One of my closest friends, Lauren, had fallen fast and hard for a 30-year-old ex-Marine who, from all of her accounts, was quite the heartthrob. For a 21-year-old college girl to be seriously and exclusively dating a 30-something-year-old man was a real enigma for me at the time, so I had fairly high expectations of her new man.
As I was un-ceremoniously putting away dishes in my tiny college apartment, Lauren rapped her familiar knock on my front door. I swung the creaky 1970’s-era door open to find Lauren standing there with her new boyfriend, Brandon.
She was leaning back heavily into his chest, wearing his favorite hockey team jersey which swallowed her tiny frame. Her dizzy, spellbound smile was undeniable – that smile girls get in their early twenties when they have fallen in love.
I knew it was serious.
Devil in the buttoned-down details.
Brandon was definitely a handsome guy. He stood about 5′-11″ with baby blue eyes, cropped sandy blonde hair, neatly dressed in a striped shirt tucked into his pressed jeans, proudly exhibiting a pearly-white smile.
My heart panged as that all-too-familiar murky foreboding slithered its way into my gut.
Why now? Smiling with borderline nausea, I knew something wasn’t right.
I used to take first impressions with a grain of salt. My heart has always had a tendency to give new people the benefit of the doubt when first meeting them. But for Brandon, I couldn’t push the sickening gnaw away from my stomach.
I smiled and politely invited them both into my home while keeping my eye on this new fellow, watching his mannerisms, his swagger, and the creepy way he held onto Lauren. I felt my skin crawl as I was sizing him up.
Once they left, I stood in the entryway stifling my nausea. After a few what-the-hell moments, I purposefully distracted myself with menial tasks to try to alleviate the heaviness that hung in my apartment.
Grand gestures or red flags?
Brandon was definitely a charmer. He dazzled Lauren with expensive dates, entertained all of our friends in his large 2-story home, showcased his extensive collection of liquors and oversized entertainment system, and boasted about his luxurious furnishings.
All these accouterments certainly impressed our circle of struggling college friends. But not me.
Before long, Lauren was sporting a massive engagement ring. My young heart did not have the guts to tell my sweet friend how I truly felt about Brandon. And I hated myself for it.
On the night of her engagement party, I worked up the nerve to pull Lauren aside and ask her pointedly, “Are you sure he’s the one?”
“Of course!” she exclaimed without hesitation.
That was enough for me. On the surface.
I still couldn’t ignore the permanent disdain which seemed to take over my whole being, wondering what was wrong with me. Moreover, why couldn’t Lauren perceive these things?
The wedding took place in October, only months before we graduated from college. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t wait until after our thesis year was completed – especially since I had witnessed more than a handful of love-struck girls get married while still in school, only to fail a class or two and being forced to reckon with another year of college.
But Lauren was a bright girl and graduated on time with high marks and a steller GPA.
Distance can make the heart grow remorseful.
After graduation I had moved out of state, far away from my beloved college town. Before a time when social media kept us all connected, I had lost touch with Lauren. Fortunately we have that kind of friendship that immediately picked right back up where we left off, regardless of time or distance.
I eventually moved back to my college town and got the long-overdue chance to have lunch with Lauren.
It was evident that something was off. Her effervescent personality was gone. Her voice was quiet and resonated with oppression.
We had barely sat down in one of the cushy red pleather booths when she plainly divulged, “I’m divorcing Brandon.”
I almost dropped my tamale. “Why? What happened?” I nervously questioned. My stomach took a turn.
Lauren spilled her guts about her distant husband who was never home. Alcoholism had entered the picture on his behalf. Unpaid taxes had put an additional strain on the marriage and left Lauren facing serious financial troubles with threatening calls about garnishing her wages.
Not to mention the infidelity.
Looking back but not backing down.
After she finished, I couldn’t hold the truth in anymore. “I messed up.”
Lauren blinked at me, “What are you talking about? How?”
Between gasps I uttered, “That very first day I met him with you in my doorway, I knew. I had an awful feeling and just knew was a bad guy.”
I felt the bile in my stomach churning in full force but continued, “I pushed it away, knowing you were in love with Brandon and felt you knew him better than I did… and I said… nothing.”
Lauren chuckled a bit. She had obviously had more time to digest the emotional weight of the situation than I had. She calmly smiled, “Emily, I would not have listened to you even if you did say something.”
“Yes, really. It was probably better that way because it would have had a negative consequence on our friendship. Don’t worry. There were red flags everywhere and I chose to ignore them.”
I sighed heavily in bewilderment, as if some titanic burden had suddenly slid off my shoulders. Straight into the trash.
Donning a new suit of armor.
Whether she ignored them or not, I secretly swore to myself that I would never let another deceitful person run roughshod over my precious friends without recognizing them – and pointing them out – for who they really are.
Since then, Lauren returned to her former vivacious self and has blossomed into an incredible woman.
Has that sick feeling ever returned the moment I have met other friends’ boyfriends? Of course.
Did I hold back my instincts? No.
Did I lose some friends? I have.
Another testament to the fact that I could not ignore my gut instincts about an individual’s motives. I knew it wasn’t a fluke. But at the time, I didn’t know how to label or identify it. And it wasn’t the last time it would happen.
Dear Lord, you have tasked us Discerners with walking one truly scary tightrope. But it is a strong tightrope that we will walk across without hesitation when necessary.
Discerners, do not push those God-gifted, sham-spotting nudges away.
Fakery comes in all forms.