I’ve been married to a wonderful man for 12 years, and we have a son. Nonetheless, four years ago I found myself having an emotional affair with a man I met online who lives halfway around the world from me. This online man is not necessarily a nice man, is divorced, has a jaded attitude about women and I suspect likes to juggle women online just for the heck of it. I suspect he’s also not a catch in real life, hence his constant trolling for women online. Nonetheless he made me laugh, had a rapier wit, and our conversations about life and love and the world in general fulfilled in me a need for good, funny, witty conversations that I find such a struggle with my husband, who, while nice and stable and reliable, has always been on the boring side. I’m known to be the funny, quick-witted one in this marriage, and found in Online Man a kindred spirit, having effortless, funny conversations with him where I found it difficult with my husband. We had common tastes in music, Online Man and I, which I never had with my husband, as well as the same preference for books and even the same political and worldviews.
I turned to Online Man when we had a major family crisis, which, rather than draw us together, estranged my husband and me, with us not talking for months. During that time Online Man and I became closer, and he made serious plans to come over to see me, was constant and consistent, despite his moodiness and cynicism about women. But I guess some part of me balked at the rate the whole thing was becoming serious, as I was becoming very emotionally involved, because when the opportunity to have an argument with Online Man presented itself, I finally dumped him after nine months. This led him to a huge depression, which I witnessed on his Facebook, because he felt I had strung him along and then dropped him like a hot potato.
He eventually found himself another online girlfriend from my part of the world as well, and kept a long-distance relationship with her (which I assiduously monitored on Facebook) for years. It ended early this year when she finally called it quits since she felt he had no plans of ever coming over to see her anyway.
Now I feel sorely tempted to reach out to him to try to rekindle a friendship, which I feel I should’ve kept our relationship at. I dearly miss him as a friend, miss our conversations and the laughter (we would Skype while my husband was asleep), and now wish I had never crossed that line with him. I am now at a stage where I realize I do love my husband very much and value my relationship with him and wouldn’t ever want to do anything to put our marriage on the line, and I firmly believe I can now stay just friends with Online Man. But I wonder at the wisdom of rekindling ties with him, yet at the same time the urge in me to reach out to him as a friend grows. I need your perspective.
Maybe I’m missing something here. Me, simple-minded me, I’m thinking, can’t you just control what you do and say, in order to have a friendship with him?
OK. I’m sensing that he’s sort of like crack cocaine for you, that once in contact with him, you may not be able to predict and control your own behavior.
OK, so, let’s ask this: You manage friendships in other areas of your life. How do you do that? How do you keep casual interactions from becoming sexual? I mean, on a real simple level, you keep your hands to yourself, right, like you were taught as a kid?
But there are more subtle things also that we learn to do. We learn not to make suggestive comments; we learn not to stare too long into a person’s eyes; we learn not to touch strangers except in a perfunctory way. Because we know that we are all basically erotic powder kegs, liable to go off at any moment without exercising strict control. And then some of us think, well, all this effort to repress all our animal urges and erotic thoughts is probably warping us and making us depressed and unhappy, so let’s have some days of license. So we have Carnaval, and the Folsom Street Fair, and we have “adult” theaters and so forth, and we have bars and nightlife where we can let loose a little.
OK, so I’m belaboring this. But I want to put it in context: You already exercise a great deal of control over the erotic content of your relationships with other people. This one relationship apparently went over the boundaries and you want to put it back. You can put it back. All you have to do is exercise the same constraints that you exercise in your other dealings with people.
Non-sexual relationships escalate because we cross certain boundaries. A friendship between two married people escalates because they do seductive things that lead to an affair. It’s no mystery. If you do seductive things seduction will occur. If you say seductive things seduction will occur. Seductive actions lead to seduction.
Seductive actions can be words, glances, looks, the amount of time you stay together, how close you stand to each other, how long you look at each other, etc. There are a million little things that add up to: Shit, I had an affair! What happened?
Skyping with a guy while your husband sleeps is a secret relationship. So, be honest with yourself. It’s no great sin. But neither is it a great mystery. If you’re carrying on a secret relationship you’re going to feel guilty and it’s going to cause problems in the marriage.
Your choices are clear: If you don’t think you can just be friends, then cut off all communication with him. If you do think you can be friends, then monitor your own behavior! Identify the flirting, suggestive things you do and stop doing them. Just be straightforward and honest, but with boundaries.
You can do this. If you really want him as a friend, you can do this.