On New Year’s Eve, back when I was twenty-two, I watched The Holiday. You know, that cute little movie starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet. It was long after midnight and I had had maybe three too many glasses of champagne. When the movie ended I went home and cried. I sat on the patio of my house and fully-body ugly sobbed. There is a line in that movie that Eli Wallach (the old guy) says to Kate Winslet that set me off. He tells her, “Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.” I hadn’t realized it before/until that moment, but I often feel like the best friend in my own life.
I had just spent the last year pining over a guy who was engaged to someone else. We had met at a YMCA camp training and flirted dangerously. He liked all the same books I did and was hungry to read more. He recommended TV shows, which I devoured by the season. We talked and texted continuously just a half step beyond friendship. I fell hard. When I say pining what I mean is that I thought I was in love with him. I thought maybe he was in love with me, too. Years later I found out even my mother thought I was in love with him. When he told me he was engaged, maybe a month in to our friendship, I was crushed. I held on to hope that he might leave her right up until the wedding. I went to their wedding and cried in the bathroom. Yep, I’m that girl. The girl who feels like she somehow deserves the guy over the bride. The feminist in me is cringing just thinking about it. I can’t even begin to explain how humiliating it is to be the girl that cries in the bathroom at someone else’s wedding. But wait, it gets better. The dress I bought for that wedding that I loved dearly, that I was sure was the perfect dress, was nearly identical to the bridesmaids’ dresses. Yep, I went to the wedding of the boy I thought I loved dressed like his bride’s maid.
If this were a rom-com, he would have left her at the altar. If this were a rom-com I would have met one of the groomsmen and he would have turned out to be the guy of my dreams. If this were a rom-com, she would have fallen into the cake. Even better, he would have fallen into the cake. (None of this is her fault.) My life, though, is not a movie and I do not feel like the leading lady. I am the best friend. I, ending my twenty-second year, had just gone through one of the most emotionally charged periods of my life and so I sat on my patio and wept. I was Kate Winslet before she meets Jack Black. I was always going to be pre-Jack Black Kate Winslet.
Because my life is not romantic, I didn’t meet the guy of my dreams that next year or in the next five years that followed. Instead, I earned my teaching credential in math, moved eight hundred miles away from my family for a job, lost that job, then ended up three thousand miles away to teach at an all-girls boarding school. If you think it is hard to meet men at your job, try working at a boarding school, even better an all-girls’ one. We have maybe fifteen men on faculty, all of whom are over thirty-five and married.
Now at twenty-seven, I am still decidedly single. The boy I fell for showed me all his flaws and I stood up from the fall and brushed myself off. He became one of my closest friends, his son my honorary nephew, and his wife my dear friend. She loves him for all of the reasons he and I wouldn’t have worked. She is in love with him and I am not. At twenty-seven, I can see all the things that I couldn’t at twenty-two. At twenty-seven, I can see myself. And although I still can’t bring myself to watch The Holiday again, I am working on becoming a leading lady. Because as Kate Winslet replies, “You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god’s sake!”