Chapter 4: What I Lost By Being Strong (Stop Acting All Tough)
Tom and I had a wonderful mixture of pragma and eros. The sex was great — especially when other people were involved — and he was my best friend.
I couldn’t imagine ever meeting another mixture like that. But it happened the end of Junior year, when college was coming to a close.
I had been friends with Paul when I began college, but he was three years my senior. I met him my first year, when my open relationship was still situational.
I still had to be honest if I liked someone. I had to talk about my motives. I had to ask before anything happened.
This rule sounds good in theory, but it becomes inefficient when you meet someone who makes you stop thinking logically.
Normally, I was pretty self-aware of my emotions. I had dealt with anxiety for a good number of years. An incredible amount of stress had forced me to take control of it. Between that and being forced to communicate more with Tom, I had made significant progress.
But this attraction wasn’t by choice. Paul was handsome, muscular, and one of the most genuine people I had ever met. It was another eros. I felt like my soul was pulled towards him. He was easy to talk to, and I felt like I could trust him with anything. At this point I knew I was a very sexual person, and Paul would talk about things, darker than I had ever heard of, that intrigued me. I wanted to know more, to experience so much with him, but I had no idea where to start. I only had experience with boys who still couldn’t open a bra clasp. He knew much more than that. I wanted him to teach me everything.
At some point in the friendship, I invited him over to cuddle and watch a movie. Looking back, I know I was the one to lead on the situation.
Not enough happened that would normally be a big deal. We never even kissed. But there was tension, so thick I couldn’t see. When I snapped out of my fog, I agreed with him that he should leave because I didn’t like it; I didn’t like that he had made me lose a little control. That hadn’t happened since my ex. It scared me that I would lose myself again.
My first reaction was the same as it always is when I don’t have complete control.
Running was easy because Tom was angry. Part of it was because I hadn’t talked to him first. Most of it was because he could see how much my mind was wrapped around this guy, and it scared him.
So I told Paul I needed time. It hurt more than it should have. I thought about him more than I should have.
I knew would crawl back eventually. Tom and I were talking about marriage around this time, and he was my first priority. I needed more time to solidify that I wasn’t going anywhere. I’ve always made fast friends who fade quickly, and I felt that Paul was one of the few people who I could be tight with for the rest of my life.
Polyamory is not only knowing what you need; it’s also understanding your priorities. I knew I needed his friendship, but I also knew it couldn’t be now.
Fast forward a few years. I don’t remember what made me decide the moment was right to message him. He had moved away for grad school, and not only was he as warm and welcoming as I remembered, he was moving back.
Although Tom and I were solidified, I was still in the early stages of not understanding my feelings and where they came from. I remember looking forward to the long letters he sent me, catching me up on his life, and I was aware of how short the letters were that I sent back. I was nervous to open up to him as much as I used to, because I didn’t know what I wanted or what I expected. I felt like an asshole, and I felt weak and embarrassed that I needed a break from his energy because it affected me so much.
It affected me more when I saw him in person. I had planned to play it cool, but when he opened the door, I hugged him so hard he lost his balance. It was like nothing had changed. Just like old times, he brought out a fire out in me — except now, I was able to act on it.
It was obvious we would have a sexual relationship. Tom had even given his blessing. Our relationship had gone a long way. He was more comfortable with it because we understood the idea of too much information. This was where our relationship had really began to strengthen, because it was no longer about motives or decisions. It was about individual needs and how we could make sure the other was happy.
Even after I had dropped him, Paul was still dedicated to being one of my best friends. He brought out a part of me that I had no idea existed. He was the first one to introduce me to the world of kink. It was only something I had heard people mention in passing.
The idea of being emotionally and physically dominated didn’t make much sense to me until I met him. I knew I got weak around men who were especially muscular, but he was the first one I was able to be intimate with.
And fuck, it melted me.
