When I Fell for a Coworker With a Fiancée, and Ruined a Friendship in the Process

Without meaning to, I opened up to him completely. He said later that he had no idea I’d fallen for him. I don’t know if that makes the situation better or worse.
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Rebecca Jane Stokes
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Without meaning to, I opened up to him completely. He said later that he had no idea I’d fallen for him. I don’t know if that makes the situation better or worse.

I loved Dirk so much that not long after I met him, I began composing a collection of poetry entitled, “365 Love Poems That Are Not About You.” 

I think I wrote, like, eight poems? The file still exists deep, deep in the bowels of my computer, but for the sake of my bowels (and yours) we’re going to leave it there. Let us just say that poetry ain’t exactly this bitch’s metier. I was 22 and newly installed in New York -- in Astoria, to be precise, roughly eight years from my school in the West Village (seven and a half if the Sherpa who aided me in fording the waters separating my borough from Manhattan was available).

Unlike my first attempt at city life, my second go was the one that stuck. I had a reason to be there -- grad school. Though if I could go back and have drinks with my 22-year-old self (she really liked Goldschlager and once admitted to a fondness for the musical stylings of Keane, god bless her) I might point out that moving to New York with no plan or prospects might actually be a better choice that going to get your MFA in playwriting. 

“Clearly future me has forgotten about the magic of the THEATRE,” past-me would yell, throwing up a handful of glitter and having inexplicably terrible hair. 

“Fuck you,” future-me would say, and then we would get into a fistfight. Maybe that fistfight would be sexy -- I don’t know, I’m just spitballing ideas here -- something I learned how to do in theatre graduate school.

Because man cannot live on student loans alone, I got a job. Actually, I probably had closer to 30 jobs but that is another article (or ’80s era one-woman solo show, depending on your tastes) for another day. Through my school’s careers office, I discovered that a mid-sized architectural firm was looking for someone to help out. When I met my STILL roommate Alex at the age of 18, there was some magical residential life person who I owed a lot to. The same can be said for whatever alchemy was responsible for getting my job at the architecture firm. 

The job itself was terrible and boring and gross but it paid. I emptied out trash cans and sorted recycling, I loaded the printers, I fixed things (not in an Olivia Pope way, but in a “I think something might be stuck inside the coffee pot” or a “somebody pooped in the trash can again”) kind of way. I called myself a janitrix, and, powered solely by the cheap beers I drank on the weekends and the on-sale junk food at the CVS I passed each day (Kettle chips, what’s up, 30 pounds ago says hey what’s up, and also she’s pregnant), I powered through my tasks, ready and willing to ignore the gross aspects (aforementioned trash-can poop) in favor of the friendships I was rapidly making. 

Two women I met at the firm are still huge parts of my life. If you’d asked me then, I would have thought Dirk would still be too. But that didn’t happen.

Dirk wasn’t living with his girlfriend when we met. But that’s because, as he sweetly put it, they were saving that adventure for after they got married. He kind of had a laugh like an animated mule. He had long, mousy hair that he wore in a ponytail. He wore sweaters without undershirts and the hairs at the back of his neck would catch in his gold chain. He looked like a photo you might find in a flier promoting technology training in the Ukraine in 1999. He had a really terrible sun and moon tattoo and he was obsessed with the Detroit Red Wings. Because of Dirk it finally happened -- I learned about a sport.

Dirk had a gray front tooth and didn’t know how to dress. I was on the phone with him outside a bar in the East Village when he told me he’d proposed to his girlfriend. He waited in silence on the other end for me to say something. I didn’t say anything. Maybe I said congratulations, but I distinctly remember saying nothing and wondering if my whole mouth had turned to mealy wax. 

I was remembering the house party of mine where he’d stayed the night. We’d gone down to the park and sat on the swings and he’d nodded, “This is a good night.” He was on the phone with me when my bathroom ceiling collapsed on my head. He was the only tall person I’ve ever known who slowed down when walking with me without being asked. He used to work at Electric Lady studios, and he could make me laugh, laugh, laugh. He and his fiancée did not last another three months, but he had another one not long thereafter. I didn’t know him anymore then.

Without meaning to, I opened up to him completely. He said later via email -- when I cut him off cold without an explanation -- that he had no idea I’d fallen for him. I don’t know if that makes the situation better or worse. He lived on Staten Island. He was completely wrong for me. He’s now got an MBA and a wife and a life. He’s lapped me thrice over and I still remember our nights staying up late over beers talking, sending dorky emails back and forth, of welcoming the other into our particular brand of weirdness. I was my weird self with him, and I think he was weird back.

I’ve connected the way I did with Dirk three times in my entire life. Next week, when I wrap up this series, I’ll tell you about the others.

“I don’t want this night to end!” I crowed at him once and he, not missing a beat, invited me back to Staten Island. The ferry ride itself would have probably made for a really good indie short. “I have an air mattress," he said, and I felt my insides melt and purr. 

Dirk was the first person who made me realize that I was lonely. We were only close for a year or so, before I did the easiest thing and turned into a total bitch to push him away rather than trying to parcel out my feelings and salvage what could have been a really special friendship (gag me, but true). At least I could have tried: I could have said, “I like you, I kind of feel like you like me, let’s at least make out a little.” I didn’t. I never said it. I never dreamed of saying it. Instead, I left him reeling and hurt.

Once, before the schism, taking cardboard boxes to the furnace room to break them down, I opened the door and Dirk was bent over, fixing something. He looked up at me and I felt a charge run through my entire person that was undeniable and mortifying. I crossed my arms. I said something disparaging. He probably laughed. 

How many opportunities do we let burn past us because we don’t believe we are worthy of them? Please let that number be finite. Please let us change the course. Please let us recognize the blazing, searing power of the good and rare when it rears its head. Please let us allow ourselves to uncross our arms and try on happiness, worry about deserving it later. If we only got what we deserved the world would an ever darker place than it is, and I think we can all agree it’s pretty bleak. 

He was on gchat once a couple of years ago, I, in from a night out, drunkenly typed in a hello. He responded and we exchanged forced pleasantries before he said goodnight. He didn’t mean to still be signed in -- his baby was having trouble sleeping and he had become absentminded, he said. We have not spoken since.