#1147: “My lover wants me to keep our relationship secret from his ex and kids.”


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

Hi there,

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.



467 thoughts on “#1147: “My lover wants me to keep our relationship secret from his ex and kids.”

  1. #thisfuckingguy indeed. He forgot to add: “And if you agree to this insanity, you can also expect me to manipulate your emotions at will, in any way I see fit, because my circumstances are so special and I am so special and THINK OF THE CHILDRENNNNNN.” If you love him, let him go — then turn on your heel and run like hell.

    1. So many singles dudes I have met with something like this story … but the ex-wife is so “crazy” and of course I need to have this really lying non-boundary setting, because there is no way she can take care of the chiiiiillllllllllldddddrrrreeeeeeeen without my lying and inability to set boundaries. Cuz she is a woman and all amiright? See how misogyny even creeps right into divorce!

      I have been a single parent to two kids for a very long time. I haven’t lived with a man in 7 years. I am a chronic “dater” because I explain it “I am beholden to no one”. I date a lot. It is fun and who knows, I may some day meet someone that I want to share my life with. But I have met my fair share of single dads with this mentality. Like they could never fully *leave* their ex because omg she is such a helpless woman, while simultaneously dating me who is a woman with a career and children full time with no man. And yes, it is very evident very quickly that they are never going to leave. And thats is when I bail. And I bail cuz I can lol.

      His ex wife may have all these problems. But if they are this bad, no mental health professional is going to advise this as the best situation for anyone to be in. If she is the this bad, then her ability to care for her children in a responsible way is extremely compromised. I am not saying she shouldn’t be allowed around her kids, but I am saying a professional definitely (obviously) needs to be involved in this situation to determine if she does need treatment “out and away” – if he is even being honest. This whole thing screams totally self-destructive behavior in the most positive light LOL.

      1. yea… if he treats his ex-wife with this little respect, how is he going to treat LW? Never believe a guy who thinks YOU’RE special enough to handle some shitty role he decides in his life because all the other women around him are too XYZ (some misogynist bs)

    2. Yeah, “think of the children” can be safely translated to “How can I use my kids as Empathy Props to get what I want?” in this case, I think.

      1. I nominate “empathy props” as a new entry into the dictionary.

        Because, whoa, that’s extremely succinct in its articulation of A Thing.

        “Empathy props”… an excellent lens through which to view LW’s situation.

  2. I’m just going to say this trips the “shady as hell” flags and I second looking up the actual divorce decree. Seriously, find the county courthouse, call them, ask.

    This… this is just wrong.

    1. 100% this, plus also even if the divorce IS real you still get to leave, LW. You aren’t the villain in anyone’s story if you do.

      Walk away from this house of bees and love yourself first for a little while as the Captain advises. Anyone as willing to lie as this fucking guy is, well. I only know what you wrote in this letter but I couldn’t trust him at all.

      1. *Nod* This just… especially the “shaking with panic” bit when he says he brought up just the thought of dating other people, which is the exact thing LW wants as a reasonable person? Really sounds like the sort of reality-warping I’ve run into from several manipulative people.

        (AKA Bees. So many bees.)

    2. Letter Writer, he is lying to his ex for her own good. She would go to pieces if she knew. He is lying to his kids for their own good. They would get hurt if they knew their mommy and daddy weren’t ever getting back together.

      Now, let’s say that he is married. Oh, but in his mind, he doesn’t think of his wife as his “wife” anymore. Her medical condition mean they can’t sleep together, or can only do it very rarely. Or he doesn’t really enjoy it much. She’s changed. He’s changed. They both agree that they’re only staying together for the kids. They don’t want to put the kids through a divorce. So they’re *practically* divorced already. And the woman he recently met and who he truly loves is beautiful and independent and doesn’t want kids and loves him and is fine with living apart. It would hurt her so much if she knew he was married all along and, you know, practically speaking he is divorced. Wouldn’t it be for that woman’s own good that he lies to her and tells her that he’s divorced? Isn’t he being kind by lying to her, like he’s lying to his “wife” and lying to his kids?


      You are that woman! Okay, he may be divorced, and somehow during the divorce he may have not ever discussed custody with the judge or with the lawyers. But there’s a very good chance that he’s lying to everyone for their own good, you included. And there’s a good chance that that shaking-and-crying routine was a way to either stall you, or get you to break up with him without ever having to admit he lied to you and is married.

      1. Or that the shaking was his reaction to a conversation he had with his wife about maybe getting a divorce…

      2. OMG what a masterful explanation of the situation.

        All the time I was reading this I was hot to get to the comments to see who else had my reaction of “this lying liar who lies is lying to you, lady,” and at the same time I felt like I was just busting out this old cliche (which is a cliche for a reason…) and of course this situation is different, I’m probably being a jerk, etc.

        But this? This covers all the bases. I would put my money on this.

      3. This was my thought too. Why should LW believe she is the only person he is NOT lying to?

        SO MANY BEES.

      4. I have no advice, since the letter writer has already taken a very brave step.

        I just wanted to take a moment to lament the fact that, every time I hear of a situation like this, it’s always a dude expecting a woman to accept less than she needs and deserves? I’m sure it happens in other gender combinations, but I don’t seem to hear about it.

        Why is it so easy for a man to imagine that a woman can easily just ignore her needs as long as it caters to his needs (or wants)? I mean, good for this guy that he’ll “understand” if letter writer can’t accept his offer, but why is he even treating it like an option? He can choose to give up his own romantic happiness for the sake of his kids, but he doesn’t care about the woman he claims to love to think about it from the perspective of “Does she deserve a partner who can enrich her life and add to her happiness?”Even if you prefer not to live together, anything that you might expect from the love of your life, such as practical help with life – building furniture, care after surgery, rides to the airport, etc. – are unavailable, or insufficiently available, when your relationship is a secret. Meanwhile, the dude will get at least some of that from his ex wife, because even if she’s depressed, she will likely be around if he has surgery, or needs a ride to the airport.

        At least this guy was honest about it being ten years, although realistically, if it happens for ten years, it’ll happen indefinitely. But it’s better than always promising that a happy union is just around the corner.

        1. I recently discovered this song and I cannot since get the sentence “Why are men good until they gotta be great?” out of my head…

      5. Yeah, the complete lack of custody arrangements seems to be the biggest red flag for me. I truly do not know the inner workings of a divorce decree, but they aren’t living separately, splitting up any assets, or making any changes to their parenting. Like, what would have even been included in the divorce? Really doubting this dude is fully divorced. I know plenty of people who have started dating while still in the separation stage- divorce can take a long time! But even if it’s not divorced but separated, he’s been lying to you.

        1. In many (all?) states you are required by law to have a parenting plan signed by a judge if you get divorced.

          1. Some (many?) states also require separation for a minimum period before a divorce will be granted, to avoid additional custody battles down the road. If they never separated they may never have divorced.

      6. My thoughts exactly. My friend thought she was in a similar situation to LW but Surprise, he wasn’t divorced. He then shifted gears to ‘about to be divorced’ but Surprise, he actually just agreed to have another baby with his wife (with no hint of divorce). He then shifted gears to ‘no longer in love but the marriage is consensually poly’, but Surprise, by consensually poly he meant a monogamous marriage with completely uninformed spouse. The whole while friend was wearing herself out trying desperately to support him ‘through this tough time’ and respect his need to protect his ‘crazy emotionally fragile ex’, I mean spouse.

    3. No, don’t even bother looking for the decree. Even if he’s telling the truth about this one thing, that won’t make the rest of it any better. It’s a mess.

      1. Ha–true. Why bother? The amount of lying going on is reason enough to leave; there’s no point even looking for a decree.

      2. THIS. It doesn’t matter whether he is divorced or lying about being divorced.
        Whether or not he is lying now, he is telling LW that he is willing to *live a lie for 10 years* – that’s some impressive dedication to being a liar.
        He’s so determined to be a liar that he is asking LW to continue live a lie for 10 YEARS.

        If LW wins his game, she loses. If everything goes according to his plan, and in 10 years LW and TFG get married, LW will be married to a man who thinks nothing of lying to wife.

        1. And why do I get the feeling that this dude would decidedly NOT be ok with his ex(?)-wife also secretly dating someone else for 10 years as he plans to while their kids grow up? Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too. DTMFA, dear letter writer.

    4. Yep. If you’ve been with someone for a year and you are both supposedly very much in love, but they haven’t even told their ex that you exist let alone moved out of their ex’s home (and/or set other healthy normal boundaries), *something* is shady. I don’t know exactly what it is (add me to the list of people who suspect he’s not actually divorced though), but something is up, and whatever it is, it’s not worth being a secret in someone else’s life to find out.

      1. Given what’s written in the letter and the “shaking” bit – I’ve seen that as a manipulation tactic, I’ve had it used on me, it’s meant to rattle the nerves and it’s horrible to use on someone with any level of empathy for fellow humans. So my uncharitable guess is “this guy likes the thrill of manipulating the situation and seeing how much he can get other people to fold to his demands”.

        I also have deep suspicions about exactly how depressed his wife is and why. Tip: I’d bet he’s at least half the reason.

      2. SO shady. I mentally yelled GIRL RUN as I was reading the letter. This reads to me exactly like every other married cheater who tells his mistress how awful his wife is and how “I’m going to leave her soon, the time just isn’t right” to string her along when he has no intention of leaving. Again, I could be wrong, but it’s feeling like a slightly new spin on some very old bullshit.

      3. The most generous and charitable interpretation of this guy’s actions, the LEAST sketchy way of seeing this, is that he’s telling the truth about everything, but he’s so profoundly conflict-averse that he really would prefer for things to go on in this wildly dysfunctional way than for his ex-wife or his children to be even briefly upset at him. And that’s quite bad enough.

        1. I think you’re right, whingedrinking. I suspect the “crying and shaking” is because the guy knows he’s being unfair to the LW, but he wants her to take care of his feeeelings about the bad thing that he is doing *to her*. And, without being a fly on the wall of his family home, it’s difficult to know how his wife was behaving during this “complete breakdown”. She must know that the two of them are divorced, ergo broken up with an official piece of paper to prove it. Finding out that he might see someone else may well hurt, but it can’t be a surprise.
          Also, once again we see the most reasonable person in the situation having to bear the *entire* burden of making it work for other people who don’t want to deal with their own sh1t. So, confusion and pain for LW – but nice comfortable business as usual for everyone else. When does LW get to cry and break down and make *her* demands about what she might want?
          LW – I can see that your – boyfriend? friend with benefits? secret lover? is putting you in an impossible situation and kinda sorta hoping that you’ll take the initiative and be the bad guy, and break up with him. As the good Captain has indicated, I think you should break up with him anyway. Take it from one who knows – being single is way better than being stranded in that no-man’s-land where you are neither single or attached.
          Oh, and get a well-fitting beekeeper’s protection suit for next time.

    5. If the LW is in the US, decent odds that she can do so online.

      Do a search for the name of your county + court. Look up ‘online services’ or if you can’t find that, go to their site map. Then look up the dude’s name (it might be under “party name” or “case name”, there should be instructions). Even if you can’t access the details, or if the case file is not online, you will be able to see if there even WAS a family law case filed in his name.

      I helped my mother-in-law do this once when she was being sob-storied into letting the poor, laid-off, Trying Very Hard guy who was living in the house she bought stay there for a while, delaying her ability to move in. She felt a lot less sorry for him when a thirty second search showed he had been sued by three women for failure to pay child support and was likely unemployed because he kept getting sued by customers for doing shitty work.

  3. What the Captain said! Nothing healthy in what has been happening and what the Cowardly Liar proposes!

  4. The chances this dude is actually divorced are so very, very vanishingly small. And what he’s asking you to do is patently absurd.

    1. ~this~

      I’d place money on a bet that the (not actually ex) wife isn’t actually as dependent on him as he claims – though he may sincerely believe she is.

      1. I mean, it’s right there in the letter, the wife was like “If you date someone else, I will move out and we’ll share/alternate custody.” She may be manipulative, not a great parent, all kinds of not great stuff, but if the choices are:

        We lie to everyone for 10 more years
        I take my ex-wife at her word and start actually moving to separate our households

        Who is the person who most wants to stay in the shared house so bad? I submit for the record: Maybe not the ex-wife! I would actually trust NOTHING that this guy says about her. He’s a giant liar! Why would we trust what he has to say?

          1. There are a lot of comments about the guy and his wife, but I want to talk about the kids for a second. This letter makes it very clear that the LW’s boyfriend considers his kids his top priority. This is, in theory, a good, healthy thing. However, his plan leaves no way for the LW to develop a relationship with them and will in fact make her the bad guy in their eyes. His plan is for her to become their stepmother once the youngest one is an adult…maybe. I think that if things got that far, the deadline would get extended until after the last one finishes college, then until s/he gets a job and is self-sufficient, at which point his kids will be starting relationships of their own and now it’s too close to the wedding of Child #1 to be introducing a new step-mother, etc. This shows an extreme lack of care and sensitivity towards both the LW and his three kids.

            If the LW is introduced in 10 years, the kids will either hate the her for appearing to be the one who instigated the final break between their parents (if they lie about how long they’ve been dating), or they’ll hate her for being the “other woman” lurking in the shadows for 11 years, which in their eyes will mean that she was the one who poisoned any chance their parents might have had at reconciliation. Either way, the LW’s relationship with these kids is ruined before they even know who she is. Because they won’t have grown up with her (or even the idea of her), she is unlikely to be welcome at family events (weddings, holidays, etc.), which will then put her boyfriend in the position of having to choose between them and her again and again—and, devoted dad that he is, who do you think he’s going to choose? Hint: it’s the people he is already choosing.

            There’s also a massive red flag that he’s willing to pretend to indulge the child who says he doesn’t want his parents to date anyone else—LW’s boyfriend is crossing a line by letting this kid think that’s something he has any say in (the correct response is, “I hear you—it would be hard to see your mom and me with other people. I can’t and won’t promise never to date anyone, but I love you and would never let someone come between us.”) and then crossing another by pretending that he’s going along with it. Even if he never promised his kid he wouldn’t date anyone, it’s still bullshit that this is influencing his thinking or decision-making beyond, “We need to think about the best way introduce LW to my kids,” and “I, my ex, and LW should have some firm and clear rules about the extent to which LW will be involved in parenting my kids.”

            All together, this tells me that for all his purported care for his children, he’s actually not a very good dad. And that’s without this whole “we’re divorced but living together for the sake of the kids” situation that screams “I have control issues and bad boundaries.”

          2. I’m not really sure why this showed up here. I thought I had put my reply in the box at the end of the page. Apologies for the long non sequitur post that has appeared in this thread!

          3. I agree with Tea Rocket on the kids – no matter what, once all of this comes out (which will probably be sooner than 10 years, secrets like this do not keep) you are gonna be seen as the bad guy. Not to mention having their dad lie to them for so long is gonna mess them up. This is not kind to the kids, it will hurt them so much more in the long term.

            Also – if the mom is really incapable of taking care of the kids then there are things that can be done! It is not just leave them to starve at her house once a week once she moves out. If she can’t take care of them then the court needs to know that and he will get primary custody. This whole idea that if she moves out the kids will suffer is BS – just some scarecrow straw-man that he is trying to use to keep the status quo.

          4. Is he making the kids his top priority? I mean, LW has never met them and has been banned from developing a relationship with them, so everything she knows about them comes from Mr Trustworthy over there. And I’m sure he has every incentive to make himself sounds like an amazing father, but it’s a peculiar coincidence that him being an amazing father means he gets to keep his bit-on-the-side compliant and quiet for ten years.

          5. Re what Tea Rocket said: “…his letter makes it very clear that the LW’s boyfriend considers his kids his top priority. This is, in theory, a good, healthy thing. However, his plan leaves no way for the LW to develop a relationship with them and will in fact make her the bad guy in their eyes.”

            I have dated and bumped into a number of separated/divorced men who use their kids as emotional/moral shields. They seem fine but then hit a bump and are clearly uncomfortable with intimacy or are Having Feelings of some sort, maybe regarding their exes, and suddenly climb up on their high horses, i.e., “I have to do what’s good for my children right now” which is to not date me/women.

            This isn’t to say that they haven’t really had a come-to-Jesus moment in which they realize they need to put parenting first, or make more time for their kids, and those are very good things for him to consider. I had a crappy absentee dad, so, if these guys are really waking up and prioritizing their kids, good for them! And I admit that it’s possible.

            But the pattern is so prevalent that it feels like something else is going on. It doesn’t help when they take a tone about it like you’re some loose whore trying to weasel your way in between them and their offspring. And dude, I’m trying to have a very modest date to get to know you better when it fits both our schedules, which even optimistically is quite an operation. Even if I wanted to be the next great wicked stepmother, I’d need a bigger budget, a better wardrobe, and a 24/7 personal assistant to pull it off. Quit blaming me for your wants and desires and ambivalence about them.

            My ultimate point being, this guy is clearly pulling the same routine with is kids on LW. They’re convenient excuses. I don’t mean he doesn’t love them, but their negotiating value is what he’s leaning on heaviest here.

          6. @ Mercutia

            “Even if I wanted to be the next great wicked stepmother, I’d need a bigger budget, a better wardrobe, and a 24/7 personal assistant to pull it off. Quit blaming me for your wants and desires and ambivalence about them.”

            This is awesome, and hilarious, and the best. Burn!

          7. Completely agree with @TeaRocket.

            In addition to thwarting the LW’s opportunity to build any kind of relationship with these children, he’s also putting them in a situation where he will inevitably and repeatedly be lying to his children. When he and the LW have dates – let alone overnights or vacations – presumably he’s telling them something. He’s working late, business trip, meeting up with Jack and Jill – etc. And while for divorced or separated parents still living together (though honestly with one another) – presumably there is a balance between telling your children what you’re doing and introducing new romantic partners too soon – the LW’s partner is proposing a decade of lies of all varieties to his children.

            That’s a lot of lying, for a very long time. Relying on the hope that none of them will ever find out – at its most charitable – seems incredibly desperate. But also likely an indicator of horrible boundaries and an inability to truly see how that behavior hurts others.

            Lastly – his approach to making a decision about his children (where the youngest is presumably 8?) with how they are now is incredibly short sighted. These children will continue to grow and evolve and have different needs and different challenges. To assume that they’re going to remain happy with mom and dad divorced, cohabitating, but not romantically connected (again to take him entirely at his word) is also a leap. As teenagers, they may well have different views about what their parents should do – and all three children may not have the same opinion at the same time. That all being said – repeatedly lying to them just sets up the Dad and his kids for a potentially horribly messy fall out.

        1. Seriously, tho. And the thing is? If she’s too depressed to properly take care of the kids? THAT’S WHAT CUSTODY HEARINGS ARE FOR.

          I mean, I’d also say you’d be surprised, too. Like, my mom had serious depression for a few years after my parents’ divorce (and before it too), to the point that I assumed that lying in bed all afternoon was just what mommies do. But she still took care of us. She still made sure that we had good food to eat, a clean place to live, and got to school more or less on time most days (she did hate having to drive all the way into town, so just one of use going “I don’t feel well” usually meant we all got a day off, though). Now, there are other manifold problems that came around because of her other issues, but overall…

          (Also, we didn’t trade off entire weeks. We did Monday-Weds at mom’s house and Weds-Friday at Dad’s, and then the weekends alternated. It helped the schedule feel more regular and meant we didn’t go an entire week without seeing either parent.)

          But if she really is too depressed to properly care for them? To the point that she can’t work? Then yeah, that’s the sort of thing that gets her every-other-weekend type custody.

          It’s crummy of her to use it as a threat because it probably means that she sees that he’s gotten comfortable and she’s also comfortable and codependent, and children shouldn’t be pawns. But it’s a perfectly reasonable solution.

          At the end of the day, the situation is working perfectly for HIM. And for no one else.

          1. Also…maybe the wife is depressed because she’s in a shitty marriage? And the person she should be able to trust most is lying to her, and maybe she doesn’t know that for certain, but she knows that /something/ is wrong? and her homelife is tense and she ALSO doesn’t want to ruin everything because the chiiiiiiildren, but also she’s unhappy?

            My best friend in childhood had a Super Cool Friendly Dad, and a Tense and Brittle Mother, and we all loved Cool Dad and were uncomfortable around Tense Mom.

            Then when the kids were old enough it turned out Cool Dad had been having an affair with his best friend’s sister for YEARS, and they got a divorce, and it turned out that when she wasn’t stuck in a shitty marriage with someone who was cheating on her Tense Mom became Awesome Mom and started taking dance classes and running marathons and getting new boyfriends and as a completely different (much happier!) person.

            Because sometimes a proper divorce and separate lives, it turns out, is a gift to everyone.

        2. I THOUGHT THIS TOO. Like, he says he’s not moving out to help her/support her…but also she’s the one who’s threatening to move out. Something does not jive there.

          1. OOoooOOOooo that is an EXCELLENT point. And I think it dovetails well/reinforces what Jennifer said about this dude deciding FOR his wife what she needs.

          2. Nothing jibes here.

            I’d bet real money that *everything* he tells LW is bullshit.

            Not a single iota of truth to be had.

        3. Seriously, that bit about how “she hopes they’ll get back together?” She doesn’t have to hope that BECAUSE HE NEVER LEFT.

          1. And if she’s too depressed to care for the kids, who’s taking care of them when he’s with LW?

            LW, love makes us make weird decisions, and I’ve trusted people for years that I shouldn’t have. All the goodness and gentleness to you in dealing with this.

        4. Is the (ex)wife even actually being manipulative? If I were continuing to live with an ex in the hopes of reconciling (and why wouldn’t I hope for that given that he’s choosing to continue living with me and knows this is my hope), then saying we should stop living together and work out an evenly split custody arrangement if he wants to see other people sounds like a perfectly reasonable boundary to me. Whether or not the scale of the wife’s ‘breakdown’ veers into manipulative behaviour or not is completely unknown (and this guy is not a reliable narrator of this), but her stated terms sounds very reasonable and non-manipulative. It’s not like she’s threatening to harm herself, or to take the kids out of state, or block custody or anything.

          1. I don’t know that she is manipulative (and I know that he is!) – I think my point was, even if she were not a great person, the way he’s treating her is awful.

          2. If (big IF here) the ?ex?wife really is as awful as this man says she is, that he lives in fear of her emotional outbursts and stays under her thumb because its the only way he can protect his children from her awfulness, then it is *still a bad idea* for LW to be involved with him. Maybe (big MAYBE) he’s so caught up in a dysfunctional situation that he can’t see his way out of it, but even if that’s so, secretly dating does nothing to change the crappy status quo, except to drag LW into being an enabler. Time to nope out of there.

        5. He’s still martied. LW is his affair. He is lyng theough his big fat lying mouth.

          -There I said it. I regret nothing.

        6. Something definitely doesn’t add up about the guy’s story about his (so-called, anyway) ex-wife. He says she cannot work or take care of herself or the kids, yet when he supposedly broached the subject of dating (after having already done so for a year!) her reaction is supposedly to threaten to move out and take the kids hostage. How is she going to be able to do that with no job? If she is incapable of work what landlord would rent to her? If she is incapable of caring for the kids what court would allow her significant custody?

          TL; DR version–DTMFA.

      2. He may have sincerely convinced his wife that she is too. My gaslighting detector antennae twitched so hard reading that letter.

        1. Seriously. Twitched into the red and snapped off. I really hope the LW looks back on this someday in the not-too-distant future and her eyes roll out of her head down the hill. On the upside, perhaps it will be a learning experience. My worst and dumbest mistakes taught me a lot.

      3. This!

        I am a single mother with my kids full time. I have been a single mother for a looooong time. I havent lived with anyone other than my kids in 7 years. I have also dated/talked to/went out with once my fair share of single dads (I like to date). I have ran into *this dude* more so than I have ran into any other “type” of single father. I like to call them “The Mothered”. If they can pull themselves away from relying on the ex while simultaneously referring tot hem as having some sort of mental illness/drug dependence/evil bitchitis, they then plant themselves on their mother’s couch.It is a natural next step. Proud and happy all the while with themselves for how much a priority their kids are to them- while he watches a woman watch them for him. IF this guy is divorced, he staying there because HE is afraid to leave. He said “she said she will leave if i date” – thats what he means when he says that. He needs her to mother him. He needs her to be the villain+victim to justify in his mind why he wants out but wants to stay at the same time. He doesn’t want to pay her money and he definitely doesn’t want to find himself alone with his own kids. Am I diagnosing this guy as *The Mothered*? No, maybe he isn’t. But he sure sounds like the hundreds of other single dads I know/have dated briefly/talked to online and never made it to a first date. The question is: do you want to be his next Mother? Or otherwise known as the villain+victim? Cuz at the end he just suffers from misogynisticitis.

        1. I’m loving everything about this comment thread, it’s dovetailing with my life in the most amazing way (nothing like the LWs situation, more like yours), and this comment right here is one of the best. Fierce! Thank you.

      4. I also noticed how in the first part of the story, he HAS to stay because his wife can’t do anything. But in the second part of the story, he HAS to stay because she might take care of the kids.

        I think that the truth is, whatever the actual status of the divorce or the ability of the wife may be, that this guy is perfectly pleased with the current set-up and wants to ensure he has ten more years of His Way.

        1. This guy has a woman (the ex-wife) that he doesn’t, in theory, HAVE to be loyal to, as they’re not married (although I’d be looking for receipts on that one, as others have already mentioned), who he can simultaneously use as The Pathetic Depressive Who Neeeeds Me and The Woman I Can Get To Do All The Householdy Shit I Don’t Want To Do Cause It’s Not Like She’s Going Anywhere, as and when his wishes and ego dictate. It’s perfect for him. A woman (LW) on the side who can provide interest and excitement and sexytimes, and a woman at home who makes him feel Needed and who helps feed his martyr narrative; who isn’t about to get strong and well and shut all of this dysfunctional crap down anytime soon.

