The subject line of an old email to a friend reads “SAMMI IS AN A**HOLE” in all caps but without the censorship, and that simple, mean sentence pretty much sums up how I felt about Sammi. She was, at the time, dating my ex-boyfriend, and we were on-again, off-again friends, with an emphasis on “off-again.” Every time we seemed to be making headway with an actual friendship, everything would somehow implode, resulting in angry texts and email exchanges that I cringe to re-read.

At the core of the tension between us was the fact that I was still close with Kevin, the (ex-)boyfriend we shared, which didn’t sit well with her – but as is the case in so many small towns, there were only so many people to be friends with, so our circles overlapped. Try as we might, it was nearly impossible to avoid one another. We showed up to the same parties and confided in the same friends, some of whom served as “spies” to tell us what nasty things the other was saying about us. I once called her “vapid and shallow”; she once started a rumor that I’d begun a social media account impersonating Kevin and soliciting gay sex (I swear I didn’t!). In an age of passive-aggressive status messages, we took great pains to out-bitch one another.

Somewhere along the way, though, the friction subsided. I moved to another state, and at some point, one of us apologized to the other. With distance providing a much-needed buffer, we slowly but surely managed to become friends – and not just the keep-your-enemies-closer kind. When I came home to visit, we spent time together, even with Kevin, and when I started dating someone new, the four of us found that we could hang out without awkwardness. I was relieved to have somehow turned an acquaintance into an almost-friend.

And when, nearly three years into their relationship, Kevin cheated on her, it was me who she called first. Standing in the produce aisle of a grocery store in New Hampshire, I answered the phone to her sobs from 700 miles away in Ohio, and did the best I could to talk her down after the unthinkable. In the coming weeks, I tried to offer support and friendship as she moved out of their shared apartment, took a job in a new city and started a life that didn’t include the man she thought she was going to marry. As her relationship with Kevin crumbled, we found that ours only strengthened.

Though geography still works against us (she’s still in Ohio, and I’m now in D.C.), Sammi and I have become, without a doubt, friends. The real kind. We text each other photos of outfits from inside dressing rooms for fashion input. We send one another bad memes and Weight Watchers suggestions and celebrity gossip. We confide in one another about our families and our relationships and our mutual hypochondria, and we just generally talk each other off of life’s proverbial ledges.

Why did it take us so long to realize that we did, in fact, have plenty in common? Perhaps it was because we had too much in common. It makes sense that a guy who liked one of us would like the other – we have similar personalities and even sort of look alike! But she thought I was still interested in him, and I thought she was bad for him, maybe because she reminded me so much of myself. With our feelings for him initially clouding our perspectives, we couldn’t see how compatible we were as friends. Instead, we saw one another as a threat and acted in kind.

Now, neither of us has any contact with the guy who unwittingly jump-started our friendship. He’s married to someone else, and though I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me this a few years ago, Sammi and I have both moved on – together. We’ll see him soon, at a mutual friend’s wedding, but neither of us is too worried about it. We have one another – and in the end, that’s proven to be more meaningful and lasting than our relationships with him ever were.

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