I can't get this man out of my head

For 15 years I've had a thing for him but I'm married and can never act on it

Published September 17, 2010 12:20AM (EDT)


My husband and I have been married for going on 10 years. We have several elementary-age children. We have a very nice life together and have built some beautiful things together. We share a sense of humor, a political worldview, and we see eye to eye about most everything, although I do worry that both of us tend toward being rather like Eeyore, and together we sometimes are judgmental and critical and negative in ways that aren't really healthy or good. But we're both pretty happy and our kids seem to be well-adjusted. We are fortunate to spend a lot of time together and I feel loved and valued, and I believe he does too. Our sex life is, well, sort of what you can expect from folks married this long with young kids, but we do HAVE sex (say, five times a month or something). Which is better than nothing. Lately, at my request, we have begun making efforts to improve our sex life, but we are pretty busy and often tired. My husband has never cheated on me, and I have never cheated on him. But oh, oh, oh, as Jimmy Carter said, I sin in my heart!!!

Long ago, around the time my husband and I started dating, I met a man whom we shall call Henry. Henry and I are in the general same line of work. The day I met Henry, I looked at him and I thought, "I want to be with that man." He had recently started dating a woman, however, and I was with this marvelous man who later became my husband. Henry and I slowly, over several years, became friends. I also (reluctantly) became friends with Henry's wife ... reluctantly, because my attraction for him persisted. Henry and his wife had a child around the same time our first child was born. Those children grew up and became friends. They moved into our neighborhood.

Over these years, the strangest things have happened between Henry and me. We have chance encounters all over -- in our town, in neighboring towns, and (no joke) in faraway airports. We live in a very small town and sometimes when I go to the big city to do shopping and whatnot, I'll run into Henry at three different places -- entirely by accident. I mean, how does it happen that we both show up at the same restaurant at the exact same moment for takeout Chinese? In a city of a million people, how do we end up at the same Hobby Lobby on a Tuesday afternoon? Even my husband notices how this happens.

During all this time, it's like there's some kind of coal down in my heart that every year (we're talking almost 15 years here) burns hotter and brighter and more intense. As I have grown to truly know Henry, and become his friend, I have come to love him. We have a rapport. We have a very mild flirtation, although nothing inappropriate. We have never once, in all this time, discussed our feelings for each other. It is unspoken.

Meanwhile, Henry's marriage ended because (get this) his wife met another man and fell madly in love with him. I thought she was an idiot, although I like her new husband quite a bit as well. They all handled it in a mature way, too, and I was impressed with all parties. I now consider his ex-wife one of my closest friends. Henry and his ex are still friendly, and everyone still attends the same social events. We all attend the kids' birthdays. We sometimes have Thanksgiving together. We get together, all of us, quite regularly -- because our lives are quite intermingled in a whole variety of ways. Last year I determined I was going to have to avoid him after I accidentally found myself alone with him in his house for five minutes and realized it was dangerous territory. I didn't see him for several months, but several life events this year (social, work, financial, etc.) have forced us together with some frequency again. If I were ever to actually
decide I must avoid him completely, I would have to give up an entire circle of friends, including some of my best friends. I would have to pull my children out of various extracurricular activities and shift THEIR friendships as well. I would have to make so many profound changes in my life, we may as well pick up and move across the country.

So, Henry is now single, and I remain married. What is between us still remains unspoken and I am fairly certain he would never do anything inappropriate -- he (like me) believes in marriage and is an honorable and good man. He is friends with my husband. He is respectful. I am not even entirely sure what he feels for me, although I am certain whatever is there between us is not in my head alone. This past spring there was one moment when we were discussing our children when I panicked because our hands touched and lingered a split second too long and for a brief moment I thought ... well ... I thought he was going to kiss me. Or I was going to kiss him. Maybe I was imagining it. It was like a bad chick flick. I left quickly and avoided him for a while (and I noticed he avoided me, too, to the point of it seeming rude to a third party). The next time I saw him, I casually said, "Henry, when are you going to find a girlfriend? It's been a long time
since your marriage ended." And this is true -- it's been more than three years and Henry is surrounded by young, lovely women (much younger and lovelier than me!) and he's been single and I believe even celibate since his divorce. He tells me he's just "not ready yet" and "waiting for the right woman to come along." One part of me hopes he finds a wonderful woman sometime soon, because I want him to be happy and, admittedly, also for selfish reasons -- I figure once he is happily ensconced in a relationship, the intensity of my feelings for him might die down. The other part of me flares in jealousy whenever I see him even talking to a woman I don't know. (Is that her? Is that his first post-marriage girlfriend? Bitch, get away from my man!)

Truly, truly, truly, I do not want to do anything inappropriate and do not ever want to cheat on my husband. I love my husband. I admire him, I want him to be happy, I am honored and so pleased to be married to him. Whatever is going on here really isn't about a problem in my relationship with my husband (I don't think so, anyway, but maybe I'm just stupid blind?). My husband even knows, to some extent, how I feel about Henry and we are able to joke and tease about it -- at times, even laugh uproariously at off-color comments. My husband has the most marvelously raunchy sense of humor, which makes hanging out with grandma a little nerve-racking, but it's great fun. One night, we somehow ended up talking about it at 2 a.m. and my husband told me that if I ever really felt I MUST be with Henry, sexually speaking, I should go ahead and he would likely forgive the situation. I told him I would never do such a thing. I am not stupid -- I know this  could destroy our family and everything we have built and worked so hard for, even if I had my husband's permission.

