*This is Part 2 in a series. To read the first installment, click here.
In October 2004, I went on a family vacation. It was fun but, as with all family trips (at least in my family) it was exhausting, and I was ready to sink into the comfort of my own familiar home. When I arrived, Andie and Max were on the couch watching a movie. The three of us chatted and after some time, Max excused himself to go to bed. As he passed in front of Andie still lying on the couch, I glanced over in time to see his hand trail across her shoulder in a subtle caress. I watched as her eyes closed and a calm, sleepy smile stole across her lips. In that instant, I felt my stomach drop into my shoes. It was as plain as day.
On the pretext of sharing a cigarette, I pulled Andie out to the back porch. “You fucked him.” It wasn’t a question. I had seen that look on her face before. It is the look of new lust; that energetic, flushed, butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling that I had once dreamed would be mine, on the face of my best friend. She giggled and grinned. I listened, poker-faced, as she recounted the details of what had gone down. As I tried to control my breathing and slow down my racing thoughts, I attempted to focus. I could hear her saying, “I didn’t plan it, it just happened,” “I don’t know if it means anything,” “We made out and then I was going to go to bed but then I just decided to go to his room instead.” The most emphatic thought I had in the moment was simple: “You will not cry.”
As I lay in bed that night, hot tears oozing down onto my pillow, I alternated between self-pity and guilt about my self-pity. My mental dialogue zinged wildly between, “This is not about you,” and “My best friend stabbed me in the back.” On the one hand, this beautiful, exciting woman who could have any man she wanted chose to get involved with the one I had had feelings for, directly under my nose. On the other hand, my crush on Max had been just that, a crush, and I hadn’t had any romantic feelings for him since before I agreed to be his roommate. On the other hand, did I just lose my best friend? Over a guy? We had ten months remaining on our lease; what was I going to do?
The rest of that week is a blur. The next morning I was fired from my barista job (a blessing in disguise) and I spent the rest of the day curled up, sobbing, on my friend Jen’s couch. The one person I had always been able to turn to, could count on and confide in, was the source of my misery. I couldn’t even be miserable in the comfort of my house. I spent the next few days creeping like an intruder through my own home, wanting nothing less than to run into my roommates. When I saw that they were sleeping in the same room, I didn’t know whether to puke, scream, or cry. Max avoided my gaze. Andie was giddy with new love. My role model, the most considerate, sensitive person I knew, was oblivious to the pain that her actions were causing. In retrospect, I was much more afraid of losing her than anything else. I assumed that they would be together for a bit, break up, and Andie and I could go back to normal. I just had to hang on to her.
The first Sunday after the big reveal had arrived. I resolved to be nice, to be cool, to act normally. We brewed the coffee, packed the bong, picked out a movie, and set about making breakfast. As usual, I was in charge of the fried potatoes. I prepped a big batch and got them cooking. Andie began making eggs. She went all-out: feta cheese, scallions, spinach, all fluffy and salty. When we sat down to eat, I watched as Andie dished out the eggs: half on her plate, half on Max’s. The eggs were a microcosm of what was to come. Our time, our breakfast tradition, that had been standing since we met, had been usurped. In a matter of days my soulmate had completely forgotten I existed. “Um, are there any more eggs?” She had the good grace to look horrified. “No, but here, I’m sorry. That’s the most selfish thing I’ve done all day.” She scraped half of her portion onto my plate and we commenced the saddest, most silent brunch we had ever eaten together.
Being a single person living with a couple can be difficult in the extreme. If there is a dispute or issue the argument will always be two-against-one. Group activities become exclusively couples activities. My feelings of exclusion were compounded by the fact that I had not signed on to live with a couple. Now they were each other’s best friends, and I was in the cold. I came home from class one day to find both of their underwear strewn across the living room floor and couch, and audible sex noises coming from his room. I found myself having to ask favors like, “If you guys are going to have sex in the shower can you please use Max’s shower and not ours?” It was difficult to reconcile these instances of inconsideration with the same people that I knew and loved so well.
In November Max signed my birthday card, “Happy Princess Day my dear friend.” Maybe it was all in my head; my own hurt feelings were causing me to cast Max and Andie in an unflattering light. After all, they did include me some of the time. We still went out, we still made brunch. Maybe it was my only-child syndrome surfacing. After all, their relationship had nothing to do with me.
I never talked any of this out with Andie at the time, and that hurt our friendship worse than anything else. I couldn’t make the words, “The existence of your relationship makes me feel like shit” escape my lips. There was no way to not make my feelings sound childish and self-absorbed. At the time, I placed the majority of the blame in Andie’s lap. The bitterness, the jealousy, the betrayal that was like a kick in the gut, was her fault. She had created a relationship with him the moment my back was turned. I didn’t blame Max nearly as much; after all, I had never made my crush clear! (I had). I hadn’t tried hard enough! (I did, and then some). He was a guy–he didn’t do “feelings”! (He did and does).
The swirl of competing emotions and contradictory thoughts, accompanied by the ever-present doubts about the appropriateness of my own emotional reactions, exhausted me. I certainly wasn’t the blameless victim throughout all of this. I sulked, I started fights, I clamored like a kicked puppy for Andie’s attention. To their credit, Max and Andie made a concerted effort to keep their lovey-doviness behind closed doors. Still, every time I saw them hold hands or steal a kiss it was like a knife in my gut. I had to separate from the angst. I began to pull away.