It’ll be a dreary Sunday, five weeks before you uproot your life to Chicago for a summer internship. You’ll try to keep conversation natural, but after knowing you for so long, he’ll know something is undoubtedly wrong. He’ll ask you what’s on your mind, and while parked at a red light, you’ll break down. You’ll tell him you don’t love him anymore. He’ll try to keep his voice and hands steady as he drives you home, asking you all the questions you had anticipated he would. You felt like you were prepared to be the villain in this narrative, like you were mentally prepared for these questions. You won’t be. You thought you would feel free, but you’ll realize the fabled gut-punching guilt you were warned about by your friends is the reality.
He’ll cry and you’ll wonder why you’re crying as well. You’ll doubt yourself — often and for long stretches at a time. After days of awkward text conversations and meet-ups on neutral ground, ones that aren’t the bedrooms where you made love or your living room where he held you as you cried over your favorite sad film, you’ll mutually agree to be friends. You’ll go into it with positive naivety. Like you just got your cake, and got to gobble it up too.
It will be rocky at first. He’ll admit that he misses you at 3 A.M. and you’ll confuse your guilt with longing. You’ll drunkenly text him to come over and cuddle before realizing what dangerous territory you’re leading him into. When he ends up following through, something he never did when you were his, nights will be spent on the couches you once spooned on. You’ll spend joyful evenings drinking and watching those TV show you can’t stand but he always took pleasure in.
One night, after a few drinks, you’ll forget your arrangement of friendship and find yourself holding each other in a way that once felt routine and safe. He’ll look in your eyes with something like flickering love and you’ll find yourself feeling hollow and empty. He’ll cuddle and try to hold you, completely unaware that he’s holding the shell of the man he once knew.
You’ll tell him that when you move away that “you’ll both need space and time.” Yet you’ll find yourself with the indescribably need to text and call him everyday. You’ll see him in everywhere you go and, because that line of communication is so readily available, you’ll let him know. You’ll send him texts like “Made some fried chicken and for once, I didn’t burn it! ;)” You won’t be sure why you feel the need to remind him you’re still thinking of him. Maybe it’s because you’re afraid of him forgetting the man you were and the way your love was when it was honest and beautiful.
Slowly, communication will become less frequent as you both become comfortable not relying on each other. You’ll actually make your train on time and won’t feel the need to celebrate with him. He’s not there to get you medicine when you’re sick, so it slips your mind to tell him just how awful you’re feeling when you’re posted up in bed. The option to see movies together and gently stroke his hand with your index finger isn’t there, so you forget to tell him about the movie you’re so excited to see.
You’ll return home from your trip and surprisingly find him with someone new. This new boy will be sweeter to him than you ever were, and you’ll notice that your ex-lover holds his new boy like he never knew how to hold you. You’ll see them out at bars, and cordially say hello; genuinely hoping they’re happy together. You’ll lay away at night, wishing you could text him, asking if his new man knows that he likes jalapeño pretzel bits, but not honey mustard, never honey mustard. You’ll wonder if this new boyfriend knows to run his hands through your ex-lover’s hair when he’s stressed, and if he knows which cheese to pick up for Sunday morning’s omelets.
You’ll continue to try and keep the friendship between you and your ex alive and well. Texts will go unanswered and calls will go unreturned. Plans to get coffee and catch up will go unrealized as the space in between you balloons from things unsaid. You will no longer be the first person he calls when his car breaks down or when he thinks he failed a test, you’ll realize that your role in his life has been recast.
You’ll want to ask him if he thought you were “the one,” because even though you know it’s over, you want to know that you touched his life and that you were a special moment in his life. You won’t because in your heart you know that you can’t. You’re friends now, and you remind yourself that friends don’t complicate things.