I'm in love with two men

I told my husband. He acted understanding. But now I have to choose. Help!

Published June 19, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

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

Dear Cary,

This is a letter like you probably receive 10 times a day, and I never thought I would write asking for advice, but here goes. I got married young (22) and have been with my husband for over a decade (no kids). He is brilliant, funny, caring, handsome ... pretty much everything anyone would ever want in a partner. For the past few years, though, we have grown apart. Schedules are part of it (both busy grad students, now professionals), but also a failure to really communicate and address problems between us. Sex was always an issue, but I didn't really know what was wrong since I hadn't had partners before. I knew we should probably do it more, but it never really "did" anything for me. I just assumed I was basically not sexual.

Fast forward to this year when I was away from home for three months for a work opportunity and met an amazing man. Incredibly bright, devastatingly funny, sexy, etc. He also is a fantastic communicator and was able to help me talk about all kinds of difficult issues, ones I would normally sweep under the rug. We had an affair, and I fell in love. When I came home, I told my husband about it, expecting (maybe halfway hoping) that he would get incredibly angry and storm out and leave me to blow up our marriage and deal with the fallout among our friends and family, who would be shocked beyond belief.

Instead of raging, he became incredibly supportive and even more loving and emotionally available and communicative. He went out of his way to show me what our future could look like together, agreeing that the past few years had been challenging for both of us and that we both weren't trying.

At first, it was so difficult. I continued to talk to the other man regularly -- he was supportive and available, never pressuring me for any kind of commitment. I started seeing a therapist, I involved a couple of close friends and family as supports. I thought I was lining up my ducks to separate and consider a new life, one where there was understanding and passion and where I could start new in a relationship without the old hang-ups.

My husband is moving soon, a planned move where I would join him in a few months. And now the rubber meets the road, and I feel stuck. I love two men, both equally incredible. One I still see like a brother, whom I trust and with whom I have made many great relationships but that I do not (and have not for some time) feel desire for. I am afraid that a future with him will continue to feel rather numb or rote. The other is one who shares my passion, who loves me completely, and whom I can see a bright future with, but for whom I will have to change everything in terms of friends, family, etc. The logistics and emotional pain of either decision petrify and paralyze me.

All of us deserve an end to this uncertainty -- we are all suffering because I can't move forward. I try to ignore the external issues weighing on this momentous decision, but it's impossible. Any insight is helpful here. I'm looking under every rock to add perspective to this heartache.

Thank you so much,


Dear Adrift,

Go slowly. That's my advice. Your feelings are going to change. You do not know exactly how they are going to change but they will not remain in equipoise. One side will come to the fore.

You do not have to make an immediate decision. Your husband has been surprisingly understanding. If you can live with this situation for another six months or a year, it will become clearer which way to go.

Meanwhile, keep talking with your friends and talking with your therapist. Do not let the needs of others dictate your choice or push you into a decision until you feel ready.

It may be hard for you to know what it is like to "feel ready." That is why you want to take your time.

Certain aspects of the emotional life resemble the behavior of the observable world. Opposing forces do not stay in balance. One side prevails. It's a little like the weather. When a cold front meets a warm front, they don't stay in stasis; something happens; energy is released and the system is transformed.

Something will happen here. Let it. Try to remain still and let your body regain some kind of equilibrium.

Since you do not have much experience with sex in relationships, keep in mind that the high you feel on immediate attraction will dissipate.

Keep talking with your husband about why this happened. Listen carefully to what he wants. It may be that he wants to get out of the relationship and that his planned move is actually providential. But it is more likely that he is trying to keep you. You have 10 years invested in this relationship. So go slowly and carefully. He may be OK with your occasionally seeing this other man. He sounds very accommodating. You never know.

Keep seeing your therapist. Keep talking to your friends.

During this period, it will also help to adopt some kind of meditative practice. This will help when you are agitated and anxious or uncomfortable. It will also help you learn to hear subtle signals, or visions, that will point the way.

Also keep in mind, when things are hard and unclear, that you are working with your weak side. Have you ever noticed how some people who do not seem to be intellectually gifted nevertheless seem to have a gift for managing relationships with others? How do they know instinctively how they feel and how others are feeling? How can they easily and energetically decide whom they want to see and how they want to arrange their social and emotional lives? Those are people whose strong side is in the emotions and in relationships. When faced with intellectual problems such people often do not seem to have the patience or the ability to carefully go through each option. But they are skillful in situations like yours.

You, on the other hand, are very well educated and intelligent but in this area of life you are a novice. You are not accustomed to managing complex and shifting emotional situations. So you will make some mistakes. You will misinterpret actions. You will take literally what is meant only conditionally or figuratively.

Yet one more reason to go slowly. Be humble. Watch for hidden subtleties and complexities. Think of yourself as a blind person wandering on a cliff. Be alert to every signal and every sound.

You have been successful in one kind of graduate school. But this is a different kind of graduate school.

This is graduate school of the heart.

By Cary Tennis

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