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Writing about my “modified monogamous” marriage made me curious about how other people’s relationships work (or don’t). To get some insight, I decided to interview a few friends, all representing different levels of partnership. What I discovered was something I already knew: Love is complicated. And weird. And (almost always) worth it. It’s a beautiful mess, and with their stories, I hope to showcase just how true that is.

“Great sex isn’t the same as a great relationship.”

Elizabeth Goslee, mother of three and my cousin-in-law, learned this the hard way, after a decade-long relationship that could legally be referred to as a shitshow.

Before meeting her soon-to-be ex-husband, Chris, Elizabeth had a limited dating history. Her longest was nine months, with a handful of those relationships lasting no longer than 30 days. Then, when a blind date turned into a one-night-stand and evolved into a case of emotional squatting, she found herself in new territory.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the trouble began. “He cheated the first time with his ex-wife,” she said, “and I thought, ‘He wasn’t over her yet. I can forgive that.’” But it didn’t end there. During a cool-down period of the relationship, Chris shuttled between Elizabeth and his ex nonstop. Unsurprisingly, this strained a coupling already on its last legs. Tired of the emotional drain, Elizabeth tried to permanently end things.

But, like a lot of toxic men, Chris refused to go away.

This is how Elizabeth found herself pregnant with their first child. As we all know, a dirty old dog can’t learn new tricks, so impending fatherhood did nothing to quell Chris’s bad habits. “A week before my due date, I found out he cheated with one of the girls he dated during our break.” But, there was a child in the mix now, so Elizabeth chose to forgive him.

Chris took this as a blanket acceptance of his behavior and an endless barrage of affairs began. Though he had the decency (for lack of a better word) to try and hide them, he wasn’t very good at it. Still, with a growing family—their son was born around two years after their daughter—Elizabeth felt it was important to stick it out for the kids.

“I forgive more than I should,” she admitted—a trait learned from her mother and supported by societal norms. “My mom was known for dating the lowest of the low. And we see tons of women stick around after sex scandal and sex scandal. We put up with bad behavior from our husbands so that we wouldn’t get frowned upon for having to work to support our family because we kicked [the husbands] out and demanded better.”

Who among us isn’t familiar with that story?

Elizabeth’s penchant for undeserved forgiveness, and the desire not to tear her kids away from the father they loved, led to her agreeing to an open relationship. After all, not having to hide his extramarital relationships should have been enough, right? “I figured if I allowed it, the lying and affairs would stop.”

They didn’t.

Ultimately, Elizabeth reached a point beyond anger and hurt.

She was just done. Her decision was made when she realized that ending the relationship wouldn’t destroy her family—Chris had already seen to that. So, she kicked him out for good and started the road toward divorce.

When I asked her how she felt about potentially dating again, she seemed hesitant but hopeful. She’s pretty sure, though, that she’ll never get married again. “I don’t think I’m the marriage type. The fact that I got married was the biggest shock to my friends. I never got the people that had to be in relationships to be complete.”

Now, Elizabeth has made peace with being a single, working mother. It helps that there’s slightly less stigma around it these days. “[Single moms] are more common now because we as women stopped allowing society to determine our happiness and self worth.”

But more than that—and she’d like for me to stress this—she just doesn’t give a damn what people think.

N. Alysha Lewis

N. Alysha Lewis is an editor and blogger with author aspirations whose love can absolutely be bought with french fries.

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