“Amy, you always tell people to imagine themselves as the main character in a movie. Haven’t you ever seen a movie where best friends wind up falling in love?” Mark asked.
We were emailing about his questionable relationship with Amanda, a woman who was allegedly perfect for him based on the fact that they worked in the same field, she was a gifted healer, and she owned a successful practice.
Two such movies came to mind. In When Harry Met Sally, Harry and Sally meet after college, hate each other, bump into one another years later, become friends, and then wind up falling in love. In Valentine’s Day, Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher’s characters are best friends in love with people who are all wrong for them. In the end, they fall in love.
But in both stories, one isn’t pining away for the other, which made Mark’s situation a bit different.
He was willing to overlook the fact that Amanda expressed no interest in pursuing anything more than what sounded to me like a friends-with- benefits scenario. He reasoned that her painful childhood made it difficult for her to connect.
She sounded great on paper and looked even better in person. But something was missing. This went on for several years. Months would go by without them seeing each another. He was convinced she’d come around. It baffled him why it was taking so long. And I could completely relate—to Amanda.
After a series of jerky boyfriends, I met “Mike”. I told myself that men like him don’t come around every day. He never said an unkind word. We shared many of the same interests. He was responsible, loyal, and attentive. He was everything I could ever ask for in a boyfriend. After being in a series of walking-on-eggshells relationships, it was a relief to be with someone who never rocked the boat.
The trouble was, he never rocked my world either.
I was comfortable, but not excited. We agreed about most everything, so there were no arguments. Over time, I grew restless. I started looking at other men, which was unlike me. Something was missing, and I knew what it was. I’d just grown so accustomed to telling myself it wasn’t important.
It was the butterflies. I told him the truth of how I felt from the beginning—that I loved who he was and enjoyed his company tremendously, but there were no sparks. He tried to convince me that my feelings were enough—that over time those “in love” feelings fade anyway, so maybe they weren’t so important. I hung in there, enjoying his friendship and affections, holding out hope that some day, they’d turn into more—wondering if I could live without the sparks and settle for friendship.
But that was just it. I was settling. Not for a less-than-wonderful man, but for a less-than-wonderful feeling toward the man. He was the kind of man I wanted to be in love with, but I just wasn’t.
The truth of the matter is, attraction isn’t a choice. You either have it for someone or you don’t. It’s one of life’s greatest mysteries—why we feel it for some and not for others—how two seemingly different people can wind up together. It’s a feeling that can trip us up, cause us to overlook other, equally important traits that make for a great relationship, and to make poor choices in mates. But it’s also a feeling that when combined with deep friendship and relationship-enhancing qualities, can pull people through tough times and make the differences exciting and worth exploring. It was a feeling I decided I wasn’t willing to live without.
It occurred to me that what was missing didn’t reside in him, but within me. He was everything I could have ever asked for in a boyfriend, because he was all I could ask for. I didn’t believe that I could have the kind of relationship I truly wanted. I didn’t believe it was meant for me—that wanting it all was unrealistic. Where did this belief come from? Had I hardened my heart after my divorce? Was it the result of some childhood trauma? It didn’t matter. The truth was I was settling, Mike was settling, and so was my friend, Mark.
Yes, sometimes in the movies, two best friends wind up falling in love. But if your life were a movie, would you want to play the part of the person settling for a relationship without sparks, or the one who settled for someone who wasn’t that into you, hoping they’d someday come around?
No. Friendship isn’t enough. You need the sparks.
Amy Beth O’Brien is the author of Stuck with Mr. Wrong? Ten Steps to Starring in your own Life Story . For more information visit www.amybethobrien.com