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Dear Kiki: My ex still holds a piece of my heart

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Questions about love and sex in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area can be sent to dearkiki@littlevillagemag.com (queries can also be sent anonymously using this form). Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.

Illustration by Jav Ducker

Dear Kiki,

About a decade ago I fell very hard for someone, but circumstances kept us apart. We’ve both been able to move on and live our best lives and love the people we’re actually with since our really difficult split up. Now I think it’s safe to say that all is OK. I love my partner, this person loves their partner and we haven’t spoken to or seen more than a glimpse of each other for years. But God, it’s still there in my heart. It’s always there. I say nothing, I do nothing, I just live with this knot in my chest. I love my significant other and I don’t wish to change my life in any way, though what would I do for an afternoon with this old flame. I guess my question is, am I still living an honest life if I love and live with one person while maintaining this intense, secret yearning for someone else?

Dear Yearning,

I never gave you the impression that I was a poet, did I? Good. Because I’m going to offer up to you quite possibly the least poetic definition of love possible.

Love is kudzu.

Don’t get me wrong. Have you seen kudzu? It’s fuckin’ beautiful! Kudzu covering makes the landscape look like you’re living in a fairy tale. But it’s pernicious. It’s an infestation. It’s extremely challenging to fully kill. (It also destroys other plant life basically by smothering it and blocking it from the sun, but that’s an analogy for another, more bitter day).

The point is: Kudzu is a lovely fairy tale of a plant that takes hold and doesn’t want to let go. Love can seem to be similarly never-ending. It takes hold of us and it never dies, not really. I have long maintained that we never actually stop loving anyone we have ever loved. Yes, even if we also loathe them. Even if they make us furious. Even if they (or we) are deeply damaged.

We’re taught by parents and teachers and pop culture that love is a one-and-done. We’re supposed to find that person who we’re meant to be with and live out our days with them in magical wonder. Anything before them couldn’t have actually been “love.” If we lose them, anything after is a pale comparison.

Yawn.

You and I know better, don’t we? You’ve experienced it, side-by-side, the love you feel for your current partner and the love you feel (not felt) for your ex. The second has no intention of ceding space, nor should it. We’re all capable of loving more than one parent, right? More than one sibling, more than one child, more than one friend. Without even veering into the territory of polyamory (which, let’s face it, can be a logistical hassle!), there’s no reason why we shouldn’t experience simultaneous romantic feelings for more than one person.

Besides, love is as much an action as it is a feeling. As long as you’re showing your love for your current partner by honoring whatever bounds of faithfulness you’ve put on each other, and showing your love for your ex by allowing them the space to focus on their current relationship, then you’re golden.

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Except.

You asked if you’re living an honest life. Well, Yearning, I’m sorry, but I can’t answer that without more information. It certainly seems like you’re being honest with yourself about your feelings, which is a great first step — but are these feelings something your current partner would want to know about? If so, you need to tell them. It may not be an easy conversation, but “I am committed to you and to our relationship, but these feelings exist, and it’s important to our ability to be honest with each other that you know” would be a good place to start.

–xoxo, Kiki

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 257.


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