Ok Medium just asked me to add a picture to my blog post so that it would be more ~appealing~ to read, but no! You think I’m about to go digging through my old photos after a breakup? That is… most certainly a recipe for disaster.
I thought I’d like to start by laying down some groundwork. Some backstory.
This relationship was — surprise, surprise— not perfect.
Instead of conjuring an image of a rollercoaster with its ups and downs, imagine a teenager learning to drive a stick shift for the first time. It might be a little rocky, then okay (or great, even) for bits, but it certainly stalls a few times.
Don’t get me wrong. It was so lovely. It was so epic. It was one for the books. More on that later.
And although I’m currently mourning the loss of what will never be, I’m also mourning the loss of my best friend. Why do people not talk about that? Underneath the surface of so many romantic relationships lies a platonic one.
Can a romantic relationship even survive if there is no platonic one?
^ probably needs a whole separate blog post to explore.
There’s a reason we’ve abbreviated it because we use it so often: BFF. The notion that two people are best friends forever.
Literally no one would know what you were saying you started tossing around GFFs (girlfriend forever), BFF (boyfriend forever), PFF (partner…friend? forever). But although a romantic relationship can’t necessarily be assumed to last forever, what happens when your BF was also your BFF? (read: he was my boyfriend but also my best friend forever).
Anyway, you get it. I’m sad. Moving on.
I suppose the span of our whole relationship can be documented in three heartbreaks.
I actually wrote about the first one soon after it happened, to process.
Here it is, fully intact from almost ~3.5 years ago, below (reflection on this to come, I’m sure):
It’s currently 3:42pm in Los Angeles, 12:42am in Madrid.
I’m not sure what he’s doing up, but I know that he’s up.
He’s poked me on Facebook, and as if it’s a hot potato burning a hole through my notifications, I quickly poke back.
In exactly 42 pokes, I will quickly pull out my phone, open Venmo to a specific charge from June 8th, and hurriedly comment 49 100 emojis, in hopes that I will have beaten him to it.
Because 49 x 100 = 4,900 pokes.
I know, I hate us too.
But we haven’t spoken in 7 days.
The 1st poke happened on June 8th, my 21st birthday. He was a friend of a friend, invited to my birthday dinner because the more the merrier. At a hip German restaurant in the arts district with a unique name that was pronounced differently based on the person you asked, I somehow ended up sitting next to him. We spent the evening eating sausages and doodling on the paper tablecloth with crayons.
And for the first month, we were just friends.
Our friendship grew as a part of a summer squad that regularly met up to play board games, bowl, and watch the Bachelorette. And every night around 2 or 3 am, as I finally got up from the worn black couch in my friends’ apartment to longboard a couple blocks home, he would insist on driving me, and I would accept. Over endless games of Egyptian Rat Screw and Uno to walks from Shatto Lanes towards California Donuts, I learned that he loathed velvet and corduroy, that he didn’t see the point of drinking milk unless it was whole, and that he believed that most people who said that they were in love weren’t actually in love. He lived in his easy truth, and I wanted to live in it too. And in his unabashed, nonchalant candor, I simply returned the favor. He learned that I left part of my heart in Lisbon, that I hadn’t eaten an egg in over 13 years, and that I was pretty sure the whole soul mates/destiny thing was all a sham. He didn’t yell, didn’t swear, didn’t drink (alcohol or caffeine), and was studying abroad in Spain this upcoming fall. In many ways we were opposites — he’s an INTJ, I’m an ENFP, I’m short (5’4”), he’s tall (6’2”, but 6’4”+ if you count his hair), he thinks before uttering a single word, I tend to word vomit until I get my point across. But despite our differences, our minds seemed to run in unison and our conversation never faltered, fueled by a common love for asking questions, reviewing books, and playing silly word games.
Despite the fact that we saw each other almost every day, we still continued to text when we weren’t together, and more importantly, poked. Now, at no point would I have categorized these grand pokes as loaded — they held no strings, no expectations, no inklings of anything more than friendship.
And yet, on July 15th, when his roommate left the country for a month, I proceeded to sleep over for the next seven days.
The 1000th poke happened on July 22nd.
My feelings for him appeared in my blind spot and I didn’t see them until they just about smacked me in the face. And by then I was already falling, unsure of where I would land. The only certainty in the horizon was that he was leaving in August. I didn’t know what we meant to him, if we meant anything to him at all, and despite these doubts, I still found myself entering uncharted territory — into a semblance of a relationship, unsure if he was to follow. We went on dates to a comedy show, then to a jazz night. Even though I got off work at 3pm and he left for work at 4pm, he invited me over because he made lunch — his pot roast left me amazed, filling my stomach and a strange void that I really didn’t know existed.
