August 28, 2023

Forgiving the Girl who was in Love with Two Men.

 

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“You’re a whore just like your mother!”

Words a girl never wants to hear from someone who’s supposed to love her unconditionally.

Shaking and sobbing uncontrollably, I hung up the phone and laid back into my husband’s open arms. I was grateful for his tender support in that moment, considering it was much more than I deserved.

The day before, my husband flew halfway around the world on a mission—to confront the man who was sleeping in my borrowed daybed (and had quickly left) just minutes before he showed up, beating on my door with a baseball bat.

It might have happened too, had my uncle—who my husband secretly conspired with to catch me and my lover together—not come to his senses and called to warn me right before they pulled up in front of my tiny L.A. apartment that night.

I’ll never forget the spine-chilling tone of my husband’s voice when he suddenly grabbed the phone from my uncle’s hand and told me what he was planning to do.

The next day, after staying up all night talking, crying, and yelling, we were desperate to see if there was anything left of us to save.

Word spread like a wildfire that morning, and after multiple phone calls from outraged family members, our tentative connection was fragile—barely held together by the feeble strings of guilt and sorrow for being the cause of each other’s pain.

I was never sure if it was possible to be in love with two people at the same time, but after hearing Ernest Hemingway’s story about the love affair that broke up his first marriage, I believe it now.

“To really love two women at the same time, truly love them, is the most destructive and terrible thing that can happen to a man. You do things that are impossible. When you are with one, you love her. And with the other, you love her. And together, you love them both. You break all promises, and you do everything you knew that you could never do, nor would want to do. You lie and hate it and it destroys you. And every day is more dangerous. Everything is split inside of you and you love two people now instead of one. And the strange part is that you are happy.” 

He describes it perfectly. I realize now that I’ve always felt this way but didn’t know how to express it.

I never questioned my love for my first husband.

He was my high school sweetheart and my first real love. He was my knight in shining armor, there to rescue me from my chaotic home life. There is no doubt I put him on a pedestal. My family loved and trusted him so much that he was allowed to sleep over, and in my teenaged bed most nights.

Much of our relationship was long-distance since he joined the military during my sophomore year. My entire high school career, I dreamt of being married and never having to spend another day apart from him. It was all I wanted—nothing else really mattered. I was lovesick for most of my teenage years.

After I turned 18, we secretly eloped at the Chapel by the Courthouse on a scorching summer day in Las Vegas. He in shorts and a T-shirt and me, sick with strep-throat, in the only dress I owned: a black, floral print that I wore under my cap and gown for high school graduation two months before.

It was not the fairytale wedding with the pretty white dress I’d always imagined.

But it didn’t matter. I felt like my dreams were starting to come true.

I planned to stay with family in L.A. while he spent his last military year overseas. When he got out, we were going to move back to Texas and finally start living our life together.

But then, I fell in love with another man.

Living in a new place and missing my new husband, I was feeling depressed, vulnerable, and lonely and got swept up by this other man’s attention. He was a little older and exuded a confidence that was irresistible.

He introduced me to new things and showed me around his beloved City of Angels. He told me I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, often whispering seductively romantic Spanish words in my ears, and it made my heart flutter.

He took me dancing and spent money on me, buying things for the studio apartment I’d rented—partly to stop pissing off my aunt and uncle every time I came home late from the dance clubs and woke up their obnoxious barking dogs, but mostly to have a place he and I could spend time together.

I was coming of age, and it was the most fun I’d ever had.

I made it clear from the beginning that I would never leave my husband, but I enjoyed being with my lover so much that I changed my mind.

I fell in love with him and decided he was who I wanted to stay with, and eventually, on a dreadful long-distance phone call reaching across the Pacific Ocean, I confessed my sins to my husband.

A piece of wisdom offered by F. Scott Fitzgerald to Hemingway: “A man, torn between two women, will eventually lose them both.”

After my husband flew back and was with me again in the flesh, I realized that I was still very much in love with him and changed my mind (again). I begged him not to leave me. I couldn’t let go of the fantasy I’d had for the last five years of my life.

Five years is a long time when you’re a child.

Like when Hemingway belatedly meets his wife at the train station after spending three nights with his lover and thinks, “At that moment, I wished I had died before loving anyone else.”

My husband and I decided to try to work things out, and the day after he suddenly appeared on my doorstep—under his watchful eyes and perked ears—I called the other man to break up with him.

It was a brief and painful conversation. I wanted to tell him so much more, but I couldn’t share my true feelings in front of my aggrieved husband.

I wanted to tell him how sorry I was that we couldn’t be together, how much I still loved him and how I would miss him terribly—how I never meant to hurt him. But the discussion was relegated to emotionless logistics, like when we would be away from the apartment so he could come get his stuff. The bitterness in his voice was heartbreaking.

It’s like Hemingway says: I loved each man when I was with him; I loved them both, separately and together. And I broke all three of our hearts.

Later, when I was hating on myself for being so stupid and cruel, I thought I was fooling myself to believe I could actually love two people—two very different men—and that I was making it up to justify my actions as uncontrollable. After all, we can’t really help it if Cupid’s arrow hits its mark, right?

Yeah, I thought that was bullsh*t too.

When all was said and done, after my husband and I moved back home and the divorce papers were eventually signed, I stuffed all thoughts of everything that happened down deep. The guilt was too much to bear. I never gave the idea of loving them both much thought.

Now, 26 years later, I can look back at that time of my life with compassion for myself and without the shame I felt for so long. I can look back and know that I truly did love two men at the same time—misguided as it was.

It’s taken a long time, but I’ve forgiven myself.

I forgive the immature girl who was acting from a wounded place, who didn’t know her values, who suffered from a lack of self-respect and made mistakes while she was in survival mode.

I forgive the insecure girl who sabotaged her peace and betrayed herself because living in chaos felt safe, instability felt normal.

I forgive the love-starved girl who didn’t know how to say no when she was bombed with confusing emotions, who grew up learning that escaping her loneliness was better than feeling it.

Would I choose to change the way things ended with my first marriage if it was possible? Absolutely.

I was so distraught that this was the only time in my life I’ve ever considered suicide.

The night when I knew my marriage was finally and unequivocally over, I remember driving home and thinking, I could just steer my car into this oncoming traffic and I wouldn’t feel the gut-wrenching pain anymore.

I never meant to hurt anyone, and I ended up hurting two people who I loved very much…well three if you count me. I love myself enough now to know that I do count.

I have no regrets that those relationships ended. After all, if they hadn’t, I may have never met and fell in love with the amazing man I am married to today.

My life might be different had the breakup with my first two loves been less dramatic—and less my fault. But today, I am older and wiser, and I understand the things that happened with a different perspective.

I can look back and know that at 18 and 19 years old, I was just a baby.

Logically, I knew better, but realistically, things aren’t so logical for young adults—especially when they come from a family of alcoholics and drug addicts and had a troubled upbringing with a history of childhood sexual trauma that was swept under the rug and never allowed to be spoken of.

I can look back and know the intense love I felt for my first husband was hormonal teenage infatuation and the inappropriate adult relationship we’d had since I was a young 14-year-old girl was not okay, no matter how much my family liked him.

I can look back and know the love I felt for the other man was spurred from my need to feel adored. My intense desire to feel loved clouded my judgement, and at 18 years old, hormones were probably still playing a part too.

A.E. Hotchner had a 13-year friendship with Hemingway and was told the story of the love affair that broke up his first marriage. Hotchner wrote, “He [Hemingway] turned to me. ‘You ever loved two women at the same time?’ he asked. I hadn’t. ‘Lucky boy’ he said.”

Lucky boy, indeed.

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