Recently, a reader asked me how Northman and I met, and that led to some great chats with Northman about the good ole days, so I figured I’d share with y’all a bit. To be straight with you, I really wish I had some great story to tell here. I wish I could honestly say that the first time I saw Northman I knew there was just something inherently, magnetically attractive about him, or that we were instantly bonded as soul mates. That I saved him from a charging bull, or he was the first boy I ever kissed. That we absolutely hated one another on sight yet somehow came around to where we are now…wherever this is. But the honest truth is, we were 12 or 13 when we met, and neither of us remembers it at all. We were kids in a big group of kids who ran in the same circles. We liked each other and became friends quickly, but that was about it. I don’t think we really looked at one another as more than lunch table pals until we were 14, and from then on until college, we did this strange little dance.
If you’ve ever been in teenager-style love, you know how all-consuming, passionate, and intense it feels. You need him like air. He’s ubiquitous. You see his face everywhere and want to breathe him in. You can’t possibly have his eyes and hands and lips on you enough because every look, every touch, every kiss feels so new and pure, and you’re absolutely, positively certain that no one on this earth, ever, in the history of mankind, has ever felt what you’re feeling in that moment. I’d say the adult equivalent is massive lust with a good helping of affection and some top-shelf liquor thrown in.
For a teenager, though, that’s love. You haven’t been repeatedly hurt by being “out there” long enough to question his motives, or doubt his promises, or second-guess his answers. You haven’t grown up quite enough to know how much goes into long-term romantic love or what can come out of it. You only know the fireworks and bottle rockets of love, not the slow-burning hearth and glowing embers of deep, abiding affection that come with time, growth, and maturity. Of course, really great love for adults encompasses all of that: The consuming urgency and passionate need for physical, sexual, and emotional contact, as well as the comfort of lasting, profound love that goes far beyond the physical or even the present and reaches into the core of who you are.
I’m not saying teenagers don’t fall in love; just that love, for a teenager, is a very different thing than it is for an adult. In some ways, the teenage version is true love without the complications of adult life; a shooting star moment. But shooting stars don’t last; they burn out. We cannot appreciate them over a lifetime of clear nights as we can a charted star.
At 12 or 13, Northman was neither a comet nor Polaris. He was just a boy I liked as a friend. But somewhere around 14, he became a friend I liked…as a boy. At some point, he transformed in my eyes from this boy I knew into that shooting star. He was a comet with a gravitational force that pulled me to him without, it seemed to me, any effort on his part. I just knew, deep down in this slowly awakening place, that I wanted him and was drawn to him. I found something so inherently sensual about his voice, his body, his laugh, even his seeming indifference to my desire. I realized I didn’t just like him. I wanted him. And the dance began.
I’d also like to tell you that I remember our first kiss, but I really don’t. At some point, we kissed, and that led to other things, as kissing does. What I can tell you is that more than 20 years later, I can still describe every bit of the swirling lust that threatened to crush my chest during the few, brief, intense times we came together. I didn’t have a word for it then. This sensation. This level of intensity and attraction. But I can tell you now. Even as a teenager, to me, Northman was nothing short of erotic. He embodied sex, music, and poetry in a way I could never quantify.
And he still does. And I still can’t.
From time to time as we grew up, Northman and I would notice one another again or both be single at the same time and do our timid forward-and-back dance, feeling one another out for interest and protecting ourselves from rejection. We’d have that massive spark, a brief yet intense time together, and then, just as suddenly, we’d spin away from each other. Eventually, though, we’d dance back toward one another and start again. We orbited one another, dancing with others, finding ourselves, without ever fully letting go of the friendship that drew us together from the start.
Eventually, Northman and I danced off our separate ways to college and on into adult life. We met and loved and married other people, and now we find ourselves both single parents who love, value, and prioritize our kids above anyone else. We live a fair distance apart and we are both trepidacious about relationships at the moment, so despite the increasing frequency of our Skype contact (and our phone calls and IMs and emails and texts), we still haven’t seen one another since we were 17.
Northman and I are not in love. I love him, and he loves me. We’re phenomenally attracted to one another. We have fantastic chemistry and shared senses of humor (even if I’m funnier) and mutual respect. We have a great time together, even if it’s not in person, and that connection is a daily pleasure. Getting to know my friend again, starting this dance back toward one another… it spreads a warmth in my chest that is so peaceful and content.
I must confess, while I enjoy what we have now and am at peace in it, I do wonder if one day we will be in love with one another. I wonder what that would look like, how we would blend our lives, how it would feel to wake up with him each day and feel his breath on my neck at night. How it would feel to come home and hear his laugh echoing across the house, to dance with him in the kitchen while we cook dinner. What it would be to look up at his smile and lay with my head in his lap while he excitedly explains to me exactly how it is that nurse sharks don’t swim while they sleep or how bamboo is a grass that grows differently based on ambient humidity or whatever other tangential factoid has caught his attention that day. I wonder what it would be like to introduce our minions and watch them become friends in their own rights. I wonder, and it’s nice. For now, though, I think I’ll just ask him for this next dance.