an untraditional affair

Cheryl has been my best friend since the 9th grade. She was a sophomore then, very beautiful and very glamorous. I was a year younger than the kids in my class so she’s a couple of years older than me. Warm, loving and with a wicked sense of sensibility, I worshipped her then- and I adore her today.

It’s funny, the paths our lives have taken. Cheryl chose to be married at a very young age, and she chose to have children at a young age, with a dedicated, loving husband and father. I focused on school, then on my career, and then over the last few years, on my businesses. And I fall head over heels all the time, but sooner or later I’m looking over my shoulder… Looking for something else and needing more. And more and more.

Meanwhile, Cheryl completed her bachelor’s degree a couple of years ago and her career took off. Now, her oldest child is preparing for college, and her youngest won’t be far behind. They’ve moved from the burbs back into Portland proper, and she and her husband are looking forward to starting a new chapter in their lives. And now here I am, starting to think about setting down some roots somewhere for the first time ever.

I’ve moved so many times since college that I can’t count the moves anymore. I’ve lived on a working farm, in the suburbs and all over the city. And I’ve struggled with relationships, in part because I’m always thinking, is this person willing to move out west with me? It’s a big leap for anyone, including me. I’ve ended more than one relationship because once I realize they’ll never leave, I think, what’s the point?

Sweetest Ann, another heart friend, called and told me of a recent disappointment, asking me, Do I expect too much of people? Yeah, I told her, you do. Because everyone lets you down.

I hate the way that sounds, and I hated to be the one to tell her that. Ann is the widest-eyed naïf that ever lived; I don’t want to be the one to disillusion her, especially about relationships. But if you give people too much, they will at some point let you down. It’s inevitable, and if you expect it going in it’s much easier to forgive (and forget).

But I do have one lasting relationship that’s never let me down. It’s the one person who’s never been unfaithful, dishonest or untruthful to me, ever: Cheryl. She’s never jealous of the good things that happen to me, doesn’t get mad when I make a mistake, and she continues to provide me with an unending line of support. When I am frightened, nervous or second-guessing my choices, she digs her heels in and offers her never ending admiration and love. It’s helped me a lot.

We often define our loving relationships in a very traditional way. Between societal expectations of what we should or shouldn’t be doing, the expectations we have for each other and perhaps most trying, the expectations we place on ourselves, it’s easy to lose yourself. I’m such a wide-eyed optimist that in a funny way, I’ve become deeply pragmatic. I see friends divorcing right and left and I feel for them, but it makes me more convinced than ever that marriage isn’t right for me. I keep looking, but what I need remains elusive and I don’t know when I’ll find it. Hopefully soon.

And maybe in the long run, the love affairs that matter most are the ones we’ve had all along- with our friends.