          Or, perhaps the wife IS a lot stronger than this guy would like to admit, and will follow through with leaving, arranging custody and getting on with her life if pushed. And ThisFuckingGuy can’t afford to rock that boat because then he’d have to be (or get) properly, in-spirit-not-just-on-paper divorced and be a single dad, and not only does he lose Co-Parent On Tap Who Makes Me Feel Needed Wife, but now has to actually try at a real, not secretive, not a novelty, not only when it’s convenient for him Relationship with OP.

          This arrangement is all gain for him and all loss for you, LW. Nope out, and nope out HARD.

  5. >>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

    Yes! It! Is!

    I mean, it isn’t your place to tell his kids, but it is 100% your place to decide you don’t want to be with someone who would raise their kids on a lie. Don’t be party to this, LW!

    1. I agree with Mary. if YOU are the secret being kept, you absolutely get to weigh in on that. Assuming LW wants to be with im for the long haul, the long haul, those kids are part of the package. You all deserve to know about each other and you all deserve a chance to form relationships with each other. He’s depriving all of you of that opportunity.

    2. Also the kids won’t suddenly stop being his kids and part of his family once they turn 18- unless they’ve also fled this house of lies by then of course. If anything he’ll suddenly ‘discover’ that actually he still needs to be there for them through college and first jobs and dating etc etc until OP is being asked to wait until all the kids are married or the grandkids graduate from college

      1. And even if the wife is as dependent as he says, she’s not going to magically be more able to function independently once the kids are grown.

    3. This is an appalling examples of How To Relationship that he’s setting his kids. Not that it’s LW’s duty to worry about that, but it’s something to keep in mind.

  6. Everything the Captain said. Everything.

    LW, this guy is acting extremely married and extremely committed to the woman he calls his ‘ex-wife.’ How do you know he’s divorced? If you only have his word on the matter, I would remind you, in the kindest, gentlest possible way, that he has already made you complicit in one giant lie, and now he’s asking you to be complicit in making that giant lie enormous.

    I’m sorry, LW. I know you love him but if he doesn’t have the guts to actually BE with you, you will always exist in the margins of his life.
    I think you deserve more.

    1. “you will always exist in the margins of his life. I think you deserve more.”

      This, right? Even if the guy is divorced, and can somehow justify his situation, LW deserves to be a front-and-center priority of someone who is “the love of her life”. Everyone deserves that.

      1. I’ve seen this play out with a close friend who dated a guy JUST LIKE THIS. With the kids, with the ex who would “fall apart” if he left, etc. For eight years she spent every holiday at home alone, waiting for him to call her after he finished his Real Holiday with his family, so that they could spend an hour together after his wife and his kids went to sleep. When she needed surgery, she came to my house to recover and he didn’t call her for a week to see if she was OK so…she spent her convalescence sitting by my phone and waiting for it to ring. She was living this sad half life waiting for the moments when he was available. It was heartbreaking. After eight years his wife moved out, my friend moved in, and now his daughter HATES her.

    2. Cynthia Heimel described this situation as being “a supporting character in someone else’s soap opera.”

    3. I have to wonder what the response would be if LW looks for and fails to find any divorce declaration. Will this guy start coming up with all sorts of excuses about why she can’t find any papers, (“I really did get divorced, honey, but we had to keep it secret in order to avoid Deep State hitmen!) or try to weasel his way around it (“Weeeell, we didn’t officially divorce, but we might as well be divorced.). Either way, LW, climb aboard the Nope-ta-pus and ride that noble beast far far away from this dude.

  7. His “best solution” is not a great solution for anyone except him, and really it’s only good for him if lying to his ex, keeping secrets from his kids, and treating his partner badly are behaviours that don’t make him uncomfortable.

    I think it’s okay for him to go back to his ex and say, you know what, I panicked when we had that important conversation the other day. I took some time to think about what you said, and I think you’re right. Even though it would be harder for both of us in the short term to move into co-parenting while living in separate houses, I think it would be best for all of us. Let’s start making that happen now. I am not willing to make a promise in good faith not to date until the children are grown up.

    And then I think he should do it – stop seeing you until he’s moved out and they’ve worked out the physical custody.

    I don’t necessarily think he needs to tell his children all the details right away – that depends on their ages and personalities, but since he’s already shown that he’s not very good about balancing their emotional needs with his own, I think he should get some professional advice about how to be honest and loving and compassionate with them while setting boundaries with them.

    I also think that you should stop seeing him until he’s not lying about you. And I think that you should not need to lie about him or keep him secret from the people who are important to you. If that means waiting until his kids know that he’s dating, then wait.

  8. This guy is married.

    If you already don’t know it in your bones, get proof from a source-that-is-not-him and understand what is really going on here.
    Public records search is a great starting point. Or ask his mother. Ask the “ex”.

    1. Oh yeah. Not only is he married but he’s totally weaponized those kids in his war against the truth. No parent lets one kid’s comment (over a year ago!) be the final authority about the parent’s love life. Or anything else, for that matter.

      1. I was 25 when my mom first mentioned divorcing my dad, and I said I didn’t want it to happen. It was a huge shock and I was terrified of what would happen. Then I thought about it for more than six hours and went, “Okay, yeah, no, that makes sense,” and since then have been her biggest advocate for getting clear of him. Kids! Are not always the best judges!

        1. DH told me that growing up, one of his biggest fears was that his parents would get divorced. By the time he met me he knew it was something that needed to happen.

          Assuming everything this guy said is true, he’s not giving his family what he thinks they are, he’s giving them an illusion. The sooner that bubble bursts the sooner everyone can move on from it.

          1. “he’s not giving his family what he thinks they are, he’s giving them an illusion.”

            This this this oh good gods THIS.

            My parents divorced when I was 18. My dad had been dating his high school ex-girlfriend, the “one that got away” and they re-found each other again blah blah, for about 3 years by the time it came to light and my mom drew a line and said enough of this. My dad then told me – and probably my brother, who was 15, but I don’t know that for sure – that he had been unhappy with my mom for years, but he decided on a “ten year plan” to stay with her “for yours and your brother’s sakes”.

            That? Really does not do great things for a kid, mentally or emotionally. I felt betrayed, I felt used, I was his excuse to cheat rather than get an honest damn divorce, I was so angry with him over that. And ever since then I don’t quite look at old family photos and memories the same – because now I know it was all a sham as far as he was concerned.

            OP’s definitely-not-divorced-yet boyfriend is NOT doing his kids the favor he thinks he is. This is going to blow up in his face as soon as the kids discover that things were not what they seemed, and the longer it goes on before they find out, the worse the fallout is going to be.

            OP, you do NOT want to be there for this. Get out, get out now.

          2. I remember seeing a postcard on the PostSecret site that said something like the writer was keeping a calendar of days marking down to when his youngest was turning 18 and he could leave.

            That thing haunted me. Now, I don’t know the whole story behind that card, obviously, and he may have had good reasons. But it came across as “X amount of days until I can reveal everything I told the kids about our family was a lie.”

          3. I left my ex-husband despite so much guilt, at bottom, because I realized with horror that I was priming my daughter to think that the shape of love was mutual contempt, abuse, and misery. In the end, even though my ex-husband was beyond furious at me at the time, and my daughter was very sad and anxious, we all (including his lovely future wife) acknowledged it as the right choice. I don’t think that modeling co-dependence, conflict aversion, and being a crapweasel is a very loving choice for a parent to make.

      2. I once very briefly dated a guy who would have his 12 year old daughter pick his dates for him online. Yes. She would also sleep in his bed. It was so disturbing to find this out. He was one to weaponize his children as well. See, these dudes don’t like the idea of being a parent. The want the mother around to do it for them. Once they divorce, they cling to their mothers to take care of them and watch their kids. This guy moved within two houses of his mothers’ once divorced. Now that his daughter is 12, she is now his new caretaker. Do not trust men who seem to be afraid of being parents to their own children. They have lost what it means to be an adult.

    2. Agree. 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. That one’s the oldest lie in the book.

      1. This line (she wants me to return to her!) also sets up competition between the wife and LW and LW is low level pressured to be The Cool Girl in contrast to the Harpy Wife. It’s a trap!

        1. This is what ChumpLady calls pick me dancing. It’s exactly what is going on.

          Dude enjoys the drama and attention and control.

          1. I thought of ChumpLady as soon as I read this, too.

            Unfortunately LW very possibly is an unwitting OW (other woman). LW’s guy sounds like every second cheater discussed on the ChumpLady site.

            It’s lies all the way down, so I would bet the guy is lying to LW as well as everyone else.

            You deserve better LW. Don’t settle for being this guy’s dirty little secret. You deserve to be a respected priority, not a hidden, occasional convenience.

    3. Even if he’s not technically married anymore, he’s still in a common-law relationship with the mother of his children.

      I know someone who was seeing a guy who spun the exact same bullshit about how he was divorced from his wife and that they were just still “living in the same house” because of the kids/financial reasons.

      Well, it turned out that “living in the same house” meant “sleeping in the same bed and still having sex regularly, you know, like married people do”, and “divorced” meant “not divorced”.

    4. And really, even if he did go to court and get a divorce — that is literally the easiest part of getting a divorce. Separating households, separating money, telling the kids, dealing with everyone’s grieving process, figuring out custody, negotiating alimony and/or child support, learning to co-parent, figuring out holidays, accepting that you have less control over how the other parent does his/her share of the parenting — divorce is a ton of hard work, emotionally and in other ways.

      I would also want to see this divorce decree, but even if the marriage is legally ended, that’s just a technicality. In every way that matters, he’s still married.

      1. That’s a GREAT point. It sounds like he’s done NONE of the emotional labor to actually end the marriage – maybe they don’t sleep together anymore but he is emotionally married.

      2. Well said. It’s almost irrelevant whether the decree exists, in a way, because he’s still married to her by choice.

      3. I once told s client who was upset with how difficult and how expensive the court process of divorce was “I’m going to drop the truth bomb on you right now because you need to hear it. As difficult as this process is and is expensive as it is, it’s nothing to what you’re going to face post divorce parenting with your ex-husband. You won’t have me to assist you in communicating with him. You won’t be able to go to the judge to be the decision-maker on every dispute. You’re going to have to fight to get money out of him for anything that isn’t expressly mandated in the divorce decree and child support order. If you think this is hard, you need to strap in. It’s going to get a lot worse. “

        At the time, she didn’t believe me. Saw her years later. She said simply “you were right.”

        1. That was an excellent truth bomb you gave your client, and I hope every divorce lawyer says the same thing to their clients. People really do need to hear it and need to be mentally prepared for the long haul.

      4. YES. Regardless of his legal status as married or divorced, he is pretty much acting like he’s married. Having honest and open negotiations about dividing assets and custody is hard AF. To me it sounds like he’s not up for the hard, mature work of honesty—with you, with his wife, or with his kids.

        You love him and I have so much empathy for that. Probably he revealed more and more about his living arrangements as you were falling in love itch him, so you didn’t know the full scope of the deception you were being asked to participate in until you were well and truly in love.

        You may feel you have invested a lot in this relationship, and you have. You have invested your heart. But that doesn’t mean you don’t get to listen to the part of you that’s saying, “wait a minute. I deserve more thx. This. I don’t want to exist on th margins of someone else’s life.” You can love someone and also have—and honor—the feeling that this is not the relationship you want to be in. Honoring that feeling is the hard and mature work of honesty you owe yourself.

      5. I used to practice family law, and in that jurisdiction the courts would not finalize a divorce unless there were support and custody arrangements for any minor children. Jurisdictions do vary on how family law issues are handled, but I have a hard time believing parenting issues never came up in a meaningful way during a divorce proceeding.

    5. He’s living with someone and swearing to be faithful to them. Even if he’s legally divorced, he’s still married.

      1. Yes, yes, yes. I know this has been said a million times in these comments, but I just have to chime in.

        LW, I know this is the very last thing you want to hear. I know you’re in love and you believe him.

        But here’s the truth. Even if there was once a divorce, he got back together with his ex-wife, moved back in with her, and promised not to see other people.

        “My current relationship is trash” is the oldest line in the book and it is what you are getting, with a special “but it’s not a REAL relationship” cherry on top. Run. I’m so sorry, but run.

  9. LW I feel for you because I have been there was I was new and confused and thought that having someone pick me over someone else was sexy and exciting and meant that we were lovers who had been meeting over thousands of years. But I bet you’re also getting a lot of “we’re like roommates” and “she isn’t interested in sex anymore.”

    The Captain is right. This isn’t complicated, this isn’t unusual, this isn’t star-crossed lovers, this is a man who is having an affair. If you’ve never been in love before, take this information and think to yourself, WOW WHAT AN AMAZING FEELING THAT EXISTS FOR ME IN THE WORLD and go and realize how much EVEN BETTER it is with someone who is thinking the SAME AMAZING THING.

    1. This. Thisthisthis. I’m old, and have been through love and loss, and you know what? Losing great love prepared me to recognize it in a better guise when it came again.

      1. Nailed it.

        The self-certainty, the self-value, it takes to recognize great, epic love of true connection and turn and walk away from it, because the situation isn’t fully right for you, creates a well of deep power inside you that you may not even know is there.

        But it builds.

        And it is there and ready when great epic love of true connection arrives wearing the right face and the right circumstances and the right integrity for who you truly are, and that power then comes to the surface and makes that love far stronger and sweeter than you ever could have imagined.

        You never really get to that, to that full beauty, without the will and the power and the self-worth to turn and walk away if it isn’t right.

    2. take this information and think to yourself, WOW WHAT AN AMAZING FEELING THAT EXISTS FOR ME IN THE WORLD and go and realize how much EVEN BETTER it is with someone who is thinking the SAME AMAZING THING


    3. OMG THIS.

      LW, I married the first person I fell in mutual love with. It was … not a good decision. I eventually divorced him and am now in a much healthier relationship with someone else I am in mutual love with.

      When I first met my ex, I had already started making peace with the idea that I would be Forever Alone – literally. I had never had anybody I liked like me back in a real way. The only sexual experience I had was with a guy who was (I realized later) a manipulative jerk.

      When I got married, I was 100% sure that if something happened to split us up, I would never find anyone to love me like that ever again.

      I was wrong. LW, you are almost certainly wrong as well. I always get really extreme when I’m in a newish relationship – the other person is Amazing OMG and I will DIE if I can’t be with him. The brain chemicals during a new love+sexytimes relationship are INTENSE, and it can make us really susceptible to manipulation. I’ve seen it in my own past, and I suspect I see it in your letter. It doesn’t mean you’re an idiot or anything – it means you are vulnerable. Relationships make us vulnerable, and that’s a good thing – when both partners are being honest and owning their shit. Your dude is not. Even if he’s not lying about his situation with his ex, he’s lying TO her, and to his kids. That’s not someone it’s safe to be vulnerable with.

      You deserve so much better. I did too. I have it now, and I wish it for you so much.

      1. Dear LW:

        This. ALL of this.

        I, too, married the first person I fell mutually in love with. (The third person I dated ever, the first I managed to date for more than 3 months). It was a very bad idea. He was an abusive ass-hat who, to the surprise of definitely-not-me, married the NEXT woman he fell in mutual love with less than a year after our divorce papers cleared. He was engaged before they even went through.
        He was also a guy who referred to parenting his own (not even existing yet) kids as “babysitting”, even though he was way more intent on having kids than I was.

        I 100% understand and empathize with feeling like nobody will ever love you. I don’t know if that’s how you were feeling before you met Mister Manipulative, but I’m definitely coming from a place of believing in my bones that Love Is Scarce and you have to scramble and beg and *work* for every scrap that’s available because Otherwise You’ll Die.

        And maybe you were feeling a bit like this when you hit your thirties. (I know I felt like this when I hit the age my mother had been when she married my dad and I still wasn’t married, still hadn’t met someone who knew they’d Love Me For Ever).
        Even if you weren’t feeling like that, being in love is a trip. New Relationship Energy (which, btw, can last up to two YEARS) does a LOT to your head, and it does it for a reason… but it also makes you (and everyone else who experiences it) super vulnerable to manipulation and gaslighting.

        I have to agree with… pretty much the entire comentariat here, tbh: This guy is acting super still-married.
        I’m very confident that he’s lying to you.
        Failing that, he’s lying to his wife and his kids and (1) asking you to be party to those lies, (2) at GREAT personal detriment, (3) for a DECADE (!!!) and (4) He’s going to do the same thing to you.

        He’s going to do the same thing to you.
        If he’s not already lying to you, he will be and he will be SOON.

        Follow Captain A’s advice. Tell him he needs time and space to get his life together. End the relationship. Block him on everything. Follow all the excellent “be nice to yourself after a breakup” advice on this here excellent blog. Be free.

        You are worthy of being one of your partner’s/partners’ top priorities.
        You are worthy of adoration, of meeting the kids and meeting the parents, of going to the office barbecue, of being seen and woo’d and cherished in public.
        You are worthy of love and care and belonging.

        And this sack of SHIT is offering you NONE of that.

        There are plenty of people who will, and who will be grateful for the opportunity.

        Bless you and good luck you, and kick this ass-hat to the curb.

        1. Off topic, but I’m glad to have someone else’s opinion that NRE can last for two years. I appear to be generally ace with sexual interest as a longer-lasting but still temporary part of my NRE, and it’s nice to see some evidence that that could be a thing that exists.

          1. Two years…if you see one another regularly. If you are in a long distance relationship and see one another very rarely, it can last even longer.

          2. “generally ace with sexual interest as a longer-lasting but still temporary part of my NRE” Holy shit you may have just changed my entire perspective about parts of my past. (I also ID as generally ace but sometimes I get in those self-loathing “not ace enough” funks, and this is one of the clubs I beat myself with)

          3. @Kacienna: Two years is what my growing heap of relationship-counseling/attachment-theory books (uh… I have a weird hobby) are telling me, so I’m willing to go with it. 😉 Glad hearing it as an option is helpful and nice. 🙂

        2. Thank you for your comment. It really resonates with me, as a person about to turn 31 and having never been in love. I will be mindful of your experience when I (hopefully) do fall in love to take a step back and assess if the relationship truly is right for me instead of rushing headlong into long term commitment out of excitement of being in love for the first time.

    4. Besides, there is something to that old adage of “once a liar, always a liar”. And it exists because people who lie only lie because they are comfortable living life on lies. So this *love* may be just a trick of the hand anyway. The thing with liars is, they lie! So you have to rely on context clues. Take “She said if I dated she would leave” to mean “I am still married to my wife” and “lets keep this a secret for 10 years as “I really really really like to lie”. That sums up his character pretty well, I think.

      1. Yeah, this is such a far cry from a true white lie that protects someone…

        I also really love the logic of “She’s severely depressed and would fall to pieces if she knew; it’s much better for her mental health if I can actively gaslight and keep a soul-crushing secret FOR YEARS. I would rather wait until her mental health is better to leave; that way I can push her right back over the edge in the pit of despair.”

        1. If it really IS true what he says – that they are divorced but staying together for the kids – he might well be CONTRIBUTING to her depression! I have mental health issues, and I’d wither away in this situation – same for a healthy person, probably, albeit maybe not quite as crushing. If her depression really is that bad, she needs professional help and a situation that communicates her value. As in, a situation where she is wanted and loved and valued, and where simple everyday gestures of affection keep proving this despite the dark thought in her head.
          But he’s keeping her in a situation where she KNOWS she’s not really loved, and it’s just for the looks of it and the children, not because SHE matters at all to him – that’s perfect fodder for brain weasels.

          But, as others have pointed out, it’s funny how SHE is the one who made the threat of leaving…
          Seriously, this looks like a regular, run-of-the-mill, garden-variety “I-want-my-cake-and-eat-it-too” egoistic man who wants the benefits of being a “good” husband and father AND the benefits of being single. Dude, choose one and stop fucking up other people’s lives.

          1. The thing about lying is that you take away other people’s consent to remain party to the plan you have developed.

        2. Ikr? Let her move on? Depression is a soul sucking illness that is all consuming. If she is as fragile as he says (I love when refer women as being Too Fragile to except boundaries and reality, BTW. Nothing patronizing about that!), then she needs out of this craziness more so than anyone else. The thing is if she has depression that bad, she really is going to have a hard time taking the steps herself. Him staying doesn’t make her better in any way. Rip the band aid off; don’t lie and drag it out with false hopes and dreams. If I were living with my ex and he kept saying “glad we are all still here together. I sure hope we get back together soon” that would actually be my red flag that this situation isn’t working out. And I can say from first hand experience and pull up some hard stats that show living in a cold house hold with one or more persons suffering from untreated depression definitely takes a huge toll on children. This is one selfish dude.

  10. This advice is 100% on target. This guy needs a lot of therapy to work through why he is unable to set boundaries with his “ex” wife. Instead of the hard work of doing that, he went out and found a girlfriend. Frankly the story doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  11. Yes to everything the Captain said! LW, please think of two things – yourself and those kids. You say you don’t want kids but do you want the possibility of marriage? Of being able to live in the same house with the person you love? Of being able to rely on future plans like retiring together? Can you really go another ten years or more having to put off reasonable relationship goals like these? And the kids! Imagine their reaction ten years from now when dad says, “Oh by the way, there’s this woman I’ve been dating for the last 11 years.” If that was my dad, I’d feel betrayed, confused, and angry. Do you really want to be a part of doing that to them? Plus – you don’t want kids yourself, but these are his kids and will be in his life forever. Are you really OK with missing out on 10+ years of being able to have a relationship with them? And what if, 10 years from now, the kids are out of the house, but ExWife’s problems have gotten worse? Might he keep you a secret even longer? “Ten Years” is no guarantee of anything.

    This is the first time you’ve really fallen in love so I’m assuming you have nothing else to compare it to. The Captain is right – there are plenty of other people that don’t come with drama and baggage and ridiculous expectations of how others around them should think, feel, and live.

    1. Assuming the kids don’t figure it out way sooner and resent being Dad’s excuse for not ditching this dysfunctional setup in favor of something healthier for everyone.

      1. There is no way this house of lies is gonna hold up for ten years. The kids will KNOW. They may not say anything to mom, and they may not say anything to dad, but they will notice stuff, because kids always, always notice stuff we think they don’t and they will know in their heart that daddy is a big lying lair who is cheating on mommie with his side piece. Because as long as he still lives with her the kids will consider their parents to still be together.

  12. I want to double-down again on this: “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”

    Letter Writer, I realize that you trust him, but he’s given you no reason to. Are you absolutely sure that they’re divorced? Like… 100% sure? Do you have independent verification? Because I sure wouldn’t trust that. JenniferP is completely correct… this guy is a massive liar. You can’t know that he’s not lying to you, as well, without independent verification.

    I know that’s hard to read, but it’s the reality of the situation. This guy has shown a complete willingness to lie. There’s a good chance he’s lying to you, and even if he isn’t right now, he will 100% lie to you in the future, and it’s possible he’s lied to you in the past, as well.

    1. I agree. LW, you know for a fact he’s lying to his kids and to his quote unquote ex. If he’s lying to people he’s known for far longer than you, people he shares a house with, I think we can extrapolate that he’s lying to you as well.

      Even if he isn’t, why should you have to disregard your comfort and your needs just because he doesn’t want to have an uncomfortable conversation? DTMFA, I say, you and your love deserve way way better than this.

    2. If I was laying bets I’d certainly say you’re probably right. But I’d say from a practicality standpoint that asking to see the decree is a horrible idea because it doesn’t change anything. What if he is divorced and everything he says is the pristine truth? He’s still making bad choices and asking LW to play along in a way that makes her life suck. Never seek out information that isn’t going to change your decision and it shouldn’t matter one bit here.

      1. It might be easier for the LW to let go of this knobhead if they look up the public records and find evidence that he’s a lying liar, though. Sometimes concrete info helps.

      2. “Never seek out information that isn’t going to change your decision”

        This is wise advice in so many contexts. It doesn’t matter if he’s really fake-divorced or lying about being fake-divorced. He and his shitty secrets are standing on LW’s foot. He needs to get off her foot (and out of her life).

        Yes, if she does find proof he’s already lying to her, it could make it easier to leave. But it’s also possible that he provides proof and then makes her feel like the bad guy for not trusting him, which could make it HARDER to leave. When in reality, none of that is important because he’s already lying to every other important person in his life and thinks this is okay behavior, so he’s not a prize worth bending over backward for.

      3. I’m having technical difficulties, so sorry if this post is multiple. But yes, that is a good point and it is THE point which is truly relevant for the LW. However in her shoes, with my personality, finding hard evidence of a lie about the divorce would help me immensely in dropping this man, and the bold act of looking up the divorce records would put me in a very different frame of mind. More of an active participant in how I choose to engage with the guy’s narrative. And an eye-opening exercise in what it’s going to be like to date this guy (i.e. lots of sneaking around, emotional labor and plain old labor, and the sinking realization of “because I’m involved this guy, I’m now the kind of person who engages in soap-opera sleuthing and mistrust.”)

  13. Hon, oh gosh, NO. How would this even WORK? Ten years of him never sleeping over at your place, ten years of you never sleeping over at HIS place, ten years of EVERY MOMENT YOU HAVE TOGETHER is secret and stolen and you have a web of cover stories and lies that he tells his increasingly suspicious children? How will they have *any* foundation for trust with their father as they get older and see what he’s doing?

