The day I realized I was in love with my best friend was the worst day of my life. She was straight. I was not. I was screwed.
We had only known each other for six months, but our lives were deeply intertwined. Life before Kelly felt distant, muted and dull. Life after Kelly was, well, life, as it’s meant to be.
She was equally happy to follow me into adventure or to sit on the couch and talk deep while we massaged each other’s feet.
I tried to fight the feelings for weeks. But I had to tell her how I felt.
I was tormented by these unrequited desires. Being with her while hiding my love caused so much pain. Yet losing her would be even worse. We just needed some time apart. I could get over her. Then we could resume our friendship. That was the only way forward that I could see.
My feet weighed 500 pounds as I made the last five steps to her apartment. With a single knock on her door, my hand would crush our relationship and all of our plans together. Kelly was my past, my present, and my future. And now I had to rip that future out of both of our hands.
Kelly was heartbroken, maybe even more so than me. She feared that our friendship was over forever. We cried and held each other until there was nothing else to say.
Then I left.
I told myself I wouldn’t talk to her again until I had gotten over her.
I hoped that would take two weeks. An optimistic timeline, but it seemed possible. Obviously a grave underestimation in hindsight.
This began the six-month period that we now refer to as “the awful time.”
We attempted to distance ourselves, but I saw Kelly in every detail of my life. That green shirt — her favorite color! This shampoo commercial — her curly hair! This bug — her fruit-fly infestation! This was a task that seemed destined for failure.
I sought advice from friends and a therapist, and I disregarded it all.
Everyone seemed to be in agreement: “You can’t ever go back to being friends with someone after you develop feelings for them.”
But that answer was just not good enough for me. I could not let go of our friendship.
In the following six months, four significant events happened. In no particular order they were:
- I asked her if there was any chance she had feelings for me.
- She kissed me.
- She answered my question: “No.”
- We moved in together.
I lied. That’s the exact order it happened in. My efforts to eradicate my romantic feelings for Kelly had turned into a discussion of her somewhat fluid sexuality. This caused a chain reaction of events and emotions. Her sexual openness reignited my hopes, which sent her into a confused spiral of self-exploration, which strung me out, which made her feel guilty.
Our friends and my therapist all had very strong opinions on the subject of us becoming roommates: “You’re either going to end up hating each other or dating each other.”
But neither of those things happened.
I can still recall the way my body shuddered when she kissed me that summer night outside the tent. A still-hot breeze rustling her hair. Her shirt falling off her shoulder.
I made peace with the fact that the feeling — that rush of heat — was not mutual. For me, it was fireworks. For her, it was “meh.” She didn’t have a sexual awakening in that magical moment. Because she’s not gay. So I accepted that.
I focused on the love that wanted what was best for her, and not the love that wanted only to be with her. I found my way forward.
It wasn’t easy to put my romantic feelings aside and keep the intimate, platonic love intact. But it wasn’t impossible, either.
We’re not roommates anymore. After I met my current partner, I moved several states away to follow her to grad school. Kelly and I transitioned our friendship into a long-distance friendship. We made the same kind of commitment to each other that romantic partners separated by a long distance must do — carving out time for phone calls, frequent texting, and monthly visits. We vacation together. We fantasize about the time when we will get to live in the same city again.
Our friendship finally returned to the easy, comfortable, and exciting companionship we had known in those first few months.
But we still meet skeptics — people who learn a little bit of our backstory and say they can’t believe we’re still friends after all of that. I run into the idea over and over that friendships can’t exist when there’s attraction — guys and girls can’t be friends, unless one of them is gay. Or the idea that a straight guy and a straight girl couldn’t possibly road trip around the country together without becoming lovers.
But I reject that narrative.
Friendship can exist even when there is attraction.
Men and women can be friends even if they are both straight. It takes honesty with yourself and with others, and requires trust and understanding from your partner. It takes owning up to your secret fears, and admitting your desires, and overcoming both.
If either Kelly or I had accepted that version of our story — the belief that friendship can’t survive attraction and desire — both of our lives would be darker. We both provide additional love and emotional support beyond what either of us could get from a partner: emotionally intimate, sacrificial, and unconditional.
The day that I realized I could still be friends with my best friend, despite having once fallen in love with her, was the best day of my life.
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