The search for self

I'm on my second marriage and I've fallen for someone else. What is this all about?

By Cary Tennis
Published August 17, 2004 7:07PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am on my second marriage. My first ended when, after searching for months on the Internet, I connected with a woman, L, whom I had vaguely known previously and who was desperately seeking a mate. I always swore that I would need to have someone else to love in order to get up the courage to end my marriage, and she seemed to be it. I went through a painful divorce (is there any other kind?) and moved in with L.

So we married and things went well. My new wife provided many facets lacking in my first wife. Unfortunately, I tend to read characteristics into people that they may not possess, and I assumed she would fill most of my needs in a mate. This lack is becoming more acute. I realize more and more that we do not have much in common: Things I love that she doesn't: music, books, outdoor activities. Even more, I love to kid around and she doesn't, and I will tease her and she won't even realize it. I find that little things she does really begin to annoy me, and that has me worried. To top it off, we each have two teenagers, and I pretty much dislike hers.

Now to the kernel of my letter. I have become very close with a woman in my office, N. We have known each other for a few years now, and as I become more and more in love, I can honestly say I have never felt this way about a woman in my life. This isn't just a crush or infatuation, because it has deepened steadily over time. We are extremely compatible, have the same needs in a mate, share many interests, and the time just joyously flies by when we are talking. Sometimes our conversations sound like a screwball comedy. There is an age difference and, despite some mutual joking, that is a minor difference. She is single, dating without much success, and I provide as much encouragement and praise (sincerely) to her as I can. I think she has had a crush on me in the past, but because of my married status there are definite boundaries. Sometimes I cross over them and then sheepishly backtrack when I sense my trespass.

So the attraction to my wife ebbs, and my love for N flows. I know I'm on a dangerous trajectory, but I believe I can keep it up for some time. Should I grow up and realize that no mate will meet all my needs, and make the most of my marriage? Should I confess my feelings to N and see what happens? Should I instead put more distance between N and me? (On second thought, forget that, that's not an option.)

Once Divorced, Twice Shy

Dear Once Divorced,

I would like to see you consider the larger implications of your search for personal happiness and the ideal woman, and to consider whether you have not said something more profound than you realize when you ask, "Should I grow up?" There is something childish about your search for the right woman, and something sadly selfish. What is it about you that prevents you from taking yourself seriously? Is it too painful for you to accept yourself? Are you running away from something very painful? Is that what it is? I suspect that is it. It is much better to find out what we are running from and accept it than to keep running. Because inside you, somewhere, is a man who does not run, a man with the courage to do the right thing, a man who is more concerned with raising his kids and accepting the role that he has chosen than with getting what he thinks he needs.

Stop trying to find what you need, and start trying to find what you are. I think what you need is to devote yourself to someone other than yourself -- to your kids, for instance. To do this, you may need some moral compass, so that you can concentrate not on what you want or need, but on what others want or need. You may not be able to do this all on your own. You may not understand what I am saying, but I think you do. I think you know, intellectually, that you are behaving like a child. You think knowing what you are doing absolves you of responsibility for it, but it doesn't. Why do some of us devalue ourselves like this? Why do we shrug or chuckle and avert our eyes? Why do we feel compelled to live a shallow life and lie to ourselves about what is really important? Why do we persist in believing that satisfying our own needs will bring us happiness? It won't. Your own needs are an endless pit. You will never satisfy your own needs. You will never meet a woman who will fix you. Your children will never grow to respect you until you stop running. Stop running from woman to woman. Stop running from your own fear. Stop running from yourself.

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Cary Tennis

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