This is a love story. It is an atypical love story; there are no happily-ever-afters or till-death-do-you-parts.
Six years ago I met a tall awkward boy at a park for a first date. We talked for three hours. I did not think I would see him again. Later, much later, he would become one of the most important people in my life, one of my closest friends, my “Vanilla Ex”. That day, at the park, I did not think he was interested. I could not have been more wrong.
But that is not where this story begins. No, this story begins with a break-up.
We had been dating for nearly two years at that point and I very nearly hated him. We argued almost every day and there was an ever-growing pile of resentment weighing the relationship down. But even through all of that, somehow, I was sure I was in love. Until one day I looked in the mirror and realized that I not only didn’t think I liked him very much anymore, but that I didn’t like myself. We talked. We agreed it wasn’t working anymore. We ended it.
And yet, somehow, it didn’t stop. We kept talking, kept seeing one another. We kept having sex. And oddly, unexpectedly, things got better. We stopped fighting so much, started to communicate better. The resentment lifted. Now that I no longer begrudged him for not being all the things I wanted him to be, I could appreciate all the things he was. He was accepting. He was supportive. He was funny and kind.
Our relationship wasn’t perfect, by any means. We still quarrelled at times. I still occasionally fell into the habit of wanting him to be something he wasn’t. But, mostly, things were great, infinitely better than they had been. We kept on like that, for years.
And then, it was time for me to move away. He helped me move across two states, drove me 1000 miles, all for the friendship and love he had for me.
The last night we spent together, I teared up. “DON’T,” he said. “DON’T DO IT.” He’s terrible with emotion, and I stifled myself. I knew it may very well be the last time we had sex, and I was worried that we would no longer be as close, now that we no longer had a physical tie to bind us together.
The last time we saw one another was five months ago. I was back home for the holidays and had been visiting with him, but it was once again time to say goodbye, and he walked me to the train station. The impulse to kiss him goodbye was gone. My lips had forgotten that need. Yet it was harder, much harder, to let him go. This time, unlike the last, I could not hold back my tears, and down they came unexpectedly. Despite the fact that any romantic aspirations for him had faded away, my heart squeezed something terrible in my chest. I did not know when I would see him again. The thought troubled me more than I’d thought it would and I cried.
No chastisement over tears came from him this time, no discomfort with my emotional display. Instead, he hugged me and told me he loved me, words that do not come easy from him. True, we had lost the same physical intimacy, but our relationship was not so different than it had been. I had been worried it would be, and told him as much. “I wasn’t,” he said mildly.
One of the things he provides is an unshakable faith in me. Even when I feel I am uncertain of anything and everything, I can be certain of that, and of his love and good intentions for me. Consequently, I trust and admire him more than almost anyone else in the world. I never want us to have a romantic relationship again, but I also never want to lose him from my life.
Our society values romantic love above all others. Romantic love is wonderful, I agree. But I’ve often thought that platonic love can be just as powerful, just as life-changing, and that is something that is rarely acknowledged.
Love can grow. Love can change. People are not immutable, nor are our relationships. But just because they are different doesn’t mean they are broken, or any less valuable. And just because a relationship doesn’t fit one particular societal mold doesn’t mean it should be discarded entirely.
The day we decided we could no longer be together, I cried and cried, mourning the loss of that relationship. But I needn’t have. We didn’t break our relationship that day. We fixed it.