You’ve relied, cared for, and matured with someone beside you for years. They feel like your second skin because they are, until one day something appears. A scratch, a bump, a bruise. An affliction that makes you wonder how you looked before. Was this mark always there? Can it be covered? Can it heal? Or do I have to leave?
Go and ask someone in a long-term relationship about their partner, and don’t just listen to their words. Consider their pauses, consult their silences, linger on their mannerisms. Maybe then you’ll realize what I have over the last two weeks: We reveal what we refuse to admit the more we try to keep it contained.
For the lucky ones, the only pauses will be from having to physically catch themselves from oversharing. Then there’s those who shift and shape their body as if they’re on the precipice of a fall to which they’ve been planning a reaction: to stand up themselves, or wait for help.
Steph, 28, on what made her want to leave
My friend Leah said in [my partner’s and my] ten-year anniversary video: I still can’t believe I was third-wheeling for half of high school. When I think about it, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s all kind of ironic: starting with a secret and ending with one.
Georgia and I started dating when we were 14 or 15. I’d never been with a girl, something that was complicated by her being one of my only two best friends. I come from a fairly conservative Chinese family and I just didn’t know anyone who was gay. We were still figuring it out so we kept our relationship a secret for a couple of years. My family never knew.
I realize there were months, if not years, of me questioning her behavior before dismissing it.
Every part of our life was interconnected: our house, our dog, our friends. It’s hard to imagine just how much of my life was actually hers.
We were watching Love, Actually at Christmas and that scene came on where Emma Thompson opens her gift and realizes it’s not the gold necklace. Georgia left the room, which I thought was weird. When I confronted her about it, she was flippant and dismissed it.
On Christmas eve she left and I followed her. Georgia was parked outside of my boss’s house (we were all friends at the time). [At first] she lied that she was even there, and then it came out that they’d been having an affair for four years.
Georgia had a way of manipulating me and making me think I was irrational or stuck with a bad memory. When I look back on things, I realize there were months, if not years, of me questioning her behavior before dismissing it.
Georgia wanted me, she kept crying and apologizing. I broke it off. She spiraled into a depression. I spiraled. Our entire friendship group was segmented. I haven’t spoken to her or anyone in the group for years now.
Sophie, 32, on loving someone but not being in love
I didn’t, at least not in those exact words. We were both 25. I wanted to travel and feel like I was making the most of my life. He was serious and stable. He had the answers to what he wanted without needing to go searching for it in Greece.
He wanted to move somewhere for work but moving for his work made me realize I didn’t have anything I wanted to work on. Most of our time spent together felt like two best friends goofing around rather than two people in love. There wasn’t a day or a moment when I realized we should call it quits because it felt like we had been slowly saying goodbye to each other for over a year without ever saying so. He needed to be the person he was. I needed to find out the person I wanted to be. I loved him, loved him, but being in love with him…I think I realized I never really was.
He’s my person, just not the person.
He’s one of the great loves of my life, but not in the sense most people could understand. I want him to be happy and good and I want to be there with him, I just don’t want to come home to him at night. He’s my person, just not the person.
Kristem, 27, on waking up to a stranger
I always had crushes on girls. I’d say I’m attracted to anyone, really, but Sarah felt more like a hot flush rather than butterflies. I felt nervous and uncomfortable whenever I saw her and yet the same insufferable warm feeling kept coming up—it made me want to run and hide.
When I started doing pilates, Sarah’s classes easily became my favorite but it wasn’t until we started talking more before or after class that I realized that’s why I was always so eager to go. We went out one night and had too much to drink and I kissed her. I had no idea what she would think or if she even liked women. When she kissed me back, it kind of all snowballed from there.
Sometimes taking a leap based on feeling isn’t the right thing to do.
I’d been dating James for five years. We were happy and comfortable. We had our issues but [seemingly] nothing that we couldn’t work through. But Sarah seemed to magnify everything missing in our partnership. Dates turned into weekends together and I ended up finding myself having this entirely new romantic sexual experience whilst wanting the security and love I had in my heterosexual relationship.
James saw a message one day. He was the one to end it. We got back together several times, even trying an open relationship, but it was never the same. I broke his trust and I had to realize that despite whatever I felt with Sarah, it was inconsequential to the pain I had caused him.
Sarah and I haven’t spoken in years and I haven’t been with another woman since; I’m too scared to. I feel like I had these two amazing people and, through my own self-indulgent tendencies of wanting it all, I ended up with nothing. Sometimes taking a leap based on feeling isn’t the right thing to do even though it feels like the only solution at the moment.
Stella, 34, on wondering whether love is enough
Is love enough? That’s the question I was asking myself for the last two years of my marriage. Fraser and I were best friends. We had two children together which we were proud to have raised in a safe and fun household considering both of our broken upbringings. To everyone around us we looked happy.
The last few years of our marriage I had no sex drive and no desire to have sex with him. We tried lots of different things but eventually we just didn’t talk about it. He started to feel like he was responsible for my lack of sex-drive. I started to feel enormous guilt for not meeting either one of our needs.
We realized we owed it to ourselves to explore sex again with others and see if that intimacy was there.
After a night out with girlfriends that encompassed talking about the very thing I wasn’t engaging in, I lost myself to my imagination and made up all these fabricated stories about our sex life. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I went home that night and started crying to him that I didn’t want to be the person who did that. I wanted us to both admit what we missed.
After talking for several hours, we realized we owed it to ourselves as individuals to explore sex again with others and see if that intimacy was there. We have been separated that night, living alone but still doing life together. No one really understands our situation; in fact, neither do I.
I love him but at this point in time, it’s not enough.
Names have been changed.