Olivia Palamountain was convinced she’d found her soulmate, until a surprise email caused her world to crumble around her...
If you’d noticed Kate* and me gossiping outside Quo Vadis on a Tuesday afternoon in August, you would have assumed we were old girlfriends, catching up over a bottle of rosé. In fact, we had only just met. But we had something – or someone – very special in common: the man we thought we were going to marry.
I met Elliot* at Glastonbury festival in 2010; I was 25 and it was the year of endless sunshine and The XX on repeat. We clocked each other immediately; damn, that man can dance. It took just seconds for me to abandon my friends – and my sensibilities – to fall in love. At last, I had met someone who wasn’t afraid of intensity – in fact, he demanded it, too. Elliot’s eyes were wild and we played at challenging each other, pushing and provoking to go harder, faster. Seven years older than me and an artist manager with bands playing at every festival, it’s fair to say that I was also entranced by his world. I couldn’t place him and, as ever, I fell for life’s ‘grey area’.
That summer was spent in rapture; we became like children lost in the innocence of potential. I was obsessed with Elliot’s skin; he told me I was perfect, and together we showed the world what love was. We were suffocating in our adoration of each other and it became more beautiful every day.
After eight months, we found a place of our own. Life was in glorious technicolour; I remember flying over Waterloo Bridge on my bicycle, tears blinding me as I luxuriated in my own happiness. Elliot was a perfect boyfriend – together we were that couple.
But how would our love story prove itself in the real world? As I settled further into the comfort of having found my ‘one’, I allowed my own ambitions to slide. In contrast, Elliot’s business was enjoying ever more success and his work took him away for weeks at a time.
Almost two years into our shared life, Elliot’s wild tendencies gradually became more frenetic; he became at once possessive and distanced. I heard dark whispers about his reputation. One moment he would sling vile insults at me, the next he would stare into my eyes and tell me how much he respected me, or return home with extravagant presents on a whim: Chanel pumps were a favourite. I never knew what to expect, and the uncertainty kept me hooked. That, and the sex. Passion was never lacking, and in more ways than one we were addicted to each other. I lost myself in our relationship, as he was finding ever more strength independently. The ghost of our past became the anchor to our future.
On the day I met Kate, I’d kissed goodbye to Elliot and headed to the office. All I could think about was the coming Friday: we were off to Ibiza and I daydreamed all the way to my desk.
I scrolled through my emails and immediately noticed Elliot’s name in a subject box. It was from a woman called Kate. Something about her name I recognised: was she a friend of his from LA? I couldn’t quite place the memory.
I opened the email. ‘I really hope I’ve got this wrong… Elliot and I were in a relationship all last summer and have been seeing each other all this year… he’s always presented himself to me as a) single and b) in love with me…’
My insides screamed and I almost vomited on my desk. Without any concern for decorum, I fled the office and rang Elliot. I didn’t know what I was going to say but it didn’t matter, he didn’t answer. Phew. Be smart, Olivia; get the facts straight. Kate had left her number, and without hesitation I called her instead.
What followed was one of the most surreal conversations of my life. Calm and polite, Kate and I confirmed the facts. Both of us had been promised the world, and thought that the world belonged exclusively to us. As it turned out, she’d seen Elliot just days before, in Brussels. That was the ‘business meeting’ in Paris. I’d never questioned his fidelity, although there had been murmurs of disquiet; he’d disappear all night and come home either full of self-loathing or erratic and grandiose. If I’d been honest with myself, in the past six months he’d let me down more times than was acceptable. But I wasn’t strong enough for that, and so the final call on his behaviour fell to my secret sister.
Kate had experienced a similar series of spiked highs and hideous lows – she was now in London, a surprise jaunt through our city, and Elliot was ignoring her calls. Finally, she’d had enough.
After trawling the internet, Kate found a tweet I’d posted mentioning Elliot as my boyfriend. Bingo. Our phone conversation could only tell us so much; and besides, we were intrigued by each other: we had to meet, immediately. Elliot had no idea that his double lives were about to collide.
As I approached our meeting point in Soho that same day, I was as high as I’d been when I first met Elliot. But this rush was for protection, my body raging with adrenalin to numb the reality of what was about to happen. I’d walked to work in my grotty old trainers, but by chance I’d left a pair of heeled boots under my desk. This would be the first time I understood the power of high heels: I walked tall and defiantly, summoning every essence of my spirit.