There was something about feeling weak and powerless underneath him that gripped my mind. The eros was burning bright, but I didn’t care — the sex was too good. I was learning too much about myself; that I loved it when he got angry. That I loved emotional degradation. A small part of me wanted to learn about being a Dominant. I asked countless questions and took mental notes when he wrapped around my mind in the darkness of his bedroom, but it was too early to find my confidence to turn the tables.
As I became more comfortable with him, he began to teach me about the dynamics of sadism and masochism. Learning about a flogger and being asked to hit him in the face seemed scary at first, but I agreed to let him try the flogger on me. The first time I was hit, I was hooked.
I’ve always gone out of my way to seek endorphins. I love to feel. I expected it to hurt, but I didn’t expect the rush of pleasure I got afterwards.
As my sexual experiences with him grew, I felt more connected to him as well. He had a similar situation to mine, where he would “keep it casual” with any girl he was involved with. I appreciated that he would communicate with me whenever he found someone he liked, had a hot experience, or wanted to try something new.
I was engaged now, and the wedding was coming closer. Tom and I spoke briefly about if we would close our relationship once we said our vows, but we couldn’t really find a reason to; jealousy issues were, for the most part, gone. Parties were more fun when we were able to make out and snuggle with our friends, and it had also strengthened many friendships we had as well. There was no worrying if we were getting too close to someone or flirting too much, and it forced us to keep communication lines open.
We were planning on moving shortly after the wedding. I felt our small town didn’t hold much for other of us, and I was getting claustrophobic. I had lost many of my college friends soon after I graduated. Some had become uncomfortable as Tom and I became more open about who we were, and others just faded away.
As I began to feel more claustrophobic, I could feel the dynamic with Paul changing. I was starting to realize that it would be very hard to be farther away from him. I also noticed my perspective was changing; at the beginning I had been happy for him when he found a new playmate, or told me about a session he had with a friend. I wanted to know the details.
Now, I was starting to feel possessive. With Tom, I had so much security in our relationship my heart would feel nice and warm when he got love from someone else. With Paul, though, we weren’t in a relationship. My heart began to prickle when he got love from others. I knew that wasn’t okay.
Around the same time, my best friend from college brought it up. I’m a hard one to read, but he knew my language. We had been friends for too long not to understand each other.
You gotta cut it, he said. You talk about him more than you talk about your own husband.
That’s because my husband is always working, I said.
It doesn’t matter. It’s just gonna hurt when you move. It’s the right thing to do.
It made sense to me. My heart had been prickling for so long, it was becoming painful. Panicking was a regular thing for me when I caught the feels, and it didn’t make me want to stick around.
So, again, I ran.
I wasn’t looking at my feelings objectively.
The subject of other people attaching had come up before, and his first reaction always seemed to be to “cut the cord.” Since I was definitely attached, I figured it would be the same for me.
I decided I wanted the last word. The only thing that made sense was to write him a letter. A long one — one so mean, that he would never want to talk to me again. This was my way of taking control of the situation. I thought maybe it would hurt less if it was over faster. That maybe if he forgot me, I could forget about him.
It hadn’t yet occurred to me that just because you love someone doesn’t mean you have to be emotionally committed.
It hadn’t occurred that you can love someone and not have a part of them claimed; you can love and just be friends.
I thought I would feel better when I sent it, but I didn’t. I bursted into tears intermittently for a long time.
One of the many things I’ve learned, especially in this last year, is that it’s important to tell someone if you care about them.
Friends have faded away without knowing how they fulfilled me. Family members have died without knowing the impact they had on me, just because it made me feel too weak to be vulnerable. I may have built my walls strong and high, but I was insecure and lonely.
What I didn’t realize is receiving that love would make the other person stronger. Opening someone else’s door is more important than locking yourself away within your own walls.
Because I wasn’t able to speak about my emotions, I never got closure. I never found out how my letter affected him. I never found out if he felt the same way about me. We’re back in touch now, but the gap has shrank from talking about everything to elevator small talk.
That hole will stay in my heart because I wasn’t able to be vulnerable.
Once you hurt someone, you’ll never regain the trust you once had. Even if you’re lucky enough to be forgiven.