How to screw up a friendship

Subtitle: What I Learned from an Opposite-Sex Friendship That Waned

On Thursday afternoon I was busily plowing through my workday and talking with Dyskinesia on IM about this and that, since I was going to be out on the road on Friday to pick up my son from his week with my parents. In the middle of it all I happened to flip over to my email account and there was an email sitting in my inbox with the subject line “A Blast from the Past.” I was quite shocked because the name next to the subject line was the name of a girl (I’ll call her Carly, not her real name) that I hadn’t heard from in at least five or six years…the last girl I kissed before Dyskinesia.

I said to Dys over IM, “Holy shit, I’ve got an email from Carly!”
I could just see Dys rolling her eyes as she said something like “Oh great.”

“…reading… Yep, typical Carly. She says she just got married a few months ago…to a nice gay man, for her green card. They live with her girlfriend and her husband.”

“You’re right. Typical.”

“Well, I’m going to bite and reply to her. I don’t mind keeping in touch, just every six months or a year or so would be ideal for me.”

[See, here’s where a couple of you are settling in and saying, “Oh boy, this is gonna be good.” Sadly, it’s not that good. At least I don’t think so…your opinion may differ!]

Did you ever have a friend who tried really, really, hard to shock you? That’s my friend Carly. Once a quietish science student, now Carly is an out-and-proud lesbian on the West Coast, with a vaguely bondage email address to boot. And I’m sure the decision to mail me from that address wasn’t entirely accidental.

Carly was someone I met on the same online game where I met Dys. The difference being that while Dys was always attached (as was I, in point of fact), Carly was single. I didn’t get to know her all that well for quite a while, but then she struck up a flirtatious friendship with a good friend of mine, and by palling around with him I started to come into contact with her quite a bit, and we ended up with a flirtatious friendship of our own.

This was a fairly big deal to me. I was never much of a flirt. I’d been beaten down quite a bit in various ways, both romantically and otherwise (stories for another time, perhaps), and so I was really quite shy in general, and doubly so around women. Add to that that I had a steady girlfriend and a zealous sense of honor, and I wasn’t much to flirt with anyone. Period. Carly took it as something of a challenge, of course. She’s that type of girl.

It was fun for me, and also something different than what I usually did. It seemed harmless, in a way that my interactions with Dys never had…on the one hand, my relationship with Dys had been more innocent and, on the other hand, had felt deeper in some indescribable fashion. My interaction with Carly was not entirely innocent, but was certainly not terribly deep. So I enjoyed it quite a bit.

[Confession: here’s where I ran off at the fingertips and typed up a whole long summary of how Dyskinesia and I finally ended up together, and how Carly figured tangentially into the equation. It seemed important at the time to write it out chronologically, but in looking back on it, it GREATLY pushed the story away from anything resembling a point. So I’ve excised a lot. The “How I Met Your Mother” blog series will have to be a separate one.]

As luck would have it, during a point in which Dyskinesia was gone from our game for a while, I found out that Carly was accepted to graduate school a few hundred miles away from me. She was coming down to visit the campus over her spring break in March – which just happened to coincide with the spring break of the good friend of mine that had introduced me to her. And my own. Uh-oh. Road trip time!

We met up and went out for a night as a threesome, having just enough to drink to get a good giggling buzz on, and staying up obscenely late in the room my buddy and I shared talking. When it was finally TOO damned late, I wobbled Carly up to her own room, said good night, and gave her a hug. A hug that ended up awkwardly long. I don’t know what I expected to happen, or what I really wanted to happen. I was still with my girlfriend, of course, and had no interest in cheating on her. At the same time, I won’t deny that at the time was certainly enjoying being the target of Carly’s innuendoes. Nevertheless, I said good night again and wobbled my ass back down to my shared room, and that was that. Nothing else happened. I laid down in my bed and tried to ignore my buddy’s snoring while I tried to decide if, in fact, I’d done what I wanted to do.

The next day the three of us caught some breakfast and walked around town a bit before my pal and I had to hit the road again. We had checked out of our room, so the three of us ended up back in Carly’s room again. We were all exhausted from being up so late, of course, so Carly and I propped up on our elbows on the bed talking while my friend promptly fell asleep sprawled out on the floor. So while he snored, we talked – about nothing in particular, nothing at all that I can remotely remember now. I just remember being that close to her and thinking to myself, “You know what? You did the right thing. This would have been entirely too weird if you’d made a move on her last night.” So eventually I kicked my friend awake, gave Carly a much less awkward hug goodbye, and my friend and I hit the road again, none the worse for wear.

To make an already long story (even with the deletions! I suck, and I apologize) short, I broke up with my girlfriend over the Christmas holiday, determined to try to make something happen with Dyskinesia, who had decided to kick her boyfriend to the curb at the same time…somewhat but not entirely coincidentally. That’s when Carly reminded me of a promise I’d made in jest a long time before – that, if I broke up with my girlfriend, I’d have a long hot makeout session with her. She offered to drive up in the Very Near Future to collect.

So, what did yours truly do? I accepted her offer.

