it all started innocently enough.
"This is Helen," said Grant, beaming.
"Nice to meet you." I shook her hand and we all smiled at each other. She was short and dark -- not normally Grant's physical type, I thought approvingly. On paper, I liked everything I'd heard about Helen: she was serious, straightforward, very concerned about her job, and didn't really seem to care at all about Grant. She was very definitely not his type -- Grant, my best friend, always had gone after models, Barbie dolls, younger girls -- and for this reason alone, I approved of her.
Not surprisingly, Grant had been the personification of ambivalence after their first date. "I just don't know, Courtney," he'd said. "She's, I don't know, different from what I'm used to. I don't know how interested I am -- "
"Listen!" I snapped. "Grow up. You need to go out with someone like Helen. It's time. No more little blondies who don't say a word. I can't take it anymore."
"Oh, I know, I know," he whined, "but I don't know, I just don't know." "Grant! She's smart, she's well-educated, she's a woman, and you said yourself she's even attractive. Now, what is the problem?"
"You're right, you're right."
"Of course I'm right. Call her up again. Make another date. You don't have to marry her, for God's sake."
But marry her he did. And in one of life's cruel little jokes, Helen and I gradually learned that we hated each other.
Oh, we tried. In the beginning, we even had a little honeymoon period: we went to movies, we talked on the phone, we ganged up on Grant when the three of us went out. But as Helen and Grant moved closer together, she and I began to grate. She'd eye me with some glint of ... something. I couldn't tell. Was it my imagination? Was I jealous, was she? Grant and I had been friends for over 15 years -- and yes, a long time ago we'd dallied a bit, but not now, not ever again.
At first, I tried to talk to him about it. "I don't know," he'd say uncomfortably. "She never says anything to me about you."
"Ha!" I said. "That confirms it."
I tried to talk to her. "I get the sense, Helen," I said, "that you don't like me very much." Naturally, I didn't say that the feeling was mutual.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said coldly. Case closed.
Even more irritating was the fact that my family loved her. Helen, mean? Nonsense. In fact, Helen was one of the friendliest, warmest women they'd ever met, why, it just exuded from her every pore. No, it was me, I was imagining things. Grant and I still got together once in a while for a movie or coffee, but there was a definite igloo surrounding our friendship which we couldn't really talk about.
After they got married, we had a détente. I found her frigid, self-righteous and judgmental. I sensed she found me excessively dramatic, insecure and overly emotional. But we lamely made the effort, if only for Grant's sake. The invitations to get together waned, but once in a while Grant would dutifully call to invite me to an non-intimate gathering in which there were enough people to buffer the uncomfortableness. I'd arrive, greet everyone, say hello to Helen and the air would fairly crackle with icicles. For some reason, I was always overdressed; Helen's practical, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners persona carried over into the style of their parties, which I consistently seemed to forget. I usually wound up feeling like Little Miss Muffet.
What do I do? Hope for divorce? A natural disaster to befall her? Try to talk to her again, or Grant? No, no, and no. The best -- and only -- way to proceed when you hate your best friend's partner is to just put up and shut up. You try your damndest not to badmouth the party in question. You smile, you ask neutral questions about life on the homefront. You try not to wish her an untimely death. And hardest of all, you dig as deep as you can to find that little, teeny-tiny altruistic place in your heart that's happy your best friend has found a soulmate. I must be an optimist, because I'm still foraging ...