Let me tell you a little story*. It’s about relationship lines.
*I’m particularly fond of this story, because it involves my sister, and she is one of the funniest people I know. Usually, without even trying to be. She’s also perhaps the single best story teller I know (I won’t ever try to compete with her in that arena). She doesn’t consider herself an artist, but I think she’s subversively creative and brilliant in a most unexpected way. And if she tells you a story, it will be absolutely true– but seriously one of the most ridiculous things you’ve ever come across. And you will probably spit out your beer and/or pee your pants. I would literally base my choice of a life partner on if they had the same sense of humor as us. She’s just that crazy.
It’s like, she was god’s special gift to me. Like the time she photoshopped eye liner on a picture of herself sleeping with our new dog before she would let me post it (it was about showing off the puppy, to be clear). Or another favorite of mine, her take on the one night stand: “Maybe it’s just not [for] you… But I could never imagine my life without it.” She also makes awesome clay-mation animals.
Basically, we are yin and yang. She’s my best friend and she totally balances me out. And whenever we spend time together, I am usually typing or scribbling away, because I can’t keep up with all the amazing things coming out of her mouth and I must have them all written down (I used to do this with Leo, too). I still maintain I could make a killing if I ever was able to accurately convey her stories on paper. Since this one involves me and my ex boyfriend, both rather demure characters compared to her, it is watered down by our lameness (sorry Leo–I’ll take most of the responsibility for it).
Anyway, this is one of those examples of her making my life ridiculous. She just kind of does that, wherever she goes. It’s like confetti on New Year’s in Times Square, but 364, 24/7. (I won the sister lottery)
So this summer my boyfriend of a long time and I broke up. I call him “Leo”. My sister’s name is “Camilla”, for the purpose of this blog (and because it sounded like something she would never choose as an alias for herself). We moved into a farm house together (not the Phish one, but similar, I’m sure) in May. They’ve always loved each other, but especially once we all moved in, it became apparent that they were totally hitting it off.
I would come home from work every night (well, the nights I worked) to find them hanging out at the kitchen table (this was an upgrade from Leo’s and my last apartment, in which we’d made the kitchen the “art studio” and ate most of our meals in bed– and that was most of the extent of what happened there). They would invariably be in deep discussion about something I had utterly no interest in either listening, or contributing to.
This made the transition from couple (with either of them) to threesome a little tricky for me. Separately, I loved my sister and I loved my boyfriend. But together, I felt alien to them both. They had so much in common that I just didn’t share. It wasn’t because I felt left out or my feelings were hurt (neither of those were the case). It was because I realized how little I had in common with both of them, compared to them together.
I was glad that my two closest people loved each other. On the other hand, after awhile I just wanted a buddy of my own. I wanted to have a boyfriend who I could talk with (and we’d both actually care about what the other had to say) as well as they did with each other. Seeing them reminded me what I wanted to have with someone, that Leo and I had somewhere along the way, lost.
I still knew I was the glue that held them together, and I loved them both and knew they loved me back. I was happy they’d found a friend who just so happened to live with them (very convenient, especially for a chatty Cathy like Leo).
One time, Camilla swore he brought home donuts for them to share because he knew it would snare her into staying up late and talking with him after work (yes, he’s that heartbreakingly adorable– sometimes).
And sometimes I felt like I was getting a babysitting package out of the deal; their adoration for hanging out with each other allowed me some of my coveted alone time, so it wasn’t all that bad.
But eventually, I came to understand, in part through their relationship, that Leo wasn’t “it” for me. He didn’t care about the things I wanted to babble on about, and I felt the same with him. It wasn’t right or wrong, we’d just grown in different directions.
Within this new family we’d created, I was the odd man out. The fact that I didn’t even feel jealous, gave me room for pause. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything in particular by not being involved in their verbal exchange. The fact was, if I was going to be in a relationship, I just wanted to be with someone who was on the same page as me. We loved each other, but our interests and personalities had stagnated. We didn’t challenge each other anymore.
