I’ve been dating Eric for more than 4 years now, and I still cringe a little bit when someone asks how we met. It’s a sordid tale that gets some pretty great side-eyed glances when I reveal the truth: that I used to be good friends with Eric’s ex-wife. Like, really good friends. Like, I was one of three bridesmaids when she and Eric got married; that kind of good friends.
I helped her plan the details of her wedding, I was the first person to congratulate them on their new marriage after they walked down the aisle, and now I live in the house that they shared as a married couple for seven years.
I met Eric when I was dating a guy we’ll call Jim. Jim and Eric were good friends, so naturally Jim introduced me to Eric and his then-fiancé, who we’ll call Jill. We were all in our early 20s, just getting started in the real world. We went on couple dates a lot, and it wasn’t long before the Jill and I became pretty great friends.
When she asked me to be a bridesmaid in her upcoming wedding, I accepted with all the girlish squeals that are expected of a 22-year-old bridesmaid. Jim was asked to be an usher, and I turned into the bride’s right-hand, the wedding planning BFF.
The wedding was a beautiful, fun summer day. I remember many of the details fondly. The ceremony was short, and I had a close direct view of Eric, as he faced his bride and emotionally recited his vows. It was touching, and I cried tears of joy for my friends on their special day. We partied all night long and toasted the new couple’s marriage.
Jim and I continued dating as Eric and Jill settled into married life. The four of us continued our friendship until one day when Jim and I were hosting a house party. Eric and Jim got into an argument that turned physical (boys!) in our backyard. I asked Eric and Jill to leave. The whole situation was embarrassing and completely immature. It was bad enough that Jim and I wrote Eric off as his friend that day, and Jill went down as collateral damage.
Years went by. Jim and I broke up a year or so later in one of the most dramatically devastating breakups of my life, and I mostly forgot about Eric. That is, until I came face to face with him in a crowded bar about seven years later. We made accidental eye contact, and I awkwardly tried to look away, praying he wouldn’t recognize me. Seeing Eric flooded back some awful “Jim-era” memories that I would rather ignore. I wasn’t so lucky. He knew who I was instantly and we began the reconnection process through an awkward side hug.
I learned that Eric was still married, but barely. He had two very young daughters and was desperate to fix his marriage that he, admittedly, had messed up almost single handedly. During our conversation he asked me if he could give Jill my phone number so she and I could talk. Some strange chain of thought had him pretty well convinced that if she and I could reconnect as friends, maybe his marriage would have a chance as well. I didn’t really buy into this twisted logic of his, but how do you tell a desperate man, “No.”
I met up with Jill on a couple of occasions for drinks and it wasn’t long before I understood that she had checked out of the marriage a long time ago. The details aren’t mine to tell, but I’ll never forget the look in Eric’s eyes when I told him that his efforts to win his wife back were falling on deaf ears. Eric filed for divorce.
Eric and I stayed connected as friends through their divorce, and he became a client in the hair salon where I worked. He told me about a girl he was talking to, and we both laughed at my uncanny ability to find and date some real losers.
Out of nowhere one day, things changed between us. It was obvious when the friendly banter turned into obvious flirting. I wasn’t innocent in this flirting business, but I was 100% convinced that the idea of dating was off the table. I wasn’t interested in crossing that line. It was completely against “the rules.” You know the rules I’m referring to, right? The rules that say you do not, ever, under any circumstances, ever, date your friend’s ex-husband, ever. That very black-and-white-no-room-for-error rule.
Eric is pretty bold and direct. His flirting soon turned into directly asking me out on casual “friendly” dates, all of which I either turned him down or stood him up. I had every excuse in the book, but every excuse had everything to do with the fact that I was not going to break the rules.
The majority of my friends agreed that dating this guy was a terrible idea. Well, every friend but one. My friend Tammy was at the bar with me when I saw Eric for the first time. She said she could tell from that day that Eric’s admiration for me was sincere and that I should entertain the idea of a date.
“He’s been smitten with you forever,” she’d say.
I disagreed for a while, and then I just gave up saying “no.”
Our first “date” was at Eric’s house. The same house he'd shared with his ex-wife. The house I spent hours at planning my friend’s wedding. The house I helped my friend decorate, paint, and organize when they received their wedding gifts. It was weird pulling in the driveway and walking back into this world that I used to know so very well, but when a guy lays out a beautiful homemade dinner complete with fancy napkins, wine and candles, the weird disappears pretty quickly.
Our first public date happened on the very next night, at Eric’s insistence. I remember being terrified that someone would recognize us out together. I spent the evening looking over my shoulder and feeling like I was being judged as “that girl” by every woman in the room. Eric thought I was crazy, I knew I was not.
My rule-breaking guilt was getting the better of me and I even considered telling Eric that continuing this (whatever this was) was silly and complicated. I don’t do complicated. Besides, how would I handle the backlash when he told Jill about our relationship? I eventually decided to cross that bridge when we came to it, sometime down the road.
It took Eric a solid week, two tops, to decide that this complicated version of us was for real going to be a thing. He started openly telling family and friends about our budding relationship. Meanwhile, I was mortified at the idea that people knew.
Some of our mutual friends were expectedly shocked, and some were surprisingly not shocked. Oh, and about that bridge that we’d cross some day. Well, Mr. Bold and Direct decided that telling Jill about our relationship should be handled Band-aid style; so he just told her, about two weeks into our relationship.
To say she didn’t take it well would probably be the understatement of my lifetime. If I recall correctly, there were some minor threats of physical violence. At best, she was hurt that I pursued a relationship with Eric. In reality I think she felt completely betrayed by a friend. The worst part was, I completely understood.
Fast forward four years; my relationship with Eric has been a very different ride than any relationship before him. I’ve known him as my friend’s husband and her jerk ex-husband. I knew intimate details of their marriage and their divorce from both sides, I witnessed the way they treated each other, and I knew how he felt about his marriage as it was beginning and as it was ending.
I’ve known him as a friend, my boyfriend’s friend, a client, and a guy that had both a lot going for him and a lot to learn. I have never had to ask him about his family, where he grew up, or figure out his personality. I knew it all from day one.
I’ve gotten over the guilt of breaking the rules, and while I can’t speak for Jill, I think she’s over being upset with me. We are not “friends” any longer, but we are certainly friendly. We sit next to each other at school events, text each other when information needs sharing about the kids, and run ideas past each other about things like birthdays and holidays.
Eric and I are good for each other. We share a lot of common interests, and we balance each other out. We’re not married, and it seems that talking about getting married always seems to get complicated. Maybe it’s because we’ve both been married before. Maybe it’s because I’ve already been a part of his wedding day before. Who knows.
Maybe now that I’ve shed every last ounce of rule-breaking guilt from my shoulders by answering the “How did you two meet?” question to the entire world, I’ll be more open to the idea.