Married but fell for a co-worker
August 11, 2014 4:31 PM   Subscribe

I have fallen hard for someone at work. My 18-year marriage has been good, but now that I'm in this place I'm in, I'm seeing things in a different light and I am beginning to question everything. If you've been through this kind of thing before, what has helped you work through it?

I haven't been attracted to anyone else during our marriage until now. Sure, I notice and appreciate attractive women, but I've never really had an interest before now. And wow, am I smitten. We became good friends right away, but over the last couple of months, I have really fallen for her. I think she may have feelings for me, too, but I can't be sure. We've had personal conversations and she has confided in me, but we've never "gone there" or even joked about anything that isn't above-board. I don't want to do anything stupid that could hurt either of us.

Marriage-wise, we aren't currently in need of counseling. Sure, if everything was 100% perfect I wouldn't be in this spot, but this really is pretty much all on me. I would consider talking solo to a therapist, but I'd like to see if the hive mind can help set me straight without taking that step quite yet. Right now I am pretty blinded by my crush/infatuation/love feelings for this co-worker.

What's helped you sort things out and figure out which way is up?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (55 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Having been on the other side of this, he took our emotional relationship and gave it to her. And I knew it. But he would never admit to it. And it destroyed me. Please if you have ever loved your wife find some way to break it to her as gently as possible. Chances are she can sense it already even if you don't think she knows.
posted by Salvation at 4:36 PM on August 11, 2014 [11 favorites]

Realize that you don't just get to pick this woman instead of your wife and that's that. You will seriously fuck up your wife's life, and you have no guarantee that you could have a real relationship with this other woman. Realize that you could very well be completely alone this time next year if you pursue this.

You can acknowledge that you could have had a life with this other person, and then let that life go in favor of the life you already have.

You can't have everything you want all the time. Think about what you'd be sacrificing, and why you think it would be a good idea to sacrifice it. You are almost making it sound like you think you have some obligation to act on your feelings, but you don't.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:38 PM on August 11, 2014 [107 favorites]

A piece of advice that has been passed along generation to generation in my family is that cheating is for the weak and the foolish, and more importantly, the selfish. Any time you choose to indulge in something that will actively end up hurting your partner, you are choosing to put yourself and your needs above everything instead of reconciling with reality. Every kid in my family has had this told to them, and not one of us has cheated on our partners. We value our partners enough to either break up with them, or figure out what needs to happen to make things work again. Ask yourself: are you willing to hurt your partner of 18 years this badly, and if so, why? The why is what matters.
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:39 PM on August 11, 2014 [40 favorites]

Work spouse. It's a thing. It doesn't need to be sexual. Just don't talk to her about your wife, and keep it to work/lunches, and don't drink with her.
posted by empath at 4:41 PM on August 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

if everything was 100% perfect I wouldn't be in this spot

This kind of thinking makes it easy for you to pretend you have no control and this is a thing that is just happening to little old helpless you. No: you have all the control. You know full well that the appropriate thing to do is back off and you are choosing not to.

I'm sure she seems great - you haven't had to pay the bills with her for 20 years. You've never been through a scary trauma with her. You don't have to let her be a fully-rounded person.

If you want to end your marriage, don't be a coward. Go file for divorce right now. End your marriage first and then you worry about the next wife.

If you don't want to end your marriage, you go no-contact. Work communication only. Keep your eyes on your own paper and your hands inside the vehicle. If you are having trouble doing so, consult a mental health professional.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:44 PM on August 11, 2014 [116 favorites]

Sure, if everything was 100% perfect I wouldn't be in this spot,

No. You haven't done anything wrong and it's okay to have a crush but you have to own it - don't excuse yourself into this. Plenty of people in effectively perfect relationships cheat - grass is greener, etc, etc.
posted by ftm at 4:44 PM on August 11, 2014 [15 favorites]

You and your wife are a family. If you indulge in this nonsense you won't be any more.

It's easy to be infatuated because there's no pressure on you. Once you decide to have a relationship with this person it gets real, and it gets real fast.

Right now there's no drama. Keep it that way.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:45 PM on August 11, 2014 [15 favorites]

You're an adult, and everything you do is a choice - nobody "falls in love"; you chose to spend time with this woman and let your feelings for her develop. Now, you can choose to keep working at your real relationship with your actual wife, or you can choose to be the kind of coward who runs off with a rando on a whim. Own your choices and the consequences, and know that this is a situation with a right and wrong choice.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:48 PM on August 11, 2014 [19 favorites]

You can't help who you fall for but you certainly can help what you do about it. Have as little as possible to do with your colleague for six months beyond politeness and the requirements of the job and see how you feel then.

