A few months ago, I fell in love with a new woman. I wrote about our first kiss in a piece called “Odds Are You’ll Break My Heart, But It’s Worth It.”
I’m usually fairly neurotic when I get into new relationships. Wondering if I’m doing the right thing by opening myself up to a new person. Letting them into my life. I’m accustomed to feeling ambivalence and doubt. An internal tug of war. Typically, when I start a relationship with someone, my emotions warn me that I’m a fool: What am I doing falling in love? Is this the right thing to be doing?
But it was different with her.
It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I meet someone that feels so right to me that I don’t have any doubts whatsoever. I’ll get the sense that this person and I belong together. And when that happens, I know I have to at least try dating them, even if it means in the end I get hurt.
And when I do get into a relationship like that, the strangest thing happens: I become calm. I’m not gripped by New Relationship Anxiety. I don’t worry what anything they’re doing or saying means, beyond the obvious implications. And I trust them. In the way that children do. It’s like falling in love for the first time. I don’t worry about getting hurt. I don’t question whether their feelings are real or if they know what they’re doing what it comes to partner selection (i.e., their choice of me).
When someone feels absolutely right to me, I become level. I’m at peace.
It was like that when I started dating Justin, who I went on to marry and I’m still with, 8 years after we first met. I just knew he was right for me. And so I didn’t agonize or analyze when our relationship was new. It was effortless for me to trust him (something that’s not typically easy for me). I enjoyed dating him and stayed in the moment.
And yes, it was like that with her.
She just happened to have the first line of one of my favorite poems tattooed on her body. And we liked all the same “bad” movies. Her energy was warm, bubbly, funny. And God, was she beautiful.
I never worried about our relationship, whether it was the right thing to do, whether she loved me. I just knew that dating her felt right to me and that I loved her. And everything other than that was background noise.
The Pile of Yellow Flags
That said, I certainly knew there were factors going in that were likely to make it more difficult. A pile of yellow flags, as one close friend put it:
- She had been polyamorous for less than a year.
- A newlywed, she also had a boyfriend she was already balancing (Justin and I made four).
- She was a baby bi, had never dated a woman.
- She’d started dating my husband first before confessing that she was interested in me as well, and while this was a very welcome development, triads can be hard and draw upon very different skill sets and emotional strengths.
In short, it was a very complicated situation for her, and she was new to a lot of things.
And there was the additional matter that she said she initially fell for me because of my writings.
“Awww, that’s sweet. You had a fan crush,” I said when she told me.
She teared up almost immediately. “I don’t want you to think that’s all this is,” she choked out. She spoke of her incredible love for me. The way she ached to be with me. How frightened she felt by the intensity of her feelings.
I reassured her the best I could. Let her know that I didn’t doubt her sincerity or the current depth of her affection for me. That I viewed the time when she knew me only through reading my work as very distinct from when she started to know me and date me in real life. That “you had” was instrumental here regarding the fan crush — it was a thing of the past. I had used past tense for a reason.
She wasn’t easily convinced. We talked for quite some time on my sofa. At her request, I opened up to her, told her things that I don’t often tell people. I poured my heart out until I felt like there was nothing left to give her.
And at the end of it, she smiled sweetly, snuggled into me, and we kissed.
“I don’t think this is a fan crush,” I said.
“Okay,” she said, seeming satisfied.
You Are My Girlfriend, Aren’t You?
However, we went on to have some very confusing miscommunications.
After having a conversation about making our relationship official, I added her as a relationship on FetLife, and she added me back. We celebrated over text messages. Went out on a date the very next day.
But after that date, she texted me, Like I want to be your girlfriend when you feel ready but no rush.
Wait, I wrote back, confused, you are my girlfriend, aren’t you?
Am I? she wrote back. Like I wanna be. But.
We’re in a relationship, I wrote. I’m in love with you.
Oh good, she texted.
It was extremely confusing — and to be honest, quite unsettling. We had just been talking about this the day before, had officially announced it, and yet it had slipped her mind that we were in a relationship. Or was she pretending that it had? Was this a roundabout attempt to get reassurance somehow? If so, there were easier ways to go about it.
