We met at University. He had a ponytail. I took the piss out of that ponytail mercilessly. We were studying English so would spend hours in the local pub discussing what Faulkner was trying to say in As I Lay Dying, how Toni Morrison wrote so magically, or what Joyce would have been like had we met him. Then we’d go to a dodgy Northern club, drink WKD and Slippery Nipples and stumble home at first light. We were young and invincible. We were friends. When my boyfriends stood me up or spectacularly dumped me, he would always be there to comfort me.
Just before we left University we accidentally had sex. It was amazing. But I was just coming out of a relationship and made him promise that it didn’t mean anything. A few weeks later he was horsing around and broke his nose, I took him home and before going to hospital I gave him a blow job. Hey, I was young and thought it would make him feel better! But again I made him promise that it didn’t mean anything. Our friends soon noticed there was something between us and, it being the late ’90s, decided to call us Dawson and Joey. I laughed it off and we continued, as I wished, as friends. Deep down, I suppose I knew he had feelings for me, but at that time I thought it would be arrogant to admit it, and that admitting it might ruin the friendship. I was very scared of love back then.
After Uni, I moved to London while he stayed up North, not wanting to live in a big city. We stayed in touch though and would talk on the phone for hours every Sunday. I’m aware I am rose-tinting my memories as we used to argue like animals. We bantered, bickered or rather baited each other, but it was fun. He is the only man I have ever met who challenges me spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. One day I went to visit him. He was living in The Lake District and the weather was glorious. We had a fine time, rowing on the lake, eating fish and chips on the jetty, laughing and joking. Then he wanted to talk about ‘us’. I bottled it. I started raging at him – ‘How dare you ruin our friendship! I’m not ready! We live miles apart! We argue all the time!’ He stormed off down the jetty. When I had stopped crying I looked up, and seeing him standing there in the evening sunlight, shirtless and holding onto the rail of the jetty, I realised that he was my Dawson. But I knew I wasn’t ready to give in just yet – we were soulmates and we’d end up together so why hurry?
After the incident on the jetty things returned to normal. He had girlfriends, I had boyfriends. Sometimes we would both find ourselves single and would fall into bed. Having sex was easier than talking about a possibility of ‘us’. I remember once he came to visit my family. My two young nieces adored him and he was so good with them when we went blackberry-ing that I fantasised about what a great father he’d be to our kids one day, but still I couldn’t say it out loud.
Don’t worry, I got my comeuppance.
Five years ago, our University had a reunion. At that time he had a girlfriend but she couldn’t come… being back in the same location where we all met, with slightly more wrinkles and slightly less hair, we partied the night away. Nothing happened between us (I would never do anything with another woman’s boyfriend) but I did fall asleep in his arms. It was that night that I realised I was in love with him.
It took me another three years to say anything. He was single by then and we had fallen into the old habit of sleeping together….we only saw each other every couple of months when we would spend an intense night together, no strings attached, but my heart would wrench when he had to leave. One day I just couldn’t take it any more. I snapped and told him I loved him and if he didn’t feel the same I couldn’t see him again. He was so surprised after my years of denial that he looked as though I’d struck him. He slammed the door on his way out.
What followed then was a year of emotional torture. I wrote him actual letters on paper trying to explain why it had taken me so long to recognise my feelings for him and he replied, also by letter, that he had spent so long trying to eliminate his feelings for me that he simply couldn’t open his heart to me ever again.
Clearly my plan for our life together was unfolding. Maybe we weren’t going to end up together and have a family, maybe we weren’t even soulmates?
Eventually we met up. We drank a lot of tequila and off-loaded all of the pent up angst from the last 12 years. I still couldn’t believe that I wasn’t going to win this one. Logically, I told myself, the facts were there – we got on very well, we fancied each other, we loved each other deeply and we agreed on these points… but he just wouldn’t budge. I had hurt him too deeply, my plans (of course) didn’t matter. In short, he rejected me.
I have no guarantee it would have worked, but it saddens me that we didn’t even get to try. We are no longer friends and I miss him daily but the experience has taught me a valuable lesson. I was waiting to achieve certain goals before settling down, waiting for something better than my best friend, and in doing so, lost the most important relationship of my life. So, now I know. No more waiting or taking people for granted, no more masking my feelings with excuses.
Joni Mitchell was right, as usual, you really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.