And although I had no trouble asking if he wanted to get married someday, discussing his insecurities, or requesting a contact case for my contacts before we went to bed, I was unable to say three words: what are we?
To set the record straight, I didn’t really date. I didn’t really ”hang out”. I certainly didn’t partake in friends with benefits arrangements that would surely end up in a dramatic, complicated mess. And I certainly didn’t play games.
I’ve always been a bit of a picky pessimist who doesn’t see the point of dating unless it’ll lead to something serious. I had witnessed my friends burned by countless boys, and I knew that it was more worth my time to build lasting platonic relationships rather than romantic ones. I had no time for boys who didn’t want a label, didn’t want commitment, didn’t want monogamy.
In hindsight, basically, I always came with strings attached.
“I like you, and I could really really like you”, he told me in his car one night before dropping me off. And although his verbal affirmation washed over me with a sense of relief (That I wasn’t crazy! That I wasn’t imagining things! That I wasn’t alone!), I knew that this had a rapidly approaching expiration date.
So what was I doing? How did I find myself here?
Was he my manic pixie dream boy? He was certainly making me do things I never dreamed of, yet he wasn’t unreliable, he was supportive. He was put-together. He was straightforward.
He wasn’t manic, and he definitely wasn’t pixie.
He never left me on read, he always responded as soon as he opened my messages, he wasn’t fazed by my double, triple, quadruple texts. He wasn’t even afraid to make fun plans for when he returned in January.
When a manic pixie dream boy isn’t manic, or pixie, isn’t he just a dream boy?
Manic pixie or not, just like the boy, the summer also finished off like a dream.
I made him a bucket list of items to accomplish before he left to study abroad, and in the last couple of weeks we crossed them off. See the sunrise and sunset in one day. Wear formal clothes for no reason. Make a handshake. Play chess & complete a crossword puzzle at a bougie coffee shop. Spend exactly $12 dollars at a grocery store (attempted at the Whole Foods downtown, while he wore a navy suit and I wore a backless dress and gold heels — we failed, but we swear Whole Food’s registers misweighed our Gala apples). Make a time capsule (when was it going to be opened? He picked a number, I picked a number. I like even numbers, he likes primes. The date was officially set for February 17th). Go bungee jumping. As our bucket list items dwindled, so did our time.
About a week before he left, we sat on my bed and tried to make a game plan for the semester. Long distance was obviously out of the question — we weren’t even in a relationship. We were going to go in with no expectations, and, assuming our feelings remained, give it a shot in January. We made little promises to each other, serious ones sandwiched within silly ones. We would hit 2,017 pokes by the end of 2017. We would notify each other if our feelings changed. He would send me pictures of purple things that he saw while abroad. I wouldn’t tell him if I hooked up with another person, but he would tell me if he did. I would take care of Brian, his roommate.
I skipped my first day of senior year to say goodbye. It wasn’t tearful, it wasn’t mushy. Just a final recount of our newly minted handshake and a tight hug. We had one remaining item left on the bucket list — to stalk someone — so I shared my iPhone location with him and let him know that if he checked my location sometime while he was abroad, he’d be stalking me. Then he left and our bucket list was finished; the pessimist in me assumed that whatever we had would be too.
And yet, with caution, I poked him, from my apartment in Los Angeles to somewhere in Europe. I sent him texts. I had no reason to believe that he would reply.
To my surprise, he responded. He poked back.
The 2,017th poke happened on September 16th, over three months ahead of schedule. Despite a nine-hour difference, we still texted at least once a day. Our conversation hadn’t yet come to halt, messages continually sending since my 21st birthday — 3 straight months. With each day, each text slowly chipped away at my cynical armor to reveal fragile hope and growing expectations.
I began to see Saturday mornings spent at LA coffeeshops, heads bent, brows furrowed over a crossword puzzle.
I began to see trips to the grocery store, buying ingredients to bake chocolate chip cookies.
I began to see spontaneous adventures, more late nights discussing social constructs and books.
Beneath all that uncertainty, I began to see the beginnings of a label, something that I didn’t let myself see during our short summer together. Over the next two months, I tried desperately to cling to any ounce of doubt left in me, trying to persuade myself that his messages didn’t mean anything, that these were string-less pokes, that I needed to settle down. But I couldn’t suppress my feelings that only seemed to persist, rather than diminish, with time and distance. God forbid, did absence really make the heart grow fonder?
“In short, I think we should just be friends when I get back”, is what he sent me on November 8th.
