Names have been changed.
I first noticed Richard when he sat next to me during freshman orientation. He was a basketball player with a sharp jawline — insanely gorgeous, I thought.
I loved the curve of Richard’s biceps through his hoodie, his smooth curly hair, and his cute smile. But I was also drawn to him because even though we didn’t know each other, he felt familiar.
One day in algebra I was walking to my desk and Richard pointed to the ground and said, “Your socks are untied.” Of course, I looked down and he laughed at me. That was our first encounter.
A couple of weeks later, he asked me for my number. I knew he had a girlfriend, but he was persuasive.
That night we texted like we were old friends. Soon we talked every day. What stood out for me was Richard’s ambition. I learned about his dream to get into the NBA and be just like his hero, Stephen Curry. He worked hard on the court and also strived in school to have a safety net if his basketball dream didn’t work out.
I was touched by the beautiful poems he wrote about his dad’s limited presence in his life. I could feel his pain. I was growing a crazy crush on him.
The Other Woman
But Richard had a girlfriend. In his poems, he called her his queen, the breath in his lungs. When I asked him about her, he said little. All I knew was that her name was Ellen and she lived in New Jersey.
One day, he confided in me that he felt insecure in his relationship. I tried to be sympathetic, but inside I was screaming, “Break up with her and date me!”
That Saturday night, I received a text from Richard. I thought it would be a venting session about Ellen, but my wish had come true. He’d decided to break up with her to be with me.
Falling in Love
Suddenly, we were together all the time. He’d see me in the hallway and embrace me by surprise, or pinch my hips from behind to let me know he was there.
I FaceTimed him every night. He introduced me to family members when they passed by the phone. He texted how beautiful I was, how much he wanted to be with me. Everything made my heart race, waiting for the “but.” There wasn’t one.
My favorite times were our train rides. As we waited for the train, I blasted music and he danced salsa, and even twirled me around the platform. He would kiss me on top of my head, or on my cheek. Everywhere except my lips, and I liked that he didn’t push me.
Heartbroken and Confused
Towards the end of the school year, Richard became closed off, and didn’t talk on the phone with me as much. He was moody and lost his temper easily.
I asked him what was going on. He said, “Nothing, I’m fine.” It felt like there was an iceberg under the surface.
A few weeks into July, I received a text from Richard saying he didn’t want to ruin our “best friendship.” He loved me so much; he didn’t want to date me.
I was heartbroken and confused.
In the fall, when sophomore year started, Richard and I weren’t on speaking terms anymore. But he started talking to other girls in front of me. It seemed like he was trying to make me jealous.
While this drama was going on, I caught the eye of Jack, who sat diagonally across from me in chemistry class. He asked me to be his girlfriend.
It was weird and new. But Jack came at exactly the right time. I needed someone to take my mind off Richard. So I said yes.
That night, Richard texted me for the first time since we’d stopped talking during the summer. He wanted to talk to me during lunch. I agreed, but later in the day Jack asked if I would have lunch with him. I enjoyed myself and forgot all about Richard.
I got home and got a text from Richard. “You’re dating Jack now?”
My stomach dropped. I felt like I’d made a mistake by going out with Jack. I didn’t think about how Richard had said he didn’t want to date me anymore and hadn’t taken my feelings into consideration when he flirted with girls right in front of me.
Another text came through. “I was going to ask you to be my girlfriend during lunch. I love you, Nancy.”
I instantly regretted dating Jack. I couldn’t find a response. I left it for the night, hoping that things would be less intense if I saw him in person at school the next day.
I was mistaken; Richard didn’t talk to me for a week after that. Every time I got a notification, I checked to see if it was him. Even if I was at school and the teacher was right in front of me.
He finally did text me.
“Nancy. I’m sorry, I should have been more respectful of your relationship with Jack. I was hurt and blamed you, but it isn’t your fault. I’m seeing Debbie now, so we can be cool.”
It felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. I thought I had moved on, but I still held so much in my heart for Richard that being with Jack wasn’t helping me get over him.
The next quarter, Richard and I had almost all the same classes. In two, I sat right next to him. He would talk to everyone around me, except me. He would scoot his chair so close to mine that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Sometimes, he’d sit so close to my book bag that I would have to say “excuse me” to get a pencil out. I was miserable.
My relationship with Jack wasn’t much better. We started to drift apart.
Richard finally texted me and suggested we go back to being friends. Warning bells went off in my head, but I ignored them because I desperately wanted him back in my life.
In an instant, we went back to the way things were—poking and teasing, giggling, and play-arguing.
Richard told me he was happy with his girlfriend. I pretended to be happy for him, but my heart sank.
I was on an emotional roller coaster. I hated the confusion, but I put up with it. I refused to see that he was manipulating me.
I Took Off My Blinders
Then I had a serious falling-out with my friends, and after that I broke up with Jack. I was alone and feeling vulnerable.
One day Richard said how much he wanted to kiss me. My heart was pounding, but this time, and I don’t know why, I was finally ready to take off my blinders and question his intentions. “Don’t you have a girlfriend?” I asked.
He told me that he got together with Debbie to spite me for dating Jack. Then he added that he knew how stressed out I was after breaking up with Jack and my friend problems. “You just need to make out with someone and relieve that stress,” he said.
This time, I wasn’t falling for it. I didn’t need to kiss anyone to make myself feel better, and most certainly not someone who was in a relationship. I wasn’t willing to throw away my values for a guy.
Richard kissing someone other than his girlfriend was wrong, but allowing him to kiss me was more wrong.
We didn’t talk for weeks. I sat on the edge of my seat as far away from him as I could and bolted out the door when class ended.
My mom noticed how anxious I was and asked me what was going on. I spilled everything. She told me what I already knew but didn’t want to confront: Whether it was intentional or not, Richard had been stringing me along. I had to stop it.
It felt final in a good way once I figured this out.
Eventually Richard asked to talk to me after school again. We argued for a long time. He faced the wall instead of me. He couldn’t look me in the eye. I’d made up my mind already: He had to go.
We didn’t talk again for a long time. I felt surprisingly strong. When I saw him, I made eye contact. If we were assigned to work together, I addressed him directly.
Everyone goes through bad relationships, and we don’t always see it when we’re in the middle of it. I might still be stuck in Richard’s mind games if it weren’t for my mother. She made the ugly parts of my relationship clear.
I talked to God too, and he filled the spaces that I thought were meant for a boyfriend. He helped me regain my confidence.
My theater group also provided an avenue for me to express myself in a way that I couldn’t in school or at home. Just because Richard hurt me, it didn’t mean that he could rob me of parts of my life that made me happy.
Asking for More Help
But when I started school this year, I discovered that just because I was done with Richard didn’t mean that he was done with me. He cornered me in the hallways when I was alone, he used any excuse to communicate with me during class, and he still found ways to talk to me even when I blocked him on social media.
I realized I needed help, so I spoke to my guidance counselor and she scheduled a meeting with the three of us. She told him to pretend I don’t exist, and if he continued to approach me or tried to contact me, the administration would get involved.
I knew the threat would stop Richard. His academics and basketball career mattered too much to him.
I’m glad I took this action. It’s a relief to know that Richard won’t be able to play his mind games with me anymore.