He chose me. I chose him. It was a little naïve but I assumed that, whatever had gone on before now meant we were exclusive… apart from his wife of course.
Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t have any intention of finding someone else right then, nor did he think I was looking for someone either. The important thing was that we should both feel free to do so as and when we wanted. The key concept here was freedom.
He and Cloe got married because she was pregnant. He made a commitment to be her partner and parent with her but he knew he would always be available to connections with other people.
‘I meet a lot of people,’ he explained, ‘and I’m very open to people. I make friends very quickly and I am attracted to all sorts of people a lot of the time. I don’t necessarily act on it, but the attraction is there.’
He sought out people in his life with a certain vitality, who could energise him but ground him. Not necessarily for sex or a romantic relationship but to have that sustaining, enlivening force in his life as much as possible.
‘It’s all about energy,’ he continued, ‘and energy needs freedom to survive.’
When he got married, this idea wasn’t yet fully developed. He hadn’t been able to voice it but he realised over time that the structure of marriage couldn’t accommodate his nature. He hadn’t been able to talk to Cloe about this, so many years of sneaking around and secret affairs had followed. He hated the lying but their communication was strained since the death of their first son. Different ways of grieving can force a couple apart and in their case it did. They continued trying to make the marriage work and parent the three children they went on to have, but knowing as they now did how differently they experienced emotion, the trust in each other’s ability to understand, support and provide the emotional resources they needed, had gone. Without that trust, communication suffered.
He wasn’t sure if in the past, Cloe would have understood the sort of relationship he wanted without seeing it as rejection. She did understand now, of course.
‘I so admire the honesty with which Cloe has gone about her relationship with Rupert,’ he ended, ‘She was afraid to begin with but she’s really taken it to heart. There’s something brave, clean and liberating about how she’s conducting her life and that’s quite amazing. That’s the way I want us to live.’
He had an idea that he was not the person I would spend the rest of my life with.
‘I seem to be the in-between boyfriend. The one with whom you learn a lot and then move on to meet ‘The One’ and I’m ok with that. Cloe has gone on to find Rupert. Catherine went on to find someone who suits her better than I did. It’s ok.’
He saw a pattern. With the age gap between us, he felt that I would meet someone else who would give me stability, a family; someone closer to my own age. I shouldn’t feel, just because we were together that I couldn’t find this person.
‘Just tell me about it before something happens, that’s the only stipulation. Otherwise, you’re free.’
I didn’t quite know how I felt about this.
I loved the idea of liberty and that we were together by choice rather than need or because of social norms and expectations. I had felt trapped in my relationship with Jack. I wanted to spread my wings and feel that life didn’t have limits. One of the things I loved about Eadmund was how his ideas made me challenge and question my inherited and assumed values.
On the other hand, when we’d talked about this before, I hadn’t just cancelled my wedding, upset the apple cart and disturbed my family and friends. My oldest friends were unconvinced by our relationship as it was. They saw me as ‘the mistress’; the one who would always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop. They thought he was taking advantage of me. They even thought there was something suspect about the age difference. Frankly they thought I was mad to get involved with a married man. The night she took me in, Nia said,
‘Look we’ve all done it, Anne. Helena got off with her boss too. It’s only natural to be impressed by the authority. He’s the one who should know better.’
She meant it sympathetically but she didn’t realise that I did not see this as a relationship in which I was taken advantage of. It was one in which someone thought I was utterly amazing just for being myself. I felt loved, nurtured, appreciated like I hadn’t done in years. It pained me that this wasn’t obvious to everyone. I had to show them.
I was very immature at the time. Less so than I had been a year ago, but I think people still tended to think they needed to take care of me. In actual fact I had more inner steel than my outward appearance suggested and was a lot stronger than I seemed, something that only Eadmund appeared to see and appreciate. To them, I was an innocent and Eadmund should have restrained himself. They didn’t see me as an active participant in these events in my own life. I had done things that they disapproved of but they didn’t want to condemn me. Reconciling that I could be kind, supportive and a good friend and yet that I had kept a big secret from them and broken the moral code of getting involved with someone else’s man meant that rather than seeing me as someone they could criticise, the disapproval was displaced onto him.
I wasn’t quite sure what they would make of an open relationship. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t approve. I hadn’t admitted the Eadmund, Isla and Anne triangle, never mind that during that period he’d been going out with an ex-girlfriend who had also slept with him. I thought if they knew, they’d have me sectioned.
The other problem was that at the moment I did need him. At work, after losing Isla as a confidante, I felt isolated. The guilt made me stay away from the work friends we had both had in common. She needed them more than me. I didn’t deserve them.
‘Are you sure you’re ok?’ the lovely Australian Kathleen asked me, ‘Are you sure you don’t want a lick and a sniff?’ (It was an in joke about inappropriate puppyish workplace touching).
I told her I was fine. Being the baby of her family, her self-appointed role throughout life was to try to make people happy. She was great at it. I knew she was just what Isla needed right now and I turned down her offer of support so she could have her all to herself. In my mind, I had made my choices, now my punishment was to have to cope with the consequences on my own.
My friends from outside work didn’t understand what I was doing, although they had ably demonstrated that they cared about me. My family, were struggling to accept this relationship. No one apart from Eadmund really understood. I felt alone. I wasn’t secure enough to cope easily with the idea he might want someone else.
He was sure I would meet someone, but I didn’t have that confidence. Unlike him, I didn’t meet people all that often or make new friends easily. There is a reason that most of my best friends are people I have known since childhood. I wasn’t attracted to a lot of people.
Perhaps to guard against that, I found myself looking at strangers, sizing up whether I would find them attractive or not. Each time I met someone new, I wondered if they would find me attractive… if I could find them attractive. I couldn’t, of course, not with that self-inflicted pressure. Besides, I didn’t want anyone else at that besotted stage. I only had eyes for him.
But, on the other hand, I wanted this adventure. I wanted to challenge myself, to grow, to discover my inner strength. I was having nightmares in which I found myself still trapped in my relationship with Jack. I wanted freedom.
So I agreed. We were together by choice. We were free.