At one point or another, we’ve all had a case of main character syndrome. We go through our lives feeling like we are the protagonist in our own story – our own world – and everyone else is just a side character. The blog Fraternal Philosophising described it as a “psychological phenomenon in which everyone sees themselves as the ‘main character’”. This idea can seem quite narcissistic, but it’s a natural feeling for anyone to have.
If you think about, we are each living out a first-person novel where everything is felt and seen
from our own perspective. Our thoughts fill the silence of the day with internal monologues and we practically get to be the star in every moment or interaction that happens to us. I never thought twice about feeling this way, but I recently felt what it was like to step out of my protagonist spotlight and play a secondary character.
Now, what is the purpose of a secondary character? Sometimes they provide support for the protagonist, sometimes they challenge the protagonist. They help progress the story without making it revolve around them.
This concept becomes especially relevant when exploring the past year with my two best friends. Let me explain.
Since I started high school, I have stuck with the same two boys through it all. They are the people that I come to when I need to drive around to sad music and when I need to have an impromptu dance party. The three of us were, and still are, inseparable. Being the one girl among us has brought about an interesting dynamic, but nothing sexual or flirty because neither of them are straight. But for the majority of the past year, I was the only one who each of them had come out to.
Calling myself the glue of the group would sound sort of conceited and may reinforce the fact that I have main character syndrome, but it’s true. Both of them are more comfortable coming to me with problems, or stories, or news, rather than each other. Also, like I said, I’m the only girl in our trio, so I felt like that made me stand out with them by default.
Let me tell you more about these boys, who — for a long time — I saw as the sidekicks to my life’s storyline.
Leon and I met freshman year in math class. I developed a crush on him the second he DMed me about the homework. Leon was cool. He was a varsity soccer playing, JCrew model type boy who all the girls crushed on. Basically, he was hot shit and he knew it (and he still does today). I’m not sure exactly how we grew so close because I feel like we’re an odd pair, but by senior year, he knew me better than anyone.
Martin and I bonded on the first day of high school over burnt potato chips in the dining hall. He mentioned they tasted gross, but better than the normal hot meal. I agreed. From then on, we were best friends and, as cringe-worthy as it may be, occasionally mistaken for lovers. There are too many videos out there of us wearing wigs and doing improv slam poetry to the point of concern. He cries, sobs and screams when he laughs too hard. He loves drama and overthinks practically everything.
As high school came to a close, it was time for the three of us to decide on colleges. By April, I had already sent my deposit to Michigan and Martin had sent his to Northeastern. But the friendship triangle between us three became more complicated when Leon was coincidentally deciding between Michigan and Northeastern.
I still remember the day Leon finally made his decision— the day I realized that the two of them would be together without me.
I cried, genuinely. At first, I imagined Martin and Leon eating at the dining hall, doing laundry and going to parties together. I then had the terrible thought of who they were going to replace me with. In my mind, they were going to find some cool, edgy, artsy girl who could pull off bangs and play guitar. I could never compete with her! My biggest fear however, was that keeping in touch would become a chore and they would forget about me. I would have to go my separate way, written off as a lame side character while their friendship grew.
At first, it felt like everything I had dramatized in my head was coming true. Leon and Martin just happened to live a floor from each other in the same dorm despite Northeastern’s giant campus. Are you kidding me? I listened to their stories about transitioning into college together while I sat from a distance.
Yet, to my surprise and regardless of their close proximity, Leon and Martin lived very separate lives. Leon joined a top frat at Northeastern. He decided to study business, but is currently looking for a minor to “feed his soul”. Martin, on the other hand, is part of Northeastern’s general studies program, which Leon makes fun of. As Leon explains, Northeastern business students are just as pretentious as the Rossholes. Martin also joined a frat for the whole of two days but dropped when he was forced to refer to every boy as “brother (last name).”
And then there’s me. I’m the person each of them will call to talk about school and everything going on with them.
I may have been wrong about a fictitious new girl replacing me, but not about playing a secondary role. While this prophecy was coming into fruition, I was the furthest thing from being a lame side character.
I noticed my transition out of the spotlight beginning. However, this was not in a negative way or like I was becoming less important. Instead, I felt like I was watching their lives from the sidelines as they narrated them to me from a distance.
