A year ago, Lucy went to a house party and met a devilishly sexy non-monogamous man named Charlie.
Despite the fact that Charlie’s not only in an open relationship but also actually getting married to another woman, Lucy’s somehow ended up in a relationship with him. Which is (a) lovely, because she gets to have a man in her life and regular sex again, and (b) horrific, because she knows that when he’s not with her he’s off fucking his fiancée as well as one or two others if the mood takes him. And that makes Lucy, who has monogamy written through her like a stick of rock, feel sick and humiliated and heartbroken in ways she never thought possible.
And yet somehow she trains herself to turn a blind eye to it all, to ignore the existence of the other women and just focus on their relationship, cocooning herself in a fragile little bubble of self-denial which gets her through the trauma of knowing he’s not hers, and never can be.
And so they’ve settled into a routine, and an entire year has gone by, and Lucy still bounces between a kind of contentment that the dating pressure is off and she finally has someone to talk to about her day, and a nauseating sense of unease that if anything she is even further away than ever before from finding her Person.
Like all couples, sometimes they fight – and it’s always the same fight. Unable to restrain herself from stalking his Facebook and Instagram, Lucy will see a freshly-posted photo of Charlie and his fiancée doing loved-up couply things and feel like she’s been eviscerated with a boathook. Through angry tears, she’ll cancel their next date, unable to stomach the sight of him, telling him how unfair it is of him to rub his polyamory in her face when he knows how much it hurts her. Charlie will sensibly point out that no one is forcing her to look at his social media, and that she knew the deal when she got involved with him – an unassailable argument, if not a particularly soothing one.
Then he’ll wait for Lucy’s rage to subside and her horniness to return, and peace and sexy times will be restored. At least until the next post.
The sex is always intense: passionate, sweaty, controlling, he pins her down, pulls her hair, grabs her, holds her tight, drives into her hard and hungrily. It’s like they’re clinging to each other for dear life, like he’s drowning and she’s his life-raft in a storm. He makes her feel like a sex goddess; more desired and wanted than anyone ever has before… until he leaves and the fragile bubble bursts again.
When the cycle of fighting gets too much Charlie finally agrees to stop posting loved-up photos and restricts himself to comments on Brexit and football. To have him willingly give something up for her is a huge deal for Lucy, who can’t remember the last time a man cared about her enough to do that. But it doesn’t solve the problem, because the fiancée still posts photos and tags Charlie, so the painful reminders still frequently jump out and wallop her in the face like an unexpected swing door.
The L Word
In spite of his sacrificial gesture, Lucy still has no real idea how Charlie feels about her. Did he do it because he genuinely cares, or simply because he wants a drama-free life? Is he just enjoying her as an enthusiastic fuck buddy, or is there more to it than that?
A clue comes about eight months in, when they’re lying in bed, both scrolling their phones like an old married couple.
“I told my friend about you, by the way,” she mentions, looking up.
“We went for a drink, and I told her I have a new…” She pauses, searching for the right word.
“Boyfriend?” Charlie interjects.
“Boyfriend?” she repeats, stunned by his matter-of-factness. “I was going to say friend-with-benefits.”
Charlie says nothing; just looks back at his phone.
“But you said the ‘B’ word,” she points out, not daring to say it again.
“Yes. That one.”
Charlie continues to act as if this conversation is no more important than a chat about what he had for lunch, while Lucy’s brain is doing out-of-control laps like a go-kart with no brakes . She doesn’t know what to say. How can he be her boyfriend when he’s not hers, and never can be?
“What use is that word to me?” she asks eventually.
He shrugs. “You’re lucky I didn’t use the L-word then.” He looks up from his phone, the implication hanging heavily in the air between them.
Is he trying to say what she thinks he’s saying?
This is impossibly huge. Only one other man, The Ex, has ever fallen in love with Lucy, and that was more than a thousand years ago now. She’s pretty much convinced it was an anomaly, some sort of glitch in the matrix, and that it’ll never happen again. But could it be happening now?