I’d always heard about people “screwing up a friendship” by being too intimate, but it was something I’d never experienced and so I wasn’t entirely sure if I believed it. Well, now I believe it. Because whatever relationship I had with Carly was never the same after that weekend. We more or less made out for that evening and most of the day on Saturday before she left Sunday morning, and in the meantime slept in the same bed…in our underwear. That was it, really. Nothing else happened. But ultimately it was enough. Too much, in fact.

I have to say that I really don’t know what I was thinking getting myself into that situation in the first place. Yes, I had jokingly promised her that I’d make out with her, and to be perfectly honest I used that “promise” as a sort of justification to myself both at the time and afterward. It was utterly ridiculous to do so, of course. She wouldn’t have held me to it in any way if I’d backed out on it, and even if she’d gotten pissed off about it, what would it have mattered? While I’d certainly enjoyed our flirtations over the years, I can’t say that I was all that attracted to her physically. I think that, to be honest, I was just single for the first time in almost five years and felt like enjoying some female attention. The “promise” was just a convenient excuse. And while I physically enjoyed myself that weekend, mentally I was not happy.

Dys knew that Carly was coming over and she knew things weren’t going to be entirely innocent, but while she never pretended to be entirely comfortable with the situation she also never said a thing to stop me. We already had a thing that, while clearly nothing “official,” definitely made me feel like I was doing her wrong by being with Carly. And I knew and (more importantly to Dys) Carly knew that Dys was who I was really interested in. I knew by Saturday morning when I woke up next to Carly that something just didn’t feel right about the whole thing…but I couldn’t imagine trying to put a stop to it at that time, or sending her home a day early, so I just went along with it for another day. And I think “going along with it” when I really didn’t feel right is where I really went wrong.

After Carly had left and I was alone in the apartment, I felt really guilty about the whole thing. I felt like I’d betrayed Dys: although we had not yet met and didn’t have what you’d call a formal relationship with defined rules, I just felt like I’d been disrespectful to whatever relationship we had. And I felt like I’d used Carly or at the very least (and perhaps more accurately) led her on: while she was certainly the instigator for the whole thing, once I decided things didn’t feel right, I couldn’t think of her in quite the same way. It wasn’t some porcelain-doll thing by which I’d been intimate with her, gotten what I wanted from her, and then cast her aside – I just felt like I’d done something that she clearly wanted but, in retrospect, I didn’t. And that felt like crossing a line to me…a line that I wasn’t mature or experienced enough to know how to re-establish.

We kept in touch, surely. For a few months we were in contact about as frequently as we ever were. But it wasn’t the same. The flirting wasn’t something fanciful and funny anymore, it was something with a basis in reality, and a reality that I wasn’t entirely comfortable being reminded of, although I never put it to her that way. I just stopped being so flirty, and gradually she returned the favor.

A month later, Dyskinesia flew out for the first time, and that was it. Our relationship was definitely “official” and I was thrilled to have it that way. My memory is a little fuzzy after that as far as the timetables go – I think Carly visited me once afterward, things were completely platonic, and that was about it. Dys moved in that fall and I was too blissfully busy with her and (less blissfully) with grad school to spend much time corresponding with Carly.

Likewise, she was up to her eyeballs in grad school and had gradually come to identify herself as a lesbian (she’d actually had her first same-sex kiss in my apartment – she and her new friend from the ‘net used my place as a halfway point, and they made out in my bedroom while I awkwardly played guitar and watched TV with a friend-of-the-friend. Now that is a fun experience, let me tell ya). So she was dating a lot and gradually honing her attempts to shock me, despite my complete nonchalance at her newfound sexual orientation. (I mean, sure, it’s interesting to know that your friend is dating her state’s “Miss Leather,” but the whole gay/straight thing is more or less old hat to me. Unless you’re talking about my grandparents or something.)

So, as time went by we drifted more or less completely out of touch. When Dyskinesia and I got married in the Midwest, Carly attended our wedding reception that my family threw us in Virginia – she drove in from out of state and gave us a nice laundry basket that we still use (and a wine-bottle holder that we don’t use so much). I think this was the first time that she and Dys actually met (am I right about that, babe?), and my parents ended up inviting her to stay at their place with the rest of us rather than getting a hotel room or driving back that night. So we ended the evening, the three of us sitting up late talking. I was drinking quite a bit and having a great time, besotted as a newlywed might be with my beautiful bride. Dys has since said that the evening was a bit more sharp for her, as she says there were a few little raised-hackles moments that were obviously too subtle for my male brain to notice…particularly when pleasantly pickled. But, of course, Dys’s comment sums it up: “Whatever happened, I knew who was taking you to bed that night.”

After that, I only spoke to her every now and again, and I don’t think at all since we moved about six years ago. Honestly, after a while, her “look at me, isn’t what I’m doing fun and completely unconventional?!?” bit got tiring to me. But I never know how much of that is a result of something that she might have wanted out of our relationship at one point and never received.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes with women, but that’s one of the ones that I really wish I hadn’t made, because I feel like I let down Dys, Carly, and myself in the process. I certainly prefer where I am now than where I might have been had I let my hormones take over that night in the hotel, or that weekend in my grad school apartment. I knew at the time that Carly was a good friend and a good flirt, but that Dyskinesia was quite probably the love of my life. (I made a good call on that one.) But I do regret learning that, in fact, you can cross a line with a friend that really can’t be undone. And you don’t even have to have sex with them to get there.

