Falling for a friend is a familiar heartache that so many of us have shared. Every moment in each other’s company can be thick with confusion; you don’t know if you’ll feel one thing, or another. It can cause tension that is neither sexy or sustainable and break your heart with such finality you’re uncertain if either of you will ever be able to fix it.
As hard as it is, when it’s over you have to quietly face facts and reconcile with the heartache of losing not one, but two relationships: The past friendship that you can never return to, and the future romantic one created in your head. It can leave you standing in a temporary space, seeking a way out, but desperate to stay. For me, falling for a friend was a lesson in honesty; one that teaches the importance of being upfront as, no matter how close you are, you risk losing more by saying nothing.
I never picked my crushes wisely; you could even say that I’ve always had a penchant for the wrong type of guy. Ones that were hot, but never fully available; those boys that came armed with six pack abs, but also an uncertainty about what they wanted. Some had such a strong lack of empathy it bordered on sociopathic, and others left me feeling as though I looked like Dobby the House Elf after any date we went on.
After each bad break-up I would resign myself to life of cheap wine, takeout and Netflix binges. I’d mutter statements like ‘I am going to die alone’ with a tragicomic self-awareness. For the most part I was okay with that. It just seemed the way it was. Then one day it changed, I met someone new. And while we started as friends and ended in the same way, there was a period in the middle where I was convinced we not only would be more, but we also should be.
He came into my life with ease, and the comfort we felt around each other was instantaneous. If I were being poetic, I’d say that I felt like Peter Pan having his shadow sewn back on by Wendy; as if he helped reattach an essential piece of me. There were no seizing silences, or shuttered conversations. It was chemistry from the get-go.
During those first weeks together, I revelled in his attention like a kid who got the lead in a school show. I felt like I was now playing on a levelled field, one that was different from the downward slope I was used to living on. There were days when I got up first, and days when he did. We took turns making tea and lost hours to relaxed silences over movies. Days together in bed blanketed by a knowledge that words weren’t required – just each other’s company. But our time together would soon offer nothing but a blurring of lines.
The few times we kissed I felt the electricity hang in the air. Shortly after, all admirable boundaries were broken down and we started sleeping together. Then the enviable creeped up and I found myself losing my breath whenever he smiled. Back then I thought I could represent something to him; something understanding, beautiful. I was an adult, I was grounded, I was falling in love and I thought he felt the same; but slowly it all started to unravel.
The more we were together, the more our feelings evolved separately. I tried to outline and define our time as something beyond the borders of friendship, but for him it unfolded differently. There would be no dates, only the kind of loving but overly-careful nights together, with our space for comfort slowly being replaced by a distance of unsaid truths.
I started borrowing time from other friendships and investing it in him. A side-effect of this was he soon became my entire world – while I merely remained a small part of his. It was hard, in that moment, to summon would it could be and accept what it wasn’t. So, I became clingier, and he grew more distant. Our friendship remained the same but was now infused with an implicit tension. Eventually we stopped kissing and soon we were separated by more than just pieces of clothing.
One night the pressure swelled and under the weight of uncertainty I buckled, telling him through drunk, teary eyes how I felt. For a moment there was silence; I sat waiting with my head arched down toward my legs, somewhere between a panic attack and grieving. After what felt like a life-time, he confirmed with a shaky totality that my feelings were not reciprocated. The illusion of connection had been shattered and I found myself silently wishing for my room to catch fire so I could get out of this situation.
It was too late though, by this point I was already chemically changed. The independence I once knew had been replaced with a mourning that could only be soothed by his constant company. Rather than admit how crushed I felt, I wiped my eyes and said ‘that’s fine as long we can still be friends.’ He smiled, and agreed.
I was determined to make peace with this fact. To make the friendship work. In a desperate bid to get over him, I’d snatch any attention offered up to me. I knew these flings were fleeting; they were as false as they were finite. But like all meaningless sex, it offered the temporary remedy of forgetting; and I figured if I could forget long enough, one day I’d wake up over it – who hasn’t shared that thought process?
The weeks limped by and the friendship slowly started to splinter. Whenever he introduced me to or mentioned another guy, I was infected with a venomous rage. When he didn’t reply to my message, or conjured up flimsy excuses to get out of plans, I’d sit in my bedroom, filled with desperate, sickened longing. I was so convinced of the wrongness of our separation that I couldn’t see how detrimental it was becoming to both my mental and physical health – still, I couldn’t let him go.
When I found out he’d been sleeping with other guys I was consumed with such fury that had I been a super villain, I’d have sought global destruction immediately. I’d went from having the most idyllic time with him, to resenting him for numerous reasons that lacked both logic and fairness. Eventually I realised that condemning him for hurting me was unjust. My feelings had remained buried deep. I never articulated how I felt apart from that one evening, but my hush was born from a fear of losing him altogether. This silence was the deadly kind as in the end, it all proved too much for both parties.
The fallout was explosive and prolonged; it embedded a hurt so potent that for a while I thought that, much like a war-torn landscape, I’d never be able heal or grow again. Lying about how I felt was not only detrimental to my sense of self, but it also derailed a great friendship. For weeks after I scavenged the wreckage; looking out at scraps of regrets, finding parts of truths I never said, trying to find some way to piece us back together. All the while knowing this was a disaster that could have been avoided had I only listened to my needs.
I realise now with a power and presence that was lost to me at the time that there were faults on both sides. Had we both been completely honest, and had I thought with my head and not that thing in my chest, we could have reached a peaceful resolution quicker. Sometimes you have to surrender to the truth; bow down and accept that time apart may not be what you want, but is what you need.
Now we talk, carefully. Each word is said with precision, but it’s a something. It took months of stops and starts, of try and try again; of awkward run-ins at parties and pubs, with a side-serving of fights and apologies. Eventually we have got to a place where I feel we could again be friends. Now we have found a ground that perhaps, if we try hard enough, we’ll be able to grow a new friendship from.
Note: If anyone thinks I am being snaky by posting this essay, the person I wrote it about not only approved it, but enjoyed it too.