With each message cloud that appeared on screen, my vision became injected with plumes of turquoise green. This is how I love her, in color, her own unique color. They all have one—every person I’ve ever let pass through the recesses of my ridiculous heart. Once they get stuck there, they get assigned a color. And, sometimes, they even share the same color. For example, my aunt and my best friend share the color yellow. When I love them, my thoughts and actions become saturated with a deep earthy yellow that defines a sensation that is purely them. Each color is like this, representing a different hue from the spectrum of love I share with others.

This phenomenon became conscious to me when trying to explain to a friend how the love I share with others is very different. I had explained that, though the two most significant romantic relationships of my life have passed, I go on loving those women. This idea confused them.

“You’re not over them, yet?” 

“No,” I said. “It’s not like that. I’ll always love them, but I don’t have to be with them; it doesn’t hurt that way. 

This was easy enough to explain to a friend, but try telling your current lover that you also love another woman. Her eyebrows popped and clouds of anger entered the look in her eyes. At the time, her reaction reflected a common belief held by lovers everywhere. There’s this assumption that if I love another woman, I couldn’t possible love my current partner in a way that honors our relationship. In the eyes of the judges that surrounded us, I would be cheating my partner, denying her true exclusivity. As far as sticky conversations go, this is one of the stickiest, so I caution those who share my understanding of these matters: tread carefully when disclosing this kind thing. To her credit, my most recent lover took it well when I explained it in this way:

“The way I love you is completely different than the way I love her. And therefore, though I love you both, because the way that I love you is so completely unique, she could never take your place in my heart.”

Some people think it would be wiser of me to keep this kind of thing to myself, keeping it completely out of conversations had with lovers. But, I disagree. To be sure, it’s not a necessary conversation to have, but the revelation of this truth reflects a huge part of who I am and how I operate. I find it strange that people would keep such things to themselves. There are things about us that people can never deduce on their own through experiences with us. If we don’t volunteer insight about who we are to our partners, then who are they loving? And more importantly, what kind if lives are we living?

Actually, the tendency to express incredulity about loving many people tends to hover around the area of romantic love. I’m almost certain that most people can understand the fundamental differences between loving friends, family, and lovers (though each is not mutually exclusive). But when I tell you that the first time I fell in love was an experience of fiery magenta, and that simultaneously I was loving in deep purple many years later with the second love of my life, some people might have issues with that idea. There tends to be this generalization about how we experience and express love, because superficially those are the behaviors that come to mind. We think about hugs, kisses, sex, amongst other things, as expressions of how we love someone. By, truly, the list goes on my friend.

The first woman I ever fell in love with (fiery magenta), was a relationship of raging, burning passion. During its course, our love took us to such heights of ecstasy, depths of despair, and storms of anger. It was, as the term goes, a true roller-coaster ride. But the second time I fell in love was completely different. The second woman (deep purple), my most recent relationship, was a love of deep support and dedication. Putting aside the irony of dedication in the realization of its ending (haha), during the course of our love, we supported one another’s goals and creative pursuits unequivocally. In cases of sickness, disappointment, and failure, there was always encouragement and hope being supplied by one another. The relationship, in all aspects, was a constant source of positive influence. This strong consistency in the way that we loved was precisely the mature stability lacking in the passionate relationship with my first love, fiery magenta.

And so, it’s easy to see how it’s possible for love—even romantic love—to exist simultaneously. The fiery magenta and deep purple love that I had for the most significant women in my life still goes on today. And, while my love for others continue to surprise me with their color associations, one thing seems to be true: those whom I love romantically tend to be a mix of reds and blues, while family and friends tend to drift toward yellow, orange, and green.

So, why did I even write this? What’s the point? I think there’s a message here about expanding our definition of love. And, in that expansion, there comes greater opportunities for us to love and be loved. When we abandon the black and white dichotomy of discerning how we care about people, we can find other colors, we can find new ways to embrace others and increase our feelings of being connected. Too much compartmentalization in the mind and in the heart stunts the growth of our thinking and feeling. We must continue to challenge ourselves and the power of our own humanity; how we love one another is a perfect place to start.