Seeing a way out of this affair.
July 11, 2013 2:33 PM   Subscribe

I am involved in a messy, emotionally exhausting affair that feels like it's getting to a fork in the road. Can you help with a roadmap?

I worked with X for 4 years. We connected on a deep level almost immediately but there was no hint of anything emotional/sexual until we started hanging out together. Feelings developed, until one night, about a year ago, we kissed. About 6 months later, I had a mutual split with my then partner for many reasons, but X was preying on my mind too and was part of the mix.

Since that split, things have developed, started with an emotional affair, more kissing then moving onto sex several times. We spend a huge amount of time talking to each other through FB, SMS, meet up a lot, and do a lot of the things that normal couples do when we can. X has said that they see their future with me, including family, marriage, the whole nine yards. It's difficult to hide the body language/chemistry between us- some people automatically assume we are a couple even when there is no physical contact just because of how we interact.

However, and, it's a huge fucking however, X is still living with their partner. X says that they do love their partner and have a great deal of affection but not in the same way as they love me. Things are complicated in that they bought a condo together just before things sparked between us- in hindsight, a fucking disastrous decision- but there you go. They have a shared circle of friends. X's partner has a very stressful work situation. We are both in the same neighborhood, in the same East Coast city, but we both travel regularly out-of-state for work. X has recently moved to another office in the same company, so we don't see each other all the time but still have a lot of interaction. I speak to X more than I have ever spoken to any other person in my life (and that's after 3 serious LTRs I've been in before). I know things are busy, messy and complicated. I know that X has a lot to lose in terms of money, friends and moving into the great unknown but I want to make a future with this person. X hates conflict, hates confrontation and does not like to talk about feelings. I am not too great at that either. X knows that that there needs to be some kind of decision made soon as to what happens but to avoid that we keep postponing our talk.

Finally getting to my question, how do we have a conversation about this? Can anyone suggest a framework for people that aren't so good about talking about their emotions in such a situation? How have you dealt with a similar situation?

I don't see how X can stay with their partner but then that's not my decision to make. First though, we need to decide where we are going. I don't want to pressure X into something that they don't want to do. That would only lead to more fuck-ups down the line. It needs to be thrashed out between us and if it means walking away then that has to be considered too.

This is the first time either of us have been in a situation like this. This behavior does not come naturally to either of us. We both know that it sucks and we suck. Yes, I know X's partner is the only one that comes out of this in anything approaching a good light.

We are both early 30s hetero, I'm M, X is F.

thanks for reading

Throwaway email mefithrowaway_at yahoo_dot_com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You're not going to pressure X into leaving her partner. If she wanted to leave her partner for you, she would have already. You need to break it off with X, for all of your sakes, and do it quickly.
posted by xingcat at 2:36 PM on July 11, 2013 [18 favorites]

First though, we need to decide where we are going.

This is incorrect. What needs to happen first is X needs to decide if they are going to stay with their partner. If they decide not to, then you two can decide where you're going. Right now, X has her cake and is eating it too. It isn't fair to anyone, most of all X's partner.

But do take time to think about this: do you want to be with someone who would do to a partner what X is doing to their partner? You are dealing with a person who puts their own comfort ahead of doing the right thing. This will most likely come back to haunt you in the future.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:44 PM on July 11, 2013 [36 favorites]

I don't want to pressure X into something that they don't want to do.

But you do need to communicate your needs, wants and boundaries. One of those boundaries may be "I can't continue in this relationship as things stand." What X does with that information is up to X.

Does X's partner know about the affair? Are they okay with it, tolerating it, or what? Not that you need to take responsibility for their feelings, but knowing how X has communicated (or not!) with their partner about the affair she's having would give you useful information about how she might communicate with you.

I've been X, long ago and in another life. I needed to fish or cut bait. I did neither and fucked up some pretty good relationships in the process. Putting off a difficult, painful decision out of not wanting to hurt someone or because now's not a good time is, in the end, bullshit. Because there is never a good time, and someones are always going to get hurt.

so, tl;dr: Tell X what you want and need. Those things may not be compatible with X breaking up with her partner. You need to decide how much boundary-breaking you are willing to let her to do you.
posted by rtha at 2:48 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

So, X can see her future with you -- marriage, kids, the whole ball of wax -- but she hates confrontation, hates conflict, hates talking about feelings, owns a home with her partner and has a shared circle of friends with that partner?