    Please dump this guy. I am so sorry. I know it hurts. But this entire suggestion is insulting and horrible. Yes, I understand he’s worried about the kids, but what he’s suggesting will hurt them as much or more than their mother’s neglect. A lifetime of constant lies to his children will hurt them so, so much. If he loves them, he will get an attorney and sort out a custody agreement that will make them safe AND not lied to.

    1. “How will they have *any* foundation for trust with their father as they get older and see what he’s doing?”

      This. LW, my father did what this guy is doing. My parents separated, and even before they divorced, my mom floated the idea of dating other people. He said no, absolutely not, no dating until the divorce is finalized—and all the while, he was having an affair. It came to light by accident while they sorting out the details of the fivotce. And although this all happened when I was pretty close to being an adult… well, he and I are now estranged. The main reason being that I didn’t trust him. It felt like he was cheating on me, too, that he was breaking his commitment to our family, not just my mom.

      So based on my experience, I’d say that going along with his plan to lie to his children is harmful to them in the long term.

      1. Something similar happened with my father – he’d been working overseas for a few years, and started casually mentioning the possibility of retiring to a DIFFERENT country, “with or without Mom,” for about two years… then all of a sudden he springs it on us: “Hey, I now believe that God says it’s okay to be married to two people at the same time, also, I’ve already met my future second wife and have been sleeping with her, also, I’m buying a plantation in Different Country [her home country] and moving there, hope you don’t mind maintaining my facade of living in the U.S. so I can keep teaching at U of Phoenix, hope you’re cool with that.”

        And it still took my mother a full year to decide she was going to divorce him. I haven’t spoken to him since that day and it has devastated our entire nuclear and extended family.

        1. Christ on a cracker! That is…that is a spectacular burning of the dirigible of his and your mother’s marriage and of his relationship with you.

          What a craptacluar set of decisions.

          I’m so so freaking sorry.

        1. I typed “fivotce” into google. It showed results for “divorce”. Apparently we’re not the first to think of that typo.

    2. This is the biggest thing that strikes me- what does a years-long secret relationship even look like? All of your dates for A DECADE have to be in another town? You’d never be able to go on vacation together? You don’t get to spend time in his living quarters EVER? You never get to meet his children or even his friends?

      This doesn’t even sound like a friendship that I would want to be part of, let alone a romantic relationship.

  14. Just chiming in as a person in her mid 30s who’s never really been in love and now may be headed in that direction (or not! it’s early and scary still), and I want to say that maybe it’s not this magical other person (or fate, or whatever) who made it possible, but in fact, you. And you will still have you if you leave this (actually, kind of awful) person. So who knows if you will fall in love again, but it’s something you now know you are capable of.

    I know what “this might be my only chance at this” feels like, but this still sounds not worth it, and I’m betting there will be other opportunities for love.

    1. Seconded! My love life was a disaster in my teens and 20’s, but then got way better in my 30’s. Some combo of me growing into a better partner and altogether more functional human + having a better idea of what I actually wanted to look for in a partner + having the confidence to break things off early and try again rather than force 5 ok dates into a year-long mediocre relationship meant everything was just…better.

      If you need to tell yourself ‘I loved this guy, being with him felt great, but he wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t make enough room in his life for our relationship, so it didn’t work out’, do that. Be kind to yourself, take some time to heal up, and try again. It’ll be easier next time, more likely than not.

    2. I’m 31, and just recently out of a nearly yearlong relationship with the first man I ever felt happy and comfortable relaxing around. This might not seem like a high bar, but it was a big deal for me; I’d really started to think I was too introverted and awkward to ever make an actual connection with someone.

      When he broke up with me, I felt a bit sad, but at least now I know that being happy in a relationship is something I have the capacity for, which gives me hope to move forward with.

      Of course, since I wasn’t head-over-heels passionate about him, I know this would be harder for the LW than it is in my case, but try to think of being grateful for the person this relationship has shown you it’s possible for you to be, and carry that awesomeness onward to someone who can reciprocate.

    3. Seconding CAnemone, land_planarian and Emma9: I was 32 when I for the first time really fell in love. It was not the best marriage possible: for my ex-husband it was his first relationship ever so we were both new at it. Later on it turned out that we were not really that compatible but at least I knew that I could fall in love despite only being sexually attracted only rarely.

      Dear LW, I believe CAnemone is right: this man is probably not the only one for you. You are now capable to fall in love and that ability will stay with you, whatever you decide. I know I personally would not want to be kept a secret for a decade. The Captain’s advice is very good. Breaking up is really painful but you will recover.

      Take care of yourself and your own wellbeing!

  15. I mean, here’s the thing. If his ex-wife really and truly, provably, is unfit for taking care of the kids, then….she’s going to find it very difficult to get joint custody if your dude wants sole. If she’s not unfit, then what’s the problem with joint custody except for the fact he no longer has complete control over his kids’s lives. If he didn’t want these consequences then he could have stayed married/he might have stayed married.

    Like, he’s not trapped by circumstances here. He has choices (lying to everyone) that he is making and he has choices (being with you openly) that he is not making. That’s it. He’s not choosing you. And frankly….he’s not choosing his kids or ex-wife. He’s choosing himself, so….

    But I’m just really skeptical of stories where obstacles to what YOU want keep appearing JUST when your dude has to put up or shut up.

    1. Ugh, that’s what was bothering me about this that I couldn’t articulate. He’s got what he wants: Control over the (probably not) ex-wife, control over his kids, and (he thinks) control over you. That line about “oh, if this isn’t okay you can totally leave me” sounds like manipulator territory to me, but I could be reading in.

      1. I wonder how much actual child care he is really doing. There are a lot of guys who put down their wives’ or ex-wives’ childrearing efforts who are SHOCKED to find out how much work it is once they separate.

        1. Also, the more I think about it, the more “separate residences” means he would have to pay child support. It’s literally cheaper for him for the Letter Writer to agree to an 11-year lie.

          1. Yep. If they got a standard decree that didn’t take shared residence into account, he already knows exactly how much support will be and what the residential schedule will look like. If their decree was written around this residence, moving out is probably grounds for reevaluation, and he has certainly seen what the child support rate table looks like for their jurisdiction.

          2. It’s the lazy dad double-bind — they don’t want to pay child support, but they sure as hell don’t want to actually parent their children either. And that’s what this would mean — either pay up or parent, or do what he’s doing — lie, cheat, and steal.

            It’s amazing what dads will do to get rid of children they don’t feel like parenting. Staying with their wives and cheating isn’t even a stretch when you consider what they’ll go through to avoid caring for their children if they actually divorce.

          3. Also, if she is not working (and has not been because she is likely a SAHM and now can’t find employment because there has been too many years gap and NOT too depressed to work), then is like almost every state, he will have to pay alimony to her. Even if the state had a threshold of years married before alimony can happen, they seem way passed that cut off.

            Sigh. I have heard this song and dance so many times …

        2. Friend whom I adore, unprompted, without elaboration: My wife…is not the best mother to our daughter…
          Me: *adores him ever so slightly less*

          Um, dude, that’s your wife you’re talking about. To a stranger to her. Unless she’s neglecting or abusing the child, pony up the details or keep your mouth closed, wtf.

          1. A lot of time [[story of how my wife is bad]] to females who don’t know said wife is really [[I’m grooming you to take my side when I ask you to sleep with me]]. Not always, but many times …

        3. I’m sure the ex is also washing his dishes, making his food, and being the wife appliance. Even if they are divorced, which I doubt, she’s stilll filling that role.

        4. Thankfully, folks sometimes learn that *before* a nasty divorce.

          I was going through a rough patch, and being a good sort, Heroic Husband went to part-time in his job* and took up some of the slack.

          We had a lot of discussions about the worth we gave to “errands” like grocery shopping, based on some of the epiphanies he experienced about the time and sheer effort involved (and this only for two people, no kids, only feline-shaped dependents). It also went on to dove-tail into how we *structurally* go about estimating and budgeting time – we both noticed how “lower-value” chores got systematically underestimated in terms of their time. (And, no surprise to this crowd, how many of these “lower-value” chores were traditionally the woman’s sphere.)

          He never, *ever* gave me grief like “what do you do all day at home?” but even so, he was truly shocked at the amount of organising and work involved. Before then, he’d notice the big ticket items, like when I had to organise & supervise packing and moving (internationally) of our house and cats, or put together large house-projects like redecorating a room for a new purpose.

          I make a point of saying stuff about this to our younger friends – so that they know they should not put up with that kind of crap and/or be (at least a little more) prepared to take up the running of a truly joint household.

          * Yes, I realise that we’re in a very privileged position in this. Except for the part where he had to deal with some nasty blowback later in his office, but that’s another tale.

    2. If this dude has not been complaining incessantly about judges, lawyers, paperwork, hearings, the cost of it all… well, he is lying.

    1. This!

      There’s an internet-famous saying that goes, “Before you diagnose yourself with depression and low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not in fact just surrounded by assholes.”

      I too wonder if being surrounded by the asshole paternalism, the asshole lies, the asshole assumptions, and the asshole entitlement of #thisfuckingguy does not in fact have something to do with the purported poor mental health and emotional condition of his ‘ex’wife.

  16. Hi, Child of Divorce here, all of this sounds like, I’m sorry, massive bullshit. If the children are around 8 years old (what it sounds like), then they can talk to social workers independently about what kind of care they receive from their mother. If we take Dad’s Word for it, there is no reason an amicable split of care can’t be worked out. My father, a fully capable adult aside from pathological selfishness, only saw me every other weekend. It was fine. Your lover is getting a better offer than that. And this is what lawyers and family courts are for. If there’s a real risk to the children, then constructively address it.

    Divorce and split-custody is only as stressful as the parents make it. It doesn’t actually have to be be acrimonious. It doesn’t have to be scarring. My parents split when I was 4, and I’m emotionally resilient and balanced because my mother made the step to create a healthier home for me and my sister by not maintaining a facade. She met a better man, and I had/have a great stepfather. If the kids are truly better off living with dad 100% of the time, that can be worked out. Just be aware that you’re getting a one-sided account of literally everything, and his dishonesty with his family is a giant red flag.

    1. My parents split when I was 12, it was and remains acrimonious, and it was still better than them being married! I look back, and I really wish they had divorced sooner. Or better yet, that they had never married.

  17. Hey LW, I stayed in a situation like this (not this bad! nowhere near this bad!) for three years and nothing changed. For THREE YEARS I did not meet my partner’s family, I did not go home with him for holidays, I saw their pictures and heard their stories and knew their names and they had no idea I existed. In fact, his family thought that he was still with his ex-girlfriend… who was living in a house he paid for, caretaking all of his stuff, while he lived with me.

    I brought this up as a problem multiple times, and there was always an excuse couched in protecting other people’s feelings. His family was really invested in his and his ex’s relationship. They were conservative and would judge him because of our relationship (we had some California relationship agreements and his family was decidedly West Texan). His ex needed the support of her family and the shame of breaking up with him would ruin her. And on and on and on.

    This was one of the *many* reasons I dumped him, and now I’m way, *way* happier. I have more love in my life than I ever thought possible. I’m in my 30s too. It’s possible for you.

    If someone is really in love with you and the circumstances are safe for them to do so, they will want to brag about you to everyone they know.

  18. Uhh. Do we KNOW he is divorced? I just divorced a dude who TURNS OUT was cheating on me left and right for a decade and a half and TURNS OUT he was telling all those women outrageous untrue stories about how broken I was in various ways so that they’d sleep with him but do it all in secret. “Shaking like he just walked away from a plane crash” would have been well within his repertoire of pathological lying; in the years between when I learned what was going on and when I finally left, I got to see up close and personal just how far he’d take his performances. I thought he was the love of my life too. Everyone thought we were amazing together. I truly had no idea. Men this messed up DO exist. I don’t know if yours is one of them, OP, but the best case scenario (that everything he’s telling you is true) is unacceptable as it is. And if it’s all true you know him to be willing to lie, lie big and lie constantly, to a vulnerable person who’s very clearly laid out her boundaries for him. He doesn’t care about hers, why would he care about yours? Because what you have is different and special? How do you know that? Because he says so? Please run. Please. Don’t throw away years of your life on being a liar’s dirty secret at best, a liar’s victim of a decade of lies TO YOU at worst. Run.

    1. I think that’s a really excellent point. LW, even if this guy has told you the exact 100% truth about everything, he’s told you that he’s lied to and emotionally manipulated a depressed and vulnerable woman who tried to set a boundary. Like. That’s the BEST CASE SCENARIO: he’s the kind of man who lies and manipulates people who rely on him for daring to have any kind of individual agency.

    2. And if it’s all true you know him to be willing to lie, lie big and lie constantly, to a vulnerable person who’s very clearly laid out her boundaries for him. He doesn’t care about hers, why would he care about yours?

      Exactly. He’s showing he doesn’t believe in consent, that he thinks it’s OK for him to rules-mechanic his way around her boundaries. Can you trust him to respect yours?

  19. Wow. Just… wow.
    LW, from where you stand he may as well be married – he still lives with her, takes care of her and pretends he is not dating anyone as if they still were in a monogamous relationship. You are the second woman in his life, the dirty secret. He may as well be married!

    And, tbh, I think he may be. Captain is brilliant in this answer and one of the most important things is: he is a LIAR. He lies to everybody and I know it’s incredibly easy to believe you are somehow the one exception but I promise you, you are not.

    When you look at this form a distance he is doing all the classical things a cheating man does: tells you about how Unstable his ex(?)-wife is. That’s the first, most glaring thing for me. Look at my ex(?)wife, she has such breakdowns, such meltdowns! It’s all because she is SO unhinged! Ughhh… is that not what most lying, gross men tell their lovers about their exes and their cheated wives??
    Are you sure she is in this very bad emotional state? Have you seen here, are there any actual proofs or just his word? Have his friends confirmed that this is how things are? Ah, riiight, they cant’ because he is isolating you from them…
    How convenient.

    I personally think he is simply cheating on her because the stuff he does it what cheaters do. But even if he is legitimately divorced – that changes very little. He is still pretty much in a relationship with her. If what he is telling is the truth (IF!!!) then she needs serious psychological and medical help and not his gross, disgusting net of lies and false promises and double-life he has going on. She may even need to be hospitalized if she can’t care for herself. If he is stopping that from happening by being around then this is very, very bad and NOT what is kind or helpful to her.
    She needs treatment, not his enabling that actually just paradises her in status-quo. He may cries about how she is such a buuurden but in the end he has a LOT of power over her, if she really is in a state he states she it. (IF)

    Please don’t buy his bullshit. I know it’s very hard when you are in love, but please try to look at his story from a critical point. None of this makes sense, none of this is healthy. There are multiple CLASSICAL tropes from the basket of: “cheating men say this stuff to women!’

    You deserve better and so does the ex-wife.

    1. “He may as well be married!”

      Yeah, this – even if he’s not married in *fact*, he’s married in *act*. The divorce papers (though… yes, I too would want to see them) are one thing, but what he’s actually DOING, the behaviours, the choices, this is someone still very much in the marriage, and also getting to have you, dear LW, patiently on the side. He’s worked out how to eat the cake and yet still have the cake, which, to stretch that metaphor to the point of breaking, seems to be because he’s got you baking for him on the regular but he’s pretty much just leaving you crumbs.

      1. “He’s worked out how to eat the cake and yet still have the cake”

        This is…I don’t know how I never realized this is what that phrase means. The ability not to have to make a choice. To be able to consume the delicious cake, and yet have it sit there pristine in all it’s glory, unconsumed.

        Eat your cake and have it too really does mean someone privileged twice over who doesn’t even have to decide whether to save a resource for a rainy day or enjoy it now, he gets to do both.

        Oooof. And oh yeah, fuck this guy.

    2. Yeah, this is what I was coming here to say. Even if he’s telling the truth about everything (and I seriously doubt that), he’s living with a woman, raising kids with her, and can’t publicly date anyone else. That’s a marriage.

      You are a warm, loving, and lovable person. You deserve someone who will love you openly and freely. This guy is not doing that.

      1. Oh god so true.

        “Even if he’s telling the truth about everything (and I seriously doubt that), he’s living with a woman, raising kids with her, and can’t publicly date anyone else. That’s a marriage.”


  20. The convoluted story about the depressed wife, divorce, ALL OF IT is a terrible load of baloney.

    This liar is not going to stop lying to you. I imagine that if you spoke to the wife he is divorced from (or “divorced” from) 99.8% of what you have been told is complete fiction, and probably news to her, too. I don’t suggest you contact her – and certainly not while you are in this fragile state.

    Look, I also fell in big wrong love with a manipulative, abusive LIAR. As a liar he was great at putting on a show, and often told everyone about his superior integrity, indignity to injustice and so on. But he lied to me about so many important things, BIG things, trivial things, anything. The lying was an amusing superiority trip which served HIS purposes. It also helped him to feel smarter than all the people he lied to, who never caught on.

    It REALLY HURT to begin to uncover the truth (after almost 2 decades), and discover the gaps, omissions, distortions, infidelity, etc. I loved this man – and all things considered I was a kind, patient person who was truly in love with the person I thought he was, who put up with all his extra special difficultness due to his exceptional uniqueness. (This extra specialness was also a manipulative tool, as his rottenness was standard issue.)

    Even if 99% of what he told you his true – why would he live with a wife that he is divorced from ? That doesn’t make sense. She is so incapacitated by depression she cannot care for herself or the children – yet when he suggests that he wants to start dating that she has a breakdown – and makes a completely rational proposal that they don’t live together and arrange custody and visitation for the kids ? Yet he is the one showing up who is putting on a show about how traumatic this discussion was ? A reasonable, decent person does not keep a person, or persons on a string FOR ANY REASON. You are on a string, the tale about the wife has her on a string.

    I’ll bet that this is really, really difficult for you. I’m sorry if my words sound harsh – and this is so painful to hear.

    Please : RUN and never, ever speak to this person again. That is the only solution. There are decent people out there who are worthy of your love – who would never in a million years tell you that you had top be a secret. No, no, no.

  21. Oh lord this letter reminded me of my ex. At least 2 girls he dated would have had a story like yours (I’m the wife in this scenario). We were not legally divorced – in fact, the second time I’d moved back in with him after he’d begged for me back and we were technically “working” on things. I was depressed because of his mind games and because I suspected he was cheating on me literally months after begging for me back.
    Run, girl!
    But if you insist – I agree on checking that decree – and make sure its an actual DECREE not just a filing that didn’t actually dissolve the marriage.

  22. Aaaah. AAAAAH.

    Where was this CA response when I was nineteen?
    The balancing act and feeling of invisibility and lack of worth (my feelings, not assigning to you) was all SO EXHAUSTING and I felt SO USED all the time — and then I’d just point the anger inward because I was the one letting it continue.

    LW, never make your life small so that others have space to do or be what they want without your needs interfering. I’ve only recently (34) started moving past that mentality and habit, and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is.

    1. “LW, never make your life small so that others have space to do or be what they want without your needs interfering. ”

      THIS! All the THIS.

      I recently told an exboyfriend that I would not make myself small to fit into the corners of his life.

      When our couples counselor heard about that (he reported it in a session) her eyes got big and she just looked at me. I think she would have fist bumped me if she could have.

      He did not believe me.

      He is now my ex.

  23. When I was 23, I met and fell madly in love with a charming older (such a subjective term) man of 40 who told me that he was divorced. I “married” him and, eight years later, sent him on his way. Ten years after that parting, I learned that he had lied to me and that the wife he had never divorced–turns out I met him two days after he abandoned her and their three children–eventually divorced him in absentia, but not until long after he had “married” me.

    Everything that people have said about “Check the divorce papers” is absolutely spot-on and necessary. Had I not been such an innocent then, I would’ve known to say “Yeah, I’d like to see a copy of your divorce papers.”

    This guy is married. Walk away now.

      1. If she was married to him while he was still married to his ex, that’s bigamy. In most (US, at least) jurisdictions, that’s an automatic nullification of the second marriage in a legal sense. Plus I’d say Virginia also considers it null and void.

        1. Exactly: He took vows with me while he was still married to someone else, so we were never married. I should have realized that something was very fishy when, after I became a Catholic, I began to explore the possibility of his obtaining an annulment so that we could have the marriage blessed in the Church, only he began to panic and became very defensive. I was, alas, still very young and trusting at that time.

          I later talked to a priest pal of mine and said “So, I’m guessing that, should I ever decide to remarry, I’m not gonna need an annulment.” “Oh, yeah, V,” he said, “you’re clean here. You were never married.”

          Not so young and trusting these days; also completely soured on the notion of marriage for me. I have learned that I don’t live well with others.

        2. Oh yep. Yep. I missed this part “eventually divorced him in absentia, but not until long after he had “married” me.”

  24. Oh hell no. I’m sorry, LW, but this guy is a liar. Do not trust ANYTHING he has said. He’s lying to and manipulating you just like he is lying to manipulating his “ex”-wife – and his own kids.

    Even if he was telling you the absolute truth, though, this is an appalling way to treat someone he claims to love. You deserve so much better than to be this guy’s dirty little secret for the next TEN YEARS. You are worth so much more. Don’t let him make you feel less.

    1. That’s the fascinating thing about this guy, right? 99% he is lying about the wife’s depression and the divorce. I’m sure he is still married and the LW is just an affair to him.
      But EVEN IF each and every word he told the LW was pure truth, it still would mean he is a terrible, manipulative liar and a bucket of toxins!

      There is nothing redeeming here, if he lies and if he is telling her the truth.

  25. I appreciate the concerns for the kids if the ex-wife gets 50/50 joint custody, assuming she doesn’t figure out a way to make shit happen if she’s ever in the position of being forced to do so, but this is one situation where Patriarchy Bullshit may work in LW’S boyfriend’s favor. While it’s technically true that women get custody more often overall, that’s a function of the fact that parents WANT women to have custody more often. When it comes down to an actual LEGAL custody battle in the court system, a father is more likely to win than a mother. Given that he’s apparently been 100% responsible for the children’s care for who knows how long, it tips things even further in his favor.

    Also, assuming this situation is being described accurately by LW’s boyfriend, I find it super-suspicious that his ex-wife thinks she’ll magically become capable of caring for her children if they start living separately. Either she’s faking the extent of her disability now to keep him trapped, or she’s willing to threaten to abuse her children to get their father to do what she wants. NEITHER of those makes her a safe person for him to stay with or for him to keep kids around “for their own good.”

    1. Yes, but Mr. Divorced-but-living-with-his-ex-wife has the time and flexibility in his schedule to be carrying on with LW for the last YEAR.

      When is he doing all the childcare, that his allegedly incapacitated wife cannot do ? And the shopping ? And the housekeeping ? And the food preparation ? And his job ? What about his family and her family ? Do they ever help ?

      His allegedly ex-wife is not the problem in this scenario.

      My ex lied to his lawyers about our situation. Someone was firing someone as he went through three of them in six months. Even after my lawyer provided documentation which punctured his lies – and made his last lawyer suddenly take a 160 degree turn – this last lawyer kept her liarly client. It was sickening that as a woman in the legal system that she was assisting an abusive liar to use the system to abuse another woman(me)- because she was paid handsomely to do so.

      The legal system is not a fair or equal playing ground, and does not work like on tv shows.

      1. Yeah, if the wife is so incapable of being a parent, where are the kids when their dad is out with LW?

      2. Yes! Exactly this! If she’s really that ill how has he been able to maintain pretty much full time childcare responsibilities, alongside presumably full time work plus maintaining a relationship with you, for over a year? If he really was doing all the things he says he is hes either got a time machine or he’s approaching serious burn out because this is not a long term strategy!

        1. My youngest brother was 8 when my dad was working 60-80 hr weeks and my mom was ill and incapable of parenting. You would be surprised at how little supervision children actually need – especially children who know something is deeply wrong – and how easy it is for parents to adjust to “the kids can take care of themselves” mindset. And they could absolutely have family support (my family didn’t but tons of people have grandparents around).

          This guy could absolutely be a caretaker of his wife and his kids and still have a right to some free time, including dates. What he doesn’t have a right to is the LW being treated like a dirty little secret so he doesn’t have to get through the hard work of fixing his home life. Either things aren’t as bad as he says, and he needs to go through with the emotional work of fixing or ending his relationship, or they are, and he needs to go through the emotional work of disentangling himself from his wife and helping his kids get through a new normal, where mom doesn’t live with them because she’s very sick and is trying to get better for them.

      3. You beat me to it. Ex- wife is such a mess she’d neglect the kids (who must be fairly hardy if the youngest is eight) if left alone with them, but somehow this guy has the free time to maintain a relationship with LW? For a year?

    2. Can I be honest? Even knowing now that the divorce is probably true, I still don’t trust his claims about how bad his ex-wife is. It sounds to me like, at best, he’s exaggerating it… a lot.

    3. > assuming this situation is being described accurately by LW’s boyfriend,

      I think that’s the wrong assumption to make.

      If — *if* — you take what he says as truth, the courts wouldn’t give custody to the wife. But everything screams “he is a lying liar who lies”. He’s probably worried he’s likely to lose custody. I bet the wife is perfectly competent at child care. If she does have depression, it’s likely to be because she’s living with a douchecraftcarrier.

      A depressive breakdown would have been “dont leave me”, not a perfectly reasonable split.

    4. “Either she’s faking the extent of her disability now to keep him trapped, or she’s willing to threaten to abuse her children to get their father to do what she wants.”

      A third possibility: she expects her depression symptoms will subside when she’s no longer living with him.