That he was sitting there, getting on like ladies in a knitting circle with my sister (who was totally loving it, as well), only served as a stark contrast to what we’d lost in our relationship over the last five (and a half– not sure why I always feel compelled to tag that on) years. Hey, things happen.
So we broke up after my best friend Hilary’s wedding (the first one I’d ever been to).
And yes, I’m that weird, that it took me going through the whole day with her to really understand what a “big deal” marriage was. (I just never knew!) But watching Hilary and her now-husband exchange vows in front of everyone shook me. Not only was it sweet and emotional, I realized that I couldn’t imagine myself saying those things to him. We just weren’t there anymore, if we had ever been.
It wasn’t lack of love, it was lack of compatibility. He was more compatible with Camilla, at least in the way that made you want to hang out with someone, if I was being honest with myself.
There was more to it than that, but this is about Camilla and Leo. And how they broke us up. Just kidding.
So we broke up. He lived with us for another six weeks or so while he saved up money to move out to Colorado. That went pretty well– I even wrote a post about why you should live with your ex-boyfriend– until the end. (I didn’t finish that post, because by the end I wasn’t sure it actually was a good idea, after all).
The last few days, we almost killed each other. But that’s a story for another time. He moved out August tenth. (Eventually, it became a countdown until the tenth, I think for us both.) His birthday, however, was August fifteenth. So five days after he had finally moved out, he texted my sister asking her if she wanted to go out and get a drink.
They’d gone out plenty of times before (I’m not super into going downtown, and besides that, you can’t exactly go out drinking with your ex-boyfriend. It’s just not kosher… Living together? That’s totally fine.). They’d both told me stories of people mistaking him for her boyfriend and vice versa. I never thought anything of it, but I laughed at the stories and appreciated the ridiculousness of anyone thinking that the soul equivalent of siblings, were sleeping together. (Blech!)
I went to bed nice and early that night, and woke up early, too. Part of me felt like I’d dodged a bullet, not having to go out. It may have been one of the first perks of our break up. I’d woken up at some point early in the morning and had heard them coming back, along with an unfamiliar male voice. So I knew they’d come back with a guy, and knowing Camilla and her man-eating ways, I simply assumed it was the guy Camilla was going to sleep with. (She does love her some one night stands)
So when I got up to make myself some tea, I expected to see Leo on the couch. I was kind of looking forward to hearing about the stupidness that had gone down the night before. He and Camilla never disappointed with ridiculous bar stories from the evening (funny at first, but after awhile it always seemed to be a slightly different version of the same thing. In fact, I don’t know why I kept falling for asking them how it went…).
But instead of Leo’s crazy hair on a pillow (and maybe some melted sherbet smeared across his chest, which was his signature move after a night of heavy drinking and summer time heat), I was surprised to find my sister’s friend Jack (someone with whom she had a romantic history) camped out on the living room floor.
As soon as I walked in, Jack woke up and started complaining to me how he was sleeping on the living room floor. I don’t know if he expected me to give him my bed, or what. Then he told me that he had expected that he would sleep with Camilla when they came back from the bars, but instead, she’d taken out some extra blankets and told him that Leo was sleeping with her.
So, that made things a little more interesting than just throwing a tea bag in some hot water, as I’d originally intended to focus on for the next five minutes.
I didn’t really know what to think. It was his birthday, and he’d spent it sleeping in my sister’s bed– with the bedroom door closed distinctly shut (stuck so shut, I couldn’t even try to quietly pry it open in order to get a lay of the land, if you know what I mean). In fact, I’d noted that when I woke up, and took it as evidence that she’d hooked up with whomever they’d brought home from the bar.
But I tried not to jump to conclusions. Part of me wanted to laugh, but part of me said it was too early for this type of shenanigan (and maybe that I needed a nap already). My stomach did a little flip. I definitely wanted him to be happy, but with my sister? I knew they loved each other but it had never seemed in any way sexual. It was something to wrap my head around, for sure.