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8 Responses

  1. Very interesting story. I can see now why Dyskinesia rolled her eyes upon hearing about that email.

    In talking about it a few nights ago, she said something to the effect (and she’ll probably correct me on this, as she usually does when I try to quote her 😉 ) that the whole thing wouldn’t have bothered her so much if Carly hadn’t known that Dys and I had a thing. So Carly got to feel like she had put one over on Dys in that regard, and had that in her arsenal if she ever wanted to needle Dys afterward.

    If I’d had much experience with relationships or with women in general I might have figured that out beforehand and done things differently. In my defense, I was not quite 22, living completely alone for the first time, and just coming out of my first really significant relationship with a girl I’d dated since I was 17.

    And, of course, I was an idjit. Let’s not forget that.

  2. I seem to have this problem. I date people that I’m already friends with. And when the relationship’s over, I don’t ever talk to them again. Except with one guy, I still see him from time to time, and it’s awkward when we run into each other. Even more awkward when I run into his mother.

    I was friends with the BF long before we started dating. And we’re still great friends now. But I wonder if we’d still be friends if it suddenly blows up in my face. Out of all the guys I’ve been friends with and dated, I think I’d miss him the most.

    Hmm. I think I can only say that I’ve had three of those situations: my ex (who I don’t speak to), Carly, and Dys. Batting .333 will keep you in the majors, right?

  3. I grew up a tomboy so most of my friends have always been guys. It didn’t seem like a big deal until I started dating my ex, he didn’t like that most of my friends were guys and he really didn’t like that most of his friends became my friends (not to brag but I think a lot of them liked me better, most likely because of my boobs). When my relationship with my ex was coming to an end, it was helped by one of our male friends. I didn’t realize that he and I wouldn’t be able to be friends anymore after that. Do I regret what I did to get out of the relationship? Yes and no. I don’t regret it because it was the deal breaker and I was relieved that it was. I do because I miss having the guy as a friend, we had a lot in common and could always talk freely with each other.

    When it came down to it, I guess Carly and I didn’t have too much in common outside the game we both played and some mutual friends there. We just had a lot of free time on our hands and fell into a flirting thing. Once the flirting thing went too real to be comfortable (for me at least), I guess there wasn’t much to fall back on.

  4. I still have that “life history” e-mail you sent me if you wanna copy it and paste it into your “How I Met Your Mother” blog series.

    I’ve got it in my sent mail. Thank you, Gmail. 😉

    “…zealous sense of honor” – I like that.

    Me too, but sometimes it causes me trouble. Usually only internal trouble, but trouble nonetheless.

    “…the whole gay/straight thing is more or less old hat to me. Unless you’re talking about my grandparents or something.” – BWAAAHAHAHAHAAA. And also, EW.

    Yeah. Ew. Beyond that, I just don’t care all that much. The ushers at my wedding were gay men, one of whom has a standing invite to stay at my house with his long-term boyfriend anytime he wants.

    To summarize, you were young, you grew up, seems that Carly didn’t, we all have regrets, you learned from yours, and clearly you have your priorities straight now!

    Hmm, when you put it that way it sounds a lot better, doesn’t it?

  5. Whew! This may sound odd, but in the long run that day and a half of making out was a good way to get “Carly” out of your system and to be done with it. As awkward as it might have been then and now, it is done and over with.

    That situation is surely better than having curious thoughts now.

    Quite an odd situation…I think many of us can relate on both sides of your situation.

    Well, it definitely worked. And I think you’re right in that regard – definitely better than the “what if?” questions that might have lingered. Probably not, since I was definitely smitten with Dys, but you never can be sure.

  6. […] tones about vampires.  (All of whom were female, probably no coincidence – and particularly Carly)  I’ve always been a believer that, as Wallace Stevens says, “Death is the mother of […]

  7. […] No, but my lesbian friend Carly once told me was showing my picture to someone at a gay bar and at least one guy at the table […]

  8. you have to learn somehow.

    sometimes you have to see someone else to know for sure that the other person is the one you want.

    i come from the backside of that. i cheated on one of my boyfriends (kissing only) and nearly cheated on another. both times that was a sign i wish i had paid attention to, that i didn’t want to be with my boyfriend anymore. i had wondered about it before then, but the other guy was what made me realize it was time to go. i didn’t get with the other guy after i broke up with my boyfriend. it wasn’t about him.

    sometimes you need a carly in your life to help you realize what the right decision is.

    While I understand what you’re saying and believe that there is truth to it, wow did I never want to be in that position (and still don’t). It just did NOT feel good or right to me, and I occasionally am already so prepared to believe that I’m doing something (pick one: wrong, stupid, bad, hurtful) that I try not to give my bad voices any more ammunition.

    Dys knew, and she didn’t disapprove outwardly, but I knew she was bothered by it. I carried that guilt with me not only through the weekend but for a long time thereafter, and I didn’t like myself very much because of it. I hope not to do that again.

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