Here’s where things get interesting. After being apart from them for all of one month, both Leon and Martin separately told me that they’re attracted to guys. Neither of them wanted to tell each other, or anyone else. Before I go any further: No, they do not end up together. That would never happen in a million years.
The day Leon came out to me was in late September. For the whole week before, he had been texting me about his new crush. Over and over he would randomly blurt out, “I’m in love.” When I would ask who, he would say nothing. It felt like a dead end.
After pestering him about girls he had mentioned in the past, I finally said, “Well, is it a boy?”
There was silence on the phone. Leon hung up. Almost immediately after, I received an incoming text from Leon:
Honestly, I was not expecting him to say that. I think I screamed. It dawned on me that I was the only person in the world who knew.
Coincidentally, just a week later, Martin came out to me.
This was less of a surprise because Martin and I had always been more open with each other about liking people and about sexuality in general. I kind of assumed he wasn’t straight, but Martin officially confirmed this in a drunken text. It sounded a little something like this:
“I need to tell you something, Nah, never mind, ahahahah I’M FREAKING OUT, okay okay,” and then, he finally said it,“So… I’m attracted to guys and girls.”
Although none of this came as a shock, there was still something special about the moment. It was like an invisible wall between us had come down.
It was around that time when I noticed the difference between me as a main character versus a secondary. I was holding onto both Leon and Martin’s secret and stuck in a funny, coincidental situation. But, as I took the position of a secondary character, the focus was less about me, and more about supporting my friends individually.
To be clear, both of these boys who live maybe 50 feet from each other, would call me, all the way in Michigan, to discuss their love lives without realizing that the other was doing the exact same thing just one floor below. I had to play dumb or go back and forth on calls an absurd amount of times, but it was slightly amusing. Essentially, I served as their walking diaries from then on.
It started off small with texts from Leon about feeling a vibe with a boy he had made eye contact with on the train and falling in love within seconds. I began to understand that perhaps Leon and I were more similar than I thought. Then, Leon joined tinder and immediately became obsessed. His best friend list on snapchat soon consisted of all boys that he had matched with, and me. Most recently, he had his first mini heartbreak over a douchebag-EDM-listening-mass snapping twenty-two-year-old who showed lots of initial interest, and then ghosted him.
Martin arrived at college and realized that, on the contrary to what he believed in high school, he’s actually really attractive. Boys began hitting him up left and right. First it was a boy in his Econ class, and then it was a guy from down the hall. He spoke about it casually like it was no big deal that he was the newest hottie on campus.
I remember one time early in the year Martin “hung out” with someone in his room. After that someone left, Leon came upstairs to ask for help with some of his homework. Martin showed no signs of what had been going on in the room maybe ten minutes before and called me in tears laughing after Leon left. I laughed along with him, but in my mind I thought, “Little do you know, Martin!”
I also remember the day when Leon suggested to me, “We need to set Martin up with someone.” While I nodded along with him I thought, “Little do you know, Leon!”
This back and forth gossip went on up until mid-March when we were all brought home from college because of COVID-19 and the two ended up coming out to each other.
As a main character, I held the misconception that I had to be the one to let myself open up in order for a relationship to grow closer. While this is somewhat true, I now realize that letting someone else open up to you, or acting as more of a supportive side character to them, moves the relationship miles closer to yourself than you could have ever imagined.
I was stuck between two of my best friends and it wasn’t my place or my duty to try and get myself unstuck. From the sideline, I knew that their stories eventually would intertwine, but I had no say on when this would happen. To be honest, I really hoped that they would come across each other on tinder so we could all break the ice. But one day, Leon felt like he was ready, and he told Martin, and Martin told him. At this point I emerged from the shadows, they gasped, and we all laughed and went on with our lives.
Maybe before all this happened I was plagued with main character syndrome…but who isn’t at times? I came to realize that sometimes the best thing you can do is sit back and play a secondary role. For me, there were times when I was dying to shatter the glass between me and my friends. I wanted them to see my perspective and in doing so, I could return to my protagonist position. Yet in the end, I knew that none of this was about me.
To give an update on this iconic trio, in our group chat all we talk about now is boys, boys and other boys… but I think we’re just making up for lost time.