I was never supposed to be the other woman. I was too good for that, I told myself. If I couldn’t be someone’s number one, I didn’t want to be theirs at all. Except somehow, it happened anyway.
I was 18 when I met him. He was single then and I was starry-eyed, but we were just friends. Then he got a girlfriend. I tried to bury my feelings and walk away, but I struggled trying to keep them under wraps. And as it turned out, so did he.
Our friendship evolved into something else — secret meetings in the corner of the library, long emails about repressed feelings. Sometimes I forgot he had a girlfriend at all. Because when we were together, it was just him and me again, just like it always had been before. When we were together, no one else existed in the world.
But of course, that’s not how things really work. Every time he said he had to go home, I knew he was leaving out the words “to her.” And every time he was too busy to see me, I knew he had to stop himself from saying, “because of her.” I started attributing everything that went wrong to her — every time he snapped at me, every time he was angry, every time he was distant or MIA. I grew jealous of a woman I had no right to be jealous of. Deep in my heart, I knew I wasn’t allowed to be upset with someone who only truly had the right to be upset with me.
Even when we were together, just the two of us, my illusion was always shattered. Sometimes we’d be walking down the street and we’d run into someone we knew and we’d have to straighten up and pretend that everything was normal, innocent. That was the worst part, when I had to stand next to him as he pretended he didn’t care for me at all. I hated that the other person would look at me and think that I was just a small part of his life, nothing significant at all. I hated it because maybe they had the right idea and I was the one wrong all along.
But all of that didn’t seem to matter when things were going well. The good times were just so good. I was in love with him, and I’m not sure if that’s a good excuse for my actions or just something I told myself to help me sleep at night. But it was true — I was so in love that I couldn’t think straight, that I would have done anything in the world to be with him. And that was my downfall.
I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but every time I tried to pull away he just pulled me right back in. I was trapped in a toxic cycle of guilt and longing. And that’s what being the other woman is — it’s feeling like you’re loved one minute and then realizing the next that it’s all a lie. It’s feeling justified and then realizing that you’re exactly the person you grew up hating. It’s being happy and then realizing, slowly, that you’re not. Because you can’t be happy when you always come in second. You just can’t.
And so I walked away, finally, but not before hurting everyone who had been involved, including me. Especially me. What had once been the best thing about my life had been the thing to ruin it all.
And that’s what it feels like to be the other woman. Beautiful, then terrible, the ghost that haunts every corner of your day, that keeps you up all night. Because in the pursuit of gaining someone else’s love, you start to lose your own.