Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’m a divorced woman in my early 50s with a 23-year-old son, “Dave,” who I am very close to. My ex-husband, “Jim,” and I split up about 12 years ago and managed over time to become friends again and co-parent effectively.
I have come to see that Jim just isn’t cut out for commitment; I should have known, being his third wife, but live and learn, right? He’s single again after yet another failed marriage and I never remarried.
A few months ago, I took Jim out to dinner to thank him for throwing some business my way — we’re in the same field — and one thing led to another. Long story short, we have developed a very casual relationship — for lack of a better term, “friends with benefits.”
I’d like to keep this a secret from Dave as I don’t want to give him the idea we might be getting back together and the real explanation is surely TMI for him. The problem is that Jim spends the night about once or twice a week and Dave is in the habit of dropping by my place frequently and always unannounced. Last Sunday morning he missed finding his father here by about 20 minutes.
We can’t go to Jim’s place since I have two dogs and a cat that can’t be left overnight. Jim also refuses to take a cab or Uber over. He says if Dave finds out, we’ll just deal with it then.
I can’t imagine a worse scenario myself. If I ask Dave to call before he comes over, I might as well say right out, “I’m hiding something from you.” Should we just keep our fingers crossed that Dave doesn’t find out before this thing ends, or should I somehow find a way to tell him upfront?
Keeping a Secret From My Son
DEAR KEEPING A SECRET: So you’re a consenting, independent-living, single adult sneaking around with a consenting, independent-living, single adult to avoid upsetting … an adult son who lives independently.
Not to sound jaded, but I can think of more scandalous scandals.
You’re casually dating your ex. OK then. You made the choice, now pick your preferred consequence: letting your son walk in on this news, or telling him yourself.
Not that it’s mine to make, but the choice seems obvious. “Just so you know, your father stays over here occasionally. I didn’t want you to find out by walking in on him one day.” When he asks you what’s going on, you say, “Nothing serious, we’re just friends.” Which it isn’t, and you are. You don’t have to explain yourself, not even to your son.
The getting-back-together prospect might have meant a lot 12 years ago, but surely now Dave can handle more nuance.
He may be concerned about your making things difficult for yourself, and he may be right, but you would be right to assure him he’s not responsible for your choices, you are.
And finally: It’ll be weird for him, but only if he doesn’t give it more than a moment’s thought. You were drawn to each other once, so why not twice?
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.