In an exclusive extract from Stylist’s new book, Life Lessons On Friendship, digital executive editor Felicity Thistlethwaite explores what happens when you fall in love with your best friend – and are unable to act on it for years.
The course of true love never did run smooth; but most often, the challenge lies in finding The One. For Felicity Thistlethwaite, digital executive editor at Stylist, that question was easy. Ever since they formed a rock-solid friendship at school, she knew Aaron was the man for her. The problem came with acknowledging her feelings; both to herself and – more terrifyingly – to him.
It took Fliss over a decade to finally make the move and show Aaron how she really felt; and 13 years after their ill-fated first date, the two childhood pals ended up walking down the aisle together. In this exclusive extract from Stylist’s new book, Life Lessons On Friendship (out in February 2021), Fliss recalls when she first realised that she and Aaron were straying beyond the friend zone – and why you too should act if you fall for your best friend. Because as her story shows, it’s a gamble: but sometimes it all comes good…
Aaron and I met at school when we were fourteen. He was already nearly six feet tall and super smart, but masked his natural intellect with an ill-fitting Adidas tracksuit and a propensity for shouting ‘funny’ remarks at top volume in class. I, on the other hand, was a more traditional waif-like nerd often carrying a white, hard-shell cello case on my back, which my classmates affectionately nicknamed ‘The Coffin’.
Given the hierarchy of early-2000s high school – thank you, Mean Girls – our paths would never normally have crossed, so maybe it was fate that meant Aaron and I ended up together in most classes. I remember observing this hilarious, giant stranger from afar and thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get him on side. So I made a beeline to sit near him whenever the opportunity arose, and our unlikely friendship quickly blossomed.
Teenage friendships can be some of the most complicated relationships to navigate – it often feels like you’re one chess move away from spending lunch break eating a sad sandwich alone in the toilet. But with Aaron it was so easy. Ours was a relationship built on taking the piss out of one another – something we were both good at. I’ll never forget the day I slipped down a muddy bank at lunchtime in front of what felt like a Super Bowl-size crowd of rowdy teenagers, Aaron’s laughter carrying across the school playing field. Cheers, mate.
Over time he became, in Maya Angelou’s words, a rainbow on my cloud, whenever I needed cheering up. When anything bad happened, he was the first person I called. He was my stability, my grounded best friend who could coax me off any cliff edge.
Our friendship felt completely and utterly different to any friendship I’d had in the past. Was it because he was my first proper male friend? I often wondered. Or maybe it was because he was so laid-back and easy-going. Either way, it was a friendship people on the outside rarely understood. And I can’t really blame them. It was like watching a live-action remake of Monsters, Inc. when we walked into a party together: him Sulley; and me Mike. ‘Do you fancy Aaron?’ my female friends would often ask. I’d guffaw. ‘Girls can be friends with boys, you know,’ I’d say, rolling my eyes.
And I meant it. But two years into our friendship, I could sense something was changing. I wanted so desperately not to like him, but with every midnight text sent in the green glow of my Nokia 3310, I knew I was starting to fancy him.
Of course, I pushed my feelings to one side, telling myself it was just a crush. Thankfully, he appeared none the wiser. But by the time I was seventeen it was getting harder to smile and nod when Aaron introduced me to (yet another) new girlfriend. I was no Mother Teresa, but good lord, that man had a harem of women – I blame it on him being one of the first in our friendship group to own a car. Nothing says sophistication like a 1995 Vauxhall Corsa with alloy wheels.
As we all went from young-teenagers-who-were-mates to hardened-teens-who-wanted-to-snog-people, our friendship was constantly under the microscope. Perhaps the others could see something we couldn’t. More likely it was just pervasive gender norms at play. Either way, the pressure of being best friends who had to constantly deny feelings for one another was starting to show on both of us. Aaron and I had reached a fork in the road.
I often look back and wonder why, when we’d practically been crowned Leicester’s very own Ross and Rachel anyway, I didn’t speak up. But that’s the thing about telling a friend you’re in love with them: all you can see before you is the barriers.
In the end, my hand was forced just after I finished my A-levels. We went to the local Odeon to watch Casino Royale, Aaron picking me up in his car. But something felt different. It didn’t feel like two mates going to see a film, it felt awkward … like a date. I realized that he wasn’t taking the piss out of me. Even weirder, we were both trying to say nice things to each other. If his intention was to put a halt to the banter and dial up the compliments to try and woo me, it had failed. But the idea that he was trying to woo me excited me all the same …
I’ll never forget the moment he pulled up outside my parents’ house to drop me off after two and a half of the most uncomfortable hours of my life. If those dodgy Hollywood movies about friends falling in love had made me believe one thing, it’s that there’s always a moment. And this, I realised, as I leaned across to say goodbye, was mine. I needed to make a move … but I completely bottled it. Aaron drove off, I sloped inside and our friendship crumbled in the moonlight.
Find out how Fliss and Aaron rekindled their relationship after years of drifting apart in the second half of this essay, along with 12 other funny and moving tributes to the power of friendship in Stylist’s upcoming book.
Life Lessons On Friendship: 13 Honest Tales Of The Most Important Relationships Of Our Lives from Stylist magazine is published by Penguin Random House, and comes out on 4 February 2021. Find out more and pre-order your copy here.
Images: Felicity Thistlethwaite, Instagram, Penguin Random House