Todd and I had very little in common, except the choir that we sang in. He was very shy and hadn’t yet reached puberty (he was 12, after all). That year, there were only two boys in the choir, which meant that all of the attention was on Todd and his friend. Our shared interest in music was the only thing that held us together for the first year that we knew each other. As I got to know him better, I couldn’t help but feel drawn in by him. Todd was a natural performer and couldn’t help but make people laugh. In his adolescence, he was only interested in the attention that his antics would receive; if there had been a choir award for class clown, he would have been a repeat winner.
As we grew older, we discovered that we did have a few things in common, and those few things would grow into one of the strongest friendships I’ve ever had. Despite the general awkwardness of adolescence, or perhaps in spite of it, we managed to maintain a relationship that survived on spending no more than three hours a week in the same place.
The summer that I was 16, we spent two weeks together at a music camp, where we actually were together for more than a few hours at a time. That was the first time that other people started to question us on the nature of our relationship. Because I had known him since before he hit puberty, I had honestly never thought of him in any way beyond friendship. That summer made things at least a little awkward between us for a while, though once we were back home and in our regular choir things leveled out and we kept up the same uber-platonic relationship we’d always enjoyed.
When I was 17 and Todd was 16, it dawned on me that though I’d spent years denying it, I actually had some feelings for Todd that extended beyond friendship. He was smart, funny, taller than me (at 5’11, this was a big concern for me), musically inclined, and one of the nicest people I’d ever met. To my almost-adult way of thinking, he was absolutely perfect for me.
For a time we pretended that we were siblings, mostly for comedic effect. Almost everyone we encountered saw right through our ruse, but he still has one friend who believes that I am Todd’s sister, despite years of people telling him otherwise. We’ve used the sibling defense when we discuss the relationship that we have. I often feel like he is the brother I never had and though I am usually glad that he isn’t actually my brother, the closeness that we share is something beyond a normal friendship.
Since we’ve become friends, we’ve both dated other people. I’ve never liked any of his girlfriends, though it’s not because of any misplaced jealousy. Instead, I’ve often felt that he settles for these women, rather than working to find someone whom he deserves. His latest relationship ended after five years and a cancelled engagement; when I met that girlfriend I immediately felt that she wasn’t good enough for him. It did take him a long while, but he realized the same thing.
As we’ve grown up, we’ve definitely grown closer and our friendship has matured. Instead of just inside jokes we now have annual holiday traditions. Instead of going for lunch at a fast food restaurant, we’ll have a real sit-down meal at a reasonably nice restaurant. Instead of making fun of people like we used to, we actually have meaningful conversations when we get together. We had a very frank discussion a few years ago about what our futures held, and we half-jokingly said that if we were both unmarried by the time I turn 40 we’d move in together so that someone could get a tax break.
That conversation hasn’t left me, and I suppose that on some level I am still hoping that it will happen.
Unless something major interferes, Todd and I always go out for each other’s birthdays. We’ve now been friends for long enough that we both know a large number of the other’s friends, but neither one of us fits fully into the other person’s circle of friends. It appears to most outside observers that we are a bit rude when other people are around because we fall so easily into our inside jokes and old routines.
We’ve never fought; Todd is the only friend I can say that about. The biggest disagreement we’ve ever had is faux-fighting about who is going to pick up the lunch tab; at this point, I think we’re even. We don’t exchange gifts on birthdays or at Christmas, and with the exception of a few occasions we never have. When I turned 18, I received a whoopee cushion; I gave him a used coffee ship gift card when he turned 25. Though I don’t spend much money on him, I often spend more time thinking about what I could get him than I do for my own parents.
This tradition of not exchanging presents is one of the things that marks our relationship as special; we’ve come up with other ways to celebrate what we have. Every year on Christmas Eve, I go to his parents’ house with a plate full of cookies for his family. We drink his homemade beer and he scrambles to put together a gift basket to send home with me. I usually spend a few hours with Todd and his parents, and it is often the highlight of my holiday season.
Todd and I have been there for each other through the deaths of four grandparents, some serious health issues in both of our families, the purchasing of homes, university graduations, a variety of heartbreaks, and some major life changes for both of us. He is currently the executor of my will in the event that something happens to my parents. I can’t think of another person who I would trust with my life as much as I trust Todd. Though we don’t spend a lot of time together, he is absolutely my best friend.
As much as I care about Todd, even love him, it pains me to think that he is dating another very good friend of mine. She is a wonderful girl, and I wish them every happiness. To hear how he is treating this budding relationship, with such care and attention, shows me that he is very serious about making this one work. To hear my other friend telling me how wonderful he is and how happy she feels when she’s with him doesn’t make me feel jealous, but it is unsettling. Todd is, for all intents and purposes, the finest person that I know. He deserves to be with someone who will make him happy.
Even though we have a great friendship, and I can count on him to be there for me when I need him, I now know that I will never be that person to make him happy. The reasons are not clichéd at all. It’s not that we’re “too different”, or that we’re “at different places in our lives”, or even that we’re “not compatible”.
We are simply better off as friends.
Every once in a while, I think back to that summer I felt like there could be more between Todd and I, and I imagine what could have been. Sometimes it’s because he makes me laugh harder than I have in months. Sometimes it’s because he offers to pay for lunch even though we both know it’s my turn to foot the bill. Sometimes it’s because he’ll actually pick up the phone and call me instead of just texting me to say hello. Though I occasionally chastise myself for being nostalgic over something that never was, I feel like he and I could have had something beautiful.
When I was 17, I was convinced that Todd and I would end up together. It just made sense that we would somehow find our way to each other. When I was 17, I thought he was perfect for me.
I still do.