This letter kills me a little. It reminds me of that "Bridges of Madison County" movie where Meryl Streep is in the truck and she's sitting at the intersection trying to decide whether to leave her husband, and you're like, “Meryl, get out of the truck!” -- but she doesn’t, and you watch Clint Eastwood drive away and you just kind of want to cry and curl up in a ball.
Not that I've ever seen or enjoyed "The Bridges of Madison County." I admit nothing.
Here we go.
Q: Meredith, is it possible to maintain an extramarital relationship for any length of time?
I started a relationship with an old flame this year. We lost touch after a misunderstanding, but recently ran into each other and discovered the love we shared then is still strong after many years apart. We are, it seems, still soul mates. We're also both married with kids at home. It will be seven years before the youngest one leaves the nest. Our spouses are decent people but both marriages are emotional wastelands. We both settled for our spouses because we were still pining for each other. Neither spouse suspects what is going on and we are determined to keep it that way. We see this reconnection as an unexpected gift and know we have to limit our contact, but we cannot face totally severing the ties.
I think many readers will condemn us for being unfaithful. Believe me, we know this is wrong. But real love is so rare and it is hard to walk away from it. Are we stupid to think we can maintain a relationship with our true love while maintaining family life with a spouse until the kids are grown?
– Wandering and Wondering, Manchester, N.H.
A: WAW, you ask if it’s possible to maintain an extramarital relationship for an extended period of time. My answer is: Sure. Lots of people do it.
Not shockingly, I don’t think you should.
My problem with your situation isn’t just the lying and cheating. It’s more that you’re trying to do what's best for your kids without considering what’s best for your spouse. It's as if your partner isn’t entitled to the truth -- or the chance to find a soul mate of his/her own. How can you allow your spouse to stay in a sham marriage for another seven years? If the tables were turned, wouldn't you want to know that your spouse was in love with someone else and planned to bail on you? Wouldn’t you want to start a life without your spouse sooner than later?
I'd add that waiting to divorce until your kids are grown doesn't necessarily make it any easier for them. There's no good time to see your parents split up. In many ways, it’s more difficult for adults to see their parents get divorced because they wind up exposed to more of the ugly details.
Frankly, I'm not convinced that your decision is really about the kids. I think it's that you’re not quite sure what you want to do -- and that you're not convinced of your soul mate's commitment to you. If you knew your soul mate planned to end his/her marriage, would you feel more confident about leaving yours? If you found out that your soul mate wasn’t sold on leaving his/her spouse, even after seven years, would you recommit to your own marriage?
You need to have an honest talk with your soul mate (and your soul) about your wants, needs, and motivations for staying married. I have a feeling that you’re comfortable with the status quo not because it spares the feelings of your spouse and children but because it saves you from having to take a risk.
Admit what you're really afraid of. And don't assume you know what’s best for your spouse.