Should I follow my heart or my head?
October 27, 2005 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Should I follow my heart or my head?

I've been married less than a year and it's all falling apart. My wife is a kind, wonderful person and we love each other very much, but I feel that our interests and values are so far apart that we may be a mismatch. I've never believed in soul mates or fate. I've spent much of my life listening to my head over my heart. This marriage made sense on paper. We're great negotiators and have made things work against all odds.

However, I recently realized that I can't keep my feelings for a friend of mine in check. We started out as friends, and quickly progressed into a close relationship. We share everything; know each other better than anyone. We have not embarked on a physical relationship because I am trying to be true to my vows. But this is the first person with whom I can't keep my heart under control. I truly feel that this is the right person for me. I cut her out of my life for a few months in an attempt to get over it. I missed her with a passion I have never felt before. Need to hear from people who've been married before. I know the first year of marriage can be difficult and life has a way of testing us, but is this kind of temptation normal? I'd like to follow my heart for the first time in my life, but am struggling with the moral implications of this decision and of course the thought of hurting someone I really care about. Anyone been in my shoes before?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I've been there.

Your head. Always your head. Following your heart will lead to much suffering. The best you can hope for when you follow your heart is that the stupid things you do will follow you around like a smelly fart for years. Worst case -- well, use your imagination.

And yes, temptation is normal. When people say the first year of marriage can be difficult, this is exactly what they mean. From my understanding (not married here) the temptations don't get any less tempting as the years go by; it's your will and character that gets stronger.
posted by kindall at 4:24 PM on October 27, 2005

We share everything; know each other better than anyone. We have not embarked on a physical relationship because I am trying to be true to my vows.

OK, first, you're not being true to your vows. Emotional infidelity is every bit as real as physical infidelity -- perhaps even moreso. Coming from somebody who (to his shame) has committed both, I can tell you right now that opening your heart to another woman is as insidiously damaging to your marriage as opening your pants.

Is this kind of temptation normal? Absolutely. Almost everyone has, to one degree or another, been tempted in this way. At the same time, nobody here is going to be able to tell you what to do: we don't know you; we don't know your relationship with your wife; and we don't know your relationship with this other woman.

How long have you known this friend? What you're experiencing could be infatuation that will wear off eventually; do you have any reason to believe it isn't? Have you spoken to your wife about this at all? If you and she have truly "made things work against all odds," shouldn't you at least make an attempt at doing the same here?

Are your motivations in questioning the strength of your marriage completely separate from your interest in your friend? If your friend weren't in the picture, would you feel so unsatisfied in your marriage?

Why did you marry your wife in the first place? If those reasons seemed valid enough at the time, why are they no longer so? How interested are you, really, in salvaging your marriage? Are you looking for help with this decision, or are you looking for permission from us, as it were, to leave your wife for your friend?

Lastly, a piece of advice: Distance yourself -- as kindly as possible -- from your friend for the time being. Her presence will contribute nothing towards you making a rational and considered decision on this subject. If you choose, after all, to remain in your marriage, you may wish to reconsider associating with your friend. I know it will be painful, but if she is going to continue to present a source of temptation in the face of a marital commitment you've chosen to keep, your marriage should take precedence.

I'm all questions and no answers, and I'm sorry I don't have anything more concrete. I hope that, in asking yourself some of these questions, you may be able to find the answers on your own.
posted by S.C. at 4:25 PM on October 27, 2005 [2 favorites]

I'd say this falls in the realm of normal responses to a marriage. I think the first thing you have to figure out is something nobody else can tell you: is your marriage worth working, fighting, compromising, and changing for?

If you may still be happy with your wife 50 years from now, even if that is a longshot, your marriage is probably worthwhile enough not to piss it away for your latest infatuation. You know that feeling you have for your friend? Do what you need to do to cultivate something similar for your wife. The easiest way to achieve that is honest and forthright communication with your wife. Tell her what you need and what you want. Ask her to tell you the same. Put some effort into being happy together, and if it doesn't work out you'll have learned something important in the process.

