The other day, during the snowstorm, I was watching an episode of Saved By The Bell with my kids. Later in the evening, as I was setting up my Face Book account, the underlying message of the episode dawned on me and I was flabbergasted. Zack was in a fight with one of his friends over a girl they were both interested in dating. Their teacher, Mrs. Bliss, interceded and told the two boys that they had been through too much together to let a girl destroy their friendship.
The more I thought about the premise of the show, the more I disagreed with the point that was made. I had a best friend who I hung out with all the time and we did everything together; we were as thick as thieves. The two of us had gotten into more trouble then we care to admit and when push came to shove, we stood firm in the face of adversity. We had been through a lot together. We had picked each other up when we were down, we shared in the glories of each others achievements, and no matter what; we could always depend upon each other. That was until the day I met one particular girl.
I fell in love with Stephanie on my twenty-third birthday. It was one of those fluke circumstances where happenstance and coincidence ran into each other in an earth-shattering collision that brought us together. My friends were late for my birthday bash while Stephanie and I spent the afternoon alone with each other. By the time she left to go home, we had kissed for the first time and I was instantaneously in love with her.
It was a life changing moment for both of us. If anything had happened differently or anything had been slightly altered on that day, Stephanie and I never would have kissed and I never would have fallen in love. It was kismet.
When I told my friends about Stephanie, they all thought it would just be a summer fling because there was a significant age difference between us. They all felt that at the end of the summer, Stephanie would go to college and the romance would be over but regardless of what the future held, they were happy for both us; except for my best friend.
Now to be fair, he had just been hurt himself. He had been in a long term relationship with a woman who was significantly younger than he was and she had just broken up with him about a year before Stephanie and I met. It broke his heart and I had spent the better part of the year trying to help him get over his relationship and move on with his life.
So when he tried to discourage me from dating Stephanie, he thought he was being a good friend. He believed that my relationship with Stephanie wouldn’t work because we were in different places in our lives. She was in college and I had graduated. And although I could appreciate his concern for me as a friend, I told him that I was willing to take my chances. I was willing to risk being hurt to see where the relationship might lead.
That’s when he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “If you decide to go out with her, then I can’t hang out with you anymore.”
“What?” I said in disbelief. “Are you seriously telling me that you would end our friendship if I decide to date a younger woman?”
“I can’t sit around and wait for you to go through what I went through; it would hurt me too much to watch you get hurt like that. So you have a choice to make; you can date her or we can still hang out? It’s up to you.”
I couldn’t believe he had the audacity to give me an ultimatum! I had been there to support my best friend when he needed me and when I thought I could count on him in return; my best friend was willing to end our friendship because he didn’t approve of the girl I was dating. More than that, he was dictating to me who I could and couldn’t date and I was offended by his brazenness. It was either my friendship with him or a relationship with Stephanie; take it or leave it.
So I left it. The mental anguish was tough but in the end, I chose the relationship with a beautiful woman over my best friend. It was a bad ultimatum and it was wrong for anyone to try and ruin my chance at happiness. Love was hard enough to find on my own and I found love with Stephanie, so it was worth the risk. And it has paid off. I have been in love with her since the day she kissed me on my twenty-third birthday underneath that apple tree. And knowing how rare it is to find true love; I have never taken our relationship for granted.
Stephanie and I have been together for seventeen years; married for twelve and a half. I have spent the last seventeen years learning how to create and maintain a successful relationship. Some days Stephanie and I have been really successful at it and some days, we have crashed and burned; and I wouldn’t trade one minute of the time we have spent together for anything in the entire world.
I have never been an expert in the art of love but if you would allow me a little latitude, I would like to impart this one piece of advice from the immortal Percy Sledge:
When a man loves a woman, he can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’ll trade the world for the good thing he’s found
If she is bad, he can’t see it, she can do no wrong
Turn his back on his best friend if he put her down
And I did turn my back on my best friend. I love Stephanie with all my heart, I always have; and she still “can do no wrong.” A true friend knows that. A true friend is happy for you. A true friend celebrates your happiness, even if they disagree with your decisions. And a true friend never gives you an ultimatum.
The most important thing I have learned over the past seventeen years is that if someone makes you feel special and loved; enjoy it as long as it lasts. There are no guarantees in life but it is true what the old cliché says, “it is better to have loved and lost, then to have never loved at all.” And I have thanked God every day because when it mattered, I took a chance on love.