My heart is betraying me.
October 12, 2009 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I am in (long-term, abiding) love with more than one woman. I am marrying one, but I need to deal with my feelings for the other.

Our society seems to be built around the idea that one man loves one woman and that's it, but this one man is not living that experience. I have been in a long-term relationship for (more than five) years currently, and we are getting happily married (within the next two years.)

That is what I want and I am looking forward to it without any qualms or misgivings. That being said, I also love a close female friend who I have known since elementary school, and I don't want these feelings to interfere. She is also in a long-term relationship and thinks of me mostly as a friend. We have never done anything whatsoever inappropriate or non-platonic, although we do spend time alone once or twice a week (we've been doing that for a few years since college and the inherent drop-off in volume of friends since then.) We consider each other our "best" friends; as an only child, she is the closest thing I ever had to a sister. ...A sister I have lurkingly romantic feelings for, I guess.

It is not that, logically, I want to break up with the woman I want to marry or anything of that sort. In fact that is totally unthinkable to me. It is simply that the idea of not having my best friend in my life...the idea of sharing her with her eventual pulls at my heartstrings a lot harder than I thought it would. I can't provide details but I hear that she might be moving away soon, and that devastates me. I don't want it to devastate me, but it does, just as though she were breaking up with me...although of course she is not.

Yes, I have told both women most of how I feel. I don't think either is particularly ecstatic about the situation, but they both seem to understand and even sympathize, love being blind and etc. I know what needs to happen, externally; move on, get married, be happy. I know I can, and I'm trying to prepare myself for that. As I say, it's not as though I love my fiancee any less.

But how do I handle these feelings? I feel that I am betraying the woman I will marry by also falling in love with someone else. I feel devastated that she'll be less a part of my life. I feel like an insensitive clod for even expressing my feelings to them both, although I think it may have been the right thing to do. Is there anything else I can or should do? Any advice for coming to terms with this unrealistic need for a second female companion? And why is my heart whoring itself out? Isn't this kind of love supposed to be one person at a time?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
"Did you ever have to make up your mind / and say yes to one and leave the other behind..."

Your wife-to-be will most likely not be in favor of you maintaining a close friendship with another woman once you are married, no matter how understanding she may seem to be at the present time. Your best course now would be to take a good long look at the future. Wife, children, house, responsibilities... weighed against this "romantic ideal," or what-have-you.

It's an unstable aituation, with "impending divorce" written all over it.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:48 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

These questions are valid and I have no clear answers but you should resolve them (or get a heavy start) before you get married. I don't think there is such a thing as a quickie divorce. It will probably make you and your SO's feel better in the long run if this is dealt with before any legal commitment. I am also biased as hell but get thee to a therapist. Good luck.
posted by ShadePlant at 9:50 AM on October 12, 2009

What do you mean by love of this friend "sister"? My husband has a best girl friend and from the very start I understood he never would cheat on me, etc. But it did cross the lines of what is appropriate with a friend "sister" and what she should deal with on her own with her own husband. For example she was going through infertility treatments and wanted my husband to give her shots to her. I found this inappropriate. Either her husband can do it or she can hire a nurse. It was way too intimate (and not even because of the injection location) for my husband to commit his time away from us to help her get pregnant. He finally understood (especially since he had to eventually give me mine).

If this is a sister/friend love, then nothing to explain. But if this is a lover/marriage type of love, then like Guy Inamonkeysuit said, you're not headed down a good path and might have to choose.

What are the "sister's" feelings about this? Does she get uncomfortable? What about her mate?
posted by stormpooper at 9:57 AM on October 12, 2009

Love is not "supposed" to be anything. You're looking for an established romantic discourse to help you figure out what you're supposed to do about an uncomfortable situation. You're not going to find one.

