Love and Other Casualties: What Would You Do if "The One" Was Your Best Friend's Boyfriend?

Megan* and I became friends at age 16 in high school algebra class. I watched as she swirled a piece of bubblegum around her finger, twirling it until it snapped and became lodged in her hair. Mortified, she turned around from her desk and looked at me pleadingly until I offered to pluck pink strings of sugar from her wavy locks. From then on, we became the keepers of each other’s secrets.

By the time we signed the lease on our first apartment, Megan, her twin sister and I had been together through break-ups, first times and everything in between.

It wasn’t long after we moved in our mismatched furniture that Megan met Rob. He wasn’t exactly the kind of guy she usually dated—he was the lead singer in a band, and more edgy than clean cut and athletic, she explained. “But you’re going to like him,” she said. “He’s just your type.”

Megan raided my closet the night of their first date, searching for anything that would make her look a little less like someone who didn’t typically go to rock shows. “I don’t know what to say to a guy like him,” she said as she pulled my favorite black shirt over her head. “You have to come with me.”

When we walked into the smoky club where his band was playing, my stomach dropped. Megan was right. He was my type, the kind of pierced, tattooed bad boy I had always gone for. I just couldn’t picture the two of them together, but I smiled and laced my arm with hers as we walked toward the stage. I was her best friend, after all. Being the ever-ready, spirited and supportive wingman came with the territory.

In the months that followed, Rob became a regular in our apartment—so much so that catching sight of him in his boxer shorts during early morning trips to the bathroom became the norm. All of their movie nights, Sunday dinners and cheap beer binges took place in our living room.

Typically, I worked to avoid third wheel status at all costs, but this time was different. I liked him. Rob and I could talk for hours about all of the movies, books and music we both loved. It became the norm for Megan to ask me to tag along, just to stoke the conversation. In fact, she would often say, “Maybe you two should be dating.”

Sometimes it felt as if we were.

Megan and Rob were together for nearly six months when they began an incessant type of bickering that made them difficult to stomach. They were the couple who could progress from kissing to shouting in a matter of minutes.

So when Megan stormed off at a party one night and asked me to drive Rob back to our apartment later, I didn’t think much of it. As Rob and I found our way to a deserted couch to finish our drinks, we huddled close together to escape the booming music as we talked. At that moment, as I felt his breath on my neck, I knew something had changed.

Later, as we rolled into the parking spot in front of my place, I couldn’t bring myself to turn off the ignition. For just a moment, I could pretend that all that stood between us and a first kiss was a gearshift. Then Rob leaned toward me.

More than half a decade of friendship came down to the handful of seconds that followed. All Rob had to do was unbuckle his seatbelt and gather the courage to make a move. I had to decide if I could trash the kind of deep, intimate connection one can only build with a true friend for a chance with a guy I was beginning to love.

When his stubble grazed my cheek and he pressed his mouth to mine, I made my decision. I kissed him back.

In the weeks that followed, I became a covert operator. Unable to face Megan and the magnitude of what I had done, I had to hide myself away. If I wasn’t in class, at work or in the dark booth of a dive bar with Rob, I was talking to him on the phone from the depths of my closet in the wee hours of the morning.

I became the kind of woman who tucks her chin, parks blocks from a guy’s house and scurries to his front door in the middle of the night. That is, until Megan caught me. When she made a surprise visit to his place, where she found my car outside and me standing in his bathroom—dying his hair, of all things—the charade was over.

The next morning, Megan and her sister called me into our living room. I sat alone, facing the tribunal. “How could you do this to me?” Megan asked. I wished the couch cushions would part and suck me inside, never to be seen again.

No answer would do. I had betrayed her, stolen things from her. I had taken her boyfriend, her best friend, all the trust and love we had built and blew it all up into smithereens. Not because I felt like I wanted what she had with Rob, but because in my heart, I knew that he and I could create something better.

The truth was, from the moment I laid eyes on Rob, I started falling away from Megan and in love with him. The 21-year-old me—the one who couldn’t ignore that he made me feel something that I had never felt before, that magnetic type of pull that shoots from your heart to your feet and back again—thought that Rob could be “the one.”

Days later, I was sleeping in a friend’s extra bedroom amid boxes filled with my things. Every night, I had dreams that Megan would slip through the window and kill me in my sleep. In the waking life, I was as good as dead to her. She never spoke to me again.

Rob and I soon moved into a studio where we happily played house until I graduated college. After the ceremony, he pressed a small bouquet of flowers into my palm and we kissed. As we got into the car and pulled away from the auditorium, I removed my graduation cap and tousled my crumpled hair in the mirror. Suddenly, Rob slammed on the breaks and honked the horn. When I looked up, I saw her.

In some sort of cosmic mishap, Megan had found her way to the edge of our bumper, her graduation gown illuminated by the car’s headlights. I looked into her familiar doe eyes and saw nothing but hurt and shock. That’s how I’ll always remember her—inches from being crushed by the weight of what Rob and I did—as he and I moved on to a new life together, one where our shared wanderlust would take us to Los Angeles, Chicago and then Nashville.

Do I know that I what I did was unconscionable? Of course. Do I wish that the moment I felt that first spark I would’ve sat at the end of Megan’s bed, like I had done many times before, and confessed all that was in my heart? Most definitely.

But when it comes to the love and the life that Rob and I shared, which grew from the most rotten and noxious of places that a young relationship can, I’ve never wished that I hadn’t found Rob standing on stage when Megan and I walked into the bar that night.
I don’t feel that now, and I didn’t feel that back in 2007, when Rob and I broke up after finally acknowledging a truth that we had spent a good year ignoring: We had changed, or at least I had.

We were the couple, as trite as it may seem, who didn’t grow together. I had gone to graduate school, started my career and took my first big steps into adult life. He was still the same wayward, blissfully undecided guy who I fell in love with four years earlier. At 25, I didn’t want Peter Pan anymore. And Rob had no intentions of joining me outside of Neverland.

In the days following our breakup, during all of the ceremonious weeping, deleting of pictures and purging of the belongings he had left behind, I did briefly entertain a certain nagging sense of regret. One that told me that the friendship I had torched was for nothing if Rob wasn’t really the one.

Looking back, I know it wasn’t all for naught. Not because I can’t come to terms with what I did to Megan, or because I need to tie a ribbon neatly around it all, but because I’m grateful for how deeply and genuinely Rob and I loved each other—and for all of the goodness and happiness we brought to each other’s lives.

The four-year relationship that followed my unbecoming start with Rob wasn’t everything that the 21-year-old me had hoped for, but it was everything that I needed. It inched me a little closer to the real one. The man who, as I write this, is hurrying through the grocery store after a long day at work to join me and our snoring dog in the place that holds us best—just us three.
 
*Names have been changed
 

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jerroldfelix's picture

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