When I first met Ethan, I was in love with his friend.
Josh, however, was not in love with me, and told me so. We hadn’t been dating long, but I had met his mother over the holidays and thought things were getting serious, that we might have a future. When he assured me we didn’t, I felt confused, misled and heartbroken.
Ethan had no idea how I felt or that I had given up sugar, gluten, fried food, meat, dairy, alcohol and caffeine in an attempt to cleanse my body of the pain. Ethan had just moved to New York City and was simply looking to meet new people. I agreed to lunch, thinking Ethan might report back to Josh that I was cool and pretty, and what the hell was he thinking?!
Ethan spotted me from across the street in my florescent pink zip-up and bright green suede sneakers, and laughed out loud. “You sure are glowy,” he said, as we shook hands. I wasn’t sure if he was insulting or complimenting me, but I thanked him and went inside. I had suggested a little vegan place, given my dietary restrictions, and ordered the hummus. He joked about forgetting to bring his own meat product. He was funny and unusually easy to talk to. We were both writers. Both Jewish. And had both been saved by therapy.
Looking at him from across the table in his light blue button down shirt and retro gray plastic glasses, I understood why he’d had a strong reaction to my outfit. My clothes shouted to the world that I was in the room while he was dark and deadpan. He made dry jokes that could easily fly over your head if you weren’t paying attention. He sat back. I sat forward. He didn’t try as hard as I did. I liked that about him. But this was not a date.
The second time Ethan and I got together, he asked me if I wanted to collaborate on a TV pilot with him. He wrote jokes for late night shows. I told stories on stage. He thought we’d make a good team.
I thought about it for a second. I definitely liked talking to him. And Josh, who I was now Google-stalking daily, was the one who had suggested we meet in the first place. He clearly thought we would get along, and we did. I just had to establish some boundaries.
“I’m never going to sleep with you,” I told Ethan, reaching for the salt.
“I hear that a lot,” he said, laughing.
In the short time I knew Ethan, he had already made several self-deprecating jokes about his looks. He was 6’2 and handsome—good eyes behind good glasses—but he didn’t regard himself as leading man material, convinced he needed to lose forty pounds in order to land the hot girl.
“So, friends?” he offered.
“Friends,” I said, sticking out my hand.
We shook on it.
For the next six months we met weekly at each other’s apartments. Taking turns at the computer, we created characters and the plot for a romantic sitcom based on our pasts. In between working, we ordered in Thai food, sat on the couch, and wound up talking about our families, ex-lovers, fears and desires. I felt safe with him, like I could say or do or be anything around him. We fought occasionally, usually when he didn’t like one of my jokes.
“I can be funny,” I argued.
“Then do it,” he challenged.
When I told my mother about him, she looked at me with an arched brow. “I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time.”
“It’s not like that, Mom. We’re just friends.”
I didn’t admit to her that I liked the way he looked at me when I would show up in a sundress, or how sometimes I felt like curling into him on the couch and had to stop myself.
Then it happened. One night, in the middle of working, he turned to me and said, “I have feelings for you.”
My breath caught in my throat. “I thought we agreed…”
“Right. It would be a bad idea,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to ruin our friendship.”
I nodded, and pretended like it never happened.
Months later, Ethan started dating a girl named Sarah, which I didn’t like, but couldn’t say anything about. Instead, I pretended to be cool with it, offering supportive advice. Then Josh ended our connection over email, saying he didn’t think we should be in touch anymore. The same week, I had a disturbing date with a guy who liked to punch sharks in the face, and got a too-short-for-my-face, Lego-head haircut. I was not in a good place. The only person I could think of who would make me feel better was Ethan.
We had a work session scheduled that weekend, but I asked him if he would come with me to a non-denominational religious service that always seemed to cheer me up. It wasn’t his scene, but he knew how much I loved the Jewish lesbian reverend who quoted Mary Oliver poems, read from the Tao and sang about love.
We sat in a pew, legs touching, when I started to cry. Without thinking I placed my head on his shoulder, and without hesitating he put his arm around me.
I looked up at his kind blue eyes looking back, and wanted to kiss him. But he was dating someone else.
I didn’t know what to do, so I started to flirt like crazy. Whenever we met, I wore low cut tops. I inched closer to him on the couch, touched his arm when I was making a point and let my hugs linger.
Over the phone one night, he said, “It’s hard to be around you. You’re being so affectionate lately. I know we’re work partners, and I don’t want to mess that up. But every time I go out with Sarah, I want it to be you.”
“I want it to be me too,” I admitted.
That’s all it took. He ended things with Sarah.
Two days later, I showed up at his apartment with a homemade pumpkin pie I made him for his birthday. When he leaned over to kiss me for the first time, I almost started laughing. This was Ethan, the man I had gotten to know so well over the past eight months, my best friend. With Josh I used to feel nervous and self-conscious. I’d hold in my stomach and make sure I was always wearing makeup, even in the morning. With Ethan, I didn’t have to fake anything. I remembered the expression, “love is friendship caught on fire.” That’s what had happened, we caught on fire.
Three months ago, we were married under a chuppah tapestry his mother made for us. Ethan is my best friend, my work partner and now my husband. He has taught me that I don’t need to try so hard and I have taught him how to smile with teeth. He still skews dark and makes deadpan jokes, but now, thanks to me, wears bright red cargo shorts.
This post is sponsored by the movie “One Day,” which opens August 19. The film follows the 20-year evolution of Emma and Dex’s relationship and the ever-looming question of whether they should be more than friends.