It was a sunny July 4th. My husband, Graham, was working that day, and I agreed to go to a friend’s 4th of July party. I put on a fun festive outfit… I mean, it doesn’t get much more American than cut off jean shorts and a crop top, right? Graham helped pick out my outfit actually. Looking quite proud of himself he grinned, bit his lip and said “hot” before giving me a kiss and telling me to “have some fun today”.
Arriving at the party, I was greeted by my friends who told me to grab a cold beer out back. There he was… equipped with a spatula and a boyish smile, manning the barbecue. With an outstretched hand, “Hi, my name’s Ethan. What’s yours?”
He later sought me out and asked some solid get to know you questions. We discovered we both love hiking. He mentioned he didn’t have any friends that enjoyed hiking enough to join him. It all started out innocently enough. No one planned on falling in love… just maybe going for a hike sometime.
Graham made it to the party around 9 pm. I was pretty excited that he hadn’t missed the fireworks and we would get to watch them together. Having been together for so long, and despite my usual excitement to see him, we tend to be fairly independent in social situations… We both take pleasure in making our rounds at a party, enjoying a variety of good conversations. I later learned, for those who don’t already know us, it’s not always evident we’re together.
A few beers, watching fireworks from a second story rooftop, several late night rounds of Cards Against Humanity and a lot of laughs later we finally called it a night.
Ethan and I added each other on Snapchat, and it wasn’t long before he asked me to go on a hike. So over a quick few messages we planned a hike for later that week… but he proceeded to ask if I happened to be free for dinner that night. I told him I was meeting Graham after work, and Ethan responded by asking if Graham and I were dating… I froze. I was caught quite off guard by the question. Snapchat showed Ethan was still typing… I waited. He said he hoped I didn’t mind him asking. He’d wondered if Graham and I were together after the 4th of July party, but couldn’t be sure. I began remembering just how un-clingy Graham and I had been the night we all met… not exactly emitting typical “couple vibes”.
I, of course, had to set things straight. I told Ethan that Graham and I were actually married… happily, for 6 years. I said I hoped I hadn’t given him the wrong impression, but that I’d still love to go for a hike as friends. If memory serves me, he responded with a cute joke about how he was still in need of a hiking buddy after all…. so he supposed we could keep our hiking plans. I was relieved. Perhaps I anticipated he might be angry or unkind in some way. It wouldn’t have been the first time I was berated after telling a man, whom I’d gotten caught up in friendly conversation with, that I’m happily married. He told me I hadn’t given him the wrong impression at all, that he thought I seemed like a genuinely great person, and he’d love to get to know me better as friends.
We were fast friends. We could laugh at nothing, go for long hikes or just a walk around the park, grab a bite to eat, watch the sunset, talk, not talk. It was just… easy. Ethan was kind, compassionate, thoughtful in a way I found few people to be, and he made me smile till my face hurt. We could just be ourselves, no facades necessary. I loved that he was respectful of my marriage, yet still treated me as an individual. We went to several concerts and festivals that summer with Graham and our mutual friends, and we began seeing each other more and more often. Ethan and I hiked through the summer right into fall. And then came the fall…
While humans are quite capable of controlling their physical actions, we’re not nearly as adept at controlling our hearts as we’d like to be. Ethan and I began to realize we cared for each other more deeply than we’d anticipated. While I hardly knew what to do about it, I did know this — I valued my marriage with Graham and wouldn’t do anything to damage it. I also valued my friendship with Ethan. So believing that if my relationship with Ethan was more (whatever “more” meant) it would end our friendship… I was determined to keep it in a box that was sustainable. I didn’t want to lose the relationship we had. Ethan told me that more than anything he just wanted to be my friend. He said he didn’t know what it meant or what it would look like, he just knew he wanted us to be in each others lives forever. We agreed we could be forever best friends…. weird best friends, that people raised eyebrows at because I was married. But in my heart I didn’t feel I was doing anything wrong.
I had already started down a path of self discovery, not remotely aware of where it would eventually lead. I hadn’t fully acknowledged my polyamorous tendencies at that point. However, I had begun to recognize my bisexuality more that year, and I think that self discovery prompted me to realize something more… that, whether I was connecting with someone male or female, I didn’t agree with people’s rigid guidelines. Why couldn’t we just live, breathe, connect with who we connect with, maintain meaningful relationships when we find them, feel love for those we love… ? Why do we deprive ourselves of love, connection, happiness? It seemed so simple in my mind. Meaningful connections bring people joy…. and it just didn’t make sense to me that, in a world with over 7 billion people, we should allow ourselves to connect with only one human being in a meaningful way in our lifetime. Or is it that we’re just expected to only connect in such a way with one person AT A TIME? Either way, we’re truly terrible at monogamy as a species. We’re serial monogamists, at best, believing we’ll be with one person forever… until we breakup or get divorced. Then we believe we’ll be with the next person forever… until we’re not for some reason. Yet somehow so many people are at peace with the tragedy and the heartbreak of people’s lives and love breaking apart because of cast-iron rules and unbending expectations of one another, but they’re outraged at the idea of people having meaningful connections with multiple people simultaneously and people being adaptable, open, honest, and…. well… happy. This lack of logic was astounding to me. Wherever I happened to be in that particular line of thought or mental inquiry at the time, I quickly decided people could keep raising their eyebrows at me until they needed Botox — I just didn’t care anymore.
Ethan and I continued going on short hikes after work… some weeks, more days than not. If I got caught up at work and had to reschedule a hike or dinner plans he’d tell me not to worry and say, “We have forever.”
I did worry now and then that with him spending so much time with me, I may be keeping him from finding someone who could make him happier than I could. I cared for him deeply and that’s all I really wanted for him… to be truly happy. Knowing he wants a family and kids someday, and believing we could only be friends, I was pretty determined to set him up. We would joke that we just needed to find him a girl who wasn’t the jealous type and would be okay with our friendship. I actually tried quite hard to find him a girlfriend.
Technically, I succeeded…