My boyfriend was interested in another woman. He left me, and she and I became good friends.
- I fell for a man who love bombed me. I didn't know he was playing me against another woman.
- After we broke up, she became a trusted friend to me.
I thought it was a red flag when my new boyfriend complained about another woman. But once he started showering me with everything from poetry to plane trips, I thought he'd gotten over her. I was going to learn otherwise when he disappeared from my life at the end of that year.
But the surprise gift of that failed romance was the friendship I forged with the woman he'd complained about.
She had refused his advances
Mutual friends had arranged for me to meet this man at a party, unaware he was already besotted with Deborah.
He brought up her name more than once during our early dates. He admitted he'd been interested in her and grumbled that she'd refused his advances. I worried I was being friend zoned, but when he turned his gaze toward me, I conveniently put that out of my mind.
I'd known Deborah from a distance for years. She was accomplished in every way I valued: beautiful but not conceited, successful but not boastful, talented but not a diva. A talented photographer, she captured images of everyone from celebrities to babies and pets. I'd see her at events and feel the sting of envy, but it never got under my skin until I started dating that man.
The months we spent together from spring through fall quickly melted into a lovely blur, so I barely noticed when he didn't call for a few days — then it was a week, then a month. He vanished without explanation.
I learned he was getting married
Not long after, I ran into Deborah at an art-gallery opening. As we chatted, I said, "You and I have an interesting connection." I mentioned his name. She scoffed. "I was never interested in him."
Suddenly it made sense. She'd been saying "no," but he didn't get the message. Like many men, he chose to hear "try again."
I wasn't prepared for what she said next.
"Did you hear he's getting married? He contacted me and said, 'I forgive you.'" She gave a throaty laugh. It was clearly a maneuver to flaunt he'd won the game.
So yes: The man I'd loved and lost was getting married, and I learned about it — in a public setting — from the woman he'd always preferred over me.
Losing love is difficult enough, but something worse was bubbling up inside me: shame. Shame that a woman I envied could rise above such melodrama while I couldn't. And shame that I could have believed any of it was because of her.
We became friends
After that, whenever Deborah and I bumped into each other, she hugged me, wearing a big smile and perfect lipstick. We never spoke about him, because there was really nothing to say.
I felt the warmth of belonging when she began inviting me to her projects. We dressed up as red-cloaked handmaids at a protest. When I asked to use one of her photos for an article I was writing, she granted it for free. She created a place for me in a world that seemed to expect women to routinely stab each other in the back.
While visiting Deborah's home and lush gardens, a twinge of resentment began to bubble up. But it subsided once I remembered to remove the man from the scene. Without his shadow, I could clearly see the world she created, so vivid and vital.
Deborah's throaty laugh turned out to be a harbinger of lung cancer. She underwent treatment, but her health had declined recently. I mailed her a card to cheer her up.
Then I learned she'd died before it reached her.
Deborah never set out to teach me about life or romance, but that's what happened. I've stopped using envy to avoid women who exemplify wisdom and success. I'm developing insights into who is or isn't an adversary.
And if another man complains about a woman, I'll listen with skepticism. I'll remember that she could turn out to be the best thing I get from him.
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