“It’s OK to say you were happy,” M says. “I don’t expect you to have been miserable all the time before me. It’s OK to say you were happy with other women.”
It’s a sudden, strange realisation that she’s right. It’s very unlikely that I was horribly unhappy, all of the time, in every single one of the half-a-lifetime of relationships before I met her three years ago. In a buried sort of way, I think remembering the small, happy moments always feels like a betrayal. When you’re with someone, you’re fully with her, and it’s easy to minimise the good points about anyone else. It’s the way children behave with their friends: anyone your “very best friend” doesn’t like (even if you do like them) can easily become the absolute worst, in a bid to validate the “very best friendship.”
Hearing, from M, that it doesn’t have to be this way is refreshing, because it allows for a third space. It’s common for people to say “I wasn’t really in love before; I just thought I was.” This is said so often and by so many people that it takes on the role of cliche, of myth. It validates the love you’re in now, by invalidating the love(s) you were in before. Knowing that M didn’t need this kind of negative validation- that she felt OK, secure, with us- was so reassuring. It means neither of us need ever lie about our pasts.
I’ve realised that it doesn’t have to be like that. I love who I’m with. I am fully immersed in that- in the rightness of that. I really believe that nothing before has come close to being this good (through my fault, through the fault of others, through no-one’s fault at all). I have never been so peaceful. That doesn’t mean I have never been happy before, or that the happiness before was false, or that I never felt any love, of any kind, for anyone else. One thing (or person) being the best doesn’t mean that every other thing (or person) was the worst.
The brief moments in which I realised this were a swift re-writing of history, a highlighting of the rights amidst the wrongs. The unhappiness and the horrible moments were not, and cannot be, erased. I don’t want tinted sunglasses. But I realised that this history- of rights as well as wrongs, of fun as well as misery- makes me appreciate our present (and future) all the more. There is less satisfaction in contrasting the negative with the positive, than there is in contrasting the OK with the amazing.