I hate to break it to you, but the odds of her leaving that partner are extremely slim. The best thing you can do is cut off all contact with her. You can leave the door open for her and tell her that she can get in touch when she finally breaks things off with her current partner, but don't sit around waiting for that to happen. Move on with your life. If she gets in touch, you can try starting over again. If she doesn't get in touch... at least you didn't waste more of your time pining away for someone who wasn't going to be with you anyway.
posted by palomar at 2:48 PM on July 11, 2013 [26 favorites]

Before you talk to her I think you need to be really clear about what you want and what you need. What would you like the future to look like? How long are you prepared to continue on like this? Will you actually walk away if she is not prepared to leave her current relationship.

What you have now is not real. It is the illusion of a relationship without any of the hard work or hard decisions that a real relationship takes. Start by working out your bottom line, accept that you may well not get what you want or need here and then ask her to honestly share her own position.

Then it's time for both of you to make some tough decisions bearing in mind that the current situation is not sustainable and is very harmful to someone who is so far completely oblivious and blameless in all of this.
posted by Dorothia at 2:49 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

"X, I love you, and I want to make a life with you -- one that includes being publicly together and [insert other things you want here, e.g., cohabitation, marriage, kids, permanence]. I don't want that all to happen right this minute, but I want to know that we're on that path, and right now, I don't know that we are. I understand if you feel that you can't -- for whatever reason -- commit to trying to move toward that life with me. But I can't do this halfway thing we're doing now. Good-bye."

After you tell her that, if she wants you to come back to the relationship, she knows your criteria for the relationship.
posted by Etrigan at 2:49 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ok, so as far as practical advice for how to have this conversation - sometimes its easier to do these things via email. Type it all out, save it as a draft, look at it again the next morning, edit it, save it as a draft again, sit on it overnight, and then either re-edit or send it. Sometimes it's easier to initiate these things "on paper" rather than face to face.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:53 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the reason X keeps postponing your talk is the same reason that she keeps postponing the talk with her current partner -- she hates conflict so much that she would rather stay in a situation that is uncomfortable than deal with it head on.

Uncomfortable situation #1: Her relationship with her current partner.
Uncomfortable situation #2: Her relationship with you.

This is a harbinger of ill to come. It means that whatever itch caused her to become involved with you never got resolved in her first relationship and it means that if she were to leave him and become involved with you, if there's a problem, she won't let you know and one day she'll leave you, too -- emotionally if not physically.

I think you would be well served by getting into individual therapy, where you can deal with your own communication/confrontation issues by yourself, as well as process what you hope for in this relationship as it stands. As others have said, you can't change her or force her to do something she's unwilling to do, no matter how much she says she loves you. Also notice that she has WAY more to lose leaving her current partner than she does to gain from doing so, no matter how wonderful you are. I don't think she's going to do it.

I'm sorry you've found yourself in such a difficult circumstance. I really feel for you. I think you might do well to consider expanding your social circles so that you do make other friends, and now that you've had the experience of talking to one person a whole lot, transfer that skill onto your new friends. I know it's not easy, but it's worth it.
posted by janey47 at 2:54 PM on July 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's not gonna happen. If you want a real relationship, you need to find someone who doesn't already have one. I'm saying it coldly like this because maybe that's how you have to think about it/talk about it since you say you're both non-confrontational. Short, (not) sweet, and logical. Seriously, any time spent on thinking about this is time wasted. This isn't how good relationships start.
posted by destructive cactus at 2:55 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

First of all, I want you to know I had an affair for like, years and years and yearsandyears so I'm not getting on any kind of moral high horse here.

But all of the wonderfullness of this person aside, and even with all circumstances being perfect, please think about the following: do you really want to be in a longterm relationship, and possibly even parent, with someone who hates conflict, hates confrontation and is so averse to talking about feelings that they can't even confront their own partner?

Key points: how is someone like that supposed to be able to do the work and reach the compromises a relationship requires? How can they be in a relationship where resentments do not just pile up, unattended, year after year? And most threatening, how do you think a relationship like that is going to survive the enormous stress and role re-negotiation of new parenthood?

All relationships are great when they are happy. Make or break is whether you have the skillset to bring it back to happy when it inevitably hits rough patches. That's a two person operation and I don't think this person sounds like she has those skills.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:03 PM on July 11, 2013 [17 favorites]

It doesn't sound to me like X has any intention of leaving her partner, at least not on any short term timeline. My guess (and this is wild speculation of course) is that if she's not the kind to make big decisions or talk about feelings, her primary relationship will end when her partner makes a move, either dumping her or proposing to her. It really doesn't sound to me like she's going to be the one to do it.

You need to move on.
posted by phunniemee at 3:05 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

X hates conflict, hates confrontation and does not like to talk about feelings. 

How convenient.

