In “Both Sides of a Breakup,” the Cut talks to exes about how they got together and why they split up. Ellen and Jay, both 29, got married after Ellen got pregnant. Jay hoped this meant Ellen was stuck with him for good, but she never wanted a traditional, monogamous relationship with a man.
Ellen: I met Jay in college. We were both 19 years old. We went on a few dates and then I got pregnant. It was that simple. It all happened that quickly.
Jay: We fell in love fast and hard. Madly in love! And we were having a ton of sex. I mean, sex all day and all night. And we were never careful, which I take full responsibility for. When Ellen found out she was pregnant, I was right there with her in the bathroom. I remember that she looked like her life ended right there at that moment, but I was actually happy. A part of me wanted that to happen all along. Subconsciously, and only in hindsight, I felt like it meant she couldn’t leave me, at least not for a while. That’s why I was happy.
Ellen: I don’t think it was what either of us wanted.
Jay: We talked about our options and decided to keep the baby. We were young, in love, and idealistic.
Ellen: We both came from broken homes and were sort of like stray dogs, so we had no one to talk to about any of this. We only had each other, and that brought us closer. I think there was something sexy and exciting about that. That being said, I had a pit in my stomach from that point on. I never thought I wanted kids, and now I was 19 and pregnant. I didn’t want to have an abortion. I’m not religious, but I just didn’t want one and never thought about having one for more than maybe five seconds. I was also pretty much a lesbian, even back then. I mean, I always liked sex with both men and women, but emotionally, for the long term, I wanted to be with women not men. But here I was, attached to a man for the rest of my life.
Jay: Ellen was always very sexual. This obviously turned me on, but it also planted a small seed of anxiety inside my brain. I knew I would never be enough for her. I proposed to her right away, as soon as we got pregnant. I guess I wanted to lock her down, any way I could.
Ellen: I wish he hadn’t proposed. I wish I hadn’t said yes. Before our wedding, I told Jay that monogamy was not an option for me in the long term. After I had the baby, we were going to have a new set of rules. That was my only way of surviving all this responsibility at that young age. He said, “No problem.”
Jay: I told her we would deal with the monogamy thing after our daughter was born. I thought she might feel differently. The pregnancy bought me some time. Then we had our daughter and we began to talk about opening our marriage. She instigated the conversation, obviously. I was never a fan of the idea but I knew it was the only way Ellen would stay with me.
Ellen: It’s hard to explain to people who are content with monogamy, but the concept felt completely unnatural to me. I couldn’t be caged. And then I met this woman Shelly, and fell in love. All this while having a newborn and dealing with Jay’s neediness. I think he was pretty much cool with Shelly; it helped that it wasn’t another man.
Jay: When she had her first girlfriend outside of our marriage, it was really hard on me. I felt betrayed and jealous and uneasy, even though by then we were technically nonmonogamous.
Ellen: So, I’m in love with Shelly, dealing with Jay, and then I find out I’m pregnant again. The only good news here is that besides Jay, I was only fucking women, so there was no question who the father was.
Jay: Again, I was saved by the pregnancy. I knew Ellen wouldn’t leave me in that compromised state. Also, I’m a damn good dad.
Ellen: Jay is a fucking phenomenal dad. He’s an amazing guy. I just couldn’t be chained to him. I am an untamed heart. That’s who I am.
Jay: Now we had two kids under age 2 and no money. It wasn’t easy. All our professional dreams had been squashed. But, I don’t know, I wasn’t upset about it. I felt lucky in many ways. My kids were healthy and I had a family—I never really had a sense of family before. That’s more than many people can say.
Ellen: I was going to kill myself if I had to be a mom of two inside a traditional marriage. How many times did I have to explain that to Jay? We had a rough two years after our second daughter was born. We’d fight about everything from grocery shopping to me meeting someone new I was attracted to. I’ll admit, I was really acting out, having tons of sex with all different people. And even though that was “legal” in our marriage, it was excessive and not handled with emotional care on my part. Finally, I left him. He deserved better than that, and I deserved to be free. I knew that if we worked on it, we could be incredible co-parents.
Jay: I always knew Ellen would leave me some day. Still, it wasn’t easy. I cried a lot. I cried for months. But I had to let her go. For our girls, I had to let Ellen be Ellen. We’re still working out the kinks, still figuring out how to be the best parents we can be without letting our personal dramas get in the way. But I have faith in us.
Ellen: We separated a year ago and I’m in another serious relationship with a woman. It’s technically an open relationship but right now, she’s all I want. Jay hasn’t been great about it. He’s very emotional and I often feel like I have to keep him stable so that my kids don’t see him be a wreck. I spend a lot of my time “managing” Jay.
Jay: I’m actually doing pretty good. I’m dating. I’m online. I enjoy every moment I have with my girls — it’s 50/50 custody right now. Do I still love Ellen? Yes. Do I think she’s a selfish, sometimes hateful person? Yes. But all I care about is my girls. That’s my focus. I hope Ellen’s new girlfriend is a good woman, and it will be a big problem if I learn she is not. For now, I’m hoping for the best for all of us.