Fifteen years ago, I met Jeremy.
I was sitting on a folding table in the basement bar at my dorm on Sternenburg Strasse in Bonn, Germany, with a classmate from Kalamazoo College. It was spring of my sophomore year. We were there for study abroad. And Jeremy and his buddy Bill walked up confidently holding Bonnsch beers and introduced themselves.
They were both cute — I noticed Jeremy’s smile — but I wasn’t looking. At least I told myself that. I had a boyfriend of a year and a half who was studying abroad in Madrid.
But Jeremy quickly became part of our college gang. And within a week or two, he invited me to play soccer with a group of Germans — we both played for our college teams. I was the only woman, and the men, who would lie on the grass after the game smoking cigarettes, wouldn’t pass me the ball. Jeremy made a show of passing it to me when he got it. He told me I was the best female he’d ever played with.
After some time, we started to make dinner together in makeshift kitchen in the dorms. And before long, I had feelings. I wrestled with them, because I knew it was wrong since my boyfriend didn’t know I was hanging out with someone else. But when I was commuting to class on the S-Bahn, I’d look for Jeremy walking down the street. I couldn’t get him off of my mind.
One night, Jeremy was in my dorm room with me, and we were listening to the Dave Matthews Band and looking into each other’s eyes and talking about how nothing romantic could happen between us because I had a boyfriend. But I wanted more than anything for him to grab my neck and kiss me. I felt my heart tug and my stomach turn over that night — but I didn’t tell him what I felt.
When my time in Bonn was over, I went down to Freiburg to live with a host family for the summer. My last night in Bonn, I stayed in Jeremy’s dorm room. We slept in a twin bed, side by side, but we didn’t touch. I couldn’t sleep, as I lay there listening to him breathe, wondering what he was thinking. The next morning, Jeremy took me to the train station. On the platform, as the train was pulling up, I gave him a long hug and said, “What if I never see you again?” “You will,” he said, looking me directly in the eye.
Over the summer — and really, the next few years — I replayed that scene over and over in my head. To me, it was just like a scene in a romantic movie — eventually, I hoped, we’d be lovers and that moment was the turning point in our romantic story.
That summer, Jeremy sent me a few postcards. I was giddy when they arrived.
And then, in the fall, we started emailing. He was back at the University of New Mexico, and I was back in Michigan. In one email, he had gone to a concert and was drunk and it was late night and he wrote, “I miss our conversations. I just want you to know how cool I think you are.” I read the email over and over and over.
When Christmas came around, my boyfriend came to Detroit with me for the holidays. And over a pasta dinner that I couldn’t eat, we broke up. We weren’t connecting and he was headed to Denver for the winter quarter. I cried all night, confused. But ultimately, I felt like it was right — I was lonely in that relationship. And my New Mexico crush was in the back of my mind.
That winter, Jeremy and I started talking on the phone. Long, late-night conversations. Nothing about our relationship was said — there was no, “I like you very much.” We just chatted, and he made me laugh.
Over Memorial weekend that year, I didn’t have any plans. I decided to stay on campus with some friends. One sunny day, a group went to watch a softball game, and I headed to the adjacent soccer field to play pick up with the guys, my soccer bag slung over my shoulder, my hair pulled back in a ponytail. When I got down near the softball stands, Jeremy was hiding behind our mutual friend Brian, and then he leaned forward and his face emerged. I was so overwhelmed, I gasped, my face flushed, and I turned around and started walking in the other direction. Jeremy jumped up from the stands and chased me and gave me a bear hug.
“What are you doing here?” I said, practically in tears.
He was visiting — on his way to Wisconsin for the summer, where he planned to work. He came hundreds of miles. But it was never clear to me how much I was the motivating factor to come to the Midwest. During the week he spent in Michigan, Jeremy and I were both single, but although we flirted, he kept a distance and stayed with Brian.