And then I saw Kate: beautiful, sad, and scared. She was shaking, and I did the first thing that came naturally to me: I turned into my father, a jovial host, offering drinks as if were were celebrating; a ridiculous party for two. Odile and Odette, I was dressed all in white, Kate all in black. The ice was broken and we laughed, then began to relax before the sordid, crazy story came pouring out. Did I mention Kate was beautiful? Not just any sort of beautiful, she is one of the most successful models the UK has ever produced. An actress now, in her time Kate was a darling of the fashion world, and her face graced the covers of glossy magazines. A muse to Narciso Rodriquez, she walked for all the greatest fashion houses – Chanel, Gucci, you name it – she even earned her Victoria’s Secret Angel ‘wings’.
You would be forgiven for thinking that I wanted to hate her, but to my credit I didn’t compare myself to Kate: I’m no model, but I recognise my own value.
Instead, I found myself drawn to this woman, as I’m sure my boyfriend had been. She was funny, irreverent, kind… a bottle of wine down, we continued into Soho, still comparing notes and getting to know each other. Elliot had met her on a flight to Los Angeles and, while innocent at first, he pursued her on his subsequent trips to the States until she, too, fell for his crazy eyes. On this we agreed outright: Elliot is sexy, dangerous, spontaneous and charming. He’s also greedy, cunning, cruel and selfish. Believe me – us – it’s a potent mix.
Kate allowed me to read Elliot’s emails. I needed to see the sickening proof of what he had done, because I knew there was a chance that I could brainwash myself to unlearn the truth. This was not just a fuck. Elliot was Kate’s as he had been mine; he fed her full of love and longing, and encouraged her to believe in a shared future. This graceful, dignified woman was conned by the person who pretended to protect her. And she was completely in love with him, too.
I couldn’t begin to gauge my own feelings. I was in shock, the transmitters between my brain and body in chaos. No detail was spared: we dissected our sex lives, imitated his mannerisms, and we shuddered at the scale of his deception. Elliot had recycled the baby names we’d dreamed up, sent us the same playlists and cheesy lines, and – this one stung in more ways than one – even knowingly shared an STD between us both.
But it wasn’t all about Elliot: we also told each other our own secrets – things that nobody, not even he knew. We even joked about sleeping with each other, and for that moment I felt insanely attracted to her, unlike anything I’d ever felt for a woman before.
The night wore on and Elliot was calling me incessantly. Finally I answered, drunk, suddenly exhausted and deeply, profoundly sad.
‘Where are you?’ he said. My response? ‘I’m in Soho, with your beautiful lover Kate.’
Elliot demanded that I come home, at once. I obeyed him and tumbled into Soho in tears, blurting a farewell to Kate. At the same time dangerously drunk and horribly sober, I arrived home and came face to face with the man who had destroyed what I had loved most in the world. Had I not recorded our conversation on my phone, I wouldn’t be able to remember what was said next.
‘What did you think you were doing?’ Incredulous and despairing, I asked him the same question over and over again. But the coward didn’t know where to start – I could see him manipulating his next move, shifting the goal posts and retreating further into his own web of lies. Elliot argued Kate was mad, that she had fabricated the extent of their relationship. He threatened to leave me if I continued to ‘plague’ him with questions, and at the same time he promised me I was the one he wanted. Most telling was that he didn’t exhibit: he wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed, he didn’t berate himself or beg me to forgive him. A narcissist to the end, Elliot was even disrespectful in defeat.
Life as I knew it was over: during the coming weeks, I lost my lover, my home and the plot. Fuelled by fags and antidepressants, I limped into the darkness. But throughout all this, Kate became my wingwoman. We’d spend hours on the phone and meet up whenever she was in town. I clung to her for comfort, and, however unhealthy my friends deemed the relationship, it offered temporary relief.
Fast-forward nearly a year and I’m finally beginning to grow again. I don’t want to hold on to this experience any more; I’m feeling excited about the future. I’m enjoying my present and trying to let go gracefully. One day I will be ready to fall in love again, and when that moment comes, I’ll be bringing some boundaries to the party.