Friendship, Fire, and Other Swoony Things

Tonight I re-watched Before Sunrise, a movie from way back in 1995 starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. Please see it if you haven’t. The movie ends leaving us wondering if these two people who fall in love over the course of one night but have to part ways the next day will ever see each other again. (You can find out what happens in the sequel, Before Sunset, filmed 10 years later.) That kind of intense, we-only-have-limited-time love, my friends, is the shit that my love dreams are made of, the kind that always breaks my heart in a million pieces but eventually makes me smile like an idiot three years later when I remember it.

Which brings me to a conversation that I had recently with a friend, a conversation that I’ve had over the course of many years with many friends: which kind of love has more staying power: the slow burn or the immediate fire? The person that you build a relationship with over time that maybe doesn’t even start out romantically or the person you’re immediately romantically drawn to in every way?

I don’t have the answers; believe me, if I did, I wouldn’t be sitting alone on my bed in Paris at 12:30 a.m. I tend to fall into the fire category, but that’s only because I think things shouldn’t be too complicated. You either feel it or you don’t. (Again, I point out that I’m alone on my bed.)

Which now brings me to something I found today that I wrote almost exactly a year ago about a guy I had a big crush on who didn’t feel it for me. Nothing ever happened between us; he’s totally in love with someone now, which makes me happy because he’s such a cool guy. I’m sharing it because after re-reading it today, it reminds me of that stupid and annoying thing that people say to make you feel better when things don’t work out with someone you like: people come into our lives for a reason and sometimes we don’t always know what the reason is until later; sometimes we never know. (Don’t you just want to punch me in the face for even typing that?) I’m trying to get better about remembering that more on this little journey called life, which, let’s be honest, can be a total pain in the ass sometimes.

Reading this a year later, I now understand why I met him (I even tell myself at the end – duh): I needed a friend more than I needed a boyfriend last year. Someday I’ll thank him for being that and for making a really hard time a little easier. Here’s to you, mystery man whose name I won’t reveal.

_ _ _

I wonder if he has any idea that he’s the brightest light that’s shone for days, maybe even weeks. Standing next to him at this concert feels good, really good. Every once in a while, someone in the crowd shifts and forces me a little closer to him, and I brush against his arm or his chest, and it feels strong; he feels strong. It’s so nice to stand there with him, listening to music that I love, that resonates in a way so that the songs feel like a puzzle piece that found an equally shaped spot in my heart and clicked into place perfectly. Standing there, listening to this music, my hand brushing against his every once in a while, I think there’s no place I’d rather be right now and I don’t want the night to end. It’s the first time I’ve felt anything in months.

Afterwards, we walk as we try to figure out where to go next. As we talk, I think about how he feels a little like the music, like a piece of something that has clicked into my heart just so. I wonder what that means, or if it means anything at all and if I’m just conjuring up meaning where there is none.

We decide on a bar and settle in at a table with drinks. The conversation is easy and fun and interesting; sometimes it gets deep and sometimes it’s a little dark and offbeat, but nothing he says surprises me and nothing I say seems to surprise him. I wonder if this is some sort of darkness compatibility factor or if it’s just a product of being adults who have lived in major cities for a long time and have seen and heard a little bit of everything.

Sometimes it feels like he’s flirting with me. I make a face while I’m telling him a story and he tells me it’s “kind of hot.” The strap on my sweater falls off my shoulder and because I’m sitting with one shoe dangling off my toe when it happens, I joke that all my clothes are falling off and he says something to the effect of, “I don’t mind.” He tells me I look great at the beginning of the night, and I don’t think too much of it, because that’s what friends do when they think you look good, right?  They tell you. Then he tells me again later. “No, really. You look really great.” I secretly check him out while he’s telling me stories: green eyes. Dark hair with flecks of gray. Handsome. And I want to tell him that he looks great too, but I don’t know if I can do it casually enough so as not to appear too excited. “You look great too!” I imagine myself saying too quickly, too enthusiastically, stupidly even, the exclamation mark hanging in the air so obviously. Then I wonder what’s so bad about an exclamation mark and a little excitement. I wonder if my fear of displaying exclamation marks is holding me back somehow.

I have vowed to keep my crush and my hope in check tonight, our third time hanging out together in ten months. The first two times were equally fun, more interesting and easy conversation. The first time he held my hand briefly and we made plans to go out again a few weeks later.  I followed up with him afterwards about getting together, but I never heard back until a couple of months later, after my mom died. He sent me an email, a really nice email, telling me that I needed to lean on friends and suggested we get together. After I responded that yes, I would indeed love to get together, I never heard from him again until a few months later, when he sent me a nice email on Mother’s Day. Then about a month after that, he contacted me to get together.

This track record of spotty contact has doused any hopes I had of romantic interest on his side, but despite that, I decide having an interesting new friend is worth getting over the ego bruise of not being liked. So on the spur of the moment yesterday, I invited him to last night’s concert and here we are.

Still, I wonder why two single people who are looking to find love and who seem to find each other attractive and enjoy spending time together are not on a date. I wonder what I’m doing wrong. I wonder why I can’t push this or anything else forward. What’s my role in my lack of love? As he himself has mused on his own singlehood, “If I wanted it that badly, wouldn’t I have it? Wouldn’t I have made it a priority?” I remember when he said this; I remember feeling like this was a lightning bolt of insight and since then I’ve been thinking about whether I really am serious about finding love. I wonder why I seem to be inept at decoding the signs to the simplest, most basic things, like whether a man is flirting with me or whether he’s just being kind to a friend. I wonder if other women could take the same circumstances of this night with this man and do something different with them, something that would yield a different result other than complete ambiguity and random get-togethers every few months. I wonder if I’m incapable of making anything happen, I’m so numb right now. I’m genuinely happy to have someone interesting and kind and funny in my life, even as a friend. Should the fact that it’s just a friendship matter?

One of the songs from the concert that we both loved is a song called “The Luckiest.” He sent me an email today thanking me for the fun night and telling me that he agreed with me, that this is may be one of the sweetest songs ever. Even if we’re just friends, I know that this is a song that will always remind me of him now. He + me + this song, it’s all locked into that same jigsaw place in my heart. I like that, and I decide that for today, this is enough. Because it has to be; this is all that it is. In this year of unbelievably devastating sadness, where I go days without any nourishing or substantial conversation aside from speaking to people at work, people who sell me coffee, and people who check me in at yoga, I think how truly lucky it really is just to find someone who shines a little light into your life, even if only for a little while.