My mind jumped to conclusions; what I would do if they decided to get married? What would I wear? How awkward would it be, on a scale of 1-10?
When Leo and I were breaking up, I’d said to Camilla (kind of joking), “You date him! Keep him in the family.”
Because we both loved him and neither of us wanted to see him leave our lives; it just wasn’t right for me and him relationship-wise. Now that this offer I’d made had potentially panned out, I was stuck wondering if it was one of those “be careful what you wish for” scenarios.
After stewing on and off all morning while I tried to keep myself busy with chores (someone had thrown a pizza crust into the recycling, but unfortunately that only took a few seconds of my time to correct). I finally came to a conclusion (it came in three parts, as all good conclusions are wont to do):
First of all, I’d wanted to break up with Leo; I knew it was the right thing.
Second, I wasn’t pining for him.
And third, I genuinely wanted him to be happy.
So if that happiness was for some strange reason with my sister, who was I to stand in the way of that? That would just be selfish and ultimately stupid, because it certainly wouldn’t bring me any closer to finding my own best partner (who I could be fairly certain, wasn’t my sister, either).
If, by some stroke of fate, they had indeed begun to fall in love and last night was their consummation of said love (sort of weird brother-sister type love that apparently had gone totally under my radar) then who was I to stand in their way? They’re both adults; they can make their own decisions.
I knew deep down something I’d always valued was open-mindedness in allowing people in your life to form their own relationships. And being secure in yourself, in terms of your own value to your friends and family, to not require extreme forms of loyalty to prove it.
Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying I decided I didn’t care if my sister dated my boyfriend. And in return, I like to imagine that the same is true, that someone would grant me the freedom to be with who I wanted, even if it meant dating their ex or sister/brother (it just occurred to me that not being lesbian, the sister thing is probably a moot point, but hey, I’ll keep my options open).
In other words, I only wanted to dish out what I could take, and I knew if it ever came down to it, I would appreciate that freedom in my own relationships.
Besides, there is no sense in controlling what someone else does, if that’s even possible to do in the long-run (and whoever would let you control them against their own will, is not really worth bothering with anyway). It seems like that’s ultimately for people who are insecure and unhappy. It’s just a more righteous sounding form of jealousy.
I’ll never forget the time I was dating this guy who I really liked (in middle school). I left for a party, thinking how happy I was to be dating him (I was obsessed). At the party, a girl who I happened to think was really pretty, walked up to me and told me that she was dating him, and hoped I didn’t mind. What could I say? Of course I minded! I was totally enamored with him. I thought he was the hottest guy I’d ever seen, and totally cool to boot. But honestly, what would that have accomplished? He’d decided to date someone else (unbeknownst to me), and I had to make peace with it. So I said “Sure, no problem.” I’m sure I was upset, but what purpose would that have served?
I didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t want to be with me. People will ultimately gravitate to who they are attracted to; there’s no purpose in trying to get in the way of nature. I remember I learned that in seventh grade, and it’s a lesson I continue to remind myself of today. You can’t control things like that. And if you take the long-view of things, why would you want to?
And it serves no purpose. The people who love and are attracted to you, feel that way despite the existence of other people in their lives. You have to have faith that the right people will find you, and you will find the right people. Attempting to cattle-heard your family and friends into specific roles with one another is a futile exercise that will only make you less popular among the people you love.
It’s like how they say if you love something, let it go (I’m pretty sure Christina Aguilera came up with that one). In our golden days, I never worried about Leo cheating. Worrying about cheating is antithetical; if the person is a cheater, they’re not worth worrying about. And if they are worth worrying about, then they won’t cheat, because you’re their number one. He was really loyal. That was something I always loved about him.
