I’ve always loved The Little Mermaid. As a child, I wanted to be Ariel; she had red hair too, she could sing, and she got to live in the ocean with all the fish! This was just completely magical to five-year-old Jo. As a teenager I discovered the original fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, and completely fell in love. It was so beautifully tragic; all the pain she went through because she loved someone who didn’t love her back. I never thought this was a story I could relate to, until I fell in love with my best friend.
I’d never had a friend like Adam before, never had someone accepted me as completely as he did. With Adam, I could just be myself. I didn’t have to moderate my feelings around him. I was able to be as excited, upset, or even scared as I liked. I could rant as passionately as I pleased. I could be my silly, daft self and he would laugh with me. I could be serious and in thought, and he would discuss with me. Whatever I was feeling, I could just be me.
Adam himself was pretty amazing too. He was funny and incredibly smart. He was the biggest geek I knew, yet he was so cool with his motorbike and his guitar. He exuded the perfect amount of confidence and was never arrogant. He genuinely didn’t give a crap what anyone thought of him and I’d never known anyone so comfortable in their own skin. He was there for me whenever I needed him and I trusted him completely. Despite the fact we have a long distance friendship – with me in London and him in Belfast – we grew really close. So, perhaps inevitably, I fell in love with him. Perfect, right? Two friends falling in love with each other. Here’s the problem though, he didn’t feel the same way about me.
I suppose it didn’t help that our friendship was born of mutual attraction. I knew he liked me, so a part of me always had hope. Once I spoke to him about how I felt, he made it clear it wasn’t going to happen. He tried to let me down gently, explaining how a long distance relationship wasn’t ideal. I knew in my head that it wasn’t going to work out, but there was this false hope that kept the thought lingering in the back of my mind. I desperately clung to this awful kind of hope for such a long time. Sporadically, I would remind him of how I felt and implore him to try. The distance wasn’t a problem for me. In fact, it was doable; my aunt and uncle had a long distance relationship for years, and they were living on the other side of the world from each other. Adam and I were just an hour away by plane. I knew it would be hard, and it might even hurt, but I felt he was worth it. We were worth it. But his answer never changed.
Despite this, our situation never made Adam uncomfortable. He was concerned, not wanting to hurt me, but didn’t feel awkward. We both treated each other the same, we would still talk to each other in the same way, so there was no awkwardness on his side.
My hope started to wane when Adam met someone. This was a hard time for me, I really struggled. As we live so far apart, we text each other every day. However, once he entered a relationship, not only was he with someone who wasn’t me, on some days we wouldn’t text as much. Of course, his time with his girlfriend was their time, and I didn’t expect us to be talking when they were together. But I found it really hard knowing when he wasn’t texting me, it was because he was with her.
It wasn’t jealousy. I’ve been jealous in the past, and it makes me mean and nasty. This was just intense sadness. I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t just cut ties for my own sake. With distance, I should have been able to move on without a problem, but I didn’t want to be without my best friend. I was hurting and it felt awful, but I couldn’t walk away from my best friend. Despite everything, Adam was my friend. How I felt never changed how he treated me, nor did him having a girlfriend. He was so happy and I was glad for him. It also felt immature to just walk away from an amazing friend just because I couldn’t handle the fact he had a girlfriend. I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to.
What I didn’t know was that they had been having problems for a while. Adam is a pretty private person and tends to keep his problems to himself. How I felt about him was part of the reason he never told me; he didn’t know what to say. Time moved on, but his relationship didn’t work out.
A similar thing happened when he first found out he was expecting a child with somebody from a different, previous relationship. I was shocked that Adam was becoming a dad and it definitely knocked me back a little. This was quickly overridden by genuine excitement for him, he was going to be an amazing dad! It didn’t upset or worry me in a way you might expect. For the most part, I was selfishly worried about how Adam having a child would affect our friendship. Our lives were about to be vastly different; his priorities and concerns would be much more grown up than mine, and I was worried we might drift apart. I’ve since learned Adam was having a more difficult time coming to terms with becoming a dad than he let on, and wasn’t handling it well. Mostly, he didn’t know how to express what he was feeling, but my feelings also came into play when deciding what to tell me. He told me he didn’t feel he could talk about it – even though I wouldn’t have had a problem. He didn’t know that. It’s not until recently that we’ve felt comfortable discussing how our friendship was affected.
Of course, I now feel terrible that my feelings affected our friendship to the point where he felt he couldn’t talk to me, especially as I’ve always felt I could tell him anything. However at the same time, I would be silently hurting without him knowing a thing. I guess our situation made it difficult for both of us to share. I couldn’t confide to my best friend about how hard it was when the guy I loved was in a relationship, he couldn’t talk to me about his relationship or his struggles with becoming a dad.
With all that happened, my hope faded away. I realised just how important Adam’s friendship was, not being able to date him was nothing compared to losing my friend. As a society, we think that a romantic relationship is somehow better than a relationship based on friendship. Phrases like ‘we’re just friends’ or ‘we’re more than friends’ suggest that a friendship is less important. It was through our friendship that I discovered how false this is. They’re different, yes, but there’s no hiearchy. My friendship with Adam isn’t less important than the romantic relationship I wanted. Our friendship isn’t lacking because we aren’t romantically involved. Our friendship is one of the most important relationships I have.
I am pleased to tell you we’re now past all this. Our friendship is as strong as ever and we still text every day. Adam now has his own little family, with a two-year-old daughter who is completely wonderful. I have a mini-bestie and I adore her. What I feel isn’t as all-consuming as it once was; I keep it tucked it away in its own little corner. I can’t see myself falling out of love with him any time soon, but it’s no longer a threat to our friendship, nor has it stopped me from trying to find someone I can love openly who loves me back. I’ve not found him yet, but I’m optimistic.
The idea that friendship between men and women will never work because there will always be attraction is completely ridiculous. Not only is it heteronormative, it’s completely untrue – men and women are quite capable of being friends without sex or romantic feelings. But even if feelings are involved, that doesn’t mean the friendship is lost. My friendship with Adam has been complicated and tough at times, but we made it through to the other side. You might think this might not have been the case if we lived closer, and perhaps you’re right. Maybe if I saw him more regularly, it would have been harder for me to deal with. But that isn’t our reality; we do live in different countries, and maybe that has worked in our friendship’s favour. To write off any friendship because of unrequited love is not only unfair, but perpetuates the idea that a romantic relationship is more important than friendship, and the desire for “more” will ruin it.
I feel sorry for The Little Mermaid. Her story ended awfully; she didn’t get a chance to see if she could make friendship with the Prince work.
Joanne Stapley is a writer and book blogger using the written word to discuss topics she feels passionate about: feminism, body image, self-confidence, and diverse YA. You can find Joanne at Jo’s Scribbles, her book blog Once Upon a Bookcase, or on Twitter @Jo_Scribbles.