I'm about to write a novel, I totally understand if I don't get a response. I appreciate your time, regardless. So...

Between the ages of 18 and 23, when being successful with women is of the utmost importance for a heterosexual male, I was pretty unsuccessful. I had essentially managed to get laid like 1.5 times per year (on average, obviously). So I suppose my self-confidence and self-image were fairly compromised, and so when I met the woman who would become my wife, it felt pretty good. I was 23 and she was 25 and a single mom. But she was beautiful and smart and strong of mind, body and spirit, all the things I find most attractive in a woman. And even though she was kind of a demanding and at times difficult woman, she was also affectionate and loving, and, at times, capable of acts of significant kindness and thoughtfulness. She also picked me. She had plenty of other options and somehow she saw something in me that she found worthwhile.

Anyhow, we've been together for 12 years now, married for eight. The relationship has always been pretty one-sided on her part. For the first 10 years we were together, I had minimal contact with friends and family and we rarely did things that I liked to do that she also didn't enjoy (e.g. we have never been to a live sporting event together). The sex was good and frequent, but we weren't/aren't completely compatible in this area either (e.g. I greatly enjoy giving and receiving oral sex, she less so. I'm generally more curious and open to trying other things in the bedroom than she is, as well.) For years, the combination of low self-esteem and the knowledge of what it feels like to be profoundly lonely prevented me from fully seeing how messed up the relationship was.

Again though, it wasn't all bad. We had good times, some really nice family vacations and it was nice to go to bed every night rubbing feet and being in the arms of someone who loved me. She also had no desire to have another child, but did a very unselfish thing by having a beautiful son with me five years ago (although, even though I was still open to having more kids and she wasn't, I was the one who had to get fixed, for some reason).

To cut to the quick of it, about two years ago, I started finding myself fantasizing being with other women, primarily ones I was working with. This was unsettling for me because I had always been in love with my wife and had spent the first decade together feeling like she was the only woman I wanted to be with, that's why I married her. But I also realized that the fantasies weren't always sexual in nature. So, eventually, I began to engage in "emotional" affairs with a couple of women. One became quite serious and I lost my mind a bit and thought that maybe if I could get out of my marriage, I could be with this other woman. So I separated from my wife for several months at the end of 2016.

My wife, unsurprisingly, was utterly miserable. Depressed. She even hinted at being suicidal, and I felt miserable about the whole thing. I missed our kids. I missed having a family. And then the "other woman" ended up getting into a relationship with another man. Even at the time, I rationally knew it was better that me and this other woman didn't get together, but it was still painful to "lose out" to someone else, just like I always had before I met my wife. Then at Christmas, my wife sort of forced herself back into a relationship with me, and too deflated and exhausted to keep fighting, and thinking it might actually make my wife happy and not miserable, I just went with it.

Then, early in January, another woman began to pursue my attention pretty aggressively over social media and trying to get me to go hang out after work and what not. But after everything that happened with that other other woman (Jesus, what a mess), I resisted getting myself into another emotional entanglement with another woman. Plus, this new other woman was also married, and so I knew it was madness.

Anyhow, getting back with my wife didn't just automatically make her happy again, and the first few months together were very tough and not fun by any means. And the whole time this new other woman is pursuing my attention. At one point I even told this new other woman that if she needed attention she needed to get it from her husband and stop using me for whatever weird thing she was after. She agreed and thanked me for calling her on her shit and then promptly continued to pursue my attention. But I knew this woman would drag me into deep emotional waters and then leave me there to tread water all alone when things got too real, which is what already happened with the original other woman.

The thing is, this new other woman and I did have a connection that I had never experienced before. Like, it was just nice to have someone like her in my life, and someone who seemed to understand certain parts of me that no one else has been able to understand. So I liked her attention, and I liked giving her mine, and so I decided, like the sad sack that I am, to start to give in to her whims.

We began hanging out often and talking all the time. We even went to a training out of town together, but nothing happened because I can't even do affairs correctly. The point being, for the first time in my life, I felt whole with this person. I know that sounds co-dependent, and we live in times where we're supposed to be whole on our own, and it's supposed to be two wholes coming together to form a good relationship, but it is what it is. I feel like I am whole now, and I do have high self-esteem and self-image. I could be happy on my own. But this was different. This was something I didn't know or think existed. I was fucking happy.

In mid-April her husband caught on to what was going on. He had gone through her phone and saw some of our texts, and although there was nothing explicit, I imagine it was probably pretty obvious that there was something going on. And so they decided that she and I shouldn't talk anymore. Considering that I had told her on a number of occasions to basically leave me alone, because I was trying to avoid this exact situation, I was pretty pissed and hurt when she was the one who decided to cut us off from each other.

However, she would still reach out to me from time to time and send little hints that she was missing me or something. It was all fucked up.

In June there was this fundraiser that I go to every year, and she asked me if I was going again this year. I told her I didn't think I was, and she basically begged me to go. Then as we were leaving the wine tasting she told me all about how her husband had gone through her phone and how she had never felt a connection like she had with me and it was all "confusing" and blah, blah blah. Oh, and that her husband had applied for a job four hours away, in large part to get her away from me. And that she didn't want to go, because she didn't want to leave me. She couldn't stand the thought of leaving me.

