In my freshman year of college, I did the one thing everyone told me not to do: I roomed with my best friend. She and I Irish danced together for most of our lives. This means we have stayed in hotels together, gone on long-distance road trips together and seen each other on top of the world with wins and at the bottom with losses.
We grew up together in many different ways. It only made sense to go to the same university and room together. For about a year before I went to college, my roommate had been seeing this guy I had never met.
They went to high school together, about 20 minutes away from the place I lived and went to school. He didn't attend her dance functions, or even her high school orchestra concerts, for that matter. (I know this because her parents, my grandparents and I never missed one of her concerts.)
He wasn't really into her other activities outside of their relationship. We overlooked this for a while.
Other than the fact that he made her pull away from dance before she retired, I didn't really have any reason not to like this guy. I just kind of figured we would move away to our new schools over an hour away, and he'd be around a lot until their relationship fizzled. I wasn't too worried. That is, until her dad called me and asked to get coffee.
Both he and his wife could not stand her boyfriend. They thought he was holding her back, changing her and, worst of all, controlling her. I didn't really think much of the controlling thing at the time.
So, I overlooked these things until her dad pointed them out once again. Fast-forward to college.
She and I moved in together. It was just as we expected it to be: an ongoing sleepover with no parents, no rules and ice cream for breakfast. It was a pretty sweet deal, until it wasn't anymore.
The boyfriend was beyond controlling. Dude, was he beyond mean. You can only listen to someone call your best friend “thunder thighs” so many times before you want to kick him out of your tiny, cramped dorm room.
I am not going to go into the details of their relationship because frankly, the details belong to her. I respect her relationship with her current boyfriend far too much to type them out.
So, what am I going to do? I'm going to tell you what I did wrong in this situation: I told her to end it.
I told her he was mean, controlling and just the worst fungi that had ever been given the body of a human being. That was my biggest mistake.
The more I told her that in normal, healthy relationships, girls don't fear their boyfriends, and the more I told her that if she ever got dumb enough to marry him, I would very impolitely decline my invitation to be in the wedding, the more she pulled away from me and relied on him.
The more she relied on him, the more frustrated I got, and the worse the situation became.
At the end of my senior year, our friendship overcame that horrible guy and their toxic relationship. It's been a pretty long journey for the two of us. Along that journey, I became a better friend.
There are several reasons why I think the dude at the top of my hit list (aka, my roommate's controlling ex-boyfriend) has made me a better friend. First, I was present for a pretty rough time in one of my best friend's lives. I had never gone through anything like that with her before.
To be honest, I had never really gotten into an argument with her before. Let me tell you, this dude made us argue. Holy balls, did we argue.
I don't think I had ever heard her yell, let alone yell my full name into the phone in the wee hours of the morning. I thought that the fact that we had fought made our friendship weaker. I thought that somehow -- because we raised our voices at each other and said things we probably didn't mean -- we weren't really as good friends as we had thought.
But learning how to work beyond these moments and learning how to apologize to someone (even though I didn't agree with the things I was apologizing for) made me a better friend. I stopped listening in.
I generally consider myself a pretty nosey person, but overhearing some of the unrepeatable things he had said to her while she was crying over Skype made me not want to listen anymore. Honestly, even though listening in could have given me so much more ammo to help me prove what an ass he was, it was her pain, and hers alone.
I became more aware of what was happening with my friends. Before this relationship, I was so focused on my friendships that I paid little attention to my friends' relationships outside of those that we shared.
After this experience, however, I made an effort to be aware and see what else was happening in their lives that was shaping and affecting them as individuals. I learned it wasn't my place to directly approach a problem that had nothing to do with me.
My roommate had gotten all dolled up one night to Skype her boyfriend -- hair done, makeup done, cute new shirt, the works -- and the dude decided video games were more important. Their Skype date could wait until morning.
I took it upon myself to message him and tell him a beautiful girl was sitting in tears in front of her laptop, waiting to Skype a boy who didn't deserve to even look at her, let alone talk to her.
It was textbook word vomit, but worse, it was on the Internet. He took it out on her. Years later, I'm still shaking my head at my meddling.
That was not my place. It was not my problem. It was none of my business.
I learned my friends are going to have boyfriends and girlfriends. They're going to have other friends. They're going to have hookups. They're going to have husbands and wives.
You know what? That's OK. All of my friends have hearts bursting with love and affection for others.
I have somehow been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who act with passion and put others first. At the end of the day, all of their affection would be too much for one person. There is just no way they could survive without spreading that around. But they do, and that's OK.
But most importantly, I learned that people are going to make their own mistakes. They're going to make them with or without you. Let them.
We learn from our mistakes (as cliched as that sounds). My friends aren't going to learn a damn thing from me preventing their mistakes, just as I will learn nothing from them preventing mine.
We're all trying to make it through this wild ride. Sometimes, we're going at it together. Other times, we're doing it alone.
At the end of the day, you can't fight someone's path. Everything he or she does, and everything that happens to him or her happens for a reason. Sometimes, things are wonderful. Other times, they are just plain sh*tty.
But you're going to make mistakes, and you're going to watch others make them. Once you've said your piece, all you can do is sit back and focus on yourself. If he or she realizes that he or she made a mistake, maybe you'll get thanked later.
Maybe you won't. That's life.
I became a better friend because I realized that no matter what happens, I will always do everything I can to be there for her. Boyfriends come and go. But when it's the right one, he will treat her better than any dude I ever could have picked for her.
So, to my best friend's ex-boyfriend: Thank you. While your presence put me through hell for a while and nearly ruined my friendship, it made me a better friend. It made my friendship with your ex-girlfriend that much stronger.