      1. If I can add the 4th possibility:

        He’s entirely lying about the extent of his ex-wife’s depression. In fact, he’s either massively over-exaggerating it, or lying about her depression being unmanageable entirely. I don’t want to go as far as saying that he’s just straight up lying about her having depression entirely, because OP mentions in her comment that she and this guy have known each other for years, so there may be actual truth to it.

        But I straight up do not believe that his ex-wife’s depression is that bad, and I strongly believe that he’s the one exaggerating it. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that his ex-wife is perfectly fine, and that her suggestion wasn’t, as he apparently described it to LW, “a complete breakdown and told him that if he dates anyone else, she will move out and have the kids every other week”. That doesn’t sound like a “complete breakdown”. That sounds wholly rational and entirely reasonable.

        Of course that’s based partly on my own experience with depression (it sucks so much… I hate it), but mostly on the fact that he’s a lying liar who lies. So I would not be surprised to find that his ex-wife has her depression under control and is actually a very good parent… possibly even better than he is…

        1. There’s also the exaggeration factor–lots of men think their basic cold is a MAJOR illness!
          Not to mention the expectations factor–lots of men think that the wife is supposed to do all the household/kid things.

          And there are men who think that having to cook dinner three times a week and vacuum the living room means they are doing ALL THE WORK.

          maybe his wife’s mental condition -does- mean that there are many things she doesn’t do, or that many times, if he’s around, she relies on him to do household/kid things.
          But if his expectation is that he’s not supposed to have to do ANY of them, then he may think that he’s doing them all, when he’s only handling 60 percent of them.

        2. I wouldn’t be surprised if “complete breakdown” was actually something like “had some feelings”.

        3. Yeah, the threat he relates to the LW is weirdly specific and… totally rational coming from the ex-wife? He’s framing it as she’s hysterical and inconsolable at the thought of him leaving her… but there’s nothing I would expect to see from a severely depressed person having “a complete breakdown”. No threats of killing or harming herself. No threats to take the children away forever. No threats to otherwise fuck up his life and ~make him pay~.

          “If you leave, I will also move on, and you will have to pay for the house yourself, and we’ll split custody evenly” is not the ultimatum of a person so emotionally unstable that are unable to care for themselves or their children. It’s the reasoning of a person who recognizes she and her ex need to prepare to move on with their respective lives, and that dating new people is the point where there is no turning back.

          I have depression as well, and the whole framing of the wife feels really off. Like someone taking his wife’s illness and blowing it up for max sympathy and fragility.

      2. I vote #3. From personal experience there’s nothing like leaving a lying cheating controlling emotionally abusive partner to get you on the road to recovery from depression severe enough to make you want to die.

  26. When I was 23, I met and fell madly in love with a charming older (such a subjective term) man of 40 who told me that he was divorced. I “married” him and, eight years later, sent him on his way. Ten years after that parting, I learned that he had lied to me and that the wife he had never divorced–turns out I met him two days after he abandoned her and their three children–eventually divorced him in absentia, but not until long after he had “married” me.

    Everything that people have said about “Check the divorce papers” is absolutely spot-on and necessary. Had I not been such an innocent then, I would’ve known to say “Yeah, I’d like to see a copy of your divorce papers.”

    This guy is married. Walk away now.

    1. LW you did not do an easy thing. I’m so very sorry you’re dealing with this. I really am. I can’t advise you better than the other comments here have but I can add my voice to theirs in agreement in general; this does not add up well for your health or a healthy loving marriage, or anything good for, y’know….a life. and there’s nothing good or fair about that.
      Best of luck to you–and kick ass. you deserve better than that.

  27. Hello, I’m the Letter Writer. Everything said here was 100% what I needed to here, thank you very very much. I have sent him a message saying pretty much what the Captain told me to say.

    But since it keeps coming up, I can confirm that they are definitely divorced because he and the ex-wife speak openly about it and it is well known in circles I move in. Plus I know one of the kids’ teachers and she has talked about how the child has been broken up about their parents’ divorce. Also, he and I were good friends, having long conversations daily, for two years before we fell in love, so he would have had to be very committed to keep up the lie that long if it wasn’t true.

    1. Thanks for the clarification & the update, and also, you rock.

      I hope you get the answer (& the show of integrity) that you are hoping for, but either way you are made for better things than this. ❤

    2. Oh, LW. That was a very difficult and brave thing to do, and I am very proud of you. I am sending you many jedi hugs and good wishes and virtual cups of delicious hot beverages. You are awesome, and you deserve better than to be somebody’s secret.

    3. Okay so the divorce is true… I still don’t trust his claims about his ex-wife’s depression, and it’s shady as shit that he wanted to keep you a “secret”. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprise if in that “conversation” where he made that “promise”, his wife didn’t freak out at all, but was level-headed, calm, cool, and rational, and he’s the one who made it dramatic.

      However, you’re out, and that’s what matters. It actually sort of makes it worse that you two were friends for two years, honestly. He’s clearly incapable of being an emotionally capable adult and… honestly?… I could almost say that he’s not mature enough to raise kids. He’s certainly too immature to be honest and open about this stuff.

      And yes, as the Captain said…you absolutely rock. And also, please don’t blame yourself for any of this. It’s all on him, not you. I promise you that you will find a soulmate again. There are over 7 billion people in the world. Only slightly less than half are men. There are others out there with whom you could have an incredible relationship.

    4. I’m so glad you found help here, and I’m glad that the divorce, at least, wasn’t a lie. I hope you’ll be well and find awesome people who deserve your love and time, LW. I’m so sorry this dude doesn’t.
      Best of luck ❤

    5. Please stay strong and take care of yourself. You deserve a better love.

      Whatever was/is going on with their living situation/marriage is really, really dysfunctional. My liar did a fine smear of my character far and wide, and no one ever bothered to confirm any details with me. So the public account of the situation may be HIS account.

      This guy cannot be anyone’s friend.

      p.s. Liars really like to lie, so keeping a lie spinning for 2 years + is no big deal to them.

      1. I feel like in this case, the ex-wife would have heard that apparently she was divorced at this point. Like yes you can be depressed to the point of disability, but most of the time depression waxes and wanes enough that you check back into real life. And even then, if she wants 50/50 custody, that makes me think she cares enough about her kids to at least be somewhat in contact with their teachers. I do hear you, though, I have a liar as well and folks really don’t like to fact check.

    6. I believe you. When I met my husband he was not in a relationship with his daughter’s mother, but they lived in the same house and were raising the child together because of what he feared she might do otherwise. She is a profoundly manipulative and abusive malingerer – the entire reason for her pregnancy with the child was because she violated his consent – and he had been persuaded to stay and financially support her under the guise of this being what is best for the child. He loved his daughter and so he tried.

      And I’m not going to lie, she has made it very difficult at times since he left. She places significant friction around every interaction. And I don’t mean little things either. She has called the bomb squad before. It is a seriously f-ed up situation. So your dude may have legitimate fears around leaving. Mine did.

      BUT, we faced those things TOGETHER. When we met and shortly thereafter realized that our feelings for each other ran very deep, we had a long discussion where I told him that what he is modeling for his child by accepting her mother’s framing and abuse is teaching his daughter every day what relationships are supposed to look like. He was normalizing something profoundly dysfunctional. I could not be party to that. But what it came down to is that as long as she lived with him, and made demands on his time and money, he actually was not free to be with me. So he had to decide whether he believed that he was allowed to be happy.

      The mother of my husband’s daughter is an outlier. But those kinds of people do exist, and they can warp reality around them. Do NOT get sucked into this any further. Maybe this is the nudge your dude needs to get out of an unhealthy situation and make a clean break. Maybe not. But either way, you deserve an authentic relationship where you can face the world together as a team, not one where you are back-up support for his primary life.

      1. Just lifting out what I consider the ESSENCE of the problem for LW:

        “BUT, we faced those things TOGETHER.”

        Together will also mean, sometimes, processing deeply unsettling feelings, or being a witness to someone else’s pain. (There’s a connection to consent, which I’m unable to articulate properly, alas.) But keeping secrets in order to spare someone pain? That’s not handling things together, neither for the spouse-being-left, nor the spouse-doing-the-leaving, nor the LW herself. As several commenters have pointed out above – letting you, LW, bear the burden of “sparing” all these others pain, is not togetherness by any standard I would honour.

    7. Good for you for you, LW, for being brave and direct with him! This is hard but important.

      As for him being “definitely divorced,” I don’t think it matters all that much. You know how some couples just live together for many years and raise children together and depend on each other and feel like it would be just awful to break up, even though they are technically “not married” because it’s all without a government license? This guy might be doing that with his ex-wife.

      A lot of the advice above is about how you have to save yourself, and that’s entirely true. You deserve better than waiting for somebody who is treating you so badly. In addition to that, he’s not even treating his wife and kids well! He might think he is, but look at the results of his behavior. The child is still unhappy about the parents’ divorce. Does having the father in the house fix that problem? No. From the kid’s perspective, it means the parents are “divorcing,” rather than “divorced.” Does having him live with his ex-wife fix her depression? It does not. It offers everyone the the illusion that the marriage can be rebuilt, whether it is a happy marriage or not.

    8. I am so glad to read this comment. Because:

      Hard and Eternal No, seconded. Everything else CA said, seconded.

      None of this is okay or healthy for ANYONE involved, but the only one the you can take care of? Is you. So take care of yourself. You deserve better than this. I can say that even without knowing you because NO ONE deserves to be treated this way and kept as a secret by anyone, much less someone claiming to love them! That’s terribly cruel.

    9. Thank you for updating, and can I just say, you seem to be handling this comment section really well. A lot of these responses (this whole situation, really) can’t be easy to handle. I hope you’re doing okay.

    10. The fact that you and he move in the same circles makes his suggestion even more awful, in my opinion, because presumably you wouldn’t be able to act like an actual couple in front of these people.

      I’m glad you’re advocating for yourself. Good luck, OP!

    11. Hi LW, ok so I don’t actually care about the guy, the ex wife or the kids. I’ve been you and I’m still trying to get through it. I absolutely adored this guy and I don’t think I’ve ever related better to anyone. I thought he could quite possibly be someone I could be with forever. His story was gf was kidnapped etc blah blah.
      It took me and takes me every single day so much willpower not to unblock him, not to message him, it’s been a few months. What stops me is looking after me. This will probably happen to you too. This guy may be an asshole to everyone else but to you he was so special. So you will have to be strong, and it will hurt like fuck, but every time I want to message him, I Ask myself if I want to go back to the way it was. Do I want to be an afterthought, an option, someone he sees/talks to only when he’s bored. Wondering what he’s doing or who he’s with, never a priority.
      I sometimes can’t believe I found myself in this situation, I swore I would never do this, but it crept up on me.
      So take care of yourself, be strong, don’t message him and be your own priority. Much love, I’ll think of you in the days to come.

      1. Hey @Been There, I just wanted to say thank you for expressing how hard it can be to leave a relationship like that.

        Two years and a lot of therapy down the line and I still struggle. My ex was emotionally abusive, manipulative, an asshole to everyone – including me – plus sexually predatory and controlling. I was so emotionally enmeshed with him that leaving was like ripping myself in half. I had friends who were very supportive of me as I was splitting up with him, but no-one who wanted to hear me cry about how much I missed the person I thought I’d been with for so long. It hurt so much and it takes a long time to heal. It does get better but it really really takes time.

    12. Hey. good to know about the divorce being a real thing. He’s still a lying liar who lies and I’m fucking proud of you for telling him enough is enough.
      Bless you and may your life get better from here on in. ❤

    13. LW- I think it is awesome that you put the ball back in his court. It isn’t easy, but you were able to be honest with someone you loved for the sake of a good relationship- he has demonstrated he can’t.

      You mention both falling in love, but I would really like to name that THIS ISN’T WHAT LOVE LOOKS LIKE. This is what control looks like. Gaslighting. Manipulation.

      He is literally positioning himself in a weird way to be the god in all these things. If her mental health was that bad, the courts would likely acknowledge that she’d need help with her custody in the form of certain parameters around visitation, but he is setting himself up like this saintly man and “why cant we just think of the children” saviour when in actuality- he is not really considering them much at all. He is instead using them to gain your empathy and understanding, without doing any of the work to understand your rights to be with someone who is actually present. His saying “I’d understand if you want to walk away” is code for “you will love my understanding nature that I only have to appear to be accepting but aha, I don’t actually have to do anything.” Sounds to me like he was shaking so bad because he experienced a slight lose of control.

      You do not deserve this. His ex-wife does not deserve this. His children do not deserve this. and on repeat cause it is important- This is not love…. this is control….You do not deserve this.

    14. Uh, okay, there are two things wrong with that.

      1) They might be lying. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen a couple lie openly about their marital status because there’s something shady they’re pulling.

      2) I’m still not buying this nonsense about how he does all the work and his wife is nothing but a drain. Your assertion that two years is a long time to keep up such a story is just plain silly — for guys like this, that’s nothing. It’s not even hard.

      1. They don’t need to be pulling something shady to lie about their marital status. They might not even be “lying” in that they agreed to divorce, said they’d divorce, maybe even filled out the paperwork, maybe even filed, but for this that and the other reason just never got around to finalizing it, but as far as they’re concerned, they’re divorced.* I knew a guy who flat-out forgot his divorce was never finalized.
        Of course, forgetting you never got divorced when it’s been only two years and you’re still living together, that would be harder.

        *Or at least as far as *he’s* concerned.

        1. +1 I mean even if there was no divorce at all and even if they were still happily married, poly, and willing to have LW as a “third”….if LW wants to call this man her boyfriend in public and around their families, she still won’t get that.

          It’s not the divorce, it’s this guy that wants to keep her behind a screen and she doesn’t want that.

      2. This. Especially #2. I don’t believe for a minute that his wife is so depressed that she is essentially The Blob —a non functioning lump of bio-material. Also she takes advantage of him/his money/time/emotions/etc., etc., etc.

        Sure there are some women out there like that but they are outliers. His description of the wife is just so much misogyny, blame the woman, “my wife doesn’t understand me, I am such a nice white fucking knight guy.”

    15. Hi LW,

      You’re very brave and awesome for doing this. I have nothing to add except this: Expect him to make it hard. When you break up with him, mean it, because he may very well decide it’s a negotiating tactic for you to get a better deal out of him. I’m expecting him to come at with you with some ‘concessions’ that look herculean relative to the cowardice he’s shown up till now, but are really not even yet at the level of basic fucking respect and decency.

      Stick to your boundaries, LW. If you allow him to negotiate with you and you concede anything to him – like ok you’ll have sex occasionally to soften the blow, or ok you’ll go on occasional ‘just friends’ check-ins that look like dates and might end in sexytimez but you know only if you’re into it he would never push! , or something like that… expect any concession he offers you in response to be TEMPORARY, there just for the purpose of keeping you hanging. He’s not going to let this be easy for you.

      Hugs LW. You rock.

      1. Fishmonger’s post deserves special attention. You know the way job interviews are hard, but the best way to get through them is to prepare for all the questions the interviewers might throw at you? LW knows she has to break up with Liar. She’s sent him one message following Jennifer’s advice telling him to sort out his life. Now she’s got to prepare for whatever bullshit Liar might throw at her. A lot of people see NO as the opening bid in a negotiation. It’s not. LW has to think through what break-up means to her. It’s not like his divorce where they may be legally divorced, but for all practical purposes they’re still married. Liar will probably decide that they’re broken up, and that means they’ll continue seeing each other and dating and being intimate and being in love– exactly the same as being together. I’d be prepared as part of the break-up interview to say “This means you won’t contact me again. If you do, I’ll be open and honest with you ex about our relationship.”

    16. he would have had to be very committed to keep up the lie that long if it wasn’t true.

      Now he is asking me to keep our relationship secret for 10ish years

      If there’s one thing this guy is demonstrably extremely committed to, it’s long-term lying.

      All good luck and God speed escaping this mess.

  28. Living in the same house as your ex-spouse (if she really is his ex-spouse) is bizarre and unhealthy. LW, it sounds like you could do a lot better.

    1. It does happen, though. A good friend of mine & her husband separated & ended up living together for quite a while due to economic reasons. It wasn’t ideal, but basically they had to wait until they could afford to get/be divorced. They were very clear about the situation, though, and although it was emotionally difficult, it was OK in the end. They eventually did get officially divorced, live apart, and are both happily re-married.

    2. A funny plot twist is that I am actually roomies with my ex. We’re good friends and we haven’t had any of “those kinds” of feelings in years and it saves money, so it works great. I guess that’s part of why it didn’t bother me too much that he lives with his ex.

      None of this changes the fact that the advice I got was spot on. I just thought it was a funny thing to point out.

      1. Life is full of these little ironies. 🙂

        Take care of yourself. Love yourself first. I’m glad you took the Captain’s advice, and I wish you a long, healthy, happy life without any more houses full of bees.

      2. If he tries to talk you into this insane plan, look at your own life. You know how a healthy relationship with an ex can work BECAUSE YOU’RE DOING IT. Don”t let him substitute insanity that happens to benefit him for your earned, objective reality.

      3. I dated someone who is roomies with his technically still married partner; they separated, he moved out for a while, then moved back in to save money. They enjoy the tax and insurance benefits, and both date other people, openly. I met his ex/wife/roommate when I was dating him, she’s lovely (and knew we were dating).

        It can happen. It’s the lying is the toxic part.

        So many hugs to you, LW. I hope you have an amazing life filled with the open, honest love you deserve.

      4. So this brings in the next question to tackle after you grieve letting go of this guy, which is why did you pick him in the first place?

        Speaking as someone with a long history of deliberately picking somehow “unavailable” people to crush on as a defense mechanism against it getting too serious or demanding in some way, think about why you chose someone so fundamentally unavailable that he wanted to keep you a dirty secret for 11 years *and* thought that’s what you deserve. And toss in some thinking about living with your own ex — I get that there are no problems now, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be or that you can expect a future love to be okay with it. Living with your own ex is another way of making yourself a bit unavailable.

        I should point out that I don’t think choosing people with some of what we call “unavailability” is necessarily wrong, if it truly works for who you are and what you need and harms no one. I met the guy who became the Great Epic Love Tales Of Which Sound Storybook-like when I mention them on this blog when I was a busy PhD student and considered it an excellent bonus that he lived on the other side of an ocean, because I did NOT have time for the epic love of all time until I’d at least passed my quals. And I really could not cope with what this guy did to my hormones and what that did to my focus when I first met him, because I was on a mission and there wasn’t room for that in my life. So I made him wait for 3 years. 3 years of mad infatuation and flirting across an ocean, 3 years of patient “courting” as he called it.

        You’d be amazed at the heat you can generate from that, by the way — it was no loss, given what it built. “Desire,” I told him, “is in itself a pleasure, whether it is fulfilled or not.” He was riveted by that thought. If you take that and really run with it, you’d be amazed at what comes out.

        And that part, the pleasure of desire, is worth thinking about for just yourself — you’ve experienced a type of love and desire you weren’t sure you ever would. Now you know you can and will, and it’s okay to take pleasure in that, despite it not being okay to be with this guy as he is. You can take pleasure in the desire you felt, in your ability to feel it and to feel those feelings of love. These are good things about you, and it is good to be proud of them.

        Use those things, and use thinking about choosing someone unavailable and making yourself a bit unavailable, and anything else from all this that springs to mind, to think about what you’d want in a partner next time you have one. Feel free to be unrealistic — think about what you *want*, desire, even if it’s an improbable combination of traits.

        The worst-case scenario from doing that is you become more acquainted with your own desire and get the pleasure of experiencing that desire. But it can also be startlingly powerful in focusing you the right way to see it should such a person arrive in your life. The partner I mentioned, I met after doing something similar — imagining what I wanted in a partner and having the fun of imagining that, even though I was sure I was imagining a combination of traits that would never exist in a real person. And then he showed up — exactly what I had “asked” for. I’m still surprised. But I’m not the only one this has happened to. And he had a hard time grasping that I could be real and truly want him as well. Taking the time to think about what you want really does prepare you to see it should it appear.

    3. Lots of people live with people they’d prefer not to, including exes, for Reasons like money, tight housing markets, jobs, shared transportation, etc etc etc. Let’s not gratuitously shame people stuck in such situations.

    4. My daughter’s father and I have been divorced for 24 years, and he’s our “shadow roommate” — his job keeps him on the road for 10-11 months per year, and instead of paying for an apartment that he’d never see, he kicks in toward rent and stays in our guest room for a few weeks a year.

      Exes living together aren’t necessarily dysfunctional, as long as they aren’t as enmeshed, controlling, and codependent as the LW’s partner and his ex.

    5. Seconding this. I know there are exceptions, and some people are friendly with their exes, but the divorce process, especially with children involved, is pretty harrowing. My divorce was relatively low-key and uneventful as these things go, and I would rather pull all my teeth out with rusty pliers than live with my ex-husband again.

      Given that he’s choosing to live with his ex-wife and lie to her, you, the kids, and everyone else, I’m curious about what’s really going on here. Is he financially insolvent and exploiting his “depressed” ex-wife’s income/savings? Has he convinced her that this is a “on paper” divorce for super important-sounding legal reasons? Since your relationship is hush-hush, are you sure that you’re his only secret “soulmate”?

      Sorry, LW, but even if the divorce is legit, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. People generally don’t choose to do unpleasant things unless it benefits them in some way, so the question here is, in what way is he benefiting from this set up?

      1. LW might not be the only relationship dude has spinning. If the relationship with LW was secret, then he’d be free to pull this crap with other women. Everyone’s a secret ! More thrills for how smart and covert he is – and how can he up this game further ?

    6. I’m going to chime in on the counter-example thread here as well. When my ex and I split up, we lived together for another six months or so afterwards. We were getting along as well as we always had, and money was tight, and neither of us was dating at the time, so there wasn’t any particular reason for him to rush out. It turned out to be not ideal in the long run (especially once I started dating again!), but it was workable for as long as it needed to be.

      Agree that the LW could do a lot better than this particular guy, though!

    7. Not always. I have a comment coming when I get to the end of the page, but me and my girlfriend and her ex are making it work in the same house.

  29. When I first started dating my now-spouse 20 years ago, he’d been separated from his longtime fiancée for a few months — she’d moved for an excellent career opportunity, most friends were probably assuming they were Making It Work long-distance. And he wanted to keep our new relationship “quiet” until….something something he felt bettercakes, I guess. At this remove I can’t recall. I know he didn’t want to hurt her feelings by publicly appearing to move on very fast, & surely he didn’t want people to think he was the Bad Guy, or some combo thereof. Went along with it, didn’t care for it. Maybe 3-4 months. And everybody was fine with the Big Reveal when I guess we just sort of let it leak out at some point, including his very sterling ex, and it was enough of a nothingburger that I still don’t quite understand why we bothered.

    Married 4 years later, solid since.

    And yet. Sometimes when friends reminisce about their meeting or the early days of their relationship, or that magical We’re In Love feeling, or when they rib the Newly Coupled for their goofy and hilarious single-mindedness, there is a very small cloud. I didn’t get to enjoy that part of my relationship — I never got to tell my friends I had a new relationship or discuss the ins & outs, people didn’t congratulate us or just acknowledge us the way you do when you find out something’s changed. It’s a very normal part of life I missed out on, and even so many years later, I occasionally resent it a little bit.

    Your situation is that times a million. Apart from this guy’s general shiftiness which everyone’s covering really well, the chilling effect this will likely have on your own feelings and your own confidence in this relationship may surprise you, if you go along with this utterly unhealthy scheme. This will damage you, don’t do it.

  30. LW, i’m so sorry. On top of everything the Captain has said, the first few commenters and i’m sure many more as the day goes on – it’s important in evaluating his wife’s depression and family situation to recognize that some of the most depressing things a person can experience are being made to doubt their reality, being lied to and gaslit, getting confusing mixed signals from a person they live with/are close to/are dependent on about whether they are loved and valued or not, whether the person is committed to them or not…. i’m not saying she’s otherwise healthy or anything about her, except that at least part of why she’s depressed probably has a lot to do with the crazy-making nature of living with his withholding, lies, secrets, confusion, being told one story while being able to feel on some level that something else is true but being hidden and denied. His treatment of her and his kids is super unhealthy and unkind, and either he’s massively in unawareness/denial, or he may be enjoying the drama of it. There is absolutely no reason to think that he will be (or even is being now, sorry) any more courageous or honest with you in a meaningful way. Seen through a functional lens, he’s really just telling you the story that he has to to get you to participate in this situation – lives with wife and kids, relationship must be secret for a while until…. whooops how about 10 more years? Or _you_ can let him go, him not owning at all that he is the one making the decisions here. You’re all in, and he’ll continue to accept that (and ‘eat cake’ as Chump Lady says) while giving only exactly what he wants and having Unassailable Reasons for it and You Knew What You Were Signing Up For….. It’s just seven worlds of pain.

    (and, as everyone else has said and will continue to say, if it matters to you to know, please check that he actually is even legally divorced though not emotionally. but that being true wouldn’t make all the other fishy things true.)

    The good news is you will heal, and you will learn from this experience, your BS detector will get an excellent tune-up. There are no guarantees, as the Captain says, that someone else will come along who will feel or be the ways you want (though i’ve sure thought No One Else Will Ever…. a lot of times, and have always eventually been wrong so far, and i’m not an easy person to match in our culture). But what you can control and guarantee is that you will not again subject yourself to a situation where you are messed with – by paying attention to cues and things that don’t feel quite right, never justifying them or overlooking them in order not to lose a relationship, and being willing to let go when what’s happening doesn’t feel right and healthy for *you*.

  31. So I’m confused. If you are/have been dating this guy for a year, how does his (supposed) ex and children NOT know? Like when do you have time together? If he stays the night with you, does his ex and children call looking for him? Does he sneak out at night after everyone is asleep?