The first 2 things on that list are literally what's required for her to initiate a breakup with her partner. It would be a monumental miracle if she broke it off in the next 1 year.

More likely, this will come to a head for her when her SO catches her cheating with you.

If you have the patience, keep your status quo, but don't convince yourself that a woman who is carrying on an affair while having just purchased a condo with SO and actively partaking in the company of shared friends and social circles of respectability will fuck it all up by learning how to confront through the most difficult of all confrontations namely, "Dear SO, I met another man and we're through."
posted by Kruger5 at 3:06 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Finally getting to my question, how do we have a conversation about this? Can anyone suggest a framework for people that aren't so good about talking about their emotions in such a situation? How have you dealt with a similar situation?

My wife and I sometimes use email to bring up sensitive subjects, which we go back and forth about before discussing in person. We've found that it's a pretty good way of working things out, but it seems to work best when we start in email and then move to talking in person.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:08 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

but I want to make a future with this person

Were you planning on using a gun? This person has chosen her future already. You only exist in it on the side because she has a condo and friends and stuff. The reason the conversation keeps not happening is because she knows she's probably going to lose her bonus buddy when it does happen.

If that isn't okay with you, the way out is to leave and cut off contact.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:16 PM on July 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Things will either continue as they are going or you will tell X that you need to move on and it's up to them whether they move on with you. And that's about it. And they may not want to.

Of course, one of the hardest things to learn is that, sometimes, other things outway love.

But I would do it sooner rather than later. One year will turn into five and ten very quickly. You will be more distraught if you waited for X for ten years with things as they are currently only to have them stay in exactly in the same place and you be left with very little.
posted by heyjude at 3:17 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

The next time you're alone together, tell her you're done unless she breaks up with her boyfriend the next time she sees him, and insist that she tell him about the two of you (because otherwise he'll find out) and that you won't talk to her again until she does. Go home and sit by the phone. Maybe she won't call you, and your affair will be over. Maybe she'll call you with an excuse. If she does, hang up on her.

Or maybe she'll call you, sobbing, and you will drive over to pick her up. She'll be a miserable wreck because she'll have just inflicted awful and undeserved harm to a person who trusted her, and that will make her feel like shit. She'll probably be depressed for a while, because she'll feel guilty, and stressed about the house, and scared, and a lot of her friends will turn on her -and you- but since you'll be the one person in her life that won't be treating her like garbage, this might actually bring the two of you closer together.

Once she is done extracting herself from the wreckage of her previous relationship, and the two of you begin spending time together without the fiery thrill of deception making everything seem 100x more exciting and passionate than it really is, you'll find out how much you actually enjoy her company. The first time you get into a fight, you'll find out what it means to be in a relationship with someone who hates confrontation as much as she does. The first time she develops a close friendship with a guy other than you, or comes home late at night without a good excuse, you'll find out if you trust her. And a few years from now, once all the drama has subsided, you'll find out if you love her...and whether all the pain the two of you inflicted on her previous partner for the sake of being together was worth it after all.

Because the truth is that this might work out. It's not like we live in a just world, where cheaters get their comeuppance and relationships begun in deception never prosper. If what you want is to be with her, and you're okay with knowing that your happiness grew out of someone else's pain, go ahead and make the call. But just do so in the full awareness that you know nothing about what it would be like to be in a relationship with this person, because relationships are what happen after all the romance and the lies and the passionate late-night getting-to-know-you conversations are done.

Only you can decide if it's worth it. But if it were me, I'd walk away.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:18 PM on July 11, 2013 [101 favorites]

Here's your script: I'm think I'm love with you, but I can't continue with the status quo. This is too messy and unhealthy for the both of us and we both know it. We should not be in contact anymore, so please don't reach out to me. When and if you are ready for our relationship to move beyond the shadows, and things are resolved with your current partner, let's grab coffee and see where I'm at in my life.

A) You regain the power
B) She is forced to make a decision (most likely she wont)
B) Move on and don't expect this to actually happen
C) If it happens, fine. But you both need therapy to figure out why you did this

And above all else, figure out why YOU are willing to be in a dysfunctional relationship like this through therapy.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 3:19 PM on July 11, 2013 [12 favorites]

Based on personal experience, I'm a firm believer that a relationship can have a messy start and still come out strong. People get swept up in the intense emotions, they make mistakes, they don't make the cleanest breaks from previous partners before starting a thing together, but they get it done because they can't be with anybody else but each other.

But you and X are a long way from the start... X has known you for four years, and your relationship with X turned romantic/sexual a year ago. If X can't break things off with her partner right now, it'll never happen unless X's partner finds out about this affair and dumps her first. And then what? Would you still want to be with X after that?