Our conversation had still not wavered. It had been exactly 5 months of continual texting and daily poking. There wasn’t another girl. In fact, he hadn’t hooked up with anyone else while abroad. From what I could tell, nothing had changed.
“There isn’t a real answer why I guess, but after being away from everyone and everything that’s just what I feel”.
That’s okay. That’s allowed. That’s valid.
To be honest, it probably is what I expected. But after moving in unison for so long, his change in heart still struck a dissonant chord. The crossword puzzles and trips to the grocery store were quickly vanishing before my eyes and I was trying so hard to not be upset.
Because even if it was okay that his feelings faded, that it was allowed, that it was valid, it now made my feelings not okay, not allowed, and not valid.
They weren’t appropriate if we were going to be friends.
I couldn’t have seen it coming. We were still talking, still poking. Granted, I shouldn’t have taken pokes and texts as signs that he wanted something more, and during those couple of months, I genuinely didn’t think I was reading into them. The news, just like my feelings a few months back, pulled up right into my blind spot, and this time, they smacked me right in the face.
The 4,600th poke happened November 9th.
I was disheartened, I was confused. I felt like I had been somehow stood up for a date that was 2 months away. I was hurt by the fact that he no longer wanted me — a decision that he had somehow decided on even though he hadn’t seen my face since August — and even more so, I was frustrated that we didn’t get our shot.
“I’m enjoying Lisbon for you. Since we’re the same person I guess you’re enjoying it too. But actually I love it, let’s come back someday” his postcard read, postmarked a week before his text. My not-so-manic not-so-pixie dream boy, in my dream city, living my dream without me.
Maybe this entire thing — the feelings, the memories, everything — was just a dream. Maybe I had somehow transformed into the crazy delusional girl who saw something that was never there.
I kept looking for a logical explanation that simply did not exist, because sometimes, feelings just fade.
I asked for some time to readjust, to close the necessary doors, to accept and mourn the letdown of my (now) embarrassing hopes. But for some reason, unable to resist, said that I would very much like to keep poking.
“Poking will never cease,” he confidently replied. He also added: “I shall eagerly await a text until whenever tis the right time.”
As I processed, I knocked some sense into myself. It wasn’t my fault. My feelings were (and always will be) valid. But simultaneously, I started to doubt the authenticity of our friendship. Were we only good friends because there might’ve just been a mutual attraction to begin with? Maybe my seemingly innocent pokes had strings attached all along. Suddenly, I found myself tangled within the web of 4,600 little strings. And to make matters worse, even though my phone was no longer vibrating with texts from him, I still got his pokes.
“You need to stop, you’re like an addict,” my friend noted as the notification appeared on my screen. But these are just platonic pokes, I told myself. The pokes served as a marker of our time together, and I felt that if I stopped poking, my irrational fear was that we would drift apart and become strangers.
Was this just a loose 2017 college adaptation of When Harry Met Sally?
If so, the bigger question: if Harry broke up with Sally, could they ever revert back to being good friends?
We live in a culture where we catch feelings after hooking up, where we forego friendship for flirtation, where we acknowledge emotions only after there’s a label involved. That way, when it ends, it makes it easy to walk away, to simply shrug it off.
I think it’d be the easy way out to say that our friendship wasn’t genuinely rooted in honesty, openness, and trust. Because if the friendship wasn’t real, when stripped of all romantic notions, there would be nothing left.
The difficulty lies in recognizing that your life is still better with him, that there’s something worth holding onto even when romantic ties are cut. The difficulty lies in wondering if the waters of friendship are forever tainted and made murky with unresolved feelings, the inability to gain closure on something that was never opened to begin with. The difficulty lies in understanding that it might be awkward, that he’ll always hesitate before hugging you, that he’ll avoid sitting next to you, that he’ll act strange when you’re alone with him.
So here we are, a Harry and Sally who met, became friends, became something more, and now Harry wants to be something less.
He’s offering me friendship, and it is my choice to take it or leave it.
By standing in the doorway to possibly pursue something more, we may have inadvertently shut the door to our comfortable friendship. But even if the door is shut, I think that it’s worth trying to open again. I don’t know if it’ll be a new friendship full of pain or laughter, full of long conversations or long musings of what could’ve been, full of string-less pokes or pokes that will string me along, for the meantime, I’ve chosen to accept.
It might be easier than I think. Or it might be excruciatingly difficult (as of now, the time capsule is still set to be opened 3 days after Valentine’s Day). I might change my mind. It might work, but it might not hold a candle to the friendship we once had in June. But when there’s someone who gets you, even though there are no longer strings attached, you don’t just cut him loose.