Dating my best friend worked better the second time

I met Alex when we were 15. He was visiting family in my hometown while Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on his own. What started as a five-day journey up north, turned into enrolling at our local high school, and rooting himself in my life for much longer than our initial introduction implied.

Our friendship from ages 15 to 21 fluctuated somewhere in between flirting too much to be just friends and dating is not an option (or at least it wasn’t for me). I existed in that awful teen girl world of wanting him to like me, not wanting to date him, but not wanting him to date anyone else.

We went to the same college and stayed friends. We tried to get together every month or so, and continued to float in the weird no-man’s land that was our relationship. One night I made the mistake of holding his hand. The next day when we went to dinner and I made sure to pay for my own meal. We didn’t talk about it. I cried that night.

A little over a month later on New Year’s Eve, Alex kissed me at midnight. My response was somewhere along the lines of “you’re ruining everything,” but I kissed him still. We spent two hours on his back porch talking about our feelings, and the following evening in my room talking more. We decided to give a relationship a shot. I cried that night.

We lasted just shy of one month.

During these days, our dates were full of small talk and awkward endings that led me to making up excuses for having to go home early. I think I decided after about a week that it wasn’t going to work. We never stood a chance, and the development of my parent’s announcing their divorce about two weeks later left me ’emotionally unavailable’ for him, which is what I said when I broke his heart (as he so lovingly tells me I did). I think he knew what was happening before he walked in the door; he never even took off his backpack. I cried that night.

On Easter, we carpooled home together. That night, I stayed up until 4 a.m. writing him a letter and telling him how I felt. I never got the chance to give it to him, because a few days later he cornered me in his kitchen and told me to stop being fickle. He was rude. He was right. That night we decided to start dating again, but this time, the forefront of our conversation surrounded our friendship. We had to stop being afraid that it wouldn’t work out. We had to stop being friends.

We have gone from one extreme to the other. The first time I referred to him as my boyfriend via text was the first time he told me I made him happy-and the first time I realized how happy he made me. I realized I was falling in love with him during a game of pool at a dive bar in New Orleans. I love him now in the home we bought together, with our two weird cats and a random assortment of things we’ve collected over 5 years.

In all of our discussions about our relationship, I’ve discovered three reasons why I believe we worked better the second time around. First, we stopped being friends. Rather than cut out the beginning part like this statement makes it seem, we adjusted what friendship meant for us. We took things slow, made respect a priority, and realized how much we didn’t know about one another. Our past friendship added a sense of security (it was nice to know that the person I was spending time with wasn’t a serial killer), but it also presented some barriers. We worked to find the middle ground.

We stopped being awkward. Not the cute-awkward (that’s imperative to our successful relationship), but the awkward that got in the way of us communicating. We worked, and continue to work, really hard at this part. We talk about our relationships on a regular basis.

I let go of my own ghosts. I was afraid to date Alex because I think I knew very early that he might be it for me, and I didn’t want to lose it. I thought relationships were doomed and love was irrelevant; nothing real lasted. I had to move on and realize that it was okay that the failed relationships I molded my stigmas around failed. That we were not them, I was not my parents, nor my grandparents, nor my friends who spent hours crying over boys; I was me, and we were we.

Katie Marie is a 25 year old writer, theater lover, and museum educator living in Ohio. While not working, she can be found coaching volleyball, going to happy hour, and spending quality time on the couch indulging in crime dramas and Friends re-runs.

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