Right now X has her nice stable, secure relationship and X is getting her fun and thrills on the side. But doesn't she want to be fair to you? Doesn't she want to get all her ducks in a row so you can begin your future together? Maybe part of her wants to, but it's obviously not enough to motivate her into changing the status quo.

Tell X that it's not fair to you for things to continue the way they've been going, and if she's unable to give you a firm plan for how things will change, I think walking away is the right idea. X hasn't shown you any willingness to make the tough sacrifices that a lifelong relationship will require. I think you're about to learn the truth about her, whatever the outcome is.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:30 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

It is not flattering to realize that you are an ego boost. X has strung you and her partner along for over a year. Don't you ever wonder why anyone would do this? You deserve a girlfriend of your own instead of poaching someone else's.
posted by Cranberry at 3:34 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I second all of what keep it under cover just said, but I would go a step further:

Leave. Seriously, just go, now. I know that's not the answer you probably want to hear, but I really think it's what you need to do. No ultimatums, no excuses, no explanation beyond 'this isn't healthy for me and it isn't going to work out' and then go. X isn't going to leave her current SO and she is, whether intentionally or not, stringing you along.

Don't say, "If you do x, y or z I will wait" or whatever, just go. Otherwise some part of you will be holding on or waiting for X. The only other option that I see besides leaving is to delay the inevitable end, which is possibly more heartbreak and definitely more wasted time.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 3:38 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

X knows that that there needs to be some kind of decision made soon as to what happens but to avoid that we keep postponing our talk.

Maybe this is a completely whackadoodle approach, but I would set out some target dates, which I would make clear to X. Not ultimatums, just targets. 'I want to have a serious discussion about us within a month, I want to see you discuss us with your SO within two months', etc.

With those goals in place, you will know reasonably soon how serious she is about the two of you. You don't need her to confront her SO today, but if it doesn't happen by the end of those two months (or whatever), you will have an objective marker to tell you the answer you need to know.

I know things are busy, messy and complicated.

We're all busy, messy, and complicated. That's life. I would give her some time, but with set and firm dates. If she's serious about your shared future, this should be a help, not a hindrance.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:44 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I didn't read any reason that X would want to leave her partner except this vague sentence:

"X says that they do love their partner and have a great deal of affection but not in the same way as they love me."

So what would be the impetus for X to leave her partner?
posted by Dansaman at 3:44 PM on July 11, 2013

X says that they do love their partner and have a great deal of affection but not in the same way as they love me.

It sounds like you're interpreting this to mean that she loves you in a better, higher, more true way or something, but I think it's probably just the opposite. Sure, maybe things have gotten a little boring with her & her partner over the years, but they have a home together, shared friends and history, and nothing you write indicates that she's unhappy with her primary relationship. I'm sure things are steamier with with you and her, since you offer novelty, but don't kid yourself that you have some deep bond that she and her partner don't.
posted by Asparagus at 3:47 PM on July 11, 2013 [17 favorites]

Why do you want to be with someone who is fundamentally incapable of loving you completely, honestly, and out in the open and who is truly willing to fight for you in the way you say you are willing to do for her?

She's comfortable. She's also cowardly. You're settling for someone who is continuing to have an established and ongoing relationship with someone she actually shares property with. People who are going to leave their partners for someone else don't make big financial decisions with the partner they say they're going to leave.

All ways out here end with you leaving -- NOTHING on this planet is going to make her take the first step and come to you. Accept that and don't settle for someone who's taken next time.

She does not love you or even respect you as much as you think. If she did, her behavior would be way, way different.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:50 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was in a somewhat similar situation many years ago. Here is the situation and how I handled it:

My now-husband was seeing someone "casually" when we met (his definition of casual being that they weren't committed or in love, nor did either of them having any expectations of such, but they were seeing each other pretty exclusively at the time and were sexually involved.)

We had been friends online and were developing feelings for each other. He said he knew he wanted to be with me, but when push came to shove he didn't want to break things off with her because he knew it would hurt her feelings, and also because he just hates conflict in general. She was supposed to be going to move out of state a few months from then anyway and he wanted to just wait it out (while carrying on with me on the sly, of course.)

Though I loved him desperately at that point, I was not interested in sitting home alone waiting for who knows how long while he remained involved with someone else and I told him so.

He hemmed and hawed over making the decision for a week or so, and finally I told him it was fine if he didn't want to break up with her but if that wasn't going to happen I'd need to pull back a little to let my feelings cool off and get on with my own life. I made it clear that I wanted a relationship with him but also that I wasn't going to sit home alone waiting for him to decide what he wanted. I told him up-front that if he didn't want to break up then we were going to pull back to "just friends" and I was going to start seeing other people.

