Where did it all go right?

The Boy and I didn’t always have an open relationship. We got together in 2002 while we were both doing a master’s degree. I was a little crazy at the time, trying to make sense of my previous relationship and fighting the inevitability of leaving uni and getting a job.

Our relationship reflected this in that it was torrid yet hesitant, and it was default-monogamous. We both played away and ‘fessed up, but it was always that – confession, admission.

We moved in together quickly (less than a year after meeting), when we shifted to the big smoke to start our shiny new jobs. I fell apart with equal rapidity, and was soon crying in the shower every morning (trying to hide the noise and tears).

I felt like I might be with the wrong person, but didn’t feel like I had the choice to leave (a large part of the therapy I had in ’08 was spent dealing with issues I created for myself at that time).

About nine months on (June ’03) I started to get a grip on my depression. I was promoted to a different publication, which helped because I worked through severe issues at my first place without telling anyone, so I never properly fit in. I also started to settle into scary London life, so there were fewer additional shadows cast over the relationship I was struggling to understand.

We went to Barcelona in September ’03, and I thought things were going ok. Not ‘fixed’ but better than they were. J was feeling otherwise – after two years of me pushing him away, he confessed that as I was starting to feel more confident in our relationship he was becoming less so.

[From this point on, J and I have slightly different accounts of events. Obviously we both think we’re right – I don’t know whether there is a definitive version that one of us misremembers or (more likely) we both had a different understanding of what was happening, even at the time.]

So, we had dinner, talked, walked la Rambla countless times, and probably cried. In the end we agreed, painfully but amicably, that we had no future. There’d been some good moments, sure, but neither could imagine the other as a life partner.

In J’s understanding we broke-up at that point. But crucially, in an earlier part of the conversation we’d discussed that while we were getting on ok at the moment, we couldn’t see ourselves together in six months’ time. We floated the idea that this would be a perfect chance to experiment with threesomes – if we ruined our relationship, well hey, we were going to split up anyway, what had we lost?

So my understanding is that we gave ourselves more of a six-month window – time to try out the things we’d fantasised about without being scared of the repercussions, before seeking a ‘normal’ relationship with someone else.

It would be dramatic to say we never looked back, but that was certainly the moment things changed. Back in the UK we started surfing the online swinging scene (urgh), and although it was still 10 months before we ended up naked in a room with other people, we had cast the die from which the rest of our lives would be cut.

I think when we took away some expectations (mainly “relationships should aim to last forever” and “relationships are only fully functional if they’re monogamous”) we took away a benchmark we’d been using to measure failure. Taking that pressure off gave us a chance to focus on the small things that were getting squashed.

It was baby-steps all the way, with lots of set-backs (some of which I’ve talked about or alluded to); but the gamble, the work that made it pay off, the first two years of uncertainty (and crying in the shower) add up to the most important thing in my life. A relationship that works, has the mechanism needed to fix problems, is honest, and makes me excited about hanging out with J when I’m 80.

It didn’t start out as a fairy tale, but hopefully we’ve paid for a happy ending.


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