It wasn’t very long ago that I believed that we can only love one person at any one time—that we don’t truly love our significant other if we find ourselves developing feelings for someone else. Because love, as we’re usually told, means giving one person our all.

But then I found myself falling for another while already in a relationship. He and I were longtime friends and very good ones at that, so he wasn’t just some dude who waltzed into my life and swept me off my feet with his good looks and quick wit. I was well-acquainted with his character flaws and privy to a lot of the less-than-appealing things he has done. And I accepted all of it.

I knew I loved him when I hurt when he hurt, and when I was able to remain patient and kind even when he was being difficult. It didn’t take me long to figure out that he loved me too, but this isn’t about our poignant romance as it is about how I came to realise that it’s possible to love more than one person at the same time.

My feelings for the other guy—let’s call him that though the term really is an insult to his place in my life—didn’t make me love my then-boyfriend any less. I cared about the latter and valued his happiness all the same. I just happened to feel the same way for someone else.

I wasn’t confused or thrown off by my feelings, particularly since things happened naturally and over a long period of time. Besides, it’s not unusual to be able to appreciate someone’s good looks or magnetic personality even if we won’t ever be with them, so I didn’t find my ability to truly appreciate two men hard to reconcile.

The other guy and I didn’t act on our feelings. But more significantly, we were able to come to an understanding that we can love each other without being together; that we can still want the best for the other even if from a distance.

The cliché goes: when you love someone, you just want them to be happy. And through my experience, I learnt that I can be selfless if something matters enough to me.

But while I think it’s possible to love more than one person at the same time, I don’t think it’s easy. Even though I loved two people, I could only be with one of them, and it was painful to have had to choose one over another. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to do—I didn’t want it to seem like one was better than the other and that was not at all the case. There were just many other considerations at play.

Nonetheless, the experience taught me a lot about myself and what it means to love somebody. It also taught me that doing so can also mean setting them free, and I found it pretty fulfilling in its own way.