If you can't see yourself in a loving marriage with your wife fifty years from now, it is likely a lost cause.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 4:30 PM on October 27, 2005

Wow. I don't really have an answer for you except to say that I'm nearing the end of my first year of marriage... and if you want to know if this kind of temptation is normal, my limited experience says it's not. The way you describe your feelings for your friend is the way I feel about my husband. I haven't been tempted in the least. How long have you known the friend? It sounds like this is a relationship of some standing, so either the more-than-friends feelings were there before and you married someone else anyway - in which case I'd say yeah, you need to give this dilemma some serious thought - or else it's a sudden infatuation that's come on and will hopefully fade just as quickly. Do you definitely know that the friend reciprocates? Maybe you're just imagining things because you're not as happy in the marriage as you thought you'd be...
posted by web-goddess at 4:31 PM on October 27, 2005

Follow your head. The grass is alway greener, etc. and so on.

I've been there, done that. You don't want to be that guy.
posted by FlamingBore at 4:35 PM on October 27, 2005

I don't think that sort of tempation should arise in the first year of marriage. At the 7-year-itch point, maybe. The friend sounds like your true match. The way you describe your marriage as "makes sense on paper" sounds like your head has waaaay too much control here. If not only your interests but your vallues are too far apart, then how might you ever raise children together? And if you aren't interested in having children now, you might become that way (not sure how old you are). Better not to delay the inevitable.

The friend might be The One, or she might just be the symptom of a soul-less marriage. Either way you only go around the block once, make it a happy trip. Look after your soul, and your soul will look after you.
posted by Rumple at 4:40 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

I second the comment about emotional adultery.

There is an old tired phrase: "I'm married, not dead." What that means is there will ALWAYS be attractive people out there. Every married person has or will go through this, and the solution is to cut it out before it begins. You do not share your soul with people of the opposite sex you are not married to unless you do so with the full knowlege that the next step can be and usually is the bedroom.

It's time for you to love your wife. By that I mean stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about DOING things that make her happy, that bless her. Start doing more fun things together. The feelings will follow.

This is not meant to be a spanking. Emotions are strong things. But we were never meant to guide our life by them.
posted by konolia at 4:46 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Ditto, "always your head." Ditto, "the grass is always greener."

I'd say the temptation you describe is normal. I've always said, any guy who marries with the expectation that he will never fall in love with another woman is probably too immature for marriage. Some days, it's going to be easy. Other days, it's going to be very much like alcoholism: Every day is a new decision not to drink, and the best you can do is to get yourself to the end of that day.

You say you don't believe in soulmates. That's nice. I agree: I think the notion of soulmates have done more damage to our society than anything else. But then you say this new girl is "the right person" for you. Make up your mind.

That said, consider the possibility that there's more opportunity for growth as a person by denying yourself this temptation than there would be by indulging it.
posted by cribcage at 4:47 PM on October 27, 2005

My first year of marriage wasn't like some, but I know that many people find the upheaval involved in trying to synchronize goals and finding out that you're not necessarily on ALL the same pages extremely stressful. And it can be all too easy to see potential escape hatches all over the place when you're stressed and disoriented, and it could very well be that this friend of yours is just a convenient escape route. I think you need to give it some more time - pick a number, six months, a year, whatever, decide that you will give the relationship your best effort, behave as if you're together for life, keep a journal of regular state of the union updates and see how things change (or don't) over that time.

That said, I'd give the same advice whether you were married or not, I don't think that just being married somehow means you need to work any harder at this relationship than you would any other committed, long-term relationship, marriage is just an agreement, it's not necessarily a life sentence. In other words, if you truly feel that it's over, then it's over, and you should end it, and if you truly feel that this friend is "the one" (and such things do sometimes exist, no matter what people say), then following your head and staying with your wife will make you miserable down the road. Staying in a relationship you're not really that into is worse than being alone, in my opinion. If it's truly your heart speaking (and not your emergency stress alert system telling you to abandon ship by using your friend as an excuse), and being true to yourself means seeing where the friend-relationship leads, then that is what you must do. Staying in a marriage just because it's a marriage is silly (not to mention unfair to everyone involved), but be aware that the added stress of formally "being married" can mean that you may not be seeing things very clearly right now.
posted by biscotti at 4:50 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

The whole "heart vs head" thing is a cliche, not an aid for making life-changing decisions. Whether the temptation is "normal" or not doesn't really matter. You need to be completely honest with yourself and those around you and figure out how you really feel.

