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Friendship and Love

September 25, 2011

Will Robinson ’97 gave this Chapel talk on September 21, 2011. You can listen to him deliver the talk via our podcast page.

The author and his wife on their wedding day at St. Andrew's.

I believed in the green socks. SAC had planned an all-school Twister tournament in the small gym for the second Saturday night of the year and I was coming prepared. All the other guys would most likely show up ready for Twister in white – maybe even off-white Hanes or Nike socks. But not me. Those guys were suckers. I was going all in. As one of the more obnoxious, goofy-looking, ridiculous, loud, attention-loving 14 year-old boys in my III Form class – all even more so than my present self – those plush green socks were my hope for standing out and capturing the mind and hopefully the heart of one Lindsay Ryan Dormer.

The 9th grade Lindsay Dormer was smart, athletic, playful and beautiful. Less so than she is now, but still far more so than any girl I’d ever been around. Being the bright, observant girl she was, her assessment of me was less generous. She had spent the first two weeks of School going out of her way to make sure that I knew she was not only uninterested in me, but actually thought I was more than a little annoying.  I was annoying, but I didn’t know any better.

I had first noticed her during April Visit Back Days when our respective hosts shared an intro to the arts class together in the old art building now gone. I have a hard time cataloging memories, but I remember that moment. It was a pottery class and I sat there looking stupid trying not to let anyone notice me gawking at this angel of a girl who actually seemed interested in the coil pot project her host was struggling to put together.

Fast forward 5 months later to move-in day. I’m wearing a black Phoenix Motor Speedway t-shirt. I have braces. I’m covered, absolutely covered in acne. I’m awkward. I learn that the girl I had seen in April was not in fact a senior, but actually in my class.  I was actually so enamored with her that I thought it was possible that she could be a senior. We’re in the same English class. We’re in the same Intro to Arts section. Life is good.

In the coming days she would make the Varsity Soccer Team and I would establish myself as one of the most dominating right halfbacks in St. Andrew’s JV soccer history. As Mr. Johnson can attest, I would let it be known on corridor that Lindsay Dormer was “off limits” lest anyone else had similar motivation to court the young lady. I would further profess my love to just about anyone who would listen – especially her friends because that’s what awkward teenagers do when they like someone – you tell their friends. She had her own marketing machine working full tilt to let me know that my efforts were unwelcome, misguided and actually a bit outlandish. Here’s how a typical conversation would go with another freshman girl. Me: “Do you think she knows that I like her? Her friend: “Yes. You need to move on.” Mrs. Robinson was right and reasonable to deflect my attention and tell me to get lost. School had just started. We didn’t even know everyone’s names yet. 6 weeks and all that. I, of course, would not be deterred or discouraged.

That’s where the green socks came in. My ace in the hole. They were bright green.  Who wears bright green socks? This guy! I can imagine finding them in my drawer and thinking how awesome they would be. Perfect for a twister party! Booooyah!

I pulled them on, slid my green snuggled feet into a pair of Adidas soccer sandals – dope – and headed off with the rest of the Hillier pack to the old gym.

To be honest, the next hour is pretty hazy though I probably did everything possible to win and not look like a maniac, which is kind of actually impossible when you’re playing Twister. My memory of that night fast-forwards to the two of us sitting by the lake. We’re not kissing. We’re not even holding hands. We’re talking. We talked about where we were from. Our old friends that we missed. Our families. What we thought of classes. Why we had decided to go away to boarding school and why St. Andrew’s. We talked about those stupid green socks and how desperate I must have been to have worn them.

As the evening came to an end we talked about whether we wanted to be boyfriend and girlfriend. We talked about what that actually meant at a place like St. Andrew’s. In the end, we agreed to find out. Being an independent young lady she walked me back up the front lawn to the admissions common room door. After we said our goodbyes I kind of smiled in disbelief at my fortune. She then craned her neck up to kiss me and I fumbled and wasn’t expecting it, so I turned my head a bit and she landed a kiss right on my left eye. I was awkward. We laughed. Probably giggled. The bells started ringing and she sped off toward Pell. I took the back stairs two at a time up to Hillier.

That was 18 years and 3 days ago.

