Dear Captain Awkward,
My question is one of those probably 60% of the people in the room have, but no one wants to ask. (I did check archives but didn’t find a close match.) The top line question is, is there any ethical way to build and test the viability of a romantic relationship when you and the potential sweetheart are both already in relationships.
Of course people do this all the time, ranging from “just getting to know as friends” and “grabbing a drink” to “flirting” and “cheating.” A purely puritanical response might be, “no nothing never, consider your partner.” A Francophile might respond, “oh course everything it’s natural.” There’s some comfort in rigid or absent rules. The most of us are somewhere murkier in between— an uncomfortable place.
The particulars of my situation are that I’m in a very long “boyfriend-girlfriend” relationship. It is overall emotionally positive, with the major quips being no sex for 4 years (he cannot get it to work with medical help), throwing out a stack of my love letters (he doesn’t like clutter), and never even considering proposing to me for 7 years (we’ve lived together for 5 yrs). Despite these difficulties, I have to say I have dealt with them with open communication and this is the one person I feel who has thus far been able to meet my emotional and cuddling needs while maintaining a ceaselessly patient attitude with my irregularities/failings.
However, I recently met someone with whom I quickly developed strong feelings. He expressed strong feelings first, and I found myself responding honestly. The fellow is 7+ years my junior, though he’s more of a man than most I’ve met. There are reasons to believe we’d be compatible romantically, I’ll spare you the details. Just suffice to say it’s not just infatuation. I love him and I would be inclined to marry him (no he hasn’t asked, our relationship is not anywhere close to that – I say that to express the trust, affection, connection, etc I feel for him). He has a girlfriend of 2 years. I don’t know what their level of commitment is, but she seems like a lovely person. We’ve known each other less than 2 months.
I have never physical cheated on anyone in my life (not a kiss, nothing). However, I have delved into emotional affairs, in the sense that I’ve shared a mutual crush. In those cases, the threat of something actually happening has sort of paralyzed me with fear and I’ve avoided contact with the person. After all, I have my sterling record to protect (and drive fear into me)!
But in this case, I do not feel either paralyzed or driven by fear. Primarily because the fellow puts me at ease and I trust him. This is not a rooster chasing the chicken scenario, wherein my fight-flight mechanism kicks in. If nothing happens (if we both do nothing and/or either one prevents it), I will just continue loving him (though hopefully the romantic element will dissipate, if there is a merciful God).
I’m 33 considering a guy who is 7+ years my junior, while I’m already in a 7 year relationship with a guy who has (yes finally) decided he wants to marry me. They are both wonderful guys, but I now feel for one what I no longer feel for the other.
These are high stakes tables for me. And anyways, I like to think things through before they get real and hairy. This is my life — I just want to live it. But analysis paralysis is a real thing. I want to do the right by everyone involved, but also love is the one thing that we’ll do anything for.
Getting back to the question, what’s fair game for getting to knowing one another better and testing the romantic viability of the relationship when we are both in a relationship (no one’s engaged, but in a boyfriend/girlfriend).
And also, side note, the statistics are against the longevity of relationships where the woman is significantly older. Although I know many long marital examples of 9+ older women who lived happily ever after. But I think most of society still raises an eyebrow. Perhaps that would impact your advice. I should say, I feel I could learn a lot from him and respect him immensely (he’s way more accomplished that I was at a similar age).
Honest heart with serious doubts