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.
That changed by the beginning of October. Charlie began to insist that our group of friends meet Claire. He planned for us to go out to dinner together off campus one Saturday night. I spent days trying to think of an excuse to get out of it. The idea of meeting this girl terrified me because I knew it would only intensify the guilt I felt over my growing attraction to Charlie. More than that, I worried that Claire might see what my roommate saw—even though Charlie and I had never done anything that could be considered cheating, our relationship was still different. We had this crazy connection that neither of us could admit to.
In the end, one of my friends back home talked me into meeting Claire. “You’re his friend,” she told me sternly. “So act like it. This is what friends do.”
Claire was cute, smart, and athletic. She and Charlie looked totally in love. I breathed a sigh of relief—she didn’t suspect anything between Charlie and me—but I also felt hurt. As long as Claire wasn’t around, I could believe that my connection with Charlie meant something, but now that I had met her, I knew that anything I had with him was nothing compared to their relationship.
I resigned myself to a friendship with him that observed strict, unspoken boundaries. Even though we continued to see plenty of each other, and our friendship grew, I forced myself to think of him as platonically as I could. My eyes sought out other guys to pursue, but I always seemed to end up back in the dorm lounge, shooting pool with Charlie while we cracked each other up over inside jokes. Every guy I met, I compared to Charlie, and no one measured up.
At the end of October, I met one of Charlie’s friends from back home through a Facebook thread on Charlie’s wall where our college friends started playfully teasing him and some of his high school friends joined in. His friend, Luke, was a player, or so Charlie made certain to tell me, and began texting me constantly. I played along for a few days, never intending to actually hang out with Luke, but he was entertaining, and I secretly liked the attention I got from Charlie, who freaked out about the whole situation. He claimed that he was trying to protect me from Luke’s womanizing ways—which was probably partially true—but his words and actions rang more true of jealousy than concern for my well-being. I began to wonder if Charlie felt conflicted about the emotions behind our friendship, too.
A month or so later, Charlie came to me to talk about Claire. “I don’t think I love her anymore,” he admitted, explaining the endless fighting that had started during the summertime. Even though they put up the appearance of still being madly in love, their relationship was falling apart. My emotions in response to this confession confused me. Selfishly, I felt optimistic. Maybe since he and Claire weren’t so perfect together after all, there would be room in his life for me. Not now, but someday. On the other hand, my best friend was in pain. They had been breaking up piece-by-piece for months, a stressful and excruciating experience for both of them. Until that point, I believed what I saw in the restaurant and the few times I had seen Charlie and Claire together since. I never guessed their relationship had reached such rocky territory.
Despite all of this, he wouldn’t just end the relationship. Charlie worried about Claire because she had a history of threatening to hurt herself. So he held on to a quickly thinning rope, and I felt like my heart had been pushed through a shredder. I loved him, but he was not mine to love, and by the looks of it, he might never be.
I decided to make the six weeks of winter break my Charlie detox. We barely spoke for nearly two months. After being so close, it killed me to push him away like this, and I still thought about him constantly. But I knew how I felt was inappropriate. I didn’t want to interfere with his relationship with Claire, even if it was crumbling. Charlie reached out to me a few times, but the conversation felt so stiff and awkward that he stopped initiating communication. When second semester started in January, I hoped that my feelings for him were gone.
They weren’t. My stomach still twisted when I saw him. Our eyes still met across the room like we were both thinking the same thought simultaneously. I still found myself lying awake at three in the morning, wondering, wishing, hoping. But the circumstances were exactly the same. He and Claire continued to stand on shaky legs with no end in sight.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally hit a point where I refused to let Charlie bleed into every part of my life constantly. Less than a week into second semester, I told him how I felt. It was the scariest thing I have ever done, but I insisted that I was asking nothing from him. My confession was solely to give my mind some peace, not to change his behavior or choices.
He responded better than I expected. He listened to me, and then admitted that he had feelings for me, too. Still, even though Claire wasn’t in the room, her presence hung over the conversation like a dark cloud, and I knew that something needed to change.
Four hours later, it did. Charlie broke up with Claire that night. To this day, he insists that he didn’t do it for me, and I believe him. Admitting my feelings to him helped him realize that he needed to take control of his life and stop living for the happiness of others when it made him miserable. Unfortunately, other people only saw one layer of the story. Claire sent me angry Facebook messages even weeks after the break-up. Charlie later admitted to me that his friendship with me had been a common cause of conflict between him and Claire. Despite her show of sweetness and smiles, her jealousy of my close bond with Charlie often made her lash out at him, and then at me after the break-up. As much as I wanted to defend myself, I didn’t. Her Facebook messages, ranging from hostile to desperate, went unanswered. I knew that nothing I said to her would be the right answer or lessen the pain of her break-up. I chose to ignore her attacks because I knew that she was hurting, and I was sorry about that. I did play a role in their break-up, a fact I’ve struggled to accept ever since. I never wanted to be that girl. Throughout the entire ordeal, I tried to be a good friend to Charlie, nothing more and nothing less. But somewhere along the line, I hurt Claire, and I regret that. I cannot take back what I did, and I don’t know if I would—confessing my feelings to Charlie was important for me to move on with my life—but I have to acknowledge the impact I had on the lives around me.
Several months later, Charlie and I finally let ourselves move past those boundaries and become more than friends. He is still my best friend, but now he is also my boyfriend. No one makes me feel like he does. Although we have had to contend with a fair amount of judgment from people outside of our relationship, we are stronger because of it. After denying these feelings for so long, we owed it to ourselves to give it a shot, and I could not be happier with the outcome.
Couple laughing on bed
Happy couple laughing