Does the colleague have a partner and / or children? If you do broach the subject, be prepared for them to be horrified or embarrassed - you think they might have feelings for you but perhaps they don't. Be prepared for unpleasantness.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:50 PM on August 11, 2014 [8 favorites]

I remember my mother telling me that during the course of a marriage, it's normal to get crushes and they can feel very powerful. But, in a strong marriage between committed people, the crush is allowed to wither instead of being fed and pampered. Be honest with yourself about the crush and do whatever you can to limit how much you let it develop. It's an attraction with lots of projection and idealization. It's a fantasy. Don't feed it. Let it wither. Don't create a strong emotional connection with this woman. Strong emotional connections with a member of the gender you prefer is fine, as long as there isn't strong physical attraction also in the mix. When you have emotional connection plus strong attraction, you're in emotional affair territory and that mix can easily get out of your control and it can burn your life to the ground.

Nothing will be 100% perfect. Getting to almost perfect takes a lot of work. Constant work. Crushes are attractive because they seem effortless. That's a mirage. As soon as any relationship becomes real, there's no more illusion and you find yourself having to work at it again. Put that effort back into the relationship you're already committed to.
posted by quince at 4:52 PM on August 11, 2014 [41 favorites]

If you really haven't looked at another woman since you got married, you've probably forgotten - on some level - how an infatuation feels and works. You absolutely can be utterly infatuated with someone....and then the infatuation ends. This can happen in the middle of another good relationship. If you aren't a jerk about it and don't start prioritizing your crush over your wife, it's fine. I often think that it might help people to stay in good long-term relationships if everyone acknowledged up front that you can have quite serious crushes on someone-not-your-partner without needing to bust up your primary relationship.

So the point being, you've got a crush. It's okay to have a crush. Don't go out drinking with this woman, don't spend a ton of time with her alone. And when you're with your wife, concentrate on being with your wife - don't be "with" your crush in your head. Don't compare your wife to your crush. And above all, don't really let yourself believe that you can just off-with-the-old...really picture what it would take to break up your marriage, the conversations with your wife, the lawyers, moving, splitting up the furniture, telling your family, maybe selling the house, finding a new place. Picture the parts of your relationship with your wife that are strong, and remember that you'll lose those, and maybe not get them back. Picture trying to negotiate a new relationship with a new person - really picture it. Picture figuring out all the dating stuff that has changed since you were on the market and trying to navigate all that stuff.

Now, maybe this is the world knocking at your door, telling you that it's time to leave a relationship that is already dead...and if that's the case, doing the visualization exercise about divorce may clarify that for you. But in general, these crushes are like getting a momentary urge to quit your job and move somewhere beautiful - entertaining to entertain, but more about a little mental holiday than a serious plan.
posted by Frowner at 4:56 PM on August 11, 2014 [32 favorites]

Feelings aren't facts.

There is no such thing as 100% perfect.

Don't keep secrets from your partner.

Sorry to throw platitudes at you, but they're platitudes that really, really apply to your current situation. I've been in your shoes. Leaving a man who loved me for 8 years to chase a sexy (married) co-worker was the biggest mistake of my entire life. He left his wife and then he totally ruined my life. He ended up blaming me for his divorce; I blame him for my unhappiness. It is my biggest regret. Don't be me.

Cherish your wife. And go to couples counseling. You do need it, as much as you don't want to admit it.
posted by sockermom at 4:56 PM on August 11, 2014 [20 favorites]

I've been married 20 years. I've been there, although not at work. Here's where those vows you took kick in. And here's my advice.

1. Right now, start behaving "as if." Every time you think "wow, I want to make her a playlist of every favorite bridge of mine ever," do that thing or something similar for your wife. Don't mislead your wife that you are gooey in love but...turn that energy back. If it's too weird, do chores instead.

2. Do this for six months and during that time also tell your wife something true about your day every day. You had doubts about your meeting. You worried you are getting jowls. Whatever. Eventually this should lead towards telling her this too, maybe.

3. Once a week, try to do something new together with your wife. (A walk in a new neighborhood or sky diving...whatever, but new. Research backs this.) Also try to laugh together - stream comedies. Again, you are not deceiving her though. You are inviting yourself and her into having a now together.

These three things are to make a true effort in the good relationship you have. Possibly seek therapy too. It is a fine line to deception but...don't try to get her to fall in love with you. Try to fall back in love with her.

If after 6 months you are still not sure you probably have your answer. Then you can ethically talk to your wife first. Then and only then, you can talk to the coworker. Behave ethically.

