In the summer of 1998, I was 13, bored, and started watching reruns of the first season of this little newly buzzed-about television show on the now-defunct WB called “Dawson’s Creek.” One character in particular -– Joey Potter, the “too-tall girl from the wrong side of the creek” –- grabbed my attention, because I could relate to her so well. We each came from a less-than-stellar financial background, had a drug-addled father, saw education as the key, used sarcasm to get our points across, and most importantly, had brown hair and wore overalls. My professional goal is even to become a book editor, which Joey eventually became.
Joey was also best friends with Dawson, started dating him, realized she was in love with his best friend, and ended up with said best friend after a lot of drama and six long years. And I think I created a self-fulfilling prophecy by being obsessed with this show and character, because I actually ended up sort of living the Dawson/Joey/Pacey triangle.
In 2005, I was 20. I was in college, had just broken up with my high-school boyfriend, and worked at a grocery store with both guys (for funsies, let’s actually call them Dawson and Pacey). Dawson and I started dating casually. We had a great time together and had so many interests in common –- more than I’d had with any romantic interest. He was also extremely sweet, giving, and cute. We dated on and off for a few months, but I wasn’t ready to commit.
Dawson and Pacey were BFFs, and the three of us started hanging all the time. One day, Dawson had a final exam, and Pacey and I were hanging out alone at the house I shared with a roommate when we started talking about our dads.
Pacey’s dad has been out of work since Pacey was a teenager after kind of snapping due to the pressures of a high-stress job. He is a fantastic father, but has struggled with bipolar disorder and other complications (and recently just found out he has epilepsy as well). I grew up with an also-fantastic dad who is disabled and had a history of drug and alcohol addiction. We bonded over this, and he still tells me his first “uh-oh” moment was this night.
From then on, we flirted casually. One thing for sure was that I’d never felt that kind of emotional connection with anyone, and it was then I had that “uh-oh” feeling too.
I admitted my feelings a month or so later while Dawson and I were still off and on. Pacey felt similarly, but not enough to jeopardize his friendship with Dawson. I was hurt, but moved on (or so I thought). Dawson and I got closer, and started dating exclusively in spring 2006.
And that’s about the time Pacey stopped flirting with and hugging me goodbye every time we parted ways; in fact, he grew increasingly more stand-offish, and it was obvious he was making a conscious effort not to touch me at all.
Over the next few years, Dawson, Pacey, and I did everything together; in fact, there wasn’t a vacation Dawson and I took where Pacey wasn’t along for the ride -- which, in hindsight, was an obvious red flag. My mom warned me constantly: “You and Pacey are going to dinner? ALONE?”
Of course I brushed off her remarks, but in reality Pacey and I were getting closer emotionally and Dawson and Pacey were becoming more drinking buddies than people who confided in each other (though they just chalked that up to being “what guys do”). Two of my girlfriends who were interested in Pacey (one of whom dated him briefly) straight up asked me what was up with us, but I said what I knew to be true, despite the dreams I’d had: We were just friends.
But I had another problem. As a woman leaving college behind and approaching professional fulfillment, I was getting the sinking feeling I wouldn’t prioritize things the same way at 25 that I had at 20.
I have a very go-getter personality. I majored in something practical I knew would pay the bills (which, surprise, I’m not doing professionally anymore), and Dawson didn’t. Instead, he did what you should do: Majored in something he loved, though it didn’t pan out after college the way he’d hoped. In fact, he was still working at the supermarket (and is still working at a supermarket) –- which then I couldn’t understand, but now I do.
Dawson grew in his own way. On his path, he learned that he’s happy going to work, thinking of work as work, living simply, and coming home to someone who loves him and with whom he can share life. I, on the other hand, need to be challenged constantly (and it can get exhausting).
One semi-drunken night at a bar out with friends at a get-together that didn’t include Dawson, I confessed to Pacey that I was thinking of leaving Dawson. Pacey advised me against it, asking me to give Dawson a chance to become this professional badass. And I listened. This is the moment Pacey now tells me he knew he was in love with me.
I didn’t leave Dawson until two years later, after breaking off an engagement I pushed for because I naively thought it would change things (it didn’t), and only because Pacey confessed his feelings. I was the one to ask; he wanted Dawson and me to be happy, and had no intention of ruining that because he loved us both. If Pacey hadn’t confessed, I don’t think I would’ve had the guts to leave, and I’d probably be going through a divorce now (or in a few years) and dragging Dawson on even longer.
Sadly it took me five years and an irreparably damaged friendship to confront my feelings, but I wouldn’t change anything because I think it made all three of us happier, better people. It took Pacey and me months to get together after I left Dawson, because Pacey pushed me away harder than anyone had ever pushed me. Ironically, those six months are the time I grew the most in my whole life.
Pacey and I aren’t perfect. I know neither of us will ever forgive ourselves 100% for what happened or completely relinquish the guilt. But I know I made the right decision for me, and that the thought of this man fathering my future children and all of us getting to experience life together, as a family, is the happiest I‘ve ever felt. And I can’t wait to marry him next year.
I know Dawson meant no harm in promising me things he wouldn’t be able to provide, and frankly, I know he wanted to be the man I needed. But what I should’ve understood from the start is that a man who is OK with a woman taking the vast majority of practical charge is something the world needs a lot more of.
Arguably as a result of my upbringing (i.e., having a mother who took care of shit but endured a lot of hardship and stress because of it, and still does to this day), I want control AND someone to take care of me. I don’t think anyone should have to deal with that, and I’m still working on myself. I’m slowly (and still) learning the importance of balancing emotional and financial responsibility in a relationship, and that there are no right or wrong answers -– only the choice whether to stay or leave.
And even though he moved 1,000 miles away and things will never be the same again, my Dawson will always have a part of me. I loved him deeply, and there are things we shared that even my Pacey will never understand. And that’s OK, because the biggest thing I learned from “Dawson’s Creek” is that soulmates don’t have to be romantic (and it’s possible to have more than one).
I hope my Dawson is happy. He seems to be –- he has a new girlfriend he just moved in with. I’ll refrain from calling her Jen Lindley because Dawson and Jen don’t end up together, and also (spoiler) Jen dies. Even though it’s tempting to call her that, because she’s blonde.
And I do kind of want her dead. Almost. Not really.
OK, maybe a little, but it’s only because I’ll never think anyone deserves him (especially not me). But I truly hope he ends up happy and fulfilled, because he deserves it more than anyone I’ve ever met. And if that’s with this alternate-universe Jen Lindley (who, looking back, was way less annoying than Joey), then that’s what I want for him.