June 11, 2007 | Apparently I was being rude. 

I was sitting with three of my dearest friends in a smoky sangria bar somewhere in Madrid.  Two years after meeting each other through our study abroad program in Granada, our lives seemed to have flip-flopped.

When I departed for Spain two winters earlier, I was leaving behind the sexually liberated and "progressive" city of Madison, WI.  I was leaving behind four roommates with four long-term boyfriends, long evenings reading my sociology books, and even longer afternoons scrapbooking and making other crafts.  But perhaps the longest nights were spent weeping over what I felt I did not have. 

I had been boyfriend-less for as long as I could remember.  In high school, I was lost in a confusing blur of raspberry vodka, 'hooking up," sporting short jean skirts, and most importantly, thinking it was all in fun.  I never could bring myself to "go all the way"with any of the charming gentlemen I flirted with, but my actions make my face flush even as I write this.

But even then, whispers of "Come on, you don't want to be a virgin when you go to college, do you?" meant little to me.  As far as I would go, there I was halted by a powerful, calming conscious that I now recognize as another dear friend; Modesty.

The summer before college, working as a camp counselor in southeastern Wisconsin, I decided to make a change.  The purity and fulfillment that I felt working with children could not be reconciled with the vacancy I felt in dark rooms in houses where parents weren't home.  I vowed that in college, I would hold fast to my new ideals.

And I did.

But twenty freshman pounds later, my self-esteem had plummeted and I began to feel as if this decision was not my own.  Even if I wanted a boyfriend and a modesty-free life, could I have it?  I felt undesirable and depressed.

Looking back, this attitude was fostered by the skimpy outfits, hooting fraternity boys and booty-bumping dancing that I encountered each Friday and Saturday night.  I had decided to ignore my sense of humor, my intelligence and my big blue eyes.  What cute college boy wants to date that when he can pound down a few Millers and choose from a sea of tube tops?

Eventually I grew comfortable in the new me and found more productive ways to validate myself- a great scrapbook page, offering sound advice to a desperate friend, or immersing myself in Tocqueville's classics.

And that was when the plane took off for an unknown Mediterranean land, located conveniently 3 million miles away from Fraternity Row and lonely nights in my apartment.

The four of us Dear Friends would sit under the sun with a glass of red wine and falafel sandwiches.  We had known each other a month, but there was nothing I did not feel safe confiding in them about.  They talked about their boyfriends at home, their many sexual escapades, their hopes and dreams.  I liked most to hear about their hopes and dreams.

At first it was troubling to hear how whimsical and comical they made their one-night-stands sound.  It didn't anger me, I just couldn't relate.  I knew something was off when our conversations sounded like "Sex and the City- Spain Edition," but I could not identify what.

After spending 5 months at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas, walking cobblestone streets centuries old, and tasting cafe con leche the way it should be prepared everywhere in the world, I felt more comfortable in my own Spanish boots than I ever had before.  My semester away made me surer of my decisions throughout the past few years.  I did not mind my friends' provocative lifestyles and questionable judgement, because I loved them for who they are and who they could be.

We were 20 then, at the height of our beauty and clear skin.  Who would have thought that two years later, together again in the land of the birth of our friendships, that it would have turned out this way?

Dear Friend #1 had moved to Spain with her long-distance boyfriend of two years.  While visiting her, we can't help but cringe at the way he objectifies her in public, and his out-of-control drinking.  She deserves better, and she knows it.  She leaves him one month later, and moves back to the States.

Dear Friend #2 tried dating her best high school friend after three months of singledom and loneliness.  The relationship feels void of connection and any kind of staying power.  She drinks a bit too much one night and finds a different lucky boy to fill the void.  She insists it is hilarious and "exactly what she needed."  She's off to medical school next year.

Dear Friend #3 is the most interesting to me, and the one of us who we all acknowledge needs our friendly company the most.  She always wears the hippest fashion trends- big leather belts over a fitted v-necks with pumps and a hairband to match.  She works as a Miller Girl and it's the best-paying job she's ever had.  She is one of the most articulate, funny women I know.  And she's so torn and lost that she can't do anything but pretend she's not torn and lost. 

She wants true love but thinks she can find it like Samantha and Carrie Bradshaw in a fictional New York City. 

She wants meaning in her life, but has been taught that religion is for crazy conservative zealots- we did graduate from UW-Madison, after all.

She wants her ex-boyfriend back.  She wants him to desire her like he used to, so she text-messages word games, analyzes her punctuation, and makes sure she looks fabulous when she knows she'll see him.  She sleeps with other boys to feel like she's won.

We all offer our advice. 

Dear Friend #1 tells her she's beautiful, she's smart, she's amazing.  "You can only get over someone by getting under someone else."  You're wonderful, you're gorgeous, don't sweat it.

Dear Friend #2 listens patiently for what everyone else has to say about it.  She's very observant and unassuming.  She'll be great in medical school.

Then it's my turn.  They're all aware of my situation.  The Virgin Calie had fallen deeply in love with a man who respects and adores her.  I had been with him for two years.  I wanted to marry him, and get a dog, and have children.  And yet I still managed to be intelligent, witty, beautiful, and fun to be around!  It all sounded quite odd to them, and somehow envy-inducing.

I suggest she stop sleeping with other people.  Perhaps she could meet boys at venues other than bars and clubs.  It would probably be best to put an end to her unhealthy relationship with Ex-boyfriend.

Apparently I had been rude.  I had been insensitive.  I had been judgmental. 

It was a long night.  She was so blinded by false images of love that she was unable to recognize the love I was offering to her.  It marked a deep divide between us that persists today.  I care deeply for Dear Friend #3, and I want her to find happiness.  I only told her the best way I knew how. 

I believe it is no coincidence they way it all turned out for us.  I hope my dear friends catch on soon, before our next reunion.

 




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