Because I don’t normally talk much about my relationships on here or otherwise, I immediately got a few direct messages when I shared the following on Facebook:
The first message I got was from a girl I know at work asking me for relationship advice and lamenting her many false-start situations.
And that’s when I felt like a hypocrite, because I shared my first truly HAPPY relationship experience (1 year and counting) and was treated like some kind of relationship guru, but I’ve never really talked about the 2+ year hell pit I was recently in as the result of some poor decision making and ill-informed ideas about men and relationships.
I don’t really talk about this because it doesn’t reflect super-positively on me. Who wants to be the girl that dated a guy with a girlfriend?? But it’s been about 3 years since this went down, and I feel like (especially being the ripe old age of “I don’t give a fuck” 30 anymore) I can be a little more objective and honest about it than I would have been a few years ago.
It will probably be too hard (and too painful) to try to tell this story from the beginning, so let me tell it with a series of mistaken beliefs I had at the time, that I’ve since learned from.
I had worked with this guy (lets call him Colonel Asshat, CA for short) for a couple of years before I noticed him. Our company had been bought and moved up to a tiny corner of a high up floor in a spot that had no windows. I credit this dismal setting and deep intellectual and emotional boredom with why I let any toxic nonsense into my life in the first place, but ANYWAY. One day we had a “goodbye” party for yet another colleague who was leaving, and as I was talking to another guy I worked with, I looked up and saw CA staring at me. STARING. Like, noticed me looking back, and took a good 2.5 seconds to lower his gaze.
It was a unnerving.
It was a exciting.
I noticed him.
2. Thinking stopping/starting is a sign of progress
I had actually hear from CA for the very first time about year before we had ever spoken in person. I sent around a team email inviting everyone out for a get together I was having for my 25th birthday at a bellydance/hookah bar/club place, and he sent me back a surprisingly long, thoughtful email expressing curiosity about my interest in dance, and regretting he wouldn’t be able to make it. I wrote a short email back that he didn’t answer. That was that.
But after getting another random note from him a few days after the staring incident, I wondered–was this guy interested in me?
3. Thinking that “receiving” interest was the same as active pursuit
Within a few weeks we had a good thing going. We did bantering emails. It didn’t occur to me that I often started the conversations, because he was always quick to answer my gchats and emails with clever pictures and links to songs I should listen to.
I thought, wow, I never noticed this guy, but he’s cute and interesting. And he definitely seems to like me.
He sent a playlist, complete with this album art to shop up on my ipod when I played it. (No, I can’t listen to them anymore).
Thinking back on it though, I should have listened to the lyrics in some of the songs and been a little more worried. But hinsight’s 20/20. And he also sent me songs like this and this that give me hope.
4. Not seeing him not asking me out as a red flag
We bantered for WEEKS. MONTHS. Our conversations were super flirty. I caught him staring at me in meetings. We had cute banter about our lunches in front of the microwave in the breakroom. So why wasn’t he asking me out? It seemed obvious that sparks were flying and we liked each other. I couldn’t figure it out. But with how miserable the rest of my life was going (dead end, unstimulating job, near poverty-level pay (and I later found out that the men at my job doing the same role earned about 30k more than me), crappy living situation), I started really looking forward to seeing this guy and our fun, sexy interactions and to having a reason to get dressed up in the morning.
5. Mistaking anticipation for happiness
I lived for weekdays. I fantasized about conversations we would have–music we’d listen to at the same time at our desks, book recommendations, deep, dark secret sharing. It wasn’t until years later that I realized most of these conversations never happened, but I was still attached to the idea that one day we might have them.
6. Not immediately putting out resumes when I heard “I have a girlfriend but”
We had drinks after work one day, and the chemistry was unreal. I thought, this is it, this is the one. I thought, I’ve never experienced anything like this before, I have to say something. He’s got to be feeling it too. I sent him an email on a Friday afternoon (feeling brave knowing I wouldn’t see him until Monday) about how I felt like it was pretty obvious that I liked him, and I wasn’t sure why he wasn’t asking me out. I threw out the guess, the one that had started to creep up in the back of my mind. (hadn’t he said “we” about the last vacation he was telling coworkers about? “We” were going somewhere for a wedding?)
I said, “I mean, I’m almost wondering, do you have a girlfriend or something?”
And he said “Yes, but…”
And I got my things and left. But the train ride home I had the rest of his sentence echoing in my head.
“…but I can’t deny I feel it too, on an animal level.”
I went back to work on Monday determined not to speak to him again. I was livid that he had led me on. For WEEKS. MONTHS, even.
