This weekend at Dartmouth, I was hanging out with Cece and a pal when we got to discussing her boyfriend. She’s spending her quarter in Hanover on exchange while he’s staying in San Diego and being exceedingly attentive and understanding despite the distance. At one point, I had the urge to tell her, “You have the sweetest boyfriend ever, Cece.”
But I didn’t. Cece is one of my best friends from home and her current boyfriend is my ex-boyfriend from high school. Complimenting her on her great catch seems incredibly odd, when I was the last girl to date him. But then again, the guy she’s with today is not at all the same person I was in love with at 16 and I consider him more a friend (or even, the boyfriend of a friend) than I do an ex. It’s like he’s this entirely new individual who I’ve re-met and re-integrated into my life.
It’s different with my last significant relationship. Try as I might, I’m not able to say that Summer Guy’s my friend, but “ex-boyfriend” doesn’t quite fit either. The latter sounds like such a write-off, and he means so much more than just a blip in my romantic history. On the other hand, I don’t treat or deal with him in the same way as I do my other friends. While I never get into fights with pals, we bicker and argue and vow to not speak. We also go through long periods of regular phone calls and IMs. I have spoken to him more often than I have spoken to anyone else in California, including my mother and my best friend. He is the only person during my entire time at college who has flown to Boston for the express purpose of visiting me. He is one of only two people whose presence I actively yearn for (the other being my mother). Yet from 3,000 miles, I do not nurse hopes of a romantic reconciliation and would be more than wary of dating again even if we lived in the same city. So what am I left with?
It is easy to tell my friends I love them. I say it on the phone, as a goodbye, over email. I mean it, certainly, but when I tell Summer Guy that I love him, it means something more than a response-by-reflex. I love him like I love my best friends — deeply and unconditionally. But he is not my best friend either. My best friends are two girls from California I consider sisters and two Harvard friends who have stuck by me since freshman fall. These are people who have seen me through intense times of change and tumult. How can I say my love for him is the same as my love for them? And yet, it seems quite fitting. After all, I share with him a unique understanding I share with each of them. Cultivated over time, it is something that can only be felt, not articulated.
There is no one else in my life like Summer Guy. The almost frightening truth is that he is irreplaceable. Thus, I don’t want to call him my ex-boyfriend because he is not just my ex-boyfriend, but I don’t want to call him my friend because he is not just my friend. And so I guess the best I can do is say that he is someone I love very, very much.