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#738: Analysis paralysis, crushes, ethics, and risk.

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).

Sincerely,

Honest heart with serious doubts

Dear Honest Heart,

This is interesting, arriving as it does on the heels of yesterday’s question about the potential of new experiences and partners vs. the unsatisfying entropy of a long committed relationship that has maybe run its course.

Let me see if I can sum up:

You’d like to cheat on your long-term partner with this hot and interesting new person you met to see where it goes before you upend your whole life. Maybe not CHEAT-cheat, with sex, because that would be sordid and you’re not that kind of person. Just, Mr. Young Interesting has declared some feelings and you’d like to declare some feelings back, and you A++ might marry though you have a) known him only a short time and b) he has a girlfriend.

Developing feelings for someone else when you’re already involved elsewhere happens. Crushes can be beautiful things, even crushes that go absolutely nowhere, the ones you never tell a soul. Sometimes a crush is a wake-up call that there’s something missing in your current relationship, but sometimes it’s not about romance at all, like, “Self, do I want to make out with this person or do I want to BE this person?” Since yours is an “Oh crap, I might be in love” sort of crush, there are some ethical ways to proceed.

  1. Both you and Mr. Interesting could end things with your current partners and then decide to date each other and see what happens.
  2. You could talk to your partner about opening up the relationship and see what happens. The bulk of this response is about ethics in monogamous relationships, but I thought I’d throw the option out there.
  3. You could let this pass, the way other crushes have, and see what happens.This most likely means cutting off or severely limiting contact with Mr. Interesting and his charming girlfriend and avoiding “It just happened!” situations.

These options all involve risk. What if you blow up your life, and this new relationship doesn’t last, or isn’t better? What if Mr. Interesting won’t leave his girlfriend? What if you stay put, withdraw from Mr. Interesting, and the rest of your life is spent waiting for your current relationship to turn into the one you want, one with sex, and love letters, and big vibrant declarations of feelings?

The problem with Mr. Interesting isn’t necessarily your age difference, it’s that guys with girlfriends who make strong declarations of interest to women they’ve just met are kinda suspect. Maybe this is true love. Maybe this is a guy looking for a fix of drama and attention. To paraphrase Ask Polly at the link, you could say, “Mr. Interesting, why don’t you get back to me when you’ve been single and alone for a little while?” and see what happens. The trick then is to stop all contact until he does get back in touch and not keep checking in for a crush-fix. Which leaves you in the familiar-sounding territory of waiting for a man to make up his mind about you.

I’m being blunt with you because nearly every person who cheats on their partner ends up with you are:

  • Wanting to be a good person and do the right thing, guilt-ridden about the pain and damage they might cause
  • Wanting to keep seeing themselves as a good person even if they do the “wrong” thing,
  • Tempted by excitement, sex, affection, novelty, fantasy, drama, the prospect of finding something that is missing, feeling “newly awakened,” altered, maybe even high from the rush of being with their crush. Escapade. Escape. Escape.
  • Looking for signs that something is “meant to be” and permission to follow their hearts/loins.
  • Simultaneously risk-seeking and incredibly risk-averse.
  • Convinced that they are somehow different than the other people who have walked in these same shoes while knowing that they are depressingly the same. The Venn Diagram of “cliché” and “a thing that actually happens often in the world” has a lot of overlap.

I am being blunt with you not out of sanctimony but because I have cheated in the past, on my way out of dying relationships, the kind where you break up and then get back together and break up and get back together, where the problem of “do I stay or go” occupies years because the other person was “a wonderful guy” and I hadn’t yet figured out that “a wonderful guy” and “right for ME” can be different things, so I created situations where “I am a terrible cheating sort of person who doesn’t deserve such a Wonderful Guy, and now we HAVE to break up” to stop the relationship from knitting together like a badly set bone and limping on for another year. Or, as a friend aptly put it, “I cheated on boyfriends because I was a massive wuss either too afraid to leave the security of a relationship or too afraid to be the bad guy who ended it.” I fucked up, and then I grew up and learned that breaking up is not the Worst Thing In The World.

My older and slightly wiser ethics say that if you and/or your potential cheating partner is in a monogamous relationship you can’t cheat without dehumanizing someone else. When you cheat on someone, you stop treating them like an equal, because you remove their ability to give informed consent. For example, if you think you are someone’s only sex partner, you often take different precautions around sexual health than you would if you knew they have other partners. If your partner adds other sex partners to the mix without your knowledge, they are risking your health and possibly your life without your informed consent. If you mutually promise someone you’re in a relationship for the long-term, you both make big decisions with the other person’s priorities in mind. “If I knew you were going to cheat on me and maybe leave me, I probably wouldn’t have (agreed to stop using condoms)(bought that house with you)(turned down that cool fellowship)(moved away from my family to this city with you)(adopted that puppy)(had that third kid)(put you through grad school)(put myself through visa/immigration hell).

Wanting to leave is enough, and you don’t owe somebody the rest of your life if you want to go, but it’s not like, *poof* (****see below for one big exception****), “Smell you later, person who rearranged their whole life with me in mind (because I asked you to rearrange your life with me in mind).” There’s a reason divorce agreements are negotiated and spelled out in court: serious commitments accrue mutual obligations.

[****EXCEPTION ALERT****]: Abusive relationships present a stark exception. When someone is controlling, scaring, and abusing you, they strip away any obligation you have to be up front with them about your plans. Sock away money, collect your important papers and possessions, cover your tracks, get out any way you can without regard to politeness or your abuser’s feelings. Formally break up from the next town or the next galaxy if that’s what you need to do. There can be no informed consent or equality when your safety is threatened. The LW’s relationship is not an abusive one, so I would prefer it if discussion did not get sidetracked into this exception, but I didn’t want survivors reading this thread and thinking I am talking about them. *Poof* away, my friends, and be safe].****

Back to you, Letter Writer. I’m tempted to take page out of the Bad Advisor’s handbook and ask, what are you hoping I will say? Are you hoping I’ll draw a line for you or reaffirm that you and this dude really have something so special that it overrides what you know to be right? Your heart is pure, your intentions are good, everyone (“60% of the people in the room“) feels like this sometimes, you’ve been sooooo good by letting past crushes fade away and not cheating before now even though you don’t have sex, you’ve waited soooooo long for boyfriend to wake up and propose, …

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.”

Letter Writer.

LETTER WRITER.

MY DARLING LETTER WRITER.

You don’t want to marry your boyfriend. 

You thought you did. You waited, and waited, and waited for him to ask you. You WAITED and you had other crushes but you DID NOT EVEN KISS THEM and you were SO VERY GOOD AND ETHICAL.

Yeah.

Y’all waited too long.

He waited too long.

After seven years together, five in the same house, you already know everything you need to know about whether you want to marry someone. You’ve both got all the info you need. He didn’t until quite recently. You did and now you don’t.

I have no idea what will happen with Mr. “I-Have-This-Girlfriend-And-Yet-I-Think-I-Love-You” and his beautiful 26-year-old lips. Perhaps you will blaze a Jolie-Pitt-like trail across the stars. As Dear Sugar says, “All sorts of bright shiny couples have emerged from enormous piles of reeking love crap.” Perhaps you will have an affair with him where he keeps forgetting to leave his girlfriend for you and emerge well-fucked and broken-hearted to rebuild your life. Perhaps you’ll be like “I dumped my boyfriend! My body is ready!” and he’ll be like “Oh crap, that escalated quickly” and disappear. I don’t know. Life is risk. You don’t need my permission.

I do know that some part of you freaked the fuck out when your boyfriend finally moved toward making your relationship permanent.This isn’t a “which ‘wonderful’ man do I choose” question. This is a Google “sunk cost“, find a therapist, get a journal, and write-down-every-single-thing-you-want-out-of-the-one-beautiful-life-you-have-left sort of question. Be honest with yourself about what and who you want. Be honest with the people in your life. Most of all, stop waiting.

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Lovely pledge drive supporters and readers. There is still time to donate (there is always time to donate, this is just the week I bug people about it). Thank you so much for your kind donations and your kind words. Did you know that Dr. Sweet Machine has a newsletter where she sends feminism and poetry to your mailbox? Now you do.

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205 comments
  1. This is good advice!

    I’ve been in a similar situation (though also abusive, so the dynamics were quite different).

    But, yes, sunk cost is a factor to consider. And I agree with the good Captain that I don’t think you do want to marry your boyf.

    • Cassandra said:

      I think the sunk cost fallacy is responsible for more relationship wretchedness in my immediate social circle than anything else I could name.

      • Muddie Mae said:

        For sure. Been there, done that, bought the t shirt. It is itchy and pulls across my stomach in an unflattering way but it was really expensive, so I still have it.

        • peeta8 said:

          (Favorite comment ever, Muddie Mae.)

      • Yep. The sunk cost fallacy was responsible for me staying in my abusive relationship for a longer time than I should…. I mean mostly it was that it was an abusive relationship and I was brainwashed into thinking it was good…but still, for a long time it was, “I cannot leave because it would waste all the time I spent making it good after [most recent horrible thing he had done].”

        • Cactus said:

          I know those feelings…

    • Alexia said:

      I blame sunk costs for most of the bad relationships people have with each other, including those that some people call “the Friendzone”. It’s all sunk costs.

  2. glomarization said:

    Captain, I searched for the word itch in your response but didn’t find it. 🙂

  3. Pqw said:

    LW, leaving aside everything else, I had a long-term woman friend who married a man 12 years younger, and they’ve been married for 17 years. She was older than you when they met.

    • ThatGirl said:

      The older you get, the less an age gap matters. Sure, an 18 year old and a 25 year old are likely to be in different places emotionally, financially, etc. But when you’re 26 and 33, or 30 and 37, or 52 and 59, it becomes increasingly irrelevant.

      Also I’m married to a 3-years-younger man and it does not matter.

    • gmg said:

      Co-sign. One of my cousins has been happily partnered for 10 years with a dude she met when she was 40 and he was 27. It happens!

  4. emdashing said:

    It’s taking everything I have not to create an anonymous email address and email this to someone who really needs to read it.

    LW, I wrote about that situation in a comment for yesterday’s question (the advice and comments for which you should read), so I won’t retread too much, but the Captain is spot on about the dehumanizing nature of cheating. Don’t do it to yourself or to your partner. In the long run, no matter how scary breaking up is or asking for an open relationship is, or whatever, none of it is as scary as knowing you consciously chose to violate your own ethics and in the process hurt someone you love(d).

    • In the long run, no matter how scary breaking up is or asking for an open relationship is, or whatever, none of it is as scary as knowing you consciously chose to violate your own ethics and in the process hurt someone you love(d).

      +1

  5. Annalee said:

    Seconding the captain. “what I no longer feel for the other” is all the information you need about your boyfriend. It sounds like you don’t need to keep your options open by exploring this other relationship behind his back, because you really don’t want this option at all.

    OP, are you angry at your boyfriend? I don’t want to be presuming things about your feelings, but it kinda sounds like you resent the time you’ve put into this relationship and how long you’ve had to wait for him to commit to you. If you are angry, there’s nothing wrong or bad about that, but it’s a feeling you want to be aware of, so you’re not making decisions based on it without realizing that’s what you’re doing. If you’re contemplating cheating because you’re angry and want to punish your boyfriend for stringing you along for seven years, that’s all the more reason to cut him loose and spend your energy on things that will actually contribute to your happiness.

    • Cassandra said:

      Wise words, Annalee.

    • unagi said:

      What leaps to my mind is wondering how much this new crush could be a simple reaction to Old Tired Livein’s proposal? Or instead the proposal a reaction to OTL feeling the ground shifting under his feet? The timing of both isn’t very clear.. But I strongly suspect the two are related somehow.

      What does seem clear is that LW is through with OTL. Four years of no sex, out of 7 years total?? I’d freak out if he proposed too, unless at what should be your peak you’re willing to consider a long, dreary plain lacking something most people consider a very nice feature indeed. And which may reflect deeper problems in the relationship which are nowhere being addressed. So LW be kind to yourself, see the writing on the wall, get yourself out. If possible honestly and cleanly, quickly, but you know, we do what we can, so just out will do fine.

      And then, if possible when you’re done with that and feeling right about the world again, you may investigate what Young Thing is up to. If meanwhile he’s broken up with Other Girlfriend, and he still seems available to you, and you’re still tempted when the impetus to get out at all costs is removed, then by all means test the waters. I know many couples inappropriate in the eyes of society who are doing wonderfully well, in fact unity against unfair disapproval can serve as a cement :-). But there are no guarantees there, as there are none in life in general. No matter what happens with him, at least you’ll be a stronger person, and free to explore life as you mean it, that’ll be much better than where you are now.

  6. 30ish said:

    A+ answer.
    Addressing a few things that stood out to me in random order:
    – Testing the viability of a potential new romantic relationship while still being in another relationship is not only not ethical, it’s also not really possible – you won’t be able to find out if it could be viable without actually starting the new relationship for real – for that you need to end the current relationship or, if applicable, open it up.
    – I don’t think most people really wonder about this question or actively try to gauge how well other people would fit them as romantic partners when they’re in a relationship. Personally, I’ve only ever done this when I was super unhappy and on the way out already. It’s not ‘natural’ behavior in a satisfying relationship. If you’re happy you’re not going to want to ‘test drive’ other potential relationships, probably won’t even occur to you.
    – It seems like you are not really considering the most important aspects of the situation: The fact that he’s been in a relationship for 2 years and you even like the girlfriend, or that your current boyfriend has asked to marry you (what did you say in response?). Instead you’re focused on your subjective experience of how it’s like to talk to this other guy. Or how you’ve only known the other guy 2 months, yet you know you’ll always love him?
    – There’s nothing in the letter that indicates you want to marry your current boyfriend.
    – I wouldn’t say that nothing has happened yet or that things aren’t yet real and hairy. You’ve confessed your feelings to another guy and vice versa, and seem open to physically cheating – something HAS happened already. I also don’t think you can just go back to your current relationship and have everything be OK again, it’s actually already pretty much done for emotionally. So I’d say a lot has happened actually, and this is real. It’s not analysis paralysis, it’s more like slowly sliding into a direction rather than making a clear decision of where you want to go.

    • I don’t think most people really wonder about this question or actively try to gauge how well other people would fit them as romantic partners when they’re in a relationship. Personally, I’ve only ever done this when I was super unhappy and on the way out already. It’s not ‘natural’ behavior in a satisfying relationship. If you’re happy you’re not going to want to ‘test drive’ other potential relationships, probably won’t even occur to you.

      Excellent point, and also 100% in my experience. I am happy in my relationship now, so honestly, the idea of gauging how well I’d do in a romantic relationship with another person is utterly foreign.

    • Kim said:

      “– Testing the viability of a potential new romantic relationship while still being in another relationship is not only not ethical, it’s also not really possible”

      Absolutely this. A secret affair feels and functions very differently from a regular relationship, and is not a great predictor of how a regular relationship would go. Just like how a passionate long distance affair isn’t a good predictor of how you’ll go living together.

      • syrens said:

        You put that waaaaaaaaaaaay more susinctly than I did. Well done.

    • Angel said:

      I don’t think most people really wonder about this question or actively try to gauge how well other people would fit them as romantic partners when they’re in a relationship. Personally, I’ve only ever done this when I was super unhappy and on the way out already. It’s not ‘natural’ behavior in a satisfying relationship. If you’re happy you’re not going to want to ‘test drive’ other potential relationships, probably won’t even occur to you.

