When my boyfriend of 5 years proposed marriage, I didn’t want to break up, so I said yes.
Let me start from the beginning: J and I met when I was 18. Five years my senior, he seemed to my teenage self like a real grown-up. Living on his own and working full time, he was like a contributing member of society -- well, minus the fact that “full time” was at a movie theater and he was a total drug addict. He was still more grown-up then I was at the time, living with my parents and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
J somewhat supported me while I was in college and when I landed my first real job in advertising, I moved in with him. I was 24 years old. Later that year, on Christmas morning, J proposed. I said, “Yeah, OK, sure,” because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings or break up. When I found out that he had cleared this with my parents and everyone was totally on board, I started to feel in over my head.
My parents and I are pretty tight, and if they weren’t opposed to this, then maybe it was for the best, I thought. I tried to be optimistic: “Let’s have a long engagement. What’s a few years in the grand scheme of things, right?” What I was really doing was stalling, but I wasn’t even fully aware of it at the time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this whole period of my life was soaked in beer and Jack Daniel’s, under a thick layer of pot smoke and occasionally chemically charged. I basically had no business becoming a life partner to anyone.
Two years after we got engaged, the pressure to get married started. My parents in particular seemed to really push the issue. My mom was so excited; she was basically doing all the planning with very little input from me. I felt like I was on a runaway train and I couldn’t get off.
The only time I would insist on something was in an effort to scale back. If it were up to my mom, there would have been 600 people there! In hindsight, I can see that I was trying to keep it small and intimate because I felt like a fraud, and I didn’t need 600 witnesses to my mistake (and I certainly didn’t want to have to make 600 future apologies).
I don’t know why I was scared to speak up. I thought that everyone feels like this before they get hitched, everyone gets cold feet. Regret was forming and I wasn’t even married yet.
On the day of my wedding, which went by a blur, one thing stood out. D, the best man and J’s best friend for many years, told me I looked beautiful. Lots of people had told me I looked beautiful that day, but when D said it, I remember feeling … well, beautiful. A photo was taken a few moments after he said it, and when I looked back at that photo after the wedding, I felt amazing/terrible feelings of fondness/guilt for thinking what a handsome couple we’d have made, in some bizarro universe where D was the groom and J the best man.
D and I had always had an undeniable connetion. Strangers in bars would ask “Which one is your boyfriend, again?” when the 3 of us were out partying together. D’s various girlfriends over the years would often corner me with drunken speculation, if not full out accusations. Truthfully, I would tell them that there was nothing going on. We were just really great friends. And why wouldn’t I be great friends with my husband’s best friend?
Shortly after we were married, I noticed a difference in J. He became uncharacteristically introverted and started slipping at work. He smoked a lot of pot (like, way too much). We also started to constantly fight about money. His pot habit was putting us in debt. We ended up borrowing a huge loan from my dad and had no way to pay it back. In the meantime, J got grumpier and surlier. He’d start to get high at work and then come home, eat dinner in front of the TV and go straight to bed.
Meanwhile, my life was changing in the opposite direction. I was killing it at work (like a boss) and my job in advertising came with fun industry perks: Parties! Events! Expensive dinners with clients! I would sometimes invite J to come along and more often than not he would decline. When he did come, he would get embarrassingly drunk then spend the next few days miserable under the guise of being “hung over.”
I know now that a good wife would have helped her partner out of his funk, but I was too inexperienced, already feeling in over my head and in the prime of my professional life. Instead of pulling him up, my attitude was “I’m not letting you drag me down!”
Instead, as a distraction from my marital issues, I developed a super fun drug addiction. Super fun, but also reckless (as super fun things are wont to be), and of course it contributed further to our problems -- both emotionally and financially.
While J and I grew father apart, D and I grew closer together -- as friends. We both had a penchant for partying. While I was embarrassed to bring J out for nights with my friends, D was down to join us and we always had a great time. D and I would spend countless nights wondering, in a post-party glow, what was wrong with J. He had alienated himself from his friends and we didn’t know how to help him.
I’m sure my relationship with D was also concerning to J, but he never let on about that. I didn’t think it was a problem because he never brought it up. J and I would fight about drugs and money, but never about D.
After a particularly wild summer of drugs and fighting, it was clear to both J and I that our relationship had run its course. In the messy months that followed our split, his friendship with D was tested when D showed loyalty to me time and time again.
Eventually, D and J just stopped talking and D and I relented and did what everyone suspected we’d do -- or had already done. We fell in love. J, understandably, cut us both out of his life. I’m sure he had suspicions as to how far back my romantic relationship with D went, but he never came asking me for answers. I can confidently say that I never cheated sexually -- but I can’t deny that there was always something pulling me to D, even though we didn’t act on it until many years later.
In the meantime, a lot of tongues started wagging as D and I got together. We both gave up the drugs around this time -- perhaps now that we were together we didn’t need them. Still, there was a lot of gossip and hostility amongst mutual “friends.” We had to decide not to let those negative opinions stand in our way. We made a conscious choice not to sacrifice our happiness.
My story is not a sympathetic one, I know, but I made the decision and I stand by it.
Today, D and I co-exist in a single dwelling, happily unmarried. We’ve built a life together that includes a mortgage, yearly vacations, wine and cheese plates and home cooked meals. We also co-created a life, a 16-month-old little girl who makes me realize every day what life is about. D is an amazing dad and the two of them together make my heart dance.
Every time I come across a quote about life being short and doing what you must be happy, I file it away in my head. Because even though I know I did what I had to for my own personal happiness, I wish I could say that it was a guilt-free decision. The stigma associated with trading in your husband for his best friend can make a gal feel like a callow and thoughtless harlot. But my feelings are true and pure and my family is the proof. When I see that little girl laugh, I know that all the decisions that led me to her were the right decisions for me.