Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have lots of friends. I’ve been inclined to hold on to them to make up for the loneliness of my early childhood. There have been some I finally cut loose after years of putting up with obvious disrespect or malice, but those have been the exception. I love my friends and I’m fortunate to know they love me too.
A lot of my friends come from the ranks of old relationships with men I’ve cared for. Many of my exes are counted among my friends — I even married an ex (I wrote about that once…). There’s one person that is in a weird category: more than friend, less than ex. We never dated. Hell, he never even kissed me. That, as the title suggests, is my one last regret about that relationship.
There’s not a lot I can say in writing that won’t make it REALLY obvious who this guy is, so I’m going to avoid my usual “tell-all” ways. Shocking, right?
We met in grad school. We began spending a lot of time together simply through a convergence of circumstances. We were both in relationships already, and truly committed to them (he came to my wedding). Neither of us were looking for anything because we already had what we wanted and needed in someone else. It was simple: friendship was really the only available option, without question.
Life is rarely so simple or devoid of questions. That was never more true than it was in this situation.
He thought I was cute. I thought he was funny. We had long conversations about all sorts of things that precocious and well-educated 20-somethings do. We both liked to hug and we did so often. It was all well-intentioned and innocent.
One day it was different. Something had changed. I thought it was just me being silly or getting “cold feet” about getting married. I started to blush when I talked to him, think about him when we weren’t together, and actively look forward to seeing him. I remember the little leap my heart did whenever he smiled at me.
What the fuck? Snap out of it! You’re getting married, you idiot. That’s what I told myself. I actively said those words to myself practically everyday — sometimes more than once a day.
Aside from having everything I wanted and needed in the form of my fiancé, who is now my husband of almost 27 years, I had more than enough to be going on with in my life. This was not necessarily a welcome complication.
Did I mention that I rather stupidly didn’t believe that he felt anything like this about me? Of course I didn’t! My self-esteem would barely have filled a teaspoon back then. To me, my reflection in the mirror was a motley collection of flaws, not a picture of pulchritude. So my brain processed this whole thing as a stupid and unrequited schoolgirl crush that I needed to keep to myself. Duh.
So, why the hell did he keep SMILING at me? I think I actually may have said “stop it!” out loud once or twice because it was way too much for me. Fainting would’ve given away the whole show…
And why did he have to be so damn FUNNY? And smart. And engaging. And flirty.
There was no way to deal with this gracefully. Trust me, I tried and failed. I said dumb shit that seemed fall out of my mouth like rotten teeth. I acted like a silly teenager. I was a wreck. I didn’t want to be. I wanted to appear cool, mature, and self-assured. Nothing was further from reality for this tongue tied fool.
So, what happened?
Nothing. Absolutely nada. There were moments something might have, maybe. Despite my lack of sense, I apparently still had a moral compass and so did he. I felt like he teased me sometimes, which only made me think he knew what was going on in my mind. Turns out, I underestimated him. I wasn’t the only one confused. He just showed it in a completely different way.
Were we in love? Yes? Maybe? We were so young and neither one of us expected the other. I think I was with him. I won’t presume to speak for him.
So, my aforementioned regret about a kiss? I’m happily married, so what’s that about?
It is a very specific memory I have of a moment frozen in time. It would have been the logical conclusion to that moment, at least in some New York City early 90’s rom com. It was at the end of a walk just as we went our separate ways. It was dark and the street was busy. There was no intention behind anything. We’d done that walk before and it was a routine social interaction between two friends. There was something about the street lights and the outline of the trees in Central Park. It was windy and my hair was really long. We stopped to finish our conversation and the wind picked my hair up and blew it straight across my face. He reached out to brush the hair out of my eyes. We hugged as we had a million other times before and would many times after that.
For a brief moment, I didn’t want him to let me go and I didn’t want to let him go. Eventually, we both did and I found myself perilously close to his face, staring into his eyes, and he did exactly what you might expect.
He smiled. God dammit.
That moment could have been the one. He was there and I was there. It would’ve been easy — maybe too easy — but nothing between us was ever easy. The moment passed as quickly as it had come and we went our separate ways alone. That wasn’t the only moment it might have happened, but it stands out in my mind.
For years, I wondered what it would’ve been like to kiss him. At this point it’s all pretty academic. My regret that it didn’t happen is really quite simple. It would have been the end of the scene. He would know and I would know. There would be no what if. There would be an answer. I hate questions without answers, mostly because of the lack of symmetry.
Years later, after years of not talking that I am convinced was all my fault, a mutual friend carried my greetings and best wishes to him. Would you believe he had the temerity to call me? I couldn’t. I thought I was going to pass out from the shock of hearing an old familiar voice.
I was so happy to talk with him and hear about how life had gone for him. I’m still thrilled to talk to him even today. We are both married and have kids. We talk about life, the universe, and everything — just like we used to, but with more maturity and far less weirdness. We are able to say things we couldn’t then and there are finally answers to the questions that nagged at my mind for so long. After many long years, I finally expressed my one regret. It was hard to say out loud, mostly because there’s nothing for it. I just needed to get it off my chest. I needed to finally display some modicum of emotional honesty after years of feeling like a dumb little kid.
He and I are friends now, so I wasn’t really worried how he would react. In the end, he heard it and responded graciously which I appreciated. And I could hear him smiling.
That was nice too.