If we had no hold on each other, if we were together by choice and free to love other people too, why, after Eadmund admitted to his fling, was I feeling so betrayed and angry? He seemed to feel it was entirely permissable under the terms of what we had agreed but it didn’t feel right to me.
At the time and with no other ideas of how to conduct a relationship, I just assumed the whole open thing wasn’t for me, that I’d agreed to something I couldn’t fulfill and that I had no right to be feeling the way I did. Now, I think differently.
The sort of relationship Eadmund described, the sort I agreed to, would not, if we had managed to communicate, have unfolded like this. He would have met someone, sure. He would have felt an attraction. He might even have wanted to take it to a sexual relationship. But he would have told me at every stage how he felt, what he wanted. We would have had the chance to talk. If it was going to hurt me and hurt us, we would have acted accordingly, leaving me feeling part of the discussion and not presented with a fait accompli.
Something about the story of them meeting on the buying trip bugged me. The shock, anger and rejection died down in the main. Life moved on. The happiness and relief that we were at last being open about our relationship in front of his children and therefore in front of everyone was more than enough compensation. But something still didn’t seem right and I was really struggling to make sense of it. How could he meet someone and in so short a time be ready to sleep with them? He had taken so long to make love to me. He had been so cautious about approaching it. It seemed out of character. It made her seem as if she must be some superbeing, irresistible. Yet he told me that he found me more attractive. He didn’t love her. He said he enjoyed my company more. He didn’t intend to carry on any relationship with her from now on. Did she have an amazingly strong and individual personality that had transfixed him? Not really.
Something didn’t add up.
One day before I set off for work, I noticed his computer was still on. His email programme was open. I didn’t have to leave straight away and there was no one else in the house. Curiosity overcame me and with a sense of shame at the fact I was prying through personal things, I clicked on his email archive. It wasn’t at all hard to find the emails. He kept all correspondence neatly filed with a folder labelled with the sender’s name. I found the folder for their correspondence and opened it.
As I read the emails, the story unfolded. They had met months before at a fair in Italy. They felt a connection at the time and kept in touch. The emails carried on for five months, their tone becoming longing, romantic. I recognised phrases he had used to me in the beginning.
‘I know we’re apart but you feel so close to me tonight, it’s almost as if I can smell you.’
Numbly, I read on. I was distantly aware of a strange sound. Whimpering. Animal. In pain. It took a few seconds to realise the sound was me.
It was another visceral sensation of pain but at least it made sense now. Yes, if I’d imagined him having a relationship with someone else, there would be a meeting, a courting period, consummation.
I admitted, later, to having read his emails. I confronted him with what I’d found out. On this occasion, he crumpled, ashamed. He had meant to be brave, to talk to me if he found himself attracted to someone else. He had meant to be open, to be honest, to be free.
‘Instead, I reverted to old habits. I went back to sneaking around and being dishonest like I used to. I talked this big talk about freedom and honesty and then I didn’t live up to it.’
At the time, I was relieved to have things out in the open. We weren’t trying to keep a secret any more. We were more open, we were happier with each other, communication was better again. Finding the emails when I did was a huge step in being able to move on and rebuild trust with him.
But there, if you press me to it, is the difference between non monogamy and cheating. An open relationship should be just that, open. It should respect the needs of both people. It shouldn’t be about compartmentalising love and hiding it away in boxes. During the better moments of the Anne, Eadmund, Isla triangle, I had had a glimpse of how things could work. When we all talked, we understood each other, we were close, we supported each other, we looked out for each other. It’s not that ego and competition didn’t intrude, it certainly did. We weren’t open enough to try and confront and deal with that. He didn’t categorise either as an actual relationship although frankly he was kidding himself. I was hurt from not knowing about their relationship until too late and it put me in the role of victim which made me fight back. Isla was hurt about finding out about mine with him when her own with him had just been re-kindled. She fought back too. Again there had been lies, secrecy, hiding things. But Isla and I did talk. We supported each other. The three of us talked less, but we did do so. When we did, when we understood each other and when we were open with each other, there was a nurturing sense of love, support and community.
It wasn’t a successfully open relationship with honest open communication but new, strange and scary as it was at the time, this was where I first got a glimpse of how it could work. Including other people doesn’t have to mean deceit, betrayal, pain. It doesn’t have to have a victim who gets hurt. It can also create a close knit group and increase the love, caring and support.
Cheating is a whole lot different.