My lover's husband shares his wife with me

I'm even living in their house now, with their two kids. But lately her passion has cooled toward me

Published December 12, 2011 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I made a choice that I thought would make me deliriously, irrevocably happy, and it hasn't. I fell in love with my colleague, J. We began working together two Augusts ago, then became closer last January; by February I was writing to myself warning about falling in love with this married and unavailable friend of mine. I did fall in love with her, deeply. We spent most of our waking hours this summer together, and with her young sons, going to the beach, dog sitting, swimming and watching movies. J, a teacher, had just found out that her contract would not be renewed for the following year at a private school she'd helped to get off the ground. She was distraught, and it was often I who comforted her.

After the first time we were intimate, she was remorseful; by the next day, we were nuts about when we'd be able to do it again. We were on-and-off with the intimacy all summer: She did want to stop because of her marriage and because she felt our friendship wasn't in its best state with her worries about infidelity. The intimacy was and is wonderful, by the way. "It's the closest you can get to someone, isn't it?" she said, as I was about to joke, "Can I just crawl inside your skin?"

Once we'd reached a comfortable yet thrilling understanding regarding our friendship and feelings and intimacy and had enjoyed it for months, J decided once again that it was time for us both to move on -- her to spending more time with her husband and me to dating new people. She even fibbed about having "plans" a couple of Saturdays to try to force us both to move in our own directions. We drifted back together inevitably and with great speed.

I had, however, taken her mandate seriously for me to begin dating (to make myself less available for the heated connection we'd been sharing). I found a wonderful woman with whom I enjoyed spending time and felt I could have a real connection and a life. J, however, became a person I did not recognize. She would call me in tears and yelling about texts that hadn't been responded to for a few hours' time because I was with a new girl; she accused me of not caring about her. She was so distraught that I had to take a mental health day from work to deal with the pressure I was feeling; a week later, she had to take a day for herself because of the same. My new girlfriend was so attuned to the time that J needed and received in my life that I felt torn. J's husband forbade her to see me because she was feeling so torn up over me.

In the end, J's husband found an instant messaging chat between J and me in which we were discussing our deep love for each other and our affair. Miraculously, it seemed to us, he agreed to an open marriage in which J and I could be intimate. Miraculously again, he agreed that I should move in. I finally have the time I crave with the woman I love and the two little boys who have become so precious to me.

We have avoided many things people might predict will happen in such a situation, though I will speak only for myself. I do not feel jealous of J's husband; I do not feel like an outsider in her family. What I have not been able to master, though, is a feeling of disappointment that her passion for me has seemed to fade so quickly. I know that her love is deep and abiding. All of her actions are caring and thoughtful. But we never seem to have sex and her proclamations of love have already become run-of-the-mill "love you's." She even texted her husband and me the same [rather bland] message yesterday.

I really don't think this lack of passion is a symptom of J having two lovers; it seems like it's just her personality to love much but not to be overly romantic. But with so many people involved, especially the boys, I feel like I am looking at a future without passion that I feel very strongly obligated to. My internal debate the past week has been whether I love being a part of a deeply caring relationship and wonderful family enough to deal with a lack of passion. Am I going to end up effectually as a live-in best friend who snuggles well? Am I looking at it all wrong? How do I ask my beloved for more passion?



Dear A,

I want to make clear, for readers, that from your email name I am assuming you are a woman. I should also say that I have not contacted you to confirm any of these details. Though journalistic practice might argue for such a practice, I refrain so that letter writers can know that once they've sent the letter, it's done. They won't be contacted.

This usually works well. But when a letter such as yours appears, one does feel tempted to ask follow-up questions.

There are several things I would like to know. Nonetheless, I have not intruded upon your confidentiality to acquire them. So I am, as it were, working without a net. And happily so. I invite readers to participate in this vertiginous exploration.

You seem to be in an extraordinary situation. It would be extraordinary for a woman or a man. It is a consensual triangle that involves aspects of nuclear-family child-rearing and erotic sharing. My main reaction is that it has gone remarkably well. To ask for it to go much better may be tempting fate. If you want great passion in addition to the settled domestic sphere you may have to look elsewhere.

Why has the passion cooled? Your lover's domestic roles as a mom and wife may put some damper on her ability to feel erotic in the house. When she was seeing you secretly (if indeed it was ever secret), she may have found the escape from her other role thrilling. Now that the three of you have settled in to a cozy domestic routine, being with you does not represent the exciting departure that it did. There may have been an element of transgression in her arousal.

But so many things remain unanswered! You do not seem to recognize how unusual this sounds. Perhaps for people in the polyamory community it is not so usual at all. Perhaps we will hear from some. Perhaps this is more common than I am aware.

One thing I find missing is the husband. He seems a distant, spectral figure. Who is he? Who is this amazing man who has invited his wife's lover into the house?

Though you say you do not feel jealous, you are now sharing her with her husband. The power dynamics have shifted in his favor. You are now a guest in his house as well as hers. Have you considered why he agreed to the arrangement? Perhaps he fantasized that you would join them in bed. Has it occurred to you that he may be attracted to you? If his wife is aware of his attraction, that may affect her feelings toward you. He and his wife may be having an unstated conflict over you that they are not talking about. Do the three of you talk about your feelings together?

If his wife is the center of the triangle and you and the husband only relate to her, then there is bound to be competition between you and the husband. She may have cooled toward you to placate her husband's jealousy, or her own guilt. She may feel self-conscious being passionate toward you with the children in the house. There are many possibilities.

Your letter contains few details about the decision-making process that led to this arrangement. It would be nice to know on what terms you are living there. Are you paying rent? Are you a guest? Is this considered permanent, or an experiment? Have you moved your furniture into the house? Do you maintain another residence, somewhere to repair to if this should fall apart or explode? And how old are the children, and how do they regard you?

It's all quite intriguing. As I say, I rarely write back to letter writers asking for clarification or amplification. It is my practice to accept everyone's story at face value. This practice does occasionally result in a puzzling lack of detail.

Perhaps that in itself tells us something: The questions and details you failed to provide may tell us something about your thought process and your outlook.

So, it's all just fascinating. As I have often done lately, I make a special appeal to readers who may have had similar arrangements to offer their experience and possible suggestions about the emotional dynamics of such a situation.

I commend you for venturing forth in this unusual way, and that I hope this arrangement can bring happiness to all concerned.

By Cary Tennis

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