      I know you said “most people”, but I’m going to chime in for the tiny minority of people who actually do this. I have the sort of brain that for some reason can instantly create alternate realities and explore those alternate realities at creepy fast speeds. Sometimes this leads to things like repeated mental hashings-out of what would have happened if my boyfriend had actually died the night he almost did (I still do this on occasion, but for the first few weeks it was an almost constant “I’ve stopped thinking about things, so this is what will fill my conscious mind now” deal). Sometimes it leads to trying to decide what a relationship between me and X would look like. In a few cases I’ve actually discussed it with the person in question and we’ve come to interesting conclusions. It can be an interesting mental experiment even if the experimenter is completely satisfied in their relationship. Just depends on the person.

      • slfisher said:

        I do this too. Not so much with “What would it be like to be in a relationship with this person?” though sometimes I do, but a lot of “What if my partner died?” “What if my daughter died?” “What if I got an incurable disease?” types of thought experiments.

        Incidentally, I had my daughter when I was 40. My pregnancy was uneventful (I had morning sickness exactly twice), I recovered quickly, I nursed her no problem. It did take me a bit to get pregnant, and then I had a miscarriage and we had to go for it again, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary — maybe 18 months altogether. So 33 is definitely not too old.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        haha I do that sort of thing a LOT. I once spent at least an hour lying in bed one night thinking about how I’d manage my completely hypothetical return to the internet after disappearing for a while because of a spontaneous human combustion event that would injure but not kill me. I think there’s usually a qualitative difference between thinking about it as a mental exercise and thinking about it as an actual possibility, though.

        • 30ish said:

          Yeah, I can understand doing this as a type of hypothetical thinking (so in that sense, it may not have been quite accurate to say that people don’t normally ‘wonder’ about this question). In LW’s case, it seemed to progress to something like trying to figure out the chances of a relationship, with the goal of potentially going for it if it seems promising.

        • Cactus said:

          That’s quite the awesome scenario.

    • malkavian said:

      “I don’t think most people really wonder about this question or actively try to gauge how well other people would fit them as romantic partners when they’re in a relationship. Personally, I’ve only ever done this when I was super unhappy and on the way out already.”

      I’ve done this in a stint where my now-husband and I were long-distance, and I wasn’t getting some physical needs met. The relationship wasn’t unhappy, but the situation sucked. Notably, this disappeared as soon as we were in the same geographic area again.

  7. allreb said:

    This jumped out at me: “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.”

    LW, more than one person in the world will be able to do that for you – whether it’s Mr. Interesting or someone else entirely, the person you have been with for seven years is not the only person in the world who will Get You, I promise. Please don’t stay with him because you’re afraid there won’t be someone else who can be patient with whatever you feel your failings are – other people can and will, and they won’t take seven years to decide that they want to propose.

    • boutet said:

      That jumped out at me too.

    • Shannon W said:

      Exactly. Shockingly, there is more than one decent person in the universe.

      Sorry for the sarcasm, it’s just… I know that it’s very easy to start thinking this kind of way. As Cap’n says, Sunk Cost and all.

      Basic decency is not an extra-special blessing, it should be default.

      • Muddie Mae said:

        I’ve found that an odd/funny part of my anxiety brain is that it simultaneously believes that I am just the most ordinary blah nothing blah, while also believing that I am SO SUPER SPECIALLY FUCKED UP that no one could possibly understand or deal with my (actually incredibly common) problems. Brains can be dumb sometimes.

        • Ookling said:

          Oh. Oh, hi there, moment of self recognition in another person! I thought that weird contradictory view of myself was just me!

    • Uhhhh, “he is so patient with my failings” is a red flag for me. That was a major feature of my worst relationship, and left me believing that I was fundamentally unlovable and difficult, something I’m *still* trying to stop believing.

      You should not be tolerated despite your failings. You should be loved.

      • MamaCheshire said:

        +1 THIS.

        Darth Ex used to pretty much say this out loud. It was actually a key piece of his campaign of emotional abuse of me.

        Specifically (content note: rape) –

        I was the victim of a classic “drunken date rape” scenario in college, and my coping mechanism of choice for a while could best be described as “sex is good, I’m not going to let this asshole ruin it for me, and I can’t be raped again if I don’t say no!” so I carried condoms and had a lot of sex with a lot of partners that I might not have otherwise.

        Supposedly Darth Ex was the only person who would understand and forgive my (in his mind) excessively high count of past partners and still want to marry me instead of treating me like a fun party girl that you can’t actually take home to Mama. And he threw this in my face CONSTANTLY. It was terrible.

        My spouse, on the other hand, despite being younger and of rather limited prior sexual experience, NEVER had an issue with my sexual past, except that he wanted to make very very sure, every time, that none of the sex we were having had any of that “can’t be raped if I don’t say no” stuff involved, so he was and is extra super careful about clearly getting consent. This…was not something I was totally confident existed before he and I started dating, but now I feel more like…why would NOT that be acceptable?

      • slythwolf said:

        Yep. First thought reading that was, “Uh, who is it that’s telling you your failings are so terribly difficult to put up with?”

      • Cactus said:

        Amen.

  8. Light37 said:

    It sounds like you don’t want to be with your boyfriend anymore. The fact that you’ve been together seven years and living together for five does not mean you can’t break up with him. It makes it potentially more complicated, but it’s time to put a stop-loss on this relationship and get out. While you are getting out and for six months afterwards, do not contact Guy with Girlfriend.

    Before you contact him again, think hard. You want him to break up with his girlfriend, this guy you’ve known for two months and haven’t talked with in six or seven months. Was this feeling simply the prod you needed to get out of a relationship you weren’t happy in? Have you been seeing in GWG what you wanted to see- “building him a soul” is the phrase that comes to mind. Is he single now? If he’s not, I would reconsider any contact with GWG. What he wants is friendship. What you want is romance. If he’s with someone else (and it appears no one in this scenario is openly poly) then you can’t get what you want without potentially devastating another person. Don’t do that.

    • Saira Ali said:

      “Was this feeling simply the prod you needed to get out of a relationship you weren’t happy in? ”

      Great insight. This is exactly what happened to me, many years ago. I’m grateful for the affair, because in hindsight, the long term relationship I was in was filled with evil bees that I couldn’t recognize, and given where I was, I could never have openly acknowledged that I just didn’t want to be in that relationship anymore. But on the other hand, I do regret the hurt I caused my ex (evil bees notwithstanding, he was a whole fucking beehive of evil bees, but I don’t want to be the kind of person who hurts people I (think I) love). I hope that if I’m ever in the same situation I can just honestly dump the person without needing a torrid affair to spur me along.

  9. Yeah, I agree with the Captain: LW, you do not actually want to marry your boyfriend. There are so many things in this letter that basically boil down to “I’ve been sooo good, BUT.” But you feel things for New Younger Man that you don’t feel for Current Boyfriend. That maybe you never felt for current boyfriend. And that’s okay! You’re not wrong for feeling things. But if you ignore the lesson that these feelings are teaching you, you’re sunk. I’m under the impression that your current relationship has run its course. Time to cut that loose. And even if New Younger Man doesn’t want to leave his current girlfriend for you, being single will open up your ability to find other people who make you feel this way, too.

    And… for the record, I feel like it’s worth mentioning: no sex in four years would be a deal breaker for me at this point in my life. I don’t know if the lack of sex is also a deal breaker for you, but you brought it up in the letter, so I feel like it has some effect. It’s okay for that to be a deal breaker, even if the lack is due to a medical condition beyond your boyfriend’s control.

    • Haflina said:

      No sex at all because Boyfriend can’t get it up would be 100000000% a deal-breaker for me (assuming I were interested in boyfriends) because there are plenty of ways to have sex that do not require a sustained erection, and I would be pretty miffed if he made his problem getting it up into a situation where I got no sexual intimacy. Dude have working fingers and/or mouth and/or toys? No reason LW should have to put up with years of no sex. They even make hollow strap-ons specifically for penis-bearing individuals.

      • Palliser said:

        Totally agreed. For me, sex is a major factor in feeling intimate with someone. Platonic cuddles aren’t going to cut it. Also, I don’t orgasm most of the time I have sex with someone else, but it is still extremely enjoyable. Not being able to get it up isn’t the same as not being able to participate in sex, but perhaps he thinks it is.

      • Northlight said:

        Very much this. In my relationship we’ve actually been tentatively discussing what our future sex life might be like since partner has developed some minor ED secondary to his diabetes. Currently meds are taking care of that quite nicely but it may be a concern in the future. He has been very clear that sexy things that are not PIV would still be happening because that kind of intimacy is important for both of us. It was an awkward conversation to have but I think we both feel better now that we’ve kind of gotten rid of the PIV is the Only Sex specter that he was dealing with.

    • Jenna said:

      My late husband dated me for six years before proposing, and I was getting impatient.
      In hindsight, I should possibly have asked more questions about what his reasons for waiting were. He said he had reservations and that I had resolved them, but, I didn’t dig deeper because I wanted to get on with things.
      I should have asked. I should have dug into his answers. There were a lot of things we should have hashed out that I just went along with because I have trouble making other people uncomfortable. Everyone around me should be happy! What do you need? I stepped on my own needs more than I realized for a VERY long time. In fact, for a long time I had trouble even figuring out my own wants and needs, because I had squashed them flat for so long.

      So, I will chime in along with the others.
      Just because you have been with the person for years doesn’t mean you should stay with them!
      Sometimes seeing someone else bright and shiny and being attracted to them is some part of you wanting out!
      Take a good look and figure out where your own head is at, and what you need, because, no one else can tell you that, and it’s really important information(that we sometimes hide from ourselves for various reasons).

  10. It sounds like you’re trying to play Prisoner’s Dilemma where Mr. Interesting > Boyfriend > Nothing. If both you & Mr. Interesting pick each other, then you get the most points! If you both stay where you are, you get the OK points, and if you jump and he doesn’t then you’re stuck with NOTHING. So you are trying to maximize your results.

    This makes logical sense, but is a really crappy way to treat Boyfriend. You sound like you have a lot of resentment towards him, and even your positive descriptions sound more like “better than nothing,” rather than “someone I love.” (He meets your needs and doesn’t mind your problems.) I’m imagining being the boyfriend in this scenario, and I’d want to know, so I could NOPE the hell out.

    • Yeah, this vibe comes off really strongly to me, as well. And I also think the assumption is false because is basically positions ANY relationship (even a meh one) as better than singledom, with which I heartily disagree.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        I thought like that in my late teens. I now haven’t dated in eleven years, and can wholeheartedly say that being single is AWESOME (for me). It is really, really worthwhile to spend some time alone after getting out of a serious relationship to recalibrate yourself and your expectations for life and getting to know who you are without someone else.

        • CJ said:

          Same here. I haven’t dated since my husband’s death nearly 8 years ago. And I haven’t missed having a partner one bit. Occasionally I will think that it might be good for me to get out there again, yet it all seems like so much work because my heart isn’t in it.

    • Cassandra said:

      This really resonates with me, and reminds me of times when I was much younger and trying to navigate my way out of failing relationships. What I didn’t know then was that “Nothing” was in fact a superior choice to “relationship I don’t really really want to be in.”

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      Can I just say I love the use of that thought experiment in this situation. It is quite perfect.

    • I love the Prisoners Dilemma analogy

    • Yup. I found myself thinking like this once. I jumped immediately. Because 1) the very fact that I was even thinking along these lines in the first place told me loud and clear that I was not happy in my current relationship and 2) my constant fantasising about Other Guy, even during sex, was (to me) completely unfair and disrespectful to the guy I had been dating for 18 months.

      Oh boy, it was HARD (I loved him so much, but we were completely wrong for each other and always fighting) but as soon as we broke up I realised that I’d been unhappy for a long time and deep down did not want to stay with him but was hanging on because relationship = security + cuddles. I just couldn’t see all the things wrong with my relationship until I was outside it and looking back.

      Incidentally, I never ended up with Other Guy… but I never regretted ending the relationship that felt so good but so awful at the same time. I thought I’d ended it for Other Guy, but it was really for me and the other half of the sucky relationship. I’m glad I didn’t end up with Other Guy, because I realised that I was in love with the relationship I had with him (we’d dated previously, it was amazing) and not with the man himself. In other words, I was just looking for A Better Relationship, rather than, you know, an actual person.

      LW, you can make of that what you will, I guess.

  11. Mary said:

    I am wondering whether a big part of the “sunk costs” is “I am 33 and I have been waiting for seven years and I am hoping to have a child/children some day and I am not feeling it with my boyfriend but if not now, when?” If so, LW, I really feel for you, because that is an awful position to be in. Several of my friends went through it, and it is super super awful.

    But … having a child in a relationship which is so meh that you’re trying to justify cheating-without-actually-cheating, not because you don’t want to hurt your boyfriend but because you don’t want to hurt your idea of yourself as someone who wouldn’t cheat, is … not a great idea. I don’t know if I can whole-heartedly say “don’t do that”, because I know how much I wanted to have a child and I am not completely sure I wouldn’t have made that bargain. But if that is part of your thinking, look at it clearly and be honest with yourself.

    Even if it’s not that, you need to be a bit more honest with yourself. There is an awful lot of flannel and distance and rhetoric designed to disguise what you’re actually asking here (“a Francophile might say”? Really?) Put the question you are asking to yourself more bluntly, and see whether you don’t know the answer already.

    • syrens said:

      “[Y]ou’re trying to justify cheating-without-actually-cheating, not because you don’t want to hurt your boyfriend but because you don’t want to hurt your idea of yourself as someone who wouldn’t cheat[…]”

      Yeah, this. That kind of jumped out at me, too.

    • espritdecorps said:

      “But … having a child in a relationship which is so meh that you’re trying to justify cheating-without-actually-cheating, not because you don’t want to hurt your boyfriend but because you don’t want to hurt your idea of yourself as someone who wouldn’t cheat, is … not a great idea.”

      Yeah, there are a great many people of both sexes in their late 20’s/early 30’s who are actively looking for someone to start a family with. One of those people will be someone you can love and be loved back by.
      If you create a dating profile and include your desire to start a family, you will be amazed at the number of sincere responses you get back from men who want the same.
      I mean, you’ll get dick pics too, so many, but for every 5 pictures of a penis next to a beer bottle or some fruit, you’ll get 3 responses from guys who’ll offer to be your FWB, 2 offers to ‘inseminate’ you, and one sweet response from a decent guy who wants a wife and kids. They are out there!

      Having kids can make a good relationship feel meh, a meh one feel bad, and a bad one feel like torture, while you’re getting your feet underneath you during the infant/toddler/preschool years. Respect and affection for the person you’re going to be tied to for the next 20 years is a must. Single parenting is better than bad relationship parenting.

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      “Relationship broken: add child.” Good recipe for an even more broken relationship. (That said I’m actually pretty glad my flatmate got pregnant with her ex shortly after I moved in, because I never liked him and she broke up with him to have the baby and is much happier now. But… you know, probably don’t do that on purpose.)

      • espritdecorps said:

        Yay! Single mom making it work!
        People try to shame pregnant women into either trying to making a bad relationship work or not keeping the child (which is a vaild choice, but not the right one for every woman).

        Sometimes kids don’t wait for you have all your ducks in a row, great partner, steady relationship, secure job, supportive family/friends, no debt, education completed, family-friendly home, excellent physical/mental/emotional health.

        Not many parents can say they had all those boxes checked. Most of us raise our kids starting out with 2-3 of those, and do the best we can to acquire some more of the others. After almost a decade of parenting, I’m ecstatic to have four, there was a time I was down to one (supportive friends/family).

        A person shouldn’t feel pressured to be in a bad relationship to be a parent.

