I'm a young mom in love with two guys

I love my husband but he's a drunk. I love my high school boyfriend but he's far away

By Cary Tennis

Published August 10, 2011 12:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Help me!! I am in love with two men. Guy 1 is my high school sweetheart. Guy 2 is my husband. It's awful.

Guy 1 was with me through my most troubled times and self-destructive behavior. He helped me, but didn't try to fix me. He loved (loves) me. When my mom made us move when I was 17 we broke up. I have never stopped thinking about him, but never believed he would take me back so I've tried to move on. My life has been turmoil since then.

Enter Guy 2, over 20 years older than me. We meet, get married, and now have a 14-month-old son together. I don't think either of us is happy, but we love each other and our son. He's an alcoholic (six out of seven days), we fight quite often, and I've threatened to leave several times. I am now in therapy, mostly because of past trauma, but also so I can learn how to deal with him.

He has spent the last three years talking me out of going to college or buying a bigger house (we have 600 square feet over two levels for three people), saying that I will financially ruin him if I do either. He is very bitter and cynical. He calls himself a realist, I call him negative. Anyway, I am unhappy.

Guy 1 and I have had no contact since we split up, although I did get updates from his dad, whom I still talk to on a regular basis. Anyway, his sister died in October and I went down for the funeral (a 17-hour drive!), as she had been my best friend in high school. Since then we have been texting and talking on the phone on a fairly regular basis. I have rediscovered why I love him, and have found out that he has never moved past me and has always continued loving me. We were together for 1.5 years before.

So. What am I to do? Most of all, what is best for my son? I can't stand the thought of pulling him away from his dad, as he has many good things to offer, but I also can't stand the thought of him growing up with such a negative alcoholic!!!!

I am sooo lost. Please advise me!


Dear Lost,

You have to find the most important thing. Until you find the most important thing, you're just in a situation.

In a situation, you don't know what to do because you're just dealing with stuff as it happens.

This thing that's most important, you could call it an organizing principle, or purpose, or goal.

Say, for instance, the most important thing is to have true love. Or say the most important thing is to care for your son.

Once you know what's the most important thing, then you're like a character in a story, figuring out how to get what you want.

There are always obstacles. And there are things that will make you unhappy. Obstacles can be overcome. Pain can be endured. If you know what you are trying to get done, or where you are trying to go, then you feel what you feel and just keep moving toward whatever it is.

Heartache and confusion may remain. You can bear that. That is human. You say you've had trauma in your life, and your therapist has probably helped you understand how the effects of trauma don't just go away completely, how things will pop up now and then. So you may feel confused or overwhelmed or hopeless or afraid. But if you know what is the most important thing, then whenever you are in one of those states, you can stop and say, What can I do now to get a little closer to the thing that is most important?

This is not a bad way to live. It's how many people get through the day.

But you aren't just talking about getting through the day. You have a conflict. Maybe you can find true love and care for your son in the best way possible, but it helps to make one thing the most important thing.

I can't decide for you, but I can say this. If the most important thing for you is to care for your son, and your husband is an alcoholic and you are fighting a lot, then the best way to care for your son may be to be a single mother. Alcoholic fathers can damage their children in many ways -- by causing fires and automobile accidents, by neglecting them and frightening them and yelling at them, by bringing public shame upon them, and sometimes by physically abusing them in moments of anger and blackout.

Once you decide what is most important, actions follow from that. If caring for your son is most important, then one set of actions follows. If true love is most important, then a different set of actions follows. Maybe eventually the two come together. But as I say -- and especially in moments of crisis like this -- it's best to choose one thing and work toward it.

It's time for you to decide what is most important.

Your therapist can help you with this. But your therapist can't decide for you. Neither can I. You have to do that.

Citizens of the Dream

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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