Define most, in reference to you having told both women most of how you feel. Whatever you are leaving out is going to hurt someone, which is probably why you left it out in the first place, but it is not a good basis for either a friendship or a marriage. Talk to your friend, then let it go. Romantic love can, and does, turn into familial love, you just have to work at it.
posted by lydhre at 10:00 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is nothing wrong with loving two people. I think it would help you deal with your situation better if you can come to terms with that part first. You haven't done anything wrong and I applaud your efforts to be honest with all parties. It is a shame your two loves don't want to share your time but I understand that alot of society has trouble with this idea. I love two men and have always felt that this is a right and natural arrangement. Maybe some of us are just wired a little differently. Like you I have a lover and a best friend. Unlike your situation my guys get along great. If they ever parted company I know that I couldn't let one of them go. I would do my best to spend time and maintain my relationship with each of them. Difficult? Probably. Worth it? Unquestionably. Different people address different needs within us. To expect one person to meet all those needs is asking a bit much. You will have to decide how much you want to compromise in arranging your relationships and the amount of contact you have but I would encourage you to try and continue both even if one is limited by distance. Accept yourself loving both of them and make it clear to yourself that you have every right to be in love. So long as you are lying and fooling around then you haven't done anything to be ashamed of. I wish you the best of luck with both of your relationships.
posted by stubborn at 10:04 AM on October 12, 2009

Unless I am misreading your question you have unrequited romantic feelings for someone that has her own life, her own relationship and a life plan in a different location. How is maintaining this "friendship" good your you or your future wife? You can't have a balanced friendship when one person is pining for the other - especially if the person pining has already committed to someone else. I would let your friend drift out of your life and focus your energy on making your future wife your best friend and spend time with her instead.
posted by saucysault at 10:06 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't see anything ethically wrong with erotically loving two women at once. Look into Polygyny. The problem arises when one of the partners isn't happy about the situation, and according to your post, neither of them are.

Your friend is moving away soon. You're going to marry your future wife. Focus more on your future wife and less on your friend. Do this pre-emptively, to stop the shitstorm before it happens. Perhaps you could direct the love you feel for your friend towards your wife?

The heart makes connections where it will. There is no logic. Society expects a man to love one woman, but it doesn't always work that way. When you come down to it, we're just a bunch of chemicals. Things behave differently, sometimes.

And for $deities sake, don't mention your jealousy about your friend and her boyfriend shacking up. That will cut her to the core.
posted by Solomon at 10:16 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you're in love with her, the two of you are not friends. She may have a friendship with you, but you do not have one with her; you have a crush. If you've told her how you feel, she's turned you down, and the feelings are still there, I think you need to stop seeing her, at least for a while. Don't have her in your life until you can truly be her friend instead of being the guy who secretly wants to sleep with her/marry her/hold her hand and stare deeply into her eyes.
posted by decathecting at 10:18 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

And by the way, I'd give the same advice to someone who wasn't engaged to another woman. Regardless of what else is going on in your life, you need to be away from her until it doesn't hurt anymore.
posted by decathecting at 10:19 AM on October 12, 2009

I was married to someone who had one of these friends. He insisted up and down that there was nothing between them. She had a baby, she wasn't interested in him. We spent a lot of time with this woman and it was always inconvenient or uncomfortable. He always seemed willing to go out of his way to help her out, but couldn't be bothered to do the same for me. His explanation was that she was a single mother - even though she had a very supportive family and lived across the hall from her own mother.

One day I came home in the middle of the day because I was unwell and found her sitting in my apartment wearing a bathrobe. The explanation was that they had gotten caught in the rain. My husband worked from home so he had a reason for being there, but it always bothered me.

We eventually got divorced and they are together now.

You, Mr. Anonymous, will end up doing this. The women say they're okay with it - what do you WANT them to say? You are an insensitive clod, but not because you're a jerk, just because you don't have the social skills to understand how to act on feelings.

I don't want to say "man up and pick one" but that's what you gotta do. If you love your friend then do something about it, break off the engagement. If you don't love her, then it's not a problem. But you have to resolve the issue with your friend, because no matter what woman you are with, it will always lurk there.

I disagree that you cannot have close relationships with women once you are married. It totally depends on the person. The issue here is not that you want this woman to be friends with you after you and she get married. The issue is that you are marrying the wrong woman.

To the poster who suggested polyamory: IMHO This dude is not poly. I am not poly but I lived in a poly house and had many poly friends. This dude is just too much of a wimp to make a fucking choice. Make one.
posted by micawber at 10:41 AM on October 12, 2009 [18 favorites]

Ok, I'm confused. Or rather, I completely understand where you're at, but your attitude confuses me. I get the feelings for two women, and that you're marrying the one that's right for you, etc. I get that you have feelings for your friend, and that her going away bothers you. But, what I don't get, even with the feelings you have for your friend, is why her going away is such a big deal?
To me, it looks like almost the perfect thing. Unless she's moving off the grid, you will still have pretty much complete contact with her. Things have always been platonic, so this just means a shift in the communications platform, not that communications need to cease. I would imagine that both of your partners would probably be much more relaxed about platonic email swapping. If you've known her since elementary school then you should have no problem keeping that relationship context even without a physical presence, either. If she stayed, you'd probably be forced to see her less, or be tempted to do things you shouldn't be doing. So everybody wins this scenario, right? So, be happy for her, be happy for you and be happy for the lives each of you will live.

