It took the right friendship to show me I was in the wrong relationship.

This is a story about eyebrows.

I stood in the tiny kitchen of my college dorm, cooking chicken over the stove. My boyfriend sat a few feet away on the couch. I’d invited him to join my friends and hallmates for a post-finals movie night, and he’d come—reluctantly, though, and only with the promise of dinner. So there I was, pushing meat around in a skillet and craning my neck to catch the opening scenes. When I handed him the plate, he took it wordlessly and without turning his head.

I chanced a look at Will, my friend from my biology class. He raised his eyebrows at me, which meant: You’re going to let that slide?

The missing “thank you” was a small offense, but I knew Will’s tally was getting high. My relationship had begun to sour a few months prior, and I’d probably have been content to keep ignoring my doubts if I hadn’t seen them show up on Will’s face so often.

It wasn’t just the skeptical eyebrows when my boyfriend forgot to be nice. Whenever I was upset or stressed or tired, Will’s eyebrows turned up in the middle, giving him a concerned, puppy-dog look. I loved that look. It told me he had a big, gentle heart—and that he’d made room in it for me.

A few weeks later, Will and I ended up being the last ones left in my dorm’s common room after a group study session. He could tell something was off, so he turned those concerned eyebrows on me and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Tears and words spilled in a messy confession of my confusion. It wasn’t just that I was increasingly sure I’d have to end things with my boyfriend (a thought that terrified me). I’d also realized that the standard to which I’d been holding him looked a lot like … Will. Our friendship was teetering on the edge of something else, something bigger, and we both knew it.

“Sometimes I just feel like everyone else in my life treats me better than he does,” I finally admitted. “Especially you.” 

Will looked at me. Without a trace of hesitation, he replied: “If my only role in your life is to show you that you deserve better, I’m okay with that.”

I didn’t say so, but in that moment I knew that wouldn’t be his only role.

The months that followed felt like one long sleepless night. I ended my relationship, cried in public more than once, and napped a lot. I alienated nearly everyone I knew with my relentless bad moods. My GPA took a hit.

Will waited from a distance while I healed. When we finally began dating, he was even more gentle and sweet as my boyfriend than he was as my friend. We shared interests and always had fun together, but what mattered most to me was that quality I’d long valued in him as my friend: his feeling of responsibility for my well-being.

Years later, we’re married, and that quality is still a big part of our foundation. It’s what drives him to make me coffee before I even get up in the morning; it’s how he detects even subtle changes in my mood; it’s what kept him calm and comforting while I was in labor with our baby.

Speaking of our baby: He has my nose and mouth. His eyes and hair are all his own. But his eyebrows? He’s got Will’s eyebrows, and I couldn’t be happier about it.