I meant it too... that same day I started working on my profile for a dating site. A few days later he called me to say they'd broken up and we became a couple soon after that.

Incidentally, the woman he was seeing never did move out of state. Who knows how long he would have strung me along if I had not issued an ultimatum?

You might want to give this book a read: When Good People Have Affairs. It is written from a standpoint of compassion for the affair-havers and has some pretty solid advice for figuring out what you want and what to do.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:07 PM on July 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

Oh, and I meant to add, I'm not trying to imply that an ultimatum will necessarily end up with her choosing you over her current partner. I think it's actually more likely it will go the other way.

But at least then you will be out of this limbo, and you can start to heal and get on with your life knowing that she really didn't love you all that much anyway. And then go find that special someone who will love you and will move heaven and earth to be with you if need be.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:18 PM on July 11, 2013

I would very bluntly ask X is she is going to leave her partner. If it doesn't happen in 3 - 6 months, it won't happen. She's sounds like she's still committed to her relationship, and I suspect she's not going to leave. I'm sorry, because you are so in love.
posted by theora55 at 4:19 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need to step away, now, quickly and cleanly, for everyone's sake (including your own.) Call her on the phone. Tell her you've thought about it, and that you've decided you can't be in this relationship any more. Tell her you hope she enjoyed it, and you only wish the best for her. Refuse to engage her on the "why" of it, and don't reminisce or talk about what you did that she won't do. If she draws it out, say that you aren't comfortable talking about this any longer, and you're going to go now, then hang up. Block her number etc. and start moving on with your life, glad that you got out of this without making things much, much worse for everyone (including you.)

Good luck.
posted by davejay at 4:23 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd be asking myself: If she can't handle the pressure and commitment of buying real estate with a partner without having an affair on the side avoidant-style, how do you think she'll fare though marriage and children? Are you ever going to be able to fully trust her?
I would gather some integrity and walk away.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 4:25 PM on July 11, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think pretentious illiterate nailed it. The only thing I want to add is the old chestnut 'If they'll do it with you, they'll do it to you.'

This does not necessarily mean literally 'if they'll cheat on their current partner with you, they will inevitably cheat on you with someone else.' It does, however, accurately say 'beware'.

I mean, look, it all could somehow work out. But those are the slim odds. Old chestnuts do not come to be old chestnuts because they describe the exception to the rule; they become old chestnuts because they prove to be so often true.
posted by fikri at 4:54 PM on July 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

Things are complicated in that they bought a condo together just before things sparked between us- in hindsight, a fucking disastrous decision- but there you go.

i think you are kind of looking at this a bit backwards. the disastrous decision was to start an affair rather than deal with her obvious mixed feelings about moving the relationship forward by buying property together. she triangulated her relationship with her SO by starting an affair with you to relieve the stress in her relationship. that is what you are--stress relief for her relationship. she's using you and you are allowing yourself to compromise your integrity by being with her. after 4 years she's not going to leave him for you and she is not a healthy person to be involved with since she won't communicate nor be faithful or honest. it's time to wake up, smell the coffee and give yourself the chance to find real love. this isn't it. and, don't compromise your integrity next time around.
posted by wildflower at 5:08 PM on July 11, 2013 [16 favorites]

My dad, in his niceness, ineptitude with feelings and confrontations and stuff, managed to not say no to an affair for a year or two, and when it came out, it devastated the family. So, yeah, it will come out sooner or later, and it is almost certainly better for you if you walk away.

Does not sound like they have kids to worry about, but the more time this goes on, the worse you are likely to be when things go poof.
posted by Jacen at 5:23 PM on July 11, 2013

Question: You want a road map to do what?

The right thing is stopping this affair till X has resolved the existing partnership. But, you already know this, X already knows this and yet you are on this road.

Do you want to know the road map to stop this affair? I don't think so, because seems both of you have talked about this ("We both know that it sucks and we suck")

I think currently it is "fun" and "feels good" and "feels natural" and its "too difficult" to break off cold turkey ... so are you looking for a road map to how to continue this as safely as possible?

I think what you are looking for is the contingency plan. What is the road map in case you are discovered? Because that's one think that is hard to do when you are doing something thats unethical and too much fun to stop.

I think you should talk to each other about what would happen if your relationship was/became public. Try to visualize the impact and your responses. If X's partner finds out, what will you do? How will you talk to him? What will you tell your friends? Will you move out of city or will you need to change jobs?

Try to imagine and visualize the whole post discovery life.

