Torn apart

Should I risk the stability of my marriage to be with my true soul mate?

Published August 27, 2003 7:15PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I've been married for nearly five years, and together with my husband for four years before that. I love him dearly, and he adores me. We've been very happy together and have never had any relationship problems. He's sweet, caring, handy and helpful. In fact, he's perfect, except that he's not the type of man I always thought I'd marry -- he's not a dominant personality, or ambitious (although he's very capable and smart), or particularly driven. They say that in a relationship, one person always loves and needs the other one more, and in ours, he definitely loves and needs me more, although I also love and need him. I'm a dominant, type A personality in my work life, but always wanted a man who was strong enough to be my true, full partner in life. My husband is just fine with my being the dominant personality in our marriage.

So here's the complication. I have a co-worker I work very closely with (in dream jobs for both of us). He's also happily married, and we're friends as couples, in fact vacationed together in the past. He's everything I ever wanted in a man -- we're true soul mates. He's the strong man I always wanted, who thinks like me, knows me, understands me, and has what it takes to handle me. I love him, I'm in love with him, and he feels the same way about me. Knowing him has highlighted the compromise I made in my marriage -- the only compromise -- which was to marry someone whose personality wasn't what I gravitate toward.

Everything I've read about emotional affairs or "married but love another man" talks about marriages that were already having issues. Mine wasn't. I've never ever been even tempted by someone else before, although I've of course found people attractive, etc. We've never done more than hug, but the longing is definitely there.

I'm torn apart by this situation. I know there's a huge difference between living with someone for nine years and knowing someone for two. And I can't bear to think about all the people I care about who would be hurt by my leaving my marriage. But he's exactly the man for me, and had I met him nine years ago, I would have had the chance to see if it would work as a relationship (maybe we'd end up butting heads too much, despite my long-held desire for a strong man to be my partner). It's the difference between a known, very good, easy, stable marriage with someone who loves me, and a potentially amazing, life-fulfilling, truly right, but likely more difficult soul mate.

I feel like my marriage today is largely what it will always be. It's great, but it doesn't have the potential to be more, or to help me be more. It's more certain, not risky, good and sustaining. I feel so much potential with my soul mate, although also much more uncertainty.

What do I do? How can I not give up everything for the chance to be with my soul mate? How can I betray and devastate the man I love and married five years ago? Few enough people find the right person to marry. What horrible fate to find the right person twice.

Torn Apart

Dear Torn Apart,

What would happen if you and he decided to begin a discreet affair? Would you have the discipline and clarity of mind to pursue it undetected? Would he? If you are not the kind of person who feels compelled to confess her sins, if you can keep the ethics of it clear in your mind, and behave responsibly and discreetly, and you are assured that he can do the same, perhaps you can satisfy your cravings without necessarily causing everyone else to suffer. Although giving in to such passions leads invariably to some lonely railway station where one throws oneself under a train, something is calling you and you must answer; you must risk the savage dislocation of your placid, settled life to find out who or what is on the line. Maybe it's the universe telling you to get dressed and come outside because you're hungry and lunch is ready. Maybe it's yourself in the guise of a man trying to get something urgent across.

The way we die inside is, we ignore these calls; we pretend that only what we have already chosen matters, and the rest, the tempting stranger, the puzzling attraction of Antarctica, is for some other traveler, some other lover. Why are we always shutting the window like that? Because who knows what that gust of wind will blow away. So maybe you give yourself over to this man, but you don't give yourself over to this man in a blind rush. You begin with scientific precision, opening an incision in the membrane of your life just perhaps a millimeter; you bathe in the light that comes in and ask if it's the light you've been seeking. There is indeed another world out there beyond the sky we see; if you could slice it with a scalpel you'd see that other light. You're thinking about slicing it right now, aren't you? But as I said, you must do it with great and delicate precision, lest you sever something vital and bleed to death in the hotel.

What I mean is, in a more prosaic vein, what's sacred isn't just your marriage and the promises you made, but your life and its mysterious unfolding. It would be simpler to consult the rulebook and say no, you may not answer this call because it is against the rules. In fact, it is difficult for me to justify telling you to break the rules. And yet I fear that unless you take this risk, your marriage will deteriorate, your hunger will persist, your restlessness will grow, and finally you will do something sudden, rash and cheap, and destroy far more than you are risking now.

Whereas, if you are stealthy, you may taste something that has been forbidden and find out if it's to your liking. The main danger is that your soul mate may fall in love with you and act recklessly. So tell him from the outset: Divorce is not an option. Don't let him even think that this is anything more than an affair. If he starts talking recklessly, cut it off before he destroys both your marriages.

You may find out that you belong with your husband. I suspect that you do. I suspect that you enjoy being the dominant partner more than you realize, and that you would quickly tire of being No. 2. I suspect that the sexual attraction, though real, is not enough to sustain a marriage. I suspect that you are headed for one of those episodes you look back on and shudder with fear for what you risked. But I think, all the same, if you can do it discreetly, you have to do it.

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