And in either event, it was very concerning.
But maybe there was a benign explanation, I told myself. Maybe she’d had too much wine or something. No need for me to go off the deep end over a few drunken texts, right?
So even though it was kind of a weird incident, I continued to stay calm and need very little in return from her to be thrilled. It didn’t take much to feel deliriously happy. The future promise of her, thinking about all the wonderful things we could possibly do together, was enough to make me float for days.
Sure, she canceled a lot of dates, normally a pet peeve of mine, but I was so into her that I barely noticed. Longing for her was more fulfilling than some relationships I’ve had.
I Can Give You 50,000 Years
But as the weeks wound on, issues continued to crop up. She was dissatisfied with what I did. And even with what I said. It was curious to me since I did try my hardest. And whatever other things I’ve struggled with, coming up short in the words department hasn’t typically been one of them.
“I bet it’s just because she’s a baby bi,” my friend told me when I turned to them for guidance. “She doesn’t know what she’s doing with women. Freaks out.”
“I suppose it’s possible,” I said. “But I’ve dated a ton of baby bis, and I’ve never run into anything quite like this before.”
Because the disconnect between what I was saying and what she internalized was jarring.
She’d tell me that she knew I was looking for something casual (not true) and so she was trying to stay casual. I’d tell her I was crazy about her. That I considered her a Great Love. That what I’d said in the beginning was that I was open to however she would have me, which included everything from casual up to being another spouse (my general level of openness when I start a relationship with someone I care deeply for). That I have a lot of room in my life for serious, but I also know it’s folly to force things to be something they’re not. Or to push past someone else’s comfort level.
I told her that I’d dated a lot of women who were only interested in NSA or casual and that I’d be willing to have her that way if that were the only way I could have her but that I preferred to be deep with her. That I was already in love with her.
I can give you 50,000 years, I told her, but after that, you’re on your own. 🙂
And then exactly three weeks after the first strange texting incident, she texted me the thing I dreaded most, a terrible repeat: You are my girlfriend if you want to be.
I sighed so deeply that it hurt. Why was she saying that again? She was my girlfriend.
I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Why my words didn’t sink in. Was it her own insecurity drowning out everything else? Did she not trust me for some reason? Was she having memory problems? Were these meaningless drunken texts? Was something weird going on in her other relationships that was spilling over into ours? Did she have some undisclosed expectations about what a girlfriend was that I was falling short of? Or was she feigning ignorance and fishing for validation? I honestly had no idea.
But I stayed calm. And just kept doing my best. Being patient with cancellations, waiting for her to have time for me. Seeing her when she could see me. And trying to make sure she knew I loved her whenever she had doubts.
You’re like a nymph made of a silver wave, I wrote her. Just something protean, sleek, luxurious. Lots of movement on the surface. But underneath there is something zen. Below the agitation.
My best wasn’t good enough.
She broke up with me.
I Regret Nothing and Gained A Lot
Do I regret dating her? No, I don’t.
If I could have known then what I do now, I still would make the same choice. And I wouldn’t do one thing differently.
There were definitely good times. She was fun, beautiful, smart. Complicated, sure, but I liked that about her.
I learned so much about myself through dating her. I had a number of epiphanies, especially as things got rough.
When you disappoint someone in a way you’ve never disappointed another person, you learn important things. That’s the upside of seeing yourself through the lens of someone else’s criticism: If you can resist the urge to get defensive, it affords you a unique perspective on yourself. One that most people can’t give you.
It makes you take a deep long look at your life — and when you’re polyamorous, it makes you take that same look at your other relationships. Examine what you’re doing. Ask yourself Am I giving my best there, to those other people? If not, what do I have to work on?
Breaking Up Isn’t Failure
Some things aren’t meant to last. That doesn’t mean they’re failures.
It’s been one of the most radical premises I’ve accepted in the past decade: It just doesn’t work sometimes. Maybe that’s frustrating on one or both sides, but it’s totally valid.
And even though we didn’t end up where I hoped we would, I’m glad we kissed.
I’m glad I loved her enough to get a broken heart.
I’ll get over it. I have no doubt about that.
And I’ll get to keep everything else.