As a kid, all I ever wanted was a horse in my back yard and a good pen pal. When I reached my mid-twenties, I was more interested in a boyfriend than either of those two things… But no one ever said you get what you want when you want it. Instead, when I was 26, I found my pen pal. I’m still waiting on the horse.
So now you’ve probably read the one where we met at a wedding. This one starts four months later, right after I sent that first message. Here’s the one where we became best friends.
At the beginning, we used to send two, maybe three, messages a day. As time went on that number increased, until it seemed that there was no lag time between messages. Upon receipt, we would turn around and write back. This was before the days of facebook “chatting” so messages were composed more like emails, covering several topics. We’d answer questions from the previous messages and always make sure to pose new ones so that the conversation would have to continue.
His friends in the desert gave him a hard time because he was always looking for wifi, my friends (who had more information- naturally) all wanted to know more about this cute pilot I was always typing to. We went from written messages, to walkie-talkie voxer messages, to facetime, and we never went a day without some kind of communication. After about six months of this, he’d easily become my best friend, and there was no one who knew him better.
When he was in the States he was stationed in Kansas, I lived in Florida. We were obviously more than friends- but we were also not dating. As a matter of fact, I’d been casually dating other people for most of the time that he was in the desert, knowing full well that if it at anytime he asked me to stop, I would have. We skillfully bantered around the subject by focusing on how nice it was to have a “best friend” of the opposite sex. How much we loved that we could read each other’s minds. How unique this friendship was because the distance had kept us from ever having the opportunity to mess it up.
After about a year though, I noticed a trend. I was purposely scheduling dates post-crossfit without bothering to go home and shower first. Dane was the one who drew my attention to it. “You are gross,” he told me. There was no sugar coating it.
“I think they appreciate that they are getting to see the real me!” I defended. “Besides, I rarely leave bleeding anymore. It’s just a little sweat and dirt.”
As the words came out of my mouth I realized he was right. I was gross. And I was clearly not really trying to meet someone. It was on that afternoon that I decided maybe it was time I confronted the reason why.
That night I poured myself a glass of wine while he poured scotch. We positioned ourselves in front of our computers to FaceTime in a way that had become so natural and so comfortable it was hard to imagine that it could be any other way.
“What is this?” I asked him pointedly. “This thing we are doing?”
“I’ve been wondering when we would have this conversation,” he said.
We spent the first fifteen minutes assuring one another how much we loved our friendship as it was, and then he asked me: “What do you think would change if we started to call this a relationship?”
My answer was: Nothing. Nothing would change. To me, this seemed like a good enough reason to call it what it already felt like: a relationship. But he has always been much more logical. “I still couldn’t take you on a date, I could never hold your hand…” he said. “The only thing that would change is that you wouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to date anymore and eventually you would start resenting me.”
He blamed the distance. I blamed him.
“Well, at least I will never have to wonder what might have been,” I told him. I can still remember how quiet we got after I said that. We talked for a few more minutes before I told him that I respected his decision but I was going to need to take a break from talking to him for a few days. We ended the call and I just sat there. I remember feeling both hot and cold simultaneously. I was crushed.
A minute later he called back on facetime.
“I’m afraid I’m making the biggest mistake of my life,” he said.
“No,” I told him firmly. “You are making a decision, and it’s time that one of us did. A decision is never a mistake. But please respect the fact that I need some time.” He later told me that the look in my eyes when we hung up that night was so unemotional and decided, that he was sure I was not only okay with the decision, but that in a matter of minutes I had closed the door to the idea and would never re-open it. (Idiot)
We’d never taken “distance” before. I had no idea how hard those three days of silence would hit him, and I could never have predicted how he would deal with them. By the time I messaged him (and let me remind you, this was only three days later!!!) I said: “I miss my best friend.” He immediately responded with: “Good! Because I need my best friend!”
He went on to tell me that he had gone on a second date with a girl that he had kind of ruled out the week before, and that she’d seemed much better the second time around. “I think I might even give it a shot,” he told me.
Huh. Hadn’t seen that one coming!
As much as it was not what I wanted to hear at the time, it was exactly what I needed. And looking back now, it’s just one more twist in my favorite love story of all time. I would almost say that a part of me needed that to happen. Although one half of me wanted to slam his head against a wall and make him open his eyes to what he was doing, the other half knew there were still things I wanted to do, places I wanted to go, dreams I needed to chase… and getting tied down to a boy was not a step in the right direction of any of those things.
So I pressed on. I started showering again before dates. I even gave one relationship a real chance, (well, for about two months). I poured myself into my job. I committed myself to crossfit until I could finally do a pull up. No, that is not a typo. Not pull ups… but a pull up. I watched as our roles flipped. While he had been in the desert he was always the one who had given me dating advice. Now I was the best friend who was always on the line to counsel him after a fight, help pick out birthday and Christmas gifts, and explain what girls really mean when they say things they don’t.
The friendship grew. I grew. And although they aren’t his favorite stories now, he grew too.
When I quit my job to travel, we couldn’t talk like we had. One morning in Malaysia we were facetiming and he told me that he had ended things with the girl and was finally starting to feel like himself again. I was relieved. None of us had liked the version of him he was when he was with her. I told him I was thinking about permanently trading my business suits for bathing suits and applying for some English-teaching positions that would help me to stay in Asia. He’d seen that coming. “Stay, extend, as long as you have to,” he counseled. “When it’s time to come home, you will know.”
Initially, I had intended to backpack Southeast Asia for 6 weeks, before moving to New York. I extended several times, but by week 16, I had begun to feel this little nagging in the back of my mind saying it was time to come home.
It was breaking my heart to end such an exciting chapter of my life, but I knew that by staying I would be putting off the next step I knew, deep down, I needed to take. I voxed him a few weeks later from Bali and told him I was headed home the last week of April and had bought a one way ticket to New York on June 1.
“You’re kidding me!” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “I might be in an exercise in Tampa at the end of April!” As is typical in his military life, he didn’t know the dates and didn’t even know for sure that he would be sent on the trip… But both of us were a little shocked that apart from any planning of our own, it was possible that we would end up in the same place at the same time for the first time in two years.
Because my plans had changed so much during the time I’d spent traveling, (and I’d lost so much money every time I changed that darn return flight), one of my buddies who works for Delta offered me a buddy pass to get home at the end of April. For those of you who know how buddy passes work- you know that Bali to Tampa is no easy feat! There were a lot of moving parts to this plan, and I was sure that even if he did get sent on the training, by the time I actually made it home, he’d be gone again.
It was a long journey home. I flew from Bali to Singapore, where I spent 19 hours on the floor of Changi airport. By the time I made it to Tokyo I had been awake for almost 40 hours. Over the next 24 hours I got booted on flights from Tokyo to New York and to Chicago, but then the stars aligned and I got the last seat on a plane to Atlanta.
I landed in Tampa on April 24, 2013. Less than 12 hours later, Dane landed too. I was jet lagged and exhausted, but I did take the first proper shower I’d had in four months.
“We are just friends,” I repeated to myself again and again and again on the drive to pick him up for dinner with my family. “Just really really good friends.” The shower had been a must, but I refused to put on real clothes. I rummaged through the load of laundry I had just done at my parent’s house and pulled out a cotton dress I’d picked up in Thailand and worn about 3 dozen times over the last four months. I was determined to act exactly as I would if any of my other friends had just arrived in my hometown for the first time.
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.