Talk to your wife. Seriously, if you're considering divorce, your marriage isn't stable and you need to let her know. Tell her everything. Tell her you love (like?) her a lot, but you're desperately in love with another woman. Let her know what's going on.

Also talk to your friend. Tell her that your friendship is making you consider leaving your wife. She may very well not be ok with that at all!

At this point, once the truth is out there, things will usually work themselves out. Your wife may confess that she's been having a lot of doubts about the marriage too. Trial separation may be called for, or, if it's clear that you don't love each other quite so much, divorce. Or your wife may get really angry and sad because she loves you so much and you've gone and fallen in love with another woman. In this moment, it's you who'll have to decide. But if you do decide your marriage is worth fighting for, you need to fight for it 200%. Don't cut your friend completely out of your life, just tell her you need to put some distance between you and her for the sake of your marriage. You don't have to make this decision completely on your own. Talk to the people involved--as you talk about it, your real feelings will likely come out.
posted by nixerman at 4:53 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

I can't keep my feelings for a friend of mine in check.

Yes you can. You're an adult. You are MARRIED.

There are other people outside of you and Flavor of the Month that will be affected by this. Have you thought about how this may not go down with the two of you prancing off into the sunset with a plate of cupcakes your ex-wife gave you? This is a potential world of hurt and no matter how much you and your friend feed each other's egos, it won't fix the fact that you're a cad and she's a homewrecker.

If your wife pulled this bullshit on you do you think you would be all 'It's ok, honey, you need to follow your heart'?

posted by pieoverdone at 4:55 PM on October 27, 2005 [3 favorites]

I could second what everyone else has said, because a lot of it is very good advice.

But I'm going to say this: follow your heart. Divorce your wife and begin dating this other woman.

I give this advice based solely on your statement that you've mostly lived by your head, never believed in fate etc, etc. If you found someone that makes you believe those things when you've never believed in them before, then go and explore with that person.

Just realize that divorce isn't easy, you'll be hurting someone and your dream girl might turn out to be a disappointment.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:15 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

As someone who's been married, divorced and went through similar feelings, here's my advice. You have two different issues to deal with. Deal with them as separately as possible.

If you make this one issue, it's a big f-up waiting to happen.

1) I don't love my wife. I thought I knew what love was, but I've since been proven wrong.

You have to ask yourself whether or not you really want to be with your wife even without this other woman in the picture. Otherwise, even if you fall desperately in love with girl 2 and everything is perfect and wonderful, it's always an either/or choice, right? Which leads to the serious potential for resentment, regret, bitterness, second guessing yourself, etc., etc. (After all, you were sure of your wife at some point or else you wouldn't have gotten married.)

So, be honest with your wife (nicely). Go to individual therapy and figure out what the heck is going on in your head in regards to your wife, minus girl 2.

2) I'm in love with girl 2.

Are you really? Or are you in love with someone you don't have to balance a checkbook with? Or are you in love with that excited, tingly feeling that comes with someone new, particularly if that person is forbidden and "wrong". Holding out in order to be true to your vows is helluva foreplay that makes things escalate.

Also, some passive-aggressive people can use affairs as chicken exits out of marriage. And if you care about this person at all, you want to demonstrate that you're in love with them and not just the idea of getting out of your functional yet passionless marriage.

Cheating isn't worth it. It isn't. If for no other reason than the guilt, the mistrust by Girl 2 and, this is the big one, cheating will take the pressure off you to get out of a situation you don't want to be in.

If you cheat, then there's no reason to leave your wife. You get the passion you want from one girl, the stability from the wife. And both women get something less than what they probably want. And you screw over two people you care about.

So, put the pressure on yourself to either fix or leave your marriage. Be honest with Girl 2. Be honest with yourself and face what's tormenting you head on.
posted by Gucky at 6:46 PM on October 27, 2005 [2 favorites]

I think you have two problems here, that really shouldn't be solved at the same time.

First, do you love your wife? If no, then you should be honest and start working to move on. If yes, then start working to fix your marriage. It isn't always great and a lot of people who are terrrified of confrontation would prefer to walk away rather than fix. If you are one of those people, you may be seeing your friend as an easy excuse to not have to try and fix your relationship to your wife.

Second, if you have decided to leave your marriage for good, end one relationship before you start another. And before starting another means waiting a longer time than a few months.

