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What Was Lost

Joe Newton

About ten years ago, I was in a serious relationship with someone I loved more than I had ever loved anyone before. I hoped to spend my life with her. But I was deep in the closet, and the process of coming out annihilated large parts of my life, including our relationship. I dumped her and told myself she wouldn’t understand. In the years that followed, I came into my own as a proud and potent goddess, but I felt haunted by how I’d pushed my ex away. The regret that marked her absence tinged all my emerging triumphs.

In the chaos of the early pandemic, I sent a simple email, a modest how-are-you, and she sent a brief-but-cordial reply. I didn’t take offense. It was kind of her to reply at all. But some months later, she reached out, asking to meet. Apparently, her boyfriend...

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... she reached out, asking to meet. Apparently, her boyfriend had dumped her, and it reminded her of how I’d dumped her. Despite my nerves, we had a simple afternoon in a park gabbing about poetry and ethics, laughing easily. I didn’t make any overtures. Regarding the past, I said only that I regretted how I’d left things. She replied quickly, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s not like our relationship really had a future.” Yikes! It’s been a few years and she’s become a close friend. We go hiking, drinking, we go on double dates with our partners — me and my wife, her and her new boyfriend. Since I transitioned, people tend to overlook the signs of our intimate history, so we’ve silently agreed to uphold a narrative that we’re just old friends… and yet. I still think about her every day. Even my wife knows I’m crazy about her! (We’re poly, it’s not an issue.) I’m writing because I don’t know what to do. For almost ten years I’ve tried to get over her, but I have proven stubbornly head-over-heels. I’ve tried separation, several types of therapy, even fiery rituals, but I still wake up with her name on my lips. I worry that if I were to broach the totality of my feelings, it would alienate her all over again. What’s a gal to do? Confounded Heartfelt Amorous Damsel Nothing. A gal in this situation does… nothing. You mention coming out, you mention transitioning, you mention being an out-and-proud goddess now — so, you’re a trans woman who had to end what the world perceived to be a cis-het relationship before you embarked on your transition. And based on your ex’s reaction when you reconnected and apologized for dumping her (“It’s not like our relationship really had a future!”), CHAD, along with the fact that your ex has only ever dated men (or people she had every reason to believe were men), it sounds like your ex is a straight cis woman. Which means you couldn’t be the goddess you are now — you couldn’t have the life you have now (to say nothing of the wife you have now) — if you were still with your ex, CHAD, because you couldn’t be her partner and yourself at the same time. I’m going to crawl out on a limb and guess that however bumpy your transition may have been, the trade-off was worth it. You lost some things — including any possibility of a romantic relationship with your ex — but you gained so much more. If seeing your ex socially — if having her in your life — is too painful, well, don’t see her socially. If you want to tell her that you miss the relationship you once had and still have feelings for her, you might be able to do that without blowing up the relationship you have with her now. Lots of people who reconnected with their exes have said or heard variations on, “If things had been different, if we had been different ,things might’ve turned out differently,” and managed to remain friends. You weren’t the person you thought you were when you were with your ex — or you weren’t the person you were coerced into pretending to be — but you had important and meaningful experiences before you transitioned. Feeling sad about what you may have lost as a consequence of transitioning takes nothing away from what you’ve gained. But the intensity of these feelings for your ex— waking up every day thinking about her — makes me wonder whether she’s a symbolic stand-in for everything else you lost. Maybe a few sessions with a good therapist could put your feelings for your ex into perspective. P.S. If what you mean by, “We’ve silently agreed to uphold a narrative that we’re just old friends,” is, “I’m being shoved into a new closet,” that’s not good. If never acknowledging that you were a relationship is the price of admission you have to pay for her friendship, it may be too steep a price a pay. Awkwardness is fine… shame isn’t. P.P.S. Continue to make no overtures. I’ve been going to the same barber (a woman) for almost eight years now. We always have nice heart-to-heart conversations and I’ve loaned her money in the past (single mom), and she’s called to ask for advice on some life stuff a couple of times. She’s also asked me about my dating life, my kid, work, etc. My concern is if I was to ask her out, it would most likely make things awkward, and I don’t want to lose her