These conversations and visualization would do one of the two things:

1. You/X would be so scared/worried about the results of these visualizations that your fear would make it easier to stop.

2. Or you think that consequences would not be so bad after all. People do get divorced and find someone else they love so X would not be so scared of talking to SO as she would have a nice future waiting beyond that confrontation and that would give her strength.

You should be thinking about the results of discovery and your plan of action after that. Because that's the worst case as well as pretty likely scenario.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 6:01 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

You know, I don't know if having a proper conversation about all of this should really be your focal concern right now. It sounds like you two both know very well where the other stands right now-- you want to be with her, she (ostensibly) wants to be with you but isn't sure how to negotiate the breakup with her boyfriend. There is pretty much nothing you can do to change her character traits that are complicating the situation or affect how she will end up moving forward. All you can do is figure out what your position on the matter is and tell her so. How long are you willing to wait? At what point do you say to yourself that you deserve a relationship with someone that doesn't have to be hidden and walk away?

I have to say though, it's not looking great for your long-term relationship prospects with her. While people can and have made something like this work, a lot of stuff you list as proving that she would be with you if not for the circumstances-- she has feelings for both of you, but she loves you differently! she just made a disastrous mistake in buying that condo!-- really read as her being ambivalent towards leaving him for you. After all, there's no guarantee that losing her partner, friends, home, and life as she knows it will be worth it, especially since the reality of a "real" relationship with you may not be as sweet as things are now without the thrill of the illicit fueling your relationship.

As painful as it is, I would write this off as a loss. Living happily ever after with this woman has maybe a 1% chance of coming true. Even if she does leave him for you, I can guarantee you that you will spend the rest of your relationship with the insidious doubt in the back of your mind that will make you question whether she will leave you in exactly the same manner you want her to leave her current partner.
posted by fox problems at 6:08 PM on July 11, 2013

Do not handle this via email, unless you are prepared to potentially have that email someday go viral among friends, colleagues, family. If you end up breaking things off with her, who knows how she'll react, and what she'd do with that info? Yeah, she's partnered up, so you'd think she'd have too much to lose by going apeshit and sending your email around? Not necessarily. Hell hath no fury, etc.

Especially since you work together--! Yiiiikes.

I think you should drop the hammer, soon, and in person. I'm rarely an advocate of ultimatums, but I think this one has to play out like this: you tell her you're no longer willing/able to proceed as you have been, and that you're breaking it off. If/when she makes a full break from her partner -- which includes moving out, separating assets, and being open with friends about the breakup -- THEN and only then will you be open to revisiting the *possibility* of a relationship.
posted by nacho fries at 7:21 PM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

You know, I don't know if having a proper conversation about all of this should really be your focal concern right now. It sounds like you two both know very well where the other stands right now-- you want to be with her, she (ostensibly) wants to be with you but isn't sure how to negotiate the breakup with her boyfriend. There is pretty much nothing you can do to change her character traits that are complicating the situation or affect how she will end up moving forward. All you can do is figure out what your position on the matter is and tell her so. How long are you willing to wait? At what point do you say to yourself that you deserve a relationship with someone that doesn't have to be hidden and walk away?

This, precisely.

I got to this point with a married lover, whose marriage I didn't (and still don't) want to destroy or end. (Ordinarily I wouldn't get mixed up with someone who was married and not totally, unequivocally open, but life is indeed messy. So.)

Got to the point where I finally told him that it wasn't healthy for me to be with someone who told me that he loved me, which I believed, but also treated me as invisible. I respected his conundrum, but it was his conundrum to solve, and I could only take it or leave it. I couldn't keep going as it was, so my only option was to leave it unless things changed.

He came out to his wife and they are negotiating an open relationship, under the rockiest possible circumstances. This is another possible outcome. From your description, though, it doesn't sound like your paramour has the steel in her spine to go that route.

I concur with the folks who say that you have to be the one with the backbone and say, this situation has to change or we have to end it. Watch her actions as much as her words.

It's a painful situation. Best of luck to all of you.
posted by Lola Xaviera Boom-Boom McPuppet at 7:24 PM on July 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

"First though, we need to decide where we are going."

It doesn't work like that, and anyone who suggests it does is someone whose advice you need to steer clear of. I'm not talking about this thread. I'm talking about people in real life. Even if you committed to being a couple so X could leave his/her spouse to be with you, you have no way of knowing what the relationship would really be without the barriers currently in the way. Maybe X enjoys the excitement of getting away with it. Maybe you and X are great together in a limited sense but would be a disaster as a real couple. There are so many potential maybes.

The bottom line is that X isn't leaving his/her spouse. X is getting some on the side.

