By Sarah Taylor
This week, Sarah offers a personal insight into the nature of triangular relationships in her own life, and how it is shaping her relationship life today. This article was originally published as part of Planet Waves’ 2012 Annual Edition.
From the get-go, I was part of a love triangle. Not in the conventional sense of an entanglement of lovers, but it was an entanglement nonetheless. And the love itself was entangled.
I was born into an aristocratic family in north-west England in the early seventies. My father had unexpectedly inherited a ‘title’ from his uncle when he was 18 and living in Africa. The accounts of his life of that time that I managed to draw out of him were sketchy – much like the accounts I received of most of his life, which he avoided relating as much as possible; many of his memories seemed to be imbued with an indescribable amount of pain.
What I do know is that, upon inheriting, the form and content of my father’s life changed markedly and permanently. He went from being a country mouse, to a cat with a rep to protect; he went from bare-back horse-rides to school from his uncle’s farm, to trust funds, fast cars and a fast life. He had been married four times by the time he met my mother, as a VIP passenger on an ocean liner where she worked in the purser’s office. The story goes that he was trying to extricate himself from a tricky situation, homed in on my mother and asked her to be his alibi. My mother has often said that she was swept up in the romance of who he seemed to be. She also said that she felt a deep need to protect him. I think in that moment the contract of my parents’ relationship was sealed.
And so, like all self-respecting aristocrats, after marrying my mother, the next thing on the agenda was to produce an heir. Specifically, a son – daughters did not, and continue not to, inherit titles in the UK. In my mother’s words, she chose to give up her independence as a professional woman – which defined much of who she said she felt herself to be – and become “a baby machine.” She was a mother, but she was not maternal. As much as she loved my father, she had been seduced by the trappings that came with my father’s title, and those trappings started to feel restrictive. There was another part of her dying to live another life. The more it called, the more she threw herself at the trappings, the more trapped she became, the more it died. My father wasn’t killing her: Her choices were doing that all by themselves.
I’ve never asked my mother outright how she felt about becoming pregnant with their first child, but I’m pretty sure both she and my father breathed a collective, if tentative, sigh of relief that they had potentially managed to provide a successor: My father already had two children from a previous marriage – both girls – and perhaps the voices of the trustees were getting a bit more insistent. The pressure from tradition alone would have been ringing loud and clear. My parents also decided that, given the life they led, my mother would need help with childcare, and I have a sense that the childcare became more necessary when I emerged, nine months later. Another girl.
So it was that from birth, my day-to-day care was handed over to a woman called Ovidia: The wife in a couple that my parents employed to tend to childcare, home and garden. I have little or no memories of this time; images are scant and fleeting. But the presence of Ovidia is something that I can still feel today as calm, and warm. I have little doubt that Ovidia was, to my infant self, more like a mother in some ways than my mother was to me.
From that day until I was 13 years old, I, then my sister, then my brother (who finally arrived in the mid-’70s) had a succession of surrogate mothers in the form of various nannies and governesses. Some were qualified nursery nurses, others were mothers themselves, and they ran the gamut from fun to staid, involved to detached, loving to cruel. Whatever they turned out to be, one thing was constant – there were always three in the mother-child relationship: Mother, nanny and child. In fact, there were three operative, interconnected love triangles – one for each sibling. We were a motley group of pointed shapes within shapes, moving around, conjoining, and glancing off one another.
Another thing was constant: They all left. If they had been cruel, I rejoiced. If they had been loving, I was bereft.
My experience back then set a deeply ingrained pattern that dictated how I was in relationship to others – whether lovers, family members, friends, colleagues, relative strangers – although it was the people closest to me who experienced it most, and in a more concentrated form.
It was also a process that, until recently, was primarily unconscious. If you’d have asked me at age 23, for example, if I was ‘relationship material’, I would have told you I was a catch. And with conviction. I thought that I came unencumbered by the baggage that my parents carried, and that I’d somehow managed to emerge from my family intact and immune. I definitely remember telling my therapist that my childhood was great, thank you very much, and that I had no idea why I was sitting opposite him. Twice a week.
