Testimony: It ain't over when it's over

One relationship ends, another begins. But the memories refuse to fade. Nick Madrid confesses he is torn between two lovers

here's a Woody Allen line that goes: "Sex between two people is a wonderful experience - between five it's fantastic." I'll have to take his word for that, unless my social life suddenly shifts gear dramatically. But it reminds me of how I feel about being in love.

Falling in love is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that some of my friends have maybe once a week. I'm not quite as fickle as that - in fact, I don't think I'm fickle at all - but I do find it possible to love more than one person at a time. The problem comes when, as now, one is an old girlfriend, and the other is the woman I live with.

I don't mean I'm hankering after a relationship with Alice, my former girlfriend, or pining over her. We finished quite amicably because we'd gone as far as we could. If I were asked if I still desired her I'd probably have to say ``no''. But I do love her. I do think about her a lot. And I do miss her. Most of the reasons we clicked so well still exist and we have a shared history that means she is an inextricable part of my past. I care about her. I worry when things go badly for her, I'm pleased when things go well.

We speak on the phone maybe once a week, meet for lunch or a drink maybe every three. My partner, Kate, doesn't know, nor does Alice's partner, Tony. We make our calls from work, and never contact each other at our homes. Deceitful? Well, yes, and if Kate or Tony find out, our deceit will look very suspicious, since both of them know of the history Alice and I share. But the alternative ... actually, there is no alternative without changing the nature of my relationship with Kate.

Alice loves Tony, I love Kate. I live with Kate and we have a relationship which means we can talk about anything. Except this, at least that's my feeling. Because the "rules" for couples, the expectations we have about coupledom, mean that we are supposed to focus all our love on just one person. Remaining friends with a former lover can cause jealousy and isn't fair on a current partner. It's not that Kate isn't understanding. She is. Very. But she's only human.

A past relationship should be just that - in the past. Kate should be my priority. And she is. If it came to a choice, I'd choose Kate every time. I'll always, I hope, be there for her. But I don't want to have to choose because my feelings for Alice are so innocent. And in case Kate might think otherwise, I keep quiet.

The words "I love you" are so easily said, so rarely meant. I've always taken love seriously - I've been priggishly scrupulous about using those words. I've used them to only three people in my youngish life: Kate, Alice and my first love Ruth. Ruth was killed last year in a horrendous car crash. We hadn't really kept in touch. I'd tried, but she was off on her own trajectory. But I was still devastated when I heard about her death.

Grieving is difficult at the best of times in our society. Although life is about loss, we don't really know how to handle it: as we get older we get more practice but not necessarily any better at it. Grieving for Ruth was extremely difficult if I were not to hurt Kate. To acknowledge the depth of feeling I had for Ruth, to take the time, and the emotion, to fully remember her was virtually impossible. The mawkish evening I spent with my old photos, looking through our old letters (hidden in an old box file not just for sentimental reasons but because they are a part of my past) was done secretively, guiltily.

I have wonderful memories of my time with Ruth but I feel somehow disloyal to Kate remembering them. Yet Ruth and Alice are important parts of my past. I have friends who spend their lives denying their pasts and the mistakes they've made. I'm fortunate to have mostly happy memories but even if I hadn't, I feel that to excise my memories would be like chopping off part of myself. Yet committing myself to Kate almost demands I do that.

My failure, I know, is not being able to discuss this with Kate. I just feel the risk is too high. If I broach the subject nothing can ever be the same again. It may be that she feels the same as me, that she too has someone with whom she keeps in touch, that she cares about, thinks about a lot.

As a matter of fact, I think she does. I phoned her at work once and her colleague answered. ``Is that Derek?'' No, I said, thinking to myself, Derek was the one before. Jealous? Moi ? Darn right, but then I'm only human, too.

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