Emily Heist Moss’ best guy friend suddenly stopped returning her calls. They were not lovers, they never even kissed. But it broke her heart as much as any other breakup.
My worst breakup was not the one when he called me eight hours before our three-day weekend adventure and told me he was rerouting his flight to a different city…to get back together with his ex-girlfriend.
My worst breakup was not the one when, by gchat, he told me I would henceforth be invisible to him and that, if I died, he wouldn’t be upset.
No, my worst breakup was the one that barely counts as a breakup at all. John and I were just friends, and for a short time, roommates. We never kissed. We never slept together. We never almost kissed, or almost slept together. We once stood in our underwear on the back porch at 4am watching thunderstorms and even then there was not a glimmer of romance.
After five years of intense but platonic friendship, after meeting each other’s families, vacationing together, and briefly sharing an apartment, he stopped returning my calls, texts, and emails. Just like that. If he hadn’t been communicating with mutual friends, I would have thought he was lying in a ditch somewhere unidentified; that’s how completely and abruptly he vanished.
Just friends, and yet, if in a round robin of girl talk over wine and cheese, it’s my turn to volunteer the story of my worst breakup, it is unquestionably him. Platonic, schplatonic: It broke my heart.
John and I sat next to each other in our first class of our first semester of college. As transplanted New Englanders in the Midwest, we were quick friends and easy study buddies. Over the next five years, we shepherded each other through romantic disasters and family drama. We ran together, cooked together, camped together, helped each other move, and enjoyed a depth and range of conversation I find to be very rare indeed. He hosted my 22nd birthday at his apartment, and when his lease was up, he moved into the spare room in mine. If you had asked me, I would have sworn that he would stand up in my wedding.
What happens next is only my side of the story, because, well, he’d have to answer my calls to share his version of events. When I met his new girlfriend two years ago, she seemed nice enough. In retrospect, I didn’t realize how head-over-heels he already was, and my reaction to her was perhaps too tepid. While he knew immediately he would marry her (and he did), I thought she was just his artsy new girlfriend and I didn’t jump on the bandwagon as fast as he wanted me to. I still considered him my friend first and her new boyfriend second, but I was wrong.
A few weeks after I met her, I invited them to the beach and received no reply. Days later, I called to make new plans. No answer. I left messages. I wrote emails. Sent more texts. For months, I begged, pleaded, cried, apologized, yelled, and threatened. I thought I was going crazy. I replayed our conversations in my head, looking for the moment when I said something unforgiveable. I couldn’t find it. Had I been unenthusiastic? Maybe. Had I been too blunt, too selfish, too skeptical? Probably. Had I worried that she might occupy his time in a way that would affect mine? Yes, and in the years that followed I have thought about how I would have handled myself differently a thousand times.
But nothing I said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do, warranted the total ex-communication that I experienced. Mutual friends have since assured me that I did nothing wrong, that maybe she was insecure about our relationship, uncomfortable with him having close female friends, worried that I wanted more than I did. Maybe she issued some sort of ultimatum. Maybe he decided he didn’t need me anymore, or didn’t like me now that we were in the “real world.” I have no idea. I used to care.
The irony is, of course, that my friendship with John was truly cemented five years before my eventual dismissal when he suffered his first serious breakup. I’d been friends with his girlfriend too, and when they split, she sat me down in a campus coffee shop, literally took my hand across the table, and told me we could no longer be friends if I were to continue to be close to him. I picked him, feeling fully confident that we would be friends forever, and I thought she was insane for ending our friendship with a coffee date and a handshake.
Not anymore. What seemed petty then seems honest and direct now. I wish that he had had the guts to do what she did. To sit me down and say: Emily, your friendship has been very valuable to me, but my girlfriend is uncomfortable with our closeness. I know it’s not rational, I know that there has never been anything between us and never would be, but I’m going to marry this woman and I need to do everything I can to make her happy. I’m sorry, but we cannot be friends anymore.
I would have been crushed, temporarily, but it would have been the kinder thing to do. I would have known where I stood, and why. Instead, I suffered for months. I blamed myself. I made my friends endure endless discussions of what-ifs and maybe-I-should-haves. I thought about it every day. Instead of a clean break and an acknowledgment of what we had meant to each other, I got silence.
Did it hurt any less because we weren’t in love? Because we weren’t having sex? I don’t think it could have hurt more. When you place your trust in someone, open yourself and share what you know and think and believe to be true, your hopes and dreams, fears and aspirations, and he or she stops caring, who says that’s not a breakup? It hurts all the same.
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.