Why you should care

Because being dumped always hurts. 

Caroline Grant is the associate director of the Sustainable Arts Foundation and co-editor of two anthologies.

I never had a bad boyfriend. Honestly, the numbers just aren’t there: If you only ever have had three boyfriends, you won’t find yourself weeping into your ice cream that often. No. 1 only went bad after our four-year relationship ended; he ran up charges on our still-shared credit card with gifts for his new finacée. No. 2 kept sleeping with me for several months after our breakup, so no complaints there. No. 3 and I got married.

But Sandy broke my lucky streak. After years of being my best friend — the kind of best friend who knew me so well, she set me up with my No. 3 — she dumped me.

We met the first week of college, and we bonded quickly over our impossible roommates, with their strawberry wine coolers and Bryan Adams sing-a-longs. By October, we knew everything important about each other. She had never seen the ocean or flown in a plane. Her dad had died of cancer the previous year, and she was struggling with the complicated guilt of grieving a difficult man. She called tomato sauce gravy. She made me examine things I had always taken for granted: family harmony, higher education, middle-class stability. Late at night we ordered in eggplant subs, listened to Lou Reed and made big plans for our future, our arty lives in the city.

It was almost perfect: We shared a common background, similar values. If only we didn’t share parents.

One night she came back to the dorm to find me feeling sorry for myself: Everyone was out — even my brother Larry (a senior) had bailed on our plans. Sandy was bursting with news certain to cheer me up: she’d met a guy for me. I wanted a boyfriend, sure (I’d never come close), but repeated readings of Gone With the Wind and my mom’s Regency romances — in which young women eloped to Scotland with the regularity of trains leaving London — left me no idea how to go about it.

She offered to introduce us at the campus cafe, and when I walked in the next day, I spotted her at a table by the window; the guy sitting across from her had a familiar profile. I realized she didn’t know one important thing about me.

“Caroline!” she smiled as I approached. “Meet Larry!”

It was almost perfect: We shared a common background, similar values. If only we didn’t share parents.

Over the next 10 years, Sandy’s and my friendship extended past college and into grad school, moved across country and outlasted her many boyfriends. We joked about her incestuous fix-up and she never tried again. But after No. 2 and I finally called it quits, she announced she’d met someone for me at a party

“You know my brother is married, right?”

“Funny. He’s cute and plays poker and Scrabble with a guy I know.”

On our first date, we hiked across Mount Tamalpais, and within a month we were a solid couple and soon living together, just blocks from Sandy. At our wedding, Sandy did my makeup, calmed my nerves and made sure I ate. But then at the reception, in a hint of the fissure to come, she made an odd toast in which she suggested that I “had” to get married because I was pregnant. I chalked it up to champagne and nerves.

She started canceling plans, with cracks about how I’d surely prefer to stay home with my husband, savoring the word like a sour candy.

It’s hard to describe the ups and downs of the next seven years because her slights were, well, so slight. Just a hundred little paper cuts. She obsessed over the perfect wedding present, asking my opinion about dozens of ideas. She finally settled on an ice cream maker and an armful of white lilies, left on the doorstep — no note. She started canceling plans, with cracks about how I’d surely prefer to stay home with my husband, savoring the word like a sour candy.

She pampered me through my first pregnancy, but when I hosted a baby shower for a mutual friend, Sandy wouldn’t commit to attending — then called, repeatedly, during the event to agonize over whether she should come. She rolled out a carpet of movie dates, restaurant reservations, weekend plans, and then whipped each one out from under me. “She’s a bad boyfriend,” No. 3 consoled, rubbing my back as I cried. “It’s OK. You just never had one before.”

I know what you’re thinking: consider her perspective, seeing me marry and start a family while she watched from the sidelines, single and childless. I listened hard but never heard a hint of envy when she mocked my choices. She dated and traveled and built her career. She talked about having a baby, but didn’t. Meanwhile, cozy warm in my husband-and-kids-centered life, I envied her cool, gallery-opening, late-night-dancing, Sunday-sleeping-in world. I wanted reminders of the life we’d shared, of who I’d been, and she was the one person who could — just by tapping out the opening bass notes of “Walk on the Wild Side” — retrieve that girl.

But she did it less and less. Like a guy who pulls the fade, then stops calling altogether, Sandy and I never actually broke up, never had that big fight I felt like she was goading me into. We just … ended.

I still think of her often, and every time I eat an eggplant sub. I miss my friend. But at least I’ve got my husband.

Comment

OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.