When I met the man I would eventually marry, he was dating my best friend. I can already imagine the look on your face at that statement, because I’ve seen it a million times. I know, I know. It sounds terrible! “You stole your best friend’s boyfriend?”
No, no, no.
I had become the best of friends with a girl who lived across the country, thanks to the magic of the Internet. Kindred spirits, we eventually went from correspondence by email to talking multiple times a day (once cell phones became common, that is) and were absolutely each other’s conscience and devil. Through the years, we saw each other through love and loss and success and failure from across the miles.
She started dating a musician while we were both in college, and she confided that she wasn’t so sure about dating a touring musician, especially one 12 years older than her (13 years older than me). But she really liked this guy, so she was going for it. They’d dated for probably a year when we discovered he would be playing a gig about half an hour from where I was then living in Texas. We took it as our opportunity to finally have an honest-to-goodness girls’ night out, complete with an old-school slumber party. She flew from Nashville to meet me in person for the first time, and we went to his show.
I joke today that none of us knew that would be the night I’d first lay eyes on the man I’d someday marry.
There was no love-at-first-sight thing. He says he remembers just thinking, Huh, she’s really tall, and I thought, Oh, so this is her boyfriend. He and I hit it off immediately, though, and within minutes we were cracking each other up, talking like he and I had been friends for as many years as she and I had been.
This was the start of me catching every show he did within about a two-hour radius. Over the span of a couple of years, a real friendship blossomed between us—outside of my friendship with her. He wasn’t just my best friend’s boyfriend, he was my friend. He called my parents Mom and Dad the first time he met them, and it stuck.
Suddenly, things fell apart between him and my best friend, and they broke up. I found myself caught. I had individual friendships with both, and I didn’t want to pick between them. I tried to nurture both friendships individually, careful to keep what was said to me on either side confidential. I was up front with each that I would not be ending my friendship with the other.
However, that balancing act fell apart when she accused me of having feelings for him, saying that somehow I had broken them up. “Girl code,” she said, meaning I should snub him and stand in solidarity with her.
The friendship he and I had built wouldn’t let me do that, no matter what some unwritten rulebook said. Ultimately, she felt I’d betrayed her and I felt she’d insulted my character. My friendship with her ended in dramatic fashion with long, scathing emails.
Meanwhile, my friendship with him was steady. I continued to go to any show I could, and we talked on the phone often. I even helped him with other girls he tried to date! It took two solid years before we realized we had somehow become each other’s best friend. I couldn’t wait to call him any time anything happened, and I jumped any time he called me. We spent hours on end on AOL Instant Messenger every night, or if he happened to be on the road, we’d sometimes talk on the phone until the sun came up.
A shift happened somewhere in those years, and I still remember the first time he referred to me as his girlfriend. In my head I went, Huh. So I guess we are dating. Because we never officially took that step — it just happened.
I was now long-distance dating a musician who was 13 years older than me that I met through my former best friend. I’m pretty sure if they gave prizes for most far-fetched relationship to have a chance, we’d have won it.
We dated almost a year before getting engaged, and we took a year to plan our wedding. I think — no I know — I had plenty of friends think we’d never make it down the aisle. We had the deck stacked against us both with his job and the age difference. But honestly, neither has ever been an issue. Oh, it gets a little awkward when you think about our ages in school years (yeah, just don’t do that), but otherwise we don’t even notice it, nor does anyone close to us.
We were long distance until two months before we got married. I credit the long-distance nature of our dating relationship to our being so solid with the long periods of time apart while he toured. We were long distance to start, and we could do long distance now.
With that, we learned two key things I think can make or break any relationship:
1. Communication is the key
We talk every day one way or another. I think in the last 11 years, there’s been maybe two days we didn’t talk at all due to technology issues. Otherwise, we talk on the phone, text message, use Instant Messenger or even email (this is huge when he travels overseas). It doesn’t matter how you do it, just stay in touch.
2. Trust is imperative
Especially if communication is impossible for some reason, you must trust each other. It’s the most precious commodity you have in any relationship. One of my favorite quotes ever comes from George MacDonald. It simply said, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.” Man, is that true.
My former best friend and I have mended fences. She’s married now, too, and we agreed we’ve both moved on. It’s all water under the bridge. We will never have the friendship we once had, but we’ve gone to dinner a couple times and it was pleasant. We banter on Facebook occasionally, and we actually have a lot of mutual friends. I think we would both say we grew and learned a lot through that tumultuous time and that ultimately it all worked out exactly as it should have.