As people have stated before, there are a lot of people in the world. You are going to be attracted to them. It doesn't mean that you should jump to a relationship with them every time that happens.

So, cool yer jets. Decide about your current relationship. Then you can decide about future relationships.

As was stated before, don't be "that guy".
posted by qwip at 6:48 PM on October 27, 2005

Also, the person who was my friend, the person who knew me better than anyone else, now lives with me. I'm not saying it has to end in disaster. I believe in following your heart. Just do it the right way for everyone involved.
posted by Gucky at 6:49 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Ah, nerts. What Gucky said.

(stupid J-Runs...)
posted by qwip at 6:50 PM on October 27, 2005

I truly feel that this is the right person for me.

You were already wrong - not just minor wrong, but BAD BAD WRONG - once on this one, and not too very long ago.

You should ignore these feelings and take it as a given that they are also wrong.

What you need to do is twofold:

a) Get right with the current relationship that you are already in. If that means ending it, end it. If that means committing to it, commit to it. If that means posting to Ask AnonyMe, then grow up. You made this problem for yourself. Fix it yourself.

b) Get into therapy and, with professional help, figure out how you botched things so very badly. This will take at least as long as the duration of your marriage.

After you do those things, you can be allowed back into the relationship pool. If by some random fluctuation the person you're into this week is actually the right person for you, she'll wait.

Hmm, I seem to be in agreement with nearly everyone who's posted above me. Imagine that.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:57 PM on October 27, 2005

Two things.

It sounds like you're not following your dick, which is good. We'll take that as a given (it had better be).

So: 1. Your marriage, either way, might be in trouble. Interests and values shouldn't
matter as much as love if you do in fact love each other very much.
Reconciliation is always possible as is compromise. If you truly do love your wife,
than anything else is secondary.

Which leads me to: 2. Are you willing to throw your entire life away for this other woman?
That is - if this other woman doesn't share your values or interests, if being with
her matters to you more than anything else now or that you can forsee, than I would
go with her.

Loving this other woman doesn't give you a license to ignore your responsibilities of course.

I suppose much of that restates what others have said here.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:18 PM on October 27, 2005

Wow. I don't really have an answer for you except to say that I'm nearing the end of my first year of marriage... and if you want to know if this kind of temptation is normal, my limited experience says it's not. The way you describe your feelings for your friend is the way I feel about my husband.

That, and what Rumple said.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:20 PM on October 27, 2005

I ended my second marriage after less than a year for somewhat related reasons. It was terrible and I hated the process and the pain I caused, but in the ten years since have never once regretted my decision. (I lived with the woman I'd fallen in love with while married for three years, but then that broke up.) It was more a question of trusting my gut than following head or heart -- I'd never suggest one or the other is always "right to follow" because either path has potential for disaster, if imbalances are maintained...

I knew there was no conceivable way I could not be with the woman I left my wife for -- knowing that sort of relationship was not just out there in theory but actually happening in my life made my relationship with my wife seem trite. That said, however, the relationship I then entered into was so overwhelming in its passion and feelings of connectedness that I ended up not cultivating enjoyment of the more quotidian aspects of our lives... so the wheel took yet another turn...

Again, I don't regret my decision, and am much the better human being for realizing a great deal more about my inner nature and needs. But I also devastated a woman I did care for very much, and for that I will always carry deep sadness.
posted by rleamon at 7:47 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

What Konolia said - "The feelings will follow". That is the great unspoken truth of long-term relationships.
posted by ascullion at 8:16 PM on October 27, 2005

Anonymous doesn't mention how old they are. I'll probably get some disagreements on this, but I'd suggest the following:

If you're young, follow your heart.
If you're not, follow your head.

Relationships aren't just about passion and commitment. They're also about cleaning up the dishes, bitching about your boss after work, having good conversation while travelling, laughing when you get lost, being on time... in short, lots of little mundane things that must also click in order to survive "the long haul." You can have all the passion in the world, but if you can't find happiness in the boring day-to-day, the relationship will not last. You've got the passion part with Mystery Girl, but you have no clue as to how the both of you would get along day-to-day.

