The Unexpected Third Wheel Experience
By Lauren Huffman
I always thought relationships were just nuisances. My first boyfriend was annoying. My second boyfriend was even more annoying. My third boyfriend was — wait — this was something real. His name was Mike.
We had gone to high school together but I barely knew he existed. He only knew who I was because I was dating his best friend, Sean, and was a raging bitch throughout our three year courtship.
Five years after high school, I had moved to the city. Sean and Mike were already living in the city as roommates. I would see Mike in groups and we would chat on AIM. One night, a bunch of us were out partying. It was Black Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving. Also dubbed "The Biggest Going Out Night of the Year." Everyone was out drinking and having a good time.
I was flirting with a guy named David all night. Mike pulled me aside. He told me he was jealous of how I was flirting with David and that he liked me. I thanked him, walked away, and made out with David for the rest of the night.
Two nights later, Mike and I made out. I was drunk.
Mike pursued me, told me he liked me. I told him I was not interested. I thought he was great but I just didn't like him like that. The booze made me kiss him.
We continued to hang out as friends, as if nothing had happened.
On New Year's Eve, we made out again and I admitted, I had fallen for him. Hard. And I hadn't even noticed.
We started dating. He confessed he never stopped pursuing me and was certain he'd get me to like him. He said I am a tough egg to crack, but he knew he could do it. And he had. Successfully. I was in love, for real love, for the first time.
Loving Mike meant also loving baggage. He came from divorced parents. His mother is a successful educator who resides in a suburb. His father is a drug addicted ex stock exchange bigwig whose reputation precedes him.
Three months into our relationship, Mike found out his father had stolen his identity and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt under Mike's name.
I could not believe it. I had no words. No one did. This is not exactly a normal condolence. Hallmark doesn't make an "I'm sorry your father is a criminal" card.
I'm sorry your father does illegal things...
Mike and I graduated college and went on our first job interviews together. I was pursuing a career in television, which is a non-formulaic cluster fuck of running around like a chicken with your head cut off, trying to find a job. Mike was my rock. Television was a demanding career, I was going to be working 80 plus hours a week with no time off, and he could not have been more supportive.
I found a job working for the Judge Mathis show. I had a studio apartment with a twin bed in Lincoln Park. It was basically just a place where I could sleep for the few hours a day I had off.
Mike had a job as a teacher in a far northern town. At least two hours away during rush hour.
He would meet me at my studio each night, around 11 so we could fall asleep together. He would have to get up extra early, usually around 4 a.m. to make it to work on time.
It is the only thing that kept me sane during those long work hours.
But, as our relationship blossomed, his father's troubles sprinkled seeds of doubt and anxiety along the way.
Mike and I often talked about getting married. We knew we were perfect for each other and had a good relationship. I ignored the glaring red flags his father emitted. Although Mike was not the person committing the crimes, his father was always going to be there. Mike made it clear he would never cut his father out of his life. I worried what this could mean for our future. If we had kids, would his father steal their identities?
Mike's dad would get arrested on what seemed like a weekly basis. Usually for DUIs. When we were married, would I become responsible for bailing him out of jail — all the time?
Would my credit score be ruined when I combine my finances with Mike?
Would my children have drug abuse problems because their grandpa was an addict?
During a moment of weakness and fear, I broke up with Mike.
We got back together two weeks later, but it was never the same. Mike no longer trusted me and six months later we split for good.
We decided to keep the door open, perhaps distance from each other would rebuild our connection.
About nine months after we broke up, my roommate told me Mike was spreading rumors about me. He was telling people I was begging my high school boyfriend, Sean, for sex.
What? I was so confused, hurt and devastated.
Mike and I were no longer amicable. At this point, I really didn't like him and I'm sure he really didn't like me.
Years passed, and it was Sean's 30th birthday. Despite Mike's and my demise, I remained friends with Sean, and Sean remained friends with Mike. But Mike and I never crossed paths. Until now. For Sean's 30th.
I wanted to bail, but it had been so long that I figured it was just residual nerves. I knew Mike had a new girlfriend and she would be present. Sean, sadly, had just broken up with his fiancé about two weeks before. He was a bit of a mess and I felt I should be there for him.
It was a sit down dinner. Somehow, I ended up sitting directly across from Mike and his new girlfriend. And right before my eyes, Mike got down on one knee and proposed to his now wife. As I watched.
Throughout our relationship and for years after our break up, I imagined Mike proposing. It was just never to someone else.