Thanks for reading Can We Talk?, a sex and relationships column that aims to tackle the burning questions about sex, dating, relationships, and breakups that you’re too afraid to ask your partner — or maybe even your besties. Last time, relationship therapist Moraya Seeger DeGeare, LMFT, helped a reader who was deciding between getting back together with a toxic ex or staying in their current, sexless relationship. This week, we heard from Refinery29 readers about navigating their own love triangles. Their stories were, well, pretty juicy. But they were also chock-full of valuable advice.
Do you have a dilemma or question you’d like to see answered as part of a future Can We Talk? Submit it here or send us an email at CanWeTalk@Refinery29.com.
Keeley*, 24, California
“My guy best friend (I’ll call him D.) and I first bonded while playing video games together online. We got close. Really close. I even told him all the tea when I first began dating my boyfriend — who knew all about D. I assured my boyfriend that D. and I were just friends. In fact, I had known D. for seven years by the time we finally met in person last fall when I moved cities to attend grad school. I told my boyfriend he had nothing to worry about when I moved.
“However, eventually, I started growing feelings for D. and made the mistake of cheating by kissing him… which I deeply regret. I did not have the courage to tell my boyfriend at first. Ultimately, he found out about it anyway, just after Valentine’s Day. He handled it with grace by not telling his family or friends, whom I had met previously, and by having a genuine talk with me about my actions and why I did what I did. I was then faced with the decision to either stay with my boyfriend (we’d been together for two years by then) or to break up with him for D., my best friend. I deeply loved them both.
“I ultimately made the decision to stay with my boyfriend because I was not prepared to abandon him and the relationship. This is when I realised I truly loved him and couldn't let him go, even more than I loved D., who had been a part of my life for much longer.
Making the decision broke my heart, and I’m still healing from the consequences of my actions. I have since (painfully) cut off all contact with D., and my boyfriend and I are on much better terms. The incident even made us stronger — it helped us to work on issues within our relationship. We respect each other more now and are closer than ever before. I believe that people come into our lives for reasons, seasons, and lifetimes. Perhaps D.'s purpose in my life was a chapter to teach me how to be a better friend and partner. And to recognise what true soulmate love is like. Hopefully, my current boyfriend will be with me for a lifetime.
“My advice for folks who find themselves in a similar situation? You may feel ashamed, but the first step is realising that love triangles really do happen naturally, and, if you trust the people in your life, I would encourage you to reach out to them and lay it all out on the table. As outsiders, they can offer insight that may help you reach a decision faster. Listen to them, but be honest with yourself and what you want. It’s also important to realise that you are not a bad person. Be kind to yourself as you navigate this tricky situation with friends, family, and the internet.”
Alice, 25, Fremont, California
“When I was a senior in high school, I transferred to a new school. I soon hit it off with this cute guy and his best woman friend, both of whom were extremely nice. It didn’t take long before the guy admitted that he liked me. He'd go to his best friend and tell her how cute he thought I was. Meanwhile, despite our flirting, I had no feelings for him.
“But, we kept talking, and soon we were on the phone for four to five hours every night. I wasn't sure how I felt, but this was clearly not something that people who were ‘just friends’ did, so I asked him to tell his best friend about us. He did, only to discover that she also had feelings for him.
“Now comes the most perplexing aspect of the love triangle — for me, at the time, at least. I'm not sure how or when it happened, but I developed feelings for her. She was really cute‚ cuter than me, I thought. He ended up choosing me over her — I’m still not sure why. She was very thoughtful, and even though his attention on me seemed to break her heart, she always treated me as a friend and genuinely helped me.
“Then things got a little tangled when he began to give all his time to me and none to her. I told him I wasn't sure I could date him because I'd always feel bad about replacing his best friend and driving them apart. This made him frustrated with his best friend, who was, in turn, upset with me. Meanwhile, I was equally disappointed with the guy, because he'd seemingly ruined my friendship with the girl, for whom I'd developed even stronger feelings.
“She held a special place in my coming out story — I had no idea I was bisexual until I met her. She had such a sweet voice and demeanour. She was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen. Her hair was raven-coloured and layered, and her skin was flawless. Her cheeks would blush at the slightest hint of embarrassment. She was simply stunning.
“I ultimately ended up dating the guy for a while before breaking up with him because I realised I wasn't in love with him. I'm not in close touch with either of them now, but that girl's beauty will always captivate me for the rest of my life.
Someday, I might even reach out to her again — she's the only girl who's ever made me feel that way.”
Emma, 43, Los Angeles, CA
“My love triangle was especially intense because the people I was deciding between were related to each other. They were cousins and were working at the same company where I came to do a temporary training program. The older one approached me first, and we started off as friends. It turns out he had feelings for me, but he never told me. He introduced me to his cousin, who showed interest immediately.
“The second cousin soon asked me out. While I was still contemplating it, the first one got angry with his cousin, claiming that he “had seen me first.” I had to suspend the answer I wanted to give the second cousin (a yes), as the anger between them escalated quickly. It was all the more awkward because we worked together.
“I didn’t want to be the cause of enmity between two relatives. I had to back off from both of them. It didn't feel good to see two people who loved each other turn into enemies because of me. I thought the best thing to do was distance myself from them both, in the hopes they would reconcile. I didn't choose either of them, I chose myself.
“After I left that company, I totally cut off contact with them. Part of my decision had to do with the fact that we all met at work, which complicated things.
“But three years later, I saw them both again at a friend's engagement party. The younger one who first asked me out was married already.
“The older one was still single so we decided to start all over again. This time around, his younger cousin was happily married to his wife, who was expecting a baby, so had no problem with us dating. We are still together. I’m glad I gave it a second chance, as he is actually a great guy.
“From this experience, I’ve learned to always ask questions when someone starts being overly nice to you — what are their intentions? It sure would have saved me some time and heartache if I knew the older cousin’s intentions up front. And the ultimate lesson: give these things time. It reveals a lot.”
*Names have been changed.
Interviews have been condensed for length and clarity.