    I’m sorry LW. I think this is shady and he’s lying to you. Most divorce proceedings are public records (unless they have been sealed for some reason), so maybe you should check to see if he is actually divorced. Captain is right- if his (ex)wife is so fragile she can’t take care of herself and help care for her children, so probably needs the kind of help he can’t give her.

    Staying in a secret relationship for 10 years sounds really unhealthy for you and it has to be mentally & physically draining.

    1. We both work on the same location, and both have jobs that include a lot of waiting around. We both have a job where we are frequently free to do whatever we want for 1-2 hours (or occasionally a whole afternoon) as long as we stay close by to respond when needed. We have been using this time to hang out and have conversations for 3 years, and fell in love one year ago.

      Hope that answers your question. But yes, the advice was exactly what I needed.

      1. Oh, well, that was probably pretty idyllic…in the beginning. Look, I know from personal experience that having a secret love would be fun and romantic for a while. For a while. But I can also tell you from personal experience that it’s no way to live your real, actual life.

        But I don’t mean to berate you. You’ve done a brave thing, and while I can’t promise you that you’ll find love again, I can promise you that once you heal, you won’t want to go back to being someone’s “shabby little secret,” to quote the captain. Because although he may not think of you that way, right now, that’s exactly how you’re being treated, and that’s WRONG.

        Best of luck to you!

      2. Please, please, please get a transfer elsewhere ASAP so you do not have any further contact with this dude. Tell HR the whole story if necessary. Manipulators manipulate, but to do so they need contact with their victims. He’ll pull out all the stops to put on a spectacular “misunderstood but valiant dude” act to disarm you, and before you know it you’ll start to feel sorry for him, think fondly of your friendship, blah, blah, blah and this will end up extremely badly.

        This dude suggested that you be his 10 year SECRET ! There’s no way to make this kind of thinking okay. Please take care of yourself and go NO CONTACT, starting now, for forever…

      3. Oh dear.

        Well, you’re out of it now, and that’s a good thing.

        I think that a relationship where dates are assignations carved out of breaks at work would fail to support any actual needs. On the other hand, I can understand how it would perk up your day.

  32. Oh hey, I’ve dated this category of guy, though no kids (and divorce verifiably in progress). It was my first serious-feeling relationship after a really long time being and feeling alone, through some really hard shit. He is not the good and kind and understanding person you think he is. He is just selfish and broken in a way that makes the ways in which YOU feel broken feel ok. When I dated a man like this one, I fell in love so fast; he was extremely kind and gentle and accommodating of all the ways I felt insecure, and he knew how to be in a relationship and he knew how to make me feel taken care of, and it was like water in the desert after being alone for so long.

    He was also a humongous coward.

    LW, this man will always take the path of least resistance, even if it sucks for you, because his “not wanting to hurt her” is just him not wanting to do the emotional labor of being an adult. He’ll be very sad about whatever’s happening, but he’ll never actually do anything to alleviate it. It sucks so bad and hurts so much to have to break your own heart and leave someone who isn’t capable of stepping up and doing the things he should do even when they’re hard, when it feels like you’ve finally found what you’ve been looking for. But he is never going to truly prioritize you because it means risk that he’s not willing to take and effort he’s not willing to put in.

    1. Nothing to add, but this comment is so insightful, and explains so much in retrospect about someone I once knew. Thank you for taking the time to lay it out like this.

    2. I dated this exact same dude, too, including the breaking my own heart part to break up because he was too damn cowardly to do it himself (even though he didn’t want to be dating me any more).

  33. I was a (semi) secret girlfriend for 6 years. I was a “let’s keep this to ourselves” girlfriend for a year. I met the love of my life and fell head over heels in deep with a “This is a small town, I’m not comfortable being too public” man.
    You know what they all had in common? Liars. Either to a wife (yep), or to other girlfriends, to me, or just to themselves. I had CHILDREN with one of them.
    I urge you with all the heartbreaking, still-painful memory of 20 years ago and 10 years ago and 2 years ago … and from the still never-trusting heart of mine: don’t do this.
    I just saw your update, so I amend my urging to: stay strong. It’s so hard. Your heart will hurt for a long time. But it will hurt a lot less if you get (stay) out now. Hugs.

    1. You had children out of a secret relationship? My goodness, what you’ve been through! So many hugs!

      1. This actually brings up a good point. If it’s a possibility with your relationship, what would happen if you got pregnant? It sounds like you’re already working on getting out of this relationship, but I thought it would be something to contemplate if you’re reconsidering. I really hope you get clear of him and find the relationship you deserve. You sound nice.

  34. LW, I am so sorry that the first person that you have fallen in love with has turned out to be so disappointing. That really sucks. You deserve way better than what he is offering you. You deserve a relationship that you can talk to your friends about, where you can walk down the street hand in hand if that is what you both want to do, and kiss on the beach or in the cinema or in the middle of the high street. You deserve to have a say in the decision that affect you.
    The very suggestion that you keep your connection secret for 10 years shows you something important about his thought process. He would prefer to lie for 10 years than to tell the truth and cope with the consequences. I guarantee that this is not the only time he has chosen to lie rather than face the consequences of telling the truth. He will do that in your relationship too – maybe in respect of small things, and maybe in respect of things that are much more consequential.
    Unfortunately, the captain is right. This is one of the reddest of red flags. I hope you are able to leave until he is able to enter an honest relationship with you.

  35. This guy is setting off approximately a million warning flags… he’s been so open and honest and intimate, but has to keep you a huge secret? Agreeing with the Captain, and I hope you’re able to find your way into an honest relationship soon.

  36. LW, can I just say that I’m so sorry that your first experience of being in love as someone in their late 30s has turned out to be with someone who is not a good fit for you. I am a couple of years younger than you are and I’ve been in love a couple of times, but none of them ended up being My Person and I had to learn a lot about intentionality, character, and how to tell if someone is Available or not through those experiences.

    Captain said it: he is very simply Not Available for the kind of relationship you want.

    I had an experience last year with not the same experience but the same result: I dated a man for a few months with whom I was shockingly compatible and I never thought I would meet after 15+ years of dating. We got on like wildfire. Then one day, he broke up with me out of the blue because he literally could not figure out how to include me in his life/schedule (huge social/political activist who literally had zero evenings free, what for all the meetings and organizing events he had going on, and he was unwilling to drop out of any of them to make room for me). I had started seeing a therapist right beforehand, thank goodness, and my therapist helped me see it that there was nothing wrong with me, and it wasn’t even that he didn’t like/love me, it’s that he was just not available for a relationship.

    Again, I’m really sorry. I have been through this a few times and it honestly never gets easier, but take heart in knowing that you will get through it and you will feel better and heal, and you will probably even love again.

    Sending good thoughts.

  37. Since LW has clarified that they are, in fact, divorced… I wanted to add that this situation of being divorced but living together sounds very codependent and sometimes codependent people actually learn to function better on their own. In other words, it’s not a guarantee that the ex would neglect the children while they were in her care if these two lived separately. He is using that to manipulate you.

  38. Everything the Captain said, but also, having (unwittingly) BEEN the secret girlfriend, I can definitively say that this is not a secret that can be kept. You have to ensure that nobody that either one of you knows EVER sees you together in a public space, going to and from each others’ houses, nobody can ever see an errant text or e-mail on your phone… the list goes on. When you think through the sheer logistics of keeping a secret like this, and for TEN YEARS at that, you realize just what a hopelessly impossible task it is. And how draining, and soul-sucking, to hide so much of yourself and your life for that long.

    Living in totally different parts of town with mostly different friend groups, it only took, what, four months for the ex to get found out. Yeah. Not doable.

  39. LW, this is not “complicated.” Bluntly: He is lying, you know that genuine adult relationships are not conducted this way, and you need to unfriend and unfollow, block this guy’s number, bounce his emails, and maybe move to a new address while forwarding your mail to a post office box. Then, look around and find a therapist or counselor to discuss this past year and your feelings with. You are worthy of love. He does not love you.

  40. 25+ years ago I had an amazing relationship for three years while my “soul mate” fought over the house and alimony with his ex, who lived in a locked bedroom with all her belongings. Once I moved in he revealed his actual abusive self. I continued to live with him for another two years of absolute hell. One day I realized not only did I have feelings for someone else, that person had feelings for me too, so IT WAS POSSIBLE that there was at least one other person in the universe that I could be in a relationship with. I moved out. Staying moved out was VERY HARD. He promised me everything I ever wanted and fortunately I realized he was lying.

    Please don’t tell yourself that there is only this one person you can be open, honest and intimate with. You deserve so much better. If you don’t have a therapist, please find one who can help you sort all of this and the potential aftermath out.

  41. Eeeesh. LW, I really feel for you. I can imagine that applying all these critical comments to the person you love and trust is extremely difficult.

    But holy crap. I’m gobsmacked that he would ask you to keep your relationship a secret for A DECADE rather than go through the difficult, painful but also very normal outcome of a divorce. People share custody. It happens. It’s common. Most of us will know a family doing it. So when a person marries and has children, they should damn well know it could happen to them. Unless the other parent is abusive, he simply doesn’t have any right to stop it from happening. Yes, the co-parent in this case has health problems that impact her ability to care for the kids, and that complicates things – but if he’s determined to keep them all under one roof, he’s not available for dating. If his priority is a stable life for the kids, a secret relationship – that could be discovered at any time – is a ticking time bomb under the living room floor. How many people manage to keep an affair secret for 10+ years? In all that time, is she never going to look at his phone, or call his office when he said he was working late? Will that be better than separating now?

    The most charitable interpretation that I can think of is that he and his ex have ended up in a warped little world ruled by her emotional state, where triggering an outburst from her feels like the end of the world and he will do virtually anything to avoid it. I’ve experienced something a little like it when someone I was very close to had severe, untreated depression and I had untreated anxiety. I felt utterly responsible for their feelings, and the idea of actually telling them something they didn’t want to hear was terrifying. I put a good deal of energy into predicting what they might want and trying to form myself into a perfect little bonsai person so that I wouldn’t upset them and The Sky Would Not Fall. You know what finally improved the situation immeasurably for both of us? Me moving out and starting over. It was a codependent mess, and for what it’s worth I can’t even imagine how it would be if we’d had kids – growing up, watching the pair of us and thinking this is how relationships are. Yikes.

    (Also? Suddenly presenting a secret-partner-of-over-a-decade to his young adult kids is going to mess. them. up.)

    1. “Perfect little bonsai person” is SUCH an accurate description of this emotional state.

  42. I have to agree with everyone who’s saying that this guy is not being honest with you. And even if he is – even if absolutely everything he tells you is true (while he lies to literally everyone else in his life!) – this is still a completely bullshit situation.

    He says he’s doing this to protect/shelter his (ex?)wife and kids. Well, what he’s doing is an awful lot like what my parents did when I was a kid, to a different degree and for less time, and I am here to tell you that I wish they hadn’t.

    My father cheated on my mother and thought he was keeping it a secret. He wasn’t as sneaky as he thought he was, and my mother found out. She wasn’t going to put up with it, but she wasn’t in a position to leave… so she spent the next six+ years pretending everything was fine while she got ready. She had my older sister (she was pregnant when she found out), and had me, and got us into school, and got a job that paid enough to support us, and then she kicked him out. Meanwhile, he spent six+ years pretending everything was fine while he sneaked around with his bit on the side (who was spending those years pretending everything was fine while she cheated on HER husbands. Plural. They’re lovely people.)

    From my sister’s and my perspective, everything was normal and our parents loved each other and then suddenly they didn’t. There was no fighting (that we saw, at least), no lead up, no easing into it, just one day we got home from school and mum told us dad had moved out.

    Think about it. There was nothing wrong until it was broken irrevocably. That… messed with our ability to put trust in our own relationships. Sure everything seems fine, but that means nothing! It can change in a heartbeat! Years later we got told some details, then more, when mum thought we were old enough to handle them, and, well, if anything that made it worse, because now we knew that what we remembered as a normal happy family had *already* been irrevocably broken. It had never been real. It was a lie.

    I was in my mid-thirties before I felt secure enough with my now-husband to marry him. We’d been together for eleven years. I spent over a decade afraid to make any changes in our relationship because any little thing might be the straw that broke it, or revealed that it had always been broken and he’d been lying to me all along.

    My mother thought she was doing what was best for us. (Pretty sure my dad thought he was doing what was best for *him*. 👍)

    So… yeah. Even if this guy is being completely honest with you (like I said, I don’t think so, but people have come up with stupider ideas and thought they were doing the right thing), he is asking you to make massive personal sacrifices to ‘protect’ his children in a way that is actually going to harm them. Even if you could keep up this facade – for ten years! Ten fucking years of sneaking around, stealing moments together, lying all the time! – what happens when it’s over? “Happy birthday, youngest! By the way, everyone, the last ten years have been a complete sham.”

    Don’t do this to them. And don’t do it to yourself. You deserve better.

    1. “There was nothing wrong until it was broken irrevocably. That… messed with our ability to put trust in our own relationships. Sure everything seems fine, but that means nothing! It can change in a heartbeat! ”

      Huh. That feels like an important revelation. Thanks!

    2. “I spent over a decade afraid to make any changes in our relationship because any little thing might be the straw that broke it, or revealed that it had always been broken and he’d been lying to me all along”

      I know I’m late but thank you for articulating this.

  43. You know, I think the Captain’s response here is all on target and accurate but completely the wrong thing. Because it’s a lot of paragraphs about this dude and his life and his choices and what may or may not be true and what he should maybe do. But don’t get distracted by that. You’d do well to only think about the first four paragraphs if we number them starting with “hi there.” All that shit doesn’t matter. What matters is that after a whole year of a relationship where you made sacrifices you’re being asked to just continue being a secret side entertainment.

    Why doesn’t matter. The things leading into it don’t matter. The reasons could be all fake or completely reasonable. You’re still not getting what you need, and you’re being asked to accept a level of relationship that you’re not okay with. That’s all you need to know. It’s okay to ask yourself the question “is this a life that will make me happy?” and not factor any of that shit in his life into your answer.

    It’s okay to care about him and feel bad for his situation. You may as well just stipulate it as all completely true; he doesn’t have to be a liar or horribly misguided for him to be the wrong match for you. The fact that you love him doesn’t matter either, not really. Love is wonderful but it’s not a magic fix for an unavoidable impediment. Stop waiting for him or love to do what’s needed for you to be happy and leave. Love is a renewable resource and a planet with billions of people has others you can love just as much.

    1. Agree. Say he’s completely on the up-and-up. In that case, what he’s asking you to do is in the category “set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm”. Is this a good situation for him to be in? Nope! Should you get right in there with him so that he can keep things exactly the same for a decade? Probably no! Do you have any control over whether he’s in this situation? Nope! You can’t make other peoples’ choices for them. Do you have any control over whether YOU are in this situation? HECK YES. Goodbye to this situation!

      You did good, LW. I know it’s hard. The other way would have been worse.

  44. Someone who will not face a tough situation with honesty, integrity, courage, and steadfastness is not someone you want by your side as a partner in life. Because life is long and throws lots of challenges at you. Some of the challenges you will meet are unimaginable from your current vantage point. You want the person who will rise to the occasion, whose behavior under pressure makes you go, “Wow, they are an incredible person and I love and respect them even more from watching them deal with this.” This dude is not the partner you deserve.

    1. + 1 It may even be that he is genuinely divorced and genuinely worried about his ex-wife’s health, and above all he cannot bear to live apart from his kids for 50% of the time. That is agony for some divorced parents and it may be for him. in which case, that’s OK. His current living situation is not necessarily totally terrible. But to not be totally terrible he has to keep to the terms of it and if the price of being 100% divorced and still 100% living with his kids is 0% romantic relationships then that is his choice to make if he wants to be a person of integrity and not a total liar. He can live with his ex-wife and his kids and be a good parent and retain his integrity if that works best for them. But he can’t do that and be in a relationship with LW as well.

  45. I think this is a clear example of how the difference between lying to be a selfish puppet master and lying because you’re a pushover with awful boundaries is not always a meaningful one, especially in terms of harm done to others. His intent here changes nothing and I agree with the Captain that he’s made this relationship into basically an affair with the word ‘divorce’ in quotation marks at worst and parentheses at best.


  46. Hopefully your county’s circuit court has their case records online. To check if he is actually divorced or not, go to the circuit court website for the county he lives in, select online court records search, if they make you pick a division you want to choose family/domestic relations (not civil, criminal, or chancery), enter his info & search. For the heck of it, also search civil, criminal, and chancery. If he’s got a history of malfeasance an online circuit court records search can bring it into the light.

    If your county does not have their case records online, you can go to the courthouse and they will manually pull the records for you.

  47. Also-also, while tbh, it doesn’t matter if his divorce is real or not (it’s shady af either way), it’s worth knowing…

    in some states, you can’t legally be divorced until you have lived separately for some time.

    I know it’s the case in Louisiana, because it made trouble for a friend of mine and her fiance, who’s ex-wife still lived with him (it was more a case of “we don’t have to pay rent here” and he has mobility issues, but also she’s the one who introduced them, so it was above board).

  48. Op, your guy says he is telling lies to his ex and kids for their own good, but his lies benefit *him* the most! He gets to have his kids full time, keeps the household together, maintains a hold on his ex, and still carries on his relationship with you. He gets what he wants, and everyone else has to sacrifice. He wants to lie to his kids for the next 10 years? How does he expect that to work out? Even if you are willing and able to keep up the fiction, after 10 years his kids will be unlikely to just forgive and forget. Even if they forgive their father, it is extremely probable that his kids will see you as the one leading their dad astray. Do you really want to play that role in this family? Also, going on what you have described, your boyfriend is clearly not big on taking responsibility for his decisions. Is he going to be honest about his decision to lie to his kids, or will he throw you under the bus in order to continue looking like the good guy? This just seems like a lot to sacrifice in order to be with this person, and without much benefit for you. Your guy’s behavior here is really selfish and unreasonable. It is definitely not loving or respectful to anyone involved. If he is really such a great guy, let him do what the captain suggested, and get his divorce and custody issues in order before anything else. Right now, he isn’t looking out for anyone else’s best interest except his own. Please don’t sacrifice your own happiness and wellbeing so that your guy can keep you a secret and lie to everyone.

  49. You know it’s not a healthy situation when a reasonable solution (divorced parents living in separate spaces and working out a custody agreement) is presented as The Worst Possible Outcome.

    One other thought: per the LW’s comment it sounds as though they and Partner and ex-wife share some of the same social circle? Wondering if these are circumstances in which a secret could come out in spite of everything in the most damaging way possible to everyone involved.

    1. Yes! I was sort of on board with “it’s a difficult, complicated situation” until the Worst Possible Outcome was…completely normal? And not awful at all?

  50. I loved, loved this response.

    I agree 100% that this guy’s story isn’t lining up. Even if he’s not intentionally misrepresenting the situation, it sounds – at the very least – like he’s not a reliable narrator. If the “ex” is willing to move out, who, exactly, is determining that she’s too disabled to care for her kids? Clearly, she thinks that she is able. Who’s idea was it that he remain in the house? If she actually IS unable to care for the kids, why does he assume that the court wouldn’t factor that into a custody arrangement? Could it be that he kind of knows that her dependence on him is in his head?

    Maybe this guy means well, but the captain is absolutely right that he’s taking away her agency. He’s justifying his lies with “it’s for their own good”, but it’s really up to his “ex” to decide what she wants her life to look like. And she straight-up told him that living with him while he dates the LW is not what she would choose.

  51. It’s really tough to realize the one answer you didn’t want to hear is probably the correct one. LW, I would only mention that you need a real break with this guy even after you message him and say all those thingd. It may be that he comes back and says all the right things and makes the changes you’re requesting or makes moves toward them. Sometimes people do that when they’re backed into a corner. I would say that, no matter what he does, you should have a 3-6 month “no-contact” period while he figures this out.

    Just keep in mind – he has yet to really experience his divorce. By that I mean, the period of grieving where you move all your stuff and everyone realizes it’s actually happening and you lose a lot of structure in your life only to have to make a new one for yourself. If he decides to move on from his current living arrangement, well … that kind of grief does funny things to people. This is potentially a person who is averse to change and craves structure, one who has struggled with honesty. I would be concerned that he might so one of a few things: prematurely escalate the relationship with you to get some of that structure back, project onto you a lot of hopes and expectations that you aren’t in a position to fulfill, grow to resent you for making him choose and create a lot of toxic fighting around anything that turns out to be harder than expected, etc. You don’t want to be, in his mind, the “reason” for all of this change. He needs to want it for himself.

    If you’re the right one now, you’ll be the right one six months from now. The difference is, he’ll have to deal with all the messy feelings around divorce and change without you as his feelingshelper and smoother-over of all negative things. Either one of your might decide, in different circumstances, this doesn’t work so well. You might find him really needy; he might find he’s enamored more with someone who he can be sure will roll with whatever unfair expectations he has and isn’t so keen to date someone who pushes back more.

    Also, I hate to say it, but this guy might be the guy who, once he’s all moved in with you, finds another person he can lie to and idealize to escape from any negative things in your relationship. What he’s doing now might not be capital-C cheating to the rules-lawyer types, but he’s clearly shown a propensity for seeking alternate companionship when things at home aren’t ideal. Until he gets more okay with pushing through difficult times or having hard conversations, I’d imagine that would continue.

    1. Your comment is so spot on, it’s really just the best. But this really stood out to me, because it’s SO true. “If you’re the right one now, you’ll be the right one six months from now. “

  52. Dear LW,

    The Captain was very gentle about your boyfriend. I suppose she hopes that gentleness might lead you to recognize what a steaming pile of lies he tells.

    Because he is lying.

    It is possible (albeit extremely unlikely) that everything he said to you is true. If so, he’s lying to his children and their mother.

    The more likely case is that he’s lying to you. He isn’t divorced and he has no intention of divorcing. Moreover, he cheats on his wife.

    Please leave him.

  53. Sounds like a married man trying to get away with something.
    The only reason for co-habitation post divorce is economic – and even then there are physical boundaries in place (basement apartment, separate entrance) along with psychological ones (he needs his ‘ex-wife’s’ permission to date?? Whaaat??)
    He’s lying – no question. Letter Writer it happens to the best of us – speaking as a former inadvertent mistress. Your man is betraying his family and you. The next time you speak with him, try to view him in his married with children lens and maybe things will be clearer. Or don’t talk to him again and hire a Private Investigator to confirm your worst fears. So sorry!!

    1. “The only reason for co-habitation post divorce is economic”

      Well, that’s kind of a sweeping statement. In this particular case, I agree, but it’s not always true.

  54. My boyfriend eats endangered species for breakfast, murders children in their sleep, is a registered sex offender, and voted for Trump, but he feels really guilty about it, so that makes it okay. He’s asked me to keep it a secret that he continues to do these things because he thinks that’s the best option for the situation. Besides, a lot of people would be hurt if they found out.

    Do I need to point out how the sarcasm in that paragraph applies? Would someone tell me why feeling guilty about something without taking steps to make things right somehow evens things out? The thinking seems to be: I did something that made you feel bad, but it’s okay because I feel guilty which means it’s like you did something to make me feel bad. We both feel bad, so we’re even!

    DTMFA! And then date and look for love. It’s amazing how falling in love with a good person does a world of good to help us get over falling in love with a bad.

    1. All this, and also, in this case it doesn’t sound like genuine guilt to me at all. It sounds more like “I know, on at least some level, that I’m making an unreasonable proposition, and I’m hoping you’ll accept it if I disarm you by emphasizing how terrible I feel and how difficult this is for me.”

  55. Letter Writer,

    I believe that you are a good, trusting, kind person. You deserve so much more than a decade of sneaking around and not getting to be “in love” with your lover. His request to you is entirely self-serving, and it’s so unfair. There are so many better people and experiences waiting out there for you.

    All of the love.

  56. Yay Letter Writer!! Love your update! I know it’s painful, but even if only 1% of people on earth are who you’d like to be in a relationship with, that’s still 75,270,000 people.

    Stay strong. Celebrate this courageous step you took!

  57. De-lurking to provide a kid’s-eye view of this … situation.

    My parents split up when I was 10. YEARS later I learned that the reason for the split–the straw that broke the camel’s back, where camel = already unhappy marriage in which one spouse was emotionally abusive–was that my father was sleeping with one of his grad students and wanted my mom to let him move into the guest bedroom and have his girlfriend sleep over. My mom, standing up for herself for the first time in many years, said HELL NO–if you’re moving on from me, then you’re moving out of this house and we’re ending this marriage because what the actual fuck, dude.

    My sibs and I had no idea there was a new person in dad’s life until I was a teenager … at which point he introduced us to her as “a friend” and just a few months later, boom! announced that they were now married. (making her wife #4.) In case anyone had any doubts, that was NOT a good approach–we hadn’t trusted him very much before that, but afterwards we were basically reviewing every interaction for the preceding decade in light of this gigantic lie-by-omission.

    I have no idea what my father was saying to my stepmother all that time, but based on the tremendous care he took to ensure that none of his wives or ex-wives ever encountered each other in real life–the first time wives 2, 3, and 4 ever met was at his funeral/memorial service!–I suspect it was some variation on “my ex-wife is crazy and is determined to turn my kids against me, and you should avoid her because she will probably do or say horrible things to you”. And look, I don’t like my stepmother, like, *at all*, but I can still recognize that my father was the one who was behaving with a bizarre lack of good faith, as LW’s boyfriend is.

