A and I were the couple our friends longed to be. His humour offset my seriousness, my clarity offset his impetuousness; we respected each other's need for both space and closeness. For 12 years, we did everything possible to cherish and protect each other from pain. Now I felt like a mother turning her back on her child; hurting myself by causing him pain - and worse, I wouldn't even be there to help him through it.
B had been an object of fantasy for a year. When I was in the same room as him I avoided eye-contact, then spent weeks fantasising accidental meetings. I didn't want trouble. Nevertheless, one night, out in a nightclub with a girlfriend, B's eyes met mine. It was astounding: red face, jelly knees, the rest of the room went out of focus.
The next time I saw B, I agreed to meet him for a coffee. I hoped he would turn out to be a moron - shallow, boring, self-obsessed, a snob. Any of those would have helped. But honest, vibrant, sharp-minded, funny... Over cappuccino in a dark-windowed coffee house, I told him: "I live with my boyfriend." "Then why are you here?" Why was I there? I felt I had no choice. It was bigger, stronger, more determined than I. I fell head over heels. I couldn't help it. I felt as if I'd found a part of myself that had been missing forever.
The hard part: telling you about the gorgeous, spirited, charming, tormented, brilliant man I left. A was the closest person to me in the world. He was - still is - a friend of my heart. We had weathered storms before, always come out holding hands, feeling closer. But not this time.
One night, A said he could see B made me happy; he didn't want to hold me back. If you truly love someone you want the best for them. We'd always believed that. Now A was putting our beliefs into action. But, to protect himself, he asked to be left alone in our cottage for a week. After that, we knew there was no going back.
Leaving A, I felt I was leaving a big chunk of me behind. We wept together, yelled, wept some more; felt like children trying to comfort each other. We did not know how we would survive apart. It was like losing a limb. But I had to be with B - B who made me feel more alive, more excited than I'd ever felt before.
I took the minimum of possessions and moved into B's flat. I thought things would continue as they started: flowers and brioche for breakfast, long lazy days spent talking, a love bubble for two. I hadn't bargained on how much I'd miss A - his familiarity, the way he made me feel safe and known. I hadn't bargained on how much I'd hurt - for me, for A, for all the things we had between us.
And, after 12 years with A, I hadn't bargained on how very different B would be. A used to ask, "How was your day?" B asked, "What are you going to do next?" A used to say, "You're great as you are." B said, "You can be better." The things that had so drawn me to B now began to make me feel like a stranger in a foreign land. I didn't know his rules, language, behaviour. And, after 12 years of A's concern and interest, I found it impossible to break the habit of confiding in him. Understandably, this made B angry, insecure, jealous.
One night, I told B I had made plans to go to Manchester with a group of people. He went berserk. He told me: "You're not going." Not going - I thought he was joking. When I realised he was serious, I was outraged. I'd grown too used to a man who was happy for me to come and go as I pleased. I was not accustomed to orders. There was only one thing for it. I told B it was over. "Get out," I screamed. "I hate you." But as he tried to leave, I found I was wedged between him and the door and begging: "Don't leave me, please don't go."
I used to have a list of won't-tolerates. When friends talked of their torrid tangles, I would say: "Never let a man tell you what to do or make you feel small; don't put up with domination..." Now, I was turning into the woman I always said I would never be.
B and I fought like cats, hissing, spitting, arching backs. This would have been bad enough; two weeks of caterwauling and you'd leave, right? The worst of it was, we still burned for each other, ached. Was it the fact that I still loved A that made B so impossibly insecure and controlling - or was it his personality? The see-saw began. I moved out of B's flat, back in, out, in. I ripped up telephone directories, covered his kitchen wall with hurtled fruit. Love-sick. When it comes to love, some of us are like greedy children in a sweet shop: vomiting only to make room for more.
Six months later, I got my own place. Maybe this was what it was about: learning to live on my own, aged 33. At first, B was around too much. Then, suddenly, he wasn't around enough and I felt empty. I was not as resourceful as I thought I would be. I didn't go for long walks, read novels, write/ paint/draw. I watched too much TV, had lots of baths, cried in bed, talking interminably on the phone to friends, who said: "The tide always turns at the lowest point."
What the tide actually does is rise then crash. Eighteen months since the fateful cappuccino, B and I are still trying to find a way to ride the waves rather than be tossed about by them. We get along great for a week or two, then a message from A on my answering machine opens up old wounds. Although I have chosen B, I cannot cut A out of my life. It is an impossible situation. Life isn't easy or cosy. It's exhausting and exhilarating - I feel alternately desperate and delighted. B stays, leaves, stays, leaves. Late-night phone calls are like injections of pain. They are addictive, we keep going back for more.
A and I meet every few weeks. Time together feels relaxed and precious, but at the point of parting I feel my insides leaving with him. Our friendship is a very deep, unbreakable, almost umbilical love. Sometimes, I think A and I were more like brother and sister than lovers. Other times, all there are are memories of A: places we've been, things we've done, his face, his voice, over and over. I miss the way we were together, our lifestyle, our home, spending mutual time with mutual friends. One hundred and one little things that long-term couples take for granted - the threads of the fabric of the relationship, the things which are so cosy, familiar and comfortable, they are easily overlooked.
I am desperate for A to be happy. His pain feels like my pain. His loneliness is almost too much to bear. Each time he has a new girlfriend, I feel relieved. Each time they break up, I feel relieved. I want him to be happy but I don't want him to replace me. On bad days, I blame myself for throwing away the oasis in my life. But we are good friends. We always were. Some things are built to last.
I wanted passion and joy. For that, I sacrificed calm, familiarity, harmony. I swapped a sand dune for a roller coaster, a swimming pool for the sea. B and I cannot live together, but we cannot live apart. We do not gel, but we cannot seem to un-gel. Love is deepening between us, but it is a slow, cautious, mistrustful thing.
I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but that doesn't mean I don't recommend it. Some days are like walking on marshmallows. Very often, when B and I are kissing and getting into each other, it feels like the first time. I feel more alive, more free, more (wonderfully and horrifically) me than ever before. I left A for B, looking for a happy ending. But maybe there are no happy endings, just different ones.Reuse content