  12. Dear LW:

    Your letter reeks of bored with boyfriend.

    I don’t blame you for that. It’s really hard to stay with someone whose medical issues preclude sex.

    And it’s really hard to leave someone with medical issues. But please, leave him.

    As for Mr. Interesting, he’s no prize either. Here’s what’s likely to happen:
    – he won’t leave his girlfriend but he’ll string you along
    – he will leave his girlfriend and will start affairs with new heartthrobs

    So my opinion is you’ll be happiest single for a bit.

    • sarahjaneb said:

      I completely agree. Boyfriend (fiance?) isn’t right for her, and crushboy sounds very dramariffic.

    • MadGastronomer said:

      *grumble grumble* If the “it” he can’t get to work is his penis, then no, his medical problems do not preclude sex, they only preclude ONE KIND of sex.

      As a queer woman, I really really hate the idea that only that one thing is “sex”. If she likes the feeling of that, there are harnesses that can be worn with a penis tucked safely out of the way. But there are other activities, too, lots of them, which can be very enjoyable for both of them.

      It’s not even really on topic. it’s just a peeve of mine.

      • Shannon W said:

        And as an ace-spectrum/demisexual person who can be romantically interested in someone without wanting to do any kind of horizontal dancing (it actually happens to me a lot? And it’s really awkward that I have to explain that “I love you but I don’t wanna get it on with you, it’s not you it’s me” – which no one ever takes well, ever, so I usually don’t say until absolutely necessary because it seems to be an ego thing for others…. sigh) it doesn’t matter that there are “ways” of having sex that don’t require arousal. It could very well be the sex. The medical reason could be a smokescreen, who knows.

        Point is though – stop making it about the sex. The point is that LW isn’t happy with that aspect, regardless of the reason/technicalities.

      • Cricket said:

        Yeah, that peeves me too. My current relationship didn’t include some people’s standard of “real sex” for the first 2 1/2 years, and it’s never been the center of our sex lives. We have had all kinds of sex-related stressors as two queer trans survivors, but not being physically able to have a certain specific culturally venerated kind of sex has never stood out among them.

      • Jeannette said:

        Yeah…. activities involving fingers, hands, mouths, toys, etc.

      • What I call sex often occurs without a penis, but for whatever reason, what LW and her BF call sex doesn’t.

        I suspect that she means PIV and their dynamic doesn’t allow for other activity and some of what she calls “cuddling” I would call sex.

        But I don’t know, so I went with what she wrote 😦

      • Except that it *is* okay to want the kind of sex with your partner that DOES involve the use of his actual penis (as opposed to a strap-on), and wanting that doesn’t cast aspersions on sex that happens without penises.

        • trotula said:

          That’s total a real thing to want from your sex life. As far as whether it casts aspersions on sex that happens without penises, I think what people are reacting to is LW’s phrasing—”…no sex for 4 years (he cannot get [his penis] to work with medical help)”—which, intentionally or not, seems to imply that everything non-PIV doesn’t “count” as sex.

    • slfisher said:

      “he will leave his girlfriend and will start affairs with new heartthrobs”

      Yep. Sorry to be harsh, but do you think if he cheated on her, he won’t cheat on you?

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        I mean, there are definitely some people who have had an affair with someone who ended up being their Forever After. But I think those people are very much the minority of cheaters.

        • CJ said:

          Forever After doesn’t mean that this someone never cheated again though. Just that their new spouse or SO chose to remain in the relationship, for whatever reason.

      • jdrives said:

        I’m normally not a cynical person, but I am totally behind this. If Crushboy and his GF are in an open relationship, then this point is moot, because he is not cheating on her. But, if Crushboy is in a committed, monogamous relationship with his girlfriend, it’s notable that he already thinks it’s OK to state/explore romantic feelings for LW while in a relationship. He also thinks it’s OK to state/explore these feelings knowing that LW is in a committed, monogamous relationship. If LW wants a committed, monogamous relationship with this man, it stands to reason that it may happen all over again. It may not, as thelittlepakeha notes! It could be happily ever after! But again, I’m cynical in this respect. And I have recently seen this happen. Dude cheated on his partner with a married woman; they broke up with their partners and got married to each other; he then promptly cheated on her with a married woman; she moved out.

  13. Lurker said:

    Hmm… I think the only “ethical way of testing the viability of a potential new romantic relationship while still being in another relationship” would be to do it with everyone’s involved consent. That means your partner, the potential new partner, and potential’s girlfriend too. Otherwise, deceit of some kind would be required.

    When faced with the prospect of having these tough conversations, some of the spark of possibility fizzles out. Still, only you can decide if rocking that boat is worth it,

    • MK said:

      It’s not only the ethical way, but in my opinion the only realistic way to test “the viability of a potential new romantic relationship”. If you are conducting a secret affair, you are not really in a good position to vet the other person as a potential partner, as you are too busy starring in you own version of a romantic french film. It’s wildy romantic! It’s so intense! It’s so french!

      Ok, I am sorry for the irony. But I have seen it over and over again, when a secret affair gets a “happy” ending: one or both of the participants discover that being someone’s affair partner is not the same as being their partner period. When you meet someone for a furtive date every other week and have covert interactions with them in front of others, you usually see them through a haze of romance and mystery, you don’t get the everyday person.

      • Vicki said:

        This. It’s tricky enough to get to know, and be, the everyday person in a long-distance relationship that is open and above-board, just because the temptation when you’re getting a few weekend days a month is to spend all your time together in bed, or on long walks with just the other person, or maybe talking about books or music or another shared interest, but not including grocery shopping and laundry and such. That’s in a context where you can accept a party invitation and introduce your out-of-town girlfriend as such, and not have to pretend to be “just friends” if you run into someone at the bookstore.

        [Disclaimer: I’m poly, and even if I thought it was ethical, I don’t think I’d be very good at hiding an affair. Too much risk of mentionitis.]

      • MsM said:

        And also, you’re not really vetting the other person as a partner, you’re vetting them in comparison to the current partner. It’s a lot easier to overlook the stuff that would eventually drive you crazy when you’re thinking about how it’s still better than all the stuff Current Boyfriend’s already done to drive you crazy over the years.

        • That’s a really good point

        • Oh man that’s a great point and really helped me figure something out. I have a friend who is a serial monogamist with terrible taste in partners. Each new partner is assessed in comparison to the old one and her mental criteria for what she wants in a partner shifts based on the failings of the last one. “Former boyfriend was really sloppy and new boyfriend is super neat! Yeah he constantly criticizes my house and housekeeping which makes me feel awful but at least I won’t have to clean up after him like former boyfriend!”

          Which is why (among MANY other very good reasons) the cliched advice of giving yourself time to wallow and mourn an old relationship and learn to be happy all by-your-fabulous-self (and learn what you actually do need in a relationship to feel good and loved) before jumping into a new one is valid advice.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        It makes me think of the storyline on Scrubs where JD has an affair with Coma Patient’s wife and after the guy dies and things settle down the relationship just…. fizzles, because what they were actually into was the drama.

  14. Consolaré said:

    He’s not going to break up with his girlfriend. The best you can hope for is random sex and him stringing you along. This has nothing to with your age difference. Leave because you want to leave. Don’t hurt another woman just because you’re unhappy.

    • Pawsitive said:

      “Leave because you want to leave” is spot-on, but I’m not sure the rest of this is helpful. We don’t actually *know* Love Interest #2 (Electric Boogaloo). Yes, he might not leave. Yes, he might not follow through. Yes, we may have very strong suspicions of where this is going. But no, we don’t need to make confident predictions about people we don’t know when, “please, follow your heart with regards to the relationship you’re already in, THEN figure out about this other one later” is perfectly sound on its own.

      • Karyn said:

        Slow-clap for the “Love Interest #2 (Electric Boogaloo)” line.

    • Don’t hurt another woman just because you’re unhappy.

      This, all the this. LW, maybe it’s possible that you and Mr. Interesting do have a viable thing that could work, but are you going to be okay with that potentially coming at the expense of another person? Is he? Or is there gonna be guilt and resentment over the pair of you both causing serious emotional harm to the people you love(d), and distrust built right into whatever new relationship you start with him because hey, if you could turn his head, what’s to say there won’t be someone else down the line who’ll do the same?

      I’ve been there. I wouldn’t recommend it.

  15. jd said:

    I am going to throw this out there as a fellow member of Over-analyzers Anonymous: in my experience, when one’s description of a romantic relationship reads like a cost-benefit analysis, then there is a strong probability that it’s already over, at least in a significant emotional way if not in a literal way. Your whole letter is full of tidy and neat rationalizations and explanations (including literal statistics!!) and while as a data nerd I can appreciate the comfort and sense of rightness that arises from this way of thinking, as someone who has struggled through a lot of romantic trial and error by going down exactly that path, pursuing relationships that worked “on paper” if never in my heart, it is my firm conclusion that your feelings don’t have to be rational, because they are feelings, not reasons.

    I think, Honest Heart, that while you truly do want to be honest, you are maybe not being terribly honest with yourself. Not because you’re a bad person (far from!), but because this is scary, emotional stuff and sometimes it seems like it would be faster and safer to treat it like a logic puzzle and resolve it that way. But a relationship doesn’t belong in a spreadsheet. The “rules” of good relationships are simple and difficult at the same time: be honest. Not just honest in the sense of “don’t tell an out-right lie!” or “don’t kiss or have sex with someone else!”, but honest in the sense of listen to yourself, respect what your feelings tell you, don’t barter and bargain in bad faith, don’t try to “game” the system for an optimal outcome, don’t rules-lawyer, don’t play the odds. Just learn to listen to your feelings (instead of trying to predict and micromanage them, which works about as well as herding cats) and *be* honest. If your feelings are telling you you don’t want to be in this relationship anymore, then accept that it’s time to move on and do that. If you believe that cheating is wrong but have exceptions for the “kinds” of cheating that are “really” wrong and the kinds that you can get away with, then you’re only adhering to the letter and not the spirit of that principle, which sort of undermines the point of it. But you’re not wrong or bad for being done with a relationship, no matter how much time has been spent on it–better to let it go honestly than to try to find “wiggle room” around your moral stance.

    • misspiggy said:

      This.

    • Daisy said:

      Although it’s not a real statistic- it’s a made-up statistic to try and make herself feel better. Just because you put a percentage on your bullshit projections onto other people, it doesn’t suddenly make it true. Pretending you’re being ‘logical’ when you’re trying to persuade yourself cheating is OK seems not just emotionally, but intellectually dishonest.

    • All.of.this. Most especially, for me, this:

      “honest in the sense of listen to yourself, respect what your feelings tell you, don’t barter and bargain in bad faith, don’t try to “game” the system for an optimal outcome, don’t rules-lawyer, don’t play the odds. Just learn to listen to your feelings (instead of trying to predict and micromanage them, which works about as well as herding cats) and *be* honest.”

  16. syrens said:

    Hi, LW,

    A lot of folks have already brought this up, so this is mostly just echoing/reinforcing that stuff:
    By everything that you’ve said in your letter, it sounds like things with your current boyfriend are seriously falling apart. It sounds like you’re sticking (ish) with him because you don’t think anyone else will for-sure for-sure want you, “failings” and all… rather than because you actually want to be with him.

    A lover who doesn’t learn how to fuck with their hands and mouth (er… has he not learned how to do this stuff?) is… possibly a crappy lover, regardless of whether or not they can get it up. (Granted, a lover who greets someone’s erectile issues with frustration instead of exploration – though I don’t know if that’s you or not, LW – is *also* possibly a crappy lover, no matter what they can do with their tongue, so… onwards)
    A partner who throws away love-letters, rather than sticking them in a comics-album, or taking scans of them, or otherwise finding a way to save them in a non-cluttery way, *first* is… not necessarily a crappy partner, but *is* clearly not a good partner *for YOU*.
    You’ve had “emotional affairs” which… don’t get me started on that business, but: if you’re defining those friendships as “affairs”, chances are it’s because you’ve got specifically romantic-relationship-based emotional needs that are not getting met in your current relationship.
    Things sound pretty dire, is what I’m saying.

    BUT. Your question wasn’t “Should I break up with my long-time boyfriend who just proposed?” It was: “Is there a way to ethically test-drive a new relationship while being monogamously partnered elsewhere?”

    So, to answer your question: No. There isn’t.

    Sorry.

    I think it’s maybe kind of telling that you presume such an answer could only come from a “purely puritanical” perspective. It’s like you’re trying to convince someone (possibly yourself?) that the only reason anyone would think considering such a thing was a bad idea was because the person making that judgement-call is clearly A Total Square.

    Oh, my dear. Listen. As a card-carrying sensual hedonist, here’s WHY the answer is No:

    Poly Anecdote Time!
    My wife and live in a house together. We share finances, and have to deal with each others dirty dishes and socks and crappy days at work and being-too-tired-for-romantic-date-stuff… all the time. Because we’re humans who share space *all the time*. My girlfriend (who, fyi, is 9 years younger than me – and my wife, who is 9 years older than me, is also dating this woman, so to address the age thing: It doesn’t have to be a big deal) lives with her primary partner in a different city. They, too, share finances and have to deal with each other’s dirty dishes, fatigue, and all the rest of it for exactly the same reasons.
    When she comes to visit us, or we go to visit her, we are also *on vacation* from “normal life”.
    We put the phone/laptop/etc down more readily when our sweethearts are close by. We pre-plan special outings and get excited together about impending date-weekends. Time with a partner who doesn’t live in the same house (regardless of whether it’s a long-distance relationship or not, actually) is Special Time. We tidy more thoroughly, and with less grousing about it, when we’re expecting beloved company whom we don’t get to see frequently. We leave behind, however temporarily, the stress of bills and work and vacuuming when we go to visit our far-away darlings. Even something as basic as grocery shopping takes on an air of rosey romance when it’s done during the few hours in a month that we get to share.

    And this is in a situation where we are not A Secret from each other’s “normal life”.

    When you *are* A Secret from the other person’s “normal life”…?
    Honey, when 90% of your lives (yep. I, too, can pull convenient statistics out of my own left ear) are being kept separate from each other – even ignoring the part where you’re both in monogamous relationships with other people – you aren’t actually having A Relationship in the sense of “Can I love this person through thick and thin and dirty socks, is this going to work long-term”.
    What you have is fantastic escapism: The constant yearning to be together! The thrill of potentially being found out! The all-consuming sexual desire! The intense conversations that you wish would never end!
    Fantastic Escapism is a billion times more interesting than some dude who you’re just not that into anymore… But it’s really, really NOT anything like a day-to-day relationship with someone who’s a full part of your life.

    THAT is why you can’t test drive a new relationship (ethically or otherwise) in the form of an affair.

    I think the Captain hit the nail on the head when she pointed out how you “no-longer feel [those things] […] for a guy who has (yes, finally) decided he wants to marry [you]”.
    Don’t marry someone you don’t want to marry. That way lies misery, resentment, and divorce (which is a lot more expensive – even in the most amicable situations – than just Breaking Up, even if you’ve been living together for half a decade).

    I don’t have a clue what a “breaking off the engagement” or “breaking up a thought-it-would-be-permanent relationship” script looks like. I’m crap at that stuff (see: why I spend so much time reading this site), but I think you will be a lot happier (and, hey, your boyfriend might be a lot happier, too!) if you end the relationship, sort out whose books are whose, and go your separate ways.

    Good luck.

    • This is a really excellent comment. Thank you for sharing your wonderful, hedonist perspective!

    • A++++++++, I wholeheartedly endorse this comment!

    • ashbet said:

      ^^^^YESYESYESYESYES!!! Fabulous comment!