If it is, it’s both the most wonderful thing in the world, and the most terrible. How incredible to be loved by someone, and not just anyone, but by this exceptional guy – a guy who with his easy good looks and his cast-iron confidence could probably pull any woman he wanted, and yet has chosen her.
But also, how utterly devastating. Because of course it’s completely useless. He can never be hers. She can’t be his girlfriend. He can’t meet her family, nor she his. They can’t go on holiday, or plan a future together. He’s getting married to someone else, for actual fuck’s sake!
“No, you shouldn’t use that word,” she says. “What would I do with that information?”
But Lucy doesn’t really believe him anyway. Never trust what a man says when he’s naked, right? Far more likely that it’s really just the sex he loves, not her. And when it ends, he might be upset that he doesn’t get to fuck her any more, but he’ll soon find a replacement and forget all about her.
“I’ll be very sad when you bin me,” he replies when she tells him this, “and I will grieve for a while, and I will probably be angry, but yes, then I will get over it, and I hope after that we will be friends. But I also hope it’s OK that after you’ve ended it I will still fantasise about you. I do it all the time, you know. Do you fantasise about me when I’m not around?”
Lucy doesn’t answer. How can she tell him that whenever she thinks about him, which is all the bastard time, she only feels disappointed, hurt and sad that she has to share him, that right now he’s probably cuddling another woman, kissing her, fucking her, planning his life with her?
And so the months tick on by, and before long Charlie’s wedding day rolls around.
They’re getting married on a Friday, just a small ceremony with close family and friends, and a pub lunch. At one point Charlie semi-jokingly asked if Lucy wanted to come, but of course she’d rather run a marathon through London’s sewer system than watch him promise his life to someone else, so she goes to work instead.
All day she feels sick and miserable, a gnawing dread knotting her stomach, a clawed hand clutching her heart. Her overactive brain pictures what must be going on at each passing moment: his joy as she walks down the aisle towards him, holding hands in front of the registrar, the vows, the I love yous, the joy, the dancing, the happiness that will never be hers. She tries to distract herself with work but it’s impossible and she gets nothing done. Life is on pause. She barely dares to breathe.
It’s not just that she can’t ever have Charlie now – that’s bad enough. But the knowledge that his fiancée has what she’s been searching for her whole life but seems to be unable to find. Her person. Love. Togetherness. It just seems impossible – and knowing that the man she wants is offering all that to someone who isn’t her is more than she can bear.
And then, at the end of the day, a single photo appears on Facebook. The ecstatic couple, flowers and a white dress, confetti, smiling guests, joy radiating out of every pixel. And below the photo, dozens of comments, delighted friends wishing them a long and happy life together.
Lucy shuts herself into the toilet and cries giant, heartbroken tears.
And yet somehow she carries on. Charlie and his new bride disappear off on honeymoon for two weeks, and Lucy, as always, picks herself up, dusts herself off, and keeps on keeping on. By the time they get back, things have returned to normal. Charlie comes round, he makes her laugh, they have All The Sex, everything is just as it was.
What difference does a wedding really make anyway? she tells herself. He was in a relationship before, and nothing’s changed. It’s just a piece of paper.
And then things begin to fall apart.
The Other Date
The trouble starts one Saturday. Lucy has her second date planned that evening with Sad Simon when Charlie tells her he’ll be passing by her house, and offers to drop in for a bonus weekend fuck. Which Lucy, constantly frustrated by the fact that she only gets to see Charlie once a week, is only too happy to accept.
So she pushes back the time of the date to allow her more time with Charlie – but no sooner has she done so than she starts to feel bad. Somehow it seems very wrong to fuck one man, and then immediately go out on a date with another. Even though she’s only met Simon once, and she didn’t fancy him, and she doesn’t owe him anything, and this date is almost certainly going to be a disaster… still it seems, well, disrespectful.
