DEAR CAROLYN: My wife and I got married two years ago. Even though we had been together for a long time, I was extremely reluctant to take the plunge. She’s smart and kind and beautiful, but I’ve just never felt “it” for her.
About three years ago, I began an affair with my old ex from university. It caught me in a cycle of desire, guilt and rationalization which continued through my wedding. Now that we’ve been “just friends” for a while, she is beginning to fade out of my life, but I still think about her incessantly and have a constant heartache in the (admittedly relatively short) periods when I don’t hear from her.
I have not told my wife about her, but I’m sure she knows that something’s been going on. My wife is beginning to talk about having kids, but I feel that would be wrong while the Other Woman is still in the picture.
Still, every time I try to push her away, I keep thinking that I’m making a terrible mistake and that she’s the one I should be with. How will I ever know?
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DEAR IN DOUBT: “[H]aving kids … would be wrong while the Other Woman is still in the picture”?
No, having kids would be wrong because you never felt “it” for your wife and married her while you were profoundly invested in someone else.
Having kids with her would be wrong because marrying her was wrong.
Cheating on her was wrong, too, but that seems to be the one wrong you’re aware(ish) of.
Still, the bigger wrong was to follow through on some misguided, dutiful impulse to marry someone you didn’t (and still don’t) want, even as every cell in your body gave you the message that this wasn’t the right woman for you, and when all of those cells were regularly in bed with a different woman who apparently was/is at least closer to being right for you. You’re several years in and you continue to resist that message, even as smart + kind + beautiful has stubbornly refused to (equal sign) love. You’re committing one of the most serious emotional crimes there is: Cheating? No. Wasting her time.
I can’t speak for your wife, but if I were in this marriage, I would want the truth so that I could get out as soon as possible and get on with the business of building a new life on terms that are not secretly undermining me. Threat to life and limb aside, I can’t think of anything worse than living with someone who doesn’t really want me there.
Because there’s such a large gap between what suits you and what you actually do, and between what decency demands and what you actually do, please give a hard think to counseling. A good therapist could help you understand your own impulses, which could then bring some badly needed alignment to what you think, feel and do — which could then help you clean up this three-person mess you’ve made instead of, yikes, adding more people to it.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.