In the seventh grade, there was this boy. There are a lot of “boys” at that age, but he was different. He was the only guy I ever truly liked, because we shared a similar, more mature, mindset. We were always together, and he made me feel like I was supposed to be in his life. But I was sure I’d never get to be with him.
That boy, Brian, looked really great in this bright-blue shirt of his, and I, like most young kids, always felt inadequate. He was adorable, I was slightly overweight. I got nervous about everything, he always seemed so calm and confident. It was that kind of love story people sing about, without the happy conclusion, because he never liked me back—not in the way I liked him. He was always quick to tell me that, too. I hung out with him more than any other friend I had, but he always said he never felt it the way I did.
It was kind of masochistic self-torture, to be honest, but Brian was the kind of friend you wanted to keep around even if you’d never have him in the way you wanted. It was like some sort of years-long drinking-hangover cycle. Being with him was great, but every waking moment afterward was spent fighting a headache—a headache about the relationship I was missing out on and about all of the awful self-loathing that surrounds that kind of thing.
I kept on, though, because Brian was the only person I really wanted to spend my time with. He joked with me just enough that it wasn’t overbearing, he could make anything fun and the times we got mistaken for a couple were some of the most rewarding for my psyche.
To me, we were a perfect match. To Brian, we were a good pair of friends who could call each other for a movie day or a trip to Target. It was a heartbreaking thing, to always be there with each other but never be with each other.
I liked Brian for a long time—years longer than anyone thought I should have. The giggling group of friends who once loved talking about my crush and saying we were totally going to get married someday turned more hostile whenever I brought him up. After all, I’d liked him for about seven years by the end of high school. They were sick of hearing about it.
“Give it up, Alanis. He doesn’t like you back.”
“How many years have you liked him now?”
“Wait, you still like that guy?”
Yes, I did. There wasn’t anything I could do about it. I couldn’t shake him, and I couldn’t explain to myself why that was. I couldn’t explain it to to anyone else, either, so it got to the point that I just gave up saying anything to anyone.
Years went by, and things never changed. I was always the friend who kept quiet about ever being anything more than friends, and Brian was always the friend who wanted to keep it that way—just friends. It was miserable.
Eventually, I got better at suppressing my feelings. I was great at telling myself I didn’t like him anymore, and I was great at using his lack of dating others to qualify my position in his life.
But when Brian did date others, I always realized that, yes, I did still like him. A lot. It was a double whammy of bad.
I used to sit around and wonder how things would be in 20 years. Would I still be thinking about this guy I couldn’t get off of my mind for almost a decade now? Where would Brian be, where would I be, and what would it be like to see him with a wife and kids and living some life in which I had no involvement? Like I said, I was an expert in mental torture and I just couldn’t cut him out of my life. I didn’t have that kind of strength.
But that whole “wife and kids” thing never had to be a mystery.
The thing is, teen me had excellent taste in men and I just wouldn’t let it go. I knew what was best, and I also knew as early as the seventh grade that I’d either marry this guy or never find one as good.
But for him, it took until the first day out of his teen years—his 20th birthday—to realize the same was true for that girl who’d always been by his side. He took me to his brother’s concert on a Monday night, though I admittedly had the day’s date wrong and thought his birthday wasn’t until the next day. Something felt off that night, but I kept trying to bury it, because I’d been burned by that type of thought too many times.
But then he kissed me.
We started dating about a month before I went off to a college two hours away from his school. I’d already convinced myself that in college, I’d finally meet great, smart guy who liked me back. But I also knew that’s never what I wanted. I wanted Brian, even if we had to see each other once every two weeks for three years. Luckily, he felt that way too.
We just graduated college, bought and moved into a house, and we’ll be getting married in November. He proposed after about two and a half years of dating, in an off-limits area of a state park and miles away from anyone else. There was no phone signal, so we were the only ones who knew we were engaged for an entire 24 hours. There’s something about that feeling—sitting under the stars while the rest of the world doesn’t have a clue.
We got engaged with enough time before we both graduated to negotiate our jobs to land in the same place, and sometimes I’m shocked that the life I’m living is actually real. This is that boy—the one who always called me up when he needed a friend, and the one who was always around for platonic Target trips that he never planned to lead to anything more.
Brian later told me that it took dating a few other people to realize how badly he got treated by them, and how I was the one he always went to. And finally, after 10 years, he realized what he had been missing out on. I wouldn’t trade waiting on him for anything.
Plus, just imagine how surprised that giggling group of girls from middle school wound up being.