      *fellow poly-hedonist fistbump*

      While my visits with my long-distance partners do include a decent amount of daily domestic stuff (by our choice — I’m a third parental figure to their child, so I do a lot of different kinds of helping out when I’m there, including making sure *they* get some couple-time without offspring), I am well aware that we don’t live together, and everyone’s time management and goodnatured pitching-in is for two weeks at a time, not forever.

      That may make it sound like I’m not committed (I am — 11 years with one, coming up on 8 with the other), but the relationships have a different tenor than my relationship with my beloved live-in partner. My long-distance partners and I *are* on vacation during my visits — sometimes literally (we sometimes take vacations together, and sometimes my live-in partner joins us), and we’re able to put certain aspects of life on hold while I’m there.

      My live-in partner and I have to deal with a chronically-ill cat, my adult daughter’s health issues, my health issues (she and I both have a genetic disorder that has disabling effects, and she is living at home while finishing college), routine medical stuff, laundry, dishes, housecleaning, my habit of collecting Too Much Stuff, dealing with finances and home maintenance . . . you name it.

      This is why he and I make a special effort to take some time away from home when we can — even if it’s just spending a night in a local hotel. We deserve that “special focused couple-time” feeling, too — and we try to make sure that we are maintaining a balance of love and romance and sexiness along with day-to-day stuff.

      We started out long-distance for about 4 years, and then we actually lived down the street from each other for a while, when we became local (I wanted some space of my own, but then Stuff Happened and we decided to share a household.) The last 3 years have been different — still good, but sharing domestic arrangements is different from the way things were with each of us having our own household to manage, and when we were able to have our time together be more “date-like” versus routine.

      But, yeah. You absolutely can’t tell what a live-in relationship is going to be like, if you’re going from a long-distance relationship . . . and that goes double for an affair.

      LW #738, you are trying to do the right thing. Figure out whether you want to be in a relationship with your boyfriend, separately from whether you’re interested in pursuing New Love Interest. And don’t have an affair with NLI, whether you’re with your current boyfriend/fiance or not — he needs to be honest with *his* girlfriend, and either ask for an open relationship or break up.

      BTW, if someone tells you that their partner is TOTALLY cool with them having other relationships/sex partners, I *strongly* advise checking in with their other partner directly. This is one way that I’ve seen people, especially dudes, dishonestly involve an innocent person into an affair with them, by claiming that their (oblivious) wife or girlfriend is okay with it.

      • syrens said:

        11 years with one, coming up on 8 with the other

        Congratulations! 😀 😀 😀

        Also, I hear you on deserving that “special focused couple-time” feeling, too. 🙂

        BTW, if someone tells you that their partner is TOTALLY cool with them having other relationships/sex partners, I *strongly* advise checking in with their other partner directly.

        YUP!

      • Mel Reams said:

        BTW, if someone tells you that their partner is TOTALLY cool with them having other relationships/sex partners, I *strongly* advise checking in with their other partner directly.

        This! Even totally well intentioned guys can get over excited about the shiny new maybe-partner and overstate what his partner is actually comfortable with. If you ask his partner directly what her limits are you may get a very, *very* different answer from when you ask the guy what his partner is okay with.

        • CJ said:

          Yep. And make sure you ask her when he isn’t around to inhibit her from telling you what she feels in her heart. Watch her body language very carefully to make sure that she is as cool with the idea as he says she is.

          Also, if the couple is new to open relationships and hasn’t really done the work on boundary setting, it’s up to you if you want to take the risk that the thing could blow up in your face. Sometimes new couples don’t really know what their boundaries are until one or both of them crosses that bridge with a third party.

        • Kathyn said:

          Definitely, ask directly and when your crush isn’t around. I recently had this chat with the primary partner of someone I’m flirting with and got “go right ahead, you two do whatever makes you happy”. Any sense of serious reservations and I’d have backed off. And even with relaxed goodwill all round, everyone is checking-in on boundaries etc.

  17. If I found out my partner was thinking the way you are thinking about your boyfriend, I would:

    1) be devastated
    2) be done

    … … (I hope I’d be done, anyway)

    I doubt many people (at least 60% of the ones reading here) would want to be the consolation prize of someone’s love and partnership life. If it’s time to be done with the person you are with, it’s okay to go.

    Lest you feel terrible about leaving here’s another perspective. How would you feel if you found out that current partner can tell you are about to call Time of Death on this relationship. Now, he’s decided to wheel out the paddles and defibrillate, when before he was letting things just go? Do you feel okay with that possibility, that they’re also thinking “LW is better than being alone?” I am not saying they are, but it’s probably wise to think about it.

    I also agree with commenters writing that your Interesting Friend sounds not a little shady. Or at least, unreliable. Cheating is not a secure or honorable way to test if things will work with someone else. It dehumanizes your partner, but you and Friend are also treating one another like commodities, too. Begin as you mean to go on, if you mean to go on. I like the script “I like you too, interesting friend. I broke up with Now-Ex because things aren’t right for us anymore. If you find yourself single, please call me and we can pick this conversation up again. Until then, we really do have to just be friends.”

    Good Luck, LW. I am pulling for you, despite my snide 60% jab, I promise.

  18. Let go said:

    Before you met the other guy were you satisfied in your relationship? If not then why not? If you want children you need to get real with the boyfriend. If he is never going to be able to father one how resentful will you be when you no longer have the option? I do not care how many babies are born to actresses in their 40s. Most of them used donor eggs. You have only a certain amount of time. Period! If this is something you want then you need to have a brutal conversation with your fellow. Just please don’t cheat on him. Break up with him before you even begin to look for someone else. If you love him and he satisfies you in every way but sexually then a sperm donor could be an option. There are so many people in the blogging world broken hearted because they were cheated on. Don’t do this to him.
    The other guy. How did the two of you go from zero to sixty that fast? Really suspect behavior.

    • Loky said:

      Well, women in their 40’s actually CAN have children. My mom is one of them, and several other mothers of friends that I’ve know…

      • Co-signing on this comment as a kid from a mum that was nearly 40 when she had me. Don’t jump on women for fertility stuff; wanting to leave is enough and starting a new relationship where the prospect of a family, whatever that looks like, is enough.

    • 33 isn’t old.

      Most of the mothers I know in my age group had their first child well after 30.

      Many women I know had multiple pregnancies after 40.

      Some after 50.

      None with donor eggs.

      • Good grief, yes. This was a Thing with my ex (part of why he is my ex!) as he informed me last year that at 33 I’d “missed our window” to have kids. Dafuq? My mom was 40 when she had my last sibling. HIS mom was 40 when she had him.

        Basically, append “… with you” to the statement and you’d have a better truth of the matter, but wow, you really don’t get to make decisions about someone else’s fertility, nevermind their method of wanting kids (fostering, adoption, and yes egg donors, surrogates, these are all Okay Choices for people to make).

        • What a lousy thing for him to’ve said.

        • purple0 said:

          There was a looong article in the Atlantic a little while back – wait, here it is: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/07/how-long-can-you-wait-to-have-a-baby/309374/ about how the “decline of fertility in your 30s” has been massively oversold because it’s based on old, weird information: time to conceive, assuming that you don’t have some other preexisting condition, basically equals one more day of sex a month to get there when you’re 38 as opposed to 30. (Which is significant if you’re, for instance, paying for sperm, but not if your partner just produces those for free).

      • I’m 33. I had my first child three months ago.

          • Thank you! 😀

      • Redgirl said:

        It can happen, for sure. Then again, my mother and my sister both finished menopause at 42. Not all women ARE capable of having kids in their 40s. I’m 44 and missing periods left and right, so I think my window is about closed.

        • Don’t assume you’re done, I’ve known people to be surprised

  19. Mir said:

    “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….A Francophile might respond, “oh course everything it’s natural.”

    I just need to point out that it’s not socially acceptable to cheat on your partner in France, either. Or the French speaking parts of Canada. I’m not really sure what you’re basing this comment on, but…no.

    As for your question, here’s an easy rule for you: anything you’d be uncomfortable with your current boyfriend knowing about, you shouldn’t do and hide from him. Easy!

    Right now, you’re trying to use your boyfriend as a backup plan, trying to keep him in your back pocket in case the more desirable, more exciting, but uncertain option doesn’t pan out. That’s not ethical. Don’t use human beings as backup plans! If you don’t want to be with him, you should leave. Not just for yourself, but out of respect for him. He deserves someone who wants him as their first choice.

    • Light said:

      A lot of people have this image of France as a place where someone can have a side-piece and their spouse elegantly accepts it and is philosophical while smoking Gauloises and drinking red wine.

      In reality, the French seem to understand that long-term monogamy can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean they’re cool with cheating.

      • I get the feeling that image was created by writers, artists, directors, and so forth who wanted to cheat on their spouses without repercussion and therefore tried to convince everyone that only uncool losers get upset about cheating.

        • Mary said:

          I am pretty sure you can substitute “wives” for “spouses”. This supposed tolerance for adultery wasn’t usually about women’s sexual autonomy.

        • Light37 said:

          Yeah, I think that image is heavily cinema-based. I doubt Madame Mitterand, for example, was all that thrilled with her husband’s mistress. Not to mention how being raised in intense secrecy messed with the daughter born of that affair’s head.

          • When She Was Good said:

            Yeeeees, but when he died, and his mistress went to his funeral, and people here in the US were shocked, I remember reading more than one article from French sources giving the whole thing a big shoulder shrug with comments about how they weren’t so provincial as USians and such things weren’t as big of a deal there. So yes, I agree that the LW is wrong that the French as a rule don’t care about affairs (although movies aren’t always an accurate reflection of cultural norms, even the French have movies showing unhappy people discovering their partner’s affair). But it’s easy to get that impression if you don’t speak French or consume French media, and not just from our movies, but also the expressed attitude of *some* French people who eager to show how much more mature and wordly they are than we prudish Americans. So I’m giving the LW the benefit of the doubt on that one.

          • When She Was Good said:

            I forgot to add that in any case, I took the LW’s comment to be referencing the stereotypical rich, white, trust fund kid who moves to Paris to live the live that he *imagines* French people lead, the type of person who wants others to be ok with their cheating because it’s not that big of a deal in other more advanced parts of the world.

    • Anothermous said:

      Yeah this part of the letter really ticked me off. I’ve spent extensive amounts of time in France, and speak fluent French, and couching a desire to cheat with “but the FRENCH! but the FRANCOPHILES!” is not only an insulting interpretation of French culture, but a pretty transparent attempt to rationalize behavior that the LW knows is shitty, so she doesn’t have to bluntly face the fact that she wants to cheat on her boyfriend.

      • Jane said:

        I imagine the LW was trying to create distance from the problem through humor, but this aside in the letter seems rather. . . er. . . puzzling, to me.

        From my experiences in various Francophile cultures, there certainly *are* different gender dynamics than in Anglo-American cultures (some good, some not so good)! But. . .

        FRANCE IS NOT A MAGICAL FAIRYLAND OF ENLIGHTENED SOCIAL MORES, FRENCH PEOPLE HAVE IN FACT ALL THE PROBLEMS AND ETHICAL CONFUSIONS OF EVERY OTHER HUMAN BEAN IN THE WORLD, and, in any case,

        NOBODY IN THIS SITUATION IS FRENCH.

        *unless your problem is related to having access to unpasteurized cheese, in which case it is probable that French people do not have this problem.

      • Nanani said:

        *applaudissements*

        Throwing a culture under the bus + ass-pull statistics make the LW sound like a much worse person than they probably are.

    • Queen of scarves said:

      Thank you! Glad I’m not the only one giving that aspect of the letter the side-eye.

      I was about to comment to say, wasn’t it in NYC that there was a high end hair/beauty salon in the mid-twentieth century where one of the services was making sure wives never ran into their husbands’ mistresses? Just because some sections of a society are pragmatic about adultery (usually in ways informed by power differentials) doesn’t mean it is actually condoned in that society.

  20. MsBorgia said:

    LW, I was you last year. I was in a 5-year relationship with a man I loved, and who loved me, but would not marry me and could not fulfill many of my emotional and sexual needs. I didn’t technically cheat on him (ugh, I feel so gross typing that), but I did explore my feelings for a coworker (side note: don’t do this.) and eventually broke up with BF to be in a relationship with Coworker.

    It. Did. Not. Work. Coworker ended up getting bored with me once the whole “oooh, we had a sort-of-affair and are now keeping things secret from our coworkers!” glow wore off. He broke up with me out of nowhere, leaving me blindsided, heartbroken AND terribly, terribly guilty about what I did to BF.

    BF did not deserve that end. He deserved to have me say, “BF, I love you and I’ve loved being with you, but this relationship is not what I need and I need us to end things.” (It’s been a year and I still feel terribly terribly guilty, but coming to forgive myself.)

    It sounds like you are in almost the exact same spot I was. I do not regret breaking up with BF, but I regret how it happened. I made the right decision for the wrong reason. So whether you stay with your man or decide to part ways, do it with a clear vision of what is good for YOU and kind to him.

  21. It seems to me that you’re asking two different questions, LW, and that those questions SHOULD be separate. A lot of other people, including the Captain, have picked up on your letter’s discontent with your boyfriend. Only you can say whether that impression is accurate, or just a symptom of Frustrated Typing (no judgement–I’ve been there), but it comes across very, very strongly in your letter.

    If it’s accurate, think long and hard about whether you want your relationship with your boyfriend to continue and under what circumstances, and whether there is a chance of attaining those circumstances. What work would you have to do, and are you willing to do it; and what work would he have to do, and do you believe that he would or could? Think about these things WITHOUT REFERENCE to New Interesting Guy. The fact of your feelings for New Guy are important, but the real-world possibilities for anything happening there are not relevant at this stage. It’s scary, but you DO NOT NEED to have another relationship lined up in order to end the one no longer making you happy.

    Short story: I didn’t realize how unhappy I was in my marriage until I developed a crush on someone else. The crush didn’t last, but it shined a bright light on all the things that I’d been ignoring, or that it hadn’t occurred to me to be unhappy about. I thought marriage was supposed to be a Certain Way, and it wasn’t until I was undeniably faced with my unhappiness that I realized I could want other ways. If this statement resonates with you, think hard about why.

    The question of New Interesting Guy can’t really be worked out until you’ve worked out the question of Current Guy. I agree with other commentors that a guy in a relationship declaring his love for someone else doesn’t give me a ton of confidence in him, but I also recognize that you are also a person in a relationship declaring love for someone else, and that many people have built rewarding, loving, lasting relationships out of somewhat sketchy beginnings. But I think it’s a bad, bad idea to base your decisions regarding your current relationship on your hopes for Possible Future Relationship.

    Good luck, LW. Take care of yourself. Be responsible for your own happiness, and don’t make yourself responsible for other people’s.

    • MsM said:

      This is pretty much everything I wanted to say. Relationships are discrete entities. Even if New Guy is a better partner for you than your boyfriend, that doesn’t mean he’s ultimately the right partner for you. You need to sort out whether your boyfriend is definitely the wrong one before you worry about what’s next.

  22. Aidan said:

    LW, I was you last year. I was in a 5-year relationship with a man I loved, and who loved me, but would not marry me and could not fulfill many of my emotional and sexual needs. I didn’t technically cheat on him (ugh, I feel so gross typing that), but I did explore feelings with a coworker (side note: don’t do this.) and eventually broke up with BF for Coworker.

    It. Did. Not. Work. Coworker ended up getting bored with me once the whole “oooh, we had a sort-of-affair and now we’re keeping things secret from our coworkers!” intrigue glow wore off. He broke up with me out of nowhere, leaving me blindsided, heartbroken AND feeling terribly, terribly guilty about what I did to BF.

    BF did not deserve that end. He deserved to have me say, “BF, I love you and I’ve loved being with you, but this relationship is not what I need and I need us to end things.” (It’s been a year and I still feel terribly terribly guilty.)

    It sounds like you are in the same spot I was. I do not regret breaking up with BF, but I regret how it happened. I made the right decision for the wrong reason. So whether you stay with your man or decide to part ways, do it with a clear vision of what is good for YOU and kind to him.

    • Nicole said:

      I will add one caveat as a person in a similar situation with a different outcome. The rest of the comments in this thread are spot on — you absolutely cannot “test drive” a new relationship from your current one just like you can’t drive two cars simultaneously. Having an affair or a flirty whatever is NOT the same as a relationship, and the affair part does inherently contain all the shiny, exciting, lusty newness that your present relationship does not.

      I fully realize that I continue to rationalize away my bad behavior as a person who did not see the warning signs and did not press the eject button soon enough… That said, I did end up leaving Current Partner for Coworker. In my situation, thankfully, things continue to work out and we are finally happily living together. I know it doesn’t always end up as such, but it CAN work if you two BOTH really want to be with each other. You do owe it to your Current Partner to end things cleanly if you can. It’s easier and kinder on everyone involved.

      As others here have suggested, LW, please think about your happiness through all scenarios. Personally, I took the plunge with Coworker because I knew that even if once I cut the cord with Current Partner if he had said “No, thanks, this was fun but I’m over it now” I STILL would have been immeasurably happier without CP, alone. Envisioning my future without him, regardless of Coworker’s ultimate choice, gave me a sense of a HUGE weight being lifted. See what you can do about exploring those visions; they might help you better figure out where to land.

      • 30ish said:

        It worked out for me, too (though with a misguided open relationship as the context where the new relationship began, not with cheating), but I feel I was really lucky, and I paid a pretty high emotional price for a while (so did the other people involved, particularly my ex) and I would never recommend it. But I agree with you that sometimes the new relationship can actually work out, even if it started in a fraught and ethically wrong way. Have seen it happen several times. The reasons against doing it really have more to do with personal integrity and ethics as well as reducing unnecessary pain, which should be reason enough.

      • therufs said:

        As an aside, I’m henceforth mentally replacing “polyamorous” with “has wicked multi-car-driving skills”. ^^

  23. MJ said:

    This answer is SO well-written. Like… they all are? But this one is just logical and beautiful and funny all at once. Blunt and kind. It gives me writing goals.

  24. sarahjaneb said:

    Not that this wasn’t all good advice (it certainly was) but I feel like you kind of buried the lede. Sunk cost seems like a hyooooge factor here!

  25. Yeah, do not cheat, please.

    I would like to say, in response to option #2–

    “You could talk to your partner about opening up the relationship and see what happens”–

    Asking to open the relationship with your long-term partner while you already have another partner in mind, *especially* if you’ve already established that you and crush are mutually interested in each other, may be something your current partner perceives as pretty threatening and painful. (Speaking as someone to whom this happened, it is really easy in this situation to feel as if you’re someone’s security blanket, rather than a person with feelings that matter.) If asking to open still sounds appealing to you, I highly suggest you listen to this podcast first– the person who produced it is polyamorous, and she talks in detail about why this is not the proper order of operations. Among other things, making big decisions while neurochemicals are complicating your ability to think clearly sometimes leads people to do things they regret. If you have any interest in preserving your current relationship, neither haste nor stealth is your friend: http://polyweekly.com/2014/10/pw-405-testing-the-poly-waters-with-a-monogamist/

    Also, if you decide that you do not want to be with current partner any longer– and that is kind of what it sounds like to me– there are less flame-throwing ways to break up than either cheating *or* asking someone you’re not actually that enthusiastic about to stand by while you date other people.

    • slfisher said:

      “Asking to open the relationship with your long-term partner while you already have another partner in mind, *especially* if you’ve already established that you and crush are mutually interested in each other, may be something your current partner perceives as pretty threatening and painful.”

      I have to agree with this, but it sounds like that ship has sailed.

      • Oh, yes– I agree with you on the sailed ship. It’s just that understatement is my trope (and also the way in which I am trying to keep my own ongoing painful feelings where they belong, and not on LW).

    • Shahmeran said:

      “Asking to open the relationship with your long-term partner while you already have another partner in mind, *especially* if you’ve already established that you and crush are mutually interested in each other, may be something your current partner perceives as pretty threatening and painful. (Speaking as someone to whom this happened, it is really easy in this situation to feel as if you’re someone’s security blanket, rather than a person with feelings that matter.) If asking to open still sounds appealing to you, I highly suggest you listen to this podcast first– the person who produced it is polyamorous, and she talks in detail about why this is not the proper order of operations. Among other things, making big decisions while neurochemicals are complicating your ability to think clearly sometimes leads people to do things they regret.”

      Sounds familiar. I was nearly 10 years into my marriage to a wonderful man when he began to show symptoms of Ye Olde Midlife Crisis. We were also going through a tough period in our marriage as a result of a constellation of unfamiliar stressors related to career, homeownership, and my chronic illness. Both of us felt overwhelmed with our responsibilities.

      My husband really needed an escape from the stress, so he reached out to a new-to-him spiritual community where lifestyles were less conventional and represented the polar opposite of the lives we were currently leading. In the euphoric honeymoon period of “finding religion”, he met a polyamorous woman (hereinafter referred to as “Paula”) with whom he immediately clicked. She came to represent his escape from the stressors in his life, and he began investing all of his emotional energy in her.

      Neither my husband nor I had any experience with any sort of open relationship, nor had we ever discussed it. Yet I have enough common sense to know that one doesn’t resolve existing challenges in a marriage by introducing a third party, especially when both spouses are not enthusiastic and consenting.

      When my husband posed the idea to me, his decision had already been made. I could agree to the open relationship, or we could divorce. At the time, I remember feeling like I was making a concession at gunpoint.

      Paula represented that segment of the poly community that regards all adults (married or single) as free agents who are fair game for flirting and relationships. In other words, she did not feel responsible for any impact her presence might cause to a new sweetie’s existing spouse or significant other. By Paula’s way of thinking, her relationship was with the man, not his family.

      The more I networked in the poly community to educate myself, it became clear that my husband’s relationship with Paula didn’t seem to mirror those of the polyamorous folks whom I had come to know. In fact, over time his relationship seemed to resemble a good ol’ fashioned extramarital affair, filled with secrecy, lies, gaslighting, and the management of both Paula’s reality and my own.

      In fact, my husband went to extraordinary efforts to ensure that Paula’s world and mine never mixed. Not to ensure her comfort, but to keep his stress to a minimum, his lies straight, and the world spinning in greased grooves. He badmouthed Paula to me (and me to her) to create a situation where neither of us would ever want to meet each other. Thus, both Paula and I shaped our realities and made life plans based on what we were told about the nature and future of our respective relationships with him.

      There came a point in time when I told my husband that I was hurting too bad to go on, and the affair must end. The emotional deprivation was just killing me. No matter how much I reached out, all of his energy seemed to be reserved for this shiny new relationship.

      There also came a point in time when Paula informed him that she really wanted a marriage-minded relationship with him. She insisted that he divorce me given how miserable his marriage seemed to be making him. That way, they both could chart a new future together unencumbered by other partners and have a family of their own before her childbearing years were up.

      Suddenly, my husband was getting it from all sides. He felt panicked, trapped, and painted into a corner. Because at his core he is a man of integrity, he was self-destructing under the weight of his dishonesty and having to constantly juggle what he told to whom and when. And he began to realize that managing the realities of the two women in his life whom he both professed to love was not really so loving after all. I was hurting, Paula was hurting, and he was the ringmaster at the center of it all.

      My husband’s self-loathing progressed to the point where he became impotent. He honestly came to believe that he was the ultimate piece of shit and deserved nothing good from anyone. And all that he was capable of was hurting the people he cherished most. On New Year’s Eve 2007, he took his life.

      Paula found his body. She’s been in therapy and on meds ever since. I hear she found a new sweetie and they are now cohabiting.

      My ability to trust anyone is thoroughly shot. We’re talking about a life-altering shift in consciousness here, where it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s true anymore. I don’t anticipate seeking another relationship at this stage of life. I’m too burned out from being bankrupted by all the debt my husband left behind, losing our family home to foreclosure, and having to rebuild from scratch (what was once a stellar) credit history. These days, I can’t even get an apartment without a cosigner. I’ve got bigger fish to fry than grieving for the marriage and husband I lost.

      Moral of story? This cheating stuff is nothing to trifle with. It destroys the lives of good people. Neither Paula nor I deserved to have that emotional injury inflicted upon us.

      • misspiggy said:

        I’m so very sorry. I hope things improve for you.

      • slfisher said:

        Oh man. What an awful story. I’m so sorry.

      • Commander Banana said:

        I am so incredibly sorry. I can’t imagine the weight of the burden you are carrying and my heart goes out to you.

      • That was a terrible series of experiences he put you two through. I’m so sorry.

      • Emily said:

        I’m very sorry about all you’ve been through.

      • All the gentle thoughts to you. I am so sorry for what you’ve been through.

      • roramich said:

        I am so deeply sorry about this experience. Thank you for sharing.

      • B said:

        Oh my god. How absolutely terrible for you. I am so sorry you’ve had to live through that.

      • ashbet said:

        I am so, so incredibly sorry. My heart goes out to you.

        Thank you for sharing this very difficult and heartfelt comment — you’re creating some serious perspective on just how bad things can get in a situation like this.

        *Jedi hugs if they are welcome*

        And, yeah. As a poly woman, I can’t STAND the “everyone is a free agent, nobody has to worry about consequences to their metamours or their partners’ families” line of bullshit. Your story is an extreme case, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen people with this attitude creating huge amounts of destruction and pain. Paula isn’t solely at fault, your late husband absolutely made some bad choices — but that attitude certainly contributed to the harm that was caused to you.

      • Shahmeran said:

        Thanks for your kind words, everyone. Every little bit helps.

        The one good thing that came out of my husband’s death is that I finally had the opportunity to discover the degree to which both my reality and Paula’s had been managed. Because I was the surviving spouse, I had access to all of my husband’s computers and was able to clarify what was truth and what was not.

        In most situations, the truth is never as bad as what one can imagine. This wasn’t one of those situations.

        The first discovery was the secret credit cards that allowed him to finance his affair, which contributed to the debt that I inherited.

        Access to my husband’s email accounts, online calendars, and journals allowed me to witness the evolution of his deteriorating emotional state as he wrote about his feelings related to the affair and his dishonesty. And through his email and calendars, it was pretty easy to match up how he was really spending his time, regardless of what he told the women in his life. It must have taken all of his energy to manage a secret life that was so logistically complex, with one lie propping up yet another.

        While it was painful to read their email exchanges and shared calendars, I would rather know the ugly truth than continue to live with the reality that had been manufactured for me. Paula will never have that opportunity, and will probably live out the rest of her days not knowing that she too was duped.

        The only break she got was the opportunity to walk away and grieve at her own pace. Because she wasn’t financially merged with him as I was, her home, finances, and credit history remained unaffected. The only mess she was required to clean up was the one in her broken heart after having lost her beloved. I was married to him, so therefore got stuck with the whole shebang.

  26. It sounds like you resent your fiance for making you wait for so long, and you’re latching onto this other guy out of dissatisfaction – because he isn’t just hot and fun, he’s proactive. He’s not the kind of guy who makes you wait years for a proposal! He doesn’t even wait until he’s done dumping his last girlfriend to ask you out!

    But it sounds like you are extremely gunshy, because you are not only a woman on the verge of an exciting love affair. You’re also a woman sitting in the shambles of what she thought was going to be a lifelong romance.

    So you want passion, but also complete assurance. Like Outlander, except with less flogging and general depredation. (That was what I loved about that series, by the way – it showed what might actually happen if a woman were transported into the pages of a bodice-ripper. Terrible things, mostly.) You’re describing a paradox:

    “Like Jamie, except, you know, stable. A breadwinner.”

    “You’ve seen Titanic, right? I want that, except imagine if Jack had survived and he and Rose had opened a B&B in Point Reyes.”

    You’re taking refuge in this idea as a fairytale romance – one where nobody does any work on the relationship ever, but everything comes together perfectly.

    There’s no way to predict whether a relationship will be forever. That would be true even if you could simply date this guy, if both of you weren’t with other people, if you were engaged to him.

    But even though you can’t go out and hunt down certainty, you can find someone you are truly and deeply in love with. “I want him to know how to find my clitoris, but also how to find a good tax preparer,” is feasible! You can find a guy who is homey – and, you know, available – and also passionate and romantic about you.

    The only hard truth you need to accept is that right now, neither of your prospects fits that mold. One you don’t love, and the other you can’t trust. (I mean, you shouldn’t trust him. He’s dating another person. Jen is right – it doesn’t make him a cheater in some essential way, but it does mean that he isn’t offering you anything worthwhile at this present time. And if you do wind up dating this guy, when he is good and single, try not to frontload the relationship with so much expectation. It might fizzle. That doesn’t mean it will be a waste of time.)

  27. Swistle said:

    I will just say this: that starting a new relationship “just to see,” while still in another relationship, was, for me, like starting a section of the house on fire to compare it to the fire already burning steadily in the fireplace. I thought it would stay in control like the one in the fireplace did, but it did not. I thought the two could be lined up side by side for comparison, but they could not. And trying the second fire destroyed the setting for the first one.

  28. CJ said:

    Awesome letter and advice, CA. In a world where so many minimize the impact of cheating as a way to justify their behavior, it was heartening to see you address the very real issue of informed consent. An affair is not just the cheater’s business — it’s the business of everyone who may be impacted by that decision.

    There is also the old saying, “If he’ll do it with you, he’ll do it to you”. If the LW’s new guy is willing to cheat on his girlfriend in order to start a relationship with the LW, what’s to say that he will treat the LW any better should a shiny new attraction appear on the horizon?

  29. tatertots said:

    Dear LW,

    I think what you are asking is: How can I win the lottery without buying any tickets?

    The answer is: You can’t.

    The way to test-drive a relationship, unfortunately, is by dating – aka, being in the relationship. As other people have pointed out, you cannot determine what being in a relationship with Mr. Young Interesting will be like while still in a relationship with Mr. Good Enough Maybe. You want to know whether a relationship with Mr. Young will be better than your relationship with Mr. Good Enough, which would then justify leaving Mr. Good Enough. But I think you need to first figure out whether Mr Good Enough really is good enough for you.

    It can be scary, letting go of what feels like a sure thing for something uncertain. But all of life is uncertain, so really all you can do is measure everything by how you feel about it/him, and not how it/him stacks up against another it/him.

  30. I’d put it this bluntly: Mr Interesting is probably not a good pick. Test-driving a relationship by having an affair is a daft move.

    Why? Well, purely from a logical perspective, the best relationships are built on a foundation of mutual trust, where each partner is willing to trust the other.

    What do you learn about a person from having an affair with them? Well, primarily you learn they can’t be trusted with monogamy. You learn they are willing to cheat, to lie to at least one other person (the person they’re supposed to be telling the truth to), and to be selfish about their own needs and prioritize those over the needs of their partner, or the needs of their relationship. Oh, and they learn the same things about you.

    It’s not a very good foundation to build from.

    With regards to your current partnerboyfriend, I’d suggest you let him know you’re not interested in marriage, because by now, it’s clear you aren’t. You’re looking for excuses to leave, and more particularly you’re looking for excuses to leave where you won’t look like The Bitch. (Given which, can I point out an affair is an absolutely daft idea there, too? An affair makes you look like The Bitch From Hell). But the spark has gone, the comfort has gone, and you’re stuck in this boring relationship which doesn’t fulfil you and seems to be mainly built around what Boyfriend prefers.

    All of which are perfectly reasonable reasons to quit the relationship, but they don’t come without risk.

    Now, you can marry Boyfriend, and settle down to a life much like the current one, of sexual frustration and “emotional infidelity” where you almost-but-not-quite cheat on him with a variety of male friends, and carry on that wonderfully miserable pattern for anything up to fifty years. There are hundreds of similarly miserable marriages around the world, and you certainly wouldn’t be unique in having one. The question I’d be asking you, though, is firstly whether you’d want to, and secondly, why?

  31. Kris said:

    Everything the Captain said was pretty much perfect. But I just have to ask… why do so many people think the options are between Partner(A) or Partner(B)? Is it so much more terrible to be alone than it is to be with someone you’re thinking about leaving for someone else? And not just someone else, but someone else that you’re trying to line-up on standby so you don’t have to spend a single second being labeled as single again? I mean, I’m not oblivious. I get how this happens. But it hurts me every time I read about people clinging to relationships as if the absence of one is a definitive sign of personal failing. Meanwhile, I can’t help but notice the giant red flag waving in the wind, with the words “Free Yourself” emblazoned on the front.

    As an aside: I realize, as an advice column, that there’s going to be a lot of relationship questions (and tbh, there is a pretty good variety of questions here on CA). And emotions are hard to get a handle on, and hard to see from the inside; hence the need for a second opinion. But in a much better world, wouldn’t it be great if there were more women asking how to get ahead and achieve their dreams in the world, instead of how to get a guy to marry them?

    • MK said:

      From what I can tell, most people are thinking the LW should end her relationship and NOT get involved with the new guy, so I really don’t understand where you get the A or B dilemma.Also,

      A) In my humble opinion, there are far too many people obsessed with “getting ahead” already. The world might be a better place if less men were focused on that, not more women. I resent the implication that I would be failing the world (or, I guess, feminism?), if I wasn’t ambitious.

      B) Having a successful marriage (or a happy personal/romantic life in general) is a perfectly valid dream. Also, in this day and age, it seems to be more difficult that climbing Everest and some people like the challenge. Everyone gets to decide what the focus of their life should be.

      C) There are plenty of women asking advice on “how to get ahead and achieve their dreams in the world”, but, being reasonably smart, they are asking not an internet columnist, but those already successful in their fields. I have every intention to end my career as a judge in my country’s supreme court. With all due respect to the Captain, I don’t think she can offer me much insight on how to pursue that goal.

      • MsM said:

        I read Kris’s comment as applying to people in general, not commenters. And assuming I’m interpreting that correctly, I agree: the reason this situation comes up so much in the first place is because people seem to think they’re not justified in ending a relationship that’s no longer working unless they know they’ve got something better on the horizon, when that really shouldn’t be the case.

    • Commander Banana said:

      As an aside, your aside felt both unnecessary and more than a little cruel. And irrelevant.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      The LW has presented their situation as a choice between Partner A and Partner B, but if look again I think you’ll notice that most people have pointed out it’s very much NOT the case.

    • EllenS said:

      I assume they ask those questions on Captain Career Advancement . com

      • Kelly L. said:

        There’s Ask a Manager for that!

        • therufs said:

          +1 000 000

      • 30ish said:

        Plus, the Captain actually gives a fair amount of advice that’s not related to romantic relationships, including some awesome stuff on how to identify red flags in a potential employer (one of the posts I remember best).

        • Yes! And family and roommates and all kinds of stuff.

      • Mel Reams said:

        Yep. And for all we know LW is kicking ass and taking names in her career and came to Captain Awkward because difficult relationship decisions are the one thing she’s not totally badass at.

  32. Panda Bandit said:

    LW, you are not happy with your boyfriend and for that reason alone I think it’s time to end the relationship. You are not leaving for New Guy, but for yourself. There’s no love in the way you describe your boyfriend.

  33. Muffin said:

    I just want to flag something that popped out at me in your letter, LW, which you said of your current partner: he has “a ceaselessly patient attitude with my irregularities/failings.”

    This could be nothing, but I want to tell you that this is something I have said more than once when I was in a relationship with somebody who actually made me feel terrible about myself. “Patience with my failings” is never high on the list of things I like about my partner when they make me happy; then it’s stuff like “makes me feel beautiful” or “loves to sing with me.” It’s not “puts up with how terrible I am,” which is what this sounds like, and LW, if Partner is making you feel like you’re terrible and need patience… then that’s not someone who’s nurturing your soul in the way a partner should.

    I say this not only because I support Team Breakup, but also to point out that this might be part of why New Guy is so attractive: if you’re in a situation where your everyday partner is making you feel like you’re “irregular” (??? as opposed to what? You’re fine the way you are, please believe that)– well, I think the friendly attentions of a nice young man probably feel WAY AMAZING in contrast, and might be coloring your decision / might explain why this feels so fast and intense.

    Anyway, I may entirely be barking up the wrong tree, but I just wanted to say all that in case it’s how you were feeling.

    • Yeeeah, that’s something that jumped out at me too. I didn’t know how to articulate it, but… yeah.

    • atma said:

      SO much agreement!

    • ThatGirl said:

      I have occasionally thanked my husband for “putting up with me” because I recognize that I am human, flawed, sometimes a pain in the ass. And he sometimes thanks me for the same. And I think in long-term relationships it’s important to be able to recognize that sort of thing. It’s not realistic to believe that the sun shines out of your ass and you never do anything wrong.

      BUT if you feel like you are constantly disappointing your partner, or living in fear of that, or that nothing you do (even totally innocuous things) is quite the right thing — that’s a huge warning sign that you’re with the wrong person. Because I agree that partners should, on balance, make each other feel loved and valued and enjoyable to be around. If that’s not happening, it’s a bad sign.

      • syrens said:

        +1

  34. Consolaré said:

    I still think the most important consideration is hurting the other woman who LW knows. (But even if she’s never met her…) Are there so few attractive younger men around that women can’t find one who isn’t taken? Not a good way to make a change.

    • sunshine said:

      Absolutely. If LW is so close to cheating on her own BF, seems she’d have a way easier time justifying cheating with Mr. Interesting on his GF… even if she does the right thing by her own guy.

      But cheating with Mr. Interesting on his GF would still be wrong and immoral, for all the reasons that cheating on her own BF is wrong and immoral: It is an act of intentionally devastating another human being (knowing that your actions are harming someone and continuing to do them), deceiving the GF, distorting her reality, endangering her life, controlling/ exerting power over her (knowledge is power), etc, etc. This is true, whether or not she knows the GF (not knowing a victim doesn’t make it ok), and whether or not the GF finds out (LW would still be harming GF’s relationship, distorting her reality, etc, etc).

      There is a reason why LW doesn’t want to cheat/ doesn’t want to see herself as someone who would cheat. Deep down, it’s a super ugly thing to do to anyone, not just a loved one. But very easy to find yourself on that slippery slope…

  35. Karyn said:

    As Dan Savage might say, you are this close to slamming your hand on the Eject button. Do it, and do it without lining up Exciting New Possible Boyfriend, without smooching on him or whatever. Just break up with this man who is not doing it for you. Eject.

  36. Mel Reams said:

    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).

    LW, I’m hoping this thought experiment might help you decide (and oh god I feel you about analysis paralysis): if you could somehow see the future and know for an absolute certainty that things would not work out with Mr Interesting would that make you sincerely happy with your current boyfriend?

    • Good question!

    • Nicole said:

      A++ question to ask.

    • lilisonna said:

      I would also add this thought experiment: you had seven years in which you could have proposed to boyfriend. Why didn’t you?

  37. Anisoptera said:

    Hey LW – in the parts where I live there’s a phrase for what you’re proposing – it’s called building a raft. As in, “I was working really hard on saving the relationship and all the while he/she/zie was building a raft”. You know, the raft of another relationship to sail away from this one on – it’s not generally a good thing. (Assuming, as the Captain says, a non-abusive situation)

    Cheating on your partner is unethical. It just is, full stop. This isn’t being prudish or insufficiently French, I say this as someone who spent her entire 20s as polyamorous. The Captain has listed many good reasons for why it’s a problem. Don’t do it.

    I would also caution against opening up the relationship (should your current boyfriend consent) just to test out a relationship with another person to see if you want to leave your current person for them. Polyamory or open relationships are about staying in the current relationship and adding other people, not a trial phase for breaking up – well, at least they should be. I have in fact been on the receiving end of someone who was using polyamory as a way to find someone he wanted to be with more than me (because we were unhappy and had many problems) and it was awful – all that trust and all that effort to be understanding and patient on my part only to discover he was, as I said above, building a raft. 😦

    You have one important question before you deal with any questions about Mr Interesting, and that’s do you want to still be with your current boyfriend? In what capacity (monogamous, non-monogamous)? It sounds like you don’t. Find out if you’re even available (you probably are, because you sound to me like you probably want to break up with your current dude). Then you can look at other options. Hopefully if (when) that happens you’ll choose to get together with people who are also available, and not, for example, cheating on their girlfriends. :-/

    I’m sorry if this seems judgemental, because it’s not meant to be. I did cheat once when I was a lot younger, so I know it happens, I know how it happens. It’s just a terrible idea and you don’t need to do it. :-/

    • Muddie Mae said:

      “Prudish or insufficiently French” sounds like a fun surrealist party game.

      • PBnoJ said:

        A+, would want to play or at least watch others play this game.

      • Anisoptera said:

        Now that you mention it, it does… o_0

    • Muddie Mae said:

      Also, I have to co-sign the recommendation to not open up the relationship. In my similarly doomed relationship outlined below we tried the same thing. It wasn’t a complete fiasco, but it was absolutely false hope, and probably dragged out the end by at least a year.

      • I was the first or second person a guy dated in a similar situation (I didn’t realize this at the time I agreed to go out or I would have told him to take a hike), and as far as I can tell they DID implode. I was long gone–there was a moment when he tried to tell me what to do and informed me that he and his wife and the couple they were boning had had a meeting and decided that I wasn’t allowed to do X thing, and I told him that nobody [vulgar modifier] tells me what to do, and subsequently invited him to gather up his quorum and descend to the depths of hell with them all.

        None of this, LW, is a good look. For anybody.

    • miss_chevious said:

      We call it “back burnering” in my circle of friends because we have one former friend who was always lining up the next boyfriend before the prior relationship was over, like simmering a side dish when the main course isn’t done cooking. In no situation did any of her relationships end on good terms, and we all started to doubt her sincerity about everything because she would be totally in love with Main Course one day and then, by the next week, be totally in love with New Main Course (formerly Back Burner). Eventually, she back burnered a guy we liked better than her, and we kept him instead.

      TL; DR — if you’re going, go. Don’t build a raft or back burner. Make a clean break.

  38. atma said:

    “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.”

    This stood out to me. (Except the the not-proposing thing for what it’s worth) My read on this? The boyfriend has logicked you into thinking this shrinking sterile place is the reasonable best thing you can expect, what with all your failings and all. It makes me feel cold inside, it is so harsh.

    I of course do agree that , in the specific situation, it is probably not a good idea to get out by cheating. It won’t make you feel better about yourself, and the shiny new guy and the new relationship-energy are not a good foundation to build anything. But what stands out is the risk you run of shrinking yourself to this person who’s grateful that her boyfriends tolerates her. No one should have to live like that. Yes, the general energy in this thread is that you don’t seem to be about to make a good choice based on good, respectful actions. Please don’t take it to mean that you, as a person deserves less in life.

    Maybe you’re not perfect (who is?), but right now I don’t like your boy friend very much.

    The good news is that you don’t have to cheat (emotionally or otherwise) to get to a better place. Please put some time and energy into looking after yourself and be kind to yourself.

    Also, you’re 33. That is not at all very old, lots of life ahead of you!

    • roramich said:

      +1 to this comment. Very compassionate to the LW.

    • Muffin said:

      Yes, this is really well put. “you run [the risk] of shrinking yourself to this person who’s grateful that her boyfriends tolerates her” — that jumped out at me too.

  39. Anne Shirley said:

    Oh, hi LW. I really feel empathy for you, because I sunk-costed my way through five years of a relationship that probably could have ended organically and respectfully after two. And after those five years, three weeks after moving in with my boyfriend? I found myself in a similar situation as you, except Mr. Interesting was a dear, close friend of many years, and after a come-to-Jesus talk with my bff I realized I couldn’t keep ignoring that I preferred Mr. Interesting’s company to my boyfriend’s, was happier when he was around, we had so many compatible interests, we could communicate without words, etc. My boyfriend was wonderful on paper and treated me with kindness, thoughtfulness, and respect, but there were a lot of things about our relationship that were Not Right For Me that I was wiling to overlook in the name of “sunk cost” or “relationships take work” or whatever you want to call it. He wanted different, incompatible things from a family/career/staying in our hometown forever than I did. He had a way of communicating anger or displeasure in a way that was much like my alcoholic father in a way that triggered extreme codependent behavior in me. He over-sexualized me, and the sex was not that great. Again, none of these things by themselves killed out relationship, but they could have. I worked hard to pretend that because we loved each other, it was okay if we were unhappy sometimes.

    When I forced myself to consider Mr. Interesting, since I knew I couldn’t pursue him within my relationship, I asked myself what this crush told me about my existing relationship. That I was bored? Definitely. That my boyfriend and I were not learning to communicate displeasure/conflict in a mutually workable way? Yes. That I felt drawn to someone with more in common? For sure. And most importantly, would I consider breaking up with my boyfriend assuming that I would never ever get together with Mr. Interesting? For me, the answer was still yes. In the end, it was a Dear Sugar column that convinced me that I couldn’t go on burning my light at 75% when I was meant and born to live love and be loved being myself at 100%.

    The shitty part? I was still too scared to break up with my boyfriend. Just straight-up scared. Of nothing in particular but of everything: of losing mutual friends, or hurting someone I cared about, of losing my #1 Team Me, of losing what had become my family, of being uncomfortable. So I did it. I cheated on my boyfriend. And I told myself all those things the Captain lists in order to convince myself that I was an exception to the rule. And it did exactly what I needed it to do: it got me past the point-of-no-return and because I was ashamed of myself I forced myself to do the thing I should have done long ago. We broke up the next day. I really, really wish I had had the strength to make that decision without forcing myself into it. Breaking up was the right thing to do. Cheating because I lacked the internal motivation to do it without “sinning” was not.

    Breaking up with him was hard, so so so hard. It’s still hard (a year later) sometimes, but not very often. I occasionally miss his company, and frequently miss his family (and his dog!!). Un-moving in together RIGHT after signing a less was no less than terrible. Negotiating jealousy and sadness among mutual friends and new girlfriends was bitter and sad. It was lonely. But I found a real, true joy and being by myself and developing Who I Am, and even as I did begin to spend more time with Mr. Interesting, being my own Source of Peace and Happiness rather than looking to suck it up from someone else has brought me a lot of mental stability and happiness. And I hope that for you, too.

    • roramich said:

      hugs if you want them.

  40. Commander Banana said:

    Oh man.

    LW, I have been you. With some minor variations, but I have been you. If I can be one person’s cautionary tale, maybe some good can come out of what I went through.

    Firstly, this: 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.

    [Caveat – this has been raised elsewhere on the thread, I am not going to get into the whole discussion of the definition of sex, because the LW has said “no sex for 4 years,” so I’m just going to go with her letter, which states that she and her boyfriend are not having whatever they/she consider[s] sex. If their sex life was satisfying for the LW, she probably wouldn’t have mentioned this. Other posters here may be completely fine with not having “sex” in their relationships and that is 100% valid, but the LW does not seem fine with this.]

    These are not minor things. These are major things. The not-sex-thing is huge. Granted (see above) there are a myriad of other ways to experience intimacy and physical satisfaction in a relationship, but because you mentioned this, I am just going to run on the assumption that you are unhappy with your sex life and you have been for a long time. I don’t know what discussions you’ve had or haven’t had with your partner, I don’t know whether the two of you have pursued other avenues, but I’m writing this that while your partner may “meet your emotional and cuddling needs” you are not getting some other needs met.

    You mentioned him throwing out your love letters, so I am also going on the assumption that this one action is sort of a symptom of a bigger problem. It is ok not to like clutter. It is not ok to throw away a partner’s treasured possessions because you don’t like clutter. Assuming this is part of a larger pattern of behavior, this goes from “I don’t like clutter” to “I don’t care that you own things you value, I will get rid of them anyway.”

    Re: the whole marriage proposal thing, I SO get this. And this is coming from someone who isn’t sold on the idea of marriage anyway and is ok with the idea of never getting married. Marriage isn’t the One True Way and isn’t the right way for a lot of people (probably myself included) but I dated someone for nearly a decade who just couldn’t quite ever make up his mind about me, but at the same time didn’t want to leave the comfort of our relationship.

    I stuck it out in that relationship for probably 2 years longer than I should have. There were a lot of reasons for this – we’d been together so long, no one else knew me as well as he did, he wasn’t a bad guy, he was kind and gentle, the idea of having to date again was frightening, etc. etc.

    And, a big part of this was that I had a major depressive episode about a year before our relationship finally ended and he was an amazing support through the whole thing. I felt that I couldn’t leave someone who had been with me at my worst just because I had gotten better. Who else would love me despite my depression? Who else would come visit me in the hospital every day? Who else would let me cry on them for hours for no reason other than the chemical storm in my head?

    The answer, LW, is that a lot of people wouldn’t. A lot of people I met after we finally separated would vanish when I told them about my mental illness. And that’s ok, and I lived through it, and I realized that the people who were afraid of the actual me and only wanted to best-version-of-me were not worth my time.

    But there are people who will. There were people who will. Irregularities and failings? My god, I am basically one giant irregularity and failing. But staying in a dying relationship out of inertia and fear didn’t make anything better. It just made it worse.

    I don’t know what Mr. Interesting will do. No one does. There are a myriad of possibilities, from living happily ever after to him losing interest once you are actually a viable relationship possibility and not an elusive thing he can’t actually be with, to you having a few months of torrid romance that fizzles out, to him proposing to his girlfriend and not to you. The only way to find out is to actually leave your boyfriend and try for a relationship with Mr. Interesting. Or have an affair with Mr. Interesting. And if you do, to accept the consequences and potential fallout from either course of action.

    I don’t want to go all Ask Polly on you, but a relationship that’s overall emotionally positive is great. But that’s kind of the baseline for what a relationship should be. That doesn’t mean that that’s the best you can hope for, and that’s the best you should settle for.

    I’d like to also point out that I find the timing of your boyfriend’s proposal suspect. He’s now on board with marrying you now that you’re covered in a little bit of sparkle from Mr. Interesting? Does he sense that you’re pulling away? Does he WANT to marry you, or is this just one more concession, like so many of the grudging concessions I got, to keep you there a bit longer?

    LW, the only way to ethically handle this is to break up with your partner and ask Mr. Interesting if he wants to break up with his and pursue something with you. It’s high-stakes, yeah. But even if you did that and Mr. Interesting is suddenly Mr. Not Interested, you’ll be free to romance all the other potential Mr. Interestings, instead of staying inside a relationship that you don’t seem happy or fulfilled in.

    I would call that a win.

    • And furthermore, is he actually going to marry you? Or is he just going to coast along on the engagement for a few years while you “save up” for and “plan” a wedding that will never actually happen?

      There’s a thing people do, in unhappy relationships they don’t want to end for whatever reason, where they promise the thing they know will make you stay, and then it turns out that jam is always tomorrow and never today. My late husband, despite me asking him several times to just be straight with me about whether he wanted a child or not so I could make an informed decision about how much it mattered to me, told me for years (eight of them, at least) that now was a bad time but he really wanted to have a baby with me, and probably next year. When he died, we were still together (though I was beginning to come to the conclusion that leaving was going to be necessary for my happiness), and I never did have a kid.

  41. Muddie Mae said:

    Probably not the first person to pop in here and say “I’ve been there” Like, I could almost believe you’re alternate reality timeline me. The final 3 years of my last relationship was sexless, lacked movement towards commitment, and was full of little slights like the love-letter-disposing. I was months shy of 30 and terrified that if I ended this relationship, that was it for me – might as well adopt a feral cat colony and paper the walls of my house with Cathy cartoons. I was the partner that didn’t want sex, which my now-ex and I treated as a medical/psych issue (including my believing for a while that I was asexual, which troubled me because I somehow knew that wasn’t right).

    About a year into what I now call the Roommate Portion of my relationship, I got this new co-worker, and things started to change for me. He was so cute! And I had pantsfeelings again! How exciting! But I still didn’t want to have sex with NowEx, and I had all sorts of logic reasons I couldn’t date co-worker, so I just spun my wheels for a while, continuing to logic myself into not leaving. We even did couples counseling, which I started with the secret plan that we were going to break up, but couples counseling would help us break up more amicably.

    Finally NowEx spent some time with an old friend, fell in love with her in the space of a few days, broke up with me without telling me any of that (I found out), NowEx and Old Friend jumped immediately into a super serious relationship, she turned out to be emotionally abusive and they broke up spectacularly 9 months later.

    Some things that jump out at me:
    – I think the ED is a red herring, since there is no non-PIV sex happening in your relationship. There could be many different reasons, but I think you need to accept that either your partner no longer wants to have any kind of sex with you, you no longer want to have any kind of sex with him, or both.
    – When you find yourself trying to logic your way through emotions, something has gone off the rails.
    – A crush can be an AMAZING way to get it to sink in that you are not happy. My crush on my Mr. Interesting has died off but I still retain a warm feeling towards him because he was the kick in the pants I needed.
    – Most importantly, you are not so deeply, specially messed up that this is the only person who could possibly tolerate you, and thus you have to put up with what sounds like a lukewarm (at best) relationship. I am sad that you seem to think so. Maybe talk that over with a professional?

  42. Hi – sounds like no matter what, your current relationship is done.

    I met my husband when I was involved with the Moroccan Millionaire. It should have been clear after our week in Paris (for which I wasted FF miles getting the ticket – my husband gasped when he learned that I had paid for my own ticket. “The guy was a MILLIONAIRE!”) when all Gomez wanted to do was drink an entire bottle of wine at lunch, take a four-hour nap (in his Frette pajamas), and then drink a full bottle of wine at dinner, that that relationship was not going anywhere, but it took meeting my husband and realizing how wrong the MM was for me to break up with him.

    (Because honestly – doesn’t “Moroccan Millionaire” have so much – I don’t know – romance to it? Except it didn’t. But it sounded so good!)

    Point is: You can meet the right person when you are with the wrong person. That part is OK. What is not OK is to hurt the wrong person. Break up with him. Sounds like that relationship is dead anyhow. Break up with him before you explore other options. This is not the stock market. You do not get to hedge. That is, you do not get to hedge and still consider yourself an ethical person.

  43. kzm123 said:

    Good advice here which I can’t improve upon.

    I disagree in one particular, which the weight that you (and some respondents) seem to place on this “but I now feel for one what I no longer feel for the other.”

    To me, this says more about the nature of long-term relationships vs new love/crushes. I’ve been married a long time and if I were careless enough to cross a boundary and develop a mutual crush on someone, I expect I would feel things for the new crush I don’t feel for my husband any more. The breathless, giddy roller coaster ride of new love is just different. It doesn’t mean the new guy is better for me, or a better fit, or that I should ditch my spouse.

    You’ve got other reasons to ditch your man, it sounds like, and they are sufficient. Just don’t fetishize the thrill of new love, because although it’s special it morphs into other things; and if you always chase it you run the risk of throwing away wonderful long-term love and satisfaction for something more ephemeral.

    • It is so easy to have a crush on someone with whom you have never had an argument about who should clean the cat vomit from the floor.

      • Please god I need this on a throw pillow.

  44. argent said:

    Disclaimer: I am so very, very poly.

    LW, the first thing I want to make sure you know is that you are not a bad person for wanting to cheat on your boyfriend. Do you want to cheat on your boyfriend? Be honest. It’s okay. Lots of people want to cheat at one point in their lives or another, and the only thing they have in common is circumstances in their life that have made cheating seem like an appealing option! Monoamory and mono-centrism sometimes make people think that anyone who dares to even think of sex with someone other than their partner, much less consider it an appealing option, must be an Awful Person. This is false. You are not an Awful Person.

    I’m surprised that few people seem to have actually answered the question you asked, which is “what’s fair game for getting to knowing one another better?” The answer is whatever boundaries you set up in your relationships–there is no one universal answer. Is kissing too far? Are “emotional affairs” cheating? Is sex okay so long as you use protection? It’s up to each relationship to set the boundaries that define “cheating”–you and your boyfriend get to decide exactly why you’re exclusive, what that means to you, and what you want to be protected from. If you haven’t set explicit boundaries, “not-cheating” still means only doing things above the board. My guess is that you don’t feel you can be honest with your boyfriend about how you really feel about Mr. Interesting and what kinds of conversations you have or want to have with him. That’s a big red flag.

    I’m going to second the advice from basically everyone that it sounds like, deep down, you don’t actually want to spend the rest of your life with your boyfriend. The good qualities you’ve mentioned are an awfully low bar, and you will definitely find someone else who “is patient with your faults”. (As an aside, since a couple of people have mentioned that you might be worried about missing out on your fertility, I just want to say: FUCK THE NOISE that says that biological families are more real/valid/worth aspiring to than adoptive families. It is complete cis/heterosexist garbage, and there are so many kids living in the foster system who would have families if not for this cruel trope. /rant) I agree with the other poly people here that opening your relationship up when you’re in this situation is probably not the best course of action. You either do want the long term mono relationship with this guy that you signed up for, or you don’t. And it sounds like you don’t. So don’t make it more painful for him than it has to be by using nonmonogamy to drag out the end.

    On the other hand, I think you might want to consider the idea that you’re poly*. Not in order to try for a lopsided poly/mono relationship with your current boyfriend, but going forward, I think it might be helpful for you to consider what terms you want to set in your future relationships (see the second paragraph above). What’s exclusivity doing for you? Because right now what it seems to be doing for you is “preventing you from exploring human connections with other people and making you emotionally dependent on a guy you’re not actually that enthused about”. Obviously, if your reaction to this suggestion is “no, that’s not actually what I want at all”, then by all means don’t take it, but … pressure to live a mono lifestyle can be overwhelming, and I’m here to give you permission not to. Go read The Ethical Slut and More Than Two and Kimchi Cuddles. You’ll be fine.

    I want to offer some advice for if you don’t break up with your boyfriend, because I know that breaking up a seven-year relationship is not as easy as telling someone to in the comment section of an advice column. Please think long and hard about what your absolute dream life would be, if you could wake up every day and be doing exactly what you love in the way that you love most, and think about how your boyfriend would fit into that. Please do not marry the guy just yet. Despite the fact that it’s mostly people who hate sex who shout about it, living together often *does* often lead to suboptimal marriages, not because you’re awful filthy fornicators but because you tend to just slip into marriage from living together, without thinking about “If I *hadn’t* already spent tons of time and energy on this guy, would I really want to spend the rest of my life with him?” Please get to a place in your relationship where you can be honest with him about what you’re feeling and doing in regard to Mr. Interesting, or any other guy who might catch your eye.

    All the Jedi Hugs, LW. I wish you all the best, however things turn out.

    *I am one of those people who sees “mono” and “poly” as terms that can either be used to describe the terms of a relationship, or a person’s fundamental “relationship orientation”. Similar to how you can talk about a straight relationship or a gay relationship (or a queer relationship) based on the genders of the people involved, but a person is still gay/straight/bi/ace no matter the gender of the people they’re dating. Not every poly person believes that “relationship orientation” is a thing that exists, but I do.

    • “My guess is that you don’t feel you can be honest with your boyfriend about how you really feel about Mr. Interesting and what kinds of conversations you have or want to have with him. That’s a big red flag.”

      I am so very not-poly, and I agree with you on this!

      Many people experience crushes while in long-term relationships, even those of us who are have no interest in acting on them for whatever reason (e.g., not actually enjoying NRE, or not having the bandwidth to maintain romantic feelings for one person while exploring romantic feelings for another). On the occasions when this has happened, I’ve told The Partner, and I’ve done nothing else about them. That has worked for me.

    • TO_Ont said:

      True, there’s really only one person who knows the answer to “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?”, and it’s the boyfriend. The LW can consult with friends and the internet (and french films???) as much as they want, but in the end, the only way to find out what the answer to that question is is to talk with the boyfriend and ask him directly.

  45. EllenS said:

    Look, I’m sure your current relationship has many wonderful things about it. But you have spent four years without sex that you wanted to have with someone you loved. Now you are facing the prospect of marrying someone with whom you are unable to have sex, even though you want to, and that is unlikely to change.

    It is okay if that is a dealbreaker. It is okay to love someone and not want to live the life that marrying them would bring. Wanting to have satisfying sex with the person you marry does not make you a bad person. At all. It’s very important to most marriages.

    You can solve for the “I don’t want this marriage” and the “I have a crush on someone with a girlfriend” as two separate equations.

  46. There’s one other thing I want to say here that I wasn’t clear about.

    LW, his medical issues don’t mean that you have to stay. Leaving a partner who has medical issues can feel (probably to both of you) like you’re being a bad person who is jumping ship and abandoning the helpless. It can feel like you’re being cruel and selfish.

    And leaving a person with needs isn’t the most self-abnegating thing in the world. But, you know, we don’t have to set ourselves on fire to warm other people’s hands. You are a person with needs and desires and a shining light of life to flourish and nurture. If you can’t feel joy with your BF (and it really sounds like you can’t) you are not required to give up your life and be his nurse just because.

    You don’t need the Best and Most Perfect Reason to leave even a person who is ill. You’ve stayed for four years of his illness. You probably didn’t realize that you were signing on to being a loving caretaker without a sex life and without much romance.

    It’s ok to leave.

  47. It really sounds, from what you say, LW, like you stuck it out as long as you did just in the hope that your partner would eventually ask you to marry him. And he did! Go you! You put in seven years and he finally asked, and you won! Do you want the prize? Because you don’t have to take it. You can say “I know I said I wanted this but that was seven years ago and you just waited too long, so sorry, but no. I’ll start putting my name in my books while I look for a new place, and in the meantime I’ll sleep on the sofa.” You can also stay because inertia is powerful and you and this dude are comfortable. Or you can stay because your internal debate about leaving drives you to make more of an effort and suddenly your relationship catches fire again and you discover that you *can* be happy and not just content with this guy.

    What you can’t do is shop to trade up and simultaneously pretend you’re not the kind of person who cheats. So probably you should pick–are you the kind of person who genuinely doesn’t cheat, or just the kind of person who wants everyone to think she doesn’t cheat?

