One phone call turned friend­ship into ro­mance

The Washington Post Sunday - - ON LOVE - BY ME­GAN MCDONOUGH me­gan.mcdonough@wash­post.com

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

JA­CLYN MOR­GAN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

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.

COUR­TESY OF LIZ GASKINS

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