Come age 33, when my first marriage was on the rocks, I was less sure of myself. After years of isolating myself and, quite frankly, alienating most men who showed an interest, I had thrown myself into a relationship wholeheartedly, so wanting to make it work. My then-husband was – is – a good man, but the slow-dawning truth over the 11 years that we were together was that we were kids playing at marriage, still bound up in the narratives of our childhoods. Our illusions could only take us so far. Eleven years, it seemed, was about our limit.
As reality crept in along with the ending, I started to take stock and began to notice something else: That for every person I had either been interested in or involved with, there was a third party, whether that third party was someone else, or – more often – me. My first unrequited childhood crush was years older than I and very much involved with a woman his age. My first viable crush in my late teens hadn’t gotten over his ex. My second left me for his ex. My third fell in love with my friend. Then, in 2004, I left my first husband because my love for a man made me realise that I had been running away from a vital part of myself – my sexuality. He, instead, fell in love…with his ex.
The eternal triangle, it appeared, had not given me up, even as I had tried to run from it.
In 2006, chastened, I decided to go into the dating game. With my eyes open this time! Sure, I was still in love with the man who triggered the end of my first marriage, but I wasn’t going to let a little bit of unfinished business deter me from my new life. I set up a profile on a dating website, and the next day my future husband got in touch with me. Funnily enough, I had already seen his profile and, for several good reasons, had decided not to initiate any contact. In that way, at least, I feel that I was working in my best interests and it was a small but significant step towards making better decisions for myself. It didn’t last though: He emailed me quoting a passage from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land:
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
– But who is that on the other side of you?
It fit with my psychology in such a way that I was hooked, immediately. Hooked back in, more like it. We met. He was charming, intelligent and funny, and there was a part of me that was screaming “No! Don’t do it!”
Then it happened. The same thing that I think happened when my mother met my father; the same thing that happened when I met my first husband. The moment when I signed my contract with him. I could feel it. It was a form of surrender, but not the kind where you “let go and let God.” It was the kind where you let go and let your history dictate the movement of your thoughts, your beliefs, your actions, your feelings. And when I write this I am casting no aspersions on him. Oh no – like my mother, I did this all by myself, and whatever invisible contracts my husband may have signed on his part, he did those by himself too. We are both fully responsible for what we brought into our marriage, and what we didn’t bring into it.
What I didn’t bring into my marriages was the whole of me. How could I? I didn’t even know there was a part missing. It was the part that was used to withholding because there was always someone else, and I didn’t feel safe, and someone would always leave. So I left – Little Ms. Pre-Emptive Strike. Rather than leaving physically, I vacated my body by padding it out with fat, dressing it down so that I became all but invisible, hiding my femininity so that I wouldn’t be noticed, let alone viewed as attractive.
I didn’t do attraction; I did repulsion – right back to my pattern of yore. In turn, I chose partners who repelled me. But all they were doing was mirroring back to me the belief I wouldn’t acknowledge, which was born the moment that I came into this world with a vagina and not a penis: A part of me was missing. How’s that for the idea that I wasn’t able to bring all of myself into relationships?
Yet, in spite of this, quietly but insistently – and getting less quiet and more insistent over the years – I could feel something calling to me. I had no idea how to get to it. It was encased in a membrane that was at once paper-thin and impenetrable. Or maybe I was the one encased in a membrane; perhaps I was the one who was impenetrable. I felt the frustration of being able to sense another world that was out of reach. I realised that world was me.
I decided to start changing things in a more aware fashion – to push boundaries and shift myself out of the mould of domesticity, normality and convention that I had tried, and failed, to fit into. I decided to question my attitude to parts of myself that I had either taken for granted or ignored. In short, in practical terms, if I had been unconsciously creating threesomes in my relationships, this time I was going to create them consciously.
Last year, after a suitable period of separation from my second husband, I joined another dating site. I was equipped with a modicum of insight – another five years in therapy was enough to make a difference – and a more mature ability to work with my intuition. The next two-and-a-half months were a beautiful storm. I initiated contact with a man who turned out to be a soul mate in the most meaningful sense I can give to the term. We decided to embark on a polyamorous relationship and see where it took us, beginners that we both were. I remember saying to him, “Expect the unexpected.” I thought I’d covered all the bases so that even the unexpected wouldn’t take me by surprise.