I'm assuming your question at face value, however, my advice completely changes if you feel like you'd drop everything (including current partner) to have a chance with your friend. If that is the case, you need to put everything on hold because you have some serious issues that you need to figure out. It's unfair to your partner to be second choice, it's unfair to your friend, because you were dishonest in your characterizations of your interest (or she wasn't interested in you in that way and you still hung around). If this is the case, you might want to look into therapy, and will need to have a serious letting go of things unattainable *before* moving forward with another person.
posted by forforf at 10:44 AM on October 12, 2009

As someone in a similar situation, all I can say is that the more love you have in your life the better, provided of course that that love is genuine and considerate. You should not lose hope of attaining some sort of equilibrium just because the relationships you value most don't fit the mold.

What I've learned from my experience:

- You cannot sort the situation out ahead of time such that it will run on its own for the rest of time. Non-standard love is tricky and, to work, requires constant and honest reevaluation, along with plenty of tactful communication.

- Go easy and take it step by step, even if you think you know exactly how you want things to work out ("...and then we'll all move to Portland... together!").

- For many reasons, telling outsiders about it is usually not such a great idea.

- Having the hots for someone doesn't mean you can't be a good friend to them, especially if you have a sensible head on your shoulders and are inclined to the courtly model of love.

- Having one love is sometimes not enough. Having two loves means one can take the strain off the other.

- Be brave and FTW. Monogamy is overrated, but fidelity is all too rare.
posted by stuck on an island at 10:51 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

You handle your feelings by realizing that you can't always have your cake and eat it too - and once you've pounded that realization into your brain you make a tough decision about what course of action would lead to the future you want.

If you want a marriage in the more-or-less traditional sense, with a healthy family whom you will work with your partner to support and nurture...then you need to decide whether or not you can cut this other woman off romantically. If you can't do that, don't get married.

There are no guarantees in life or love - and marriage isn't necessarily for everyone, but if you're going to do real and have the integrity to commit to one person.

Your desires for someone else are completely natural - but your urge to fulfill them when you are getting married to someone else is immature and irresponsible. Unless you have TRULY and honestly discussed this with your SO, then you are simply setting her up to get hurt.

You feel like you are betraying the woman you intend to marry because you are betraying the woman you intend to marry. You feel like an insensitive clod because you are one. Its ok. Just don't mask your situation with bloviations about "societies expectations about marriage" know what society expects, and that, to a degree, frames what you expect out of a marriage, and you know you are not willing to meet that.

I think you're looking for some advice that might justify your inability to make a tough decision, and I think you will find some of that on MeFi...but you've already expressed that you feel uncomfortable about the way you feel, and nothing anyone says about "alternative marriage situations" or polyamory is going to fix that.

You don't NEED to get married, its OK to love more than one person and date around or be intimate with as many people as you like. But if that's how you want to live, then don't get married.
posted by jnnla at 11:17 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

I feel that I am betraying the woman I will marry by also falling in love with someone else.

I guess I'm in the minority, but I think so too. I know there are people into polyamory and stuff but honestly, it doesn't actually sound like you are. But maybe I'm projecting.

I don't want to get in a big polyamory* debate -- to each their own. But for myself, I think you should cut that other woman out of your life entirely -- all contact, everything.

That's what I think. I'm sorry.

*I apologize for being unable to spell that. Firefox spell check fails and I'm lost.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:19 AM on October 12, 2009

You should not be getting married until you have worked this out in your mind. It's unfair to both women, but ultimately it's unfair to yourself to enter into a perceived lifelong contract without solid knowledge that you can deal with all the stipulations. You only get this shot at life, and you need to be true to yourself.
posted by sickinthehead at 11:22 AM on October 12, 2009

A sister I have lurkingly romantic feelings for, I guess.

That's the deal-breaker, right there. I have a long-term platonic friendship with a woman that I've maintained for over twenty years, since high school. It's possible, and people do it all the time. With lurking (aka unresolved) romantic feelings, though, things are going to be rough.