As some of you know we spent the next 4 years together at St. Andrew’s building what would become an epic friendship. An unbreakable bond woven together by mutual respect and hours upon hours of conversations on the front lawn, in common rooms, in long, lazy canoe rides down the pond. We’d go for walks in the woods together and I used to convince her to have sword fights on a fallen tree that served as a bridge over the creek in the woods. She would cheer at my games. I would cheer at hers. We had dinner together on the back porch of the Hutchinson’s then McLean’s farmhouse. I remember Mrs. Pala hung a piece of wisteria above the simple table and it was beautiful. I once filled a rowboat with flowers and rowed her to Rodney Point for a picnic. She deserved it. She was my love. On clear nights we would lie under the stars and talk about the future. We would share our hopes and dreams. We’d talk.

Now, some of you might be thinking. Hey, Mr. Robinson, what else were you doing in those woods and on those clear nights? I hate to disappoint you, but we kept it pretty PG. Yes, we did eventually manage to land a kiss, but the truth was that neither of us was ready for much more. Our friendship enabled us to be very open and honest with each other. We knew we didn’t need to achieve some sort of artificial landmark moment to be happy and in love. She had the confidence to be straight with me and I respected and cared for her too much to demand anything more. We had created such a strong relationship that pushing ourselves to do something we weren’t 100% okay with wasn’t necessary. Over the years I kept that part of our relationship private with my friends. Not because I was embarrassed by how slow that part of our relationship was moving – the pace was actually quite perfect for us – but because I cared about her. I cared about us and they respected that. They didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

We cried at graduation, but purposely went to different colleges. We were secure enough in our friendship that if it was meant to be, it was meant to be. She went to Middlebury and I went to Colgate. The Adirondack Mountains separated us, but we’d visit each other on weekends. I can still picture Route 8 – the road that connected us. The small towns, the steep curves. About halfway between the two campuses sits Speculator, New York. We’d meet there sometimes and camp. I convinced her to waltz with me once at the foot of a lake outside of town. We’d share our lives with each other. How school was going. New friends. We would talk about what life would be like if we were simply friends. If we dated other people. So we did. We even had semi-serious relationships. A girl I once dated for several months eventually broke it off because she could “just tell” that I was still very much in love with Mrs. Robinson.  She was right.

I sometimes worry that our experience – though rare at the time – has become even rarer. To be clear – I’m not talking about our experience in the context of being high school sweethearts. I’m talking about what happens when two people spend years developing a friendship that blossoms into love. Love grounded in something hard, meaningful, unbreakable. Is this sort of relationship story possible anymore in today’s sex-crazed media world? I have enough faith in humanity and you all to say yes. Of course it’s possible, but please don’t rush out of here and start darting around looking for a life partner. That person may not be here and you might not be ready for that. That’s not what we set out to do. Just concentrate on being friends first. Work on that.

Last Sunday I saw a couple playing tennis together. Just laughing and enjoying being together as friends. The weekend before that I witnessed a couple joking with each other on the School farm. I love seeing it. Relationships built on mutual respect, kindness and above all, friendship. Don’t worry about being in love.  If you have those three things – mutual respect, kindness and friendship – the love will follow.

Mrs. Robinson and I were married in this Chapel more than 7 years ago by that man – 11 years after the green socks made their first and last appearance. Her father walked her down the aisle and I stood right there and cried when she first appeared through those double doors. We each had one life – one precious life – think about that. One life and we chose to share it with each other. We’ve stayed true to our vows. We have two beautiful boys.

We’re not perfect or I should say I’m not perfect. I’m not always kind, respectful or the greatest friend. I regret the countless moments when I fall short. But we’re friends first. She calls me out as she should. I usually get upset, say something stupid and then gradually come to the realization that I’m wrong. We talk about it. I apologize and we hug. We can do that because we’re friends. That’s what friends do.

There’s more work to be done. We have a long way to go and I’m excited that I get to go on that journey with her. My best friend now and forever. My hope for you all is a life of peace and happiness and the willingness to find your love. Work at it. Expect it. Demand it. Settle for nothing less. Thank you for your attention and for letting me share. I truly appreciate it.

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