Marriage or Mexico

It was the night before my wedding. My bridesmaids and I were celebrating at a little wine bar on the main drag of my sleepy hometown, and car shuffling had settled out such that I pulled up to the curb beside my high school best friend, T. Well, as she’d probably correct, technically we had met even before high school at a predictably awkward summertime “Welcome Pool Party” for incoming freshmen. Our relationship bounced around through typical teenaged cliquey-ness for four years, swapping clothes and boyfriends, and somehow managed to make it out the other side intact. Some of my most treasured college memories are set on the Amtrak Surfliner from Los Angeles to San Diego, skimming the coast for spontaneous weekends of late-night taquitos, “editing” (err, writing) T’s gender studies papers—I went to a women’s college, after all—and, relishing in the rare chance, in a new place, to be known.

T. basically planned my wedding. And that’s probably an understatement. Lucky for me, her job at the time of my engagement involved an extra PC monitor whose content quickly switched from Netflix reruns to all things wedding the moment I got engaged. As my work and family life spiraled into crazyland for the duration of my engagement, T. was my rock. She came dress shopping, scoured sales to find the shoes I wore, and regularly sent text messages at totally random times to say things like: “WEDDING CAKE?” (Oh yeah, I should probably order that.)

So there we were, parking outside the wine bar on April 22, 2011. I turned the ignition off and both my Civic and I let out matching little sighs.

“It’s not too late, you know,” T. slowly said. “Like, you don’t have to do this.”

I frowned and let her continue.

“We could just go straight to Mexico right now. I’m not even kidding. If you wanted to, I could just drive us straight down to Mexico right this second. I mean it. Do you want to? It’s not too late.”

I grinned, still surprised, and got a little teary in the pregnant pause that followed.

“No, I’m good. I’m sure. Thank you.”

We clinked glasses of Riesling and went to bed early and woke up the next morning to the beeps of my dad making his famous farm-animal-shaped waffles. We got fancied up and posed for photos and said vows encircled by family and friends. We ate food truck tacos and danced around the backyard and even remembered to cut the cake. And thanks to T., I knew that I didn’t have to—I wanted this, and it was good, and I was sure.

Something shifted for me that night in that Civic. Despite the common narrative of a significant other replacing friends (or a spouse being the best friend), my conversation with T. leveled our relationship such that she and my husband sat on separate, but level, planes. Her commitment was to supporting me, whether that meant shoe shopping or skipping town, and she didn’t allow the presence of my then-fiancé to scare her out of being the best possible friend to me.

There’s this weird line between supporting a person and supporting a relationship that a person is in. Both matter, and sometimes doing one means doing the other, and vice versa, on and on in cyclical fashion. What seems too rare, though, is an ability to gently step into our friends’ relationships in order to share observations or extend a helping hand. What might be even more rare is a capacity to gracefully accept those offers from friends with the courage to make them. The unspoken narrative is that romantic relationships are privately off-limits. But how can I call myself a good friend without assuming at least a bit of ownership over such an enormous part of my friends’ lives?

I was a bridesmaid last month. The morning of the wedding, after swiping on her eyeshadow in a hotel suite, I asked the almost-bride: “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s not too late, you know. It would be easier to back out now than later. If you need to bail, right now, I will absolutely go with you.” I meant it. After just over two years in my own marriage, I have come to appreciate T.’s offer more than I ever could have understood at the time; probably I’ve only scratched the surface of that comprehension. I’ve decided to make that question standard for my marrying friends, and I will be sincerely prepared for tacos and tequila every time I ask it.

Had there been a knot in my stomach that night in that car—a deep gut knowledge that I was making a mistake—T. could have, in a way, saved my life. In that sense, perhaps our friendships are just as important as our marriages. Though the ideal goal for most entering marriage is to create a life-long monogamous partnership, the reality is that those terms are all very complicated and so are the people that we choose to marry. And in the midst of such a complicated mess with such unique propensity for both healing and damage, beauty and pain… maybe what we need more than anything is a real friend. Thank you, T., for being mine.

Photo of Emily and T. by Leah and Mark (you can see Emily’s wedding right here)

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