Even if you really love some one– in fact, especially if you really love someone– you can’t force them to love you back. Now in this case, I wasn’t trying to force Leo to love me; I was actually rooting for him to find someone else to be happy with. Yeah, from a conventional stand point it may have seemed weird at the concept of my sister and boyfriend dating. But weirdness and social mores aside, I would be the asshole if I let some weird social connection taboo and my inability to get over some internal awkwardness be the reason that I attempted to forbid two people whom I truly loved, from loving one another. I would just not want to exert my power over someone in that way.
I believe totally in the freedom of relationship choice, and that extends to cases such as this. In fact, I was even slightly happy the whole scenario had arisen, and I’d been forced to confront my true feelings on the matter. It made me evaluate my feelings from a more objective perspective, if I wanted to make it out of this without driving myself crazy imagining them on top of each other (still makes me a little green, and not with envy…) that’s what I would have to do.
However, that didn’t stop me from setting up a speed trap to get to bottom of my sister and Leo’s over night ex-capade. Even though I was okay with the idea of going to their wedding in a few years (I would wear black– only because it’s flattering), I wanted to know what exactly had happened. I felt they at least owed me the truth, if I was going to be so cool about it. So I grabbed a book that I pretended to read, and camped out on my bed, in full view of the bathroom, waiting for one of them to come out, full bladder and all. And hence, become ensnared in my little web of truth.
If you’re wondering, no, my pre-determined open-mindedness on the matter did not stop my heart from pounding when low and behold, Leo in tee shirt and boxers, emerged from Camilla’s room, presumably to take a pee. (Even when we dated, he never let me watch him pee. And he’d consistently turned down my requests for a fountain pee… Which I won’t explain here, and was sort of a joke. Sort of.)
Being the friendly guy he is, Leo saw me in bed and came into the room to say hi (this was post-pee, I didn’t want any accidents when I dropped the bomb). I tried to be as casual and suave as possible (which, in my case, is like the grace of an elephant doing an agility course).
“So… How was last night?”
“Did you hook up with Camilla?”
“Well, you slept in her bed. On your birthday. And your pants are off.”
“She’s like my sister.”
“You have no pants.”
“I’m pissed at you for even asking me that question. We didn’t even cuddle.”
Now that threw me. Ew. They didn’t even cuddle? Was cuddling like… Something you were expected to do with your sister/brother? I still don’t really wanna know the deal with that, but it made me think they cuddled.
Except later Camilla said the exact same thing, without provocation (like who asks someone straight up “did you guys cuddle?”). Which just then made me wonder if I should have expected at the very least, that they cuddled. The jury’s still out on the cuddling, let’s just put it that way. And apparently, if this ever happens again, that should be the first question I ask.
Where was this cuddle denial coming from? I wouldn’t have originally thought to ask if they had cuddled. Now I felt a little grossed out imagining that happening at all. Having good old one-night-stand-sex would have been awkward enough. Cuddling was way more… Incestuous.
Besides the cuddling question, turns out, Leo was offended that I would have even considered that they would bump uglies, no matter how much alcohol was involved. “Five years, Emily. Five years.” and “She’s like a sister to me.”
Have you ever seen Sister Wives, Leo?
I haven’t either, but I’m pretty sure that’s what this is about.
Camilla’s version of the story is that she didn’t want to sleep with Jack, who’d ingratiated himself into the end-of-the-night plans, and she preferred to non-cuddle with Leo instead of being expected to put out for an ex-flame. Additionally, she felt bad imagining Leo sleeping on our formal/uncomfortable couch on his birthday. I was on board with that. I could tell she was just trying to help a friend out, and I loved her for it. The last thing I wanted was for Leo to feel unloved on his birthday. She was just being sweet, and it made me glad all over again that they’d become good friends.
So short story long, they didn’t hook up. [And supposedly, they didn't even cuddle.] And apparently, upon hearing about my post-bathroom inquest, Camilla thought it was hilarious that I’d even entertained the idea.