You've said they both know how you feel, and that's fine, and you seem to know how you feel, but you're dating one, and not the other, and when you made your feelings known the other didn't say "me too." So your friend is not an option for dating. Period. A good first step.

The next step: what is this friendship giving you that your relationship is not? Tell your friend candidly (should be easy since she already knows how you feel) that you want to stay away from her for a couple of months to be fully in your relationship to make sure she's not providing things your relationship is not.

If you find out your relationship is a strong one that can survive without your friend around, then you should know whether or not it is enough for you, knowing that your friendship will grow more distant when one then the other of you get married. If you find out your relationship isn't complete without the friendship, you can end it, then go looking for another woman with whom you can have a full and complete one.

And of course, if things take that course, you will have fantasies about your friend jumping your bones the moment you're unattached, but what will most likely happen is she will do nothing of the kind, so don't go down that mental road. I'd give different advice if she found out about your feelings and said "me too", but that didn't happen, so most doors with her are probably closed. And if I'm wrong, you'll either have a complete relationship with your current girlfriend (yay!) or your friend will jump your boned when you're unattached (yay!)
posted by davejay at 11:24 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

That being said, I also love a close female friend who I have known since elementary school, and I don't want these feelings to interfere. She is also in a long-term relationship and thinks of me mostly as a friend. We have never done anything whatsoever inappropriate or non-platonic, although we do spend time alone once or twice a week (we've been doing that for a few years since college and the inherent drop-off in volume of friends since then.) We consider each other our "best" friends; as an only child, she is the closest thing I ever had to a sister. ...A sister I have lurkingly romantic feelings for, I guess.

You have a giant crush on a female friend who is not attracted to you while you are about to get married to another woman, who you say you love.

Monogamy has zero to do with this, especially because you indicate you don't want to share the friend with her soon-to-be-husband.

The answer is to cut off your female friend. At best she is clueless. At worst she is fully aware of your feelings but does things to maintain them so she can feel wanted. The odds are very slim you will ever get together with platonic crush friend. If I was her dude, I would essentially say that this isn't going to work if he's still around.

Cut her off. Then accept the bad feelings as they are happening. Allow yourself to feel bad.

Then go get a therapist. There's a lot more here, and I suspect your investment in this other woman indicates you are only dimly aware of the larger psychological issues you are facing.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:26 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oh, almost forgot the other option, which is: call off the marriage, letting your fiance know that you can't commit to her fully emotionally, so it's not fair to pretend you are, that you love both her and the other girl too much to let either of them go, and so you're going to try to hold on to both of them as long as you can, because that's what makes you happy.

The response will most likely be one or both of them walking, but maybe they'll both stick around; stranger things have happened. The point is, you have just as much right to say "I will not be monogamous emotionally, because that won't make me happy" as they do to say "I demand emotional monogamy, because anything less won't make me happy" -- so whatever the outcome, you'll all be living honestly and authentically. Which isn't a bad way to live, all things considered.
posted by davejay at 11:28 AM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Despite all the rah-rah polyamory people here, remember the friend doesn't want to be with you. If she did, it would be a different story -- but from everything you're saying, it sounds like she thinks of you only platonically.

So the primary issue is really that you have a big fat ol' crush on someone who's just not that into you. In these situations, I think it's the crush-haver's responsibility to deal with it however possible -- from friend-zoning to severing, whatever it takes. Instead you've been indulging it. Yeah, it's going to be hard to give up after 20 years of wallowing in unrequited puppylove, but it has to be done. This is a great time to start.
posted by booksandlibretti at 11:48 AM on October 12, 2009 [6 favorites]

The OP is missing some critical information. Are you still 'best friends' with your friend because you are in love with her? Are you in love with her because of the close connection? Were you really not intimate in university? She thinks of you 'mostly' as a friend - does this mean that she is hedging her relationship? Are you using her as a hedge on your relationship (and marriage)?

You need to address why you are maintaining this relationship and the costs involved with doing so - both before and after your marriage. Will the costs after your marriage be ones you're willing to pay? If you are using this as a hedge, why? What critical failing does your fiancee have that you need this? Did you reject her? Did she reject you? It seems unlikely to me that you would maintain this relationship if you'd been shot down, so are you worshiping your relationship with her as a sort-of idealized 'might-have-been'?

Were your feelings this well examined before she became engaged? Before the possible move? Are you only gut-reacting to this because of your feelings now of possibly 'losing' her?