I was pretty thrilled with this conversation because the only thing I had ever wanted from her was the truth about us. Not because I necessarily thought we should end up together, but just because I wanted our decisions to be based the truth and not on denial, if that makes sense. But over the next couple of weeks she would try to backtrack on all that she said that night. So finally I sent her an email where I tried to come clean about the way I felt her and how confused I was about everything. She wrote me back denying that there was any real connection between us and that she led me on and she was sorry. I had also challenged her to be honest about what she wanted, and she said she wanted to have her family be a family and for her and her husband to be emotionally connected (which they never have been able to be with each other), and for them to be a happy family.

So that was devastating, but I also know that every time she and I had been vulnerable with each other, she would freak out and jump on social media and post pictures of her and her husband and things like that. At first I thought she was just fucking with me, but then I started to wonder "what is she trying to prove and who is she trying to prove it to?" She's not in love with her husband, but she wants to be.

But then she sent me that email, so I just went with it. Fine, go move to some town you don't want to live in with some guy you don't really want to be with. Sucks for the both of us, but sucks for you more, because at least I was honest with myself. I didn't tell her that, but that was my thought process.

So, like a week after sending that email, she sent me a text with Selena Gomez's "Bad Liar" video and we chatted briefly, at which point she asked if I had watched the video, which is about a woman pretending she isn't in love with some boy (or that's what I took from it). I said yes, of course I had. She wondered what I thought of it, and I just said I didn't understand why Selena Gomez still looks like she's 12.

Then she presented this weird, complicated idea that would allow her to work where she was still working for a few months while her husband moved the other town for his job. I said that was dumb and didn't fall in line with all that she supposedly wanted for herself. I then told her that since her husband didn't want us talking to each other we should stop, and that I was serious about that. So we have stopped talking...for the most part.

So she and her man moved late July. They're gone now. Immediately I had a sort of inverse phantom limb experience. I felt as if a part of my body had been taken away from me. My wife and I are still trying work things out. Things are up and down. I love my wife. I have always loved my wife. And she is making an effort to make the relationship less one-sided, and has done a decent job at it. I know she loves me too. But she doesn't make me feel like this woman did and does. I miss her greatly, but I don't know what to do with those feelings. I feel like I need to write her and get some things off my chest, but I don't know what any of that would accomplish. Like, I feel like I need to reach out and just be wholly and totally honest about some things, but to what end? I've already been quite honest and vulnerable with her and she was never able to return the favor. So... what? Even just to tell her that I miss her, I feel this overwhelming urge to do so. But it would just be disappointing.

Where do I go with all this, man? I have a feeling that you're going to tell me to let the other woman go. She's obviously got her issues. But even you telling me that isn't just going to make this feeling go away. I think I just want the truth from her, one way or the other. Nothing has to come from it. But I don't even know why. What's that about?

And then I'm still with somebody who I love and who loves me, but doesn't make me feel like I know I'm capable of feeling. I'm a reasonably smart, self-aware fellow and I just cannot fathom how I let any of this happen.

Anyhow, sorry for all that. I don't know if you read any of that, but thanks if you did.

Genuinely Unhappy Husband

Take two Sondheim musicals—Follies and Company—and write me again in the morning.

"One's life consists of either/or. One has regrets."

"You're always sorry. You're always grateful."

Actually, GUH, don't write again in the morning. Just watch both videos again tomorrow morning and every morning after until you start to feel a little less sorry for yourself and a little more grateful for what you've got—a wife, imperfect, who loves you, likewise imperfect, a job, kids you love, and a solid chance of making things work with a woman who loves you and wants to be with you.

You need to give your wife—who you say you love—the chance to come through for you and yourself the chance to come through for her. Be brutally honest. Not about how strongly you felt for this other woman, GUH, which your wife can't do anything about, but about how your marriage needs to change and you two need to grow if your relationship is going to survive. You can both do something about that, GUH. And you don't know how you're capable of feeling about your wife—if things change for the better, you could wind up falling more deeply in love with your wife. (Pausing to flag something here: "For the first 10 years we were together, I had minimal contact with friends and family..." If your wife actively isolated you from your friends and family, GUH, that's a huge problem. That's abusive behavior. But if it was thoughtlessness and/or selfishness on her part and passivity on yours that led to your isolation, GUH, she can learn to make a conscious effort not to be so thoughtless and/or selfish and you can learn to speak up for yourself.)

As for the other woman... well, gee. In all honesty, GUH, your dream woman sounds like an emotionally manipulative piece of shit who doesn't really want you but gets off on knowing how badly you want her. Regardless, GUH, you can't have what you can't have and it doesn't sound like you can have her. So you'll just have to get over her. Write that letter, if you think it'll help, but don't delude yourself: you've been dumped, GUH, perhaps for the first time in your life. And you've learned what everyone else already knows: Getting dumped sucks and your heart hurts and takes time to get over. But you can and will get over it—whether you stay with the wife or not—because you don't have any other choice.

Zooming out: You need to ask yourself whether the feelings the other woman elicited in you were signs of true and transcendent love or just NRE, as the poly kids like to call it, combined with the escape she represented. Your time with her was free from the drudgery of daily life—picking up kids, paying the mortgage, doing chores, preparing taxes, mowing lawns, etc. But guess what, GUH. The drudgery of daily life follows us wherever we go. So the shiny new partner we don't have to fight with about bills and laundry and childcare becomes the partner we have to fight with about all of those things the instant we run off them. Bear that in mind when you weigh the life you have with your wife now against the life you fantasized about having with this woman.

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