A 21-year-old man and my childhood friend, whom we will call “X,” had a serious girlfriend for two years in college, and was very happy with her (evident in his Instagram feed with recurring captions: “Grateful for my best friend”). But he was actively approaching other women and professing his feelings for them.

As an outsider, I would condemn him as a hypocritical womanizer. I always held the blunt belief that infidelity is the betrayal of trust, and those who help the cheater are complicit in the immoral act of violating relationship norms. Thus, getting with X was nowhere on my moral compass. Being on the other side of an infidelity equation was definitely not a place I ever imagined myself, but in a twist of fate — one nebulous night in New York City over the summer— I became the “other” woman.

Amidst aimless bar-hopping, when he tried to kiss me, I rejected him because I knew he had a long-distance girlfriend. But he was insistent, saying, “We are still young, we should live a little,” and I drunkenly thought, “why not?”

Terrible decision.

I observed the dangerous effortlessness to indulge in my vices just the next night. An irresponsible fling subsequently bloomed.

Although I felt nauseous from being with him, there was a sinister excitement in the affair. After a long week of competing in corporate internships, I itched for our fancy dinner dates in SoHo and the movie nights followed by romantic strolls through Times Square. I was living with a couple and they thought he was my long-term boyfriend.

The scenario was great, except it was all a lie and I was fully aware of it. But in my mind, I had already enforced a denial of his girlfriend’s existence because I was, honestly, ashamed.

A part of me even knew our fling was built on his insecurity. But I wanted to be flattered. I didn’t want anything to do with what was happening under the surface. Yet I was still, not so deep down, disgusted at who I was over that summer. However, admitting to myself that I have consciously betrayed my values and in turn ignited my inner dark cravings for the forbidden fruit was the inevitable self-confrontation I wanted to avoid in order to “live in the present.” In other words, I was the conflicted “other” woman. 

Soon enough, summer came to an end and confessions of his love for me arrived with it, which contradictorily enshrined the guilt-painted reality that he had a girlfriend. I was devastated that I helped a man cheat on a woman who had no idea what her boyfriend was doing behind her back. So I denounced the affair and we agreed to distance ourselves when we returned to our respective colleges, and he went back to living with her. Yet, nothing stopped.

We regularly fired text messages, where he couldn’t stop reminiscing on our summer dalliances and I couldn’t contain my guilt. He implied we should organize some New York City escapades because “a guy who works out and has a lot of testosterone needs to have sex.” Two months earlier, I would deliberately disregard such alarming statements. But now, I was the conscience-stricken “other” woman, so him excusing his infidelity with the precursor of masculinity was a red flag for me.

I made some new discoveries. While he was seeing me and still in a relationship with his girlfriend, he was also pouring out romantic messages to another childhood friend’s college roommate — a girl he had never met, but admired through stalking her Instagram. He was simultaneously telling his high school girlfriend that she was “the one” ever since they broke up four years ago. She was shattered when X misled her to believe that he wanted to rekindle their relationship but later refused to leave his current girlfriend.

With the growing tide of morality burning within myself, I started confronting my perverseness for feeding his fallacious ideas that he could just play with four different women’s emotions and presume there would be no repercussions. So I pressed his need to be truthful to his girlfriend for his own good. My role now changed to “the good friend.”  

In the following turbulent days, a mutual friend of ours, whom X would habitually approach for relationship advice, discovered his cheating and also urged him to tell his girlfriend. This is when X called me crying and said: “I have told her everything, she is sitting right in front of me.” I knew him well enough to know he was falsifying a mental breakdown just to stop conversations that made him uncomfortable. But I didn’t disclose that I didn’t believe him. I was exhausted.

A few sleepless nights later, our friend showed me new posts of X and his girlfriend together that confirmed he faked the whole event of telling his girlfriend. Now, I felt the necessity of slamming the brakes hard on X. I was too guilty for fueling his twisted romantic perspective. I knew he would keep going if no one stopped him and I knew his girlfriend would be the one to suffer the most.

After a month of pondering about her well-being, I sent an email to her with screenshots of texts between me and X. I owned up to my complicity in getting with her boyfriend, despite knowing she existed.

Within an hour, X tried calling me and I firmly refused to talk to him, because him desiring my reasoning for sending the email only demonstrated his ongoing belief that his “obedient girlfriend” (in his own words) was not entitled to learn of his mendacity. But parts of me were crumbling — I felt awful for doing this to my friend, even though I believed I did the right thing by coming clean to his girlfriend. With contradictions flaming in my mind, I ultimately texted him to close the chapter.

Although without animosity, he expressed his devastation for hearing his girlfriend say, “You are dead to me,” and requested for me to forward the email so he could explain his “thought process” for every event. Of course, I was not going to help him sow more excuses. Instead, I implored him to face the situation with veracity, as I was now the “good moral being” in addition to my previous role of the “good friend.” He finally expressed an interest in understanding the root of why he kept on doing all this. After that, we blocked each other from everything (including Venmo and LinkedIn). I never received a reply from his girlfriend, but I only hope I’ve helped her future in some way. 

Sometimes I wish this story never happened. I distressed my friend and possibly ended his relationship. Yet, I remain content with the thought that perhaps we all learned to never drive down the roads of infidelity, deceit and lies again. And as days pass, I’m tempted to shelf this experience as a faint, vile memory. But I precariously attempt to hold on to the trajectory of willfully abandoning my moral codes and rediscovering them. After my stressful ride to the “other” side, I commit to exercising self-control next time my impulses try to hijack my beliefs.

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