If X eventually does leave his/her spouse for you, X could just as easily eventually leave you for whoever comes along next.

I'm sorry, but this isn't going to end well. Be careful.

Best of luck.
posted by 2oh1 at 7:58 PM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

These people may well have the answers you're looking for - and they are in the same place you are. Many years ago they were very helpful for me. From that experience let me share some points:

a) affairs are addictive as hell: all that secrecy and excitement and ups and downs and wild rollercoaster emotions make for blazing hot sex. It's like drugs - not good for you but it feels good and, as you are finding, is really hard to quit. And, honestly, that intensity is hard to match later, in real relationships. But real is generally better, I find.

b) 90% of the time they don't leave. They never really meant to leave and they won't leave.

c) You may find that you are not the only affair going on here, which can be soul shattering. Sometimes one person on the side isn't enough. There have to be two, or three or more. Or you are not the first. If you are part of the 90% and you are the first, there is a very good chance you will not be the last.

and d) Even if you are part of the 10% and they do leave, that doesn't mean that it's going to work out. In fact it probably won't, because see point a) above, which makes settling into a real relationship seem so anticlimactic and dull and weird.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:27 PM on July 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

The average break up I've witnessed takes at least 6 months from the breakup talk to a time when the decision feels final to both parties.In between, there are emails, crying phone calls, late night visits, horrible guilt, moving out, meeting up to exchange belongings, processing together, and so forth.

If she does decide to leave him, do you want to be with her while all that is going on? E.g., do you want her to be at your house when she receives his pleading email ("I would do anything to have you back in my life. You make me who I want to be. You truly mean all the world to me. I love everything about you. I love the way your nose crinkles when you're angry. I love the way you even burn spaghetti...."), starts to cry, feels terrible pain, and wonders if she made a mistake? Do you want her to talk to you about her guilty feelings, "how could I -- how could WE -- have done this to Bob?!" When she goes to pick up her stuff and ends up being gone all night, do you want to know?

Or, do you want to have radio silence for those months and reconnect later? As the months pass while they sell their condo and break up, would you worry she had changed her mind?

Both paths are options, and the path you choose may impact what you say now as you set limits on how long you'll wait. I'm sorry you're in this difficult situation and wish you the best going forward.
posted by salvia at 12:12 AM on July 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

Why on Earth would you want to make a future with a person who has proven themselves to be a lying, two-faced cheater?
posted by DWRoelands at 4:09 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

She loves you, yet she goes home every night to someone else, makes love to them, makes plans for the future with them, shares herself with them more than she does you.

It's been a year, I don't know how you can be comfortable with that.

I met someone while I was in an abusive marriage and started an affair. Within 4 weeks I'd packed my bags, taken my kid and made it clear I wasn't coming back. I now have 50% shared care of my child with my ex, which is great, but was pretty darn daunting at the time. But hey, I loved this guy, I wanted my future to be with him. I wanted that future to start ASAP! So I made it happen.
posted by Youremyworld at 4:37 AM on July 12, 2013

If she wanted to be with you, she would be. What she really wants is the excitement and romance of an affair. Love and relationships aren't affairs. C'mon, you know this.

Break it off completely. Go no contact and block her from communicating with you. I think you'll find that while she'll be initially disappointed, it won't be a BFD for her.

You need to protect yourself better in the future.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:05 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

For your own sake, I'd walk away from this as quickly and gracefully as you could.

At the end of the day, even if she were to leave her partner for you.......Is this how you want your relationship to be? Will it have the same sort of conspiratorial feel as your current situation does? Probably not.

Fact is, it won't be the same at all.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:06 AM on July 12, 2013

This could be me a few months ago, with the exception that I'm also married and no sex happened, so I think I understand where you are and how you feel. For the record, I recognized that my attraction to a co-worker meant there was something missing at home, so I told my husband (which sucked), let the emotional affair go (which was made considerably easier by the guy getting a new job and moving away), and fixed my problems at home. It was awful, the crash from the adrenaline rush was like detoxing, and I felt like a bitch and a bad wife until pretty recently, but it was the right thing to do. If X was the one writing in, that's what I would advise her to do.

But it's not X, it' s Y. My advice starts with asking yourself some tough questions. What do you want out of this? Imagine someone with a magic wand came to you and said, "This can turn out any way you want with a wave of my wand, what do you want?" - what would you wish for? Take all considerations out of the picture; anything at all can happen, there are no limits. Got it? Okay, now you know your ideal. Next, how likely is that to happen? Be honest. Is there any way that what you really want can actually happen? If so, how? What would you need to do to get that ideal? Are you willing to do it?

