Lessons Learned: Your Buddies and Your Crushes

Yep. I’m back on a slight relationship thinking track again. I think I’ll blame this one on seeing The 40 Year Old Virgin (which, if you haven’t seen it yet, you should–especially if you’re a guy). Or, maybe, I’ll just point to the fact that Friends and the lessons I’ve learned in the past are things I really need to remember every now and then.

When I started college, it was quite literally a whole new world for me. I was suddenly thrust into a place where I could actually be myself, with a group of people who I had a lot more in common with than I was used to and who were just as lost as I was. I had no history, except what I was willing to share, and every new memory was a shared one that we would all some day look back on and smile about (more often than not).

As anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time knows, in high school I wasn’t exactly a ladies man. Lots of crushes, lots of unrequited love, lots of big dreams… very little of anything else. Some habits are hard to break, so my first year at college was more of the same (though with some very distinct shifts in a completely opposite direction). I was crushing on people as quickly and as frequently as I was meeting them. It was an immense amount of fun and quite liberating.

About halfway through that first year, I had a firmly cemented crush on my next door neighbor, Melissa. She was quite unlike anyone I had known before–her quirks were all her own, but she also had a certain class. Mel was a photo major, not too terribly sharp when it came to math (though better than a lot of other artists I knew) and had a great eye for odd beauty. She was also a little skittish, but more than willing to push her own envelope when it came to experience.

And that’s really what grabbed me about her: the fact that was willing to push into her discomfort zone.

At that same halfway point, I had talked my buddy Z into joining the club and moving on floor. Since his taste in women was also impeccable, we found ourselves in the all-too-often plumbed depths of the “we both like the same girl” plot.

Most of the time, everything was just fine. We were like a big, happy, slightly dysfunctional family. There were a good many things we all did together. I have a particular vivid memory of me, Z and Mel coming back from a party over at one of the sets of on-campus apartments one cold winter night. She was a little tipsy, he and I hadn’t been drinking at all (because, at that point, neither of us did). The parking lot we had to cross had iced over a bit and we were feeling a little adventurous. So we talked Mel into leaning back and putting her legs out as straight and strong was she possibly could. “No, really… this’ll be great” we told her, grinning our (more than slightly) evil grins.

We slid her across that parking lot at a good clip, never losing our grip on her and never losing our own footing. She screamed the whole way.

It was great.

Then there were other times when things got a little hairy. Z and Mel started spending a bit more time together for a while. I was busy with my own stuff and didn’t take much notice. At least not until one night when I realized he didn’t leave her room.

And that was when I first experienced a real sense of anger brought on by feelings of betrayal. It bubbled and burned inside me, keeping me up most of the night. Classes the next day were unpleasant, to say the least. Z and I didn’t see each other much that day, which was probably for the best.

A few days went by like that. He was spending time with her, I was seething silently about it. When Z and I did finally see each other for long enough to actually chat, he made an off-hand comment that just set my teeth on edge. I shot back with something else and he noticed how out of sorts I was.

“We need to talk, don’t we?” he said.

“Not in here,” I told him. There was no way I was going to open up what could be a really nasty fight there in the dorm. I didn’t want anyone else to have to deal with the fall out from it.

Outside it was night. Clouds had rolled in and a light, cold drizzle was falling. As we walked around the parking lots, things didn’t get loud. I held my temper, he listened. I went through the whole litany of “How could you do that! You know how I feel about her!” and he was honest and admitted his feelings for her. He also assured me that nothing had happened other than sleeping… and that nothing would happen.

That was what I needed to hear. It made everything OK. It made me sure that my trust hadn’t been misplaced. That he hadn’t been knowingly hiding anything from. That we were all still on the same field, playing by the same rules that had remained unspoken up until that point.

We shook hands. That turned into a good manly back pounding bear hug. We went back inside laughing it off, shaking off the drizzle that was slowly turning into an actual rain.

I learned that night how important perception is. How a slightly skewed view, coupled with some negative thinking and bad past experiences can drag you down into a very dark and unhappy place. And how much of a difference an honest answer and direct accounting of actions can make between friends.

Z and I still talk on a semi-regular basis. I still love him like a brother, though I do think our tastes in women have changed enough that we don’t ever have to really worry about that overlap problem cropping up again. And if it does, we know what’s important.

Mel and I had some disagreements and misunderstandings during my second year. She let that dark spiral drag her down and felt the need to get away from all the rest of us. I haven’t seen her in a few years, and when I did last see her, there wasn’t a lot of talking that went on–just cordially exchanged polite conversation bits. I can only hope she’s found the genuine happiness that I always wished for her.

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