My senior year, Jeremy talked me into going to New Mexico for my spring break. He would be in class, and had a family wedding to attend, but he could still show me around. I bought a ticket. Then, two weeks before I arrived, he started to date someone. I met her my first night in New Mexico. She was a super cute blond who wore low tight jeans with her midriff showing. And at a bar that night, she was sitting on Jeremy’s lap, making a show that he was hers. I felt ridiculous and inadequate, but I didn’t tell him. The next night, he stayed over at her place and I hung out with his roommates.
The next day, when we got on the road to go down to see his family in Las Cruces, Jeremy told me the girl was jealous of me. And of course, I was jealous of her — but more so, I was confused. I was too afraid to talk about my feelings — why was I there? — so I didn’t. When we got to Las Cruces, I joined him at his cousin’s outdoor wedding and Jeremy and I and his brother went dancing at a bar that night before staying at his parent’s house. His mother had ovarian cancer and was going through treatments, but she wanted me to stay at their house. Jeremy said, “I’m so glad you got to meet my mother.”
The summer after we graduated college, Jeremy’s mom died. I was home in Michigan, and Jeremy called me almost every night — usually at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. — when he was in the thick of grieving. He was throwing up, he said, and curled in the fetal position around the toilet. He said I was the perfect person to talk to because I was so far away and separate from the grief that surrounded him.
A few months later, I moved to London for six months. And just before I returned, Jeremy left for the Peace Corps in Armenia. I moved to Evanston, Ill., for my master’s degree. We wrote each other letters. And I would call Jeremy once a month, my heart pounding as I listened to the long “beeps” before he answered. At one point during these conversations filled with static and long delays, we admitted we had feelings for each other. And we talked about me visiting. But Jeremy couldn’t commit. He didn’t want me to come all that way, as I recall, if he wasn’t sure. He was lonely, he said, which could have been clouding his true feelings.
When his time in the Peace Corps ended, Jeremy moved to D.C. I was still in Chicago, but had been thinking about moving to D.C. My brother was there, and I had always wanted to work for NPR or National Geographic. So I came to visit regularly.
On one trip, I stayed with Jeremy and had a bit too much to drink. I wanted to stay in Jeremy’s bed with him, but he wouldn’t let me. I kept wandering into his room and he would walk me back to the spare bedroom. The next morning, I was embarrassed — I wanted to pretend like it didn’t happen. And it was around this time that I accepted that we were just friends. Only friends. And I squashed all romantic, unrealistic notions I had that we would ever date.
That was in 2003. I moved to D.C. in 2004.
At that time, Jeremy was in a serious relationship and I’d see him at an occasional party, but we didn’t hang out very much. Then he moved to Africa for 5 years.
Last year, he moved back to D.C. — in part to find a girlfriend. Life in Africa, after a while, was lonely, he said. And after seeing me and A. together, he had more confidence that online dating could really work.
Then, about two-and-a-half months ago, Jeremy met Nicole. He started seeing her every night.
“Yay!” I said when he told me how well the first two dates went.
“Now, now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he replied.
But in early February, Jeremy called, saying he was riding by on his bike and were we up for a visitor? He came in. We served him a beer. And he told me and A. that he and Nicole, after dating a month, decided to move in together.
“Wow!” we said.
But he didn’t know where they could live and they didn’t have much time to find a place since they were both traveling.
“I’ll ask our landlord,” A. said. “She’s in real estate and might have some ideas.”
So A. did, and it turns out that the one-bedroom above us was opening up.
Jeremy and Nicole moved in two weekends ago. They’re directly above us, with a massive deck that we’ll undoubtedly hang out on this summer. They’re still unpacking and buying furniture. We helped them deliver paint to the painter. They seem really happy — and Nicole is vibrant, friendly and beautiful.
Fifteen years ago, Jeremy was right, he did see me again. And I’m so glad nothing ever happened, because he evolved into a dear friend. One who now lives upstairs and can share tools and kitchen supplies if we need it. And babysit little C.
During the years that I romanticized our long-distance relationship, as a young 20-something with a lot to learn about love, I would never have imagined that we’d be upstairs/downstairs neighbors, both of us in love with different people. It just goes to show that you really can’t predict the future.