Part III: Ella, the Middle
Ella and I started seeing a lot of each other. We went to Vegas for a couple days (Vino's graduation gift to me), and then we settled into a once-a-week date pattern. It was lovely. I hadn't had that much fun in a long time.
A couple problems became apparent, though.
First, Ella's ability to garner male attention was astounding. Much of the time, she expressed no attraction toward these men, or even a bit of disgust, but would still cultivate their interest. The problem was, she seemed utterly unaware of others' feelings, and treated sex as something entirely meaningless.
Case in point: we went out for drinks at a bar. Within a couple hours, three men had bought her drinks. One of them stopped paying attention to a woman who was clearly interested in him (not sure if it was his date), in order to gain Ella's attention. She started idly stroking his arm, and the other woman left, visibly upset. Another man bought her a second round. She told me she found him extremely unappealing, but by the end of the evening was asking how I'd feel if she went home with him, instead of me--she felt obligated, since he'd bought her two drinks.
I had a massive emotional conflict that night. First, I was envious. I had never had even one man, save Vino, buy me a drink without disclaiming it as "just friends." Second, I was worried as hell--is this why she had been sexually involved with that many men? Because of a sense of obligation? If so, why was she involved with me? Finally, I was pissed--she almost left our date to go home with a man she didn't even like!
Perhaps more significantly, I was realizing that I wasn't over my feelings for Ben. Ella and I would have drinks at their house, and she'd gently shoo him back to his bedroom. Occasionally, he'd have a drink with us before leaving, and I realized I missed him very much, and that I was still attracted to him.
I told Ella this, of course. She became profoundly upset over it. She asked what my ideal outcome to the situation would be, and I told her, quite simply, that I wanted to be involved with both of them. She replied "Yeah, that's definitely not going to work."
She was right on some level. I hadn't broached the subject of being involved with a man with Vino yet. He knew I had feelings for Ben, but I had left it at that. Given the depth of Ella's anger, I figured I would just force myself to get over it somehow.
And most of my contact with Ben stopped after that. He sent me one final email, to let me know that our attraction to each other was hurting Ella, so we would need to back off from each other. Even when I went to their house, he would carefully disappear before my arrival. My relationship with Ella continued, and we had fun. Ben all but disappeared from the picture, physically and emotionally.
Then, a few months later, Ella became increasingly distraught over a woman Ben was interested in. For added intrigue, this woman (Keri) was dating a man (Jason) that Ella had slept with. Keri had given Jason permission to go home with Ella. Now Ella seemed to feel like she was obligated to let Ben and Keri get involved. She clearly wanted my emotional support.
And I couldn't give it. First, because I agreed, she needed to let Ben pursue the relationship with Keri. He had been extremely open and honest about his interest, and seemed to be taking it very slowly for Ella's sake. Ella had been involved with many, many men, and Ben had supported her fully. This was the first time in their relationship that he had actively tried to pursue anything else.
Second, it was simply killing me to hear about it. I was feeling an intense level of jealousy, and had no one to turn to for support. I still had feelings for him, I missed him terribly, and I was starting to feel envious resentful toward Ella. She still reveled in men's attention everywhere we went, but apart from Vino's continued affection, the only man who had shown any interest in me in well over a decade was Ben, and he had cut off contact with me to make her happy.
One night, Ella was going into explicit detail about the depth of Ben and Keri's involvement, and the intensity of feelings he had expressed for her, and I just wanted to leave. I couldn't listen any more. Finally, she was ending an explanation of the situation, and said "anyway, she really, really likes him, so I guess that's that." I snapped, "I really, really liked him too, you know." She just stared at me like I didn't get it, and said, "Well...sorry."
I went home a few minutes later, angry and hurt and very much confused. I spent several days formulating how I would make it clear to Ella that I still had feelings for Ben, and that I wanted to be able to rebuild, at a minimum, my friendship with him, and, if it felt right and we took things very slowly, to be involved with both of them.
I spoke with Vino about it first. He was uncomfortable with the idea of me being involved with a man, but agreed that it was imperative to rebuild my friendship with Ben, and if it evolved into more, that he could work through his feelings, if it went slowly enough.
I didn't talk to Ben about it, of course. I didn't feel comfortable even emailing him, let alone bringing up such a subject, without Ella's knowledge.
So I made a coffee date with Ella to explain things....