Let me start off by stating a fact that anyone who has known me for longer than ten minutes will affirm: I am not home wrecker material. I’ve never been the flirty girl around single guys, especially not around unavailable ones. Last fall, I went to college as a freshman who had never been kissed, gone out on a real date, or even experienced any worthwhile crushes. Around me, my friends proudly labeled themselves as hopeless romantics, but I considered myself more romantically hopeless. It never seriously crossed my mind that I might meet someone worth falling in love with within a week of arriving on campus. It definitely never crossed my mind that just six months later, I would be accused of being “the other woman.”
But let me back up. The story really starts during Orientation Week. I met Charlie one evening when I burst into my next-door-neighbor Brian’s room before we were all supposed to leave for a campus event. My hair was a mess. I may have been shouting something ridiculous. Needless to say, it was not a graceful introduction. Despite my cringe-worthy first impression, I immediately felt comfortable around Charlie. He put me at ease with his ever-present, lopsided smile and the way he seemed to be so genuinely kind. From the first night we hung out, we got along more simply and easily than I ever have with anyone.
Facebook told me early on that Charlie was in a yearlong relationship with a girl from his high school, Claire. She was only a senior, but since he commuted to school from his hometown every day, they still saw plenty of each other. He didn’t mention her much, but I didn’t think anything of it. Charlie became a consistent part of my life at college. We saw each other almost every day as he ate lunch with my roommate and me, played pool with the guys on my floor, and began texting me for a place to hang out in between his classes. He didn’t have a dorm of his own, so my floor adopted him into ours. We let him chill on our futons, and in exchange, he graciously drove us off campus when we needed to get away.
Charlie became my best friend. He could make me laugh at anything, and I felt like he understood me better than even my friends back home. Almost overnight, Charlie became the person I leaned on when I felt stressed, homesick, or frustrated. Everything I learned about him made me like and trust him even more.
It wasn’t long before my roommate began bringing up the idea of Charlie and me being more than friends. Even though I knew my feelings for him were dangerously close to being just that, I always shrugged her off. “He has a girlfriend,” I’d remind her. But she would roll her eyes and point out how he never talked about her. Occasionally, I would consider building more concrete boundaries in our friendship, but since Charlie didn’t mention his girlfriend much and I had never personally met her, she didn’t feel real to me. Most of the time, I could simply ignore his relationship status and focus on the time he and I spent together.