This is not a love story.
It was the classic fool's move.
I did the one thing that people constantly warn against. No, not get a tattoo of a significant other's name (I may have done that too, but that's for another time). No, not get married in Vegas.
I did something much, much more foolish.
Once upon a time, I fell in love with a very close friend. But this is not a love story.
Well, it's not exactly a love story. The how of it isn't important. What is important — or what might be useful, at least — is what I learned from it...
Specifically what I learned when I suddenly realized that I couldn't let her go.
What was supposed to be a quick trip turned into a odyssey that took me from Hollywood to Boston to New York.
But first, some background.
She and I were friends for four years.
More than anything, she was a most-trusted confidante: a counselor, a consigliere, an objective ear, a true friend. She was the person I'd call when I needed hard, fast, actionable advice.
As such, she knows more about me than I'd ever care to admit to anyone else, girlfriends and shrinks included.
It is impossible, in other words, to bullshit her.
This leads me to the first thing I learned.
1. We need people who know enough of our history to be able to understand us and care about us enough to want to understand more.
By no means am I saying that one person should serve that function. It's extremely unrealistic to think that any one person can be everything to another person, that any one person can fill all the emotional needs of another.
But we do need people in our lives with whom we can be ourselves.
Moreover, we need people in our lives who make us comfortable about being ourselves: people who know us and like us anyway.
That's always the fear when you fall in love with someone new: that they'll discover something that will make them turn and run. We don't have — or shouldn't have — that fear with our friends.
We started talking more. A lot more.
She was always what I call a "4 a.m. friend:" one of the few people you know you can call or text at 4 a.m.
Our friendship had lulled while she had been traveling, but when she came back, we started spending more and more time texting, calling and emailing.
On that note, that's another thing that my experience drove home:
2. No matter how independent we are, we need 4 a.m. friends.
As a writer, I am a dreadful cliché: bookish, high-strung, introverted and prone to spending days and days by myself. I am generally more lonely in a crowd than when I am alone.
But even among those of my temperament, we all sometimes long for someone to talk to. Not necessarily at 4 a.m., but just at all: someone who we can reach out to. Someone who is available, not just technically, but emotionally.
Much to my dismay, I slowly fell in love with her.
And, from the looks of it, she felt the same way.
From. The. Looks. Of. It.
We had said "it" before, but the context, of course, was different then: We were friends. There was no pressure. There was no silent, urgent hope of reciprocation, or at least acceptance.
But I had to say it. I had to at least know. Or hear it. Or not hear it.
And it couldn't be said over text. It couldn't just be said over the phone. It couldn't be said on Skype.
It had to be said in person. We wanted to see each other anyway, so we made plans to spend a few days together.
So I flew from Hollywood to Boston.
And I said it.
And yes. She said it back.
But this is not a love story.
If it was, it would end here. I learned something vital in the days that followed.
3. Not only do people have different ways of showing love, they have different reactions to being loved.
I'm generally affectionate by nature. I think of myself as emotionally generous.
The problem with both of those statements is that they have absolutely no objective validity and they unconsciously posit the way I love as the way to love.
Thing is, there are lots of ways that people express love. Chalk it up to childhoods or temperaments or individual psychologies or whatever: People have styles of loving that can vary greatly. Someone who shows their love in small ways every day has a very different way of loving than someone who spray paints it on the side of a building.
Just as importantly, people have different ways of being loved, of receiving affection. Some reciprocate by responding with the same sentiment. Others savor it and show their understanding with a look, a glance, or a letter posted in the mail.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten that.
And I did the one thing that will kill love faster than anything else.
I began to doubt. My doubt led to insecurity.
I couldn't imagine how she could possibly love me.
My insecurity led me to do something rash.
4. Do not walk out on the people you care about.
Not for me. I was afraid to say what I wanted to say: that I was afraid of losing her, that I didn't want to lose her.
Rather than risk losing her, I decided that I had already lost her. And I acted accordingly.
I didn't know what else to do.
The next few days sucked.
The streets were full of people and empty of her. I wore the same shirt I had for three days, gingerly rubbing the spots stained by her mascara, and struggling to smell her on my sleeves.
I couldn't bring myself to leave Boston, so I crashed on a friend's couch.
I wanted to say something, but I had nothing to say. More painfully, I feared she would have no reply. I feared that someday I might hear boredom slip into her voice when I called her: the accent of someone who is suddenly far too busy to talk to you, the lilt of indifference, the soft consonants of apathy.
I feared that one text would somehow lead to calls where there'd be laughter in the background and disinterested platitudes and the sound of silence before a goodbye. I feared glares of contempt bred by familiarity and I wondered if she would ever simply utter the words "I can't do this anymore," full of failing affection.
It was in a bar the next morning that I realized that I had made a massive mistake.
5. There are some seemingly benign decisions that carry with them the possibility of a lifetime of regret.
I decided I had to follow her to New York to try to salvage it.
...and so I did.
I canceled my flight out and bought a train ticket. I stepped out into the abyss of not knowing and took a leap of faith without a safety net of any kind.
Do you think this was a good idea or a disaster waiting to happen?
I'll tell you the rest of the story in Part II...