I've never made it to the part after the reconnection because it's worked.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:57 PM on August 11, 2014 [183 favorites]

Chiming in to agree with the other posters. You can't control how you feel but you can always control how you act. Crushes feel amazing but they don't override the promise you made to your wife of 18 years. Another thing about crushes is their tendency to collapse under their own weight. One day you'll wake up and it will be as though someone had thrown a switch, and all you feel is kind of embarrassed.

Behave honorably, and wait this thing out. It's the only way you'll be able to respect yourself later.
posted by orrnyereg at 5:02 PM on August 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Which way is up?
Well, which way do you want this to go?

Old relationships change, new relationships begin.

You haven't done anything more than have a crush, which happens to pretty much everyone in a relationship at some point in time.

You get to decide your future. You can stay with your wife with this other woman out of your life.
You can stay with your wife with this woman in your life in a non-romantic way, or a romantic way, with or without your wife's permission.
You can leave your wife and this woman may or may not choose to stay in your life.

There is no promise that your life with your wife, with the other woman, with both, or with neither will be any better than any other.

What do you want your life to look like now and in the future?
posted by littlewater at 5:04 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of the prior questions on here about a similar situation suggested that once you tell your spouse or significant other about the crush, the crush loses its power over you since it is no longer forbidden. That really rings true to me. You haven't done anything wrong… yet - tell your spouse now! Don't tell her you've "fallen" for someone else, just say that you have a crush on someone and you know it's stupid but it's driving you crazy. Willing to bet if you can get up the nerve to do this it will lead to conversations that will make your marriage stronger and will completely eradicate the crush. It might seem hurtful (although I think depending on your communication skills, it might not actually be such a bad conversation), but it's way less hurtful than keeping her in the dark if there's any chance you're ever going to act on your feelings.

And if it doesn't end the crush and things go badly, it's not like you'd have lost the option to get a divorce if you have to and see what happens with the other person.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:10 PM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

You might like to read this comment, from a previous thread along similar lines.
posted by Quilford at 5:22 PM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

More than anything: Do not do anything stupid and wreck your life over THINKING that some woman you have become fond of, who has not openly expressed both physical and emotional attraction to you in actual words, is going to be in love with you just because you've decided you're in love with her.

Love is the thing you fall in AFTER you get romantically involved, not when your level of involvement so far is just that she's had some conversations with you of the type that she has with female just-friends all the time. And believe me, no matter how personal you think it is, it's almost certainly something she wouldn't have blinked at telling other friends. Most of my friends are guys and I realize that guys don't seem to do this as much, but female socialization does run towards thinking that it's normal non-romantic conversation to talk about your hopes, dreams, feelings, relationships, and, hell, bodily functions with anybody who seems even vaguely receptive. We're also generally trained not to do this with guys for fear of Giving The Wrong Idea, but sometimes that slips and it would be way easier not to have to worry about The Wrong Idea in favor of men just trusting that no, really, if she wanted to be with you, she would say so.

This is not to say she might not be open to dating you if you were available, but your feelings clearly go far beyond "oh she seems nice and I'd ask her out if I weren't married", and yet hers almost certainly don't, and there's your big flashing warning light. I am not straight and I'm not pretty and I've still had to find ways to let men down gently more times than I am at all comfortable with, because of the assumption that behavior I thought of as "friendly" constituted proof of destined romance.
posted by Sequence at 5:28 PM on August 11, 2014 [14 favorites]

Tell your wife ASAP. I read you not wanting to go to couples' counseling as basically an excuse to not tell your wife. This is understandable; you don't want to hurt her and you don't want to have your work life affected. However, your wife deserves to know about something that is really this intense that is going on in your life. And you'll feel better too, I promise.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:37 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Memail me.
posted by Marinara at 5:39 PM on August 11, 2014

It's called limerence and it's effectively a form of temporary insanity. It does not last. Do not make any decisions while in the throes of limerence -- you are currently as irrational as you would be if you were snorting coke every day. Seriously, people experiencing limerence have the same brain chemistry and MRI readings as someone on cocaine.

Just like how drugs feel good in the short run but can destroy your life in the long run, limerence feels good in the short run but can destroy your life in the long run. Limerence exists because we evolved to reproduce, not to be happy or ethical. If you want to be happy and ethical, you need to resist it.

You should start looking for another job, and in the interim, avoid this woman. Continuing to be around her is like nurturing a cocaine addiction in terms of the effects it will have on your brain chemistry, your relationships with others (including your wife), and your general life stability.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:05 PM on August 11, 2014 [25 favorites]

Marriage-wise, we aren't currently in need of counseling.

