When life gave me lemons…

I decided to make lemonade.

Which doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary right? Well, it was a little bit more complicated than that.

What happens when life gives you oranges & lemons and you have to decide which juice you want? That’s what happened to me just about a month ago. So, in the interest of not confusing everyone any more, here’s my story (it’s long, but please read to the end):

Just over five years ago, making my way through high school and working after school at Shaw’s, someone walked into my life that I couldn’t have known then just how much they would mean to me now.

He was attractive, funny, had nice eyes, great smile. Easy to talk to, kind, fun to be around. But he was also 35, married, had kids, and was my boss.

He asked me what I preferred to be called (Alex or Alexandra) and I apologized to him if I butchered his last name the first time I paged him.

Somewhere in between talking about politics, family, movies and books, laughing about something that no one else would find funny, sharing stories about who we are and what we love, he & I became friends. I told him everything and I knew a whole heck of a lot about him.

And sometime during that friendship, and our life chats (as I like to call them) at work, I found myself thinking “I’m so attracted to him.”

But when you’re 18, in a relationship with someone else, thinking you’re in love because that’s the only relationship you’ve ever known, you put it aside. Or I did. I thought it and tucked it away. But the next day I thought it again. And every day after that.

Fast forward to sophomore year of college. Summer is over, I’m leaving, and I need to say goodbye to this person who I’ve loved working with since the day he got there; the best person I could ever work for. I didn’t know it then, but he was really going to miss me. Which is why him asking me if it was okay if he could hug me goodbye is so special. Of course it was okay. In fact, I know I wanted him to. Because what I don’t think I even knew then was that I was going to miss him, too.

But another year past and I was stuck in a routine. All I ever knew was home, work, and Matt. If I wasn’t working I was at his house. I didn’t know what else life had in store for me because I never allowed myself to see it. One could say I was blinded by love. I say I was naive. But regardless, my relationship stood where it had been for three plus years already.

Fast forward again to my junior year when I took off for Washington, D.C. for a three month internship. Perhaps this is where our (by our, I mean me & Joe, not me & Matt) relationship truly began. I knew I couldn’t go away for three straight months and have no communication with him. Before I left my last day of work that January, I told him if it wasn’t too weird to please email me because I wanted to keep our friendship going, even if I couldn’t be there. And, again, I left with a hug.

I made the decision that I was going to come home for Easter and, of course, I filled him in on this. I wasn’t going to work, but absolutely had to meander my way into the store for no other reason than to say hi to him. My trip home would not have been the same if he wasn’t a part of it. What I did forget (that he so kindly filled me in on just recently) is that he stopped what he was doing right in the checkout and gave me a huge hug hello.

As the emails continued, and my internship ended, I came home for the summer and worked as usual. There was nothing better than being at work with your best friend, someone who makes you smile ear to ear every second of every day you’re with them. But as all summers do, it ended and I was about to start my senior year (with another hug goodbye).

Sometime in October or November, a bunch of us Shaw’s people got together for a game night held at Joe’s house. One of the other attendees urged me to ride up to his house with him in his truck. Not that I was uncomfortable, but someone else jumped on the opportunity and the moment passed. Little did I know until later, the reason for her wanting me to travel with him was because she knew how he felt about me. We would have had endless conversation and it wouldn’t have been weird at all. So on that night, that’s my one regret. But it was fun. Somehow, he & I always got matched against each other. And another piece of that night I didn’t know was that when the opportunity struck him, he would glance in my direction in what I can only imagine was out of adoration.

With all of these little pieces adding up, and constant flirtation for years and years, this next part of the story is when I finally knew I couldn’t hide my feelings any longer; when I knew that I was falling for the most unlikely person; when I knew that no matter how our hands were dealt to us, I couldn’t pretend there wasn’t something between us; when I knew that I loved him.

Sometime this March, when I was the closing service desk clerk and he was the store closer for the evening (always my favorite of days), Joe and I started talking about books. I believe I initiated the conversation, saying something like, “Do you enjoy reading for pleasure?” And when he responded with a yes, I began to tell him about this book trilogy I was reading called “Divergent.”

So perhaps we have Veronica Roth to thank for us, but not long after that conversation Joe went over to the book store across the street from the store and bought the first book in the series. It was April 4. He tweeted me this:

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From then on, our emails became more frequent, as we enjoyed talking about the book and other pieces of our lives. He would ask me about my classes for the day, and I’d ask him all about how he was doing. While the book was still mentioned in our emails occasionally, eventually they became more than that. I turned to him when I was having trouble in my relationship, my friendships, my school work, whatever. And he would come to me as an outlet to vent about every day struggles.

So with comments each day about how “amazing” and “beautiful” I was and reciprocating the thoughts to him, something had started inside of me, but it still took me some time to figure out what.