You say that your "interests and your values" don't match. If you love rock climbing and she's love curling up with a good book, that can be worked out. If you're a Republican and she's a Democrat, or you're born-again, and she's a foaming-at-the-mouth athiest, that's probably no good. If you want kids, and she doesn't, that won't work, either. Figure out if those interests and values are actually important enough to get worked up about.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:00 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Just don't take the cowards way out and keep wooing this girl until nature takes its inevitable course and then the inevtiable outcome of infidelity does the messy work of wrecking your marriage for you. Nobody here can tell you if your marriage is worth saving, or if your feelings for your friend are the bonafide article or just a heady blend of intimacy and lust reacting against early marriage blahs. Do the right thing: put things with your friend on hold, tell your wife you're unhappy, and decide with her what to do about it. Get counselling and try to make it work or be a man, ask for a divorce, and deal with the consequences, including the consequence of hurting her. If you keep on as you are you will end up sleeping with your friend. I've never seen an exception in my experience of analogous circumstances.
posted by nanojath at 9:06 PM on October 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Don't read this comment, read Gucky's again.
posted by klangklangston at 2:19 AM on October 28, 2005

1. Tell your wife you want a trial separation.
2. Tell your friend you are in love with her and are getting a trial separation.
3. Wait for both women to run screaming from you...
4. I've never had a difficult year of marriage... I don't know what those people are talking about...
5. I doubt you'll ever love your wife more than you do now... will you ever love your friend less than you do now?

Life is short... be honest about your feelings... if you are hit by a bus tomorrow and and up in a coma or god forbid your friend is... dude, be honest...
posted by ewkpates at 8:58 AM on October 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

Good god.

You know, it takes WORK to have a successful relationship.

Quit being lazy. Do the work.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:28 AM on October 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

i agree that these are two distinct (but obviously connected) problems, and that the grass is always greener. i am particularly aware of the latter... sometimes the fright of commitment can overshadow the otherwise genuine power of a relationship. do not discount this possibility.

but... the way you describe your friend sounds like love. the way you describe your wife sounds like a business partnership. this in itself does not discount the emotional importance of the marriage. does your friend feel the same as you? if so, is there any way that could progress openly without the marriage ending? if not, would you gain more than you lose if you end the marriage and pursue the love affair? a marriage and a passionate love affair are both vital and wonderful things, but they are two pegs that don't always fit in the same hole. don't privilege the marriage just because it's a marriage; don't privilege the idea of a love affair just because it's passionate and mysterious. but don't be a flippin' martyr either.

the only question is what is going to make you happier while maintaining respect for all involved. don't be a coward - though that could go either way.

i also find it thoroughly distressing to see some of the moralising here. there is nothing wrong with having feelings for more than one person. it is quite natural, and common. wrongs are only committed when one manifests one's feelings in a way that is disrespectful and/or unrealistic. as something of an aside, there are many people who live happily and ethically outside the bounds of traditional monogamy. (the key, of course, is that this is done with mutual consent.)
posted by poweredbybeard at 10:06 AM on October 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

i also find it thoroughly distressing to see some of the moralising here. there is nothing wrong with having feelings for more than one person. it is quite natural, and common. wrongs are only committed when one manifests one's feelings in a way that is disrespectful and/or unrealistic.

I believe most everyone who has 'moralized' on this matter has made the very clear and compelling case that the poster is already disrespectful. If his wife were to read his description of how he feels about this other woman and the bonding time he's been spending with her, wouldn't she be upset? Talk of non-monogamous relationships is a MacGuffin - that's not the deal his wife signed up for and you can't negotiate a new deal retroactively.

As other have said, you have seperate issues that will be difficult to actually deal with as seperate issues. Most important: business-esque or not, were you happy with the relationship you have with your wife before this new temptation rolled around? The temptation is appealing in the current abstract but is it going to be something that's going to make you happy long term?

Go get counciling.
posted by phearlez at 12:26 PM on October 28, 2005

Heart. It has a way of working out in the extreme long term. Besides, its better to do something and risk regretting it than to not do something and always wonder if you should have.
posted by Grod at 7:58 PM on October 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

Cut your "close friend" completely out of your life. Start confiding in your wife instead. COMMUNICATE your difficulties to your wife, not to you your "friend." Good luck!

Who's to say the "intense feelings" you feel for the friend will not eventually wear off as well?
posted by cass at 10:34 AM on November 1, 2005

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