But the truth is, lately, I feel almost desperate. I feel like I might just die if I can't, at least one time, really be intimate with this other man in my life. It's sexual, yes, but it's also much more than that. I want to spend hours talking with him. I want to be able to say what I feel. I want to be able to rub the calluses on his palms. He called this morning to discuss a work-related matter and as I hung up I started crying. That is the second time this week I've cried over this situation. I just can't do this. I can't do this to my husband and I can't do this to myself. It's built up so I no longer feel in control. I have to find a way out of this baloney.

I have one friend who lives in another state who knows the extent of my feelings for Henry. She tells me I'm crazy and that it has nothing to do with Henry. She says I have just placed all my past Issues onto the situation. That Henry has become the focus of my longing because I need a focus for my longing. She suggests he is unaware of my feelings and is just maintaining a social friendship -- that I am just imagining this romanticized relationship. She suggests I immediately pursue all this therapy work, body work to process past traumas out of my body, blah blah blah. I'm sure she's right. I haven't yet gone to therapy. I should, right? We should? My husband and I together? Me alone?

Please help me. I'm sure your readers are going to skewer me and rightfully so ... but please understand this is something that has been torturing me for 15 years now and if I'm an idiot, I've been an idiot for a long time and it's pretty ingrained. Be gentle. I'm writing to you because I want help to STOP this, not because I want permission. Or hell, maybe I want permission. I don't know. You tell me. Or just smack me. Knock some sense into me. Go ahead.

Sinning Hard in My Heart

Dear Sinning Hard,

What you need is somebody to talk to about the state of your soul.

The erotic is what's calling. It's in the form of this man but it's not just in the form of this man.

Sometimes I think it's angels and archetypes. I like to be scientific but when a figure appears in your window night after night for 15 years then it's time to invite it in for a talk. Sometimes it helps to split yourself up into these characters and ask what they want. This one wants a thrill. This one wants to feel a fingernail on the downy hair near her spine and brush against something that makes fireworks explode behind her eyeballs. This one wears a white gown diaphanous in the moonlight. This one wears flannel, crispy with hot dust from oil platforms and beer joints. This one wants to unbuckle her jeans in the dining room before the lunch crowd arrives.

We are collections. All of our avatars have to speak or we get stale and bent over, hesitant and gray.

You're living with a beautiful impulse. What is powerful is beautiful but it scares us. This is holy, this attraction. Attraction is always holy. It takes us out of the shopworn. It lets us forget for a minute. It lifts us up. You'd like to be lifted up, wouldn't you, lifted onto a table where all the desired courses could be served with deliberate slowness.

I recommend that you find a room somewhere and someone who sits in that room and waits for you. The room may have a noise generator, one of those hissing machines, that drowns out the outside and muffles the inside so that what is said inside that room does not travel. The person who waits for you in that room should be someone you can come to trust with your secrets. It should be someone who knows how many voices reside inside us, how many people live in this house we call our home, our body; it should be somebody who has read and studied and has ideas of her own. You need to unburden yourself before you try to seek answers. It's often the unburdening that is the answer. You can't tell by thinking. You have to sit in a room and tell stories. The stories lead you to a fuller picture. That's what you need: a fuller picture.

You need the picture of you that begins with the innocent. Right now you're stuck in the moral. Before the moral realm of dampening instincts and weighing consequences there was the drive to suck and squeeze and eat. It gets twisted. But it's there. You need to re-welcome the elemental. That's what this man fetish is about, I'll wager. But just me telling you that won't do. It's a program of action, as they say. Find a sympathetic guide and a room to tell your tales. Don't treat the person like a guru. Don't ask her to solve your problem. Just trust her and talk and get all these characters on the table.

We are collections. Things shift about in transit. Maybe you'll find that the wrong one is in charge. For a while it may be the scholar who is in charge. That works for school. Then you date and the seductress is in charge. Then school and dating are over and you marry and the wife is in charge. Then kids come and the mother is in charge. But none of the archetypes goes on permanent vacation; they're at the beach or staying in town, waiting their turn. You're all of these people.

You are many vibrant people but they can bring their chaos with them so the need for convenience shuts them out. The town and its orderly parade shuts them out; the need for millage and codicils shuts them out; test scores shut them out.

The kids are fragile so you seek lower crime rates and safer streets but the ones in you that are tough and leathery and seek danger because danger wakes them up are still on the sidelines waiting. They don't go away. Danger feels alive, yet you must protect your kids.

We are collections. We have to talk.

Anything can be felt. Anything can be talked about. You can go into a room and talk to somebody who will not tell anyone about this. You can explore it in detail, without shaving off the nuances.

It doesn't have to be right or wrong. It doesn't have to be about morality. It's something noisy that you're swirling in the middle of.

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By Cary Tennis

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