Love Triangle -- How Do I "Win"?
Where to begin...
This will be a long one, but please understand that I really do need to get every layer of complication out there in the hopes of making my problem fully understood.
A good five or six months ago, a new girl was brought onto my shift where I worked at the time. A pretty girl, and so on and so forth. As with most men I sized up my odds of getting with her and thought of ways to approach her. Since I had quite a few friends at that workplace and we would often go to a nearby pub to unwind after shifts, I decided to invite her down a few times.
About a week after the first time I invited her out, I overheard her speaking a few cubicles down to another coworker, at which point she mentioned "my boyfriend". Bummer. However, I'd already gotten to know her a bit, and thought she was fun, so I remained in contact with her as a friend.
A few months later I ended my employment to move on, and she kept in contact with me, apparently quite disappointed by my absence from the workplace. I didn't make anything of this. She started inviting me to go out with her a few times, and we would go to a bar or what have you.
However, as time went on, these "friendly outings" simply began to feel more and more like "dates". The little gestures she might do, body language, the playful trade of innuendo. There was also the fact that we were simply spending a lot of time together -- two, three, even four days a week. The signals, combined with the general question of "how does she even have TIME for a boyfriend?" made me start to seriously consider that she had feelings for me beyond mere friendship. There was also the fact that she would be sending me messages on a social networking site we use every few days, keeping in contact. And I would always have one waiting for me when I got home from seeing her.
One night we were at a bar, and I had my arm around her. She was completely relaxed, and a bit tipsy. By this point I was 90% certain of her feelings, and just choosing not to act on them for fear of facilitating awkwardness. She confessed that she had been indeed thinking of me for a while in "that way", and that she had to get this off her chest. I couldn't take it anymore... I kissed her.
The night was almost over by that point, but it really felt like we'd broken the seal. We relaxed a bit more. Later on, we parted ways, and I kissed her goodnight. I went home and wondered and wondered about the "other man".
The next time I saw her, we were relaxing together in a restaurant and I asked her as carefully as I could what the deal was with the boyfriend. She clammed up and became visibly uncomfortable. I made it clear that I understood if she needed time. After all, this is a very shy girl, and issues with confrontation often pervade them. So I simply made it clear that I wanted to be the next guy, not the other guy, and that I just needed to know where I stood. My answer was "a good place", and I took that. For now.
Fast forward over the course of a month. Things seem to be going great. There is a great deal of physical passion, yes, but there were also a lot of little affectionate gestures that continued to affirm my hopes that this could be something more. Things like spontaneously giving me a quick kiss, or the continued messages on the social networking site, constantly wanting to be close to me whenever we were out and about. Or if she was having a bad day, I could message her to ask her what was wrong, and she would tell me to call her. She would compliment elements of my personality, not just appearance. Good, relationship sort of signs, not just ones of affair.
I assumed I had struck gold when she invited me to a party -- her circle of friends, not mine. Uncertain how much was known about us at the time, by the end of the night we were being fairly playful despite others being around, and yet no one seemed surprised or shocked by this. I was close to feeling secure enough in our relationship that I could broach the subject of the "other man" with confidence once more.
Then suddenly it seemed to change. One day she'd apparently had a bad day. I messaged her as always, offering to call and cheer her up, and received a bewildering reply that she wanted to speak to no one at all and that everyone could, suffice it to say, go do vulgar things to themselves. I responded with a more personalized "I'm here if you need me" sort of message, but got no reply.
The next time I saw her, I managed to get her to relax, and she spoke with me a bit about her troubles, clearly quite sensitive to the subject. I let it pass, but I started to rethink the uneasy foundations of our relationship.
She was so blatantly, wholly into me at the start of this on all levels, and yet it feels like that has eroded. We don't see each other as often (once a week is best/most common). She doesnt' send those messages. I sense restraint when I kiss her, and the depth of physical passion seems to have eroded as a result. Our relationship itself has been quite sedentary, as I seem to have trouble convincing her to leave the house these days.
I'm constantly tossing around in my head the possible reasons for this. There are some possibilities that don't involve me, I admit. Through work, she was moved to a later shift and is thus exhausted -- visibly so as she often falls asleep when she is with me. Her phone was what she used for the social networking sites, and has been wonky of late. And of course, the past month -- during which she exhibited this change -- has been incredibly hard on her.
Yet it is hard not to worry, and the fact that I tried to "be cool" about what we were until she made it quite clear it was more than just a bit of harmless fun, then accepted this, then had her start pulling away in this fashion is quite maddening.
Is it guilt? She comes to see me on one of her two free days out of the week, even when she is not up to fooling around. That is a good thing, right? So does she feel guilty about being with me, and if so, for his sake or for mine? How do I come out on top of this situation?
Looking ahead -- I've had conflicting advice from friends. One said to try something new the next time I saw her such as cooking for her. I looked up a recipe and made a delicious dinner the next time I saw her, and this seemed to impress her. "Just be your awesome self" was another piece of advice, and so I was. A few times that night I saw her look at me in ways that she hasn't in a while, so I know that while this relationship may be toxic for me right now, there's still hope.
Another piece of advice I got was to avoid confronting her, which is unfortunately true. If I were to "just talk to her about it", I may as well draft up the "I'm in a weird place and can't see you anymore" dear john for her.
A conjoined piece of advice to the above was to pull back myself. Start making plans that don't involve her on "our day", and then invite her along when we talk about the next time we'd see each other. However, I can't help but figure that that could push her even farther away. I've been advised that this would make me appear more desirable, but it feels like such a psychological game that could well make me seem more distant to her and have her more likely to run back to the Other Guy in full.
Simply put, I have no idea how to come out on top of this. Confronting her feels like it would corner her and make her jump ship. Playing various games run the risk of pushing her away, or failing in their attempt to make her "start trying again". Continuing as is runs the risk of getting me nowhere.
What in the hell do I do?
Logistics, if they matter -- we're both in our early twenties and we haven't slept together yet.