Burning down the house

I need to be married to stay in the country, but I'm in love with someone who's not my wife.

Published April 2, 2003 8:31PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am 24 and have been married for just over a year to a wonderful woman. "Ashley" (23) and I met in our late teens, fell in love, and eventually felt that marriage would make life better for the both of us -- tuition discounts, tax breaks, residency breaks, etc. We're both students, extremely ambitious, highly committed to graduate school, but rather young. Although our relationship was relatively stable (no infidelity whatsoever) and we were quite content, I couldn't help feeling that there was more to married life than emotional security.

Two months ago I met "Victoria" (23), and she essentially stole my heart. Because my friendship with my wife was so strong, I immediately admitted my feelings about my "crush," and she responded by encouraging me to get to know Victoria. In return, I was to allow her to investigate a crush of hers, which I readily did. I told Victoria that I was married, and although she wasn't too enthused about that (who would be?), she agreed to hanging out, learning more about each other. Every second spent with her made me realize what I was missing in my own marriage, and I confided yet again in Ashley, who realized by then that Victoria and I were crazy about each other. Her own male interest was selfish, disrespectful to her, and interested only in sex, which made her feel very unloved. The situation took a twist with Ashley being terribly hurt by the emotional infidelity on my part and attempting to move out. I persuaded her to stay since I didn't want her walking out of my life. However, it also sent her on a three-week rampage of reckless drinking and sex with friends and strangers, and I then came to learn that I had destroyed almost all of her self-worth.

Ashley and I are the best of friends, get along extremely well, have similar interests (both engineering students too), and our respective families adore the both of us. I know that she is the most perfect partner for me, but perhaps not right now. Some of my professors and older colleagues have noted that the elements of romance and sexual passion are unimportant in the long run of a marriage (perhaps compared to friendship and mutual respect), but I don't want to believe that. I want the rush of being with someone who makes my heart melt. I want the sexual yearning, the nervous excitement of learning more about someone, about Victoria. There is something about the way she touches, kisses and holds me that is so instinctive and makes me feel so alive! Cary, I know better than to live in the moment, but I really want to.

Ashley is technically grounded and not fond of poetry, while Victoria is wound up in literature and not agreeable to the sciences. I am an engineer, a writer and a poet and wish that they both were interested in all of those elements. My wife and I have no mutual friends -- I dislike most of hers and she doesn't quite gel with mine.

Yet in the precious little time I've been with Victoria, I've come to like her friends and she enjoys being around mine. Ashley is very intelligent, classy, attractive, but unlike myself, rather unadventurous -- sexually and otherwise. Victoria is very attractive, intelligent, spontaneous and sexually uninhibited. Apart from that, there are no other similarities between the two of them: Ashley is a planner, Victoria lives for the present; Ashley has a bright future, Victoria's is uncertain; Ashley has a great body but is uncomfortable with it, Victoria has an average body and loves it.

I just can't figure out what matters at this instant. I have discovered almost all there is to learn about my wife and I'm looking to Victoria now to show me a different world. And in case it means anything, I'll admit that sex with Ashley is good, but sex with Victoria is so much better.

As a final kicker, I am a recent immigrant whose destiny in America lies in the hands of my wife, a U.S. citizen, and I am also trying to fulfill a childhood dream of being an American. For right now divorce isn't an option, and we both agree on it. However, I am afraid that by continuing to be with Victoria, my friendship with Ashley (which I value beyond belief) would suffer. In addition, I am so sure that her lack of self-esteem would put her in harm's way, just as it did a few weeks ago.

Cary, can you give me any clue as to what is going on in my head? I have never turned to an advice column before and am rather nervous yet curious as to what you think. I know that my concept of marriage has evolved, and I doubt if it would ever enter my mind again after we divorce. Please help!

Lost in Love?

Dear Lost,

You're in a pickle. Your fate is in Ashley's hands. She may be willing to defraud the INS by staying married to you while you live apart, but I would not advise her to do that. Nor would I advise her to continue to live with you while you explore the delights of Victoria, with whom the sex is so much better. I think you should do the right thing: Divorce Ashley and then take up your immigration status separately.

It may turn out that you are not allowed to stay in this country and continue your education. That would be unfortunate. But it would not be unfair. You have flouted the rules of marriage and now you propose to flout the rules of immigration. That is not a good way to live.

I think you married in bad faith. There's nothing wrong with exploring and experimenting, but when you get married you make an explicit pledge to stick together and be faithful. It doesn't sound like that was even your intention. So both of you in a sense lied; you weren't really trying to stay together and build a life; you were after the tuition credits and the good housing options.

And then you and Ashley did a very strange thing. You lit your own house on fire. You lit a match and said, Hey, Ashley, I wonder if these curtains will burn, and she said, Gee, I don't know, but what you're doing looks kind of interesting, I'd like to try it too, let's see if I can light this tablecloth on fire. And now your house is burning down. Perhaps the house didn't mean that much to you. But now that it's burning down, it's quite shocking.

I would run out of the house at this point. Except if you run out of the house you risk being deported.

So you want to stay married for the immigration benefits. To answer your question about what's going on in your head, I would guess that you are experiencing intense cognitive dissonance. To try and keep what you have, you're consciously blotting out the facts. Being an engineer, having a logical mind, you must see the contradictions between your actions and your legal status. You must know the facts. I don't think you're going to feel any better until you admit the truth and do the right thing.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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