(Graphic: Kat Borosky/TueNight)
Hello, I’m Philip. Dixie is the woman I love, the woman I’ve lived with for almost three years, the woman I hope to spend the rest of my life with. She still loves her ex. And I’m OK with that.
When I met Dixie I didn’t know she had an ex, let alone that she still loved him. When I did see them together though, it was obvious. There’s an easy affection between them that you seldom see except between long-time lovers, or family. His name, by the way, is Tom.
The time came when I had to tell Dixie that I loved her. “Had to,” as in “couldn’t not do it.” That’s another story entirely, but the short version is that in the middle of a conversation about something completely non-related, I said to her, “I love you, you’re just going to have to deal with that.”
Having dropped that emotional grenade, I jumped tracks back to the original conversation like nothing happened. Anyway…
It took guts to say “I love you,” but not because she has an ex, or because he is still in her life. She is older (by a significant amount) and she has a “past” (who doesn’t have a past?) but what’s more important to me is that we can talk through the night, deep in conversation, connecting deeply and fearlessly. She laughs at my jokes (or groans at my bad ones) and she washes dishes while I dry and put away. Fucking perfect.
So what if she is still friends with her ex? He’s become my good friend too. We talk, joke, and share “custody” of a big, beautiful, and bashful six year old dog. In fact, when the three of us get together, as we often do for holidays, Dixie can hardly get a word in edgewise. (And she isn’t usually the quiet type.)
I trust Dixie with my heart, I’m all in and I don’t dance around if we need to talk about any aspect of our relationship. And if she and Tom love each other as platonic friends, even as family, I’m all for it. See, it’s hard enough to find people who you truly resonate with, but it gets exponentially harder when you overlay a set of constrictions that need to “fit” an arbitrary standard.
The world is changing. The way we experience deep and personal relationships is at the heart of that change. Old established models that constrain human intimacy to an arbitrary standard are crumbling. Coming forward and declaring your relationship choice if it’s seen as “novel” takes guts, tact and resilience.
Bottom line, a healthy relationship needs to fit the standard only for parties directly involved. Any standard set by people outside of that relationship is irrelevant. Society’s standard is a moving target anyway! So get practical, be present and just let yourself fall in love already!
So I’m Tom. Yes, I have an ex who has a boyfriend. They’ve been together almost three years. I still love her, but I’m OK with that.
Trying to follow anyone else’s standard is self-limiting. It limits who you are, and the choices you make. People who view my relationship with Dixie, and with Philip, as wrong, or a case of me being in denial, are missing the point.
Every thing, every day, is a discovery process, and every corner you turn, every door you open, can lead to something you weren’t expecting. If you aren’t open to the unexpected, you never turn corners, you never open doors.
When Dixie and I separated, we grieved. Sometimes we still do. But we made a commitment to each other, before there was anyone else in the picture, that we would have the kind of relationship that allowed us to still care about each other, still want the best for each other, and still get together as friends, family, whatever label you want to put on people who want to be around each other because they have love in their hearts.
Philip coming into the picture didn’t change that commitment. It helps that he and I get along the way we do. We laugh at the same stuff (while Dixie rolls her eyes) and we outtalk her (it takes two of us, but we can do it.) So he’s much younger, but if I had a son like him I’d be thrilled and proud. He’s goofy, silly, and sometimes inappropriate by some people’s standards. But he’s mature enough to know what he wants, and to trust Dixie enough to open his heart and home to her family, even when her family is her ex. (He’s also a great step-parent to the big, black, goofy furball we all share. Gotta love a guy who loves your dog, right?)
I know we could have all made other choices. Philip could resent and fear me because Dixie refuses to shut me out of her life. Dixie could have turned her back on me and everything we had together and started her life all over without all the emotional untangling of loving without being a couple. And I could hate them both.
Actually, I couldn’t. I can’t understand anyone who thinks you can love a person, live with a person, share joy and sorrow and pain and day-to-day blahs with a person, then flip a switch and just not care, or even resent or despise that person. That makes no sense to me, no matter whose “normal” that happens to be.
This spring it will be 30 years since I first met the woman I would marry. I loved her all that time, still do. The nature of the relationship has changed, but that doesn’t invalidate the connection. Philip can’t take away that connection, he only adds to the family.