I’m sorry, this is complicated. I am in my late thirties and have fallen in love for the first time in my life. We have been in love for a year. I believe he is the love of my life, which I have never believed about anybody, and he believes that I am his. He still lives with his ex-wife and their three children. This made me hesitant at first, but we have been so open, honest and intimate that I trust him.
His ex-wife suffers from depression which renders her unable to work, unable to care for the children, and unable to take care of household tasks. They have been living together, divorced, with him taking care of her and the children for several years. He does not like this, but believes it is best for the children. I am happy to live separately and I don’t want kids of my own, and I trust him, so I am fine with that situation.
However, his ex-wife is hoping that he will eventually come back to her. When we fell in love, he asked me to keep our relationship secret for a while, wanting to wait for when she was on an uptick so that he could break the news to her that he is seeing someone. He is also wary because one of the kids has explicitly said that he does not want his parents to date anyone else (although he hasn’t said that in the past year). So I agreed to keep us secret until the right time.
The other day, he came to me absolutely shaking, like he had just walked away from a plane crash or something. He told me that he tried to take up with his ex that he would like to start dating other people. His ex had a complete breakdown and told him that if he dates anyone else, she will move out and have the kids every other week. He couldn’t let that happen, partly because he can’t bear to be without his kids so often and partly because she won’t care for them when it is her turn. He was also panicking too much from her breakdown. So he promised her that he would not date anybody else.
Now he is asking me to keep our relationship secret for 10ish years, until the kids are grown. He feels extremely guilty for asking me this, and says he understands perfectly if I don’t agree to it, but he seems to think it’s the best option for the situation. I don’t think it’s good for the kids for a parent to keep such a huge secret from them, but that’s not my call to make. I also think this is preventing his ex from moving on with her life and her love life, but that’s also not my call to make. Having a secret relationship for 10ish years sounds horrible for both of us, and of course there is the risk we will be caught. I think his solution is terrible, but I don’t have a better suggestion. Does anyone have a better idea?
A person with a she pronoun
May I suggest a hard & eternal no to being a secret on the sidelines of this guy’s life for 10 more years (or any more years).
And my “better suggestion” is: “[Name], I love you so much, and I want to build a future with you, but I need you to SORT OUT YOUR FUCKING LIFE, so I’m going to give you some space to do that. Call me when you’ve figured out a custody & housing arrangement that allows you to date me freely and openly. Until then, let’s break up – I’m nobody’s secret and you have too much on your plate to be the boyfriend I need.”
And then you grieve and let him go and live your life with the expectation that he will never call.
His ex-wife also suggested a better solution, which is that she would move out and get her own place and they would negotiate some kind of custody agreement (as millions of divorced parents do). This thing that he’s treating as a horrible threat hanging over him is…actually…the reasonable & predictable consequence of getting divorced? Like, why is her saying “If you move on, I will move on, too!” a problem? Oh riiiiiiiighhhhht, the kids. The kids he wants to lie to for 10 years + 1 year of already lying = 11 years of lies!
His wife’s depression no doubt makes all of this harder. And yet? A lot of people have depression. As far as I know there is no known course of treatment for depression that involves living in the person’s house, pretending that you didn’t actually get divorced & that you’ll get back together someday, making promises about not falling in love with someone else (fake promises that you broke long ago), and lying to everyone around you (including your children) about what your life is like and what your plans are and who you really love. If she’s having breakdowns that scare him, she needs DOCTORS and maybe a HOSPITAL and MEDICATION and a THERAPIST, not a shitty, self-serving, patronizing-as-fuck pack of lies to keep building her life around. If she is disabled to the point that she can’t work or care for the kids, then that can be documented and factored in to how custody works so she has the necessary accommodations to be the best parent she can be. Who is he to make all these decisions for her?
If this guy went through the expensive and annoying legal process of getting divorced (and in your shoes I’d want to see the decree), there was a right time for moving out, for negotiating custody & living arrangements that would benefit the kids, for making sure the ex-wife got all the treatment and care she needs, and for making it clear that the marriage is really over. The time was when they first got divorced. I’d even go so far as to say a person who gets divorced but stays in the house to coparent with a disabled partner is a pretty cool person, except he’s not doing it in a friendly way (a friend would be honest and set healthy boundaries). Welp, no time like the present, except when he was presented with an opportunity to come clean about his desire to date again (something he’s already been doing for a year) and to renegotiate their living arrangements, he lied his ass off.
Of course kids don’t want their parents to date fall in love with anyone else, that’s not surprising, but kids aren’t the bosses of adult hearts and his ex-wife isn’t the boss of your life. This guy left a marriage that wasn’t working for him (and again, I’d want to see that divorce decree, and more specifically I’d want to see the state’s legal records of that divorce independent of anything that he shows you) but he didn’t really leave, he just trapped himself there in a half-life and now he wants to trap you there with him. He’s so afraid of looking bad to his kids or being the bad guy in the story that he’s willing to risk your integrity and your happiness to keep these lies going. In my opinion, this helps NO ONE. In my other opinion, this is bad FOR YOU. You really gonna spend every one of the next 10 years sandwiched in on the edges of this guy’s life? Every holiday? Every vacation? Every time someone asks you “hey are you seeing someone?” and you have to lie or tell some complicated bullshit story? Every text he sends or phone call he makes or dinner with you is a shabby little secret? And then what? “Hey kids, now that you’re grown, meet my girlfriend of 10 years, oh crap, we gotta lie and pretend that we just met.” How exactly is this different from a plain old affair?
You trust him, but he’s a LIAR. He keeps lying to the important people in his life when he thinks it’s for their own good. If he thought something was for your own good, what lies would he tell you? He can’t set the most basic healthy boundaries with his ex-wife or his children or himself, but he’ll make this giant ask of you? Nope.
This is how much of a coward he is: He won’t tell his ex-wife the truth about you, someone who is supposedly the love of his life, and he won’t even break up with you when he’s clearly chosen to stay in his toxic situation. “He feels extremely guilty for asking me this, and says he understands perfectly if I don’t agree to it, but he seems to think it’s the best option for the situation.” Well, of course, it’s the best option for HIM. This way he doesn’t have to disappoint anyone (except you) or make any hard decisions (to tell the truth) and he’s creating a situation where you’re never allowed to need him because other people might need him more (and you & your needs are a big ol’ dirty secret). If this guy is not available to date you until the kids grow up and move out of the house, that’s a choice he’s making, and it means he’s not available. Okay! Let him live with that choice. But let him also own that choice and not make you do the work of breaking up with him!
I know this love feels really significant and like you’ll never find its like again. I can’t promise you that you will find exactly what it is about this guy that makes you want him, but I can promise you that there are people in the world who don’t come with this level of bullshit & cowardice involved. You deserve much better than Mr. “I’m Technically Divorced But We Still Have To Lie To Everyone Because I’m A Giant Coward And I Think I Know Better Than Everyone What They Need.” This guy is GROSS, Letter Writer. Don’t make your life smaller and your integrity smaller to compensate for the courage he lacks.