“I slept with him.” My roommate Allison was talking about the guy, Tom we had been spending months hanging out with. I was devastated. I’d had a crush on him.
I was a bit angry, too. She knew about the crush.
“You know, Tom has a crush on you, too. He was afraid to make a move.” She paused. “I’ve been thinking — we could share him.”
It has been widely agreed by people that know me that I — a socially awkward nail biter — am the last person one might expect to find in a poly situation of any kind. There’s a popular perception of me as what the kids call a “square,” one earned from spending a lot of time at college parties sitting in a corner, writing down snippets of conversation.
At this point in my life I hadn’t even been in a relationship. I’d had a few ambiguous hookups that never went anywhere, but every guy I liked either had a girlfriend he swore he wanted to break up with (yeah, sure) or wasn’t interested. I figured I would die alone, given my inability to find a single guy in a city of 4 million who I liked and who wanted to date me.
I’d lost a few friends to the relationship thing. Before Allison made her offer, I was expecting that it would happen again — Allison and Tom would disappear to do couple stuff, or spend all the time they spent with me making schmoopy eyes. As Allison was telling me about their “amazing” sex, I was feeling a combination of betrayal (I liked him first! What about the code!), jealousy (How amazing are we talking?), and the impending loss of our three-way friendship, she made the offer to make it a three-way relationship.
We could share him.
I’ve always had a weakness for bad-ass girls who don’t give a damn, girls who think about themselves. Allison was rude, foul-mouthed, smoked constantly, drank often, and when I met her I thought she was the kind of person I wanted to be. We walked to bars that stayed open past the 2am closing time and allowed smoking, unthinkable in many parts of LA; we walked home past MS-13 graffiti, reckless and fearless.
On one of our walks home at 3am an LAPD patrol car pulled alongside us: “Girls, you shouldn’t be walking out here at night,” the cop in the passenger seat told us, while his partner nodded.
Allison laughed. “We live here,” she said. They followed us to our apartment building, their expressions humorless.
We took long drives, at night, out to the San Gabriels where we sat on the hood of her mom’s Infiniti and smoked, looking at the stars we couldn’t see in LA. We followed the reviews in Jonathan Gold’s Counter Intelligence to hole in the wall restaurants where we ate the spiciest items on the menu. We became regulars at a karaoke bar, because it was within walking distance and they gave us free shots.
I had moved to LA because it was cheaper than New York and I had a vague idea about screenwriting — Diablo Cody had also moved from the Midwest to LA, and she had gotten an Oscar, so it seemed like a plan. The fact that I had neither the semi-interesting life story or published book really didn’t faze me. How hard could it be? (Apparently, hard.)
I wrote coverage for production companies, essentially Cliffs notes for people too lazy to read 120 pages, and as I watched scripts I’d savaged get made into blockbusters I poked and prodded at my measly scripts.
Allison worked on set, where her carefree attitude made her popular, and she had weird hours. When we met Tomás, “just Tom,” he folded easily into our adventures, and he had an Xbox and a lot of free time after being laid off.
Tom was sweet with an off-kilter sense of humor. The three of us sat around drinking Tanqueray and Sprite and playing Bomberman. I told Allison I had a crush on him and she laughed and said she did, too. After we left his house we would talk about how cute he was. I don’t know why I didn’t sleep with him first — maybe I was trying to keep things as they were.
It wasn’t too much like “Big Love.” Maybe a little. I got dressed and did my makeup and Allison told me to have a good time. I would go to Tom’s, and we would spend the night together. Then the next night, I would sit in my room trying so hard not to think about them, together.
I had a sense of adventure about it, though I knew the handful of friends I told thought it was actually insane, like I might need to be committed for thinking that sharing a man with my roommate and good friend was going to be anything but a disaster. I ignored them.
It wasn’t long before Allison and I went to our favorite Koreatown bar, where the teen boy waiters wore matching uniforms — sometimes basketball jerseys, sometimes fatigues — and we drank soju mixed with lemonade from a giant, battered copper teapot. On the way home I kissed her in the street, so violently we almost fell down. After stumbling home, into her bedroom, a few hours later we called Tom over.
My mom’s not big on advice. The only aphorism she really has is, “Never try to catch a falling knife.” It’s good advice, if you take it.
I was jealous almost instantly. Being able to so intimately compare myself to Allison made me deeply insecure; I knew that when they were alone together they were not thinking about me. Or worse, I knew that when they were alone together they were thinking about me, and they were thinking I was terrible and how had they gotten stuck with someone so awful as me.
I started losing weight. I got Xanax and self-medicated as much as possible. In college, I had experienced paranoid depression, so bad that I couldn’t sleep at night. Instead I just sat awake, writing or reading or staring at the Internet, only sleeping when the sun rose. It was more manageable then.
In my so-called adult life, I missed deadlines. One of my companies fired me, and I needed to get out. A friend from college sent me details on cheap flights overseas, and with work scarce I bought a ticket. When I told Allison she said, “What flight? I’ll come.” I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say no.
I suffered anxiety attacks in Prague. The more I enjoyed myself, the more I felt there was a mess I’d made at home that I couldn’t clean up. Allison and I had fundamental incompatibilities that came out when we traveled. I was stressed and tense, obsessed with getting to the airport on time. She changed plans without asking, disappeared without warning.
Back home it ended the way it was always going to — badly. I accused them both of various emotional betrayals. I don’t know if that drew them closer together, or if that was already happening, and I just was jealous and sensitive because I could tell.
We tried to be equal partners, but we were too immature to make it work, especially me. When you try to bury your insecurity because you want to be a “cool girl” and you get yourself in way over your head, you will eventually wind up making yourself crazy.
For four months after Allison and I lived together and never saw each other. She emailed to tell me she was moving in with Tom. I emailed to tell her I’d found a new roommate.
On the day she moved out, I went to Disneyland. I got back after midnight. She’d left her key on the kitchen table. I sat up all night deleting every email she and Tom had sent me, every picture we’d ever taken.
For years afterwards I occasionally stalked their social media, growing disappointed to see they weren’t breaking up. Long after my e-stalking dropped off, I saw the pictures by accident. The photographer they used photographed another friend’s wedding. The pictures are nice, generic in that way wedding photos are. (Couple gazes at each other. Husband holds wife protectively. Small child runs. Wedding rings sit on table.)
I used to feel regret. Looking at the pictures now? I don’t feel anything at all.