I have feelings for another woman that I have no intention of ever acting on, and my current relationship seems doomed because of it. Help.
posted by zeek321 to human relations (78 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
("Alice" is 24, "Beth" is 29, and I (dude) am 32. I dated Alice casually while she was an undergrad and I was a grad student. We did not start a serious relationship until we'd known each other for a year and she was graduated and working.)
I have a friend, Beth, who I've known for almost my entire life, and we were fleetingly romantically involved, physically and emotionally a year ago. I love Beth, in that I desire for her to be safe and happy, and I feel warmth and comfort when I think about her. Beth is halfway across the country, and I like it that way. If we interact too much, I want to be around her and I feel strong romantic feelings towards her. But, I absolutely do not want to spend the rest of my life with Beth, because I don't think I would be happy, based on our personalities. I am very sure of this, but not 100% sure. In any case, the thought of it makes my skin crawl. Therefore, I limit my contact with Beth in order to be able to have romantic attachment to other people. Specifically, in the present, in order to protect my feelings for Alice (more below), I voluntarily, deliberately, and carefully limit my contact with Beth to maybe an email or two every couple of months and I do not share details of my life with her. We do not talk about anything of substance or anything intimate. By unspoken agreement, Beth does the same. I hatched this plan on my own, and was doing it before dating Alice.
I am dating Alice, now. We have known each other for about two years, and we have been dating for one year. We dated casually for a few months the first year we knew each other, in that we explicitly agreed that we were physically monogamous but not emotionally monogamous, and we put an end date on the relationship. After perhaps a four month hiatus with Alice, during which I slept with Beth, Alice and I decided to enter into an emotionally monogamous, committed relationship. We agreed that we were exploring the possibility of forever. One year later, Alice and I have talked casually about marriage on and off, i.e. a choice and agreement to be together forever, but we agreed that we certainly have not made that choice yet.
Alice is aware of Beth, my feelings for Beth, and that Beth and I slept with each other when Alice and I were not dating. And she was aware of these things when entering into this current relationship with me.
A week ago, I sent a text to Beth, while with Alice (which I have never done before), about coincidental magazine covers showing a character from a TV show that Beth and I bonded over. Alice asked me why I was smiling, and I explained, and Alice has been on high alert ever since.
Alice has demanded that I cease all contact with Beth. Alice has at least verbally stated that she trusts me as competent in accurately predicting and describing my internal state and in regulating my behavior. She apparently believes me in that, for example, if I marry her and have kids, and I say I won't suddenly realize I was meant to be with Beth and run off, then I won't. But she still wants me to cease all contact with Beth. Alice feels that whatever I get from my relationship with Beth, I should get from other friends. Alice can empathize with my feeling romantic feelings for Beth because she still has romantic feelings for her previous boyfriend. However, Alice feels the difference between our situations is that she is working on not having feelings for her previous boyfriend.
I am not working on not having feelings for Beth. I am regulating my feelings for Beth, which I have explained to Alice. Alice has at least verbally said that she trusts me to competently guard my feelings for her (Alice) and to regulate my feelings for Beth. But she still wants me to cease all contact with Beth. Regardless of my competence in regulating my attention and emotional attachment, and her belief that I have no intention of ever spending my life with Beth, Alice feels that it's more risk than she's willing to deal with, and she is currently unwilling to live with that risk into the future. She feels that I am disrespecting her and is amazed that I could be hurting her like this.
I explored last night, alone, the thought of cutting all contact with Beth. It made me want to die inside (not literally), and it made me feel white hot (nonviolent) hate for Alice, simultaneous with my feelings for her. I feel like if Alice and I broke up, I would be devastated, but hopefully, acutely, only for a few weeks. (When we finished our first casual thing, we were both a mess for a few days.) But, I want to continue monogamously exploring what I have with Alice, though I'm not ready to commit.
So. I'm not willing to cut contact with Beth, which I explained to Alice. I've known Beth for my entire life. I've known Alice for two years. Up top I said Alice and I agreed to enter an "emotionally monogamous, committed relationship." I think for me that meant I expected my feelings around Beth to fade, and presumably Alice did too. But that is not happening. Alice feels unacceptably disrespected, powerless, and defeated. She is extremely upset.
For my part, I feel like it is perfectly reasonable for Alice not to want me to look inside and find strong feelings for someone besides her. Period. But I wish she would look at the last year and see whether I've ever been emotionally unavailable because of Beth, if I've ever made a choice that favored Beth over Alice. (Excepting the precipitating text incident.) And the answer is no; I've barely thought about Beth. And, in fact, I deliberately do not follow trains of thought about Beth. I gently acknowledge the initial thought and appreciate it and then turn my thoughts to something else. And, yes, that takes some effort, but I'm going to be making that effort for as long as Beth keeps coming up, and I'd guess I'd like some sympathy for that. (And I'm wondering whether this'll be an issue for every relationship, ever, if Alice and I don't work out. I will not attack myself over this, nor will I not disclose this--I think it's a big deal, as Alice clearly does.)
For Beth's part, well, there is no Beth: Of course she has no idea any of this is going on, because she's not an intimate part of my life! We recommend books and TV to each other, months apart, with emails the length of tweets. It makes me happy, indeed because of who I'm specifically emailing with. We have a long history of TV show and book watching and mutual understanding that is irreplaceable. And presumably we're never going to engage in that again, except in the superficial way we're doing now, because that's precisely what would make me pine for her, which is why I'm not doing it. And Alice is turning Beth into this OTHER who does not actually exist except in Alice's head, and Alice is trying to make me believe in OTHER-Beth, and it's poisoning the pretty uncomplicated joy I derive from what's left of my relationship with Beth, and it makes me furious.
Earlier the day of the text, Alice said something about my career and values that made me feel deeply betrayed. I have been willing to explore that further with her. It's likely that that betrayal incident was somehow related to me sending that text to Beth in Alice's presence. Ouch. So, that's everything.
Where am I being inconsistent? How can I make Alice understand my position better? What is Alice trying to tell me that I am not hearing? I'm really upset. Please be gentle.