But of course he’s laughing, thinks Lucy. He gets to live this dream life where not only is he married to the love of his life, but she’s happy to let him shag other women!
What the fuck is fucking wrong with the man? Lucy rages. He knows full well how hard it is for her to deal with the idea of him with other women, and yet here he is blithely banging on about all the other women he’d like to fuck as though she’s just some lad mate down the pub. Way to make a girl feel fucking special, she thinks bitterly.
Well fuck him. Or rather – not. In hurt fury she cancels their afternoon tryst and goes on the date with Simon.
Another argument happens just a few days later. Lucy’s supposed to be going to a singles event with a friend, but the friend bails at the last minute and Lucy has no one to go with. She laments about this to Charlie.
Of course it’s fucking weird, she thinks to herself. Maybe not in his world, where apparently fucking is basically just a contact sport you do with anyone who’s in your league – a bit like finding a new tennis partner. But Lucy only wants to play tennis with one man, and she finds the idea of having Charlie help her look for new balls utterly horrifying.
By this point Lucy’s rolling her eyes so hard the windows are rattling. Does the man ever stop? she wonders. She’s literally just fucking told him the idea makes her uncomfortable, so why is he doubling down?
But to Lucy it really feels like he is – or maybe even after all this time he still hasn’t grasped how upsetting this whole situation is for her. Or maybe, she thinks, he gets off on the fact that she doesn’t like it and yet is carrying on anyway – like he’s so fucking irresistible that she’s forced to continue shagging him in spite of herself.
When she thinks about it, this pattern of behaviour – sending her lube just days after announcing his engagement, telling her about the other women he’d fuck if he could, messing with her head just before a date – all starts to add up to a man who either has zero empathy for her feelings… or maybe even actively enjoys her discomfort.
The problem, she tells him angrily, is that she doesn’t find his ‘banter’ amusing in the slightest, because all it does is repeatedly remind her that she’s having to share him. And while he clearly finds that idea exciting, for her it’s something that she finds more impossible than getting a man on Bumble to reply to her. Which of course he knows because she’s told him a thousand times.
It’s a good answer, she thinks. And maybe it is a genuine misunderstanding. After all, she does talk to him about her dates, so is it fair that she won’t allow him to do the same to her? Is it really his responsibility to manage her inability to deal with the situation?
But yes, actually, she thinks it is. If he genuinely cared about her, surely he would go out of his way to make her happy, not just blithely carry on regardless? He knew when he pursued her that she was monogamous, so he should be prepared to take extra care with her emotions, not just ride roughshod all over them.
When Lucy sees this last message, a red mist descends. Is he really playing the ‘You knew what you were getting into so you might as well just suck it up’ card?
It’s Friday morning, and she’s just got out of the shower. Heart racing, shaking with fury, she nearly tells him to go fuck himself right then and there. But when she goes to write it, something holds her back. In spite of everything, she still can’t bear to be without him.
She writes a different reply: Well if you were a kind and decent human being you’d listen to how upset I am and apologise instead of arguing and always trying to be right, but I guess you’re not one of those…
…but then swiftly deletes that too. Instead, she simply suggests that maybe he shouldn’t bother coming over that evening as planned.
It would be a double standard, replies Lucy, IF this were an equal partnership. But it’s not! Charlie gets to pick everything he wants from the menu, while all Lucy gets is sloppy seconds. He isn’t making any personal sacrifices at all, while obviously she is! Surely it’s not so much to ask for a little extra slack from him to compensate?
Lucy’s tired, so very tired. Tired of all the arguments, and even more tired of the emotional rollercoaster she has to go through with Charlie. Yes, there’s lots about their relationship that’s great, but she’s starting to wonder if the benefits really do outweigh the disadvantages. Maybe it’s time to admit defeat and move on. Maybe it’s over.
Next time: will Lucy and Charlie find a way to make their relationship work, or is this the beginning of the end?
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