Changing the Subject

My best friend, Carrie, told me the other day that I’m the only person she knows who can be close friends with an attractive man, even an ex-boyfriend, and not want it to be anything more, not have that agenda to make it something more down the road. And I was flattered, because I pride myself on that sort of “live and let live” mentality.

With regard to the successful ex-boyfriend/friend transition, I remarked, “Once it’s done, it’s done.”

But, to be completely honest, I do sometimes have trouble with it. I think it’s probably pretty natural to have feelings for your friends, even ex-boyfriends. I mean if you didn’t care about them, they wouldn’t be your friends. I’ve been very good about keeping things on an even keel with the guys who want to take it further. But I do get confused sometimes.

I know this sounds naïve, but there’s an undercurrent with some relationships that makes you wonder, “What if?” And it’s the not knowing that’s confusing. It’s not at all about having an agenda. It’s about human nature. Whenever I do start to wonder about those nebulous possibilities, most of the time I’ll just get busy with life and let some time pass before I talk with them again.

These people are friends, and that’s all I want them to be. Everyone involved instinctively knows the rules and boundaries. But sometimes one of us will slip, and the question that’s been knocking around in the back of both our minds gets asked and some stuff gets said. Then someone changes the subject, and it’s forgotten…

I called Josh the other night while I was walking Dog. Listened to his voicemail and left a message, “Hi! I was just missing you and wanted to hear your voice. And now I have, so I hope you have a good night.”

He called me the next morning. He was waiting for the movers to come pick up a houseful of boxes and was leaving to drive to New Orleans the next day. His youngest son, daughter, and his girlfriend’s daughter were coming along for the ride, and he remarked that logistics were somewhat more complicated by bringing his girlfriend’s daughter along.

He wasn’t saying it in a mean way at all. It is more complicated with extra children, especially children who are younger than your own and take more care and feeding.

“Who’s idea was that?” I asked.

“Well, she asked, and I said ‘yes’,” he told me.

“I imagine it’ll be a good opportunity for the kids to bond. I mean, you two haven’t lived in the same state for years,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he said.

Josh has been conflicted about the overall move, so I asked, “How are you feeling about everything?”

“Um, I still don’t know.”

“You know what? You’re gonna get there, and everything will be fine. You’ll fall into a routine with her. It’ll start to feel right again.”

“If you say so,” he said.

I didn’t say anything for a second, because as strong as I was talking, I was feeling a little conflicted myself. Josh was my fallback guy. He was my good, good friend who would always be there. But now he was heading back to a whole relationship with his childhood sweetheart. I knew they’d work it out, and another friend would fill his role in my life. But something had been bugging me, and I’m so not confrontational. But this would be my last opportunity to put it out there, so I said it.

“I wish we’d at least seen each other. I could have come to Portland or you could have come here… Before you moved back home, I mean.” There.

He said, “You mean, so you could prove to me there was something better than what I have with her?”

My eyes began to sting, and I said nothing.

His response told me two things, 1) he’d thought about it, too; and 2) that though he wasn’t sure about their relationship or the possibility of one with me, he wasn’t going to risk losing her on a “What if?” with me.

Then, he told me, “That was a joke.”

“Josh, if I’d have to prove it to you, there isn’t anything better. At least, not with me.”

Then, it was his turn not to say anything for a minute.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

And I knew what he was talking about but I said, “What?”

“You called me by my name. You never do that.”

Josh has gone by a nickname the whole time I’ve known him, and that’s the name I call him. I called him by his real name this time, though, and apparently, he didn’t like it.

“Did you do that on purpose?” he was asking me.

“Yes,” I told him.

And then I changed the subject.

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