I Wish We Were Still Friends / by Sophie Johnson

Seth called on Saturday. I'm calling him Seth, but that's not his real name. In writing, it's important to protect the identities of children and ex-boyfriends. Children because they aren't fully formed representations of themselves yet; and ex-boyfriends so you don't get in trouble over the Internet. Seth is an ex-boyfriend. Really, he is the ex-boyfriend.

We meet at a New Years' Eve party in 2008 (also in 2009, if you think about it). I had been sending him fan letters because I was obsessed with his artwork, and he'd been writing me back because he was polite. A mutual friend had arranged we meet at this New Years' Eve party, and even though he had a girlfriend, I was totally smitten with him, basically immediately. It was frankly embarrassing. I got drunk sipping champagne out of a happy face cup, and then I tried to light fireworks while I was holding them in my hands. Years later, Seth would tell me he felt very worried for me that night. 

We didn't start dating until summer. He'd broken up with his girlfriend, I'd broken up with my boyfriend, and we rendezvoused in Portland, over the guise of "having lunch" and "talking in a chummy way." A week later we kissed on a hill in Mt. Tabor Park. To this day, I don't know who kissed whom.

And then came the inevitable collapse into full-on-relationship. It didn't seem inevitable at first -- I lived in New Orleans and he lived in Eastern Washington -- but we were too infatuated with each other to just let it be. We dated forever.

Or, I thought we were going to date forever. We dated for two years. I had never dated anyone for two years; it was a big deal for me. We talked on the phone every day. We sent e-mails to each other before going to bed every night. They were really gross e-mails, too: the kind that are like, "You are brighter than the stars reflected in the water, my darling." You think I'm exaggerating but I lifted that right out of one of our actual e-mails. We spent summer and winter vacations together, getting to know each others' families on first-name-buy-each-other-Christmas-presents-and-stuff bases. What happened was what inevitably happens when you go through the motions of a Serious Relationship: he became my best friend. It wasn't even a contest. Seth was it.

Then on Halloween 2011, Seth broke up with me, seemingly out of nowhere. Overnight, I became the kind of girl who gets drunk at work parties and accosts the host's 8-year-old son in a drunken rampage about "The true meaning of love"; I became the kind of girl who writes songs titled "I Hate You" and "I Hope You Die" and "You Don't Matter Go Eat Your Own Shit;" I became the kind of girl who doesn't brush her hair or wear makeup and puts on the same black XXXL sweatshirt every day because WHO EVEN CARES ANYMORE. It wasn't so much that I didn't have anyone to have sex with anymore (although, also, that); it was that I didn't have my best friend anymore, and I was in shell-shock.

Let's be clear: I have nothing mean to say about Seth. He was a lot younger than I was, and I was talking a lot about "marriage" and "kids." Also, he was just about to get really famous. I think we both knew that, and there was some fear around how that was going to change things. I think honestly, he had to go become a grownup on his own, without someone clinging to his shirt, always keeping him just shy of adulthood. 

See how mature I sound right now? That is NOT how I sounded in late 2011, when this whole being-broken-up-with thing was new for me. 

It took me a year to want to talk to Seth again. By that point, he was known worldwide as a talented comic book writer with incredible promise. We had breakfast when I came to visit Portland (where he'd moved). It was fine, but charged with that Look-How-Good-I'm-Doing-Without-You energy that meetings like that always necessitate. The next time I came to Portland, we made plans, and he blew them off. 

I wish that was different.

I have lots of ex-boyfriends. I was a serial monogamist until I was 25, and even though I always knew I was somewhere on the queer side of the Kinsey Scale, I was also too scared of women and their vaginas to get into a vagina-based relationship early on in my life. Being a serial monogamist in your young adult years means -- at least in my case -- that you do the same thing over and over again: meet someone, develop a deep friendship with them that is outside the realm of any other friendship in your life, and then one of you stops wanting to have sex for whatever reason, and the friendship disappears forever. 

I have seen one exception to this rule. Ben Stevens was my best friend in high school; we dated and even decided to college together; then we broke up. Ben Stevens is still my best friend. That's even his real name. I know I'm not going to get in trouble with him.

The result is that Ben knows things about me that no one else could possibly know. I can pick up the phone and be like, "My life is in SHAMBLES," and Ben will be like, "Here are reasons your life is NOT in shambles, with examples dating back to when you were 14." I can't explain why Ben is the anomaly here; he may just be an exceptional man, unparalleled by any other man on earth. But there's also the possibility that this kind of relationship can exist with all our exes. Or, at least, most of them. I know that some people are just assholes. I'm talking about the not-assholes.

I am no longer a serial monogamist -- I'm actually (unpopularly) a pretty adamant polyamorist these days. I believe people can be attracted to lots of people at one time; I believe that love is stretchy and weird, and doesn't fit inside a just-this-one-person-forever box for most of us. I believe that the sexual chemistry between two people becomes especially difficult after about 18 months, when it technically runs out in the human species. Most of all, I believe that relationships -- that love -- can change; and that that doesn't have to mean that anyone is bad or wrong or broken. It can just change.

I don't really believe that Seth stopped loving me; he said that's what happened, but I think he felt like he had to say it. I think the love just changed. I think the love went from being this I-need-to-talk-to-you-and-be-with-you-every-day-or-I-am-going-to-suffocate kind of love (and honestly, it did feel that way sometimes); to a you-are-a-deep-part-of-my-life-but-I-need-my-space kind of love. Those should both be OK.

Seth called on Saturday. I had e-mailed him a general life update in a moment of missing his friendship, and there were places where I guess the e-mail got a little dark. Things have been a little dark-tinged for me lately. It finally dawned on me that maybe trying to convince Seth that I was so much better off without him was not the end-all-be-all of an ex-lovers-type of relationship. So he called, and we talked for hours, and the gratitude I felt for that conversation echoed in the pit of my stomach all afternoon.

The thing is, it's hard. Sometimes you want things to just stay the same for a second. But things never do that, and you have to let go. Letting go is hard. Letting go is advanced graduate level calculus. Letting go is Vrschikasana: Scorpion Pose with your legs behind your head, upside down on the ground, standing on your hands.

I still love you, but you don't need to worry about it. The change of it still hurts, but you don't need to worry about that either. Just try every day to be my friend. The love was never less; it is only different. Make space for it. Be unafraid. 

I wish we were still friends. And maybe. Some day.