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Felice Shapiro Headshot

Man In The Middle

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I was so in love with my college roommate that when my boyfriend called to see if I would go out on Friday night, I would cover the receiver and whisper to her, "Did you want to see that movie at the Biograph with me?" If she said yes, I'd tell him I was busy. She was my #1.

She was Louise to my Thelma, and as in the movie "Julia," she was Julia (Vanessa Redgrave) to my Lillian (as in Hellman played by Jane Fonda). She actually resembles both Susan Sarandon and Vanessa in her coloring and legginess. We met hanging out at the student café. It was the end of my junior year, her sophomore year. She was a language major in the "Ling-Lang school" -- I was an IR major at the Foreign Service school. She stood out in a crowd, statuesque at 5 foot 10 with the most amazing French accent. Her dad was French -- no wonder. I was missing my French boyfriend -- she was missing hers too.

Both our parents were divorced, she had two sisters, I had three. Both of us had charismatic, larger-than-life dads who were crazy about us, and involved with their new wives, and moms we were constantly trying to "figure out."

We decided after a few hours in that university café we would live together. As transfer students, neither of us had landed in the best living situation. That very day, we set off to check out her friend's apartment on "M" street above an Italian restaurant. Her friend was graduating and said she could take over the lease. It had two living rooms -- or two bedrooms depending on your perspective. We took it -- bought two pull-out couches and had the year of our lives.

That year our friendship was cemented forever. We renamed ourselves by adopting half of each other's names -- she was Verafel and I was Felovere -- each of us was only half alone but together we were whole -- forever intertwined.

When we graduated her dad gave us both jobs at his real estate company in Edmonton, Alberta. We set off on a magical, marathon road trip from D.C. to Alberta with her brother in their old Mustang convertible, driving through the nights -- taking turns sleeping in the back seat covered in blankets with the top down and the 8-track grinding out James Taylor, Carole King and Bruuuuuce of course.

We worked together, lived together and partied together. Never any tension, just constant discovery in our days as we learned about income statements and rental agreements. Summer nights of dancing, meeting new friends and hosting parties at her dad's amazing pool. Happy and tanned, we were inseparable. Until ... a Man entered our lives; a dashing playboy type, his smile could melt your heart. When we first spoke I felt like a fish hooked on a lure, and I wanted to be reeled in. My friend felt exactly the same way. We would both talk about him late into the night and secretly imagine he was ours. He was playing us both. Did I mention he looked like Richard Gere? For me, he was a full-on crush; to her, he was the man she wanted to live with forever.

It turned out he was truly a playboy. After a long first kiss in the pool one night, I sadly told him I could not go out with him because my best friend was crazy for him. His eyes lit up, thrilled with delight. He drifted away from me and into her arms. That night, they began their relationship, which was to end in marriage that very year. She was 22, he was 26.

Saddened and empty, I believed I lost my best friend to a man that summer. How could this deep, all encompassing friendship be wiped away by an interloper? But that's what it felt like. We promised to love each other always -- that's what we said -- and then I left Canada and she stayed. I went back to D.C., and got my first real job, and we tried to stay in touch. It was harder to do then. Long distance calls to Canada were a fortune, so we relied on letters. The years passed. She divorced and came "home."

It turns out time has been our best friend. As the years passed and we became mothers dealing with our own personal challenges and responsibilities we recognized how sacred our friendship was. Through sickness, divorce, death, crisis and life events we would find relief and comfort with each other. When we now meet we feel transported to our original bond. We trust our souls with each other. We ask each other's advice, willing to face the truths -- to be seen and to share easily -- we both feel the unconditional love.

So now as we sit down for our dinner, the spotlight falls on our table and the background fades to black -- we are complete in the moment. Our love fills the space and there is no room for anyone in the middle.

Read more from Better After 50:
When Your Friend Is An Alcoholic
An Invitation to Dinner in Madame's Boudoir
In Defense of Girl Cliques
All My Exes Are My Vexes

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