It was only a few short years later, after my husband and I became truly polyamorous, that I learned just how important that decision was. How capable I was of loving more than one person at a time. Between then and now there have been three men that have touched my heart, and built it into what it is today. Three men who I've fallen for, accidentally, passionately, unconditionally.
James was the first. He was the one I should have just been friends with. But somehow innocent flirting turned into regular video chats and in depth, personal conversations. Compliments over every little thing. It culminated in a physical climax, that really spread my feelings for him like wildfire, because of how it changed his attitude toward me. I turned him into a teenage boy, who couldn't get enough of me, and I didn't want to ever let him go, despite the fact he didn't want anyone to know we were involved. I did let him go, though, because reality hit us hard, and he made me believe he was no longer attracted to me.
The devastation I felt, thankfully, didn't last too long, because already Andrew had begun to eye me, finding me both hilarious and physically appealing. It took me only a short time to realise his attraction for what it was, and so despite an even more difficult distance between us, I was back into a long distance relationship, falling far too fast and jumping on a plane the first chance I could, when his wife was in another country so I could maximise our time together, and consummate my love for him.
Andrew and I connected over writing, and depression, and once, we sat together near a cemetery and connected on our views on death, and how terrible we felt about uncontrollable thoughts that perhaps it would be better for some people in certain situations to just die, rather than fight to go on living.
I don't remember exactly how long Andrew and I were together for. It was at least more than 18 months, and in the first 8 months of our relationship, I'd been able to fly to the other side of the world to visit him twice. We'd had the most incredible moments together, wandering through cities, exploring museums, relaxing in my hotel room. The end of our relationship dragged on for months, and I knew it was over well before it officially was. Though he and his wife had been polyamorous before he and I got together, I'd come to realise she couldn't stand me, and it put a big strain on my relationship with him. I probably should've ended it when I realised that, but I didn't want to hurt him, and I didn't want to lose him. I wanted him to fight to keep me in his life. So I waited until she decided she wanted their marriage to be closed again.
Andrew and I are still friends, but I feel like that remains, hanging over my head, and I can't ever be as close a friend to him as we once were. The pain of the unfairness that I'm not likely ever going to be able to just hang out with him in person again, even though it's been years and I tried to bend over backwards to give in to any rules and restrictions she put on our relationship. Despite the fact I would never try to win him back and steal him away from her. Despite the fact I'm now in a timezone only 3 hours behind him, rather than 12-13 hours ahead, so it would be a lot cheaper and easier to visit.
The end of that relationship was meant to be the last time I'd consider being involved with someone who I had to keep secret in one way or another. I mean, Andrew and I had mutual online friends who knew we were together. I had friends in Malaysia who knew about us, and my sister knew. But his wife didn't want me to meet any of his friends, and she'd only come to this decision after I'd already met a couple of them (even though they didn't know I was anything more than a friend of Andrew's). As I write this, I realise I still foster some resentment in this area.
It felt like years before anyone else came along to the same extent, but I do recall talking to Andrew a lot about Lee, as things progressed in my friendship with him. I just don't remember if Andrew and I had already ended things by then. We were certainly over by the time I realised I was attracted to Lee as more than a friend, but I still felt guilty that I had moved on from Andrew, even knowing I couldn't be with him again.
Lee should have been different from both Andrew and James. First of all, Lee lived in the same country as I did, and only about a thirty minute drive away. We saw each other frequently at social gatherings, so distance was not an issue. He was also single, so in my mind, I didn't think I'd have to worry about someone else putting demands on the necessity to keep our relationship secret because of some fear of how other people would perceive them in society. Unfortunately for me, it was Lee himself who imposed that restriction, because conservative Malaysia still doesn't really stop society from passing judgement on a man involving himself with a married woman, even if her husband is fine with it. By the time I realised I wasn't going to have the freedom to be public about us, I was already falling in love with Lee, and so I accepted the restrictions as best as I could. Until I couldn't help spilling the beans to a non-judgemental mutual friend. Lee swiftly cut me out of his life when he learned what I'd done, and having already moved to California by then, there wasn't anything I could do to combat that, to confront him in person.
Throughout these loves, James was my rock. I'd buried my feelings for James, even though by then, I knew at the back of my mind that he and I were still attracted to each other. James was the person I went to, to complain about my relationship woes, I think in part because I'd idealised my relationship with him, and we hadn't ended things because things had gone sour, we ended it because at the time we thought it was the right thing to do. I'd complain to him because he'd listen, and tell me I deserved better, and I'd feel justified. I knew he couldn't offer me that better that I deserved, but he still made time to listen and show me that he cared.
I don't know what changed, or how. James still can't offer me better. He still can't provide what I've deserved. But I've learned, somehow, that with him, that doesn't matter to me. He's letting me talk about him now, at least to some extent, like now, or in an improv show, as long as it's under a pseudonym. I can't control how I feel about him, or what he means to me. I could choose not to act on those feelings, but after all these years, I know I'd rather have him in my life in whatever capacity I can than wait around for someone who maybe can provide what I want, but probably won't make me feel the way he does.
Being public about my relationships still matters to me, and it's why James's limited permission to talk about him means so much to me. Since coming out as polyamorous very publicly in July last year, it's been really interesting to see my Catholic father's growing acceptance of this reality of mine as he comments on my related Facebook posts. He doesn't shy away from the posts the way my Christian in-laws do. After the struggle I've had over the years, coming to terms with my preferred relationship style over societal expectations and my Catholic upbringing, it's nice to be in a place of acceptance, and increased understanding.