Sometimes, it is hard to make people understand that Sam and I aren’t dating. Part of the problem is that we have before—in high school, for a year or so, on-and-off one too many times. Part of it is that, a la Avril Lavigne, he is a guy and I am a girl, and while we both know how to bitch about heteronormativity and society, we probably don’t do it loudly enough. Probably the biggest issue, though, is that we still love each other. We both feel it. We both know it. And—to the eternal chagrin and confusion of whatever person I’m trying to trick into dating me at the time—we still say it to each other.

I know that it’s weird. We talk about it, sometimes, when it’s just the two of us hanging out, using language we’ve stolen from our combined years of therapy, about emotional labor and reciprocity and so-what-do-you-need-right-now. More often, we joke about it. Or joke around it. I spend a lot of time performing playful hatred for him. Our greetings over text have become, “Hey bitch,” et al. I am constantly making fun of his clothes, his shoes, his experiments in facial hair. I try to especially play it up in front of other people, especially the ones who aren’t quite sure what’s going on—as if to signal, “it’s cool now, it’s funny, it’s chill. We’re chill. Definitely chill.”

I know a good deal about acting chill. For my entire life, I’ve felt like I’ve never been able to get close enough to anyone. I was a chronically insecure kid from the start. I waited on the edges, in the periphery of other people’s lives, first terrified that someone would come up and try to pull me in, and then—after years of feeling alone—just as scared that no one ever would. In that regard, Sam is my opposite. As far as people go, he is almost incomparably warm. He can win any position, breeze through any interview, and endear just about anyone to him. It runs deeper than charisma—he has a unique ability to make everyone feel seen, to treat everyone like they’re valued, even special. When I met him, that was what I needed; we have been close for this long because I clung to that kindness and have yet to let go.

Through the ages, there have been tens of thousands of words written devoted to extolling the virtues of first love, but the romance is the dullest part of this story—even now, just a few years later, the sentimental pull is all but gone. The real love story is about what happened after. The first few awkward weeks of friendship, both of us unsure what the new rules were. The decision, somewhere along the line, to say: Screw it. Trying to keep up with the litany of new girls he immediately fell in love with—one time, wingman-ing for hours at the party of someone I hated so he could shoot his shot. Watching b-movies in his basement. Driving to the beach at one in the morning, just to sit in his car and stare at the water. Going to college a thousand miles away and calling him at midnight to sob. Telling him that I didn’t think that I could make it, that I felt completely alone (again), that I was scared I’d never make another friend like him. (And, for all the progress I’ve made, that stands. I’m still not sure that I ever will.)

I have seen enough romantic comedies to know that this sounds like the part of the story where I’m in deep denial about Sam being the person I'm supposed to be with. It seems unlikely to me—at the moment, he is deeply in love with a wonderful person that I hope he marries—but I would be lying if I said I was never jealous. Not of her, specifically, but of all his new friends. All the new people that he meets, all of whom he will invariably treat like they’re wonderful, some of whom might actually be (and funnier and more interesting and better than me to boot). I do also worry, though, that we are ordained to fall in “real” love—just because that would feel so much lesser than what we have going right now. What we’ve got means the world to me, just as it is. Anything else would be a step down.

Love is strange. But, in whatever form it comes in, I don’t think you can ever have too much of it. It is rare, and it is crucial, and I think you have to take what you to get. Sam is the best friend I always wanted and finally have, and I love him. Saying that might not make sense to anyone else. It might not always make sense to me. But I am grateful that I get to tell him that, and that he’s stuck around to hear it. I hope that he is, too.