    LW’s boyfriend may genuinely believe that he’s doing this for the kids–although I personally am sceptical–but if so, HE IS INCORRECT. Nothing about this is benefiting his kids, as far as I can see. (And it’s certainly not benefiting you in any way, and you deserve SO MUCH BETTER!)

  58. The fact that he’s interpreting his ex’s idea of moving out and splitting custody as a threat says a lot. They might be divorced and not in a romantic relationship anymore, but he’s still considering them as a united family unit. It’s not really for the kids’ sake; split custody is a common and entirely reasonable thing, and if she really turned out to be unable or unwilling to care for them, that would be solid grounds to get the custody arrangement changed for the kids’ safety. It’s for his own sake. He wants to maintain the current family unit badly enough that his ex even floating the idea of changing it seriously upsets him.

    What that means is, the core relationships in his life–the people who he considers his core family–don’t include you. They include his kids (which is as it should be) and his ex (because regardless of their romantic status, she’s still part of the core family unit, and you aren’t). And he’s willing to go to any lengths–including a decade of constant lying–to keep it that way.

    Don’t do that to yourself.

    1. Exactly. I mean, what did he think would happen when they got divorced? That they could (or would) continue living together completely platonically, and never dating anyone else, for the rest of their lives? I mean, I suppose it could happen, but I imagine it would require a whole lot of consent and communication from both parties. By far the most common thing that happens when people get divorced is that they move to separate houses and figure out a plan for custody and access to the children.

      Even if he doesn’t want to do it that way, the fact that the very idea apparently *blew his mind* is raising a lot of red flags for me.

      1. I suspect he imagined that they’d keep living together platonically, his ex would magically not mind at all when he started dating someone else, and he could have both his family unit and his hot date without any conflict whatsoever. Or maybe he imagined his ex would wander off on her own and he’d have the kids 100% of the time AND his new hot date without having to take her into account. People are really good at forgetting to take others’ needs and feelings into account when we’re busy imagining our own ideal futures.

        The problem to me isn’t necessarily that he failed to anticipate her reaction–it’s that his way of ‘handling’ her reaction is to lie to her and keep LW as his dirty little secret on the side. He’s somehow managing to give the impression that he’s cheating on the wife he already legitimately divorced, which is a FEAT. And he’s expecting LW to suppress her needs in favor of supporting his fantasy in the process. His commitment to being a classic cheating dirtbag is actually impressive.

      2. Yes, and it makes me wonder what the point of their ‘divorce’ even was. They are still living as married people, still sharing a household, and still not free to date or marry others, so was it for some kind of tax reasons? That’s the only type of thing I can think of that may have actually changed by divorcing. Although depending where they live would probably even still be considered common law spouses if they live together and have children together.

        Presumably it means ‘we’re not having sex’ but you don’t need to legally divorce to do that. You can just not.

    1. Well put and relevant. I’d also offer ‘If You Really Loved Me’ as an example of unreasonable expectations of the love in your life.

      “And if you really cared for me too
      you’d purchase forty cockatoo
      and teach them to fly
      in formation in the sky
      and shit the words ‘Tim is God’
      on my ex-girlfriend’s Hyundai
      sure, it might be easier with doves
      but shirking challenges is not what love’s
      all about”

  59. Hello, LW. I’m really sorry. However I think it’s important to suggest that his whole breakdown and his offer for you to stay his secret girlfriend for an entire decade and his second oh-so-honorable offer that you can walk away from the relationship if that doesn’t suit you, is just a way of getting you to break up with him. Because if you didn’t do that, he would have to admit he was still married, break up with you, or both.

  60. Yeah I got low key gas lighted into being the “secret girlfriend” because “My kid’s mom causes drama when she knows I’m dating someone”. I wasn’t allowed to go to his house in case his “roommate” said something to the ex even though she apparently lives 1000 miles away with his kid. He was so hot, so good in bed, so affectionate, so emotionally supported and I was so a fucking side chick without realizing it at first I’m sure. I still have no firm proof that he was full of shit but my intuition was like BEEEEEESSSSSSSSS so I noped out. Haven’t regretted it for a minute. Being a secret is stressful, I’d rather be alone. Girl, nope out of that situation, please.

  61. Thank you for this. I was once on an almost identical situation (just 2 kids not 3) and he also turned out a year later to have been investigated for his dealings with early teen girls. Yeurgh. It was only over time that unravelling all the lies and manipulation that distorted my thinking was possible.

    I’m now with a wonderful guy, but man it took time to sort my head out. Please, LW, walk away, get the counselling, and allow yourself a chance at a real life with a guy who actually, actively, chooses you.

  62. It seems like you can look at the observation “he tells me the truth about the big scary lies he tells to other people” and draw seemingly contradictory conclusions…either “he must tell me the truth about everything, no matter how big and scary” or “he tells a lot of big scary lies”

  63. LW, you are so brave for speaking up and asking for advice – what a nightmare for you! I too am in my 30s and struggling with the expectations/demands of others. May I suggest looking inward and asking yourself what YOU want? You said you didn’t want kids, but what else is important to you in a relationship based on mutual attraction and respect for one another? I sense that you may feel you deserve to be treated this way? Like, maybe you feel that you deserve to be “just” a dirty secret, or second in the hierarchy in this relationship. But I see so much more in your letter, empathy for the kids and the ex-wife, a willing to compromise and negotiate, and even the patience to put up with his hog-wash and poppy-cock… you deserve so much better. You deserve someone who will celebrate you, and be proud to have you on his arm.

    Check out some of Brene Brown’s work, I think she has some really good truth-nuggets that might resonate with your journey to self-discovery. Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” is on YouTube and has over 8.4 million views, as well as her excellent books like “Braving the Wilderness” and “The Gifts of Imperfection” and “Daring Greatly.” Sometimes, looking inward to your own needs, helps you determine your boundaries, what you will, and will not accept in a romantic relationship… tough truths in these comments, but you asked, and the Awkward community is here for you!

    Figure out what you want, state your needs, and if your paramour cannot meet them… then you know you are not “as” important as the others in his life. You should be free to date, snuggle, kiss, caress, spoil, and otherwise show-off your love to the entire world. He’s out there, and won’t have all these demands and baggage for YOU to carry.

  64. I’m sure he has many fine qualities that drew you to him. I’m sure you love him. Those things can be true at the same time as it can be true that what he’s asking you to do is unfair to literally everyone in this situation, including himself. This big terrible thing that got him in a panic is, as CA said, a reasonable thing for divorced parents to do.

    It is so easy for us, who don’t know or love him, to tell you this. But you are doubting enough to write in. And I think that listening to those doubts is a wise and kind thing to do for yourself right now.

    He’s not in a good place to be dating anyone, at all.

    1. I saw your update, LW. I’m sorry you had to break up with him but it is the best thing for you. I hope one day you have a relationship where you can both be open, honest and authentic with each other and express your love openly.

  65. This guy is not divorced. Even if he actually is legally divorced (and prepare yourself that he may not be), if he is still living together and still promising not to date anyone else, he is not divorced in any meaningful sense of the word.

    You are dating a married guy in a monogamous marriage.

  66. What he’s asking you to do is so far beyond a normal thing to ask, it makes me wonder if he wants to break up with you but wants you to do it. Him saying he understands if you don’t want to is NOT SOMETHING THAT MAKES IT ANY BETTER. Of COURSE you “might not want” to do this bafflingly bizarre and unacceptable plan!!

    I realize it’s not exactly the same, but imagine if the two of you were living together, and one evening he came home and said, “Hey—would it be okay with you if I went and lived platonically with another woman and the children I had with her, but still came over here and spent time with you as my Secret Girlfriend? Don’t worry: the other woman and I wouldn’t be married!” You would be like “HELL NO THAT WOULD NOT BE OKAY.” That’s what he’s asking you if he can do. He’s asking can he still sleep with you, but live with another woman and the children he had with her.

  67. One thing I have learned about love in my 32 years is that at least 50% of it is timing. This dude is not, at this time, able to be in any kind of romantic relationship, so you need to accept that. It’s like yelling “it’s only a flesh wound!” when your arm’s been chopped off – stop listening to what he’s TELLING you and start looking at what he actually means and does.

    And I’m so sorry. Losing love hurts so much, but it’s better than being a dirty secret for TEN YEARS.

  68. [Abusive relationship dynamics]

    This is not a good situation, and it won’t start being workable until there is a complete physical separation.

    I have been “the other person” in the breakup of an apparently heterosexual relationship where the dude-shaped person was terrified to death of their woman partner, who had all sorts of emotional and physical difficulties and who depended on them to take care of the pets.

    It was hell.

    This woman was genuinely emotionally and physically abusive, and the dude-shaped person was terrified to break up, terrified by her reaction to asking if they could see other people — she made them promise to not date anyone for 3 months after the breakup, and promise to pretend to be together for the holidays.

    It took them physically leaving the home for her to believe that they were serious about the breakup. It took lawyers to get her to move out.

    If that sounds like the situation this man is in, only he can make the decision to do breakup actions that she can’t possibly misinterpret. He’s going to need a robust Team Him that includes some friends, a therapist who knows how to handle male abuse victims, and a lawyer. You should probably recuse yourself from hearing certain parts of his processing.

    Or he could just be lying his face off.

    1. Yeah, I was thinking about this too. The situation might genuinely be super bad – and in that case, going along with keeping a secret for 10 years to help him maintain it is still a self-destructive move for the letter writer. She can’t decide how close he wants to stay to his ex-wife, she can only decide how close she can be to what sounds like it’s still a very active and ongoing divorce.

      also, even if the situation is in fact on the up-and-up, it would take truly superhero/villain levels of manipulativeness, secret-keeping, and family member gaslighting to maintain it for a decade. It is much more likely that the whole thing goes up in emotional flames within 18 months. Maybe it is better for him to get his literal house in order WITHOUT the letter writer and the Big Secret acting as a catalyst?

    2. Ha — it will not surprise you to learn I was thinking along similar lines!

      And yes, Letter Writer: even if his situation is as bad as he paints it, even if his ex-wife is controlling and manipulative and abusive (and I… really don’t think anything he’s said actually suggests that is likely to be the case, cf everyone’s fantastic observations on what a “complete breakdown” looks like), you can’t fix it and you can’t rescue him unless he decides to get out. He’s gotta make that choice. He’s not choosing you, whole-heartedly and enthusiastically, and you deserve someone who will.

  69. Y’know, this almost could have been me, except my girlfriend actually broke up with her ex when we started getting involved. And now we all live in the same house (me and her in one bedroom, the ex in another). But so much of what you wrote, LW, resonated with me and was a big part of why I insisted that the ex knew about me. (The ex actually came up with the idea of me moving in, because otherwise I’d be homeless… long story of miscommunications and misunderstandings with the school; I was going to live on campus.)

    That said… I’m so sorry, LW. I hope you can get some therapy to help you untangle the ways he’s warped your thinking.

  70. This guy has LW so wrapped up in the spectre of “but mah kidddssssss” that LW is fortifying herself with “oh but child X hasn’t said that thing about not wanting dad to date anyone else for 12 months” as potential signs of this relationship’s viability.

  71. As someone whose parents got divorced, and then the father hid a new relationship for a year and a half – he’s not helping his kids at all here. I was FAR more upset with my dad for lying to me for over a year than I was for him dating again. We were told “he’s got a date”…. followed by “new girlfriend” a few weeks later… and it was weird but okay, this is fine. Then about 6 months later I found my dad’s 2 year anniversary card for her and sh!t hit the fan because we realized he had been lying to us.

    OP, sh!t will hit the fan here as well. Even if you did put up with this for TEN MORE YEARS… how are you going to pretend you’re a brand new person in his life at that point? Do you really think you guys can keep up the charade? MY dad took about 6 months before he forgot and messed up.

    Everything mostly worked out *eventually* – I’m fine with my dad now and actually quite like my stepmom; but one of my siblings and one of my step-siblings still don’t really interact with our parents, outside of showing up for Christmas. So this guy isn’t *just* asking you to commit to hiding your relationship for 10 years. He’s also committing both of you to YEARS and YEARS of drama after that.

    And quite frankly, if my dad’s relationship had gone on for ten years, we still wouldn’t be talking today. And I’ve gotten married since then.

  72. bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees BEES bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees BEES bees bees BEES bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees BEES bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees bees BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSS

    1. Yes! It’s no so much that the house is full of bees, as it’s actually just a beehive. Beehives are bad places for people to live.

      1. This Fucking Guy is, in fact, nothing but a pile of evil bees wearing a trenchcoat and a hat.

          1. I have dated a couple of seething masses of bees… and you know what? They’re lovely people with wonderful marriages now, but with me, we had a toxic dynamic (I like to think I am a lovely person, too). So, bees in general: good, bees out of place: confused, angry, and pointy, not great snuggle partners.

  73. LW: you say you don’t want kids, and that’s cool. However in the event that this guy sorts out his shit, including custody, and you cohabited with him – his kids would be your kids. Really take the time to think about what it means if their mother really is as incapacitated as he says, and what that means in the event that he and the mum separated their housing. Because like it or not, if you live with somebody’s kids they end up your kids too, one way or another.

  74. I’m wondering, how did LW come into his life in the first place?

    It almost sounds as if she dropped in from the sky, delivered by the Valkyries of fate, but life doesn’t work that way. Was he on a dating site, looking for love? Did they cross paths at a coffee shop and he asked her out? Do they have a shared hobby? Like, how did this now-untenable situation begin?

    Because if he put himself on Tinder looking for a serious connection, knowing very well that he’s living in the family home with his (ex?)wife and children, and honestly will be for the forseeable future, then how does *HE* get off acting like the well-meaning and hapless victim of the whole situation?

    Seriously. Something smells here and it’s not LW’s feet.

    Also – Jennifer’s advice here is filled with so many (so so many) “Arghhhhhh, battle cries!” that I just want to stand up at my desk and fist pump and whoop.

    “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.”


    “Don’t make your life smaller and your integrity smaller to compensate for the courage he lacks.”


    You know what your heart says, LW. What does your integrity say? You know what your bedroom says, and what your feelings say. What does your courage and your inner knowledge of justice and peace say?

    A number of years ago I took the hokey “WWJD” anagram and I changed it so that for me it’s What Would My Grandmother (who raised me, whose moral compass was and has been the most unfailingly accurate barometer in my life) Tell Me To Do. She died years ago but her love still guides me today. If I can get calm, and get clear, and talk with my inner Grandma, and figure out WWGTMD, then I find I have the courage and the integrity to do what needs to be done. No. Matter. What.

    Who is your grandma, LW? Whose memory or example do you have to look back to, and what would they tell you to do? Because if they loved you, believed in you, and advocated for you even a tenth as much as you deserved, they would almost definitely sit with you in this, help you realize the horror of your current predicament, and help you out of this situation. I know my grandma would do that for you.

    If you can access that, let it carry you through.

    1. LW (posting as Letter Writer) updated above to say they’ve worked together for three years and fell in love a year ago.

  75. I am reminded of an early episode of “The Golden Girls”, where newly-divorced Dorothy was head-over-heels for a gentleman who, it turned out, was married. He assured her that he and his wife were not “together” anymore in any real sense of the word, they had mainly been staying married for the sake of their (now-grown) children, this relationship was as wonderful for him as it was for her, etc. Dorothy decided she was willing to continue the relationship, but when she mentioned that she looked forward to being out with him in public, after his divorce…oh, he can’t get divorced. It would devastate his wife. They’ve been together so long, he couldn’t possibly leave her, what would she do? And the children, what will they think? Dorothy’s expression as it dawns on her that she will never be anything other than the Other Woman is heartbreaking. And, being Bea Arthur, she decides that even love doesn’t make up for the suckiness of that arrangement, and leaves. Not without tears, because it was very clear that she did love him, and that she didn’t want to leave him–but he didn’t come after her. He didn’t choose her. He already had a life that was completely comfortable for him.

    LW, you don’t need to be kept a secret, and you shouldn’t have to be forced into shadows so he can stand in the light and pretend everything is fine.

  76. Say you guys did keep this under wraps for eleven years (or longer, because I’m sure some other reason would come up). How is the kid’s reaction going to better when instead of saying, “I know you don’t want me dating other people but I am going to do that” he says, “I know you didn’t want me dating other people so I lied to you about it for over a decade”?

  77. Just wanted to chime in here as a 33 year old with very little experience in dating and madly and mutually in love. Also seeing in secret from my persons kids.

    Quick aside here. Way to make yourself young again is smooching in secret. This time it’s the adults from the kids but who’s counting.

    Back on track. We’re seeing each other in secret from her kids, oldest of whom already 95% has picked on the fact her mother is seeing someone, because we met a week ago! Also said older kid just returned from their father and said she wanted her mother to move back to a different city to be with their father.

    My partners response to this was to suggest I come hiking with her two weeks from now and drop the kids off at their fathers for the autumn break.

    So that’s what about three weeks since we started seeing each other, we’re not even officially dating, that she’s introducing me to her children. One of whom said TWO DAYS ago she wanted her parents to get back together.

    P.s. I broke up with my ex, first real relationship, in April thinking I’ll never meet anyone who feels like this again. Which was true. My currwnt partner doesn’t require any explaining away small negatives. The only negative I can find is she’s making it really hard to assess the effectiveness of my ADHD medication :b

  78. Not sure this was mentioned, but considering her account, I wouldn’t even be sure that his wife actually has depression or is in that bad shape… Maybe you have other evidence, but if this comes solely from his words…..
    Even if all what he tells you is the truth, you don’t deserve to be kept as a secret! At all!

  79. Hi LW. I have about the same level of depression as the ex-wife, and I thank god that the captain has also had depression in terms of her reply (for your sake (sorry captain, not for your own sake. I would never wish that on you)), in that she hasn’t pandered to the ex-wife or treated her as precious in any way in terms of a solution for you. i have a few points here which may come out a bit jumbled but firstly, I thank god constantly I never had kids as I would not be able to look after them. Now if the ex-wife is seriously in that boat, the only way she would be able to have custody is if she moved in with her parents and therefore they did the majority of looking after the kids. Otherwise, I would assume she would love them too much to subject them to the level of neglect and having to look after themselves they would receive from her. So why would courts grant her shared custoday if she is this incapacitated? Secondly, I think your boyfriend really does pander to her and she takes advantage of that. For instance, I live alone and while my house is cluttered, and the housework usually gets way on top of me and the house is often a complete pigsty, sometimes (especially when my parents are coming to visit and it needs to be somewhat presentable), I can do a bit of a cleanup. Not decluttering mind, but take care of whatever gross stuff has piled up, and that is because I have no one else to do it for me. Your boyfriends ex wife is taking advantage of him, knowing that he will take care of household tasks, so she doesn’t have to do it. You’d basically have to be either catatonic, or not care about extreme messiness to never be able to do anything. So really, she is not as bad as he thinks she is. Basically I think your boyfriend’s excuses are pretty thin (although more out of not fully understanding depression and the legal system rather than being a bad person), and as the captain said, you should know your value and that you deserve a partner who is as committed to you as you are to them. Best of luck LW, I really hope everything works out for you.

  80. LW: You say you have been working together at the same job, and spending hours of down time together, hanging out. If you have to cope with being with him in the same space day after day, I wish you extra strength and courage.

  81. I just want to amplify a previous comment. It is physically impossible that the setup is as he describes, unless he has a time-turner. He is the sole bread-earner, and the sole competent child-care-provider and household-runner, and on top of that is doing the physical and emotional caretaking for a severely depressed person . . . and he has the bandwidth for a real-deal true-love outside relationship? Dude may have told the truth about the divorce, but it is 100% certain he is misrepresenting the wife.

      1. Doesn’t matter. You know what actual solo parents do during breaks of 1+ hours in their day? Errands. Emergencies. Phone calls to orthodontists, soccer coaches, and school staff. Picking up ingredients for dinner. Dashing home to meet the plumber. Delivering a replacement lunch to their kid at school because they forgot their lunchbox. And if none of that needs doing, they are collapsing in the nearest chair and saying to anyone who will listen, “Oh my god let me tell you all about how parenting nearly killed me THIS week . . . “

        1. I don’t know, I’ve met solo parents who managed to date and weren’t neglecting their kids. I don’t think this guy is what he says he is, but I wouldn’t want to promote a message that there’s automatically something wrong with single parents dating.

          1. I guess I’m not making my point clear. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with dating. But I’m a solo parent myself and this just smells wrong. Solo parents date by setting a time and hiring a babysitter and mentally preparing themselves to *not* gripe about summer camp schedules over dinner. They don’t waste useful daytime hours drifting around with their new love with no set end-time until they get a call that they’re needed at work. Also, age of the kids matters a lot, and the youngest in this scenario is 8, or possibly as young as 6 if the dad figures he’ll be free when the youngest can drive. At those ages you are still in the trenches. Believe me, this dad is NOT solo parenting plus taking care of a disabled adult.

          2. @ChocolateForBreakfast that is a really excellent point! If this guy is really a solo parent *and* primary caregiver to his (supposedly) severely depressed wife, how does he possibly have time to just…. hang out with LW all afternoon? If I was doing all the childcare, all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the grocery shopping, all the laundry, all the errands, all the parent-teacher meetings, all the getting the kids to and from school, all the everything, if I had a free afternoon I’d spend it flat on my back so deeply asleep my coworkers would poke me to make sure I’m still breathing.

  82. Plus a million to wanting to see the divorce decree.

    I’m also giving some side-eye to the whole “my wife is too mentally ill to care for the kids, so I have to stay here forever.” What happens when he’s at work?

    What happens when he’s with you?

    Either he is choosing to abandon the kids to a caregiver he considers incompetent in order to date you (no Dad of the Year prizes there), or else he’s not really the only thing standing between the kids and utter neglect.

  83. Am I the only one who wants to know how they met? Bet you $5 they met online and ThisFuckinGuy slowly doled out the “truth” of his living situation, getting sketchier and sketchier, breadcrumbing OP along until she was hooked and totally overcome by first love. I also bet he’s tried this with other women and LW is the first one who actually stuck around. Stories like this — living situations like this — take some evil balls to try to pass off on somebody.

    I don’t think this guy would ask LW for a 10-year secret relationship unless he thought she had zero self-esteem and major assertiveness problems, or unless he had gaslit her so completely she wouldn’t realize it’s time to DTMF. It really bothers me that she’s like, “his solution is terrible but I don’t know what else to do” as if asking for her own needs to be met isn’t even an option! Is LW so lonely and shocked by first love she’s willing to let this guy walk all over her? Cause that’s not love. Love from a partner comes with a healthy dose of respect and consideration. Asking somebody to be your decade-long sidepiece is probably one of the most disgusting, selfish things I’ve ever heard.

    Let’s assume for a minute the guy is telling the whole truth (no way in hell, but whatevs). That STILL doesn’t mean LW should just sit there and let this guy’s lowest common denominator be the baseline against which she lives the rest of her life.

    LW — I’m so sorry that your first foray into feelings this deep came from a guy who was such a douche.

  84. Hello ,my dear, I am so sorry you are in this mess.

    My parents divorced when I was in second grade. I was confused and upset for a while, and got over it. I had friends and parents who loved me, and I was fine with it. Divorce is not bad.

    My parents were not good parents though. There was a lot of lying, and I was expected to go along. It took me literally decades to understand that my emotions were meaningful and I was allowed to have boundaries. I developed anxiety while I was still in grade school, and depression soon after. They are now my lifelong friends. Therapy and psychiatry made the difference, I became emotionally strong enough to learn that other people did not see the world the way I did. That was the best thing ever, and I wish my parents had showed me.

    Let’s say this man is honest and kind and wonderful in all other ways. What he proposes to do will hurt his children. It is already hurting his wife, because she can avoid facing her depression. If you are part of it, it will hurt you. You cannot change a person who believes this destructive behavior is good. You will not be able to help his children or his wife.

    You are lovable. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of being loved by a person who is honest, kind, wonderful, and wants the best for you.

  85. Hello ,my dear, I am so glad you found the strength to get out of this mess

    You are lovable. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of being loved by a person who is honest, kind, wonderful, and wants the best for you.

  86. I dated a guy with similar issues. When we met, he said he was separated and his divorce was “almost final.” OK, sure. I’ve been divorced and dated between the time I knew reconciliation wasn’t possible and the final decree. “Almost final” meant “petition not yet filed by either party.” I don’t recall what made me look, but a litigant name search came up with nothing for him except an ancient traffic issue. I did that search after we had been together for a year.

  87. Bang on answer from the Captain! I’m polyamorous and was dating a married man when I was seeing someone else. While I know he was completely open to his wife and friends about seeing me, what he really wanted was a mistress. Someone to be available on only his terms and at his whims, with no emotional strings attached (though he was happy to have my emotional attention).

    This is what your guy sounds like, LW. And I also highly doubt he’s really divorced. I stayed with my guy longer than I should have, because some parts (okay, the sex) were amazing, but in the end, I wanted, and realized I deserved, more. It’s tough, but freeing. Good luck!!

  88. Chiming in as another quasi-secret GF, for longer than I care to admit. In his case, I suspect a lot of it came down to a personality disorder, wherein compartmentalization and No One Knowing Everything is a big deal to him (he’s not married, and I did know his family but not well. He met my family a couple of times and we never, not once, interacted with one another’s friends. It became clear at points that aside from a couple close friends of his, few people in his social circle knew I existed.) As it happens, “desire to keep the relationship completely isolated from the outside world” is rarely a stand-alone problem, and even if you haven’t come across the other stuff yet, there is likely Other Stuff. There are potential hints of that Other Stuff in how he reacted to his wife’s “threat” to… actually be divorced and live in separate homes and share custody. He seems to be trying really hard to control and manage his family situation in the way he sees fit, and he appears to be justifying himself a lot, and willing to ask you for a LOT.