When I read this line of your question I thought: "Here's the solution he's most afraid of" - why is that? With all due respect, I think you're wrong about there being no "need" for counseling here (and check your own prejudices against counseling). Your marital situation as you've described it to us here actually sounds absolutely perfect for counseling - because you haven't irrevocably fucked it up yet although you're getting dangerously close. Things aren't toxic yet. The trust is still there.

If you want it to be, your marriage totally can be saved and probably even vastly improved from ok/good to amazing. You can get past this IF you do your personal work. The idea for a next step that seems to most scare you - marriage counseling/getting your true feelings out there and your authentic you finally being heard by your wife - why not be brave enough to lean into that?
posted by hush at 6:06 PM on August 11, 2014 [13 favorites]

I am not married and have never been, but I have been in committed long-term relationships, and I think the advice to tell your wife is selfish. Not nearly as selfish or destructive as having an affair, of course, but unecessarily hurtful. You get to lay down your emotional burden, she gets a mind-fuck. This is of those areas where you should preserve a boundary. Get over your crush yourself and/or with the help of a therapist, don't lay it at her feet.
posted by prewar lemonade at 6:07 PM on August 11, 2014 [16 favorites]

To clarify - telling your wife about the crush is unhelpful, because, unlike other issues in the relationship, there is nothing she can usefully do with that information. She can't uncrush you, and asking her for understanding or empathy would be pretty unfair. She can 't even forgive you, because outside of telling her, you haven't done anything wrong yet! It's on par with telling her you find her unattractive while she's ill. It's all about your feelings, and you aren't wrong for feeling them, but you don't need to share all of them with your partner.
posted by prewar lemonade at 6:18 PM on August 11, 2014 [23 favorites]

You know how when you've done something you seriously painfully regret you just wish you could turn back time, press rewind, undo everything, erase the whole thing, have a new fresh chance, and this time you won't fuck it up you'll do it right I promise I swear?

Well, congratulations! Time has been rewound. The Earth has been turned backwards, just this once, as a miracle for your benefit. You have a second chance.

Despite all the reproaches above, you haven't actually done anything yet. You haven't "gone there," as you say, you haven't had an affair, you haven't spilled your guts to this other woman, you haven't let the cat out of the bag about this infatuation, you haven't betrayed your wife. This is great news. You don't have to fuck this up.

All the scolding in this thread? It's directed at your doppelgänger, the unfortunate man who thrilled to his crush and then caved and had this emotional and possibly sexual affair with this other work lady, and who was shell-shocked with guilt when his wife found out, and who begged the gods to hit rewind and give him a do-over, even though do-overs don't exist in real life.

Have the relief and gratitude of a man who's been given a magical one-time use of the back button. You are free now. Go love your wife. Think about the value of 18 years together, how precious and enviable that is, how it cannot be bought at any price. Congratulations on your many years together; here's to many more.
posted by ms.codex at 6:21 PM on August 11, 2014 [85 favorites]

Well, you are near to the edge. Tread carefully, some things you can't walk back from.

Review your own life experience here. You're in your 40s, probably. You've seen several marriages break up. Ever seen a divorce that wasn't ugly? How about ones that started with an affair? Don't expect your divorce to be different.

How do you like lying? I've seen a few affairs. Every one I've seen has the cheater lying, and then lying to cover up the lies, and then lying to cover up the cover ups. Lies stacked on lies stacked on lies. Even if you don't think of yourself as a particularly honest person, you'll be sickened by the end of it. If you do think of yourself as honest now, I hope you're ready to give that part of your identity up forever.

What do you think the odds of a successful relationship with this woman are, if it's born from a bed of lies and the betrayal of someone who trusts you? I've never seen an affair go on to become a successful marriage afterward.

In general, even without lies or cheating, how many successful relationships do you see others starting up? Most relationships fail, period. You have an 18 year marriage. Most people will never achieve this. Your marriage isn't 100% perfect because no marriage is. Imperfect though it may be, I advise not throwing it away a successful long term marriage over a work crush.

If you're determined to do this thing, divorce your wife first. Still foolish, but you can at least hang on to some integrity that way.

You obviously are wavering. Some part of you still wants to keep your marriage. Take some time--maybe some time off work, your marriage is important enough for this--and make up your mind what you're going to do.

If you decide to keep your marriage, I agree with others that you should tell your wife about this crush. This is not to hurt your wife. It is about committing to the path where you are telling your wife the truth, and not keeping naughty little secrets that you kinda sorta wish might actually go somewhere someday.
posted by mattu at 6:38 PM on August 11, 2014 [13 favorites]

Yeah, telling her will hurt her, but continuing to lie to her is going to hurt her more. She notices something being wrong already, guaranteed, and maybe she thinks she's getting old or boring or that you just aren't into her or that maybe that one time she had a cold and blew her nose all gross killed the spark or...
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:40 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Sure, if everything was 100% perfect I wouldn't be in this spot, but this really is pretty much all on me.

