourselves in a book (him) or the internet (me). When I told him I wanted to break up, he kept saying, But we get along so well. I don’t understand. I said that was true, that we were great friends, but there was something else that was supposed to be there. A spark that was lacking. An intensity. Just a little passion. For our own lives—to get out of our awful jobs, to go surfing and hiking and take trips like we always said we wanted to—and for each other. I was sorry, but I was firm. It was over.
The next three months were some of the worst of my life. We were both trying to find a place to live, sleeping in the same bed at night but not touching, except sometimes when I was crying and he would hold my hand. We’d mope around the apartment until one of us said something funny, and we’d laugh until we remembered we were breaking up. Then we’d grow sullen again.
We never really took a break. I knew that I wanted Dan to be in my life forever, but I said it was up to him if he wanted to remain friends. If he needed some time and space away from me, I totally understood. But he didn’t, and we moved right into a close friendship. Even though we were broken up, we were still each other’s “person.” We picked each other up from the airport. He watched my dog while I was out of town. He was the one I texted when something funny happened or I heard a stupid joke about Willie Nelson. We went to movies, took surfing lessons, went camping and hiking. We did all of the things we’d talked about doing when we were dating. And I kept saying, I just want him to be happy! We both got better jobs. He dated a few girls, but those relationships just seemed to make him stressed out. I dated a few guys, but that went nowhere. None of them made me laugh like Dan did. And we went on, going to museums together, going to concerts, eating hot wings… Until she showed up.
At first I was genuinely glad for him. And then I was not. Then I was a wreck.
I was hurt, too. Hurt that he didn’t have as much time for me, hurt that he might enjoy another woman’s company as much or more than mine. All the time that I’d been encouraging him to move on, to let go, I didn’t really understand what that would mean, what it might feel like. It felt like a cannonball to the stomach.
I began to feel jealous. Dan and I would spend a great day together, riding our bikes to the beach and getting lunch, browsing second-hand records, laughing and joking the entire time. And then we’d ride back and he’d break off to bike to her house, to spend the night with her while I went home alone.
Choose me, I began thinking at him when we were together, when he would text me that he couldn’t hang out because they were going to some party or some pop-up fashion show or something else so cool and exclusive it would have never even appeared on my radar. Choose me. Choose me. The thing was, he had chosen me, and I had ended it. Somehow I managed to turn his moving on into a rejection. He was leaving me; he was breaking my heart. Somehow I had to prove I was the better woman; I was the right choice.
Oh, come on, you selfish asshole, leave him alone and let him be happy. You just want what you can’t have, were some of my first thoughts as, I’m sure, they are your first thoughts.
And to that I will say: fair enough. Except. Except.
I’m not completely sure that’s true. It’s never been easy just being Dan’s friend. I still believe breaking up was absolutely the right thing to do. We’ve become more active, much closer, and a lot more honest. When Dan and I were together, I had a lot of secrets. I was alarmingly preoccupied with my previous relationship. I was a raging, obsessive Grizzly on the inside. I was so stuck on how this other guy had wronged me that I couldn’t be present for the guy who was in front of me, who took care of me when I had a scratched cornea—waking up every three hours to give me pain medicine, feeding me pizza, washing my hair while I soaked in the tub and cried. But I was too afraid to tell him about the beast in my head. How would that conversation go? Sorry I’m acting so weird. I’m just completely obsessed with my ex-boyfriend. Well, yeah, maybe something like that. At least then it would have been out in the open, and we could have talked about it and maybe I would have been surprised by the result. But I didn’t give us that chance. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him. I was so afraid I would lose the relationship that I didn’t speak up to save it. And then, after a while, I just gave up.