Then came one Thursday night in April when I decided to go to a bar with my friends from school. I am not a big drinker and I have never gone to a college party. But Matt still had an issue with it. I tried to reason with him and let him know everything was going to be okay, but even still at 8:30 that night he stopped responding to my texts. And I never heard from him until the next afternoon. But because of that, I was upset and didn’t have a good time. Now, let’s go back to Joe. Because I told him everything about my day, I filled him in on where I’d be that night if he didn’t hear from me. He told me to go out, have a great time, and to just send him an email saying goodnight so he would know I’d gotten home safely. I was confused that my boyfriend of over five years would just cease conversation with me over that while someone else who on the outset isn’t supposed to care about me in the same way not only urged me to go out and have fun, but who was there for me when I didn’t have a good time.

So, was I turning to Joe because I was having issues with Matt? That’s what I told myself at the time. I kept thinking that I didn’t have any feelings for him. How could I? But then I came home for the weekend.

If my memory serves me correctly, I came home for that weekend to help my parents move into our new apartment. I left school Saturday morning and it didn’t leave me much time to work. But I found myself in there any chance I got. That Saturday I think I kept Joe an extra hour past his lunch time just because we were talking. And then before I left on Sunday, I received another hug. Except it wasn’t just a hug anymore. It was a sentiment of how we were both feeling, like we didn’t want to let each other go. Then came the kiss on the forehead. My mind, my heart, my body was so confused.

Before I actually went back to school that night, I was with Matt. I was leaving the house and he said, “Going to see your other boyfriend?” which was not unlike him to say. He was joking, of course. But I reacted differently than normal because Joe popped into my head.

After an hour of fighting and trying to fix things, I drove two hours back to school only to sit down on my bed with my laptop and write the hardest email I’ve ever written. I now refer to it as The Dark Days email. That was where I basically told Joe that I had feelings for him, but in the interest of everyone involved (Matt, his wife, me, him) we had to keep things between friends and tuck away all feelings for each other. I was shaking when I pressed send that night and waited up until after midnight to read his response. It was hard, but he understood and he respected it.

So I thought everything was back to normal. The emails were still frequent, but laid back. I thought “I’ll be graduating soon, going back to work like normal, and enjoying my first summer as a college graduate.” But then I found the time in my day to call him at work on his birthday just so I could hear his voice. I came home, with a degree, and went back to working part time. Except this time, I just looked at him and I fell. Hard. Every day I told myself it was nothing, that it would pass. Until I would stay late at work just because he was there. Or long for him on days he wasn’t. Until I would purposely take walks with my mom and go by the store so we could stop in and say hello. Until I couldn’t wait to text him Bruins updates when he worked late. Until I was sneaking away while at Matt’s house to respond to emails from him, because I missed him too much to wait.

One weekend in early June, my family traveled to North Carolina for my brothers track meet. I was not going so that Friday I had a girls night with my friends. It was a laid back night, and we called it quits pretty early. Which is when I emailed Joe (who was working until 11 two minutes down the street from my house) that I was all alone. That email almost led to him coming to my house and hanging out with me for the first time ever. It didn’t happen, but I would have let it.

The next week following that “almost” situation was pretty unreal for me. I went about my business outside of work like normal, but while I was there I continued to fall. I was so attracted to this man; everything about him struck me as incredibly perfect. I was starting to lose myself again, but this time I don’t think I cared.

So because of those feelings I was having, on Monday, June 17, I sent him an email detailing how I felt about him. I laid everything out on the table because I needed him to know that this wasn’t going away. And his response didn’t disappoint.

And then the day everything fell into place; that I knew he was the one. One month ago today, June 19, we decided to get together and talk about the feelings we had and the words we had said to each other. We met at a park, sat in front of the water, and talked for three hours. I asked him all my burning questions and he answered them with complete honesty. Would he marry me? Would he be willing to start over again and have more children? Those were the two I needed the most, because I couldn’t start a life with someone who didn’t want those same things. And despite our age difference and the fact he’s done both of those things before, he told me he would and I believed him.

Looking into his eyes (something I could do all day) tells me everything I need to know. But more than that, it assures me he’s telling the truth. The utter passion and love that I feel when he looks at me is something I’ve never felt and that I will never be able to explain.

As we are walking back to the cars, his arm around me, we stop. For some reason I said the words “Go for it” and he used that as an invitation to kiss me. Was it awkward because here’s this man I’ve only ever known as my boss? Was it uncomfortable because he’s much older than me and still married? The answer is no. To all of the above. When something is as natural as our kiss was that day, there’s not a single doubt in my mind that we were meant to be together one way or the other.

So talk about confusing. What was I going to do? Could I ever leave Matt, even though I knew that Joe would forever and always treat me the way a woman deserved to be treated? I was so torn. In fact, in that one week I lost six pounds from lack of eating because I was so broken up by what I was doing.

