My Most Romantically Challenging Year

My Most Romantically Challenging Year
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My Most Romantically Challenging Year



That year I was involved with Darla, Siena, Francesca, Toph, Cheryl, Cheryl, Nicholas, J.T., and Carter. I’m proud to say that none of them ever learned about the others, until, of course, one did. I was never late to any of our assignations or therapy sessions. This was in the days before BlackBerrys and cell phones, and to avoid discovery I went without even an appointment book, relying instead on a mnemonic system. Siena I only saw on Saturdays and Sundays. Toph had four letters in his name, so I spent the fourth day of each week with him. And so on.

I only married two of them, Cheryl and Darla, and then on the spur of the moment Carter and I had a commitment ceremony on the bluffs with 20 of our closest friends and a conga line at the reception. I never considered myself unfaithful, just a parallel monogamist. I told everyone I was a travel writer—work kept me away. The first half of each month I lived in Darla’s apartment, the third week in Carter’s, and the fourth week in Cheryl’s: if there was a fifth week in the month, I prevailed on J.T., whose roommates were always moving out. I never shared a bed for an entire night, claiming claustrophobia combined with a rare skin condition. Whenever anyone asked to meet my family, I said that unfortunately it was not possible, as my family was very small and had died.

Nicholas and I carried out our affair entirely by correspondence. This was in the days before e-mail and instant messaging, so it could be frustrating at times. First class was too slow for our passion, and express mail too expensive, so we relied on priority mail. “What are you wearing?” I wrote. “Nothing,” came his answer three days later. Our correspondence was more erotic than any of the other eight relationships precisely because of that delay.

There were close calls. Once, in the throes of passion with Cheryl, I called out, “Cheryl!” and then opened my eyes in horror to see if she had heard; luckily, she had not noticed I had meant the other Cheryl.

I took everyone’s feelings into account. I talked loudly when I entered the room, gesticulated, jumped up and down on the sofa; everyone loved to see me arrive and everyone loved to see me go. I wore them out, but at a cost, for I was by nature a quiet person. Developing an overly energetic façade was the only way I could think of not to hurt them. Of course it was exhausting—three different health plans to track (only one of which offered a vision plan), 10 post office boxes in different parts of the city (one held in reserve, should occasion arise), and I was always misplacing the book I was reading.

Then Siena discovered a note from Darla in the pocket of Toph’s jacket, which I had been planning to take to the cleaners for him. The whole thing unraveled and lost its savor. I broke it off with each of them, gently, one by one by one by one by one by one by one by one. I said it wasn’t me, it was them—they needed someone who could be there for them, someone who wasn’t as needy and yet as unavailable as I was. Some nodded, some protested. If necessary, I did that humming-whistling-tapping thing, which none of them liked. In the end it was easier than I had expected, aside from the legal difficulties. Only with Nicholas were things left incomplete. My breakup letter came back to me, stamped with the words “No Forwarding Address.”

After it was all over, I went to bed and slept for a week. When I rose, I felt like a new man. Two partners, I realized, were enough for any man, especially if they lived on opposite coasts. And so I set out to build new relationships. I had railed so long against simple bigamy, only to find it as comfortable as an old shoe. The last 10 years with H. and V. have been marvelous. I spend fall and winter in Florida, spring and summer in Seattle. From time to time I consider adding a third relationship that would give me a chance for fall foliage in the Northeast, but so far I’ve kept my wits about me.