You read that right.
Dear Captain Awkward,
I am a 34 year old straight woman in an open marriage with a 39 year straight man. I have taken far more advantage of the openness of our marriage than my husband, at least until recently. I have had a string of long-term affairs and short-term flings. During the past 8 months I have basically been living with another man in a neighbouring town to the one I live in. I am drawn to men who are starkly different than my husband, who is an intellectual, moderate in terms of his vices and has a disdain for the type of men who spend every evening in a pub.
I have a drinking problem but it is not a problem I feel any need to resolve and I am drawn to men who are also drinkers like me. I can have a glass of wine in the morning and drink until I pass out in the afternoon and wake up when my lover comes home and go to the pub with him and start drinking again. My husband can’t tolerate that behaviour which is why I moved in with my current lover.
This past Sunday my lover and I went to a country pub and I glanced in the dining room and saw my husband with a beautiful older woman, but not just any woman. It was my mother and, from the way they looked at each other and were touching, I could tell instantly that it was more than a friendly lunch; they were quite obviously in love with each other. My mother is 54 years old and is breathtakingly beautiful and, unlike me, hasn’t let her body go. My husband, who is also handsome and fit, looked like he was happier than I had ever seen him. I went to the toilet and threw up and then I dragged my lover out of the pub and went straight to the off-licence where I bought a litre bottle of vodka and drank it at his house until I passed out.
I can’t help but feeling betrayed by my mother and my husband. There has always been something lurking beneath the surface with them and since I haven’t been living with my husband for a long time, I guess she made her move and he couldn’t resist or maybe it was the other way around. Knowing I can’t go back to my life as it once was makes me miss it so much. My mother is the one having long talks with my husband at night, or going to a nice restaurant with him or the theatre and I am at a grubby pub every night with my alcoholic lover.
I have started stalking them, sitting in the car down the street from our house, drinking vodka from the bottle, and watching them come out hand in hand to play tennis in the courts down the street or go out to dinner. I have sneaked in the house and gone up to what used to be our bedroom and found my mother has moved all her clothes into the wardrobe and taken what I had left out and I have even seen a tube of lube on the bedside table (my mother is post menopausal). Seeing that made me hate her more than you can believe. My husband would be disgusted with the way I have let myself go and would probably refuse to have sex with me but he’s happily screwing my mother now and enjoying her perfect body.
I haven’t confronted either of them yet. I would love to put an end to their happy little relationship. It is sick that my mother stole her daughter’s husband and I despise her for that. I can forgive my husband but I could never forgive her and I can’t tolerate the fact that they are together.
What should I do?
Look, I’m a human being, and I read this letter a little bit like this:
Like, this can’t be real, right? The references to the lube and the “perfect body”…this can’t be real.
And then I read it again and thought, well, this person sounds lonely as fuck and she had the guts to tell some judgy asshole strangers her story and if it’s real OH MY GOD her HUSBAND and her MOM are THE WORST PEOPLE and maybe we can help validate THAT if nothing else.
Obviously the ick factor of a your husband having an affair with his wife’s mother is high. Y’all have an open marriage, he could theoretically be with anyone in the world, and he chooses your mom? And your mother chooses the one man in the universe who is married to her daughter? That is some unfathomable shitheadery right there, from both of them. For the record, I don’t believe in soulmates. I don’t believe that there is romantic love that is somehow divorced from the choices you make about what to do about your feelings. I don’t believe there are feelings of love and attraction that “have to” be acted upon. I don’t believe in “it just happened.” “It” happens because people make it happen. These two assholes chose this.
I’d have barfed when I learned the truth, too.
There are some things I can’t get past, though, when I read your letter.
A) Of all the women in the world he chose to date your mom and of all of the gin joints in the world he chose to take her to your regular hangout. What are the chances that that’s a coincidence? What are the chances that they didn’t see you or know you were there? My gut says he/they did it on purpose so that you’d find out that way instead of telling you like the “consenting adults” they’ll condescendingly and repeatedly remind you that they are when you do eventually confront them.
B) In between all the references to “her perfect body” and you pining for the companionable life of long talks and theatre visits you’ve lost, there’s the fact that this has been going on long enough for her to move into your house…
…and you didn’t notice until just now. That doesn’t mean his choices are your fault – I don’t know how your open marriage works or what ground rules you set but I’m pretty sure he owed you at least one direct “Hey btw I’m thinking of seeing your mom, is that cool?” conversation.
This isn’t just a case of “this guy would be so perfect if only he weren’t $#@!ing my mother,” this is a case of some deep, deep incompatibility and disconnection between the two of you. It sounds to me like you left him, slowly, on the installment plan, and then he decided to hasten the end by setting everything on fire, including the bridges.
And, maybe there’s a reason you never want to be at home where he is lately? (A reason like self-preservation?)
I have so many questions, like, do you hang out, ever? Do you talk, ever? What was the long-term plan for your marriage? Did your husband know that plan? Did he know whether you ever wanted to come back from living with this most recent dude? When you agreed to an open marriage, did you both envision a situation where either or both of you would move out for long periods of time? What does “normal” or “the desired outcome” for your marriage look like to y’all? Have you had a “Hey, this isn’t really working” conversation before now?
Do you still love each other?
Would you have described yourself as “happily married” before you saw them together?
Do you know how he’d describe it?
Is there a compelling reason to stay married to him, beyond say, the legalities or force of habit?
Whatever the answers are, taking your mom on a date to your favorite local + moving her shit into your house (which is still your house…I think?) are not the stealthy moves of professional secret keepers, y’all. This is the You-signal being flashed in the sky. “ALL IS NOT WELL AT HOME. I REPEAT: ALL IS NOT WELL.”