    I hear you that you’ve known this guy a long time, you two are emotionally close and you love him. But being someone’s secret – frankly, someone’s side-piece – will get old really fast. It just cuts off so much of what you CAN enjoy in a healthy loving relationship. I like the advice above that now you know you can fall in love – that’s great! And if you’re able to do it once, you might be able to do it again, with someone available to be with you 100%, not keep you in the shadows.

  89. In my experience, the worst emotional damage is done by people who are so committed to not looking like the bad guy that they end up committing acts of genuine villainy.

    1. You’ve just put so much of my life into perspective. Working in a profession that contains a high proportion of these people is trying in its own special way.

    2. I think this is really on point. This guy doesn’t seem like some super overlord master manipulator to me…but totally wants to preserve his self-image and reputation.
      I was just reading on another site about a really similar story, a woman was pregnant, her husband starts an affair during the pregnancy, confesses he’s “fallen in love” but they’re not having any sex of course, but says he’ll stay in the house to support his pregnant wife until the kid is born and then they’ll divorce…and then of course proof of sex and sexting is found…so now this dude doesn’t have to uproot his life or move out, and still gets to appear to be the supportive husband who didn’t bail on his pregnant wife and gets all the expectant dad warm fuzzies, while driving across town for a week every month to screw the side piece…made me sick to read about.

  90. I have a friend who was divorced and still living with the father of her children so they could co-parent. And guess what? Both parents *routinely* had their new “love of their lives” over at the house. They did this for quite a while. At one point, at least one of the parents moved their lover in. So 3 children grew up with their parents in the house, *and* their parents’ partners. No lying involved. And when the youngest got old enough, both parents married their new loves & moved into separate places.
    That’s one example of ethical co-parenting while living together after a divorce. This is not what your boyfriend is considering, nothing even close. I don’t think he’s actually divorced.

  91. I know that marriage can mean different things to different people, but for a great many, having children together, living together, and not dating other people (without it being considered cheating by the other party) pretty much defines marriage whether or not there’s a legal marriage certificate. Or in this case, a legal divorce certificate.

  92. I suspect a pack of lies, such that might not be divorced and his wife may not be depressed. Is he supposed to be some kind of mensch in his own superhero story? I smell bullshit.

  93. I dated this guy, more or less. Not married to his partner but together for almost 2 decades. Staying to protect their mutual kid from the “crazy” mom. Who is now away in college. But there are stepdaughters and grandbabies with problems. He says he is in an abusive situation which is why he is secretly dating others. OK so we know we can’t say “why don’t you just leave” to female survivors of abuse. So I don’t say that to him. But I noped out of there because of the lying and the unavailability.

    He might be telling me the truth re: his situation, but the fact is that he is an adept liar, he isn’t available, and he kind of got off on me being a secret.

    I stay in touch but he has been “about to leave” for 3 years now. He’s a hot mess and whatever things I find compelling about him, it’s not worth the hassle.

    I try to remember that there are others who have the qualities I find compelling in him, and that he needs to FIGURE OUT HIS SHIT!!!

  94. Years ago I dated a fellow. He was divorced but lived in the family home with his ‘depressed’ and ‘problematic’ ex-wife and kids, two of whom had special needs. I met his children but not his ex.

    The guy thrived on excitement and drama with his ex, and liked having a girlfriend too – that’s how he wanted things to be. He wasn’t interested in learning how to communicate or co-parent effectively and in a healthy way. I broke up with him and never regretted it.

    I dated another dude who was not yet divorced from his ‘depressed and unhappy’ wife. He respected his wife’s agency and knew she had support in place for her mental health. He didn’t get embroiled in ongoing dramas with her, and spoke respectfully of her despite initiating the breakup.
    We may have had a long-term relationship if a completely unrelated dealbreaker had not arisen.

    My point is – both of these guys had issues with emotional availability when I met them, but only one made an effort to change that in order to be a potentially great partner.

    Take it from me, you deserve SO MUCH better than what this man is offering you. You are worthy of more than this.

    Unless your deepest desire is to be used for emotional labour and sex, while being at the mercy of your partner’s dysfunctional relationship with the mother of his children – break up! He won’t change. You are the one who will make all the sacrifices in the relationship, for at least 10 more years. That’s a long, long time.

  95. Here’s the thing, my parents took years to actually break up and even after my dad moved out they kept doing things like having regular meals on weeknights which was all done “for the kids”, but that was just an excuse for them to stay in each other’s lives. And rather than helping the kids (e.g. me) get used to the idea my parents ere separating, it made it harder because the rules kept changing and that sort of uncertainty is really shitty when you are young.

    So my general advice to couples who are breaking up but living together for the kids is: move out. Sort out custody and set up a regular schedule for when the kids see each parent. Your kids will thank you (eventually).

    If you are dating someone who refers to their co-parent with whom they live as their ex – find out exactly what that means, and whether they are getting divorced or have mutually decided that the relationship is not working. Maybe they have decided in their own head it’s over, but the other person has not accepted that and by staying in the same house, they are not doing anything to ensure that their “ex” understand the relationship has ended. Also, a lot of places require couples to live separately for 2 years before granting divorce, so if someone says they’re divorced but living with their ex, maybe ask them if there were any legal hurdles involved in that.

  96. I’m guessing the guy is making up the whole story. He is really still married. The ex-wife is really his wife. He could also be making up his wife’s impairments as well. DTFMA.

  97. I am very sorry for the situation, LW, but he is downloading all HIS emotional labour to you.
    Also he is a liar.

    I understand he must face a lot of difficulties to exit his marriage but a lot of friends of mine did this. And they are still alive.
    I did not want my mother to date other men when my parents divorced, I was in my teens.
    She dated the man who is now his second husband and she is happy. I am happy too, at 43.

    My father lied to me so much hiding his girlfriends when I was a teen.

    And you know, these are things that usually grown-ass adults do.

    And also, he is a liar.

    Did I say he is a liar?

  98. I hope I’m not misremembering this, but: LW, do you have anyone to talk to about this situation right now besides your partner? When he’s saying this needs to be a secret does that include the people YOU love and confide in?

    If that’s the case, I want to question why that is. Rarely are there circumstances so dire that this is a reasonable ask. You are not scared of being found out by a punishing government or parents that don’t accept same-sex love, so why should you need to keep this situation a secret from team you? Except of course if something shady is going on and they might look less favorably on the relationship than he wishes.
    If YOU feel like it needs to stay your little secret please ask yourself why. In retrospect when I didn’t feel comfortable letting my social network know about a relationship, it didn’t say anything good about it. I am not in these relationships anymore and looking back I am NOT sad they ended.
    You trust your team you. Trust them with this.

    1. This is an important distinction. At one point I was in a relationship with someone who had what I agreed were good reasons for waiting to tell most people about it. But the people we *did* tell included our other partners (we’re polyamorous) and my best friend, because we were keeping a secret from a bureaucracy, not from the people it would affect. (People being human, this meant not telling many people in our overlapping social groups, because my partner didn’t want to risk someone innocently saying “Vicki is visiting her sweetie $Name” in the wrong place, in case some bureaucrat decided to google.)

    2. This.
      The reverse of that is how I know if a relationship has legs. I’ve broken up with guys because I realized I wasn’t comfortable introducing them to my best pals.

  99. Dear LW,

    I have a small question to ask you about your relationship. What’s the advantage?
    It’s a question that has made me re-evaluate so many things that I do that I don’t need to do because it doesn’t advantage me, like, at all.

    The advantage of being the Secret Girlfriend to him is that he gets his sex partner and emotional labour partner and none of the effort of actually extricating himself from his divorced family/making custody arrangements/whatever else good stuff he has at home with the Ex.

    The advantage of being the Secret Girlfriend to you is… Um. I may be an oblivious asexual but I can’t actually think of a single possible advantage to you, only you being forced to perform emotional labour, emotional gymnastics, being the Other Woman (to the Ex) and possibly the Bad Guy (to the kids and maybe Ex) and none of those things feel like advantages from my pov.

    His situation sucks, but do you know who has the power to get out of it? He has. But he’s instead asking you to compromise yourself. After already compromising yourself for the last 12+ months. There is no reason for you to keep doing this. You might or might not find another person to love, but before he came into your life, were you unhappy? Maybe not. Maybe revisit Single You for a while and remind yourself of how awesome you are. If Boyfriend decides you are worth it to him to make the effort to Get His Shit Together when you’re out of his life, you can decide if he’s worth more of your time. If he doesn’t then that will tell you about how much of a priority you were/are to him. (Spoiler Alert: You are not a priority to him right now and it is unlikely that that’s going to change).

  100. So. Many. BEES. Oh my goodness, this man is so manipulative it’s giving me the shivers. A man that uses his (supposed) ex and kids to keep your relationship a secret is NOT a good person! And how dare he think he has the right to keep life altering information away from his ex so she won’t make a decision he doesn’t like! How dare he ask you to make yourself so small that the world won’t see you as a couple. Even if ya’ll make it 10 years (you won’t because the relationship will implode from the lies, the secrets, the hiding) he will not make your relationship public. I am sorry, dear Letter Writer, but you are his dirty little secret. You are worth so much more than that. Please run, please don’t waste any more time in this doomed relationship.

  101. LW, I feel for you.

    You write, you’re fallen in love for the first time in your live. It’s always good to remember that you can only feel the love inside of you, not the love from somebody else. The love you’re feeling ist yours – it is inside of you. This episode in your live had shown you that you’re able to love somebody. I don’t believe there is a love of my life. It’s a lot about dumb luck in the beginning and after that much work. And if in the days to come you grief and feel hurt it is good to remember that you feel it only because you are able to love. For me this sometimes is the little spark of light in dark times. All the bad feelings are only there because there were love in the beginning. The though of it makes it bearable for me.

    And as the love is inside of you you will be able to love again. I whish you so much the next will be someone who ist available physically and emotionally.

    Be good to yourself.

  102. I know we’re supposed to take the LWs at their word, but…I don’t believe this guy is divorced.

    1. Yeah. It’s clear that divorce is the official story, not just the story he’s telling her, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually divorced. Like, I would not be surprised if it turns out they started the paperwork and told everybody, but never actually followed through.

      1. Getting divorced with children and a house is complicated and expensive. They wouldn’t be the first to fail to launch. The insurance issues, the disentangling of finances, the quantifying of assets and financial responsibility… and the children’s needs, too, just for practical things like food and clothing and transportation… They can say they’re divorced if they want, but finishing the actual legal business of it takes some work.

  103. LW, I literally just last week broke up with a partner I’d been with for 3 years because he refused to admit I existed to anyone outside of a very small handful of close friends, under the guise of a bunch of excuses including “I’m a very private person” and, my personal favorite, insinuating that he would lose his job because of our relationship. We’d been friends for 15 years and I don’t know if we ever will again. I feel like my heart has been ripped out of my chest. Everything hurts and I oscillate wildly between insecure, furious, and relentlessly self-critical. (My therapist is going to have a field day tonight!)

    Three years of no holidays, no family stuff. When we went on vacation together, we ran into some of his friends, and he made up excuses about why we were traveling alone together and sharing a hotel room.

    The best part? At the end, he was dating someone else behind my back (which I would’ve been fine with if he had told me — monogamy is not a mandatory part of my relationships, but communication sure is), and after I left him, he’s been on a very public self-improvement kick, including being public about his new partner because ‘she deserves that’ (and I didn’t, apparently).

    Especially as a queer person, nothing quite describes how much it hurts to have your partner introduce you as “my friend,” or lie to everyone about where he is when he’s visiting you (or lie about why he’s there). I came out of the closet for a reason over 20 years ago, and being pushed back in makes me feel sick.

    In addition, I’ve been in a few relationships where the other person was hesitant to be public, and in every single instance (including this one), they used that secrecy to their advantage, typically to cheat on me because nobody knew they were taken. I’m not saying that’s what your guy is doing, or will do, but keeping you secret (and committed) offers him a lot of power and not a lot of accountability.

    You are WORTH more than that, I promise you. You deserve more. This is going to suck, and it’s going to suck for a while, but as the old country song says, “The world didn’t stop for my broken heart,” and I can also promise you that it will get better.

    1. wow, that’s horrible. Bravo to you for standing up for yourself and breaking up. I hope you and your therapist shut up your brain weasels quickly and that you heal quickly. Offering you jedi hugs, and a shoulder to cry on, if you’d like.

    2. OMG I am so sorry you are going through this. You are worth more than this. Please don’t be offended but your recent ex is a massive douchebag!

  104. Many years ago a friend was telling me about the new love in her life. We’d both been single and looking for a while, and we confided in each other about our dates often. She told me about this great guy she’d met who was, incidentally, married, but he and his wife had no sexual relationship. I thought for a long moment about how to be gentle with telling her what I thought. I said that she deserved a relationship a true one-on-one relationship, not what this guy was offering. That’s when she told me that the guy’s wife was fine with it. I said “Really? She told you that?” Well, no, HE told her that. My friend then went on to tell me what a great guy he was, how awful he felt, how his feeling awful made her love him all the more, and in the end, my friend turned on me for not supporting her and being happy for her in this great new love of her life.

    I don’t know what happened after that, though I have some good guesses.

    There are so many responses about what a liar this guy is. We all questioned whether he was truly divorced, and it turns out the whole community believes that he really is. Then we all noted that even if there are true divorce papers, he is still married in a practical sense. I’d suggest that even if his ex openly speaks of the divorce, that’s still only talk, not proof. Not that it really matters. The point is that when someone asks you to keep something secret, you have to wonder what they’re hiding. I question everything in the story. Is the wife really depressed? If so, how badly? There’s depression and there’s depression. Some depressed people function pretty well. Do we really know that the child who didn’t want the father to date really said that? If so, was it a passing thought? We don’t even know if that whole conversation that left him shaking like a leaf really happened. It’s entirely possible that what really had him so upset is that he’s stringing along other women and one of them threatened to blow things up.

    If large parts of this story are true, the bit about needing to be around for childcare, how does that even work? How does he have time to work, take care of the kids, take care of the depressed wife, and fall in love with someone else?

    I shouldn’t be surprised, but I keep being amused by the ways the old cliche about “my wife doesn’t understand me” has become updated. Now it’s “my wife is depressed,” or “my wife is seriously ill.”

    Maybe the question should now be: How do I move on when I have good reason to believe that my first love has been lying to me and we’ll never have the sort of relationship I want? I suggest a novel approach. Ask to meet the wife. Or come up with some excuse even if it involves selling magazines door to door. That might be what it takes to help the LW move on.

  105. Do you know for sure that they’re even divorced? And even if they are, do you know that they’re not still in a relationship? I would bet good money that he’s still sleeping with her and stringing you along.

    LW, being in love with somebody is an emotional rush but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if you’re not treated well. It doesn’t protect you from abuse, it doesn’t convince him to leave his wife/ex-wife; it doesn’t make him stop lying; it doesn’t help you think clearly about a situation. This guy is toying with you. Cut him loose unless and until he cleans up this mess.

  106. Letter Writer, big ups to you for breaking it off with him. Just… is there any way at all you can switch shifts or work partners or do something to ensure you aren’t hanging around for 1-2 hours at work with nothing to do but talk to him? Because if you don’t, all of his good qualities will be right there in your face and you’ll start telling yourself that this is wonderful and incredible and you can do this for ten years, hell you can do it for the rest of your life. You can’t rely on him to make a change, so you’ll have to.


      This man is the literal definition of “comfortable inertia” and “poor boundaries.”

    2. I think there’s a related point, which I don’t see in the comments: Letter Writer, you know what it’s like to have intense giddy wonderful conversations with him in short bursts of time.

      And you’re learning, a bit, about how the hard conversations go.

      But if you go with his plan, you’re signing up for ten years that cannot possibly be representative of the relationship you hope to end up with, because it will be in the margins of his life (the margins of your jobs!) if it even works. He’s asking you to invest a decade of your life in a dalliance that gives you no information at all about how you’d actually live together (if you want to), and how you handle hard things *together* (rather than you carrying it for him).

      (An ex promised and promised and promised that he’d stop exposing me to a serious allergen that impacted my ability to breathe. When it came down to the wire, having repeatedly and without prompted promised me that if it did, if it was quit or have me walk, he’d quit… it turned out his spouse wouldn’t let him and he went along with it. And we were polyamorous, and everyone involved knew about everyone else, and his spouse was also my ex having dumped me a month or so before that point, and… he lied to me. He didn’t mean to, he didn’t want to, he was scared and frankly had been pushed into believing he didn’t get to have wants or needs or boundaries, but he lied to me and he was going to keep lying to me, because he so desperately wanted that version of his life to come true, but he just couldn’t follow up on it. I hope he gets out, if that actually is what’s right for him, and I’m not going to refuse to have anything more to do with him if he does get out and he does come to find me and he has quit and he does want to see if we can, actually, be friends — but I wasn’t okay with being confined to the margins of his life, to chatting via text during the day and on the phone for half an hour on his commute home every evening, to never seeing each other for a weekend, to repeatedly being made so ill I couldn’t leave the house for two weeks at a time. We loved each other, and that wasn’t enough, and however much we both wanted the relationship we were imagining it wasn’t the one we were in and couldn’t be the one we were in without major changes he was fundamentally unwilling to make. It was the best relationship I’d ever been in — and the experience I had with it let me find, and identify, and work on, something much better.)

  107. so, my friend is in almost exactly this situation and has been for 4 years. we’re expats in another country and he is married with kids to a woman here. he swears if he tells her he’s dating someone she’ll band together with her parents and make it so he never sees them again. they supposedly have an open relationship (so do he and my friend) but he won’t tell her he has a girlfriend, but he WILL allow her to think my friend is a guy since he’s bi and his wife knows but thinks a relationship with a man is less of a threat. my friend and this guy actually had a commitment ceremony! he’s been telling her “it’s not the right time” to tell his wife/kids and get a divorce for years now. my friend finally moved to another country and he’s supposedly going to finally separate from his wife and kids and follow her there (and THEN tell everyone “oh we drifted apart from the distance” and get divorced) but I very much doubt it will ever, ever happen. I’m so frustrated with my friend for staying in this miserable situation and truly convincing herself she’s okay with it. aaaaaaaagh!!!!!

  108. As someone who suffers from chronic depression, what this guy is doing is not at all helpful to the wife.

    1) We’re not that fragile. We’re also much more prone to inertia than wild, impulsive action. I am dubious of the idea that she will do something terrible if he starts actually separating his life from hers.
    2) I would run far, far away from anyone who decides that I neeeeeed them because I’m just *so* depressed. That actually sounds dangerous to me, like they need me to stay sick to justify why they’re not living their best life.

    I have less faith in the family court system than many commenters here. In the dude’s shoes, yeah, I would be concerned that the wife would get primary custody if she asked for it because She’s The Mom. I saw this exact scenario play out with (former) close friends of mine. The husband had been the stable rock holding the family together, the wife really struggled with mental health issues. But when they split, she asked for primary custody and got it Because Mom. But that’s the dude’s problem. It doesn’t have to be LW’s.

    1. And the dude presumably isn’t going to help his case for joint or primary custody if he has an affair and turns out to be a massive liar – it doesn’t exactly make him look more reliable than the wife going “OK, so we split up properly, share custody, and date openly if we wish to.”

  109. This dude sounds super sketchy. I’m in total agreement with all the replies above who think he’s lying about actually having divorced his wife, which would be reason enough to end the relationship. If he isn’t lying, the depth of emotional dysfunction his behavior suggests would have me running fast and far in the other direction, and possibly changing my door locks – or my address. Too much baggage there.

  110. I wouldn’t trust ANYTHING that came out of this dude’s mouth.
    *I’d doubt whether he actually broached the subject of divorce with his wife at all.
    *I’d doubt whether the wife is actually as depressed as he says, or depressed at all.
    *I’d doubt whether the wife and kids actually even exist at all or if he’s just some selfish dude who wants to screw anything that moves while keeping you waiting on the sidelines.

    Fine, maybe I’m excessively cynical. But what proof do you have that he IS telling the truth about any of this? In any event, it doesn’t matter.
    The fact remains that this dude is a HUGE waste of your time. You deserve so much better. It might take a while to find someone new, but being alone is better than someone this selfish and callous with your feelings.

  111. I actually know a family that went through something similar to what the LW’s lover is suggesting. They were our closest family friends. I grew up going to their house all the time, celebrating joint Thanksgivings, sharing vacations, and they were like a second set of parents and a second set of siblings. We were SHOCKED to find out about their divorce. It came out that Buttface had been having an affair with another woman for upwards of a decade. He had been confronted over and over by his wife, and he denied it again and again. The day came where she found irrefutable proof and their youngest kid was just about to finish high school. They mutually decided to stay together until the youngest graduated to make the transition “easier” on their kids. They couldn’t keep up the facade and she finally just said I can’t do this anymore, I want a divorce. Now.

    And guess what? The moment they announced their divorce, the tension broke. The kids knew something was wrong all along. The one who still lived at home started actually spending time with his mom instead of hiding at a friend’s house. Everyone was suddenly SO much happier. It was a relief.

    And, guess what else? Their dad did not end up looking like the good guy who valiantly kept the family together. They would have been plenty happy if he’d come clean years earlier, and it wouldn’t throw all of their happy childhood memories into question.

    They will NEVER fully trust their dad again. They’ll tolerate his new wife, but they will never like her. How could you warmly accept a stepmother who participated in a campaign of lies, gaslighting, and cheating for at least ten years??? They saw their mom being driven crazy by suspicion because she knew her instincts weren’t failing her, but she had no proof. They lived through their mom plastering a smile on and pretending everything was fine for a long time. It was a form of psychological torture. Only a person with poor integrity would participate in something like that.

    LW, no one can hide an affair for ten years. You just can’t do it. The kids and the (ex?)wife will know something is wrong. It will absolutely affect them, in ways you can’t see or predict.

  112. First off let me say I’m relieved that Letter Writer responded with a followup of what she’s doing, and was gracious enough to fill in some details that people were speculating about.

    And second… I’m having flashbacks to “Last Tango in Paris”, a disturbing movie which I wish I could unsee.

    1. Trigger warning on that one:

      You’re seeing real rape in that movie. The actor and director planned it and sprang it on the actress, because they wanted her “real” reaction.

      1. Fucking motherfuck what the fuck fuck

        I watched that creepy gross movie with a creepy gross guy and it was creepy and gross and I guess it’s not that surprising that a film made with such awful ideas about consent was made by awful people who did the same things in real life but what the fuck

  113. I couldn’t get past this:

    “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.”

    Oh bullshit.

    Basically this means he’s still married. In every way. He’s lying to you about not being fully married.

    But he came up with a lie that worked to get you into bed and to get you to be the secret hidden dirty mistress, so he’s happy. Why are you willing to settle for a cheap tawdry lie, and not a very good one? And for a man who thinks that’s all you’re worth?

    My money says she, the wife, carries the bulk of the total workload, not him.

    1. And how do I know? Because if he were a good person dealing with a bad situation, his behavior would look completely different.

      It would, at a minimum, include staying far, far away from the LW. Because treating someone this way is unspeakable. And a decent person would never do that to anyone, much less someone they claim to love.

      But he’s not a decent person and he doesn’t love LW. He probably loves having a sidepiece though, and probably loves her devotion. But he doesn’t love her — if he did, he’d do anything but treat her this way.

  114. Dear GOD.

    “My lover wants me to keep our relationship secret [buzz] from his ex [buzz buzz] and kids [buzz buzz buzz].” This guy’s the evil beekeeper. He’s lying to her, he’s lying to his kids, he’s lying to you. You may not know exactly what he’s lying about, but he most certainly is lying to you about something very big. My guess is that he’s lying about being divorced and/or ever planning to leave. This whole hive reeks of “She doesn’t understand me; I’m going to leave her, I promise, just not yet . . . ” Ew. No. Are you SURE she even has all the issues he claims she does? He has no problem lying about everything else.

    1.) This guy is probably not really divorced nor intending to become so. Demand to see that decree. At the courthouse, not some bullshit he copied and pasted off the Internet.

    2.) NEVER let your kids dictate who you can date. Been there, done that, nope nope nope nope nope. I don’t date guys with kids anymore for that reason. Now, when I see a guy’s dating profile that reads “My kids are my number one priority,” I know that I don’t ever want to come second and swipe left. Nobody decides who you date except you. And right now, you are waaaaay below his top priority.

    3.) This guy will never leave his wife. Not now, not ten years from now, not . . . Ten years? Are you fucking kidding me? I give up.

    I have to admit I would have laughed in his face and noped the hell out. I suggest you do the same.

    1. I just spit my lunch all over my monitor.

      Remind me to someday tell you the story of my cat and my tampon string. Actually, all there’s let to tell is: “I did a vertical leap onto the bathroom counter.”

  115. OMG, he totally is claiming to have a Mrs. Rochester in the attic.

    It’s exactly the same. He’s really married in every sense, including common law, and probably was never unmarried to his wife in the first place. But he wants a piece on the side. But that’s not really good enough either; he wants the piece on the side to have all the devotion of a wife.

    So he makes up whatever lies will get him that.

    Just like Edward Fairfax Rochester.

    Go read Jane Eyre, again, LW. You missed the most important piece — you walk away from the abusive ass selling you a bill of goods designed so he can get off on using you as a rag to wipe his own selfishness. You move on. You treat yourself like you matter, not like you’re gutter trash to be used and tossed aside, which is how he’s treating you.

