Lessons from a married couple's ex-girlfriend

Posted by Alexandra Caldwell on Tue, Jul 13, 2010 at 7:25 AM

Womens Kiss

We meet people in all phases of their lives. Sometimes we meet people at their best, sometimes we meet people at their worst. Everyone else is somewhere in the middle. We can deal when people are mostly towards the "better" part of the scale. But when people are more towards the "worse" part? As much as my nature longs to help them, sometimes I can't. No matter how desperately I try.

I fix people. I help them. It's what I do. Or at least what I keep trying to do. (I think the Dessa song Seamstress was written for me.) Oh, I know, I know -- no one can "fix" someone. It's probably foolish to try. But I'm good at being a friend. I'm good at loving people.  I want to love their problems away. Or at least be there for them through it all, steadfast and loyal, because I have this awful ability to see the best in people -- to see through all their layers to the core goodness within, even if it's buried under oceans of junk. Even if they don't believe it themselves.

Whenever we meet someone, we leave a fingerprint. We change everyone in some way. And we change ourselves, taking away some new lesson. Some new knowledge.

I've learned a lot of things through my bisexuality. My ex-girlfriend, "T," taught me many of them. She was my first everything with a woman. My first date, my first kiss. My first girlfriend and my first female lover. The first woman I loved, and our first triad. She was beautiful and smart, independent and talented. She could fix anything mechanical or technological, and both her mind and body were sexy. She was also strong and weak, kind and cruel. She was guarded and vulnerable, mysterious and transparent. Blunt and evasive.

The three of us were great together when it worked. At one point it felt so easy and so right. We'd all clicked right away. In one of the rare e-mails we got from her, she summed it up perfectly: "F-ing right." In those early, magical days I learned the best parts of polyamory. How beautiful and loving it can be. I learned the best parts about being with a woman and that it is an important part of me that I had denied for 26 years. A part that I never again want to lock away.

As easy as everything was in the beginning, that didn't last for long. T has gone through a lot in her life. What all, exactly, I'll never know. It was painfully difficult to get her to share. "Share." She hated that word. She hated anything that got too personal. She put up the stoic, tough-girl front. You know, the one that is supposed to lead the world to think she is unfeeling, tough and cold. But she never fooled me. I saw through her to a sad, scared little girl somewhere lost inside her layers of defenses. I also saw how kind and loving and caring she could be if she chose to be. She was special. And I desperately wanted to help her. I wanted to wrap her in my arms and rock her to sleep, stroking her hair. I wanted to show her that my husband and I loved her and she didn't have to be alone. I knew it would take time for all her wounds to mend, and I knew it would be hard and painful -- not only for her, but for everyone else around her -- but I didn't care. I wanted to be there beside her through it all. I'm good at that. I've done it before. If only she would let me in.

Maybe I was under the false impression that I could save the world. Or if, perhaps, not the world, then at least show one woman that she was loved and special and wonderful. This woman. My beautiful girlfriend. But that doesn't work if the person is determined to shut you out. Still, I tried. Even after anyone intelligent should have known it was hopeless. Even after she had become blatantly mean and disrespectful to Nick and inconsiderate and passively cruel to me. "Completely unreliable," as she would say. But I was just so determined to not give up on her. Not to fail her. I wanted to prove that someone was willing to fight for her. I wanted to disprove her nicknames: "The destroyer." "Destructo-girl."

However, through all that, she taught me an important lesson. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to let go. Walk away. That I can't help everyone and that not everyone will choose to be a part of my life. And that can be okay.

Purple striped socks
She taught me about heartbreak. I had never been heartbroken before. Not really. I'd only dated two guys before I met and married Nick, and those breakups weren't that bad. I wasn't prepared for the real thing. And I never expected to have to deal with it after I'd gotten married. It seemed to all fall apart so fast. One week we're happily kissing, wearing only our matching purple striped socks, and she told us she didn't think she'd ever felt as safe as she did with us. And then the next week she stands us up twice on Nick's birthday, beginning a gruesome month of drawn-out breaking up. Oh, it was awful. Especially because both Nick and I were going through it at once, but we were usually on different stages of grief. His anger kicked in before I was even ready to say goodbye. It was a relief to him when I finally decided to let go, but even then it was followed by a month or two of tortured heartbreak and crying. It wasn't until I remembered that I am a writer and could write my way through my grief that things finally began to get better and I could get closure. As awful as it was, T had also taught me the important lessons of heartbreak and heart mending, and she reminded me that I mustn't forget how important it is that I write. That I write for me, not just for my day job.