Ten weeks later, he was gone. He had met someone else and our plans lay in tatters at my feet. I brush over this in one sentence as if it meant no great thing, but I was devastated. I’m still not sure what happened, and I don’t have the ability or the right to account for his side of the story. However, this much I think I do understand at the point where the past and the present meet:
We either play out our patterns unconsciously or consciously, but it’s when we do it consciously that we have the greatest opportunity to change them. In his book Bringers of the Light, Neale Donald Walsch cites the following principle:
As soon as you decide who and what you are, everything unlike it will come into the space. …
Thus, we can see these ‘opposites’ as a sure sign that we are on the journey of transformation. These negative-opposites are only temporary, and their purpose is to heal forever any negative feeling that we had about the outer-experience of our life.
So who is it that I am, and what is it that I really want? If I’m choosing my experiences in order to define these things – and I believe that I am – better, then, I have some awareness of the choices I’m making and why. Is polyamory a logical step in a string of eternal triangles that started from birth? If so, do I want to change the pattern, or do I want to make it mine? I’m still working that one out.
What I did find out in the bitter-sweet aftermath of last year was that I was capable of feeling a depth of love that I hadn’t considered possible. I’d always had intellectual notions of what love between two adults was, but it was only when it brought me to my knees (sometimes in the most delicious ways) that I understood that there was no way of planning for anything, no way of controlling anything any more.
I also found out that I still didn’t believe that I deserved that love. The child born a girl and not a boy waged an unconscious battle with love at every opportunity. Vulnerability felt like a blow-torch to my skin. Opening myself to someone felt like annihilation. I was still my parents’ daughter.
I spoke about that “moment of contract” in my parents’ relationship and in both my marriages. That moment presented itself to me in the relationship with my lover too. In a heartbeat, in a conversation with him one night, I felt the inertia of ancestry pulling me into doing something because it was “the done thing to do” – namely, to put aside my own emerging sense of who I was in order to toe the family line. I would have done anything, been anyone, for him. This, by the way, had absolutely nothing to do with what he was asking of me. It was my conditioning, my generational and genetic makeup kicking in like a time bomb. Why? Because I wasn’t lovable for who I was, but for who I should have been.
In that heartbeat, however, I felt that contract flying at me, and I named it to myself: “Oh, there you are. I know what you are!” It passed me by. Thank the gods, it did. I felt the release and, perhaps not unconnected, the relationship ended soon afterward. Maybe it needed to fall away in part because of that – the structure as we had made it could no longer hold the two people inside it. In tarot, structures that no longer serve us and which must fall to make space for the new are the realm of The Tower card. In the Mayan Tarot, The Tower is called “The Released Man.” This makes profound sense to me. Only once we have been set free can we reconnect with our true selves, and by extension each other, in the next card, The Star.
And so, it is 2012, and I am completing and starting another cycle in a year that, in the Mayan calendar at least, marks the ending and beginning of a cycle that is far greater than one lifetime. Perhaps I can take a leaf out of its book, stand back, and see the larger picture: Who cares if it’s onesomes, twosomes, threesomes, foursomes or moresomes? Who cares whether our behaviour comes from an origin of security or dysfunction? Isn’t that all beside the point? Isn’t the point that we connect at all? That we are prepared to have an encounter with love that cannot be conducted on our limited terms. That we meet with something that we are not able to rein in and hold to our accounting. And that when we do so, we do it fearlessly and with the acceptance that we may, indeed, fall on our arses? Hell, we might even get hurt.
And to that statement I say: So what? So what if it hurts? Maybe we need to break a few shells and shatter a few illusions – the ones that keep us trapped inside the stories of our past, of our parents, of the things that we have held on to because we never thought to question whether they were ours in the first place. Here’s to fissures, cracks and ruptures in the crust of acquiescence and acceptability.
So this year, I wish us freedom. Freedom from limiting beliefs, freedom to explore, discover and express who it is that we are. Most of all, I wish us freedom to love – ourselves and others – shamelessly, courageously, fully prepared to risk ourselves for it. Love liberated; love unentangled. That, to me, is an adventure worth living.
If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread.