#786: Trapped by a doomed love

Hello Captain Awkward,

I’m feeling quite stuck in a romantic situation and am hoping you can help.

Last year I took a job in a town 5 hours away. To my surprise and delight, a co-worker who I had a secret crush on messaged me daily after I left and from there she admits she is attracted to me. Problem being, she is married. The texting gets intense- sexting 24/7. After a few weeks, I drove up to the city and we spent the weekend with each other, in bed together for most of it. She was racked with guilt, I felt guilty too and also guilty because I had feelings for her and she insisted no feelings were to be involved in this. Guilty feelings made way for more and more of these weekends and trips together- we saw each other most weeks despite living in different cities, having an intensely passionate and sexual relationship for over a year.

I didn’t want to sneak around forever and wanted more of a relationship. She told me for months that we would have that, and she was in the process of separating. However one day she announces she can never leave him and get a divorce. Also, she doesn’t want to disappoint and be disowned by friends and family. I was upset but carried on with the relationship because I just didn’t have it in me to leave.

Before we got together, she had planned to live overseas and travel. I would get upset as the time loomed closer when she was due to leave, just as we were getting serious. She reassured me that it was for the best- a way of separating from her husband so we could together. Yet, only a week before she left, she informed me that he had taken a job over there and was going with her. Nevertheless, she insists they aren’t really together, just friends and she will come back to be with me in a year’s time.

I was upset and angry, although accepting that I am ultimately responsible for my own unhappiness about it because I did get involved with a married woman.

I am still in love with her and want to be with her. However I know it’s best for me to leave this all behind. Yet every time I do, she guilt trips me so hard into staying and staying in contact while she is over there- making it impossible to move on. I was hoping Captain that you would be able to shed some light on an escape route out of this and some potential scripts for when she guilts me into staying.

Thanks heaps,

Trapped

Dear Trapped,

You can start to be free of this relationship in 5 minutes and some simple (but not easy steps):

One: Tell your ex not to contact you anymore. “It is time for a clean break. Do not contact me again.” Do it now.

Two: Block or filter all communications from her. Block her on social media. Block her on your phone. Filter emails into a special folder that bypasses your main inbox or set up a rule that deletes them on arrival. Do this now.

Three: This weekend, give yourself the entire time to wallow in memories of the relationship and grieve for it. Read old love letters & emails. Put Gladys Knight and Adele on repeat. Sing along. Cry. Write her long letters (that you do not send). Watch things that you watched together.

Four: At the end of the weekend, purge your online spaces and your home of anything that is from her or particularly associated with her. Not like, your couch (“That’s the couch where I first thought about you!”), but any gifts she’s given you, books she’s lent you, any of her stuff that’s there goes OUT. Call a friend for moral support through this if you need to. Maybe that friend will hold onto the box of stuff for a while if you can’t quite put it in the dumpster yet.

Five: When she contacts you again (she will contact you again), do not reply. Every time you reply to her you buy yourself another month or two of continued interaction. Know that she will be able to smell every moment when you start to be a little bit happy, the second you meet a new person, the instant you are vulnerable, and she will choose then to break her silence. Exes have a special sense for this sort of thing. Ignore her.

Six: Whenever you are tempted to reply to her or contact her, distract yourself somehow and then reward yourself somehow. Sometimes you may need to say the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear or some other mantra you repeat to yourself to remind yourself of what happened. Maybe try “I loved her, and she loved me, but in the end she didn’t choose me. I am sad. I might be sad for a while. I am taking good care of myself by ending the relationship. I will let time do its work, and someday this will heal.

Seven: Practice excellent self-care, whatever that means to you. Enough sleep, good food, purging your wardrobe of ill-fitting pants and shoes that never quite broke in, regular haircuts, medical & dental checkups if it’s been a while, tidying up your space, a new houseplant, buying yourself flowers, listening to music that makes you happy, coloring pretty patterns, journaling out all of your feelings each day, exercise if you are able, calling good friends and close family members and people who make you feel good, avoiding people who sap your energy and make you feel bad, saying no to draining and annoying tasks to the extent that you can, trying new things, learning new skills, taking a class, volunteering, kicking ass at work. If your dream is to live abroad and travel, this seems like a good time to make it happen. Sometimes a new sky and a new challenge can speed up the mourning process.

In the meantime, know this:

When an intense relationship falls apart…

Grief is normal.

Withdrawal from the drug of attraction and passionate love and drama and conflict is normal.

Guilt is normal.

Feeling at loose ends about what to do with all of the time and space she took up in your life is normal.

Anger is normal.

Longing is normal.

Remembering only the good parts when you feel low is normal.

Second-guessing everything is normal.

Intrusive thoughts of her and the relationship are normal.

(Relief, numbness, or whatever emotions you actually feel are also normal – there are a lot of normals!)

All of these things are normal for a while, and then you find a new normal.

Let her have her unhappy marriage. Let her have her indecision. You deserve better than lies, endless delays, and whispered secrets as your normal. The good qualities that made this charismatic person fall in love with you are in you. They don’t belong to her, she didn’t create them when she noticed you and loved you, and she is statistically speaking not the only person in the world who will feel that way about you. If you let time do its work, if you practice distracting yourself from thoughts of her and disengage completely with contact from her, if you can keep yourself from believing the lie that you will be friends someday, you will not feel trapped and sad forever. Your mind and body and heart will get bored with the problem of her, and they will move on to other topics and projects. The anticlimax when that starts to happen will feel almost cruel. You’ll think “Is she forgetting me, the way I am starting to forget her? That’s not fair!” Hold fast to yourself and your resolve to let it end. Hold on a little while longer. Someday she will be a story that you tell from a great distance, as if everything in it happened a century ago to someone else.

62 comments
  1. Oh hon. I am so sorry. You deserve all the hugs and self-care, and Jennifer’s advice is spot-on. *offers internet hugs, if wanted*

  2. RB said:

    Having been through this, it’s not easy but it’s do-able.

  3. Yzabeau Sandrine said:

    I feel a bit like this script could have been written for me. I’m in a relationship that’s “on break” on account of judgments/prejudice on the part of my love’s family, as well as his issues with control (he doesn’t handle plan changes well, unless they’re on his terms), and since the July 4th weekend we’ve both participated in this dance. It’s coming down to the point of him either committing to me or letting me go. It’s confusing, frustrating, and hurtful to feel like I’m being strung along, especially since I love him so and want to make things work.

    Dearie, you aren’t trapped, but that leap to freedom is a scary, blistery one.

    • Portia said:

      Sigh. I’m in the same boat, without the family judgment issues. *hugs* to you, it’s tough, innit.

  4. Mythea said:

    Sending you all the hugs if you want them. It is hard to be with or without that person. I hope you find that person who is lurking right around the corner and end up wonderfully happy sooner than you can imagine

  5. “Someday she will be a story you tell from great distance, as if it happened a century ago to someone else.” Oh OW. About five years ago, I was hopelessly infatuated with someone cruel. I thought I’d never feel for anyone what I felt for him. And…. now I give him a nickname and laugh about him with my friends. He’s just a story now. A joke.

  6. Polychrome said:

    You may not have a similar story from your own past, but maybe if you think about it you can dredge one up:

    One gajillion years ago I was 18, and a freshman in college, I fell *in love* with an older boy. A junior! His initials were in backward alphabetical order. He was so cute, and tall, and had long hair, a floppy walk that slayed me, and was also intriguingly funny looking and had a kind of lisp that made him spit sometimes when he talked (le swoon for all of the times). I joined clubs he was in to sit near him. I talked about him obsessively to my friends and did weird research about any tiny aspect of his life history I could. We never came remotely (not remooooootely) close to dating. He started dating someone at the end of the year whom he later married. The end.

    What I always come back to in this story is that for much of my freshman year, when I was dimly aware that I was not making a lot of progress with this boy by sitting near him hoping he might talk to me about something, occasionally, was that I lay in bed sometimes agonizing over the possibility that someday I might just remember this crush and not even feel anything about it and that would be TERRIBLE because this crush was IT and needed to HAPPEN (by magic osmosis). This feeling was a totally painful feeling about time and loss and the lifecourse and… now this whole thing is one of my fonder memories of my own innocent youth. JUST AS I HAD SUSPECTED IT WOULD BE AIEEEEEEE.

    Now, I am a grown up who has had my heart for real broken in for real relationships, and obviously that is what you are up against now: for real grown up heartbreak after for real grown up love. But it’s an anguish that does transform — my oldest version of it now is by some magic a happy memory! I think about that when a nearer one is still giving me sharp pokes — the magic just has not happened yet. It will.

    • roadtrips said:

      Oh maaaan. I held on to a never-going-to-happen fantasy crush for an embarrassingly long time… I exchanged super longing, twee, we’ll never say it outright letters with a dude I was positive was totally my soulmate. And then whenever I’d go through a breakup I would re-kindle this idea, and start imagining running into him on the street (even though we live cross country) or getting a letter declaring his love… I always had to keep this completely ephemeral relationship on the back burner to soften the blow of other rejections. I guess not totally relevant to this LW’s situation of actual, real, brutal heartbreak, but all to say – it is so hard to banish the ghosts and exorcise the demons of almost loves. And so often it’s much preferable to live in the fantastic world of magic love that comes to us, well, magically.

      • sares said:

        Are you me? The letters, the never outright saying it, the backburner… I have never come across someone with a similar story, so I hope folks can forgive the derail for a moment. I realized my feelings for my letterperson, while on a break with my partner, only to realize that things were never to be for pretty damn good reasons. I’m grateful to have been able to put the ‘might have beens’ to rest, but the emotional cost of doing so was pretty high.

    • What is it about first love that does that to a person? My college crush lasted a very long time. I thought no one else in the world could ever be right for me.

      The good news is: about a year after I realized it was time to let the dream die, I started online dating and low and behold, a wonderful boy came into my life who cares about me as much as I cared about him.

      You deserve to be someone’s number one, LW.

      • Intptt said:

        With second and later loves, you (general you) have evidence that you can move on and fall for someone else, since you’ve already done that before. You don’t have that during your first love.

  7. Brilliant: “The good qualities that made this charismatic person fall in love with you are in you. They don’t belong to her, she didn’t create them when she noticed you and loved you, and she is statistically speaking not the only person in the world who will feel that way about you.” It feels so much like they should get the credit for discovering you, when you were there all along! LW, you are going to be better off with someone who can openly, freely, and enthusiastically love you!

    • unlurking said:

      “The good qualities that made this charismatic person fall in love with you are in you.” – Right? This is fierce wisdom that I clung to like a life-raft when I needed this, and so many kudos to my counselor for tellign me a version of this. The amazingness is not them, and not you+them. It’s you. You.

      • Yes, this.

        LW, several years ago, I courted a lovely lady, and — so she said at the time — won her love. I was over the moon. She was everything to me — enough to move across the country for, away from my family and friends; enough to write love songs to someone real for the first time in my life; enough to go public about being poly; enough to give up the dog I adored and live petless for years. Enough to pour five years of my time and energy and soul into trying to help her out of her problems. Enough to tolerate five years of escalating abuse.

        In the end, I was not enough to her to be worth refraining from violence toward me. She hurt me, badly… twice, it was pure dumb luck that she didn’t kill me.

        I think I was more crushed at the realization that she didn’t love me — that I wasn’t precious enough to her to protect and cherish and save from harm, whether the harm was external or coming from her own rage — than I was by the violence itself. But the frog did eventually have the sense to jump out of the pot once it was clearly boiling over. I called the police, and for four years I didn’t see her again except in court.

        The year that followed the breakup was unimaginably painful… and I mean that literally, in that right now, three years after that bad year ended, *I can’t actually imagine it anymore*.

        Because you know what else happened? People gathered around me who really did care about me. Some of them are the loving family I live with now. One of them, I married. He treats me better than any partner I’ve ever known. And some of the ways in which he says I treat him well — while they were always a part of me, somewhere inside — I learned to use during those years of trying to take care of the lovely, damaged, damaging lady I once loved.

        What she loved in me is still there, and it makes my marriage better every day, to someone who deserves that side of me. What I loved in her was never real to begin with… or at least it wasn’t solid. There was a beautiful castle in the air, but no foundations underneath it. Occasionally I still get wistful about the castle, but it fades more and more into the clouds every year.

  8. lizinthelibrary said:

    A few years ago I ended a relationship that was long distance and primarily text based. It sounds like yours in that we texted constantly 24/7, some texting some sexting, just constant communication. When I needed to end it, the hardest part was the thousand times a day urge to text him some random observation, funny thing that had happened, mild vent. I turned to twitter. I still got those thoughts out but I didn’t engage with him. YMMV, but consider that you will probably need an alternate steam release for random head detritus (at least I did). Even a fake/anonymous/possibly locked twitter account can help with this. You can delete it when you are ready to move on. I used this as my constant contact nicotine patch to wean myself off texting him until my twitter feed went back to a more normal (for me) amount of usage.

    • Cassandra said:

      I think this is very good advice.

  9. honeybee said:

    I am going through something very similar, and am currently 3 weeks out from the “breaking off all communication” conversation, so keep in mind the advice I’m writing now is the advice I have to tell myself every day:

    She does not choose you. Yes, she loves you, and it’s real and authentic, but she is not putting you or your feelings first. So you have to choose you and put yourself first and walk away. It is hard and it hurts but you deserve so much better. You deserve love that is freely given, and you deserve to be in a relationship where you can love openly, and honestly. Choose yourself and walk away.

  10. omj said:

    LW, I just want to reiterate that you don’t need her permission to break up. It can be a unilateral decision. I also believe that you’re strong enough to do this.

    Also, the wake of a breakup is a great time to explore lots and lots of hobbies. Some you maybe haven’t been prioritizing because you were spending time on this person instead, some you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet, maybe some you’ve never really thought about but happen to be available. Fill your time and your brain to the extent that you can tolerate it. When you date someone, you make space for them in your life. When they’re gone, something needs to take that space. Look for things that make you feel good and get you out of the house in a structured way on a regular basis to fill that space, so you can wean yourself off of dwelling and wallowing.

    You can do this.

    • Once when I was dealing with an especially angsty breakup in college, I bought myself a notebook which I carried everywhere. It had sections for lists like “Things I Can Do Now That I’m Not Involved With ______,” and “Stuff I No Longer Have To Put Up With From _____;” drawings of “How I Want My (single) Room To Look,” etc. Basically, it was my resource for positive thinking — every time I could come up with something, no matter how trivial, that was better now that I wasn’t with him anymore or that I was free to do in my singleness that wouldn’t have been as easy to do when I was with him, I wrote it down. Every time I needed a reinforcement for my resolution not to try and resurrect the relationship, or a jolt of cheer when I was feeling miserable about the loss, I would re-read one or two of the sections.

      The “Things I Can Do” list turned out to be the most useful of them all, because I didn’t just reread it; I put it to work. Every time I found myself bored and lonely and wanting to call him (this was before people texted, my dear grandchildren), I would open up that list and pick something on it, and start doing the first step toward accomplishing that thing. The item reads, “Go to Israel and volunteer on a kibbutz?” Pick up the phone and make an appointment with my academic advisor to discuss ulpan programs and how they’d fit in with my academic requirements. “Learn how to play the guitar?” Get off my tail and onto the bus downtown to a music store, and spend the afternoon testing out instruments and learning about basic fingering from the beginners’ books in there. “Work on at least one play every single quarter?” March down to the University Theater office and look at the bulletin board to see who’s hiring tech staff that term.

      It was a huge help to have a running list of stuff which I actually wanted to do, because it meant that I never had to wonder how to fill my time after the person who’d been taking up a huge chunk of it wasn’t there anymore. Even when I couldn’t physically do anything toward one of the items, I could plan and scheme and think about them, and that helped. Or draw pictures of what I wanted to do. Or make lists (I’m a list person, as you can tell). Or imagine what it was going to be like when I was doing the thing.

      Beat the daylights out of brooding over someone who wasn’t good for me anyway.

      • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

        Awesome strategy. And can I just second the recommendation for making a list of ‘things I ca do’ as an organising tool: The ‘things I must do’ nature of to-do lists (and worse, with a time limit they must be done by) feeds my anxiety/depression: it’s pressure. Things I could do if I find myself with half an hour (an hour, a whole day) to spare are much better for me.

