One phone call turned friendship into romance
For as long as Liz Gaskins can remember, she’s hated the ending to the movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” The 1997 romantic comedy stars Julia Roberts as a woman who discovers she’s in love with her best friend, schemes to win his affection and ultimately (spoiler alert) fails to derail his wedding plans to his fiance, played by Cameron Diaz.
Why? Because it reminded her of her own long-standing feelings for her best friend, Worth Civils.
“I always remembered the ending to that movie and thought, ‘This is how it is going to go: I’m Julia Roberts . . . he’s going to find Cameron Diaz and I am going to end up at their wedding,’ ” Liz says.
But there was a plot twist she hadn’t anticipated: a surprise phone call from the love of her life asking her to be his leading lady.
The couple’s paths first crossed in 1994. They were high school sophomores in Greenville, N.C, when Liz befriended “the new kid” (Worth had moved inland from Morehead City midsemester) in history class and invited him to lunch. They became fast friends, bonding over their mutual appreciation for storm tracking, “Seinfeld” and University of North Carolina basketball.
By junior year, Worth was a full-fledged member of Liz’s inner circle, and vice versa. “I can talk to her about anything,” he says. “She’s very approachable, easy to talk to, doesn’t put on airs and is probably the most down-to-earth person I’ve ever known.”
She asked him to escort her to her debutante ball, and he invited her to be his senior prom date. They slow-danced to R. Kelly’s romantic hit “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Both nights, however, ended without so much as a kiss. And although Liz felt romantic stirrings, nothing developed beyond friendship.
“Some nights, I would think, ‘Maybe, just maybe, it will happen tonight,’ ” she said. It never did. They both headed to UNC for college, where their connection — and Liz’s affection — continued to grow. In spring of freshman year, she decided to take charge, asking him whether he had considered turning their platonic relationship into a romantic one.
He said no. “I just wasn’t thinking about dating at that point in my life,” Worth says.
His rejection stung, but Liz decided to look past her hurt feelings for the sake of their friendship. “I was probably mad at him for like, a week, and then things got back to normal,” she says.
They remained close, attending classes, UNC sporting events and parties together until embarking on different post-graduation paths. Worth settled in New York, where he lived in an apartment with a large group of friends and wrote for the Wall Street Journal.
“He basically lived in a junior fraternity house, which is probably part of the reason it took him so long to settle down,” says Liz, who stayed in North Carolina and bopped around several cities before moving to Alexandria in 2006. And who was it that helped pack up her belongings and cart them down Interstate 95? Worth, of course. They continued to lead separate lives but kept in touch through emails and phone calls and always celebrated milestones together. They often attended weddings, birthday parties and family functions as each other’s dates, but always just as friends.
“Liz was around so much my nieces would ask, ‘How is Liz related to us?’ ” Worth says.
But during their frequent, and often long, chats they avoided one topic: relationships.
“We never really liked, or talked about, when we dated other people,” says Worth, now a senior writer for the Capital Group in Georgetown. “I wanted to tell her, and she wanted to tell me, but we knew better not to. I think we both secretly hoped it wouldn’t work out.”
While Worth enjoyed being single in New York, more than a decade of different apartments, jobs and relationships had left him craving stability.
“Everyone started peeling off, moving from the city and getting serious with girlfriends, and slowly, it all started to fall apart,” he says.
He found himself wanting something, specifically someone, permanently.
“When I dated other girls, I would always compare them to Liz,” Worth says. “I couldn’t picture myself with anyone else.”
For two years, he kept his budding feelings to himself for fear it would ruin their friendship. But in December 2015, after seeking advice from friends and family, he decided to bite the bullet and admit his feelings over the phone.
To quote “My Best Friend’s Wedding”: “If you love someone, you say it. You say it right then, out loud.”
When Liz picked up the line, she heard his voice crack and assumed the worse, such as a death in the family. She was less prepared for what came next.
“I told her, ‘I love you and I want to be with you forever,’ ” says Worth. “The call itself may have been impulsive, but the feelings behind it were not.
“When you make a decision of that weight, at that age, it’s basically a proposal.”
Liz, shocked, asked for some time to process the news. It also was bad timing, as she was seeing someone else.
“Honestly, I had to go through the stages of grief,” she admits. “It went from shock, to anger, to reflection, to recognition that this is what I wanted to do, and who I wanted to be with.”
But the more she thought about it, the more it felt right. “Once I got past the initial shock, it was an easy and simple choice,” she says.
Liz ended the other relationship, and she and Worth gradually began dating long-distance. After a kiss Memorial Day weekend, they were official.
Although adjusting from friendship to romance was sometimes awkward, they enjoyed new, simple discoveries over the summer, such as learning each other’s favorite TV shows and morning cereal.
“He went his way, I went mine, and it allowed us to develop on our own as adults, professionals and just plain people,” says Liz, a managing director at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. “The fact we were able to come back together, after and despite all of that . . . makes us a stronger pair.”
Five months later, Worth proposed on a hike, overlooking the Catskill Mountains, during a weekend trip to Hudson, N.Y. The hike was more arduous than the couple anticipated, and both were exhausted and famished at the top.
But Worth was on a mission, and at a scenic post, he dropped a knee. Liz, out of breath, accepted with an approving nod.
“It was sweet, perfect and everything you could want it to be . . . but immediately after, I asked him, ‘Can we eat our turkey sandwiches now?’ ” she recalls with a laugh.
Three weeks later, Worth left Brooklyn and moved in with Liz in Alexandria.
On June 10, the couple were married at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Beaufort, N.C. A string trio played as the bride entered, wearing Worth’s mother’s cathedral veil, and the groom’s eyes began to water. At the close of the ceremony, rows of friends and family, who had long rooted for the matchup, erupted in tears, cheers and applause.
Later, the couple and their 200 guests celebrated at The Dunes Club in Atlantic Beach, where the groom is a member. They snapped photos and tweeted from the festivities, using the hashtag #WorththeWait2017.
Weeks later, the couple, both 38, were still amazed by their Hollywood ending.
“You see it on TV, or in the movies, but you never believe the storybook movie plot is going to be your story, or your life,” Liz says. “I had always hoped, but never thought, things would end up like this. I got everything I could have ever wanted.”
“We never really liked, or talked about, when we dated other people . . . . I think we both secretly hoped it wouldn’t work out.” — Worth Civils
ABOVE: Liz Gaskins and Worth Civils were married in North Carolina on June 10. The couple were friends for 22 years before exploring a romance. BELOW: The two shared a dance at Gaskins’s debutante ball in 1998.