It’s nice that you are thinking about the possibility of forgiveness for your husband (after you break them up somehow, of course), but my read on this situation is that there is no going back to any kind of happy equilibrium in these relationships. He’s always going to be the guy who dated your mom. Your mom is always going to be the mom who dated your husband. You’re framing it as “My mom stole my husband” but your husband did just as much stealing and breaking of trust.
Also, forgiveness is for when someone has a) stopped doing the harmful thing and b) apologized. These people haven’t even done you the courtesy of an honest conversation about what’s happening. I give you permission to ignore the entire concept of forgiveness for now.
Even if they agreed to end things, is there any going back to the life you (thought you) had, where your husband is a safe haven who will always leave the light on for you while you explore your
addictions totally unproblematic day-drinking hobby?
You are, as you say, “stalking” them – sitting in your car to watch them go about their lives, “sneaking” into your house – what has stopped you from talking to them?
“Hey, Husband, what’s new with you? Are you sure there’s nothing new? Nothing at all? Nothing you’d like to tell me? Cool, okay, well, have a good day.””
“Husband, I saw you in the pub the other day, was that my mother?”
“Husband, I dropped by the house to pick something up the other day and…okay, I’m just gonna come out with it. Why are my mom’s clothes in the wardrobe?”
“Husband, I realize I haven’t been around much lately, but I think we need to talk. Do you think things are working well between us?”
“Mum, how’re you, how’s the weather, how are things, by the way, are you dating my husband?”
“Mum, Husband, I’m having a hard time even looking at either of you right now, also, what the fuck are you doing? Did you sit around trying to come up with the most hurtful, appalling thing you could do to me?”
Do these questions seem ridiculous and like you can’t picture yourself asking them? Even though they are pretty reasonable questions given the situation? Because if you actually talk about it with them, it will become real?
Yeah. I get that.
I say this with all the love I can muster:
Your marriage is dead.
Your relationship with your mom is also pretty dead.
Those relationships can die but I want you to be alive.
You were hiding from your own life in that pub, all those days of passing out and killing time with grubby men in grubby places. You were hiding, and then your husband came and found you with this giant, awful, sickening secret and you couldn’t hide from it anymore. Now you’re hiding in parked cars outside the tennis club or outside the house where you used to live. What happens when you can’t hide from or drown these feelings any longer? I’m scared for you. Drinking in your car (and presumably driving?) is “danger to yourself and others” territory.
Something has been permanently lost or damaged, and, while I understand the fantasies, breaking these two people up will not restore whatever it is or was. You asked what I thought you should do and the answer is “Take care of yourself.”
So, please, please, please: Take the kind of loving care of yourself that you wish someone else would take for you. Radically intervene in your own life to take care of yourself.
I think you need to have some talks with your husband about “Hey bro, dating my mom, not cool btw, probably time to end this?” and then some more talks about money and living space and what the winding down of the institution of your marriage entails (financially, legally). And then cut him and your mom out of your life entirely.
Before that talk, I think it is time to call on any and all resources you can find who are not your husband or your mother. Friends. Other family members who you can count on. A divorce attorney (solicitor where you are?). A therapist. A medical doctor for a complete checkup. Find somewhere to live that is just yours, maybe, with no men/distractions/drinking buddies.
Also, no more hiding out, no more monitoring your husband and your mom. Drag everything into the light and deal with it. You told us your story, so tell a therapist and a friend. Start imagining yourself in a different kind of future, where you are free of them and have a fresh start. You are only 34 years old! The next year of your life might suck more than it doesn’t (basically alternating between Adele songs and the”Hold Up” parts of Lemonade on repeat while you grieve), but if you can hang in? If you can hang in, a few years from now you’ll be the lady with the devil-may-care attitude and the “Oh, you think your ex was shit? Oh, you think you don’t get along with your parents? Might as well get comfortable” story.
Let go of the idea of breaking them up, that that’s something you should do or something you can do. The thing will probably perish on its own without you in the middle providing a dramatic focus. Even if they stay together forever gloriously in love mashing their perfect bodies together for the rest of time? Every. Single. Time. someone asks how they met the fact that they are the kind of people who would fuck their wife’s mom/fuck their daughter’s husband will be a part of their story, and they’ll have to choose: Lie or oog people out? Lie or oog people out?
Ok, finally, I think your drinking problem is an actual problem that deserves serious, thorough, compassionate, loving treatment. Only you can decide when you’re ready for that, and it doesn’t sound like you’re ready yet so I’ve tried to respect that in this writing, but when you do decide, you deserve it, all of it, all of the help, all of the recovery. You have an illness that is slowly eating your life. Maybe it ate your marriage a few bites at a time. None of that makes you a terrible person who needs to hide in the bushes from the assholes in her life, it makes you human. It makes you deserving of care and compassion and help and second chances and third chances and fresh starts.
I link to poems a lot and these are the ones on my mind right now:
Glass, by Kim Addonizio
Antilamentation, by Dorianne Laux
(If I’m remembering right, Laux and Addonizio are friends who met at the same writer’s workshop or class. They know. Whatever it is you’ve gone through or are going through, they know.)
Be well, Letter Writer. You are related to a bunch of assholes and I hope you get free very soon.
A) This ain’t Reddit. What do we lose by being constructive and kind?
B) I know the comments in my mod queue recommending 12-step programs and other alcohol treatment programs are kindly meant and coming from people who have used them successfully. But until the LW asks for that kind of help, they are a distraction, and they tend to attract a lot of thread-jacking debate that I have to clean up. Hold off, ok? Thank you.
C) Closing comments as of 11 pm Thursday because my moderation queue and spam trap are a dumpster fire and I need to sleep sometime.
Letter Writer, please get some help and take good care of yourself.