as my barber. We also have a big age gap, although I know for a fact that she’s dated men my age. I fear screwing up our professional relationship, yet I am so attracted to her it gives me butterflies. I have risked dropping innuendos now and again, but she’s never picked up on them. I honestly can’t tell if she’s interested or not. She says nice and courteous things, which make me feel good, but I understand this part of customer service. But I’m not sure it’s only that. Joe Haircut It’s only that. When someone confides in us about their love life — particularly when that someone is a woman in a service industry — that’s usually a sign they don’t see us as a potential love interest. Women in service professions who rely on tips will sometimes share stories about disastrous dates, shitty exes, and heartbreaks with male clients not to signal romantic interest, JH, but to signal romantic disinterest. Basically, if the woman who’s cutting your hair or pouring your beer treats you like one of her girlfriends, JH, she doesn’t see you — and doesn’t want you to see yourself — as a potential future boyfriend. Which is not to say she doesn’t like you or doesn’t consider you a friend. She clearly does. But don’t confuse choosing to ignore your innuendos for failing to pick up on them. And those stories about how dating clients always ended in disaster? They’re a carefully constructed offramp that will allow her to say “no” in the nicest possible way. (“I’m so sorry — I can’t date clients anymore after all those disasters I told you about. The usual?”) As men — as dick-havers — we have to be constantly on our guard against motivated reasoning, AKA “dickful thinking,” and this is definitely a case of motivated reasoning. I’m involved with a married man. No, I don’t think his wife knows. I’ve discussed ENM with him, but I can’t force him to tell her. Theirs is not a healthy relationship. At this point, he’s staying for the sake of their child. Once their kid goes to college he wants to separate/divorce. They stopped sleeping together years ago. Literally: they don’t sleep in the same room at night. They’re basically separated yet live under the same roof. They barely speak save when it comes to running the household or parenting. (I’m pretty sure their kid, a teenager, can sense the marital discord, and might even prefer the parents to separate officially, instead of dragging this out for their sake.) But my lover, the kid’s father, is really scared that he might lose custody in a divorce. There’s probably no good way to break it to your spouse, however estranged you are, that you want to make it official, that living together but barely speaking, barely being roommates isn’t much of a marriage. I don’t expect to be with him after all this — so please keep in mind that I’m not looking to benefit here. But I do want to help him get through this transition period. What can he say or do to end the marriage in an ethical and kind way? Yet Another Other Woman All you know is what he’s told you. I’m not suggesting — as others surely will — that you can’t believe a single this man says because he’s cheating on his wife. What I am suggesting is that his marriage may be less dysfunctional than he’s made it seem. He and his wife may not fuck or even sleep in the same room anymore — they even may be on the same page about separating the second their kid heads to college — but their relationship sounds low-conflict. For all you know, YAOW, they may have successfully pivoted to a companionate marriage. As for why your lover would play up tension at home… Men who have affairs are seen as bad guys — even when they’re not cheating their wives out of anything their wives want — and your lover may be making his marriage sound more dysfunctional than it actually is not just to elicit your sympathy (and your pussy), YAOW, but to make himself feel less like the bad guy here. As for your plan to encourage him to end his marriage now… If your lover is planning to file for divorce once his kid is in college and his kid is already a teenager, well, then the end is nigh. (Assuming he means it; that could be another line he’s feeding you — needlessly, as you don’t want to be with him.) If you’re comfortable fucking a married man — if you’re willing to help this man do what he needs to do to stay married and stay sane — go ahead and fuck this guy. But just as he shouldn’t make his marriage sound worse than it actually is to rationalize or justify the morally ambiguous choice he’s made (fucking you), you don’t need to talk him into broaching the subject of ENM with his wife and/or ending his marriage to rationalize or justify the morally ambiguous choice you’ve made (fucking him). Got a problem? Everyone does! Submit a written question for “Savage Love” now! Or record your question for the next Lovecast here! Follow Dan on Instagram and Threads @DanSavage. Follow Dan on BlueSky @DanSavage. The deadline to enter HUMP! 2024 is December 8th! Everything you need to know about getting your short dirty movie into the world’s best dirty little short film festival can be found at humpfilmfest.com/submit!

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