Everyone loves my friend Tony. He’s the kind of person who has 1,853 Facebook friends and has probably had an impact on at least 1,852 of them. (That’s his ACTUAL Facebook friend count. And that one person probably added him so her friend could check him out or something.) He’s been in dozens of weddings. He always has plans. He’s just really great, and the world tends to take notice.
I met Tony when I first moved back to Indiana from New Jersey. He and his best friend were living in my parents’ (totally not creepy, apartment-style) basement, and I inserted myself into their lives because I had literally moved home and back into my high school bedroom. So I didn’t leave them any choice. We were roommates!
That was one of the best years of my adult life, and I spent a bunch of it with Tony. You know how you have your best friend and then your “best guy friend” or, for guys (hello, by the way!) your “best girl friend”? Tony quickly became my best guy friend (BGF), and that’s how I still explain him to people. Another way I describe him is: “no, we’re just friends.”
If I had a dollar for every person who has insinuated, questioned, or suggested a romantic scenario involving the two of us, I’d have at least like $100. And I would take those dollars and trade them in for one solid Benjamin. And then I would frame it as a trophy because I’ve had to endure a lot of these comments. And then I would probably break into the frame to use the money on Chipotle or something.
In Mindy Kaling’s book Why Not Me? there’s a chapter about her friendship with writer/actor B.J. Novak. (I’ve heard her respond to questions about their platonic relationship a lot, and I’d like to think she would join me for a burrito purchased with my $100 bill.) Reading about their dynamic makes me think of Tony, especially when she says she “just wants to impress him.” I know that may seem like a strange foundation for a friendship, but I think it boils down to a genuine admiration and respect for someone — and hoping you can fool them into thinking you’re a worthwhile person to hang out with. I’ve been successful thus far.
Anyway, the “just friends” thing has always been true for us. There have never been any weird rom com plot undertones, I swear. Although, I’ve learned that it is harder to have a close friend of the opposite gender when you’re an adult. Or maybe it’s just harder for me because I tend to handle change with little to no grace whatsoever. Not my best quality.
So when my BGF Tony started dating his girlfriend a year ago, I took it upon myself to have a minor existential breakdown which has, depending on the day, involved denial, avoidance, passive aggression, and self pity — a rare brand of bitchiness I’m not proud of. When our friendship started, we were both single. And then when he wasn’t anymore, I felt like I had lost my place as the most important girl in his life. Clarification: He has never acknowledged that as a position I have ever held. I mean, he has 1,853 Facebook friends for heaven’s sakes. I’m sure there are at least a couple “more important” people than me. (But Tony, if you’re reading this and I don’t even have a place on the Olympic podium of your life, this friendship is OVER. I’m fine with bronze.)
So, to recap: I didn’t deal well with the transition. Shortly after they started dating, the three of us went to a show together. I like to think that I generally have pretty good third-wheel skills, but I realized that night, after crying outside for an extended period of time, that I was sad and jealous and an embarrassingly big dumb baby. I didn’t want to lose my friend, and their concert snuggling was a reminder that things weren’t going to be the same anymore.
We started seeing each other less. And even though I knew his girlfriend was really great (like really, really, really great), I wasn’t sure how I fit into the equation. I hung back and didn’t attempt to form a meaningful relationship with her. I knew she was so important to my BGF, but I succumbed to my insecurity and withheld my friendship. I didn’t know why I couldn’t just be happy for them or at least be a bearable third-wheel. I was selfish. I am selfish.
A few weeks ago, Tony announced to the group we do ministry with that he would be phasing out and transferring to a different group — the one his girlfriend leads. It was hard news to take, especially since he had only briefly talked to me about it as a possibility. I was devastated, partially at the thought that soon I wouldn’t see him on a weekly basis and partially because I found out at the same time as everyone else. How could he just lump me in with all these other people? Why didn’t he tell me personally? Am I not important enough?
I chose to focus on mourning my loss instead of celebrating where God was leading him. To feel left behind instead of congratulating him on his big decision. If I ever did hold the bronze medal of friendship, I should have been stripped of it in that moment because I was a pretty terrible version of a friend. Thankfully he didn’t notice because I let it brew inside of me until I had built up an ugly little grudge that was just dying to get out.
When I made lunch plans with Tony a couple weeks later, I had an agenda. I was fully prepared to tell him how he had hurt me. How I wished he would have given me the news separately from the group. How I was afraid of losing him to all these changes in his life. But I’m here to tell you, with the utmost humility, that that’s not what happened.
I brought up his group announcement, but I could tell by his response that I would have completely blindsided him if I had spent any amount of time whining about how it affected me. I swallowed my agenda because I didn’t want to hurt him. I let the topic pass.
When the conversation moved to his one-year anniversary, I asked him about his future plans. And as I listened to him talk, I realized for the first time in an entire year, how stupid I had been. I realized I didn’t care that he didn’t tell me first. I didn’t care that I didn’t see him as often as I used to. I didn’t care that I wasn’t the most important girl in his life. I didn’t care if I didn’t impress him. I only cared that he was content and fulfilled and had found someone who was his equal and worthy of his awesomeness.
Over a life-changing plate of chicken & waffles (God bless America!), I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. The weight of my selfishness was replaced with the lightness of a supernatural Grace and Love that I am not capable of giving on my own. This epiphany washed over me, which I recognize now is a very simple revelation, but here it is: When adults enter into serious relationships, things change. It’s a normal and expected part of life that I wasn’t willing to acknowledge because, like I said, I’m selfish. I knew in that moment that if the tables were turned, he would be supportive and caring and would celebrate the exciting unfolding of my life. I knew I needed to get over myself, but more importantly, I wanted to get over myself, and that felt like a big deal.
So that whole thing about the difficulties of being friends with someone of the opposite gender as an adult? It still stands. But those difficulties don’t arise when things change. They arise when one person is unwilling to adapt to those changes — a lesson my best guy friend Tony probably didn’t even know he taught me until now. (Tony, if you’re still reading this, please don’t take away my bronze medal. After other people read this, I may never make another friend.)