My freshman year in college, I had an awful roommate. No, he wasn't a slob or a kleptomaniac or a methamphetamine addict or any of that. Aside from being very closed minded, judgmental, and somewhat boring, all he did was like a girl on our floor. During our first quarter, he would occasionally mention her to me and ask me what I thought of her, you know, as an excuse to talk about her. He said he was thinking about asking her out. I told him to go for it; if he really liked this girl, what did he have to lose?
Well, as it turned out, she was in a long-distance relationship with someone from her hometown (an eight-hour drive away). They were pretty committed, having been together about two years. She even confessed she was going to convert from Catholicism to Mormonism for him so that they could get married. Naturally, my roommate was disappointed and quite upset about it, as anyone would have been. I felt for him, and said that I know how awful and depressing unrequited feelings are, but that he didn't have much choice but to move on.
As we entered winter quarter, he began to get closer and closer to her. They would talk often and hang out in our room. I didn't really mind; she was nice enough. I asked my roommate a few times about his feelings (after all, I didn't want him to get hurt), but he assured me that they had passed and that he had no intentions of pursuing her if she was already with someone else. And their friendship did seem genuine at first. They were as close as new friends are, but I thought nothing suspicious of it.
Slowly, though, their interactions started to shift. They would spend unnatural amounts of time together—she was always in our room, and if she wasn't, then neither was he. They spend full days together, exploring downtown, eating meals together, always laughing and joking and smiling together. I tried to ignore it and told myself that nothing could be going on between them because she was taken and his feelings were gone. And then they started cuddling together.
I would walk into the room and they were always there, just sleeping next to each other. It did make me a little uncomfortable, not just because I felt like I was invading their space and interrupting their time together, but because it felt wrong to me. Obviously, I couldn't say anything—who was I to judge their actions? For all I knew, they could have just been good friends who got very tired and accidentally fell asleep together. Or perhaps her boyfriend was completely aware of the situation between them and was okay with it. And even if he didn't—it was none of my business. And yet I couldn't help but feel that their actions were somehow intangibly and inexplicably wrong. I'm aware that this is my own personal bias, which is why I never spoke up about it... until things got worse.
I came back from class one day and saw my roommate and that girl cuddling under the covers of his bed. Nothing I hadn't seen before. I walked over to my desk and set my backpack down. I was about to start my computer when I heard my roommate clear his throat and say, "Um. Could you come back in like fifteen minutes?"
Confused, I turned to look at him. Only then did I see that all their clothes were on the floor next to his bed, from socks, pants, and shirts to his boxers and her bra. Shocked, I got up and walked out of the room. I gave them as much time as they needed. I knew the only legitimate reason I had for being angry was that he had not given me any warning, that he had used our space as his own. And yet I couldn't help but feel morally sickened by what they had done. Now there was no way I could imagine them as purely friends. No way her boyfriend would be okay with the two of them, what they had done, and whatever they were to each other. I know it was none of my business and that I'm not his or her conscience or moral compass, and believe me I never want to be, but this was definitely in violation of my own moral code of conduct.
I vowed then and there never to be like my roommate. Never to do what he did. Never to lower myself to his level and help someone cheat on their significant other. Never to be the "other man."
And maybe I wouldn't have felt so strongly about it if they had stopped. If it happened once and only once, then I would probably have been able to set my moral judgments aside. But they didn't. They kept going. I know because I walked in on them more than once. And by the end of that year, she and her long-distance boyfriend had broken up. Evidently, he had found out about her involvement with my roommate and ended things with her. She was devastated (though I'm not sure why she would be or why she wouldn't anticipate that). But my roommate comforted her through the tough times, and they are now together, and have been for over a year. Good for them.
Now, I'm in my third year of college, not on speaking terms with either of them, and I prefer it that way.
I met a girl recently through a club I'm a part of, and I really like her. We started to become closer and talk more and I was going to ask her out until she mentioned her long-distance boyfriend of nearly a year. Instantly, my roommate came to mind.
Quite obviously, I didn't ask her out, nor did I even hint at my feelings. How could I, having witnessed firsthand how innocent intentions turn into (in my mind) abhorrent acts? What would my feelings do to her relationship? To her? Everything about my freshman year taught me how unbelievably wrong it is to pursue someone taken and the negative consequences it can have.
But of course, I can't just erase what I feel. Everything inside of me wants to tell her even when I know very well how my feelings will be received. And what kills me is that I can't. Through such an awful experience, I never want to even generate a situation in which what happened to my roommate could happen to me. I would hate myself for it.
But then what do I do? Keep being friends with her, even without the pure intentions I pretend to have? Even that, as I have learned, can lead to terrible ends. What if she comes to me when things aren't going well with her boyfriend? Or if things are going incredibly well and she wants to share with me? How do I handle that when all I want to do is grab her and kiss her?
I've been so unsure of what to do—how much is appropriate with everything I do and say to her. I want her to know so much, but I'm fearful of what it might do, of how selfish I would be, and of the response I'm sure I'll get. I don't want to have to stop seeing her, but I don't want my feelings to grow. I don't want to hear about her boyfriend in either positive or negative contexts, but I don't want my friendship and support of her to be limited.
Does being with her mean I have to go against what I believe is right? If so, does being true to myself mean being perpetually alone?
How can I give her everything she needs and stop myself from giving her my heart as well?