I’ve been in love three times in my life.
One was my first love, one was the love of my life, and one was the man I married.
I loved them all. To say one was more significant than the other would be wrong. I loved them all differently, for different reasons.
The man I married I loved the most, but he wasn’t the love of my life.
I don’t believe in soulmates. It’s a silly concept. To think that there’s only one person forever isn’t just scary, but insulting.
I mean, there are millions of people in the world and there’s only one person for you? Well, what if they live in India and you never go to India? Or what if they were hit by a bus this morning before you even knew they existed?
Yeah, I’m calling BS on the whole soulmate thing. You can have many soulmates, just like you can have many loves.
But when it came to the love of my life, the love I felt for “S” is as close to what I imagine an ultimate soulmate love would be.
It was chaotic. It made me crazy. It was the type of love that shook me to my core and had me constantly feeling drunk.
I couldn’t get enough of him. I wanted to swallow him whole, shove him inside me, absorb him into me, and never be without him. I wanted to feel the way my body felt whenever I saw him for the rest of my life.
I remember thinking I would literally die without him. I honestly believed that. My body would just give up and die.
Off and on for four years, we had this thing. I don’t know what you’d call it. We didn’t date because he didn’t want to date me. But we were always together, slept together, spent holidays together, and were best friends who deeply loved each other.
The problem was I loved him more. I was in love with him, and he knew it. He wasn’t in love with me, and I knew it.
And when it came to a messy end, as it was destined to do, I promised myself I would never love that way again. I would never put all my cards on the table like that again. I would never let myself fall so hard that I was physically, mentally, and emotionally destroyed in the aftermath. I would never allow it.
When I met my husband, S had been out of my life for just over a year. But I was still broken.
It’s hard to be in love with someone, spend so much time with them, be their partner in so many ways but actually not be anything at all to them in the one way you want to be.
I don’t know if he was waiting for something better, someone less complicated, someone less like him or what, but either way I wasn’t the one for him.
So when I uttered the words “I love you” to my husband for the very first time, two things popped into my head: I love this man, and I’m finally over S.
The latter thought was a relief. The former thought was simply fact.
But still being broken from S, I was incapable of loving my husband completely. I loved him as much as I could, which was a lot, believe me. It was a ton, but it wasn’t the way I had loved S, because I met S when I was a whole person.
I met my husband when I wasn’t a whole person, so I only loved him with what I had. And many days, especially now that we’re separated, I don’t think it was enough.
Things may have gone down differently with us if I had loved him the way I loved S, or maybe not. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking.
My husband knew about S and the impact he had on me. He knew that I was missing a few pieces — pieces I had done my best to try to find but couldn’t — from loving S and he accepted it.
I often told him I wished I had met him before I met S, so I could love him more completely, but we both agreed that since that hadn’t been the case, it was a waste to think about.
But that didn’t stop me from thinking about it.
Recently, someone quoted novelist Chuck Palahniuk in a conversation we were having:
“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.”
Ever since, I’ve been turning it over in my head. I had heard it before, but for some reason it had really sunk in the last couple weeks. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, almost obsessing over its meaning. Then I realized I missed out on something great because of S.
Yes, he was the love of my life, but the love of my life should have been the man I married, except I was too broken to give him that.
I was broken because of S.
I was gutted and barely breathing after things ended with S, so much so that losing my husband (which was a devastating blow, mind you) was like a walk in the park compared to losing S. By that time, so much of me was already dead inside.
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So in a moment of realization — at 8 AM on a Saturday morning in Paris, just minutes away from my husband whom I will inevitably have to divorce — I sent an email to S.
I told him that he was the love of my life but I couldn’t have him in my life at all anymore, not even as a casual acquaintance.
I needed to clean up loose ends. I didn’t blame him for anything. I didn’t get into any long, tearful essays about love and loss and how it changes people. It was just a matter of fact: I’m done. This is this, that was that. See ya.
Then I did what I should have done years ago and set up a filter so his email would be directly deleted. After that, I felt better. Relieved. It was the same relief I felt when I first told my husband I loved him.
I know I can’t erase what S meant to me, just as much as I can’t erase what my husband meant to me, and that’s fine. But at least in acknowledging how differently I loved on the other side of S, it’s a wake-up call for me to try harder and be better the next time I have the opportunity to love.
I’ll never stop loving either of these men, nor my first love for that matter, because I don’t believe that love just goes away.
But in understanding that, as Palahniuk said, “I’m a combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known,” I can work harder to love more completely.
And hopefully, next time around I won’t be afraid to put every single one of my cards on the table.