“OK so imagine the person you love the most in the world,” I said, not expecting an answer.
“Sarah,” my lover promptly said.
Silence fell between us. What the actual f*ck? Had he just volunteered that information? I had been trying to make a point, not have a conversation about how much he loved his long term partner.
We were sitting in a hotel bar in the busiest part of London. It was 2am. I was the hazy kind of drunk which makes you want to dance, drink more and have sex. The night had been going beautifully. I loved the man before me, more than anyone I had ever met before.
It was a new kind of love. It felt selfish, like my love of chocolate biscuits, or an ice cold Prosecco on a hot day.
It served me wonderful pleasures and enhanced my life. There was no downsides to this love, or responsibility.
That was until a few weeks ago, when he had told me he had a girlfriend.
I frowned, “What are you doing here then? If you really loved her you wouldn’t be sitting here with me at two in the morning in some hotel bar.”
I expressed my anger pointedly in hushed but direct tones. I had been trying to illustrate what I thought was an excellent point, but instead had received his heartbreaking and downright annoying declaration of love for his long-term partner. Did he really love her the most in all the world? Was it possible to love two people at the same time?
Johnny Depp thinks no.
“If you love two people at the same time, choose the second. Because if you really loved the first one, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.”
And I have to agree. In fact, this quote was the only thing that kept me going through the months of heartbreaking conversations and alienating situations to follow.
So, the question is, how do you know if you’ve really fallen in love with a second person and what should you do if you have?
If you feel a great sense of responsibility for both people, this is a big sign there’s a lot of emotion flying around. We had many discussions based about this. It seemed that he loved his partner deeply and had done for ten years.
However, the initial years of lust and fun had gone. What had replaced it, was a friendship and deep familiarity with each other. He looked after her financially and emotionally. He wanted to look after me too, but in a more romantic and less practical way.
In fact, our conversations had lead to bigger feelings than we had expected for each other. A strong friendship had began which only cemented our lust for each other. For this reason, I felt myself trusting more than I normally would.
So, are these competing emotions? Should one person be chosen over the other? Should I have been waiting for him to decide in such a trusting way?
It often felt like a competition from my point of view. I felt angry that she had his company every night, that they shared a bed, watched TV together and did all the mundane things together, which they both probably didn’t realise were so special.
I wanted to be called up from the supermarket to ask if we had any bread left, I wanted to wash his t-shirts and I wanted him to complain about work to me after a long day in the city.
However, as much as he valued her, he no longer valued any of the things I mention above. As much as he didn’t know what to do from an emotional point of view, and the idea of losing a friend was clearly heartbreaking, I wasn’t surprised with his final decision. He seemed intent with what should happen next. Their relationship was over.
When two people cheat on each other, the lust and fun they may have shared initially, evaporate in an instant. It doesn’t take long for passion to disappear, especially when people feel betrayed.
I quickly learned of his total lack of trust in his significant other, his many reasons to believe she had cheated, and their shared multiple areas of hostility, which unfortunately seemed to put them at a stalemate in terms of their romantic relationship.
As much as I encouraged a make up and fresh start for both of them (I know, right?) he insisted “the horse had bolted”. There was no going back. They had drifted apart so far, they couldn’t pull each other back. The waves were taking them further away, and as each evening passed and they sat apart on the sofa, refusing to talk about the issues which hung in the air, the distance only increased.
Loving two people at the same time doesn’t feel good. Maybe you’re able to frame a more casual relationship as a temporary side-show to the relationship you are inevitably always going to return to. The person you truly love.
However, you know the side-show has become much more serious, when they take up your daily thoughts and you feel an unexpected responsibility towards them. As you fall in love with someone else, the guilt will creep up on you.
Guilt is useful for us to learn from our mistakes, sure, but other than that, it’s pretty redundant. It’s better to remove yourself from the guilt wrenching situation than stay in it. Guilt serves no one and will never make anyone feel better.
Perhaps, you take Johnny Depp’s advice and split up with the first person you loved because surely you can’t really be in love with them anymore. Or maybe, you finally both sit down and talk about everything that went wrong and where you want to go now together. It’s scary but it’s the only chance of any kind of continuation in your lives together.
As for me, I spent many heartbroken nights, got through a lot of jealousy, worked out the self-anger I felt, and moved away to Europe. I needed distance to allow the guy in my life and his partner to sort their situation out. And I needed my independence to remind myself I had a life outside of the guy I was in love with. There was more to the world than jealousy and self-criticism.
When we did finally get together as two single individuals, I felt surprisingly good about it. There was no guilt. I will always remember sinking into his arms at the airport, as an involuntary sob escaped me. I had never thought I would fall in love with a man who loved two people. But, it happened and I learned a lot about myself along the way.
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