In the past few weeks, I fell for one of my friends. This wasn’t a serious infatuation, less than love but more than a crush. I could eat and breathe around him, but when I ran into him on Cross Campus, my smile was always too enthusiastic, my idle chatter about classes or the weather always went a little too long. I liked to make him laugh, so I stored up funny stories about my mishaps for these encounters. And when we said goodbye, promising to see each other soon, I walked on with bubbly excitement.
This isn’t the first time I’ve fallen for a friend. And I’m probably not alone. At this time of year, when summer is upon us and classes and relationships are ending, friends seem one of few constants. We know how they work and how they will pick up again the fall as if nothing has changed. While Alice works to guard the dividing line between friendship and romance, for me, friendships have tended to move in and out of other kinds of love, the boundaries often fuzzy and unclear.
I have discovered many advantages to dating men with whom I am already friends. There are no awkward first dates, the getting-to-know-you conversations have long past and the ex-girlfriend or -boyfriend history is already known. Even better, the rapport is already established, the details of hangouts already negotiated.
My longest-running relationship — a year and a half — emerged from a close friendship. It started with 2 a.m. trips to Waffle House and sing-alongs to Spoon and Sea Wolf EPs and turned easily into a relationship. I didn’t worry, as I usually do with new boyfriends, when I said something stupid or nearly backed into a tree while driving or broke the toaster by leaving an eraser shaped like a killer whale inside.
Even after I left for Yale, we talked on the phone for hours without gaps in the conversation and saw each other as often as we could. I thought I had the best of both worlds — a boyfriend who was also my best friend.
Our friendship made it easier to talk to him, easier to fall in love with him and stay in love. But when we broke up, it made the end harder. For months after we stopped talking, I had to force myself not to call or text him about my finals stress or the man on stilts I saw walking across Old Campus. The end of our friendship was even harder to take than the end of our romantic relationship. But both were so bound up together it was impossible for me to define exactly what I was mourning.
It was, of course, naïve of me to expect a happy ending for the relationship just because going in, we were such good friends. But there is an expected safeguard that comes from knowing someone well before dating him. And there is a sense of betrayal that comes with losing a friend that calloused and sophisticated post-modern lovers don’t have with relationships. “Just be friends with boys,” my mother always told me, and in the post-break-up bitterness, it seemed like good advice.
For almost a year after we broke up, I swore off making good friends into boyfriends. I went on dates to Bangkok Garden and 116 Crown. I met men through friends of friends and classes, with as many degrees of separation as possible. I made sure that I could erase my boyfriends from my life without experiencing any real repercussions, without having to rearrange the space I had allotted for my friends. I dated, but I would have lied about an eraser in the toaster.
Until I fell for my friend, who has a wicked sense of humor, good taste in music and a kind nature. I had the same kind of naiveté, the same hopeless belief that things would all work out and that we would end up kissing on a picnic blanket on Old Campus on the first real day of sun in New Haven’s spring — or at least there would be a drunken Spring Fling make-out session.
This version of my story doesn’t have a blissful vom-com ending. A few days ago my friend told me about this girl he likes, someone he met in a computer cluster. I started writing thinking I would caution about needing the line between friend and boyfriend because when he told me about the other girl, it hurt. I didn’t want to discuss his strategy for asking her out, fine-tuning based on possible responses, but had to because we are still friends.
And this won’t be the last time I fall for a friend. I prefer the naïve excitement of expanding a friendship in a college courtyard to transactional dates at New Haven restaurant. I prefer saying goodbye and walking on with bubbly excitement. I prefer the comfort of friendship, being able to laugh unembarrassed with my boyfriend — even when I back my car into a tree.
Elisa Gonzalez is a junior in Pierson College.