A good friend of mine from college, who I met the second or third week I was there and have been close with ever since has not had the best luck when it comes to romance. He had a few girlfriends when we were at Northwestern, but never “the one.” Then again, at Northwestern, many people never had any significant others, so maybe he did have some luck there.
He was three years ahead of me in school and graduated the year I was a freshman. He then worked in Chicago a year and went back to Kellogg (the business school at NU) and was back near campus again for my last two years, so we always spent lots of time together – including several road trips to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
The trip we took my senior year was an interesting lot. He and I were both along for the ride of course, as was one of our mutual best friends who’s been with us that long. His girlfriend joined us, as did one of her best friends. Both of them were a year younger than us, but their maturity level was not quite into high school. Knowing that I was in for some very long car rides, I also invited a friend of mine to make a nice sixth.
Having the sixth person along turned out to be a really good thing. The girlfriend’s friend and my friend ended up getting along a little too well, if you catch my drift. In fact, they started dating after that trip. And kept dating.
She was from a small town in central Illinois and had never been out of the state. He had lived all over, including internationally, and came from a family where the dad was an executive. After he finished Kellogg, he took her to Australia for a vacation. Those sorts of things definitely expanded her horizons, and she loved him. Needless to say, they got married in 2000.
Oh, and did I mention that she couldn’t stand me? Apparently she was jealous of my friendship with him. They moved to Seattle where he started his business – which has done quite well. When business took me to Seattle, we’d meet up for dinner and drinks, but she’d never join us. When we vacationed as a group, she avoided me. Finally, she softened towards me for unknown reasons, and we became friends. My then boyfriend (now husband) actually stayed with them for a vacation in 2002.
But in early 2003, I got a call from him that they’d separated, and she’d moved back to Chicago. She had grown more into her own person and realized that she loved what he taught her and allowed her to experience, but she wasn’t in love with him. As you might imagine, he was devastated.
As a total side note, the ex-wife ended up marrying the mutual friend who went with us to Mardi Gras that year – her friend’s ex-boyfriend and for him, his friend’s ex-wife. They had a baby this winter and by all accounts are perfect for each other. But what a convoluted relationship!
Since then, he’s dated a number of women, many of whom I’ve met. Unfortunately, none of them lasted more than a few months. A year ago last fall, he brought his current girlfriend with him to Chicago to go to a Northwestern game with us. She was sweet and very smart, but nothing about her screamed perfect match any more or less than the other girlfriends had. She stuck around though and helped him with his business, particularly as he opened a factory in China last year.
Then I got a call that they were engaged. They were so happy, and I was so happy for them. When they flew through town, they showed me the slideshow of pictures from where they got engaged in a remote area of Alaska (really cool, actually). The date was set for July of this year, and I made plans to head out to Seattle to wish them well. I put off buying my ticket though, partly because I screwed up and bought Cirque du Soleil tickets for the night before their wedding and was debating whether I tried to sell my (front row!) tickets or tried to make the wedding by taking the first flight out on Saturday.
When the invitation arrived, I knew I’d have to make a choice. Until I got an email from him later that same day. He and his fiancée had split up. With their family issues and his previous divorce, they had decided to get couples’ counseling before the wedding. It was going well, but apparently there were some bad patterns that they were falling into, and too much hurt was caused before they realized it. The wedding was off.
I called him and left him a message, realizing he probably wasn’t up to talking to anyone. I sent him an email expressing my sadness for him and wishing him well. I told him that what I cared about most was him being happy, and that if he needed anything, I was just a phone call away. We decided to go on vacation in July around the time of the wedding somewhere fun (with my husband, btw – my mom missed that part of it when I first told her and she wasn’t sure how appropriate that was!).
Today, I got another email from him. The wedding is back on, but in November (and smart him, on a weekend when Northwestern has an away game!). He and his fiancée continued to get counseling (separately) and were able to work themselves back to each other. They made progress on their issues and are once again happy.
How often does something like this happen? I knew they were very happy and in love with each other, but mistakes and bad habits cleaved what they had built. But rather than become bitter and wallow in their misery, they both continued working, and now they have another shot at happiness together.
Second chances are a wonderful thing. I have to admit that there are many things that I’d like to revisit in my life and do differently. Many people I would have treated better, different choices and experiences I would have gone for, and so forth. People rarely get a second chance, and I’m thrilled for my friends that they are able to have one.
With everything we do every day, there’s no way to go through life without some regret. I know what my biggest regret is, and it’s a series of bad habits I exhibited. Nothing can change that, although I have sincerely apologized. I still feel guilty about it though. If you could go back and change something you did or said (or didn’t!), what would it be?