Well, it was confusing until the next day. We were pulling tags together for three hours and I even stayed an hour after that just to talk. I was bummed that I didn’t get a kiss goodnight, so when he left work that night at 11 I came back to see him. We stood out there hugging, kissing, talking, making sense of everything for over an hour. It was that night that I had made my decision. Joe was the easy choice. There was no one else out there that looked at me like he did; that made me feel like he did. I told him the ball was in his court and that if he wanted me, he could have me. I asked him if I could really make him happy for the rest of his life and his “yes” with his arms around me was all I needed.

Without going into too much detail, the next day I was a wreck because I knew that I was going to break Matt’s heart. I had to do it. I couldn’t keep stringing him along. It wasn’t fair. We had an amazing five years together and I don’t regret a second of it. He was there for me through so many things in my life and I thank him for that. He gave me so many firsts, including my first love, and I truly feel badly about the way everything played out. No one deserves the pain I caused. But feelings are feelings and if I’ve learned anything from this whole experience it’s that I deserve to be happy.

Of course telling my parents was the next step. My mom was shocked. Beyond shocked. Not because she didn’t like Joe. In fact, she loves him (knowing him through me working for him for so long). But because he’s married and 41. And she’s concerned that I’m not ready for the life that road will take me down. And I appreciate her concern. But she welcomed him with open arms, after three hours of drilling. And when I say drilling, I mean drilling. There wasn’t a question she didn’t ask to make sure she would feel comfortable having him not only in her home, but in my life. I am also extremely appreciative of her for that. That night, Joe made sure to tell my mom that he loved me; that he’s loved me for a long time.

So of course Joe spent most, if not all, of his free time outside of work with me. After his first night sleeping at my house and realizing that he’s happiest when he’s with me (and having no luck apartment searching), my parents ask him if he’d like to live with us for a much cheaper rate than any apartment would be. And that’s where we are now – all moved in.

Now that everyone knows the back story, how long these feelings have been there and just how much we both truly feel for each other, I need to defend myself and him.

This isn’t my story to tell, but the first thing I need to say is his marriage with his wife was broken years before I came into the picture. She may not have known it, but he did. Like everyone, Joe has a history. And I know most of that history because we’re best friends. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, but it’s him. And I felt sorry that there were pieces of him that someone couldn’t love. Or that he couldn’t be himself because of another person. So while I do feel horrible about the situation, I don’t apologize for falling for him. And I don’t apologize for our happiness.

Should he have gotten a divorce before starting a relationship with me? Yes. Should I have broken up with Matt before kissing Joe and starting anything with him? Yes. The means to our end were not ideal. Trust me, we know that. But ultimately it’s our ending we care about. Joe and I have a connection that it is unexplainable. I want to be with him every second of every day. I hear his voice, I light up. I see him, a smile doesn’t leave my face. We have the most amazing bond, our chemistry is unreal, and I can’t imagine my life without him in it.

So, I mentioned he has kids. And he’ll have an ex. And I will forever be “that girl” that stole him away. However, before I continue, I need to make clear that I’m not a mistress. Our love, our passion, our desire, our feelings are pure. Besides those two days where we kissed, for five years our relationship grew based solely on who we were as individuals and how we saw each other. Anyway, I’m well aware that the man I’m in love with comes with a “package deal.” I plan on welcoming his children who he loves so much and the mother of his children into my life without a second thought. It’s going to be harder for them to accept me; maybe they never will. But they are a part of him. Which makes them important to me, too.

I am sorry for the way things transpired in their marriage and I’m sorry that we went about things the way that we did. But I didn’t intend for any of this to happen. One day we’re new acquaintances and the next I find myself falling in love.

At the beginning of this post I asked what happens if you’re given lemons (Joe) and oranges (Matt) and have to decide which type of juice you want? I like both. And it was hard. But in the end, I had to do what felt right in my heart and soul. If I had to contemplate something like that, it was just time to move on from the orange juice that I once loved so much.

So, yes. My boyfriend is 20 years older than me, is still currently married but in the process of getting divorced, and has four children. And I wouldn’t change a single thing. All these pieces of his life have shaped him into the person he is now and every piece of me loves every piece of him.

This post is to anyone who is maybe in a similar situation or knows someone that is; to those of you who are afraid to get out of a relationship you didn’t know was crumbling and to give you confidence; but most of all it’s to those of you who may or may not know Joe & I, but who think you know our story. I’m not a notch on his belt, I’m not the next affair in however many have been conjured up now. He’s not a dead beat dad, or a scum bag, or any other word you come up with. He’s simply who he is, and I’m simply who I am. And we’re happy together. We give love a whole new meaning because our story is unlike any other. And I’m glad I shared it.

To Joe: Thank you for loving me like you do. For the five years that I’ve known you, every second spent with you has been the best time of my life. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my days with you beside me. Though I’ve known you in this newfound way for only a short time, my love is real. It’s an incredible feeling to finally feel complete. I love you.

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