The One That Got Away


the one that got away
What happens when an open relationship suddenly becomes closed?

A few weeks after getting Nancy's email, I got mildly drunk by myself at home, which was what it took for me to gather the courage necessary to pick up my cell phone and dial her number. The reason Nancy had decided to email me in the first place, she said, was because she had been thinking about moving to Turkey to teach art. And since I'd once taught English in Istanbul, she figured I'd probably be good for a few travel tips. That was how she explained it, at least. Of course, I knew deep down that there had to be another reason she'd reached out. Because like I said, we barely knew each other.

I was midway through my third beer by the time I managed to gather up enough courage to dial Nancy's number. She let the phone ring and ring before picking up.


We talked about Turkey for awhile – about what life was like there. Eventually I managed to steer the conversation into heavier territory: What was the story with her last boyfriend? What was she doing with her life? What did she really think about her job? With women, this has always been the sole conversational area in which I shine -- existential stuff, you might say. And as usual, it worked: Not long after that phone conversation, Nancy invited me to visit her in Baltimore. She'd recently purchased her very first home, and she lived there all by herself, with only her dog, Lou, to keep her company. She told me I could stay for a night or two.

When I told Carrie, my fiancée, why I was going to Baltimore, and when Carrie then invited herself along for the ride – she had a childhood friend there, she told me, and they hadn't seen each other for awhile – I knew in my gut that it wasn't a good idea. Carrie and I have always had an open relationship policy, as regular readers of this column are no doubt well aware. But even in our earliest days of dating there were occasional and obvious feelings of jealously on both sides. And yet this was my first open relationship – I had never experienced anything like it before – and I was almost addicted to the feelings it inspired in me: Desirability, for one. I felt unique. I felt like an individual. And I loved being out and about in public with Carrie, with the private knowledge that we were doing something that required serious reserves of discipline and emotional control.

I guess that was why I told Carrie it would be great to have her along for the trip, even though I had strong suspicions to the contrary. I guess I was pretending that both of us were bigger and better people for not being in a monogamous relationship. I was pretending that we could handle anything.

By the time I finally caught up with Nancy on my first night in Baltimore, I was an emotional wreck, and I told her as much. Carrie and I had been awful to each other throughout the entire ride, and every word that came out of Carrie's mouth seemed specially designed to make me feel like the world's most uncaring boyfriend. I don't remember many of the specifics, but Carrie quite clearly knew what I had in mind for Nancy, and the jealousy was practically dripping from her very pores. But instead of fighting back, I tried to use my schoolbook psychology to deflect her anger: I laughed in a cruel sort of way, and I poked fun at her.

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