I have a secret Internet friendship with a married man

It's been great for seven years. But now I've been transferred to his city, and I'm scared. Should I break it off?


Cary Tennis
April 5, 2006 1:35PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

For the past seven years, I have had a really great friendship with someone I met over the Internet. Let's call him Adam. We live a couple of thousand miles away from each other, but we manage to talk to each other practically on a daily basis. I have been able to confide in Adam and have gotten some of the best advice from him. We have a very warm dynamic between us, and we've both at one time or another mentioned how naturally we get along with each other.

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Throughout the years, we have had a few chances to meet in person. We've managed to meet for either a cup of coffee, a cocktail, a movie or dinner every year, and it's always very natural and enjoyable. There's nothing awkward about our friendship, as some Internet-based friendships can be. A couple of my girlfriends have had dinner with us, and they have both pointed out the chemistry and connection between me and Adam. The last time we saw each other, we talked for five hours straight with little interruption. I am always extremely happy to hear from Adam. We chitchat on the phone around three to five hours a week, and have a consistent e-mail correspondence.

The only downside to our friendship is that for the past six months I have come to realize that I am quite smitten with him, and I compare him with every possible man I might date. Plus, the real problem is that he's happily married with no children, and his wife has no clue of our friendship. When we "met" seven years ago, he was in the early stages of his relationship with his current wife.

Adam and I have always been somewhat flirtatious with each other, but as a bad excuse we both have very playful and lighthearted personalities. Sometimes, I feel like we have crossed the line a bit.

In the past, both Adam and I have lamented about how strangely the world works, and how if we both lived in the same city we would probably be in a relationship. But the thing that makes me feel such grief is that his spouse has no clue about our friendship. Sometimes I feel frustrated and unethical about our entire friendship, and I almost feel as if I'm just some sort of dirty little secret. As a woman who has been betrayed by adultery, the last thing on my list of things to do is ruin a perfectly working marriage and hurt his wife. I know how it feels to have a husband be unfaithful to you. It's one of the worst emotional trials to experience, and I would never want to inflict that pain on anyone.

The real problem is that in a month, Adam and I will be living in the same city. I was promoted and transferred to a new city. I'm taking the opportunity to grow professionally and also to experience much needed new surroundings, but now I'm not sure what to do with my friendship with Adam. Naturally, it would make sense for us to meet for lunch or something every once in a while, but I'm really worried that that is like playing with fire.

I don't want to be a home wrecker, but I don't want to end our friendship either. I consider Adam to be one of my closest friends. He's the only person I have honestly entrusted with all of my secrets. We're both really excited about being neighbors. We're only 35 minutes away from each other, as opposed to 2,200 miles away. Adam told me once I've settled he's buying me dinner, but I'm really wary of what our living in the same city will lead to.

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Should I stop our friendship because I feel there's a risk? Plus being dishonest with his wife is really wrong, too. Should I ask him to tell his wife about our friendship? Will that make things even worse? Should I just test the waters and take it day by day? Maybe once we're in the same city we'll lose the novelty of being far apart and we'll grow tired of one another, or maybe it's natural for us to end up together. I'm really confused! What would you do in this case?

Guilty of Home Wrecking Without Being a Home Wrecker

Dear Guilty,

While there are many complicated parts of your situation, I suggest that in order to solve it you simplify it. You may object that there are complications, which there are. But to delve into the complications will not help solve the problem.

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Think carefully and honestly about this question: Do you want to have an affair with this man or not? Do not think just with your head, but with your whole being. Do you desire him? Do you fantasize about him? I believe you do! That is, you imagine what things might be like if he were not married, if you lived nearby and were both free? Though it may seem like pure speculation, such thinking can be a kind of wishing.

There are probably ways in which you do want to have an affair with him and ways in which you don't. But you must choose whether you want to or not. You must make a decision and take responsibility for it now. Which do you want? Are you ready to make a conscious decision to have an affair with him, come what may, ready to accept the consequences?

Answer yes or no. If you are ready to have an affair with him, then you really don't need to do anything more. You can simply keep on the way you're going. You may or may not actually have the affair. The friendship may turn out to be manageable. It might become a great and noble friendship that meets certain psychic and emotional needs of both parties while preserving the sexual and intimate boundaries prescribed by his marital status. That might happen. It's possible.

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But if you really don't want to have an affair with him, I wouldn't attempt to retain the friendship. I think the odds are against you.

On the other hand, if you're not ready, now, to make a conscious decision to have an affair with him, then your only course of action, painful as it would be, is to break off relations with him. End the friendship. I don't see any other option.

Yes, I know that will be painful and difficult. Perhaps not as painful and difficult as an affair. But it will be painful. Nevertheless, it's the only action consistent with the wish not to have an affair.

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How will you end it? I suggest that you end it as simply as possible. Do not go into all your reasons. Reasons can be argued away. Just say you can't see him for a while and leave it at that.

Once you have done this, you are free to get on with your life. You will not have this dangerous and confusing situation to deal with, draining you of energy. Maybe you could set about finding a real boyfriend then. Or maybe you don't need a boyfriend. Maybe you need a rest from relationships with men.

Another upside is the delicious sense of having done the right thing, a pleasure not to be underestimated. Instead of equivocating and struggling within yourself, you can say, this is what I did and why. It is a beautiful thing.

I hope you decide you don't want the affair, but to be honest one never really knows; it might be that in spite of all the trouble it would create, the affair is exactly what you want.

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If that is the case, I might suggest one more thing: Engage the services of a counselor, or someone you trust to advise you, other than this man, because if you do have the affair, you will find yourself in great personal conflict, acting contrary to your own best wishes. When we are in such conflict it is as though we are in the grip of something alien; we are in a sense out of control, and thus unable to manage the orderly processes of life. Some frank exploration of your plans may reveal the source of this conflict; you may, for instance, be repeating the wrong that was done you in your marriage.

I hope that if you follow these instructions -- first search yourself and honestly decide what you want, then act accordingly -- it will at least resolve your question one way or the other.

Good luck. It's very difficult to make such decisions and stick with them, but I truly believe you will be happier if you do.

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