Permission to stray

Can I sow my last wild oat before I settle down with my boyfriend?

Published October 13, 2003 7:56PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm in a happily committed relationship but am considering infidelity. My boyfriend and I have been together for three years and seem on the road to an engagement. He's a wonderful person, and I'm sure I want to marry him. But I have some unfinished business from my past that I feel I need to address before I make the ultimate commitment.

On my first day as a transfer student in college, I experienced love at first sight. The man in question is a writer who never learned my real feelings. During the two years I went to school with him, I harbored a tremendous crush but was too shy to go for it. Since that time, we've been in occasional contact. Now he lives in a distant country that I've always wanted to visit. He's been very welcoming. I feel like I need to explore my feelings for this guy before things get any more serious with my boyfriend. My fear is that I will get married and have lifelong regret about never knowing. The risk is that I will do irreparable harm to my current relationship. What do you think?

Mooning Away

Dear Mooning Away,

I will accept that you need to go and see this person to satisfy yourself that you are doing the right thing. But first you need to clarify what you intend. Do you intend to have a last fling? Or do you intend to satisfy yourself that this is not the person you should marry? Do you intend to give yourself over emotionally to this person? Or can you look at him dispassionately as one on whom you once had a terrific crush but no longer?

It would be easy -- and wrong -- to simply go there and abandon yourself to whatever emotions happen to take over at the time. Then you're acting like a child who doesn't know what she wants. Either you want to have sex with this man at least once before you're married, or you want to see him one last time to gain some kind of closure on your fantasies. You need to know in advance.

I can tell you what I think. I think the most honorable thing would be to tell him that you want to see him one more time before you become engaged. Go ahead and tell him that you have had a crush on him ever since you met, but you are getting married now. Stick to your story. It will be flattering to him and empowering to you. It can be a bittersweet and relatively risk-free moment.

Why do I say it will be empowering to you? Because a secret crush is the most powerless of obsessions. It is satisfying to no one -- not to its object, because it is secret, and not to you, because though it is known in great detail to you it is in equal degree unconsummated.

You should recognize in making your decision that the chances of forming a successful, long-term relationship with this writer are virtually nil. If something lasting were to happen between you, it would have happened already. The setting you are contemplating would be good only for the kind of easy consummation that he would enjoy and you might regret.

So do not entertain notions that maybe if you hit it off he would invite you to come live with him in this country you've always wanted to visit. If you hit it off, all that will happen is that he will continue to have all the power in the relationship and your engagement will be threatened. You will be confused and miserable.

If he is unscrupulous, after you confess your crush and your engagement plans he will try to sleep with you anyway. That would be sad, because it would ruin your memory of him, but it would also release you from his hold -- if he's the kind of guy who'd take advantage like that, he must not be the kind of guy you thought he was. It would be a sad way to say goodbye to this cherished crush of yours. On the other hand, if he acts, as he probably will, in a flattered and honorable way, you will have a wonderful trip to remember, and you won't have any secrets to keep from your fiancé.

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