E&M author Anouk dissects her experiences with being in more than one relationship.
I have been writing and re-writing this text for quite a while now. At first I thought that it would be a text about my experiences with being in an open relationship. About how it feels to live and love in a relationship-triangle. I thought I would write about the things I gained from it — more attention, more affection, more excitement in my life. But in the end it wasn’t about any of that anymore. The process of writing was cathartic. I realised that despite of gaining all these things, I had lost something. Myself. I had lost myself along the way.
Before. The entanglement.
The very first time I was having an inkling of unease was on my thirtieth birthday. Towards the end of a frisky birthday party, I drunkenly sink into the sofa cushions and follow the celebrations in my honour that are surrounding me. I am a spectator seated in the front row. And I am overcome by a heavy heart: „Well, this is it.“ I feel burned out, more dead than alive. Trapped in a sort of midlife crisis, which I considered to be a bad cliché up until now. But now, suddenly, this cliché monster sits down next to me on the sofa. Cheers, you old git. On my inner canvas, I can see my life catching up to me like a low-budget film production: A man, children, a career, the it’s-finally-the-weekend-countdown, week after week, until we retire. Fittingly, just shortly before my birthday, I secured an unlimited contract at my current employer. Half a year before, my boyfriend and I moved into a spacious 4-room flat. Whenever we have friends over that haven’t seen our apartment yet, they all say the same thing: „Oh perfect, two nurseries! Then you don’t have to move into a new place straight after the first child comes, eh?“. „Actually, these are our offices — one for me, one for him.“, I am not getting tired of commenting, always a little too harshly, a little too quickly. The feeling of unease starts to knock on my door, settles into my gut. I am deciding to ignore it.
On my inner canvas, I can see my life catching up to me like a low-budget film production: A man, children, a career, the it’s-finally-the-weekend-countdown, week after week, until we retire.
A few days later, I am up on the chair at my gynaecologist’s. After the routine check-up she asks me to sit down with her at her white desk. Hastily she is scribbling down some notes into my folder. Why I had taken myself off the pill, she asks. I reply that I don’t want to serve myself a daily cocktail full of hormones and that there are alternative contraceptives. She is giving me, what seems to be, a very understanding, omniscient motherly look and doesn’t look away for what feels like an eternity. She then gets up, walks around her desk and starts to tell me something about the female body, that speaks its very own language and knows when it is ready for a child. „Once you are 35 it will be a steady decline for you, I am sure you are aware of that. Your fertility is seriously starting to crash once you’re in your mid thirties. If I can give you one advice: hurry up.“ She finishes her sermon and sends me on my way out of her office, after a strong, energetic handshake. I start to feel angry — and uneasy. Again. I feel trapped and entangled, but I don’t really know what is holding me hostage.
Right in the middle. The thrill of the triangle.
„I want an open relationship.“ I still remember how I say this short, impactful sentence, how it makes me feel liberated but conflicted at the same time. I remember how he looked at me, my boyfriend. A little disbelieving. It is a hot day in June, a year later. My wish for an open relationship has started to become an urge, because I think that something is missing in the relationship.
He is in charge of my needs that have fallen through the cracks in my relationship, at some point between hanging up clothes to dry and cleaning out the fridge. I feel desired, revitalised, free.
If it’s not incredibly complicated, some in my circle of close friends that I have trusted with my thought process ask me. No, it’s not that complicated, actually, I counter. My boyfriend is my life partner. We share a bed, the chairs, the table as well as the whole range of emotions that there are, as well as memories and plans for a shared future. We are in our early thirties, have been a couple for a few years now and we are thinking about children, sooner or later. So far, so traditional. And then there is another one, a third person. I am regularly seeing another man. I feel close to both of them, but in different ways. With one I am sharing my life, with the other the more shiny glamour: fancy dates, conversations over Aperol Spritzes, the excitement, when he holds my hand, passionate sex. He is in charge of my needs that have fallen through the cracks in my relationship, at some point between hanging up clothes to dry and cleaning out the fridge. I feel desired, revitalised, free.
That this constellation works over this long period of time is mostly due to the protagonists of the triangle, I think we three are very unique people. The two men in my life certainly are. We are united by a sense of a win-win-win that our triangle provides us with. But admittedly, the construction of my triangle quickly becomes everything but easy. It’s a complicated spiderweb in which’s middle I am trying to do both men justice. It quickly becomes an ordeal. I am wracked with guilt because sometimes I feel closer to one than to the other. And there it is, my unease is back. It makes my stomach turn. I am often laying awake at night, brooding over and pondering the situation. One day I feel like I need to decide between the two, from one moment to the next. Other days I push this aside and dream of having both of them close to me forever.
Some of my friends that I have let in on this are criticising me harshly. „A lot of people don’t wish for anything more than to be in a loving relationship, and you want not just one, but two.“, one friend says accusingly. I feel increasingly lonely, misunderstood and unable to cope with the castle that I build myself. I start to see more and more clearly that I am on the wrong path. But instead of turning back, towards the last impactful crossroads of my past decisions and walking down another path, I am staying in my lane, marching on. After all, I have made it this far already. So I march on.
The aftermath. The call of independence.
The turning point comes to me almost 9,000km away from home. With an air of wanderlust and itchy feet I spontaneously book a flight to Asia and two weeks later, I am on my way. On my own. Alone. Three whole weeks I am getting to travel, with myself, and in the end — back to myself. My feeling of unease comes knocking, now that I cannot drown it out any longer. And in the solitude of my travels I am finally listening to it, accepting it, and taking it seriously. I am learning to reconnect to myself, I am getting to know myself again. Anew. And I start to ask myself what I am looking for in my triangle. And what my feeling of unease has to do with it.
Back home I cannot stuff it back into a corner and the more I am aware of my unease in my stomach and gut, the less I can keep marching on. In the end it feels like I am trapped inside the eye of a storm and that’s my rescue. I am leaving the triangle.
I was neither completely home in either one of my relationships, I was swinging back and forth, until I had lost my orientation. I have dissected my heart instead of putting my heart into listening to my feelings of unease.
Today I know that I lost myself in the crisscross of my relationships. I gave up my independence and exchanged it for a relationship identity that was founded on dependence, built on two pillars, so I didn’t get too attached to either one of them. I put a massive part of my energy into keeping the two relationships up and running, and not enough energy into myself. I had, stuck in the triangle, experienced my innermost disruption. I was neither completely home in either one of my relationships, I was swinging back and forth, until I had lost my orientation. I dissected my heart instead of putting my it into listening to my feelings of unease. Today I know that it was a wake-up call, a silent alarm that tried to wake up my inner voice that I kept violently silent. Since I have started to listen to my inner voice again, I am treading on a new path, slowly making my way through the uneven terrain — but this time it is my terrain, it is my way. I am trying to put trust into my own two feet that carry me on this way and towards everything that life still has in store for me. I know now that I should — and have to — trust my inner voice, my intuition. She is my signpost. The only one I need.
*translated from German into English by Friederike Sandow.
Cover Photo: Anouk Lewartowska