        • A good friend of mine makes to-done lists rather than to-do lists. She does things and then writes them down afterward. That way, she gets a running list of how awesomely productive she is (in whatever way she has been that week, which can vary from “Completed an eight-week training program in my chosen field, did a concert, and recorded four new songs,” to “Ate food, brushed teeth, and got to bed before dawn”), *and* looking at the things she’s already done helps jog her memory about what might be a good idea to do next. So it still serves as a reminder of forthcoming duties; just in a somewhat less direct way.

          • omj said:

            That is so fantastic! I sometimes use that to get my to-do lists started at work. I just feel better when my to-do list has half the stuff checked off already.

            For some reason this reminded me of a friend of mine who used to only pick up unlucky pennies (tails-side up instead of heads-up), so that from then on if anything bad happened he could blame the penny, get rid of the penny, and move on from it. Seemed to work better for him in maintaining positivity than believing in a lucky penny that might or might not work.

            I guess it’s just another example of how it can be really helpful to turn something on its head.

          • PollyQ said:

            I’ve been doing this since the beginning of the year and it’s been SO. ENORMOUSLY. HELPFUL. I just can’t tell you how great it’s been. Totally recommend to anyone who deals with depression or anxiety.

          • FloweryHedgehog said:

            This is an amazing idea and think I will try it.

      • LdyEkt said:

        This is a terrific idea! I’m going to save this for my next breakup, may it be far in the future 🙂

  11. Dear LW,

    You will be happy again, but oh ouch for a while.

    Jedi Hugs if you want them.

  12. Anne On said:

    Also recommended- change the ringtone on your phone.
    (This may or may not have been discovered after a particularly nasty breakup.)

    • human said:

      Oh what an awesome suggestion. I could have been this LW a couple of months ago and EVERY TIME my phone went “ding ding” with a text, my whole insides lurched with IT’S HIM … I ended up keeping it on vibrate a while and I’m embarrassed I never thought to change the tone.

    • omj said:

      Totally good point. I had to do this with my text notification sound after my last horrible breakup, since I’m not much of a phone call person.

    • Pawsitive said:

      Also, if you’re like me and you want to make sure you don’t pick up the phone when they call but also don’t have the urge to text awful people because you still have their number … change all of their names in your phone to some variation of “NOPE.” So far I have Nopity Nope, Fucking Nope, Nopenopenope, and Nopetopus. I no longer remember which is which.

      • Anne On said:

        I changed the names to XXXXX so they’d end up near the bottom of the alphabetical list.

  13. aww. this is lovely advice Capt’n. LW – i hope you feel better. Take care of yourself. On the upside, if she is overseas, at least you don’t have to run into her at the coffee shop or whatever!

  14. whistlewren said:

    Oh man, Captain. This is the most perfect description of how to break up ever. I’m going through a break up with a ‘charismatic but definitely not healthy relationship material’ human and this post is just so appreciated, thank you.

  15. Karyn said:

    She’s cheating on her husband. She makes impossible demands of you. She lies to you. She manipulates you into being emotionally available while she is overseas with her husband–the one she was going to separate from, then could never leave. The man she was going to leave, but is now with her in County X–but they’re just friends! Not really like a married couple!

    This woman is bad news bears for you, almost certainly for her husband, and probably for herself. Rip off the band-aid, cut all contact, and take care of you. Invest in your life in your new city. Don’t look back.

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      Right. I think LW knows this— you don’t cheat because you don’t like your partner, you cheat because you don’t like you– but oh, the gap between knowing you’re doing the right thing by leaving and feeling good about what you’re doing it such a long briidge to build sometimes!

  16. misspiggy said:

    Remember that it is possible to make connections with others, and even grow to love them, at the same time as loving and grieving for people that aren’t good for us. Love isn’t a finite resource, and can operate in parallel.

  17. my only suggestion would be to switch the order of #1 and #2. block her everywhere first, except the phone you use to text her (or whatever), then block that last route INSTANTLY upon sending. don’t let her get even one answer in.

  18. Gentlewoman Otter said:

    Oh, dear LW. I’m so sorry. This situation is incredibly stressful and also much like quicksand(I’ve been there, done that, and burned the goddamn t-shirt). It is painful and scary and hard. It is more painful, scarier, and harder to escape. I won’t sugarcoat that. She won’t make it easy… My Mr Quicksand sure didn’t. But you deserve better. Really, Mrs Quicksand’s husband does too. She’s not being kind or fair to either of you. And you deserve to be free of that, to find someone who will respect you and be kind to you.

    I honestly doubt she will choose you. I also doubt she will choose her husband. This kind of limbo is rarely broken by the person in the middle.

    The Captain gives excellent advice. If it’s possible and palatable for you, I might add a recommendation to talk to a therapist to help untangle the Feels. Due to the marriage involved, relationships like this can be thorny to talk through. The feelings can get thorny and confusing too. But you will survive. You will move forward, and you will be happy again, free of her.

    Sending much love your way. *optional Jedi hugs*

  19. Myrtle said:

    LW, I read this and hear how much effirt you had to put into this relationship, yet the other person is only concerned about her feelings and her family’s view of her. Oh, and her career goals. Do you wonder what version of this her husband had been told?
    Placating the never-happy person used to be my thing. I choose not to do that today, and sometimes I have to grit my teeth at the effects from my new choices. But it’s so much better than feeling that someone else was controlling me.
    Imagine having that ten-hour drive time back in the form of breakfast in bed with someone who is thrilled to pieces at being with you. It’s real.

  20. cincin said:

    this this this! follow this advice lw, the wise captains list is a very effective way to let go and set yourself free of the vicious soul suckin cycle. jedi hugs if wanted

  21. EvK said:

    LW here, I want to express my deepest gratitude firstly to Jennifer for an answer to my question that is so helpful and supportive . I now feel like I have some direction in how to tackle this and get out of this situation and intend to print this out and keep it somewhere I can easily refer to it in times of weakness, I can’t really thank you enough Captain for the thought and compassion you put into answering my question.

    To the wonderful people who have commented and offered support, advice and virtual hugs, I am so grateful. The moral support is really helping me now, so a big thank you too.

    • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

      I wish you all the best. You’re in a tough place, but you can do it.

    • human said:

      It’s this kind space that gives us the courage to admit we’ve been there. Anyway I have. I’m a few months out from detaching myself from an intense fling with a married dude. Just 2 weeks ago I wanted so bad to text him so I called my best friend instead & told her. She said “Nooo, don’t do it. That guy was mean to you. Scratch that itch somewhere else.” So I got through it by reminding myself that my friends want me not to have to put up with mean dudes. And that I deserve better. And that even if I don’t think so right this second, my friends are smarter about this issue than I am right now.

      And then I texted an old fuckbuddy who’s excellent in the sack and NOT mean, instead. It was lovely. 😀

      You’re probably not yet to the old-fuckbuddy stage, it took me a while of disconnection from Mean Hot Married Dude to be willing to even think about sex with anyone else. And at that, I almost bailed at the last minute — glad I didn’t! Anyway, it may take time but you WILL get there. And I feel confident in speaking for myself and the other commenters here: we all think you deserve better than someone who is mean to you (lies & manipulation — not cool, Hot Married Lady!) You can do this and you’ll feel better soon. I’m sure of it.

    • jdrives said:

      You’ve got this. We’re all rooting for you.

  22. another lost angel said:

    She was likely never going to leave her husband. And even if she did, there’s a high chance that she would do the same to you that she did to her husband. You’ll be the person she’s “just friends with,” that she “just can’t leave because it would disappoint friends/family” to someone else. It’s rare that someone who cheats on one spouse doesn’t turn around and do the same to the person the cheated on that spouse with and left them for.

    Everything she said was merely to string you along, LW, and keep you hanging on. And that’s all anything she has to say is – a tactic to keep you in the wings for her own needs. Tell her you’re done, block her, and be done.

    • I have heard that often — that someone who cheats on one partner will cheat on another — and, while I think that, in THIS situation, it would be very likely, I don’t think it’s nearly as consistently true as it appears. There are a lot of reasons for cheating. And why someone cheated has a lot to do with whether they’d do it again.

      Some people are addicted to the drama, or to the feeling of being desired and courted and chased, or to the indecision; and those are most likely to be serial cheaters. Some people are using cheating as a way of chewing their own leg off to get out of a trap… they’re utterly miserable in a relationship they don’t see a realistic way to leave (either for emotional or practical reasons), so they do something which buys them a little comfort and may make the decision for them by getting caught and left, so they don’t have to do the leaving. Those people *might* cheat again, if they both 1) get into another really bad relationship and 2) don’t learn better ways of dealing with their problems; but if either of those things doesn’t happen, there’s every reason to think that they will not. Some people are naturally poly but have never heard of a relationship model which doesn’t involve official monogamy, so they blunder into unethical nonmonogamy because they have no idea that ethical nonmonogamy exist. If these people ever discover ethical nonmonogamy, they never look back; and they can be entirely trusted by their partners because they do not promise anything they aren’t completely sure they will deliver. Some people cheat when every young, out of revenge or confusion or not knowing how to say no to someone interested; they usually grow up, and put that stage of their lives behind them. And a very few people really do meet the love of their lives while they are in a relationship which, for practical or safety reasons, they are unable to leave yet… if they’re ever lucky enough to find a way out of the mess they were in to begin with, they usually snap together with the right person like magnets and never look back.

      I suspect strongly, from LW’s description, that the lady in this story is type #1, the drama addict. Which means she probably *will* cheat again… both on her husband once LW is out of the picture, and on LW if they were to stick around. But it’s a case by case thing; a lot of people who cheat are just as trustworthy in later relationships as the rest of us (and I suspect that, if you got us under a truth spell, a lot of “the rest of us” would have something in their past which, if not *precisely* cheating, had similar questionable relationship ethics involved).

      • Pawsitive said:

        I have a very similar read to you. I agree about the serial cheating being a very much “why did you do it?” thing – and in this case, it seems like every last available drop of drama is being wrung from this. Bad news bears for everyone involved.

      • Helen Damnation said:

        “Some people cheat when every young, out of revenge or confusion or not knowing how to say no to someone interested;”

        Oh man. At one time I somehow saddled myself with THREE CONCURRENT BOYFRIENDS, despite being asexual homoromantic, purely because I did not want to cause them sadfeels by saying no. Epic. Fucking. Fail.

        LW’s girlfriend is old enough to know better, and has pulled this shit for too long. If she’s really miserable, it’s on her to get herself out, not on LW.

      • another lost angel said:

        I agree with you and you make a lot of good points. However, just to be clear, I was talking in reference to the cheater leaving their marriage/relationship for the person they cheated with, but it was phrased poorly. Of course, I don’t think that train of thought is 100% applicable in that situation, either, but it’s certainly not a solid foundation to start a new relationship on, either. At the end of the day, people are messy and imperfect, there aren’t a lot of absolutes in life, etc.

    • AltoFronto said:

      As I was reading the letter, it seemed clear to me that she was never going to leave.

      LW, grieve a much as you need to, but I hope it helps you to cut yourself off from her when you come to realise that your relationship never had any potential to begin with – she wanted to have an affair with you, but she did not want to have a relationship with you.

      It sucks, and it must hurt a lot, but I hope that you won’t dwell for too long on “what might have been”, because even though it was enjoyable while it lasted, there was no future for the two of you.

      I hope you’ll look back on that time with some fondness, but Now you have a cool future of your own to discover. I hope you go and find some excellent new things in it. 🙂

  23. Clarry said:

    I’d like to expand on the “anger is normal” part. Anger over the long haul is corrosive not a happy place to stay, but please give yourself free rein to feel anger for the short term or for as long as you need. It’s an important stage to be gotten through, not skipped over. Whether she planned it psychopath style or didn’t mean to no-agency style, what she did to you was pretty nasty. She lied, led you on, showed little concern for your feelings, pretty much used you for her own gain. I understand how it’s possible to love such people, but thinking about her in those terms for a while can help you through the pain of loss.

    • Wingardium Furiosa said:

      Agreed, and very well-said!

      On the importance of anger: I have found that making space to be angry can be a very powerful act of self-love and self-care. It’s you saying, “It is not okay for that person to do what they did, and I deserve better. ”

      It is really hard to jump right to making that unequivocal statement from a complex emotional situation that ruled your brain for a long time… maybe one that had you thinking all the bad things were your fault, or that you’ll never be treated well anyway because [lots of “terrible” things about you ]… but that’s the secret, awesome message of anger — “I am worth so much more than the shitty way you treated me. “

  24. “Know that she will be able to smell every moment when you start to be a little bit happy, the second you meet a new person, the instant you are vulnerable, and she will choose then to break her silence. Exes have a special sense for this sort of thing.”

