Broken Promises

I’m sick of going to weddings. They’re all the same. White gowns, ugly bridesmaids dresses, and cheesy songs. Everyone just wants to get to the part where we eat cake.

But this was my best friend from college. I had to make an exception. Especially since I was the bride.

The night before graduation, Jack and I were the quintessential seniors. We didn’t want college to end but we were excited to make our way in the world.

In those days, the economy was good. We had jobs lined up before diplomas were placed in our hands. They came with signing bonuses, which were more than enough for first and last month’s rent on a one bedroom apartment. Jack was heading to an advertising firm in New York. I was squared away for a nonprofit job in Chicago. Everything had fallen into place except one thing: we were both single.

So we made that all-too-familiar pact: if we both weren’t married by the age of 35, we would marry each other. Thirteen years seemed like more than enough time to find “the one.” If I didn’t, then 35 seemed a reasonable age for a gal to get married: just before her wrinkles and sagging boobs set in, according to my young and naive mind.

Most of our friends wondered, often aloud, why we weren’t already married. We were attached at the hip, had a similar sense of humor and finished each other’s sentences.

It’s not a topic we had avoided. Every time we discussed it, we both agreed: we weren’t feeling it. Of course, I occasionally wondered privately whether one or both of us was being honest. We were protecting something rarer than finding a spouse you won’t divorce: a best friend.

Jack and I stayed close after college. I prepared myself for the inevitable fading of our friendship, as had happened with my high school friends, but it never dissipated. We visited each other frequently, emailed constantly and even spent holidays with each other’s families. We were also there for each other during the highs and lows of our romantic escapades – with other people.

Four years ago, Jack took an opportunity to work in London. He had always wanted to live overseas. I had, too, but felt lucky to have managed a few work conferences in Europe and Asia.

Our schedules, mixed with a declining economy, made our previously frequent visits impossible. We’ve been able to Skype, text and chat, but it’s not the same. I missed my friend.

When I received what was clearly a wedding invitation in the mail from London, I freaked out. That surprised me. Surely, it was just the sadness of the end of an era, and not any true romantic feelings lurking beneath several surfaces.

When I read the invitation, I stopped breathing for a few seconds. Jack and Chloe. My name was on it. The date was set for my birthday. And not just any birthday, my 35th birthday.

The Skype ring sounded from my laptop. It was Jack. It was our weekly chat.

“So?” Jack was skipping the small talk.

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say yes. If it was a joke, I wanted to play along. If it wasn’t a joke, but I played along thinking it was a joke, I would make it awkward or worse, hurt his feelings. Is this the game we had been playing our entire friendship?

“So…” I tossed the ball back in his court.

“I’m serious, Chloe. Look, I’ve watched half my friends have shorter marriages than our friendship. We make so much sense. Maybe it’s time for us to finally admit to ourselves what everyone else can see. Let’s get married in New York and then you move with me to London.  Or I’ll move back to the States. Whatever works for both of us.”

It wasn’t the proposal I’d always hoped for, but in some ways it was even better.

“London,” the word flew out of my mouth.

“Hmm?”

“I want to live in London.”

We smiled. It was weird. Acting on our pact felt strange, but it was also a relief. No more dating. No more trying to figure out if a guy was “the one.” Shared expenses. His salary. Living with the one person who knew me best.

We decided not to tell anyone. We didn’t want to deal with the inevitable reactions of “Finally!” mixed with “This is a huge mistake.” We didn’t need all of those outside voices. Later, we would surprise people and hold receptions in our hometowns. For now, it was just us. Specifically, the wedding would be the two of us in Central Park with a former coworker of Jack’s who got his officiant license from the internet.

The week before my birthday wedding, I started to panic. I hadn’t even kissed Jack. What the heck was I doing? This was crazy. Then again, everyone gets jitters. Right?

I arrived in New York the night before the big day. I would spend my “last night as a single woman” by myself amongst millions of people. I was lonely. And sad. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Where were my bridesmaids? Where was my family? I reminded myself that many women remain spinsters their whole lives and it didn’t make me feel better at all. I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning I slipped into a simple, white lace, vintage dress that fell just above my knee. I loved this dress. I loved this man. But I couldn’t get married. Because 35 year old me wasn’t getting married, 22 year old me was getting married. That wasn’t fair to him. Or me.

I walked the few blocks from my hotel to Central Park. Jack beamed when he saw me, but his countenance quickly changed when he saw the look on my face.

A tear streamed down my cheek.

“That night before graduation, I was scared,” my voice shaked. “I was about to be alone and I wanted security. But I’m not scared anymore. I don’t need that security anymore.”

More tears.

Jack put his arm around my waist and pulled me close. Then he kissed me.

“I love you, too,” he said.

We hailed a cab to the airport and boarded our flight to London. We married the next spring. We started with the cake.