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'I'm happily married, but still wonder what could have been with my ex'

Kinjal Dagli-Shah is a journalist and mother to a girl and a boy. When she’s not tending to the machinations of her million-dollar family, she likes to appreciate, equally, the bounties of nature and the beauty of raising complex human b...

'My spouse supports my long-distance friendship with my ex, and that's how it should be'

“I don’t want to be talking to you about the weather. I don’t want a superficial relationship,” said Greg in an admonishing tone. It was 1992, and he was talking to Jennifer on a long-distance call from Florida. Jennifer was back home in Canada after a year-long whirlwind romance with Greg. Jennifer was 16, and Greg, 20.

Circa 2016. Greg and Jennifer were talking on the phone, exchanging emails and liking family photos on Facebook. They are in their 40s. Greg is still long-distance, in Georgia, and Jennifer in Canada. They are happily married, just not to each other. And, on many days, they do talk about the weather.

Greg and Jennifer’s story of love, luck and long-distance is like the ebb and flow of a tide that swept them in for most of their adult life. They didn’t end up together, but they can’t do without each other and their spouses understand.

“I was 16 when I visited my retired aunt in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, along with my friend Kelly. Greg worked as a valet a couple doors down from my aunt’s condo. My friend and I got talking with Greg and his buddies and they invited us to ‘hang out.’ They took us to the beach on their day off, and we had fun like regular teenagers do. It was heady because they were in their twenties; it was impressive to be hanging out with guys who were four years older.”

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As teenage friendships go, things were quickly forgotten when Jennifer left for Canada a week later. Over a year passed and Jennifer made another trip to visit her aunt. “I didn’t have a phone number and was pretty sure he wouldn’t even remember me. But at my aunt’s insistence, I called my mom in Canada and asked her if there was a Greg in our phone book.”

There was.

They were inseparable for two weeks. Every break that Jennifer got was spent in Florida thanks to an aunt who didn’t mind sending plane tickets. “I was very close to my aunt, and one of my lifelong connections with Greg stems from the fact that he got to know my aunt. My husband never had a chance to meet her because she passed away before I got married. So when I talk to my husband about her, he doesn’t instantly know what I’m saying but Greg does,” said Jennifer of a relationship that didn’t make it but never died.

Greg loved Jennifer with style and in entirety. He immersed himself in the relationship and gave her all his attention. He mailed her beautiful handwritten letters every week, which Jennifer has held on to and looks at every once in a while. “He was what any 18-year-old woman would want in a man. But he was also very black and white. For him, it was all or nothing.”

Ultimately, despite the strong feelings and Greg’s profuse display of love for Jennifer, they had to part ways. Their relationship had been punctured as much by visa requirements and length of stay documents as by class differences. “Greg came from a working class family, raised by a single mother. He had already joined the workforce to support his family while I came from an upper-middle-class family in rural Ontario and was expected to finish university and be a professional,” said Jennifer, who is now a high school teacher and a mother of a 7-year-old boy.

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It also became a question of who visits whom. “Each phone call became a question about when I’m visiting next, and I would retort asking why he couldn’t visit me for a change,” said Jennifer, even though she knew it would take him a month to earn the $400 required to buy a plane ticket. Like Jennifer, he didn’t have a rich and loving aunt.

That might have been the end to Greg and Jennifer’s story but it wasn’t. Over the next few years, their paths came close, even crossed. Jennifer graduated from university and was offered a job in Atlanta, Georgia. She moved there and was in a relationship. But she felt the need to call Greg, whose phone number had changed.

“One day, it dawned on me that I needed to call Greg. Just to make sure he had been OK after our breakup. I had no way to contact him. This was 1997 when there was no Facebook and you had to look in the yellow pages for someone. I knew his date of birth and last known address. So I did a very creepy thing — I met someone who worked in ancestry and paid $10 at the library and found his phone number and address, and his social insurance number which I didn’t need. I wrote him a letter.”

Greg, who still believed in black and white, was also in a relationship at the time. He called Jennifer within five minutes of receiving her letter but also spoke for less than five. “He basically called to tell me that he missed me too but he was in a relationship and didn’t feel it was right to be talking.”

As fate would have it, Jennifer would later accept a job as a nanny in Fort Lauderdale and rent a condo in the building where Greg had worked as a valet. It was also the place where their love had blossomed and half-goodbyes had been said. A couple of years later on Jennifer’s birthday, Greg called, having done his own legwork to find Jennifer’s phone number. “My boyfriend at the time didn’t remember it was my birthday. But Greg did.”

“I’m going to be downstairs in an hour. If you’re there, I’ll know where I stand,” he told her.

Click.

Jennifer didn’t go. She looked at the clock and watched the hour go by. She later also broke up with her boyfriend and went home to Canada, never to return.

But she couldn’t let go. In 2001, there was a casting call for a television show that would reunite long-lost lovers. Jen called them and they were excited to help find Greg for her. It was her last chance but Jennifer chickened out again. Twenty years passed.

A psychic once told Jen that she was one of those people who is born into a soul group. They have these unexplained connections with people who are a part of that soul group. She believes it now.

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It took Jennifer several years to find Greg on Facebook. “His name is so common that whenever I searched, there were thousands of profiles in front of me. But one day, I saw his face.”

They were on the phone a few minutes later, this time for a couple of hours. When they finally decided never to lose touch, it was at a time when they had nothing but parallel lives that would never cross paths again. But they are happy to have at least that. “All we need to share is a song lyric, a YouTube video, a photo — and the other person reads the message. Nothing more has to be explained,” said Jennifer.

Greg is more guarded. “What could have been is always on our minds but having our friendship back is a great thing,” said Greg, a man of few words. Jennifer puts her heart out: “It's a special kind of love. It is a ‘no matter what happens in life, we will always have each other in some way’ kind of love.”

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