So what? I had my chance. What was I doing during the two years before the great girl (G.G.) entered the picture? Well, I was alone for a long time, trying to figure out what kind of life I wanted. I was dating other people and realizing how rare it was to connect with someone so deeply. I was getting the proper help for all the bullshit that I was carrying around from my other relationship. I was discovering that intensity wasn’t love, and that Dan’s way of showing love was maybe not flashy, but it was heartfelt. Over the past year I would sometimes look at him, and feel both a warmth and a sadness, wondering if things would be different now. Would I still feel that lack of spark, or would I find it now that I could be really, truly honest and vulnerable with him, now that I was no longer keeping a piece of myself tucked away like a demented squirrel with a rotten nut? Now that I could accept him for what he was, instead of critiquing all the ways he wasn’t my psychotic ex?
I didn’t get a chance to find out. He moved pretty quickly from a tumultuous, six-month relationship into one with the G.G. He told me about her right away, and said he wanted me to meet her. All right, I thought, he’s finally found that great girl! And she is great, actually. We’ve met a few times, and she doesn’t mind if Dan and I are friends. (I honestly can’t say I would be cool with my boyfriend being such good friends with his ex, but maybe that’s because I have a treacherous mind, and she’s a G.G.).
So why am I suddenly not okay with it? I don’t know if it’s because he’s becoming someone else’s person and I’m mourning the relationship that ended two years ago, doing the grieving I didn’t really get to do because we moved so quickly into a friendship. It might be that things are shifting and changing, and that a lot of times that really hurts, even if it’s a good thing. Maybe eventually it will stop hurting, and I can truly feel glad for him without a sting of pain in my heart. I have to accept that we won’t spend Christmas or Thanksgiving together. We won’t go visit his dad in Texas. But that’s what a break-up means, and maybe we’ve just been putting it off. Maybe I feel a sudden, fierce need for him because he’s moved on, and I haven’t yet, and I don’t know what the future holds. I do know what the past holds—someone who believed in me and treated me kindly. And also someone who didn’t have a lot of ambition, who didn’t touch or hug me often or show affection in public. There’s no face on my future. It’s completely unknown. If Dan isn’t my person, then who is?
One night as I was sitting on my floor, crying and listening to Billy Bragg records, I wondered if I my dilemma had ever been represented somewhere. Had I seen this before? Was there something I could look to for guidance, for comfort? I realized that yes, there was something, and it wasn’t very flattering: I was a less charming Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding. All this time I was feeling sorry for myself, but I had not been wronged. If anything, I got what I asked for. And if I took things further, if I started to try and pry them apart, to highlight all the ways I was right for him and she was wrong, I was going to be the villain in the story. It doesn’t feel great to realize you’re the bad guy, even if you aren’t trying to be.
So, what am I going to do? Nothing, really. All this confusion requires no action except that I back off and keep my mouth shut. I will not spill to him about my internal struggle. I will not tell him that when they post Instagram photos of their adventures together I want to punch a wall. I will not say, I think maybe I might want to try again? Because as it stands, he’s unavailable and I am unsure. Even if I were sure, I would have no right to interfere with his new relationship. His happiness is, in fact, very important to me, and so is our friendship. What I am going to do is keep working on myself, and figuring out what I want, and keep moving forward. I will wonder, and be sad, and write about it, and just be his friend. Part of me thinks I’m a terrible person for even having these feelings, but then, they’re just my feelings. If I’ve learned one thing from sitting in a rut, thinking isn’t doing. I can dissect my thoughts to the atomic level and no harm is done. Like I said, there is nothing to be done, unless he becomes single and I am certain I want to risk our friendship for another shot at romance.
Who knows—maybe she really is his person and their relationship will finally close the chapter on whatever it is Dan and I have been doing the past two years. Maybe her arrival will be the best thing that ever happened to our friendship. Maybe I’ll send her flowers.
BROOKE FERGUSON lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her dog. Her work has appeared in The Hairpin, Index/Fist, and Sparkle & Blink, and she was recently a writer in residence at Starry Night Retreat in New Mexico. She blogs about movies at http://tallbrooke.wordpress.com/