This is a bit complex, but I’ll try to be as succinct as possible.
A particular relationship (or rather, a lack thereof) has been paining me for years.
I (36 F) met L (55 M) almost 10 years ago when I was bartending. He was a regular, and while I found him very attractive, A: he was married (albeit lengthily and unhappily, which was known to the other regulars) and B: I have a lot of insecurity about my appearance and didn’t think he’d be attracted to me. One night my shift relief didn’t come in on time, causing me to miss a ride to an event with friends. When my relief did show up he offered to give me a ride. In a turn of events that surprised me we wound up hooking up that night.
I was in a terribly position financially and in regards to living arrangements and he helped me multiple times without my asking him for anything, and didn’t hold his help over my head. We continued to hook up with the understanding that it wouldn’t lead to anything, but I fell for him, as one does.
I confessed my feelings to him and he confessed similar feelings for me, but said that he didn’t see how divorce was possible for him at the time (he and the wife share 2 children who were both going through a considerable amount and relied heavily on both parents for support.)
This hurt me deeply, but I accepted it and eventually started seeing another man (33 M) whom we’ll call P. I’d been very honest with P about my feelings for L, and that being in a serious relationship wasn’t in the cards as long as those feelings were present. P managed to convince me that L wasn’t genuine and that I’d be better off with him. Wanting very much to be wanted, I began a relationship with P that wound up being incredibly toxic and abusive. It lasted for about 6 years, and abandoned communicating with L at Ps request.
Eventually the relationship with P imploded and I reconnected with L in 2018. All of the old feelings were still there, and though we now lived 4 hours apart, we met up several times and stayed overnight at hotels together. Though we cared deeply for each other, L was concerned that I lived too far away for a relationship to work.
At the end of 2020, I made the move north that I thought would be better for my job prospects as well as possibly make some headway with L. I was very surprised upon moving that he was seeing someone. According to him, he never thought I’d make the move. We stopped talking for several weeks, but wound up texting again after that relationship failed for him. After a lot of texting and a few outings to lunch, we slept together several more times.
Throughout all of this, I’ve been plagued endlessly by abandonment issues, impatience, and longing for this very cautious man whom I’ve loved for almost a decade at this point. In anger I’ve pushed him away repeatedly, only to text back during lonely periods. I very recently blew up on him via text, demanding an answer. Eventually he informed me that while he had feelings for me, he couldn’t abide being repeatedly pushed away and is now “trying to live peacefully.”
I’ve accepted that as best I can and am continuing my therapy for various mental health issues.
Recently, another blow was dealt in that he’s recently been diagnosed with what is probably a brain tumor and I’m in absolute shreds over this.
What do I do?
At A Loss
Dear At A Loss,
Between you, me, and the Internet I can admit that there have been times when I was low and lonely and somebody came along who was a) absolutely a bad idea on every possible indicator level and b) seemed like the only human capable of making me feel like a living, breathing person in a moment when I really needed that. Alas, I’m not a stranger to the “relationship” that’s intoxicating and perfect as long as nobody else knows about it, as long as nobody actually needs anything from it, and as long as it touches the space-time continuum and normal, functional, daily life as seldom as possible. So please know, I”m not judging your grief or the longings that led you here. You were lost, and L. made you feel like you were found, and nobody else had ever done that in quite that way before, so you told yourself that driving several hours to fuck in a hotel room, or staying loyal to him even while you were involved with other people, or, at long last, moving across state lines for him was the kind of grand gesture that would add up to a future together: You could love him so much that it would constitute a form of proof.
But other people don’t work that way. Your feelings were so deep and true that you didn’t notice or found ways to ignore how consistently this guy told you, “This is all there is or will ever be” between meeting now and then for sex/lunch. It’s not that he never had feelings for you, but I think that there’s always been a “but” if you’d only listen to the end of the sentence:
- “…I’m married and not getting a divorce because the kids need me.”
- “…I”m seeing someone else.” /”…I never thought you’d move here.” It’s unclear whether L. was still married AND seeing someone else on the side when you rolled into town, but, let’s be real. It’s far from impossible.
- “…I just want to live peacefully.” (i.e. “I didn’t expect you to actually need and depend on me” “I’ve considered your ultimatum and I guess the answer is ‘no’.” “Whoa, sorry, still not leaving my wife, especially now that I’ll need someone to do the hardcore care-taking!”)
- Consider that the night you first hooked up was a surprise to you, but I highly doubt it was much of surprise to the 45-year-old married barfly who pounced the second you were in a vulnerable place.
The tumor is a cruel twist, but maybe it’s also a giant, flaming arrow pointing in the direction of “It’s long past time for you to grieve this man like he died and start getting on with the rest of your life.”
As for how to do that, you already know: Keep going to therapy. Delete his number and block or otherwise shut down any of the ways he can get in touch with you. Start locking your phone in a time-safe at night or other vulnerable times so you won’t be tempted to text him. Pour your feelings into a journal and letters that you don’t send. Find ways to be nice to yourself. Sing all the sad songs at the top of your lungs. Keep your Asshole Detector polished and sharp so you’re not tempted by the next troubled, unavailable dude who crosses your path. Repeat after me: “Unhappily married” unfaithful men are married men, not boyfriend material. They all have a story about why they are different and special, and when you’re 26 (like you were when you first met L.) they can sound very compelling, but the older you get the more you’ll realize that all the stories sound exactly the same: “I would like to have sex with you, and I have Very Good Reasons for why nothing is ever my fault.”
Mourn L., yes, but as a way to being done with him. The feelings will have their say awhile yet, but this limbo of “what do I do?” ends the second you accept what’s already happening, the second you take L. at his word that he doesn’t want to actually build anything with you.. He wasn’t the one for you. You can say for sure that you tried everything. Stop trying. Lay down this project where you fix him or fix the situation somehow. You name yourself “At a Loss,” but it’s past time to cut your losses.
I truly don’t know where people like this come from, and I don’t know where they go once they pass through our lives, I’ve never had the fortitude to follow the wake of destruction back to the source when it’s me digging out of the rubble. Do they go back to the shitty marriages they complained about constantly? Back to sending secret sexts to their latest dopamine supply? Do they eventually get therapists of their own and realize, “wait, I was being a giant piece of shit, I’ll definitely stop that!” or do they just serially hit on all the junior staff and everyone in their AA meetings, world without end? I don’t know what justice looks like here, even as I convert my own past follies into cautionary tales.
Letter Writer, I predict that if you do the work to get L. out of your system, if you cut your losses and truly let time heal that part of you, there’s a future for you on the other side of all this where some pathetic married geezer will attempt to put the moves on you or some younger version of you out where you can see, and you’ll throw your head back and just fucking CACKLE at his audacity. “Oh, did you mistake this for free marriage counseling? Surely you weren’t whining about your wife and kids as a seduction technique?” The other ladies around the bar will have a good laugh together, and you’ll all make sure everybody has a safe ride home, while he slinks off into the night with howls of derision ringing in his ears. When it happens, pour one out for L., it will be a tribute as good as any stone or marker.