Jim Winstead

The Second Toothbrush

Emma Lindsay
May 18, 2016 · 6 min read

I started seeing a guy who I met over OkCupid about a month ago. Open relationship. That’s fine.

He would sometimes mention this friend he had, from France. Ok. Cool.

One time when we were laying in bed together, he mentioned that he saw this friend every 2–3 days. After that, I felt anxious and couldn’t fall asleep, so I went and slept on his couch.

I blamed myself, my sexual assault. I assumed it was some part of my past trauma that I couldn’t sleep next to people.

The next day, I thought about it, and someone I saw every 2–3 days I would really have called a girlfriend not a friend. But, I figured it was fine — just words, right? I’d date guys with girlfriends so what was the problem?

A little bit later, he explicitly told me “sometimes, I have sex with this friend.”

“Yeah, I figured that out,” I said.

Eventually, he started getting distant and sort of morose. I was laying with him on the couch once, and I just felt this strong sadness.

“Are you sad?” I asked. He admitted he was.

We talked about it for a bit, “I’m just kind of sad always,” he said.

He started to become even more withdrawn. I visited him when he was sick, he hardly talked to me. “Can I touch you?” I asked.

He nodded, but it felt weird when I cuddled up next to him. He just lay there, not really acknowledging it. I was confused. I was fine sitting with people in silence, but this wasn’t that.

Our texts got weird. Everything I said to him seemed to generate an angry response.

He’s depressed I thought. It seemed to fit, always being sad. Self critical. I was worried about him. Yet, it still seemed off.

Eventually, he texted me My friend just moved back to France. I’ve been a little sad in anticipation.

Oh. OH OH OH. The instant he texted me that, I gchatted another friend “I just figured out what was up!” I was actually happy in my initial discovery, all these confusing behaviors made sense!

But then, I was angry. I wasn’t sure why, but I went about my day trying to feel the anger not push it away. Eventually, in hospice training, it shifted into a sadness. We were learning how to feed people, which involved spoon feeding each other. I noticed I was reluctant to touch my partner, and an intense sadness overcame me.

The first person I let touch me in two years was lying to me.

But of course, what makes it tricky, is he wasn’t lying to me. Everything he said was true. He just omitted information that was highly emotionally relevant.

What he expressed was “I have a friend I see every 2–3 days that sometimes I have sex with.” What I would have liked to hear, on our first or second date, was “I have a girlfriend who is about to move back to France.”

I have few hard limits when it comes to dating, but one of them is that I won’t date people who have just gotten out of relationships. When I asked this guy when his last relationship ended, he said 6 months ago. Which was true. What I had no way of knowing, of course, was that he was in a relationship that he knew was about to end. In fact, I suspect his knowledge about this is why he was even on OkC in the first place.

I was feeling anxious with him a lot, but I thought perhaps it was just because of my history with sexual assault. I’m in a highly vulnerable spot right now, because as I start dating again, I’m not sure what anxiety to listen to and what anxiety to “work through.” But, clearly this wasn’t all my past. There were all these little signs that didn’t quite add up.

For instance, he had two toothbrushes in his bathroom. I was never really totally sure what to make of that. He sees her every 2–3 days, it makes sense she’d have a toothbrush here. And yet, something about that second toothbrush always stuck in my mind. I’d look at it when washing my hands, feeling puzzled more than anything else. He had an electric toothbrush, and so it was really a second head rather than a whole toothbrush. It had a specially colored ring round the bottom to differentiate it from his.

The whole thing reminds of another relationship I had. I was dating a guy in med school, who was sleeping with a girl in med school, which he told me right at the beginning.

And yet, I was always anxious with him too. I couldn’t relax. We’d been dating about a month, before I thought to ask “how often do you see this girl?”

“A few hours every day.”

A few hours every day!? I was stunned. I immediately called things off with him, and I wondered if I’d been unfair. After all, he’d told me about her. It’s not like he lied or anything. But when I thought about it, every time I asked him how his day was, and he told me the things he did he always omitted her. There were a few hours every day that were totally off limits for our discussion.

Something you do for a few hours every day is something that’s going to have an emotional impact on you, especially a relationship. His behavior was always motivated by an additional component that he would never express. Like, maybe if he’d had a good day with her, he’d be acting happy and I’d say “why are you so happy?” and he’d say something vague like “it’s just a wonderful day!” I could feel there was always something missing in what he was telling me, I just didn’t know what it was. And that missing space made me nervous.

Similarly, with this guy I met on OkC, I was haunted by a strange feeling of something being off that I was unable to articulate. Because, even though he didn’t “lie” — he sort of told a bunch of small lies. When I asked why he was sad, he said something vague about “always” being sad. I took that seriously. I thought he was depressed. And like, maybe he is always sad but I doubt he’s always this sad.

There’s sort of an implication in (some kinds) of non-monogamy that what someone is doing with someone else doesn’t effect your connection with them, and so it isn’t really a big deal. But, here’s the thing: if it’s not a big deal, why hide it from me? Ironically, if these things hadn’t been hidden from me, they might not have been a big deal.

But, when I am trying to make sense of someone’s emotional reality, and they keep obscuring the true source of their emotions, that is a breach of trust. It causes me to doubt myself. If you are having strong emotions, and you keep having to pretend like you’re not having strong emotions, if you keep having to hide your emotions from your partner(s), you’re doing something wrong.

Anyway, I still believe non-monogamy is possible. I just think I’ve never dated anyone who did it right. Had this guy been open about his impending breakup, I would not have been as physically intimate with him as I was. As a sexual assault survivor, I needed someone who is fairly settled, with some emotional bandwidth to spare. I need someone who’s not going through a break up. By depriving me of this relevant information, he deprived me of the ability to take care of myself. Fortunately, this all washed out pretty quickly, but I still have quite a bit of anger and sadness to process around the whole thing.

Good thing I meditate.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/protectingthecrushed/ — Twitter: https://twitter.com/SassyDotLove

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