I’ve been trying to figure out how to label my relationships with Brad and Ben ever since I went speeding off in an orange Mustang to my sister’s house a couple of weeks ago.
I told the rental car people I needed the cheapest car they had for a one-way trip to Nashville. A four-hour drive, it was far enough to make a point – that I wasn’t willing to take Brad’s “crap” anymore – but not so far that I couldn’t afford to come back if I changed my mind.
“Is a convertible OK?” the lady asked. I didn’t realize until too late that she was referring to a bright orange, brand new Mustang. Embarrassing as it was at the time, in retrospect, it seems appropriate.
It was my getaway car. I was running away from the responsibilities of domesticity. Brad and I had gotten in too deep. We’d become too enmeshed. Too intertwined. Too codependent. Too unhealthy. Too hateful. Too resentful.
Part of me knew I’d be back, but I had to make it seem like I meant business, like I might be leaving for good this time. I had to make him sorry for not treating me good enough, for taking me for granted, for not loving me anymore. And while, I was at it, I wanted to teach Ben a lesson too. After seven months of living together, I could see he was starting to imitate Brad’s attitude of indifference toward me.
Shortly after I arrived, my sister worked in her speech about how “we’ve all been waiting for this to happen … we all knew you and Brad were never really in love… that you just got stuck together because you got pregnant.”
If only I’d waited to find “the One” to procreate with I wouldn’t be in this mess, she implied. If I’d waited for my true soul mate, I could’ve been madly, monogamously in love for life, the sex would never get old and we would never fight, my 30-year-old single sister still believes.
She seemed to be seeking some sort of commitment from me that this time I’d “do the right thing” and “find the strength not to go back to him.” In her mind, he’s kind of a monster for not “being the One.” She seemed disappointed when she checked in a few days after I’d returned home to find I’d decided to continue living with him indefinitely.
I didn’t care. I didn’t expect her to understand. The thing was, there was nowhere else I wanted to go. Sure I could’ve rented a room from a poly-friendly family somewhere or a house with one of my other single-mother friends (and I’m still not ruling that out), but I really like where I’m at, especially when Brad and I aren’t fighting.
If I were to move out, it would put us both in really tight financial positions, we’d have to shuffle our almost-5-year-old daughter and all her belongings back and forth, splitting our time with her, and making her choose between us. We’d waste time commuting and fighting over schedules and who’s turn it was. I’d miss him. She’d miss him. He’d miss us. He’d probably ask us to come back. We’d probably accept. And we’d have wasted a bunch of time and money.
So we decided at least for now to keep living together. We separated our two twin Tempur-Pedic beds, which used to make up our king-sized family bed, and all of our belongings into two separate rooms. Now instead of Mommy and Daddy sharing a room and Nora having her own toy room, Daddy has his own room and I have mine. Nora typically opts to sleep with me.
We also split our bank accounts, our finances, and everything else 50/50. Starting July 1st, I am responsible for paying half of all the bills and Brad is responsible for half the housework and childcare. We buy our own groceries, clean our own dishes and do our own laundry. If he ends up short-handed on the food truck, we keep track of the hours I work and he pays me cash. But for the most part, I am transitioning back into making a living writing.
On the one hand, it seems silly that we’ve divided things up the way we have, as on the surface it doesn’t look like much has changed. But, somehow, it’s made a world of difference. In short, it’s reminded us we are autonomous individuals, not each other’s other halves.
It’s forced us to take responsibility for our own shit. When things go wrong with the food truck, Brad understands it is entirely his responsibility to fix them, and I understand it is not my place to meddle. When neither of my blogs are making any money one week, I understand it’s time for me to come up with creative alternatives to make money, and Brad understands it’s not his place to pressure me to write more click-bait posts.
When I was in charge of the majority of childcare and household cleaning, Brad preferred the sheets to be washed about twice a week. Now that he’s in charge of washing his own laundry, I notice he hasn’t changed his sheets since he moved into his own room two weeks ago. When Brad was in charge of making the majority of the money, I preferred to go out to eat a little more often and wasn’t as careful about what I bought at Whole Foods.
There is so much less to fight about now and so much less room to blame. Brad no longer cares if I buy $12-a-gallon grass-fed raw milk, now that it’s coming out of my own money. I no longer care if he buys more kitchen gadgets that seem redundant and silly to me, since I didn’t help him earn the money to buy them. If he wants to leave papers and garbage all over his room and laundry on his floor, he’s free to, and if I want to sleep with loud white noise on, I can.
And, in addition to taking responsibility for our own career and financial lives, we have agreed to take responsibility for our own romantic/sexual lives, and our own happiness in general. No matter how badly I want sex or a hug, and no matter how silly I think it is that Brad might not want to give either of those things to me at any given moment, I realize he is not responsible for meeting those needs.
Just because once upon a time – five or six years ago – he was excited about having sex with me on a regular basis, and one of those times the condom broke (because we ran out of lambskins, which I highly recommend) and resulted in pregnancy, doesn’t mean he is obligated to feel excited about having sex with me on a regular basis for the rest of his life.
And, on the other hand, when I move on to find romance and sexual passion elsewhere, I have no obligation or responsibility to ask Brad (or Ben) for their blessing.
Brad and I babysat for each other while we each went on dates with new people last week. We had a new level of respect for each others’ autonomy and privacy, before, during and after. We understood that the other person was under no obligation to share details of the date with the other. If we did decide to share anything it was out of a sense of friendship and trust, not duty.
Thanks to our newfound sense of autonomy and freedom, Brad and I have been having the best sex of our lives the last couple of weeks. Every time it happens, it happens spontaneously, because we BOTH want it, not because either of us feels we owe it. And every time it happens, it gets better and better. I truly believe this is because we both realize every time could be the last.
When you don’t expect or assume someone will be eternally sexually available to you – when you treat each time like it could be the last – mundane, routine sex can turn into life-changing love making. (But I’ll save the details of this for a private post, on another day).
A beautiful woman started messaging Brad on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, asking whether my last post about us breaking up meant he was “single.” He told me he was caught off guard by the question. “I guess,” he told her. “What do you mean ‘you guess’?” she asked. “How do you not know?”
It got me thinking how I would answer that question if someone asked me. I had to look up the definition of “single” – not married or not involved in a romantic relationship OR separate from others, individual and distinct. And that got me thinking what a stupid word it was. Because in one sense I’ve always been single, and in another sense I’ve never been single.
I’ve never been married or made an explicit commitment to love only one person. But I’ve never been totally alone. I’ve almost always been in some degree of romantic relationship (even if it was just a flirtatious one) with one or more people since I was old enough to understand what romance was.
So next time someone asks me if I’m “single” or “in a relationship,” or whether Brad is my “husband, boyfriend, life-partner or ex,” or “Who the heck is this Ben guy? Are you ever going to have sex with him again?” – I’m just going to look at them and say “I don’t know” and smile like a crazy person.
Kidding, kidding… sort of… I guess the best labels I can come up with are “solo poly” for myself, “ex-boyfriend/ex-life-partner/best friend/family/co-parent/roommate/occasional lover” for Brad, and “roommate/friend/ex-lover-I-think/member of my tribe” for Ben.
The one thing I know is I’m no longer half of a couple
or a third of a triad anymore.
I’m just me.
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