Alice* has been a friend of mine for years. Everyone has their stories of adventures and mistakes, but Alice has one of the most unusual stories I’ve ever heard: from November to March of her junior year of college, Alice was in two serious and committed relationships, one long-distance (Max*), the other at her college (David*).
I interviewed Alice about the experience, starting off with the basic question of why she did it: she laughed, hesitated and said with a guilty smile, her voice rising as if asking me a question: “Because I thought I needed it…and because I could…?”
Here’s the story:
Towards the end of Alice’s sophomore year in college she reconnected with a high school crush, Max. For a few weeks they talked on the phone daily for hours at a time. After about a month Max planned a trip to visit her. Immediately after they saw each other and spent a few days hanging out, they were dating. Alice was thrilled: “I fell in love with Max in high school. I was so happy that he’d sought me out. And I realized that I was still in love with him.”
Their relationship was a dream come true, Alice says. They visited each other as much as they could over the following summer. She met his family and he met hers. They were instantly a serious couple, making plans for years in advance, when they’d both be finished with college and could try to go to graduate school in the same city. Alice explains why they got so serious so fast: “Max doesn’t do anything lightly. To date him is to be on the path to getting engaged, no question.”
Junior year started and they wouldn’t be able to see each other as often as they had over the summer. Max was determined to keep things working: he planned on either traveling to Alice’s school or flying Alice to where he lived at least once a month. Alice tells me that she was more in love with Max than she’d ever been with anyone before. “He was my first love, and was probably the best boyfriend I will ever have,” she reminisces.
The early months of the semester went by and she and Max were still together. But this is where the story becomes complicated. The simple fact that Alice loved Max and Max loved Alice was not enough to keep Alice committed; it happened that almost all of Alice’s friends were abroad that semester, as is usual for the junior class at her college. Alice had studied abroad after freshman year and thus had decided to stay at school for the fall. She didn’t realize how lonely she would be and she cites this as one of the motivations behind her cheating. She began seeking out all of the friends she could find who hadn’t gone abroad.
Around October, Alice reconnected with a guy she’d studied abroad with the previous summer. “We began hanging out,” she says, “and before I knew it, I was flirting and we were going on dates and then I was introduced to his parents as his girlfriend.” But she doesn’t like how passive this makes her sound: “I didn’t try to stop us from becoming a couple. I saw it happening and I did nothing to get in its way. I could have stopped it and still been friends with David, but I didn’t.”
She began a complicated balancing act, working to show both boys her commitment to their respective relationships. It proved surprisingly simple, due in part to the different personalities of the two boys: Max liked to talk during the day and David liked to hang out at night; Max was quiet and introverted, David was very social and liked to go out. She could thus say goodnight to Max and then go over to David’s apartment or meet him at a bar or restaurant. She explains: “…I was absolutely crushed by loneliness, and here was Max supporting me from a distance and texting me and talking to me all day long, and as soon as he became unavailable to me at night because he was studying or sleeping, there was David, wanting to watch a movie or go to dinner or something. Between the two of them I was never alone and I didn’t have to think about how to take care of myself.” Alice wanted full-time attention and care, something no one individual could provide, but with two devoted boyfriends she never had to face what was really going on with her life or explore why she was so lonely and needed so much attention.
But she soon began having to come up with elaborate lies to tell Max about her activities and social life: she invented “a new friend” to explain the increase in her going out habits and suddenly packed social calendar. To keep Max from visiting her at school she told him that she preferred coming to visit him, that it was a nice escape from her college town. When she traveled to visit Max, she told David that she was going home for the weekend.
Then came an eerie coincidence: one weekend in February she had been planning to go to visit Max (Max had bought her a plane ticket) when David called her with the surprise that he had purchased plane tickets for them both to go to his hometown. Describing the situation, Alice shakes her head and frowns: “That weekend really made me see what I was doing. Here were these two great guys, both of whom wanted me to spend time with their families and date them on a really serious level, and there I was, selfish and caught and confused, truly loving them both but deserving neither…” she trails off and looks uncomfortable, staring at the ground. “But I kept it going, November to March, when I broke up with them both at the same time.”
Interestingly, Alice herself seems surprised and slightly in awe of how she pulled off her double-dating. She repeatedly expressed the idea that she was caught up in out-of-control situations that, once begun, couldn’t be easily stopped: “I knew the whole time that what I was doing was terrible and cruel to both Max and David, but I was simply caught up in the chaos. Both relationships were whirlwinds.”
Alice is still searching for explanations of her behavior. She herself doesn’t understand – or condone – what she did that year. She is her own toughest critic on the matter; she doesn’t ask for understanding or expect forgiveness. In her words, she “used two loving, giving, wonderful people because [she] was selfish and afraid, and there is no excuse for that.”
Where are Max and David now? She laughs. “I’m actually good friends with both of them – which only shows what good, kind people they both are. And no, they still don’t know about each other. I’m not going to tell them. What good would it do now?”