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I can’t remember exactly which middle-age chore I was confronting when the e-mail came in. Perhaps coordinating a car pool for my daughter or scheduling a routine mammogram.
“Hello from a long-lost friend,” it said. “Is this your e-mail?”
At that point, in my mid-40s, Chris had long been relegated to the wistful annals of unrequited college crushes. Was this destiny delayed?
In the 1980s, when we were both students at Berkeley, I was fairly nerdy and low in the romantic pecking order. Chris was a musician and an engineer — a swoon-worthy combination. With floppy blond hair and scruffy stubble, he looked you in the eyes throughout a conversation and always remembered the awkward personal detail you’d told him the previous week. When he moved in with his gorgeous bohemian girlfriend, I moved on.
Around the same time, I met Laura. We were baristas at the same coffeehouse. She had a dry sense of humor and a sailor’s mouth. We watched This Is Spinal Tap on repeat and made regular tempura dinners in our group houses.
After graduation, Chris and I lost touch, but Laura and I stayed close. We helped each other lick professional and personal wounds and rejoice in milestones, including my wedding and her acceptance to medical school. Laura has remained beautiful — fit, lightly freckled, with long, wispy red hair — and yet, after several long-term relationships that ended painfully, she started to wonder if she’d ever find a life partner.
I will admit that Laura was not immediately on my mind when Chris’s e-mail arrived. Turns out he’d recently been through a wrenching divorce and was trying to reconnect with his previous, confident self (your basic midlife crisis in the age of Google). I was married with two teenage children. I’ll confess that I had a few moments of “hmm, he’s single now?” — but mostly, I was content in the realization that we were on separate trajectories that would cross only at occasional coffee catch-ups. My husband, bless his heart, once helped me pick a nice outfit for one of those.
However . . . what about Laura? She was becoming resigned to life as an accomplished single woman with good friends and a beloved terrier. She was ready to retire her Match.com account.
They both agreed to a setup. After their first date — just outside the Berkeley coffeehouse where we used to work — Laura texted to make sure I really didn’t mind if she pursued a relationship with my onetime crush. I could imagine being irrationally jealous; you don’t forget those early-20s feelings. Yet I had to respect the slow burn of divine intervention that had brought all three of us to this juncture. Clearly I was meant to meet and fall for Chris, and to vet him during our formative years, for the express purpose of reserving him, decades later, for my dear friend.
If I was jealous of anything, it would be the quickening heartbeat that comes with new love, a flutter that tends to stretch out to a shallow wave after years of marriage. But heck, I feel that kind of jealousy every time I go out for a rom-com night and watch Colin Firth wind up with some other woman.
Sure, a part of me wonders where things might have gone if Chris had fallen for me in 1987. We probably would have broken up after a few months. He probably would not have contacted me during his midlife crisis. Laura would never have met him. And who knows — maybe I wouldn’t have my much-loved family. This is how it was supposed to work out all along.
Now, more than a year into their relationship, Laura and Chris spend most of their free time with each other. They feel “eerily” — Chris’s word — connected and compatible. They definitely owe me a drink.Karen Brown is a public radio reporter and freelance writer in Western Massachusetts. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.