    (Hint: one kind of person has regrets that are healthy if sad. The other kind of person has no regrets but everyone who gets involved with them has lots.)

  48. Esti said:

    LW, everyone else has pretty thoroughly covered the “first figure out if you want to be with current partner, and honestly it really really sounds like you don’t so please just break up with him” side of things, so I just wanted to comment on New Guy. And specifically on this:

    “Just suffice to say it’s not just infatuation. I love him and I would be inclined to marry him . . . We’ve known each other less than 2 months.”

    Nope. Nope nope nope. That is like the DEFINITION of infatuation.

    In fact, since you seem really into logic-ing your way through this, here is the actual definition of infatuation: “the state of being carried away by an unreasoned passion or love”. Saying you are in love with and would marry someone you met less than two months ago, who you have not dated or even kissed, and who you have only known while both you and he are in serious long-term relationships with other people, is a textbook example of unreasoned passion.

    And I’m trying to find a nice way to say this, but: I think your letter points to some deeper issues you may want to think about. At least to me, it reads like you are awfully focused on getting married and not nearly focused enough on developing and maintaining a healthy relationship with a person who is the right match for you. Your description of your current partner nowhere mentions what you actually like about HIM; the best you can say is that he meets some of your very clinically-described needs. Moreover, he doesn’t actually meet all your needs–you obviously are not okay with the physical side of your relationship–but it doesn’t sound like you’ve resolved that one way or the other (either find a way to fix it, decide that you are okay with it, or end the relationship). Yet despite your obvious lack of enthusiasm for him and that major unresolved relationship problem, one of your biggest complaints about your partner is that he was being too slow to propose to you. Now, frustrated with that relationship but not yet ready to end it, you have developed a crush on someone who is clearly unavailable (at least for the moment, and quite possibly forever), and before you’ve even begun a relationship with him have already declared him someone you would marry.

    Even if that latter bit was hyperbole–even if you would actually say no if he proposed tomorrow–it’s a pretty clear sign that you’re not thinking straight. “I would marry him” is not a good criteria for choosing a new partner. That’s not just putting the cart before the horse, that’s putting the cart before the evolution of multicellular organisms. And the danger in looking at things that way–by envisioning this person you’ve just met and this relationship you haven’t even started yet as being for as long as you both shall live–is that you’re so busy envisioning your make-believe future that you’re likely to overlook or brush off signs that things aren’t right in the present.

    Which is exactly what you seem to be doing here. Instead of being concerned about the fact that you’re both in relationships with other people that you’ve taken no steps to end, or about all of the things you don’t know about him, you’re fretting about statistics on the longevity of relationships between people with this kind of age gap.

    So here is my advice, LW: break up with your current partner, who you do not actually want to be with. Take some time off from dating to figure out what you actually want in a partner: what type of life goals you have, what type of physical intimacy you need, what qualities matter to you most. And then when you start dating, begin by focusing on the here-and-now. Over time, whether your partner is a person you could marry will make itself clear.

    • 30ish said:

      So true about the infatuation part. Yup, it’s TOTALLY infatuation. Thinking you know you would marry someone after 2 months while there are all sorts of real world facts that make it impossible is really a textbook case of infatuation.

  49. been there said:

    “LW, his medical issues don’t mean that you have to stay. Leaving a partner who has medical issues can feel (probably to both of you) like you’re being a bad person who is jumping ship and abandoning the helpless. It can feel like you’re being cruel and selfish.”

    So much this^^^

    When I in my early 30s I was in a relationship with someone with a serious medical condition. We started off long distance and he traveled to where I lived several times and each time the travels caused stress on his condition which caused ED. He assured me he was very attracted to me and it was just the travel stress. One time I visited him and an unrelated stress caused ED, again, he assured me this was not a sign that he wasn’t attracted to me. Somehow we convinced ourselves that the best thing was for him to quit his job and move out to live with me (yes the older and less desperate to find twu luv me is rolling my eyes with the rest of you, but we both wanted to be in a relationship and we were both really nice people and if the movies have taught us anything, love conquers all as long as you are both really nice people- and the internet was still new so there was nothing like Capt. Awkward around) . So I found a nice house for us to rent together and we moved in and of course moving caused stress so at first there was ED and then there was still ED and really he was very attracted to me, and no, there was no reason to ask his doctor about the ED since it was just temporary and after all “many people have happy marriages without sex” (yes he actually told me that) So after a year of living with him and not having sex (he was willing to hold me while I took care of myself because he was such a good person) and him not wanting to talk to his doctor about the ED which was now being caused by my weight gain (yeah, even then I called bs on that) I wanted to leave. OK, I wanted to leave after 6 months, but what kind of monster leaves someone because of a medical condition. I brought up the option of opening the relationship so I could get some sexy times but still remain committed to him emotionally (I have lots of poly friends so was not an unfamiliar idea), but he was not willing to consider that. He also was not willing to talk to his doctor about the ED, so his solution was we stay together and not have sex until the ED magically went away and if it didn’t, what’s the big deal?

    Finally I broke down and blurted out the problem to a friend. Looking back, it is telling that the friend that I just happened to blurt this out to was male, poly, and had let it be known that he thought I was hot. He was obviously aghast at what I told him, but did a great job of listening and not saying much other than vague comforting comments. After I told him I was thinking that whether it made me a monster or not I thought I would need to get out of the relationship, he told me what I needed to hear- that I would still be a good person if I left a relationship that was making me miserable.

    I went to talk to a therapist who upon hearing the physical symptoms I was developing from the stress of trying to decide if I should stay or go, said she felt that I might need to be on meds to cope with the stress. I looked at her and said, “If I need to be medicated to be in this relationship, perhaps I need to not be in this relationship.”

    So I broke up with him. And I didn’t want to jump into another relationship. But boy howdy, I wanted to have sex. Lots of sex. Luckily I knew a nice poly guy who was willing to be fuck buddies and then I met other nice guys who wanted to be fuck buddies (Surprisingly it is pretty darn easy to find men willing to have friendly sex without strings- and luckily I was able to find nice ones)

    TLDR- everyone here is telling you that you shouldn’t jump from a to b which normally is solid advice. But perhaps, you like me, are tired of not having sex. You want proof that you actually are attractive enough for somebody to want to have sexy times with you. So maybe you need to break up and then find a nice fuck buddy or two (or three… three was my magic number- laundry gets tiresome but otherwise it was perfect for as long as it was perfect- and when it wasn’t perfect- we all stopped being fuck buddies and I stayed buddies with two of them)

    Or maybe not. Maybe you need solo sexy times and to just flirt a bit with random strangers. Maybe you need to break up and then let Mr. Interesting decide what he wants to do about his situation. But whatever you decide you need it is ok to leave someone with a medical condition. It is OK to want sex and to want to be wanted. It is OK to be alone. It isn’t OK to lie and cheat.

    • Muddie Mae said:

      Oh, excellent addition. When I left my sexless relationship I definitely didn’t want to date seriously, but I did want to bang. So I dated around a bit, some one night stands and some longer term flings. It was awesome! Obviously not a requirement, but something to consider if you want to have sex, which is totally understandable after many years without.

    • 30ish said:

      Yes, and it’s also still OK to leave a sexless relationship (or a relationship with non-satisfying sex) even when there’s no medical issue. I tied myself into knots trying to improve the sex in a past relationship and it took a really long time to accept that it just wasn’t working for me and that that was enough reason to leave. Before I left I was also really sex hungry all the time, and only when I finally had good sex again I noticed how much it helped improve my general mood, and how badly the unsatisfying sex life had affected my well being.

  50. Queen Mab said:

    Your question, OP: “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.”

    No. Not unless everyone involved has clearly stated their boundaries, are aware of each other’s roles within the relationship matrix, and communicating honestly and openly. Is that the current state of your matrix? Does everyone have informed consent? If not, as the Captain so carefully explained, having an affair is inherently, deeply (and often life-shatteringly) unethical. It’s not about being a prude–it’s about being aware of the physical and emotional risks to which you are exposing your partner, from your choices. When you cheat, or as you describe it, “build and test the viability of a romantic relationship when you and the potential sweetheart are both already in relationships” you are completely removing the agency of the relationship’s other half. You are betraying their trust in a way that can do tremendous collateral damage.

    OP, it really sounds like you want the Captain to offer you some sort of guarantee of your moral fortitude, despite the unethical nature of your request, as well as some assurance that you won’t end up alone, no matter which direction you take. No one can offer you that guarantee, and no one can be your conscience. Only you can decide what you are willing to give up or take, and what you will destroy or create. That’s all you. So, what about you? As a thought exercise, ask yourself what would you do if there were no Current Partner or Mr. Interesting taking up all the emotional space in your head? What would you have the energy to do? Travel? Go to school? Write a novel? Write bad poetry? Line dancing? Bingo at the casino with your girlfriends? It doesn’t matter, really, just imagine what life would be like if you weren’t trying to stay in one place while simultaneously trying to take flight. Imagine that, and then decide if resigning yourself to a sad, unhappy long term relationship or blowing several people’s lives up for a 2-month infatuation are your only choices in your situation.

  51. dkf said:

    Re:older woman, younger guy: this society wants us to put up with guys we are (statistically, on average) less attracted to, maybe take care of a husband dying, and then be asexual widows for the last decades, because guys “deseeeerve” younger partners. Every individual choice is sacred, but I’d want to break the clutch on power of the casting directors who routinely pair actresses w/ guys decades their seniors…. and to somehow magically kill the unnecessary doubt women have in otherwise well- going relationships. Because society says it’s wrong. Because my wrinkles should be photoshopped away, unlike his. Seriously, if the rest of the problems you manage to deal with, LW, and end up with this or some other younger guy, let him be the judge of how much he seems to be into it, and don’t automatically substract from his enthusiasm the “this can’t be happening” tax.

    • multicoastal said:

      This. My current long-term boyfriend is nine years younger than me. (I’m in my 40s, he’s in his 30s.) My previous long-term boyfriend was thirteen years older than me (I was in my 30s, he was in his 40s-50s). Either way has advantages and disadvantages, but I’m pretty happy with the man I’m with. One of my good friends has been married for over 25 years to a man 8 years younger than her. She says older woman – younger man relationships tend to work out much better in real life than they do in fiction. (In fiction they tend to be pretty terrible, every time I think I’ve found a good movie about an older woman-younger man romance she ends up left or dead.)

      If numbers would help, apparently women are older than men in 23% of relationships:
      http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/whats-the-average-age-difference-in-a-couple/

      So a younger man liking you isn’t so impossible that it couldn’t work – and it also isn’t so unusual that it proves that there is something unique about your love, for better or worse.

  52. Kacienna said:

    I agree that the best thing to do is to break up with your current boyfriend. It’s the most ethical thing to do in a relationship that sounds like it’s run its course. But I also know that humans are human and don’t always behave ethically. Story time!

    My dad was 30 and had been married for 8 years to the woman he dated in college. My understanding is that the relationship wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. The marriage had been more of an unexamined next-step, what-you-do kind of thing than an excited-to-build-a-life-together thing. My mom was 19 and was engaged to her high school sweetheart, largely because they had had sex and getting married was what you did if you’d had sex in that place and time.

    My mom was working as a secretary at a place where my dad was working as a recreation guide for the summer (he taught high school during the school year). They met and fell instantly in lust. The kind where they slept together before they actually went on a date. The kind where they moved in together even though they were both in other relationships. They had a couple whirlwind months. Then they broke up and my mom married the high school sweetheart. She acknowledges now that that was a mistake – but she was only 19 and it didn’t really occur to her that there was a way out – there was no Captain Awkward then!

    At some point, my dad, who was into photography at the time, sent my mom a bunch of nature photos with captions like “Memories” and “Lost Dreams” (such a cliche, I know!). At some point not long after, my mom went to the place my dad worked in the summers and waited for him in the parking lot. He saw her and, for the only time in his life, blew off his job responsibilities and ran off with her instead.

    They divorced their respective spouses and married each other. My grandmother was furious – this 30-year-old man was clearly taking advantage of her 19-year-old daughter. Everyone thought they were going to hell in a handbasket except my aunt, who said it was better for two people to be happy than four people to be miserable.

    Three years later, I was born; two and a half years after that, my brother followed. My parents loved being parents, love my brother and me, adore each other. They’re the most stable couple I know, and the best parents I know. They’ve said (when I asked), and I wholeheartedly believe, that they’ve been monogamous and faithful to each other their entire marriage (38 years now). My grandmother soon came to adore my father and talked about how tragic it would have been if he had never been a father.

    So…yes, they behaved unethically and put things in the wrong order. Since my mom grew up in a small town, she was able to find out that her high school sweetheart did remarry and seems to be contented in his marriage. I don’t know what happened with my dad’s first wife, but I do know that he took all the financial burden of leaving the marriage on himself, there were no kids and no house, and they had settled down in the same town they went to college in, again in a sort of dirfty, path-of-least-resistance kind of way. Neither of my parents had any idea that the kind of happiness they had with each other was even possible until they found it.

    Why am I telling you this? I don’t advise you to follow the order of operations my parents did. My mom would have been better not to marry the high school sweetheart. My dad would have done better to leave his wife as soon as things started with my mom. But they both grew up in times and places that seemed to focus a bit more on the standard-path-of-life and a bit less on the find-your-own-way than I feel like I got. I guess the thing is that both of my parents first marriages were settling. It sounds like marrying your boyfriend would also be settling. Maybe leave him now so you don’t wind up breaking up a couple marriages when you get hold of a happiness you can’t bear letting go of? And go ahead and explore things with Mr. Interesting after that if you want to. You’ll be taking a risk – he might be the cheating type in general – or he might be like my parents and 100% faithful if he’s in the relationship wholeheartedly.

    (If anyone’s concerned, I do have blanket permission from my parents to share their story.)

  53. Polychrome said:

    I’m very late to this party, but I just wanted to say everyone has been hitting the ethics of cheating pretty hard on the assumption that you don’t want to hurt your partner. Maybe you do, though. Hurting one’s partner is often treated as an unintentional side-effect of cheating but I am pretty convinced it is often the point of cheating. That throwing away your love letters thing — that was hurtful and mean. You are mad.

    Hurting somebody who has undervalued your love, especially by showing “look, someone else thinks I am worth getting it on with!” is really powerful stuff. If you do it, it will probably feel awesome at first. There are a couple of downsides.

    First downside: you lose the moral high ground about why the relationship ended. It will become, for all time, the story of you cheating — not the story of him not appreciating you. Down the road, that may feel really unfair to you. You buy hurting him back for the ways he has hurt you at the cost of any chance of him having to face he was the villain in that story (I suspect this is important to you). He might not ever come to that realization, but he’s very unlikely to come to it if he has a convenient way to blame you. Cheating on him will hand that to him on a platter.

    If you just walk away without cheating, it will be *very* hard on you in the short term. But I think in the long term it will be easier for you to feel at peace about “that relationship really was just not right, in ways that were not my fault” if you don’t cheat.

    Second downside: since the person with whom you might cheat is himself (I gather) considering cheating, *be aware* that you might be less an end in yourself to that person than a kind of weapon, also. When someone is making an offer to cheat on their partner with you, of course from your view it’s because “they are motivated by their good feelings about me”. What you should always be wary of is how much they also may be motivated by their own hostile, passive-aggressive feelings about their partner. Being a means and not an end could feel really lousy for you in the aftermath, even if it feels exciting and empowering in the moment.

    • Great insights.

      • Polychrome said:

        Thank you! Acquired the usual way, dagnab it 😉

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