I have forever been interested in the complex dynamics of relationships – all that goes on behind the spoken words, beneath surface appearances, beyond logic and reason, beyond norms and etiquette. What fascinates me more is the unwritten codes by which we put our relationships into neat little bins, with neat labels… and how sometimes, unexpectedly, the bins topple over and the labels get mixed up. And how sometimes, we really want that to happen.
There’s one kind of attraction that often happens with complete strangers – someone in a movie hall, or in a restaurant, or at a party, or someone exotic and inherently sexy (like Salma Hayek maybe?). But what I find far more intriguing is the kind of attraction that wasn’t supposed to happen – like when you suddenly find yourself attracted to someone you were just friends with.
I’m thinking of the women who were a part of my life at different times, women of all ages, from different backgrounds, in different circumstances. With each one it was a unique journey on a different road, but when I look back, I see that the milestones were probably the same. We started as acquaintances – bumping into each other sometimes, calling each other for some bit of information sometimes, sharing a ride sometimes, meeting for coffee sometimes – doing all the normal acquaintance-y things that people do.
And then we moved on to things that friends do – spending the days over, and then the nights; sharing stories, then confidences, then dreams and fears; meeting other friends, and meeting families; expecting updates and reports, then demanding them when they’re not volunteered; adjusting time zones to redefine ‘early’ and ‘late’ and watching ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ take on different meanings. In the natural progression, it all gets more personal, more involved. Time is shared. Familiarity grows. Affection is expressed. Concern is felt.
And then sometimes, without a one-ahead warning, attraction just happens. It’s as if the ground shifts imperceptibly beneath our feet and suddenly it’s the same people, and we’re still walking, but the road – the road has changed. It’s suddenly more complex, and more subtle. Trust develops. Care is taken. Expectations edge their way in. Intimacy is sought. Want becomes need. Hope takes flight. Something undefinable changes, forever. And though it’s happened more than once, and at close quarters (clearly in my line of sight and within earshot) – I’ve never quite been able to catch those precise moments when, behind the sluice gates of my mind and in the little folds of my imagination, friends become lovers.
That moment when a passing peck on the cheek makes your stomach lurch and your heart stop.
That moment when you find yourself looking deeper and longer into those eyes, willing them not to turn away.
That moment when you find that the three words you most desperately want to hear are as innocuous as “I’ll call you”.
That moment when the end of another regular see-you-later hug leaves you strangely hollow and empty.
That moment when sharing a bed become an excruciatingly exciting ordeal.
That moment when sleepovers become sleepless nights, and sleepless nights become brittle mornings.
That moment when you catch yourself looking past the new earrings at the unattainable earlobes they cling to.
That moment when you become reckless enough to risk that one kiss, that one deliberate, intimate touch.
That moment when you are about to scale the wall that separates friends from lovers.
These are moments of consuming and undiluted intensity – when your consciousness is taken over by unreason and all that matters is the possibility of the next word, the next move, the tiniest sign of intent, or the least hint of realization from the other. It feels strangely natural yet unacceptable, vital yet forbidden all at the same time. Sometimes there appears to be a vague possibility of reciprocation, but it could well be an over-active imagination or wishful thinking. By coming clean, you risk losing her friendship. By keeping mum, you risk losing your sanity.
So, what do you do at these life-changing moments: hold back and swallow the urge or brush fear aside and lay it all on the table? Is it better to take that chance and find out once and for all, rather than suffer this delicious agony? Or is it wiser to put these errant feelings away in a box with no label, under an empty bed on another planet, and let friends be friends?