I guess they both thought it was patently obvious that if your ex comes home drunk with your also drunken sister on the night of his birthday and spends the night penned up in her room with her in the same bed with his pants on the floor (while meanwhile a guy she has hooked up with in the past, is left on the living room floor all alone), it’s clearly obvious nothing untoward happened.
I think the thing I would have felt most weird about was if they just hooked up that once and left it at that. That might have been a little gratuitously awkward for my taste. You can find just about anyone to sleep with for one night– right, Camilla? If they were going to put me through all the weirdness and mental imaging, it better at least have been for a few months of actual dating. Maybe even a wedding down the line (for which I already had a black dress that would look just smashing).
Anyway, the moral of the story isn’t that my sister and ex boyfriend still are able to look at each other purely as brother/sister and not as anything involving touching of privates. The real moral of the story, at least for me, is to be open-minded about relationships in my life, especially those that don’t directly involve me. We can’t choose who we love. (Sometimes it’s even our second-cousin’s step son. But I’ll save that story for another day…Or maybe not. I value a hilarious story, but I also kind of value my life.)
And if manipulating and guilting the people in our lives away from doing what they want or need to do is how we intend to find our own peace of mind, it’s never going to work. You can’t control everything. In fact, it’s often the most important things you can’t really control at all. At least in my life, the best things tend to happen naturally, and I like to think that’s because they were meant to be.
Make the best of what’s in front of you and form a positive experience around it– it is entirely within your power to do so. Besides, it’s always going to be a little weird when the people we love have moved on with someone else. It would have been a little funny for me to hear of Leo sleeping with someone new, whether it was my sister or not.
That doesn’t make it bad. Just because my emotions say one thing, doesn’t mean I need to let them rule my actions, or that I need to take them seriously. I’m sure my face would have gotten red and I may have felt a bit flushed. But what’s the alternative? Would I prefer he never settle down and find happiness with anyone ever again? Jealousy is not an emotion I will allow my life to be about. And if you’re acting on an emotion, you are allowing your life to be about that emotion. It only strengthens it.
I’ve found that sometimes our strongest, most visceral emotions are our most instinctual ones– meaning ones that don’t always serve the higher purpose, of what we ultimately want to be or become. I think that the road to happiness is paved with not taking your thoughts or emotions too seriously.
You need to know when to step away from something that isn’t making you feel good, and realize that it’s not you. It’s just a complex cocktail of chemical messages surging through your nervous system, also known as emotions.
I’m not saying to ignore your emotional self all the time, but if you have even a little bit of self-awareness you can start realizing when you’re being ridiculous and that it’s not serving your happiness. It’s fairly easy to recognize when you feel like shit.
I know they didn’t actually hook up, but that morning I felt that I had learned a lesson, and not just about what it would have been like if they did. I was forced to face the concept, for maybe only an hour or two of wondering, that life isn’t always picture perfect: sometimes things get gray. In fact, they’re usually in the gray. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t really know anything for sure.
Often the best thing you can do for yourself in times like that (apart from setting a trap and cornering them into a post-bathroom-bedroom-confession) is accepting what is. And finding the positivity in that.
We choose whether or not to be happy, and part of that choice is allowing ourselves to create positivity where it may seem like there isn’t any to be had. You can only be sad if you’re singing a down-and-out country song in your head. If you feel lucky, you are lucky. If you feel blessed and grateful for your abundance, you are that, too.
During our entire break up, I focused on the positive and felt lucky for all the great, amazing things in my life. That’s the sort of mind set that allows you to rather easily navigate the difficulties of the usual morning annoyances, like your sister sleeping with your recently-departed ex.
Don’t focus on what isn’t perfect. Maybe you’ll realize your own version of perfection is something entirely different than you’d imagined all along. And honestly, Camilla and Leo, if you ever find yourself lonely and at a bar together on your respective birthdays, please feel free to cuddle as needed.
Meanwhile, I’ll be looking up your exes and best friends in the yellow pages…
Nobody uses the Yellow Pages anymore.