Recently, a rather unexpected tragedy struck close to home; it jarred the life of a man I’m incredibly close to and love unconditionally. If this man had been my husband Allan, I would have done everything in my power to be with him and help share the burden of grief. If it had been Allan, I’d be writing a column this week on the support from my extra-marital partnership. But because it was my boyfriend Jim, the last few weeks have been a bevy of emotional turmoil.
A few weeks ago, while Jim and I were on our way to work, he got a call that his mother had been rushed into a serious and life-threatening surgery about 10 hours away from us. A flurry of phone activity ensued while we sat in bumper to bumper traffic; Jim called his mom, his sister, and his wife. I got on my own smartphone and started looking up flights for him, over 600 dollars round trip. After the phones were hung up and the cars still failed to move, we sat with my hand on his shoulder listening to ourselves breathe.
“Is Diana (his wife) going with you?” I finally broke the tense silence.
“No no… I can drive out alone.”
“Well….I can go with you if you like. I’m worried about you making the long trip alone,” I offered, and this is where things got sticky.
When we got to the office, I spoke to Diana. I really felt so strongly in my gut that he should not drive out by himself under duress.
“Should I insist on going with him?” she asked.
I paused. I was butting into their marriage here, because really, should your girlfriend be telling your wife to insist on being there? Should your girlfriend even be discussing this with your wife? Isn’t it your wife’s place to decide? To talk to her husband? All this was going through my head while we spoke. If it were Allan I’d go….if it were Allan, I could INSIST on going.
“I don’t know.” I told her, regretting this phone call, “I’ll let you know how he is on the ride back to your house”.
While we drove back to his house, Jim was giving me the details of the surgery and its intensity. His knuckles clasped white on the steering wheel while I nodded and gently ran my hand over the hair at the back of his head. We are both deeply emotional, he in a sensitive way and I in a way that my gut reactions are to take care of whom ever needs it, especially if I love them. Diana texted me and said she was respecting his wishes to go alone, and that was that.
I teared up, I nearly begged him to let me go. I knew it would be complicated since he’s not “out” to his family. I knew it might be overstepping Diana’s place as his spouse, but I also wanted so badly to just make sure he was OK and be there to hold his hand.
While Jim packed, I stepped outside and called my husband Allan for his input. Allan was kind and understanding when I explained the situation and that I wouldn’t make a snap decision without consulting him, like insisting to Jim that I go with him on the long drive. He understood my desire to take care of Jim, but Allan wisely pointed out to me that just because my intentions are good, it does not mean that they are right in the moment.
Jim and I kept in touch throughout that day until late that night when I got a text that his mother had passed away moments ago and he’d call me tomorrow. My heart lurched. She was fairly young and this was not expected. I knew Jim was miles away taking it hard. Allan was extremely kind to me, reminding me that I could tell Jim how much I cared and how I was here for him via text/email without actually being there. But I spent the weekend reflecting on exactly where I was.
Mainly, I just felt helpless. With anyone close to me, friend, family member, lover I would want to show my love and support by attending the service, even if I had never met the deceased.But between our polyamorous relationship and the distance, I felt like there was no way I could be there.
When Jim returned, I spent a nice evening with him without bringing up how difficult it was that I couldn’t be involved. I would not want to put anything on him while he grieves, but this had still been a strange experience.
A few days later, while out to lunch, Jim raised the subject. He told me he knew it was hard for me not to be there, but he would have felt it a burden on me to drive so far.
“You mean…I could have come if I had been able to with time and distance?” I asked, eyebrows raised.
“Of course!” Jim replied, putting his arm around my shoulders. “I know that our relationship makes you part of my life, and it was awkward you weren’t able to be there for something like this.”
I was a little surprised, and also extremely grateful.
This was the first time I really felt the divide in the kind of partners we can be to each other. It was a strange sensation to care so much, yet take no actions that would come naturally to me. I hope that as we grow in our relationships, there will be a new set of natural reactions that fit the love and connection we’ve nourished.