I met Dan at a bar in London, where I worked for a year after college. I crashed a private birthday party with my roommates, and we homed in on the free food table, where Dan was also stationed. He and I bonded over American-style sliders and our elicit presences — he didn’t know the birthday boy either — and he bought me three drinks before the night was through. Dan was shy, gentlemanly even, so although we soon became inseparable — meeting for walks in Kensington Park and pints after work — we danced in that limbo of more-than-friends but haven't-yet-kissed.
About two weeks after we'd met (and after about six non-dates), we joined some of my friends at a bar. One of them said, "Oh, I wondered why you're not dating him, but now I see ... he's balding." Then another chimed in to say she could never date someone shorter than she was. "We're not dating," I rushed to clarify. "We're just friends." That was it for Dan.
After a year, I left London to move to New York, and I met Dan to say goodbye. We did one of those holding-each-other hugs, and I felt such a pang of regret—we should have had something more than we did.
We live in a culture of crowdsourcing. I rarely buy a shirt without sending a pic to my stylish BFF and asking what she thinks. But putting back a piece of clothing because she reminds me that it's not my color or that the cut is wrong for my body is different from tossing aside a perfectly lovely guy, one I might really have something special with, based solely on a friend's commentary. For too long, when I considered whether to date someone, my inner voice said something like: "Well, I'm into him. But how will everyone else feel?" And it wasn't just Dan I missed out on.
There was Ethan, whom I jettisoned when I noticed my best friend rolling her eyes at his jokes. And Joe, who got the boot after a beach date that prompted my friend Rachel to wonder how I dealt with such a hairy back. Those guys might have ended up on the cutting room floor regardless of my friends' comments, but there were others, too, who deserved more of a shot.
When I moved to New York, I met Jonathan through a coworker. He was a little awkward, slightly goofy and nervous around me at first — but completely adorable and hilarious. Finally, one night after a few drinks at a party, it happened. Nostalgic '90s songs played, Jonathan and I danced, we kissed and we went home together.
The next weekend, he and I met up with my roommate and some friends from college. When he got up to use the restroom, one friend said off-handedly, "Jonathan looks like he’s 12. And he kind of acts like it too." The rest of them laughed as my heart sank. Later that week, I told Jonathan that I thought our hooking up was a mistake. When I met his gorgeous, funny, whip-smart girlfriend a few months later, I was kicking myself.
Why did I care so much about my friends' opinions? They certainly didn’t need my approval. I went out with Lisa and her boyfriend Colin, who was allergic to everything — he brought his own baggies of food to the restaurant. "That’s kind of weird," I said. Lisa barely noticed my comment. I remembered Tracy's last guy, who was 40 pounds overweight and earned the kind of insensitive nickname "Big Dave" from our friends. She took it in stride. So what was it that made me cling to every comment they made about my guys, to the point of ignoring my own instincts and sacrificing potential happiness?
Maybe it was because my whole life up to this time had been a series of external evaluations. How well did I do on this test, teacher? Was my essay good enough to get me into my dream college, admissions officer? Did I ace that interview and get the job, HR guy? I was used to being sized up and graded, and I was looking to external forces — my friends — to do the same for my potential boyfriends.
But Lisa and Tracy weren't looking to me or anyone else to tell them whether Allergic Colin and Big Dave were right for them; they were looking to themselves and trusting their own instincts. They were using an internal evaluation system. One that, pardon the hokiness, came from the heart. That felt appropriate.
I started to look at the bigger picture, and I realized that there was only one thing I wanted to know about my friends' partners: Do they make you happy? If the answer to that is yes, then I'll be the first to raise a glass at your wedding.
And I began to realize that my friends felt the same way. They didn't really care that Dan was short and balding or that Jonathan had an immature streak. Those were throwaway comments. But the way I reacted to them — by cringing and shying away from the guys — that showed my own insecurity and unhappiness. And that's what my friends disapproved of.
At first, my now-husband rubbed some people the wrong way. One friend told me she thought he interrupted a lot. Another said he seemed "too argumentative" for me. In the past, those comments might have ended us.
But when I met him, I knew: This is the guy. And when I couldn't stop smiling, my friends knew it too.
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