I recently watched, “The Social Network,” and concluded that Mark Zuckerberg may be a billionaire programmer extraordinaire, but his social skills certainly needed some work during those college years, but who am I to judge? I made a lot of missteps at that age, and though none of them ended in a lawsuit, I still have regrets. My biggest social blunder didn’t even come to light for nearly two decades.
After graduating college in the mid 1990’s, I laid low in the early part of this millennium after a string of disappointments left me feeling less than human. When I finally began to reconnect with college friends, the catalyst was (ironically) Facebook. I joined in 2008 to keep track of my sister who was working overseas, but by 2009, a friend from college stumbled across my name on a Facebook friend suggestion list, and I was inundated with connections. Some long lost friends took the opportunity to reach out over messenger to learn more about my decade off the grid. Frank, who I dated briefly junior year, asked a lot of questions, and I responded with inquiries of my own. Once we had covered our personal lives, we began sharing updates on other members of our college clique.
We had a mutual friend, Mike, who was not on Facebook. Mike and I met in the early weeks of freshman year when I briefly dated his roommate, Andy (who left school before the end of first semester). Mike and I were best friends from the start. We even visited each other over summer vacations to attend music festivals, or just chill at the beach together for a few days. He was a great guy and a lot of fun.
Mike and I never dated. Our friendship was a simple “be yourself” relationship without the usual sexual attraction stumbling block that trips up most male-female friendships. I remember he dated an underclassman briefly, and some girl from another school during his semester at sea program, but he remained solo for most of our four years. Honestly, I didn’t think much about his dating habits (or lack of them) at the time because I was too wrapped up in my own drama, dating a new guy every term. Mike was always there to listen, and give me advice.
Mike and Frank had been quite close, and when I asked Frank about Mike, he was unusually slow to reply. Eventually, he told me that Mike had recently married and was expecting his first child. Then, I asked Frank if he would give me the contact information for Mike since he was not on Facebook. This time the reply was swift, “Don’t try to find him.” Only adding that it was not a good idea. “Had Mike entered witness protection?” I joked. Again, the reply was slow, and when it came, I was confused.
“It took him a long time to get over it, but he is finally happy. Just leave him alone.”
What did Mike have to get over? I received no reply, but there was only one possible answer. The platonic friendship I assumed we shared was one-sided. Mike had been in love with me.
At first I was mad. How could Mike not tell me? But the thought barely formed when the answer washed over me. He knew I wasn’t in love with him, and sharing his feelings would have ended our friendship. He kept his secret to keep me close. I wondered how long Frank had known. I seriously doubt Frank would have dated me during fall term of junior year if Mike had told him prior to that. Frank had a lot of flaws, but he was a loyal friend. The truth must have come out sometime after graduation. Who else knew? It didn’t matter, I felt terrible, and the only person I wanted to talk to was the one person I couldn’t because Frank insisted I leave Mike alone, but I couldn’t let it go. I Googled the company Mike worked for and emailed him, but received no reply.
Anxious and impatient, I attempted to assuage my jumbled feelings by looking back through my college photo albums and was surprised to discover that among hundreds of images of me and the girls, or my ever rotating boy of the term, were few pictures of Mike, and no good ones-more evidence of how much I took him for granted. I resorted to flipping through our actual freshmen facebook to find an image of his full smiling face.
My Linked In connection was eventually accepted, but I still don’t know if it was Mike or an assistant in his office that cleared my request. His profile image is a cartoon drawing. He will not reply to any personal correspondence. I considered showing up at his office the next time I’m in New York, but I know that isn’t fair. He is happy. I need to quell my own ego, and respect the life he has built for himself.
And because karma is a bitch, the same situation has occurred again, this time with Sam, but now I’m the lovelorn best friend being taken for granted as Sam moves from one drama filled relationship to the next. We hang out in between his liaisons, and I listen to him lament his latest loss, but just as Mike knew better than to confess his feelings to me, I know Sam doesn’t love me. So, instead of seeing my current situation as punishment, I’m trying to be thankful. I’ve been granted perspective on Mike’s experience that allows me to excuse his secret. From my knowledge, I generate the courage it takes to leave Mike alone, to allow Sam to be himself, and to forgive myself for being human.