But excitement called. Attraction. Potential. I think more than anything I wanted to have something to look forward to. He wrote me a beautiful letter of apology and we started talking again. He said, “I never thought I could feel this way.” He said, “I’m not sure I ever fell in love with my girlfriend, things just kind of evolved.” He said, “I’m in so deep… I need to figure out a way to tell her it’s over that won’t hurt her.” He said, “If I’d met you first I would have married you.” He said, in a whisper outside of my favorite bar, “I love you.”
7. Believing the magical stories everybody else tells you
Even my mom tried to give me and CA and the benefit of the doubt. She could tell I was literally lovesick over this guy, totally miserable, but utterly convinced that I had simply found the exact right person at the wrong time. She told me a story about my cousin that had met his fiancee while they were both dating other people. “Sometimes the timing is just off,” she told me, “but try to do the right thing.”
Doing the right thing was something CA was also adamant about. He told me for weeks he was looking at apartments, so that he could pursue me “the way you deserved to be pursued.”
I alternated between feeling ecstatic and feeling a deep sense of dread. I was losing sleep at night, especially on weekends, constantly worrying that he might change his mind about me any minute. Constantly aware that I was being compared to somebody else he already had a history with. I was more and more attached to the idea of “our future” as he’d planned it with me: summer trips to the beach on long island, cool afternoons in museums, seeing his favorite bands in the village at night.
I believed the timing was bad, and it was going to get better. But icy panic was just below my most intense feelings of happiness and joy. A little voice in the back of my head said, “What if this just… stops?”
8. His girlfriend found out, and he lied to her, and I still managed to tell myself he was a good guy at heart
The story from him was, he lied to her about us because he didn’t want to hurt her. The subtext was he was good at lying, and comfortable doing it, and after months of promises, he still wasn’t breaking things off.
9. He lied about me too, and I still forgave him
She came to our work event uninvited. He hid like a coward while she confronted me in the bathroom. The story was that I came onto him, and that I was threatening him with sexual harassment at work. She had all our emails–full of mortifying innuendos and frank confessions–and she promised to send them to our entire office if I ever spoke to CA again. I blubbered like an idiot. All I managed to say was, “Did you see what he wrote to me?” I just couldn’t understand.
They left together that night, and they’re still together three years later–though it was touch and go that night. I got a text from him as I walked home alone, sobbing. It said, “You’ve ruined my life.”
10. Being so obsessed with winning of this moving target of a guy that I completely forgot to worry about my own wellbeing
Here’s what everybody thinks about being the other woman: that you’re getting the best of a man’s attention, time, relishing the destruction of his primary relationship, etc.
Here’s the truth: being the other woman is its own punishment. I wouldn’t wish how utterly alone I felt (for YEARS after this situation) on anyone. In fact, I felt pretty bad during the 6 months we were seeing each other too. It’s funny how a crappy relationship makes you need that relationship even more: you feel so shitty about yourself that the only thing that helps is attention from the person who’s hurting you.
In contrast to CA, who was never short on doting female attention and company, I always went home alone. I could never speak to him at nights or on weekends. I couldn’t bring myself to go on dates even when I knew I should, and I was too anxious and unhappy to enjoy time with friends.
I was always lonely. I was always on edge. I always had a knot of dread in the pit of my stomach, fear that I was never quite going to measure up and I was going to be left.
And then I was.
I won’t waste time describing what it feels like to face agonizing emotional pain for months at a time. But I would cry on my floor until I fell asleep, wake up, remember what happened, and cry in the shower getting ready for work. Rinse, repeat.
And of course I couldn’t tell anybody about what I was going through: I was ashamed of myself. Someone who must have known CA’s girlfriend (or was her) left nasty comments on my blog calling me a dumb slut and a sidepiece. It legitimately felt like I had ruined my life irreparably, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.
My friends told me he must be hurting too, but it was never an even playing field, even after I was dumped (which happened, by the way, happened officially over gchat while visiting my sister in another state who just had a newborn). CA never had to feel lonely. He never had to feel unwanted. But, I think, he probably also never learned what I did: to be alone, to comfort myself, to pick up the pieces and move on and start over, even with a broken heart and no faith and no hope.
So that’s my story. But there’s a new one in the works: the story of how I met somebody who always just liked me, who said the words, “I want to date you” up front, who has followed through on every word with actions, who has never left me alone even during fights, who has never made promises he didn’t keep.
It would be nice if I could go back and wipe my slate clean–be a little stronger and more sure of myself, and reject the praise and the promises and the bad poetry and the playlists. But what’s done is done.