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My husband and I were too young to have champagne at our own wedding. Just 19 and 20, we jumped into it head first. We were completely in love and extremely happy.
At the time, my friends were cautious but giddy for me. It was the excitement of little girls playing house, and although my parents didn’t really approve of the engagement, they loved me enough that they decided to look past their doubts and be supportive.
It was an uncertain time for basically everyone, except the two of us. We knew exactly what we wanted.
“It’s you and me,” we used to say to each other.
Before we were romantically involved, Daniel decided to make movies instead of going to college. For graduation, his family and friends all chipped in to get him his first camera, which he used constantly. He taught himself how to light, edit, and use software, and very quickly became an outstanding filmmaker.
When Daniel asked me to help him write a script for a short film competition, I was surprised—we barely knew each other. But he knew I was a writer who loved movies, and thought we’d work well together.
By the end of the shoot, we were in love. Eight months later, we were engaged.
The next several years were filled with travel, creativity, new friendships and happiness. Daniel’s filmmaking career took us across five states. We had amazing jobs where we loved our managers and got to experience new places together.
Daniel wanted me to have anything I needed, and in return I wanted him to have the things he deserved. Daniel also wasn’t the jealous type, and from time to time he would encourage me to be with other people.
Whatever his reasons might have been, I wanted him to have the same freedom in hopes that if he ever desired someone else, he would tell me about it instead of cheating and lying. The thought of him being physical with someone else didn’t scare me, but deceit did.
Together, we also agreed that control and jealousy were toxic and should be eliminated. After much thought and discussion, we agreed to officially open our marriage.
Things went well for a while. Having the freedom to be with other people did bring an exciting element to our lives, and introduced a new aspect to our relationship. It was almost like getting to know Daniel again, in a completely new way.
Even though some of our friends were weirded out by the whole thing, our open marriage was generally accepted.
“You guys can make anything work,” they’d tell us.
That was before James.
One night, Daniel came to me, breathlessly excited about a new filmmaker he’d found online. James’s work caught Daniel’s attention immediately. He presented films that were shocking, moving, funny and masterful.
“I have to work with this guy,” Daniel said.
He ended up inviting James to come over to our place. I was nervous to meet him because I found his level of talent intimidating. So instead of joining my husband in that first meeting, I spent the afternoon hiding at my neighbors’ house a block away.
My plan to avoid meeting James didn’t work. After four hours, I went home, and there he still was, chatting away with Daniel.
James wasn’t at all what I expected. He was probably the most polite person I’d ever met, he was shy, and most importantly, he made me laugh. A lot.
The three of us became close very quickly. We hung out all the time. We’d talk about movies, music, religion, life and art. We’d eat, we’d laugh, we'd watch videos. We worked together, making films and helping each other write.
I became involved with James with Daniel’s blessing. Even when I began to sleep over regularly, Daniel was more than fine with it. He told me that he loved James and was happy for the two of them to share me.
Again, this went smoothly for awhile.
Daniel knew that I’d fallen in love with James before I did. I chalked it up to a big crush, an admiration for an incredibly gifted artist with whom I happened to have loads of fun. Daniel saw straight through that.
But even when Daniel saw me falling for James, he didn’t ask me to stop seeing him.
James was leaving for six weeks to work on a feature film he was directing across the country. Originally, Daniel and I were both supposed to come away to work on the film — Daniel would shoot, and I would work on wardrobe. When Daniel had to back out because of a schedule conflict with another job, I offered to back out, too.
“No,” Daniel said to me. “You should still go. It’ll be good for you to work with James, and I don’t want both of us to let him down.”
It was during those six weeks that things really changed. Because the film production took place mainly in the woods, phone service was extremely limited, so Daniel and I communicated very little. We could speak for maybe 20 minutes a day, and when we did get to talk, we usually fought.
Daniel was going through a breakdown, I would later discover. He was having problems in many areas of his life—not just our marriage—and I didn't realize how extreme it was.
At the same time, I was realizing just how much I loved James. Being with him every day made me so happy. He was handsome, adventurous, intelligent and talented beyond words. I was quickly beginning to understand how serious I was about him. It was a new feeling that took me off guard.
There had been other guys, but I’d never fallen in love with anyone except for Daniel. I didn’t think that I was capable of such a thing. I thought that once I was in love with someone, I couldn’t fall in love with anyone else. This thinking was arrogant, or naïve, or both.
When we arrived back after six weeks, I came home to a husband who was no longer himself. Daniel had changed completely in those six weeks, to a person who would barely touch me.
When I tried to speak with him, it was like I was making small talk with a distant relative. If I attempted to cuddle him, it was like kissing a statue. I felt strange in my own home.
Still, things were all right for a month or so. Daniel was still fairly depressed, but he had his good days, and I spent half my time with him and half with James.
During this time, I felt like closing the marriage might help, but I was already so in love with James. As horrible as it sounds, I knew myself well enough to know that if the marriage were closed, I’d end up just seeing James anyway, which would mean flat-out cheating. I couldn't do that to Daniel.
On the one hand, I didn’t want to throw away my marriage, which had been so strong for over 10 years. On the other hand, I felt like I’d already lost my husband. He was no longer himself. We had basically become roommates to one another. Roommates who fought a lot.
I began to spend more and more time with James, eventually living with him for three weeks while receiving messages from Daniel saying things like, “You are a stranger to me.”
Every time we fought, we would work through it, telling each other that this is what we had decided to do — have an open marriage. Daniel and James were still friends, after all, and things weren’t out of hand yet.
Until they were.
I went to my hometown to visit my parents for a week, and when I returned home to Daniel, he announced that I could no longer see or speak to James. He said that if I did, we were over.
The ultimatum terrified me. Daniel was my husband and had been for 11 years. We had a long history, and so much love behind us. We were comfortable together, knew how to live with each other, adored each other's families, and had been unbelievably happy for years. We shared close friends, and knew everything about each other.
But the thought of never seeing James again was too hard to imagine. I needed him in a way that blindsided me.
My husband had changed, and it had been such a gradual process over the years that I hadn’t even noticed. Friends had mentioned him becoming more negative, more angry—but it took me actually falling in love with another person to realize how different he had become. We were no longer good for each other.
While I’m in no danger of winning any awards for how I handled the situation, Daniel really lost it. He began telling my parents my closest and most intimate secrets—things that are only appropriate between a husband and a wife. He began calling up our friends and trying to turn them against me. He would yell at me, and then beg me to come back. He tried to sabotage my job prospects. He made threats.
I’m now living with James, and I haven’t seen Daniel since I moved out of the place I used to share with him. My (very religious) family is crushed. Daniel’s family is devastated.
I have lost friends over this situation, and will probably lose more. I had had to have some of the absolute hardest conversations of my life with my parents. None of this has been easy, for anyone.
However, I’m happy.
Life with James is peaceful and sweet, and I’m learning things I should have learned years ago.
There will never be a day that I regret marrying Daniel. Our marriage was incredible, and he was a wonderful husband who wanted nothing more than to look after me and spoil me. He took amazing care of me.
But neither of us are the same person that we were then.
I don’t look at the open relationship and think, "This ended my marriage." If I’m being truthful, I would have probably pursued James even if my marriage hadn’t allowed it.
No, this is not right. Yes, this makes me selfish. This is something I’ve learned about myself throughout this long and thorny chapter.
Every friend, every family member, has their own opinion on what happened. But ultimately, I find myself thinking that they have no idea what the future will bring. None of them know what they would have done in my situation.