What about if it isn't likely? If you can't get what you really want, are you willing to settle for less? Are you okay with the status quo going on indefinitely? If so, what do you need to do to resign yourself to it?

And if you aren't, if you want it all, what are you going to do about the fact that she can't or won't provide it? These are the questions I think you need to ask yourself, and be honest with the answers. And then figure out what you're going to do with those answers. I can't tell you what to do, I can only tell you what I did and what I'd do in the future (which is, avoid the entire situation like the plague).

The problem that I'm having with your question is that I'm not seeing a good grasp of reality. The reality of the situation seems to be that you're helping someone screw around on their partner with no real benefit to yourself other than the thrill of the illicit nature of the affair. How is X fulfilling your needs? Does she make you feel loved, special, unique, needed? Or does she make you feel sneaky and second best? I can't tell if you are asking how to force X to make a decision, how to settle for things as they are, or how to extract yourself. I think you don't know yet. Time to figure it out. Good luck.
posted by jennaratrix at 6:16 AM on July 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time I was on the same moral horse as you, feel free to memail.

If she's not willing to talk about her feelings and not willing to engage in conflict, then things won't change. She eats her cake, and magically the cake is still there to be eaten again. I'm not sure of the statistics, but I think that they're against you having a happy ending 2 years in the future unless you go with option 3) . One can beat the odds. I think her avoidance of feelings and conflict strongly suggest you won't beat the odds.

I agree with others about email; say what you need to say in email or a letter. That way, all you need to say gets said, rather than you starting, and she immediately shutting down / switching the topic / stopping the emotional confrontation. If verbally conversing about this, once it's been started, perhaps get her to agree to continue this via email. Don't continue the affair until she can address your concerns. "I need time." is not addressing them. If she needs time, then she can use the time she gains by not going out with you for a bit.

If she is going to leave her partner, it doesn't have to happen the day that she decides. But she should consult a lawyer ASAP (this can't be emphasized enough) for the why's and hows to do it best. If she won't address your issues (verbally or email), won't see a lawyer, won't commit to any sort of time line within three months (barring some more obvious milestone like (in four months we're selling our house), then the options are simple:

1) (with her prior approval) you let X's partner know that you're the other man, and have a talking out with him. He may get violent upon the reveal. The affair might be enough to get him to do the breakup. If it's not though, her life becomes way more chaotic, and likely there's no room / time for you. Or you two get into a competition to who can woo her away from the other (really, why should she choose either). Or they open their relationship. As this is a textbook case of when not to open up, there will be a *lot* of problems down the line, and that will be a whole nother ask.

2) you continue to let yourself be strung along. Your feelings get increasingly hurt. You start pressuring her (potentially while not intending to), and this eventually drives a wedge between you two. She may switch to a new job, and you never hear from her again. She may just go no contact with you while staying at the same job. She may start cheating on you, and if so, expect that she'll increasingly be with the new person and you'll be phased out. Assuming the cheating doesn't get you to break things off (see option 1).

3) you break it off. This might spur her to break up, and come running back to you after a few months. It might not. She may try to re-establish the affair with promises which never occur. If you start it back up again, then you're back at the beginning, and can rechoose these three options. If you keep starting it, and going with 3) repeatedly, it will suck. If you choose this option, I'd really recommend you do not start it up unless/until she has at least moved out (or he's moved out); a statement of "I'm breaking up with him" isn't enough now, because it needed to be done before you make the choice of options 1) 2) or 3) . At this point, you need some actual follow through.

Options 1) and 2) I consider to be really ugly. 2) will happen by inertia, I'm pointing it out. If you continue to let her avoid confrontation/choices, know that you together are choosing 2) . The only non-ugly options are to get her to commit to breaking up with her partner, or to abandon this relationship. Perhaps start calling it a fling; after all, you're seeing her at work, and in the stages of a budding relationship. You're not seeing each other outside of a honeymoon environment; it's more like a high school relationship than an adult one.

If she does commit to leaving her partner, make sure that you both understand what went wrong in her current relationship, and both commit to making sure that doesn't happen. There will be other, new, issues - since she doesn't like to be in touch with her feelings, assuming you don't want to try on her partner's shoes, I'd encourage therapy at least for her; if not for both of you as a couple.

If she leaves her partner, you're going to feel unsteady for a bit, wondering if you're effectively a rebound relationship, or if she's really serious. Depending on finances, etc, it may be best for both of you to not immediately move in with you, without first living on her own for a bit. Especially while she sees a therapist. A 6 month lease would be a good minimum.
posted by nobeagle at 7:16 AM on July 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

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