You need to be honest with yourself about how you feel about both women and why you feel that way. Your words of 'mostly told' say that you're not being honest with them or yourself. You need to get honest with yourself then you need to get honest with them. I strongly suspect that if you look at this - that you're dramatically overvaluing this other relationship.
posted by Fuka at 11:52 AM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are many ways to love, to be in love, to be attracted to another person. Your wife is the person to whom you make a legal, public commitment. You may have kids, you share crises, buy a house, share finances, see each other before you brush your teeth. These things bind you together in a way unlike most other relationships. You should make the commitment very seriously, and you should stick to it. Your dear friend can be your dear friend, and you may have a crush on her, and share confidences. Both relationships can be important and valid. Unless you and wife agree to an open marriage, don't have sex with your dear friend.

Be careful that your dear friend doesn't hold some hope of a different relationship. I know someone who has been the dear friend, and who postponed her own romantic love because of it. Kind a of a crappy deal for her.
posted by theora55 at 12:30 PM on October 12, 2009

They wrote "and forsaking all others" in wedding ceremonies ...because that is the whole point.
Men are hard-wired to like the idea of planting their seed all over, but the reality is that American women won't accept that. You apparently are not 100% in love with the woman you're engaged to.
This marriage is precarious because of your non-commitment. Don't get married.
posted by naplesyellow at 12:44 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

p.s. just how would it feel if you found out your intended Mrs. coveted a male friend of hers in a huge way? Seriously! I bet it would piss you off enormously.
posted by naplesyellow at 12:47 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't understand whatsoever why you can't have a best friend and a wife.

Your unresolved feelings for your friend are something you need to figure out and resolve more healthily, though. You being jealous at the idea of her eventually being happily involved with someone else -- this is not okay. If you love your best friend, you should not want to deny her a full and happy life.
posted by desuetude at 3:04 PM on October 12, 2009

Don't kick yourself. You are behaving ethically (if awkwardly). Check out polyamory, I don't think you're going to have a romantic relationship with both women, but it might make you feel less alone to know that not only do people have honest loving relationships with multiple people, they have a name for it!
posted by kathrineg at 3:28 PM on October 12, 2009

You apparently are not 100% in love with the woman you're engaged to.
This marriage is precarious because of your non-commitment. Don't get married.

I hate to argue, but this is not necessarily true. It might be true for some people, but it's not true for everyone.
posted by kathrineg at 3:29 PM on October 12, 2009

Big red flag: you're jealous of your friend's relationship with her fiance. It doesn't sound like you want to leave your future wife or even to have the same kind of relationship with both women. But whatever is causing you to be possessive of your friend is going to trip you up in unexpected ways if you don't defuse it.
posted by rhiannon at 4:08 PM on October 12, 2009

Please don't drag your poor fiancee into being married to you. From what you said, it seems like she doesn't know/can't know the full extent of the feelings you have for your "sister-friend."

Also, you don't really seem ready for marriage. So I think you need to break off the engagement.
posted by anniecat at 4:37 PM on October 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Someone said you need to cut off your friend to better assess your relationship and what might or might not be missing. I think this is sound advice. Here's why.

You've been with your fiancee for over FIVE years and you are thinking of waiting TWO MORE years before marrying her?! CLEARLY something is missing. You may love her and all that, but I submit that there is more to your reluctance to commit to her than just your friend's presence in your life. And IF there is not, if your friend's presence is what has caused you to drag your feet so, then the conclusion is the same--you are not "into" your fiancee enough, such that this platonic friend who shows no romantic interest in you could cause you to not commit.

If I was a psycho-anaylst I would say that you are using your friend as a a scapegoat, some kind of excuse to keep you from committing to your fiancee. It does not take men seven years to determine if they want to commit or not, so something is "off" with your relationship. You know this. Deep down, I bet fiancee knows this too. (She stays because it's been established that her self esteem is not the highest, given that she was willing to stay with you after you confessed your love for another woman.)

My prediction (which is the same as my advice) is that in the two years of your engagement, you and fiancee with part ways. I hope I'm wrong, but good luck however it turns out.
posted by GeniPalm at 7:32 PM on October 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your jealousy about your friend is a bad sign. Are you worried about being in love with two women or are you worried about losing something you thought was yours?

if #2: people aren't objects that belong to you. Loving her has little to do with illusions about ownership.
posted by ServSci at 7:15 AM on October 13, 2009

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