I'm a single mom getting friendly with a married man

I've never been attracted to unavailable men before. What's going on?

Published October 6, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have been a single mother pretty much since the day my son was born. I have had to struggle because, while I wasn't a teenage mother, I was still fairly young when he was born. My son is now 3 and I am 24, with a job that has a decent enough pay scale that he and I can live comfortably on our own, and the benefits are fantastic for a small company. To quote, "We ain't rich, but we're doing just fine." But with this new job has come a problem that I have never had before.

One particular coordinator and I have become very good friends since I started. Our social activities outside of work are severely curtailed because his wife is extremely jealous and controlling. So instead of irking his wife, and since we take our lunch breaks at the same time, we actually have lunch together. We hang out after work for a little bit and talk, and when his wife isn't home sometimes he'll pick up the phone and call. All of this has led to 1) a very strong friendship, and 2) a very strong mutual attraction. We have done nothing about this attraction because he is married, but it's still there.

I have never found myself attracted to a married man. I have never even found myself attracted to another female's boyfriend. Something about the idea of them being taken just kills off any of those thoughts that I might have had. Sometimes it doesn't even occur to me that they are cute and attractive till it's pointed out. Unavailable has always meant unavailable to me. So why all of a sudden am I having strong feelings for a married man?

One of my female friends has told me that I'm longing for a relationship, that maybe I'm finally ready to settle down. I admit that I looked at her funny. For a single mom, I am pretty well settled into the life I have at this point. I like being independent. I like being able to provide for my son on my own. I even just recently got out of a relationship that ended with many hurt feelings on both sides, and don't feel ready to date, much less have strong feelings again for anyone. Yet I'm having them anyway.

The fact is, our relationship has passed the point where we can deny the feelings, even if we haven't acted on them. I'm confused and unsure as to what I should do. We can't talk openly about our feelings -- he won't allow it -- and the whole thing makes me feel like I'm going to have a litter of kittens I'm so nervous. I honestly don't know where a relationship with him would go if he were to leave his wife, but I find more and more that I want to find out, that I want that option to be open to us. I don't know what to do. This is so completely unlike me that I don't feel like myself. What should I do?

Tangled Up at Work

Dear Tangled Up,

What I think you should do is curtail your lunches and your phone conversations with this man. Right now you're just drifting. If you keep drifting, you're going to have an affair. That's not something you want to drift into. So curtail your lunches and your phone conversations with him and take some time to decide what you want.

What do you want? Do you want a man in your life? It's quite possible that you do. Then consider the kind of man you want in your life. Do you want a man who is open and truthful, and who would be available for emotional support once you become involved? This man is neither. He has already begun deceiving his wife about your relationship. And he is not available for emotional support. So I don't think an affair with him would be much fun for you. Such an affair, moreover, would be in conflict with your stated values and your previous behavior. It could also have an adverse effect on your livelihood and on your child's sense of security and well-being.

As for him, he's drifting too. In subtly deceiving his wife, he's already crossed a line. If he wants to do the right thing, he will stop and recognize where he's headed; he will make some deliberate choices to either improve his relationship with his wife or admit that he wants out of it. If he should become single, that would be another story. But right now, he's not available. So I would back off.

You've been doing beautifully up till now. Don't blow it! Think carefully about what you want -- for yourself and for your kid. There's something going on with you, some desire coming to the surface, some hint of a future, some dream you hadn't realized you had. You need to take the time to understand what it is that you're looking for, and then set out to find it.

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