It is a barely acknowledged truth that most of the romantic relationships we form will end, due to varying circumstances. Pain is an inevitability. You learn from the experience and then you move on.
But though time heals all, regret may come in the form of a person. No, I’m not talking about The One That Got Away; much has already been written about her. I’m talking about The One That Almost Was.
Cara and I became friends in the most millennial of ways: over Twitter. We had passed each other in the halls of high school for years, and had lived our high school lives with just the right amount of turbulent controversy to know of each. Those were the early days of social media, and back then, it was okay to add and follow people you had never met.
Tweet likes became responses, and these became DMs. Two people who were never formally introduced became good friends.
I had just started seeing a girl when I met Cara. I was young, and did not yet believe in casual dating, so I was determined to stay loyal to the object of my affections at the time. Cara was in an on-and-off relationship as well, although it was gradually becoming more off than on.
We were both sociable, with an incredible knack for making friends. As individuals, people naturally gravitated to us, but even then we felt that our connection was different. Special. We were similar in so many ways, with the sexual tension so thick it could be cut with a knife. For some strange reason, though, we never mentioned anything outright about it until years later.
It did not work out with the girl I was seeing, but Cara was still in her complicated relationship. Fresh from a heartbreak, I went on the stereotypical fling spree. At the time, you could put a dress on a telephone pole, and I would have thrown a cheesy line at it. I went after every woman I could.
Every woman, save for her.
'While thoughts about what-ifs are sometimes irresistible, fantasies are all they are and all they should be'
I felt the standard to which I would have had to set for myself was too high at the time, given I had just come from having my heart broken, and was fixing myself by screwing my way through the world. Cara was one of my dearest friends, and before I could decide whether or not I would pursue it, I had to get my shit together first.
But I didn’t want to wait for her relationship to end. I didn’t want to be that guy, an abanger waiting to swoop in at the next opportunity. So I did my best to live my life with that possibility in the back of my mind.
As my foray into hedonism neared its end, so was Cara’s relationship. She was coming to terms with being single after having been in a relationship for years, and I was more than happy to let her figure things out as I set out to tie some loose ends before I could make my move. We were closer than ever, with a flood of feelings hiding behind a wall of subtle hints and sexual tension.
Still, nothing happened. That story never unfolded because, she had reunited with her ex. It was a wake-up call. Cara was still in love with him, and would be for a long time. That was her struggle, and I couldn’t keep waiting for her to get through it.
The next girl I ended up dating became my girlfriend. That relationship would last five years and counting. Cara didn’t end up with that guy, and went through a few more relationships.
We stayed wonderfully close through it all, and I’ve honestly always been thankful to have a friend like her.
Years later, we ended up talking about why it never happened. I told her everything—about planning to ask her out, but having the rug pulled under me when she got back with her boyfriend. She also finally confessed she did like me too, but that when she finally realized that she wanted to pursue something with me, I had ended up with someone else. Oh, the irony.
Now, it’s something we joke about. Somewhere in an alternate universe, we had ended up together. Lovers in another branch of time. It’s something we both look upon with wonderment. My biggest what-if.
Which is not to say I’m not thankful for the present. I am in a wonderful, committed relationship, and so is Cara. There's comfort in knowing she and I will always be friends.
While thoughts about what-ifs are sometimes irresistible, fantasies are all they are and all they should be. What happened, happened. Or in this case, what didn’t happen, didn’t happen. What is true will always be more important than what could have been.