For two nights in a row, I have had a similar dream. Half memory, half fantasy, it is a dream that has left me nostalgic and pondering. My 18 year- old self is walking hand-in-hand with a boy on our college campus. Our heads are bent close together and he is telling me something, something that makes him sad. Because it’s only a dream, I can’t make out his words but I am sad for him as well. Then we are joking again and he walks away. I call out to him, “Should I wait?” But there is no answer and I leave as well. I wake up questioning what ever happened to that boy that I haven’t seen or even thought much about since we last spoke 16 years ago. It’s a strange subject to have come up – a question where there will be no resolution – a past that was meaningful at the time but has no bearing on my life right now. There is no regret here – only remembering and wondering what if…
Do you have a “what if” relationship in your past? The “what if” being the subject of your secret crush, or perhaps the one that you went on that one date with but he never called, or that person that you were only friends with but you had wished for more? My guess is that we all do. Let’s indulge my nostalgia for a moment while I share mine.
In order to continue with the Gilmore Girls blogonym theme, we will call him Marty. If you recall, Marty was Rory’s first college friend – the boy she found drunk and naked outside her dorm room door. There was no romantic relationship – just some wishing on his part. So now you have a hint as to how this story will go.
When I began my freshman year in college, Marty and I shared a couple of classes together. I can’t remember exactly how our friendship started, I only remember ALWAYS being with him and our small group of mutual friends. Since we attended a small commuter branch of our state university, we spent much of our time between classes hanging out on campus – talking, studying and playing cards. We did things outside of school as well – parties, meals, plays, trips to museums, etc. There was a closeness and comfort with each other, much like that in my dream. We were virtually inseparable and everyone simply assumed we were a couple – an assumption that at the time I wished could be true. But at any given point in our friendship, one of us was dating someone else. I’d hear all about his girlfriend of the day and he knew all about my boy troubles. Perhaps I imagined it, but I had often gotten the sense that Marty felt the same about me and it was just that our timing was off. Who’s to say?
In all that time together, Marty and I only had what I would call one actual date. He may not have viewed it as such, however, because he did not kiss me good-bye. We had spent the day together with another couple to celebrate the end of our freshman year. When he dropped me off at home, I stalled the appropriate amount of time before getting out of the car – just long enough to give him a chance but not so long as to appear obvious. We promised to keep in touch over the summer – maybe we’d get together in the next week?
And of course, we didn’t. But when the next semester started, we picked up right where we left off. There were the classes we had together and the friends that we shared. There were the parties and other outings – everything was the same. Except the one difference was that I was seriously dating someone – a relationship that began over the summer when it had become apparent that Marty was not going to make his move. Having a boyfriend took the pressure off wondering if our relationship were ever going to progress and we became even better friends. That extra closeness, however, was even more confusing after awhile. The confusion became a rift in the relationship with my boyfriend and even led to a breakup. The day after we broke up, Marty was the one to offer comfort, unaware of his part. Several moments later, when he started telling me about his new girlfriend, I was crushed. I finally confided in one of our friends that he was the reason my boyfriend and I broke up. She was excited and surprised and of course, understanding of the irony. “Why don’t you just tell him?” she’d ask and I’d answer, “Because it could ruin everything. At least now, we are friends.”
And so it was. After awhile, I realized my feelings for the boyfriend were more important than my crush on Marty and we dated for a long time after. I was out to prove that guys and girls can be just friends. So that is all we ever were. We lived in the same dorm and ate breakfast together. I’d take refuge in his room when my room was “occupied” by my roommate and her boyfriend. I went to his parties. He occasionally walked me to class. And then we graduated. The last time I spoke to him was at a Halloween party – 16 years ago. I’ll never know why he didn’t kiss me that day. I’ll never know if he ever wished he had.
While I have better things to do than pine away for my college crush, I do wonder what ever happened to Marty – in the same way that I’m curious as to what became of the girl who encouraged me to declare my feelings or my first roommate or the boy who played his clarinet in the hall. I never kept in touch with any of them. I am always amazed by how relationships change and fade as we grow. Some we keep and develop, some we outgrow like clothes that no longer fit. Like most of my friendships from the college era, they were important then but have no time or place now except in my memory – and the rare dream.
For four years, I questioned “What if” things had been different with Marty. But I think I might have known the truth all along. The dream was an adequate summary of a simple story. It never would have worked – Marty’s a Republican.