    This is so true it’s obnoxious.

    • MeganNJ said:

      +1

      Watch the movie Swingers !!

      So it’s just like a retroactive decision, then? I mean I could, like, forget about her and then when she comes back make like I just pretended to forget about her?

      Right. Although probably more likely the opposite.
      What do you mean?

      I mean at first you’re going to pretend to forget about her, you’ll not call her, I don’t know, whatever… but then eventually, you really will forget about her.

      Well what if she comes back first?
      Mmmm… see, that’s the thing, is somehow they know not to come back until you really forget.

      There’s the rub.
      There’s the rub.

    • Soooo true. Six weeks after my recent breakup, when I had moved out of our shared space, we had legally separated (he insisted we do this immediately because well, money was involved) and I had moved to another city and signed a lease on a new apartment…the very first day I started to feel a twinge of something akin to happiness, to feel like I am going to be fine on my own, and actually way better than I was with him…THEN came the barrage of emails saying he missed me sooooo much. When I was sleeping on friends’ floors, living out of one suitcase, totally lost…not a peep. I am changing his name to NOPE in my phone Right. Now.

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      Right? Such a crappy superpower. Why can’t exes sense lottery numbers and pay our student loans as a lovely parting gift?

  25. akes said:

    I get this. And (if I may madly project) I guess that, in addition to everything mentioned above, you’re not only frustrated because she isn’t choosing you, but the thing she *is* choosing is to entrench herself even more deeply into something that she’s unhappy with, has been unhappy with, and probably will be unhappy with, which will likely drive her to do things that will make her feel even guiltier and unhappier. And this breaks your heart because, despite her not choosing you, you care about her and want her to be happy, and you don’t want to stop caring.

    The solution? Yeah, it’d be great if someone could find out.

  26. LdyEkt said:

    “I was upset and angry, although accepting that I am ultimately responsible for my own unhappiness about it because I did get involved with a married woman.”

    My dear, dear LW. It’s great that you are accepting responsibility for your actions, and I also want to encourage you to have some compassion for yourself in this. Your lover? She led you on and lied to you and guilt tripped you whenever you thought about leaving. On purpose. She told you she would leave him. She told you that the two of you would be together overseas and travel together and be together honestly like you always wanted. On purpose. But her actions didn’t mirror that. She planned that she would do that with her husband (he did not get this job in the last week before they left!). Why? So you would keep on being her piece on the side. She knew that if you knew there was no real future for you to be together in a real relationship, you’d leave. Just like you’re doing now.

    LW, your soon to be ex is a dishonest, manipulative person. It is not your fault that you got trapped in her web, even though it may feel like it is. Please be kind to yourself about this. The primary responsibility for cheating ALWAYS rests with the person who is in the relationship and breaking its rules. You were a party to it, yes, and it seems clear you regret that now. Move on. You will make different choices in the future.

    Not everybody is going to understand this. Some people blame the “other people” who get involved in a cheating situation more than the actual cheaters. That is more about them than it is about you. While your behavior was not awesome, you are not the deceiver who was lying to two people she was involved with this whole time, at least one of whom she claimed to love. She is. Please remember that if anyone judges you.

  27. The last person I was involved with was, like me, very much into music. When it ended (messily), I cried for days and days and days – and felt very fragile for a lot longer. It hurt like hell for the longest time, because it was never meant to be. But I realised I was finally over this person only a few months ago, when I suddenly noticed that I could listen to the songs that I associated with him and they no longer made me blub like a baby.

    LW, you’ll get there too. It will stop hurting eventually, although I know it doesn’t feel like that now!

    Take gentle care of yourself.

  28. maggiebea said:

    Always remember that she never contacted you until AFTER you moved 5 hours away. She didn’t want you for ‘you’ nearly as much as she wanted the drama — and besides, if you live 5 hours away, she’s pretty safe from running into you by accident when she’s out with her husband.

    It hurts. It hurt like fire ants to discover that the thing he loved best about me was the sense of having forbidden fruit … oh, and the awareness that He Had A Secret.

    You got lucky. You could have married her — and then discovered that those amazing weekends could only happen because of the secrecy and drama.

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