Ten years ago tonight, it was storming. He arrived with a bouquet of lilies. We had met online, emailed, and spoken, and this was our first date. I suggested staying in instead of going out as planned; I could cook us dinner. The attraction was delightful; dinner was even eaten -- eventually. Christo and I became each other's "number one" for the next five years; then we were "exes with benefits"; now we are "friends for life."
When two people have business with each other, the connection is clear. The form, however, can, and often should, change. The majority of my best friends are my former partners and lovers. This surprises some people.
Maintaining a friendship after a romance requires commitment -- to communication and to truth. I trust my friends, so a bad boyfriend won't make the cut, but an honest one usually will. For most of us, our first models for relationships were our parents and other close family members, then neighbors and, often, characters in books and films and on TV. When I was younger, I was fortunate enough to have some unusual (and pretty cool, I'd say) role models.
My uncle, whose wife of 30 years is his fourth, maintained extraordinary relationships with his exes. Caring didn't end with divorce. I remember him saying, "My third wife and I had 10 very good years before it unraveled. That's a great accomplishment."
Then there was my dear friend Felicity Mason, an Englishwoman from the upper crust. She was presented at the royal court at 17. After modeling in New York City and being a spy for the British equivalent of the C.I.A., she married an aristocrat. She had two daughters with her first husband, Henry. Her second husband was the novelist Richard Mason. Richard's third wife, Maggie, was a school chum of one of Felicity's daughters. At the christening of Richard and Maggie's child in the Anglican Church of Rome, Felicity was the godmother. It was an unforgettable day! Her philosophy on relationships and love: "I never subtract; I only add!" And she lived it. I remember going to tea at Felicity's apartment on Central Park West and finding Henry; Richard and Maggie; Beni Montresor, Felicity's former live-in lover of eight years; Beni's current male lover; and the boy from the copy shop whom Felicity was schtupping! It looked good to me back when I was in my 20s, and it still does.
I currently live in an apartment building owned by the man who technically took my virginity, to use a quaint phrase. I have conducted workshops with my one-time lover Mark Matousek, who did me the honor of writing the introduction for my book The New 60. Last summer I stayed in Provence with my Brazilian ex and his husband (I introduced them) for the third year in a row. My dear friend Robin and I dated as teenagers in college. I consider her two daughters my honorary goddaughters. She is married to a wonderful man, and we consider each other in-laws.
Before going to dinner tonight to mark this anniversary, Christo gave me a card in which he'd written:
We've traveled 4 continents together and many mental miles as well. 10 years have flown by and we are better for it -- wiser, younger and happier! Together we fly and leave a lovely shadow on the earth!
Christo is my friend, as is his boyfriend. We add rather than subtract.
Friendship is about choice. In order to maintain lifelong friendships, we must be willing to forgive our friends and ourselves for not being perfect. We make mistakes. And if we choose happiness over rightness, if we choose generosity over pettiness and abundance over scarcity, we can have many loves in many and shifting forms. We can create a family of choice -- rich, varied and textured.