T also taught me about alcoholism. One of the reasons I was finally able to walk away was because I realized that this disease had taken control of her and she could never be the person I needed, wanted, and knew was inside of her until she decided for herself that she wants to stop drinking for good. Through lots of reading and lots of talking with my veteran Alcoholics Anonymous friend, I came to terms with some of T's hurtful behavior and learned that it wasn't personal, no matter how inconsiderate and painful it may be.

That's just how alcoholics are. There is help out there for her, and she knows it. When I'd confronted T about her alcoholism, she said she was aware and had gone to AA before, but she wasn't ready to go back. I truly hope she goes back and completes the program and stays sober, but she taught me that only she can make that decision. I can't be her hero, despite how much I'd wanted to be.

Perhaps some of the most important lessons T taught me were about relationships -- both in general and also in regards to polyamory. These failures in our triad are not completely her fault, as Nick and I had never done that before and we had lots to learn -- as do people who want to date a couple. We learned that communication, mutual respect and honesty are mandatory for the relationship to work, and we learned that we have to be clear about rules and guidelines in the relationship. In the beginning of the relationship, we learned that it is not always realistic to have a closed relationship. However, if it is going to be open, it is essential that everyone knows about each other's other partners. Yes, you can still cheat in polyamory. Everyone must respect one another enough to be honest about their partners, not only to avoid hurt feelings, but also as a matter of safety. Secrecy is never healthy.

We also learned that while a triad would be ideal, perhaps we should allow that to evolve naturally or even date separately, each of us with our own girlfriend. It is unlikely that all three people would fall for each other the same way, at the same intensity at the same time. This can lead to hurt feelings when two bond more than the other. However, this said, it is also crucial that all three people can at least be friends, respect one another and can talk to one another. (This lesson was later reinforced by both a failed relationship attempt that lacked these ingredients and again now by my current rising relationship possibility which illustrates how good things can be when these are present.)

We learned warning signs and what we want, what we loved and what we hated, both through what T had and what she lacked. And she taught me that a part of me will always love her, and though I'm sorry that things did not work out between us, I want her to be happy and find the right person (or persons) for her one day. I learned that my heart is stronger each time it heals and I can move on to find a better relationship fit for me.

I will always cherish my time with T. Not only for teaching me the beauties of loving a woman, but also for helping me become a stronger, wiser person. Now, when I talk with new prospects, I can recognize these crucial good and bad qualities and issues and can make better and healthier decisions. I'd always hoped that I had made some sort of impact on T, too, but didn't think I would ever know. She's really good at that mysterious, invisible thing, you know. But last week I heard from her. Out of the blue. Despite her warning in the first sentence not to fall out of my chair because she was actually e-mailing me, I nearly did. She just wanted to tell me that she's been reading my CLGBT blogs and that they helped her decide to be open about her polyamorous nature in her current relationship, because otherwise it just hurts too many people. And she thanked me. I wasn't sure if I wanted to throw up, laugh or cry. From the bubbling cauldron of emotions, joy pushed down the melancholy that tried to arise. I had some impact afterall. I now know that not only has she not forgotten about me completely, she has learned at least one thing, and I helped that happen. How can I not smile at that?

We meet people in all phases of their lives. Sometimes we meet them after they've learned all the lessons they needed to learn to prepare themselves to be in your life. Other times we meet in the middle of a storm that will blow our relationship apart. But somewhere in that storm, we each touch each other, helping each other learn lessons that will help us be better people in the future -- ready for another who will come along. T changed me for the better. And so did I.

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