    1. Yeah, but don’t be Jane and go ahead and marry the jerk.

      [Technicality: “living together X years = married” is not how common law marriage works. I’m doubtful a couple could become common law married after getting a divorce, but I’m positive they can’t if he’s referring to her as “ex-wife.”And that’s assuming they’re even in a jurisdiction that recognizes CL marriage.]

      1. You’re exactly right.

        And Charlotte Bronte imagined a scenario where the financial power and independence and desirability as a mate that would normally belong to a man got flipped onto Jane, and she was able to choose Rochester and have him be the kind of grateful a woman was expected to be if a man married her.

        But while she was clear-sighted about aspects of relational injustice she was singling out, Bronte wasn’t really acquainted with what a healthy relationship would necessarily look like in the details. Rochester was a lying liar who lied out his liehole and was out to screw Jane over for his own selfish pleasure. His circumstances changed so severely she could make Jane out to feel safe even knowing what he was, but he did not get a character transplant. The Letter Writer’s guy won’t be getting one either — he will still think screwing people over with lies for his pleasure and because he’s a coward is a perfectly fine way to treat his nearest and dearest.

  116. I just gave Cap a standing ovation. At work.

    LW, you deserve so much more. The person lucky enough to have your love should be so happy they shout it from the freaking rooftops.

  117. LW, there are a lot of comments and I’m not sure that this hasn’t been addressed in some of them, but after reading the theories on his marital status or lack of such, something in your letter jumped out at me.

    You say you trust him because “we have been so open, honest, and intimate.” I can’t imagine you feel too great if you’ve gotten this far down in the thread, and I don’t want to pile on, but… what do you mean “we”? You have, I’m sure. And he’s convinced you that he has. And maybe he has, about some things, but, like a lot of other commenters are saying, he’s obviously fine with lying. So I’m going to ask you a question that doesn’t come up at all in your letter.

    Have you met any of his friends?

    Because here’s how I’ve known my partners to be trustworthy: I meet their friends. I meet their families. I spend a lot of time with their friends and families. Everything I know from my own experience about someone I’m in a relationship with can almost always be confirmed by the fact that he’s willing to share his life with me–his whole life, not just his time. If you’re a secret from his family, I’d put money on you also being a secret from his friends, and that means you don’t get to see his life. You can’t know whether someone is being “open, honest, and intimate” with you if you don’t get to meet people who can corroborate even his least intimate details. Without someone else there to reflect their version of him back to you, you can’t know how “real” your version is. He could tell you literally anything, from innocuous braggadocio (“Wait, Bill told you he medaled in state-level sprinting? He dropped out of JV basketball.”) to horrifyingly manipulative falsehoods (“What do you mean, ‘ex-wife’? Bill and Mindy aren’t divorced. They’re spending three months in France this summer without the kids.”).

    If he doesn’t give you access to the people closest to him, or curates who you do and don’t get to meet and under what circumstances, that’s a huge problem. Even if he tells you it’s in the interest of keeping the secrets you already know about, it has the handy function of helping him keep whatever secrets he wants. A thing we say around here a lot is, when someone tells you who they are, believe them. He’s telling you he’s a liar. Of course he’s not telling you that he’s lying to you, but he’s perfectly happy to let you know that YOU’RE the lie, and that means you don’t yet know what else he’s willing to lie about.

    And honestly, I hope I’m wrong. I have a lot of empathy for people who get into weird relationship situations, panic, and make awful decisions–AS LONG AS THEY OWN UP TO THOSE DECISIONS AND TRY TO LEARN FROM THEM. I really, really hope, for your sake and his wife’s sake and his kids’ sakes, that’s where your guy is right now. But if he’s truly a good person who’s just painted himself into a terrible corner, you’ll know when you start asking him hard questions.

    1. Ooo, that is a REALLY good point. I was so caught up in the “Good God #thisfuckingguy” that I didn’t even notice the LW never mentioned anything about the guy’s friends, coworkers, anything, etc. . . . Now that I noticed that, they’re conspicuous in their absence.

      I was also wondering just exactly how they were supposed to keep everything a secret for upwards of a DECADE without somebody the guy knew finding out and telling the wife. Do the guy and the LW not go out in public together? Do they only meet in out-of-the-way places or at the LW’s home?

      The only thing this guy has been honest about is his willingness to tell huge lies to people close to him. That’s the only truth the LW ever needs to know.

  118. “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.”

    CA nails it on the head here! I dated a guy who wanted to keep our relationship secret. At first, it was exciting but it rapidly made me feel like garbage. I distinctly remember the moment that I wanted more. He tried to make me feel like I was being unreasonable about it because I was “making things so hard” by wanting to talk about it and I literally said “Fuck this shit!” I walked away that night and it was so hard – SO hard! – but it was like a switch flipped inside me and suddenly all of these people I had never looked at twice but who were kind, caring, and interesting seemed to appear all around me. Eighteen months after “secret relationship” guy I met my husband. He has a lot of the things I liked about the jerk: shared interests, good sense of humor, the ability to talk about anything – but he also is honest, kind, thoughtful and, best of all, willing to be with me even when it’s not easy.

      1. Uh oh. *crafter alert*

        I don’t thing it would be *that* hard to actually make a hat from chocolate…

  119. Hi, I just want to give you some information about this powerful man named Dr.Akpada He is able to bring back my ex lover within 8 hours and you can simply contact him at watssap +27844130246 or send him by email to (akpadatemple@hotmail.com) if you need your ex back

    1. LOL there has been a hilarious amount of spam of this type on this post (and this commenter/spammer has been banned, don’t worry)

      Internet Spellcasters! We know about the spells to make the exes come back.

      How do we make them STAY AWAY?

      1. It’s been my experience that the best spell to make an ex come back is to get involved with someone new. Then all the sudden the number that had been all but forgotten will float up to the top pf your recent texts list like oil on water and every time you go to text someone you’ll have to see:

        “hey how u been”


        “u up”



        until you block that shit or bury it in texts from cooler people.

        1. “Don’t cry because they leave. Cry because they’ll come back.”

          LW, I was giddy for all the flavors of Unavailable Men. I loved to mourn and look at photos and stare out the windows of If Only. Then I learned about Sunk Costs Fallacy and Intermittent Reward, and the olde light went on for me. The guy who was ending a marriage when I met him but who immediately got another woman pregnant while writing mournful “If only” and “someday” letters to me-? Ha! I Noped out of that drama right into college that fall and I never looked back.

  120. WTF?!


    I haven’t read through alllll the comments yet. Or, well any of them to be honest LOL… But so much nope here.

    Nope, nope, nopity, nope, nope, nope.

    Show of hands: he’s still married, LW is his “on the side.” Anyone?

  121. Sign yourself up for a Tinder account and just swipe left for a while. Sometimes we get so used to feeling rejected we forget that we have the power to set our own standards and reject people too.

    1. Oh my goodness this is comment gold. I left my ex nearly a year ago and am a million miles from ever wanting anyone ever again and yet I also want to date (although also I really really don’t want to). Setting up online dating just to exercise my rejecting-people-who -aren’t-right muscle is genius.

      I still might not do it yet but I think I’ll do it sometime. Maybe after the year anniversary and Christmas.

  122. LW, I am so sorry you’ve ended up in such a shitty situation. Relationships are hard enough without having to deal with so many secrets, and a partner that appears to be a complete coward if not a compulsive liar. Or perhaps both. I was really glad to read your update that you’ve walked away, I know how hard that must of been and I’m very sorry that you are hurting. I can’t promise that you will meet someone else, but if you do you will have come out of all of this with more tools to build a healthier relationship next time. You will have a clearer idea of what you want in a partner and where your boundaries are.

    My first serious relationship was with a guy who had an ex-wife and a kid, but it was the complete opposite of this. He told his ex about me as soon as we started seeing each other. They decided together how to introduce me into their kidlet’s life. Once the kidlet got to know me and there was a lot of mutual like there, we started parenting as a foursome (the ex already had a new partner) which meant there was no opportunity for us to be played off each other. I was invited to the ex’s wedding, and spent the day keeping our mutual kid out of mischief. Me and the ex became each other’s first call about anything to do with the kid, and my partner used to joke that we ganged up on him and her new husband. I was the first person (other than her husband and GP) that knew when the ex got pregnant again, and we told the kidlet as a group. When the kidlet asked me how the baby got in his mummy’s tummy, I got nominated by the group to have the talk since he’d been ‘comfortable enough to ask me’. I loved that kid like he was mine, and we stayed in contact for a long time after me and his dad split up. And even that was discussed by the four of us before we told him. He was completely secure in how much both his parents loved him, and how much his parent’s new partners loved him too. He moved seamlessly from house to house, all the same rules at both his homes decided by all the main adults in his life. It was an honour to be part of such a healthy co-parenting setup and I know that’s what I’d want for any child with separated parents. That is putting your kid first.

    1. There… seems to be something really dusty in here.

      Yeah, that’s why I’m crying.

      (Seriously, wow. Thank you for putting that here where I could read it.)

  123. Wait. Captain, tell us what you REALLY think!

    I couldn’t agree more. His story makes zero sense at all. If indeed his ex does suffer from debilitating depression, I can imagine that moving out of this purgatory will likely help her situation. In my experience there is no greater misery than living together while separated. Also, how does anyone know that ex-wife will neglect the kids? This sounds like another very specious and self-serving argument. There is often a period of adjustment post-separation which involves more pizza than is optimally healthy… but generally decent parents will continue to be decent and kids are attended to and everyone cries a lot but it is survivable.

    Change is scary. No one loves the idea of seeing their kids less. I feel his pain. What I don’t feel are the bullshit excuses he’s given the LW about why he won’t act like a grown up.

    1. From what it sounds like, he’s doing the lion’s share of parenting and household tasks, so it’s not totally unreasonable for him to assume that if she was solo parenting for any period of time, the kids wouldn’t be cared for properly.

      1. As reported by the unreliable narrator who thinks that his best option is lying to his children for over a decade…

  124. So I’m commenting here as one of the hypothetical kids in this situation. What would actually be better for them is for him to move out or get his ex out of his home. My mother is also very mentally ill, and it was an awful way to grow up. Right now, what they’re seeing is enabling on their dad’s part and their mother not contributing to their lives in any meaningful way, if we’re taking him at face value. If you decide to date him on the sly for a period of time, these kids will hate you.

  125. It doesn’t matter if everything he tells about his marriage and situation is true or not. Even if everything is true, there would still be the lie about the relationship with LW. That’s more than enough to run away.

  126. Does the LW have external verification that they are divorced and that the wife has severe mental health problems? Or is this all stuff he’s told her?

    I’m sorry to be cynical, but there are a hell of a lot of men out there living with wives they are “not in a relationship with” but have to still live with for some reason and half the time those wives pop up pregnant and the mistress had no idea she was the mistress.

  127. “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.”

    You know I genuinely thought the end of this sentence was going to be “she will hurt herself or take the kids away” as that would be more in line with a “complete breakdown”… but honestly, the Captain is absolutely right, this is a totally reasonable response and his ex(???)-wife doesn’t sound nearly as unstable or dysfunctional as he’s making her out to be. Depression is horrific, been there, continue to be there, live in the T-shirt, but LW, are you sure this man is not overstating the severity of his wife’s condition as an excuse for maintaining the status quo? You already know he’s fully capable telling whopping great lies to people he cares about. You’ve presumably never met his family. How do you know he’s telling the truth?

    1. I know, that’s the weirdest part about his story. He says he and his wife have split up, are no longer a couple, so it’s fine for him tp date. But she can’t know? And if she finds out she’ll…. split up with him?

      1. Actually it half makes me think he’s telling LW at least some of the truth, because anyone making up a lie would probably make up a less stupid one.

  128. From someone who is in a relationship with someone who is working on getting divorced: run, LW.

    My SO is in the process of getting divorced. (His ex-wife is dragging her feet because she is holding out hope that our relationship will die and he’ll come back, which completely ignores how it is her Abuse (with a capital A) that drove him away, not me stealing him. But that’s another story.) He has moved out and is living with me. She knows about our relationship. Their 3 kids know about the relationship. He never asked me to hide for any length of time, let alone 10 years. And if he had dared ask, I would have left because that is not something you can ask of someone. It isn’t fair to anyone involved, as the other commenters have noted.

    He was afraid of losing his kids because he was afraid they would judge him for leaving and for getting into a relationship with me (a younger woman). The kids were surprised at first and a bit upset, but they know their mother – not once did any of them ever question why he left. And his ex-wife has done a 2 year smear campaign against us, which we knew she would. But it isn’t working because we are decent people doing our best to be understanding of her pain and to give her time, and we have not tried even a little bit to turn the kids against her. We trusted the kids, and they are going to be fine, and 2.5/3 of them are accepting of us now.

    Our situations are not similar, LW. My SO truly /left/ his ex-wife and is moving our life forward. We are not hiding or lying to anyone. He did the hard work of breaking up with her, moving out, telling the kids, and potentially risking everything. But he did it. He owed it to himself. He is much happier now and is able to be his authentic self.

    Good luck, LW!

  129. The Captain’s advice is good and I’m glad that LW has taken it to heart. But I wanted to offer an angle that I haven’t seen emphasized in many of the comments.

    I am a person who has never been interested in a traditional relationship (“traditional” meaning monogamous, cohabiting, legally married, having children, prioritizing romance & coupledom over friendship, etc). It took me YEARS to figure out what that meant, exactly, and what I actually wanted INSTEAD OF a traditional relationship.

    Before I figured that out, I was drawn to relationships that turned out not to be healthy, but that appealed to me because they were non-traditional in some way. My college boyfriend lived with another woman in an open relationship. The long-term relationship in my 20s was long-distance and open in a poorly defined way. For many years, I had a casual sex partner who didn’t particularly communicate with me otherwise & whom I valued much more than he valued me. I chose all of these situations happily, but they all ended badly (for me) because I didn’t have the tools to recognize healthy vs. unhealthy in the context of an alternative relationship style.

    These non-traditional relationships horrified other people in my life, to the point that I couldn’t get good advice about them from anyone (including several therapists). My friends would say things like “Why don’t you think you deserve better than this?” and “You must have zero self-esteem for putting up with this!” without understanding that the alternative aspects (the open-ness, the lack of marriage, for example) were things I actively wanted and wasn’t “putting up with” out of low self-esteem.

    BUT, as such, I also could not recognize that I WAS being treated badly. My college boyfriend was emotionally abusive, and used my lack of experience with open/polyamorous relationships to get away saying & doing ridiculous things, and lying outrageously. My 20s boyfriend pretended everything was fine while complaining to our mutual friends that I wasn’t his “real girlfriend,” but I didn’t notice because I was so busy defending our alternative relationship style to friends who were “sad that I didn’t want more for myself.” With my casual partner, I had fun but didn’t know how to stand up for myself within the “rules” of whatever “casual” means.

    And quite honestly, no one could help me with any of this until I fully understood and embraced my desire for an alternative relationship style. I was never interested in falling in love in a traditional way, or in “being a couple” with someone, or in living with someone. There are very healthy ways to have alternative relationships, but it is VERY HARD to find advice about it, and VERY EASY to be drawn into weird situations if your views are alternative (because traditional relationship advice often does not apply, or at least, not totally).

    At 37, I am now very happily practicing solo polyamory and relationship anarchy. I identify as solo and as gray-asexual and mostly aromantic. I have an awesome partner of 7 years who doesn’t live with me and never will, and who has other partners sometimes. We aren’t going to get married or have children and we are very happy that way! But it was a long journey to figure myself out & to find others like me.

    LW, I could totally see myself in your shoes–being totally fine with not living with or having children with someone, even admiring that they have an alternative arrangement where they still live with their ex & kids. Like, that sounds totally fine to me! (A lot of comments are saying that that basic idea is totally off, and I disagree–there could indeed be a healthy way to remain living with an ex.)

    BUT then, of course, it can be harder to identify when an alternative relationship IS unhealthy. As yours is, unfortunately, because something is off between your boyfriend and his ex-wife, or with the way he is representing her to you. If he has to keep you a secret from his ex, something is wrong.

    Hope this makes sense? I feel like I could have saved myself a lot of time if someone had pointed out to me that the reason I was never having “real” relationships was because I didn’t want a traditional one. Not because my self-esteem was so low I felt I didn’t “deserve better”! Not because I was lonely or desperate (even though I often felt lonely).

    And that it IS possible to have very healthy, happy alternative relationships, once you know what you’re looking for & how to define it.

    1. This comment is golden and I love everything about it. I hope LW makes it this far down; and even if not, you have certainly helped this random commenter. Thank you.

    2. I did make it this far down, I’m reading all the comments. Thank you, and it does absolutely make perfect sense. It’s nice that someone understands. I’m 100% happy with him living with his ex and them co-parenting together. It’s the secrecy that’s a dealbreaker.

      1. It’s totally the secrecy that’s throwing commentors off. If it was just he is living and co-parenting with his ex *and* she & the kids know about you, I think the comments would be different. It’s the “no one can know about us for at least 10 years” that makes it icky.

    3. So much this! You can not like the traditional version of relationships and still have very clear needs and boundaries and preferences that you’re still working out. You deserve to have exactly the sort of relationship(s) that you want.

  130. Way back in high school I had a friend whose mother discovered that his father had a secret other family, living in an apartment in town which he paid for, and had done for many years. My friend had younger half-siblings he had never met. Needless to say it was awful for the whole family, especially the mother, and my friend never forgave his father or even spoke to him again as far as I know.

    When it was all going down I remember asking myself: who does that? How is it even possible for that to happen? Welp, having read this letter, now I know. Letter Writer, run away from this horrible situation! Run away!

  131. Colour me cynical, but dude is not divorced, and the whole shaking bit was because his wife had found out (or strongly suspected) he is having an affair and called him on it.

    No-one needs that bullshit on their life. Walk away and leave him to his weird little psychodrama.

  132. “We need to lie about our relationship for 10 years because my kids won’t be able to handle it until they’re 18 and my ex can’t parent them without me” ABSOLUTELY equals “I want someone to parent my kids but I don’t want to pay child support or alimony or have to actually be a dad ever.” That’s why 18 is the magic number. He’d actually have to do work. He’s incredibly self-centered, you are being seriously bullshat (he’s admitted that he’s lying to literally everyone in his life—believe me, you are not the exception). Get out of the house, Evil Bees and all the gaslighting and manipulation EVAR.

  133. Do you know, I read the LW’s question and I was sort of like ‘oh wow, interesting, yeah, dilemma, wonder what the Captain will suggest – they love each other, but depressed wife, yeah, difficult to answer that’ – and then the Captain’s reply shook me out of that and made me go ‘Hang on; no, she’s RIGHT; this guy is no good!…’

    It’s funny how we buy these narratives so easily, if we are basically prepared to trust people and if the narratives resonate with the sympathetic part of ourselves.

  134. This whole thing makes me think of the Cell Block Tango from Chicago. “Single my ass. He had six wives!”. Anyway, don’t feed him arsenic, just dump him. Given that he is a lying liar who lies a lot, you are probably not the only person he is feeding these lines to. You are probably Workplace Hookup.

  135. Lets get real, there is a zero percent chance that this man is really divorced. You can agree to keep being his secret side piece while he pretends that he’ll eventually leave his wife (she is not his ex, they are still married), or move on an find someone available who won’t treat both women in his life so poorly.

  136. I’m just going to say it: the guy has told you he’s more comfortable with lying than telling the truth. Believe him. What proof do you have that he is divorced? Or that he’s not ‘with’ his wife/Ex wife at least sometimes? This guy has already said he wants his cake and eat it too. Listen to cap and pls run you deserve better.

  137. I’m genuinely curious as to what makes this utterly unappealing individual worthy of being LWs first love

    1. I can’t speak for the LW. I can say something in general about what’s appealing in first love (or any love). Secrecy creates intimacy. Intimacy creates a feeling of specialness. That specialness creates a high feeling like no other. When I (and I suspect many others) first fell in love, I didn’t fall for qualities like “expresses self assertively and respectfully in conflicts” or “gets priorities straight in crises” or “is good at things I’m not so we make a good team and the other way around”. I fell for things like “makes me feel excitedly tingly all over in ways I didn’t even realize were sexual” and “chose me over the competition which pumped up my self worth” and “was my entryway into the adult world”. LW’s Liar may be utterly unappealing to the readers here, but I’d be willing to bet he’s good-looking, confident in most ways except for a few ways that make him as sweetly pitiful as a clumsy puppy, good-natured, happy, and fun.

  138. I know this has been said up above, by others way more insightful and eloquent than myself. But just in case you need another one saying it in plain, easy to read language:

    This man is trying to manipulate the situation to suit himself best, and primarily. He is a coward, liar, and incredibly selfish. None of what he’s proposed is in the ex(?)wife’s interests, his children’s best interests, or your relationship’s best interests. It is a poisonous and terrible thing he’s asking of you and the idea that you’re considering it is a huge sign at how far he’s groomed you to accept this terrible proposition as potentially normal.

    He is a terrible, horrible person that is either unable to see how manipulative he truly is, or else he knows and this is how he operates in his life to get his way.

    In either case, run away, swiftly and as soon as possible, and don’t look back. He is not in love with you; he is using you. He loves the idea of having you available, whenever he wants you, but you’re not allowed to count on him or even be a part of his life at all other than the tiny, revolting bits in secret when he chooses to work you in.

    You can find someone else just as attractive, nice, good in bed and will devote their whole life to you; I swear he’s not the only one out there, and “soul mate/love of my life” stuff is a fairy tale. Please go take a listen to Tim Minchin’s If I Didn’t Have You for a humorous take on “soul mate” idealization for a laugh and a whole lot of truth. There are other wonderful people out there. He is not one of them. If you want to reframe it, then consider he has been one of several great loves you likely will experience, and give yourself credit for realizing that some relationships do run their course and that is a healthy, normal thing to realize and exit gracefully.

  139. Add me to the list of people who are dubious about the reality of the guy’s marriage and/or divorce. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say his kids are real and that he actually had a conversation with the mother of those kids. I’m guessing that the conversation went more like this:

    Him: I think we should get divorced/split up.
    Her: I don’t want to. I don’t think it would be good for the kids while they’re so young. If we DO get divorced/split up, I want the kids to stay with me. You can see them every other week. I think we should stay together until the kids are all grown – that’s at least 10 years out.
    Him (silently, to himself): Shit, what I am I going to tell my (other) girlfriend now?

  140. I had a guy break up with me once without knowing it. We were in an open relationship and he wanted to change some of the parameters so that, in essence, I was demoted to secondary partner and someone else was promoted to primary. I really didn’t see it the way he saw it (but it was so logical!) and I told him that he was breaking up with me and he protested no, no, he really wasn’t.

    Worst part? I had met him at his workplace that evening and he drove us to his house where we spent the night. In the morning he dumped me, and I had to sit in his car some more while he drove me back to my car. The Worst.

    A nice bit? I had about an hour’s long drive home from there and the whole way I listened to a radio station playing a loop of “Louie Louie” to celebrate going off the air that weekend. It was just about perfect. The loop wasn’t long enough, but still. And then when I got home and told my best friend, she sat us down to watch a marathon of the first 3 Star Trek movies. By the end I was more than a little bleary-eyed and my ass hurt and I was done with the first painful crying.

    Years later I looked him up and we had coffee and he admitted that I’d been right, he HAD been breaking up with me, and he apologized. (And I was gracious about it.) It felt really good.

    1. I lived with a guy when I was in college. He decided he wanted to take a break and asked me to move out for the summer. I told him that if I moved out, we were breaking up and I would be gone for good. He either didn’t listen or didn’t believe I meant it, because he said he still wanted me to move out. He was astounded when I had no interest in getting back together with him a few months later.

  141. I can’t get past the impression that this guy doesn’t like his kids very much, or at least not enough to prioritize their well-being.

    If his ex-wife/wife is truly as nonfunctional as he’s saying, why has he not gotten her out of the house, or taken the kids and filed for full custody? Living with a parent that far gone is traumatizing. The kids would be better off with his full care and attention while their mother gets proper medical care from actual medical experts.

    That is, if he’s telling the truth about her status, which I don’t believe for a minute.

    Somehow he’s claiming that she’s functional enough to file for and get at least 50% custody, but at the same time so completely non-functional that this would spell doom for her and the kids to the point it had him shaking like they were all going to die and proposing the epic lying campaign. And she’s no non-functional that she requires his constant care and supervision lest doom befall the kids, but he has time and energy for an affair — wait, if she’s that bad, why is he not focused purely on parenting? On saving his kids? Why is he hanging out having long, fall-in-love heart-to-hearts during time a person in that position would be using to plan menus and shopping, pay the bills, run the errands, read up on books for raising children with a badly dysfunctioning parent, get his exercise and other self-care done, and so on? He’s got all this free time and energy, which completely does not match with his story. It’s almost like there’s someone in the picture actually caring for the kids and running the family, who isn’t him…

  142. LW, I’m glad you decided to not sign up for the 10-year secret deal. (Why does that sound like a shady time share contract?) I know that it is going to hurt a lot and trying to avoid getting sucked back in by this guy is going to be difficult. A blog you may find useful for the tough times ahead: Baggage Reclaim by Natalie Lue. Good luck, LW! Remember, feelings change, and the hurt won’t last forever.

  143. My heart literally broke for you LW as I read your letter. I was “the secret girl” for a while with a man that I was wildly in love with. We had worked together for years and developed a solid friendship too. My situation was different in that I was the divorcee with the kid but he wanted to keep our romance secret because .
    LW there is never any good reasons to keep a relationship secret. Love yourself enough to know this and to leave now. It is going to hurt but you are so worth being loved openly and honestly and in full view of your friends and loved ones.
    Strongs to you *hugs*

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