When I was 23, I went to Europe for two weeks and almost lost my oldest friend.
Not physically. We were 23 and in a country where everyone speaks English. And neither of us call Liam Neeson "dad," so we were pretty sure no one was going to steal us.
Instead, I almost lost her over a guy. Yes, I was that friend.
Beth and I met in elementary school. We were both the new kids in our grade three class and slowly became friends as Beth tentatively let me into a duo she had formed with another girl in our grade. While I liked the idea of trying to be everyone’s buddy, Beth was spooked easily, and only after a few years did she let me into her inner circle.
Beth lived on the street behind me and every morning would wriggle the lock on my fence and knock on my back door. She’d wait patiently for me as I frantically ran through my morning routine, never annoyed that I almost always made us late.
In junior high and high school, we began to drift apart. I started hanging out with the popular kids who drank and smoked, two things I didn’t participate in, but was still around. I’d try to coerce Beth into joining me at the occasional party, but she’d always decline, convinced I would leave her alone in a corner the minute we arrived. In reality, she never gave me the chance to prove that I wouldn’t.
After high school, we both went to university in different cities. We stayed in touch, but by then much of my free time was spent with my boyfriend. To Beth, I looked like I had it all. Good grades, nice friends, a great guy. In reality, I disliked all my classes, I didn’t make any real friends until my third year, and by that time I had confirmed that my boyfriend was cheating on me.
A few weeks after we graduated, my boyfriend did the nicest thing he had ever done for me and broke things off. At the time, I felt sick and alone. I knew it was the right thing, but I had spent years hiding how bad our relationship was from everyone, including Beth. There was some relief in finally being able to tell her what I had really been going through.
After a year of trying to feel normal again and getting my friendship with Beth back on track, we decided to take a trip together. By that point we had both made the smart decision to get full time jobs and move back home to mooch off our parents. Neither of us had ever been to Europe and it seemed like the place to go when you’re 23, single, and have disposable income thanks to your status as a boomerang kid.
We spent weeks researching different travel companies and settled on a bus tour for 18-35 year olds. We booked an 11-day trip across seven countries and started trading our dollars for Euros.
On the first day, we met up with our group in London, before heading out for our first of 11 consecutive nights spent drinking our away across Europe. I spotted Bruno instantly. He was literally tall, dark and handsome, smiled easily, and looked laid back at all times -- a characteristic I rarely exhibited.
It took me three countries to work up the nerve to talk to him, and I quickly became confused over whether he was into me or just really nice. After the first few nights, another guy on the trip invited me back to his room.
Even though Bruno hadn’t shown clear romantic interest in me and the other guy was cute, I was still holding out for my new crush. I declined and quickly rushed back to our room so that Beth and I could giggle about the guy who had already slept with four girls on our bus.
The next night, armed with a solid buzz thanks to cheap Italian wine, I worked up the nerve to kiss Bruno. A group of our new friends, including Beth, caught us outside the bar and erupted into an enthusiastic round of cheers and applause. At least everyone but Beth, who shouted, “God, pick a guy already, Al.”
The trip did a complete 180 after that. I spent the next few days falling in love with Bruno, while Beth appeared to feel vindicated in her 15-year theory that I would leave her. She sulked that I had "ditched" her for some guy, while in reality Bruno and I were almost never alone, always with Beth and the new friends we had made in our group.
While I knew that part of Beth’s reaction was jealousy, I still felt guilty, but not guilty enough to release my firm grasp on Bruno’s hand.
Our trip ended and Bruno and I tearfully parted ways in Paris. Beth and I traveled back to England with the tour bus to spend two more days on our own wandering around the city. The beautiful summer weather that had greeted us in London had been replaced by the stereotypical cold English rain.
For two nights we shared a silent bed in a hostel or a hostile, as I thought of it. Our days were spent layering on every piece of clothing we had packed to combat the London chill as we quietly walked around the Big Ben and the Eye of London.
Maybe this would have been the best time to apologize to Beth or to point out that we made some great girlfriends and that I had never abandoned her. Instead, we ate fish and chips and wished we were anywhere else.
When we got back from Europe, Beth and I didn’t speak for weeks. Bruno called as promised and took a bus from Pennsylvania to Toronto to visit me a month later. I invited Beth and some of the girls we had met on the trip for a mini-reunion. Beth didn’t speak to me the entire night and I felt more justified in my anger that I was the one who had been wronged.
Months passed and slowly Beth and I began speaking again. After some time, things got back to normal and we were able to talk about the trip and how much fun we had, with the hurt feelings and silent months never discussed.
I’ve often thought of how I could have handled our trip differently. Should we have discussed our expectations upfront? “OK, if either of us falls in love in Europe the other one has to be supportive.”
Yes, it was a trip we took together, but just as it had been in high school, why was it always Beth versus everyone else? Suddenly I was 15 again, feeling guilty for wanting to go to my first house party. Now I was 23, single, and had kissed a cute guy who was smart and funny and kind. Why did I have to feel bad for it?
As for tall, dark and handsome Bruno, we’ve now been married for two years. Score one for drunk European make-outs.
During my speech at our wedding I thanked my bridesmaid, Beth, for putting up with me while I spent our entire European adventure with Bruno. I pointed out that I did at least marry the guy, half joking that I should get friendship points for not bailing on her to be with a fling.
After all these years and even on the biggest day of my life, maybe I’m still trying to make myself feel less guilty. I like to think that I would have been happy for Beth if the roles were reversed, but that’s an easy thing to say when speaking theoretically.
Beth still likes keeping the people in her life separate. Her university friends. Her childhood friends. Her work friends.
A few years ago, I moved from Canada to the US to be with Bruno and when I go home, I make sure to spend time alone with Beth. She’s excitedly planning her own wedding now.
On the big day I will be next to her, reminding her that I’m not going anywhere, and meaning it, as I always have.