You're married. You have someone who volunteered to have it not be all on you. So talk to your spouse about what's going on with you.

No, it won't be easy, fun or painless. But, it'll be honest. When all this is in the past (and it will be), you can look back and say you were honest with yourself and the person who agreed to be by your side.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:43 PM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's called limerence and it's effectively a form of temporary insanity.

Yep! We think of "crush" as being something silly that happens to 15-year-olds, but it is a fucking powerful set of emotions. However - it is going to subside. This wonderful, perfect, amazing person will say or do something that will chip away at the fantasy (and it IS a fantasy) that you have built up in your mind. And then the overwhelming emotions you're feeling now will fade and dissipate. You just have to pull your shit together and hang on until that happens.

The advice to tell your wife about the crush is very much a YMMV situation. For some couples, this works. It works best if partners are secure in themselves and secure in the relationship. You know your wife - if her response would be some good-natured teasing, then by all means tell her. If you think she might be prone to catastrophizing the situation, avoid it. In either case, you can take the powerful emotional and sexual energy you're feeling and redirect it toward her. Have more and/or better sex. Be considerate. Bring flowers/dinner/wine/etc.

Most importantly - know that these feelings are temporary, and will pass. It doesn't feel like it now, but they will.

I'm something of a serial limerent, and I've learned to identify those feelings, feel them, and not act on them. Every time it feels like the FUCKING TRUTH has been revealed, but then it passes, and I'm back to normal. Hormones are powerful. But they don't have to be the boss.
posted by jeoc at 6:59 PM on August 11, 2014 [9 favorites]

Congratulations on not kidding yourself - too much. I see a lot of threads similar to this where the first stage is one denies that there's anything sexual about the crush. "I just really like him/her a lot! We really click at work!"

The good news is - this crush will end if you don't feed it. Until it does, don't hang out, don't socialize -- you can be friendly and polite, but don't cultivate opportunities, nay, AVOID situations where you're going to lunch or otherwise being alone together. Make your confidante your wife, not your co-worker. That might be good advice even without the crush, as one never knows when that can come back to bite you.

You'll know when it's over, and it will be over sooner than you think. One day whatever hormonal weirdness kicks these things off will subside and this person will just seem like a normal human being again. You can come out on the other side with an intact marriage (and even friendship with the subject of this crush), or you can destroy your marriage and maybe your career.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:01 PM on August 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Please visit the following site and read about how betrayed spouses feel when they find out about an affair: It's not a pretty sight.

And, I'm sure you know cheating is wrong, etc., etc. What I'll tell you is that tomorrow is my fourteenth wedding anniversary. My wife and I have been to hell and back and everything in between. She's been a member of a cult. I've been completely clueless. But we've not cheated on each other. Why does that matter? Well, she and I have an intimacy that nobody else is a part of (maybe God, I guess) -- I don't mean sexual intimacy, but rather an intimacy of knowing each other through some good times and some bad times, through each of us growing in ways we couldn't even imagine (or sometimes like). I wouldn't want anyone else to be a part of that.
posted by learnsome at 7:05 PM on August 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Memail me, if you'd like. I have an experience here I'd rather not share publicly.
posted by AthenaPolias at 7:20 PM on August 11, 2014

I was in your place. What did I do and how did it end? Memail me.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 7:58 PM on August 11, 2014

18 years vs. a few months.

Think about that.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:07 PM on August 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm torn as to whether or not you should tell your wife, but I do think you should tell someone, and not just us. It doesn't have to be a therapist, although that probably wouldn't hurt, but maybe a close friend, someone who you can talk to in person and obviously someone you can trust enough that you know they'll keep your conversation completely private. Sometimes these feelings need to see the light of day before they start to lose their power. Beyond that ...

Feelings aren't facts.

Repeat this to yourself as often as necessary. If your brain starts to wander off into "crush land," remind yourself that this is just one emotion out of many that ebbs and flows like everything else.

And then go home and do something nice for your wife.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:06 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can collect a handful of personal stories from people here, but I'd suggest you tap into a much bigger data pool to really get some perspective, and do so with the help of professionals.


First, make an appointment with a divorce attorney. Sit with them, and with their help, estimate the cost of dissolving your marriage. Do this with serious intent, as if you were actually about to initiate the process. Don't cheap out on some rinky-dink attorney, either: pay what it takes to get a proper consult with one of the big dogs.

Second, make an appointment with a therapist or marriage/family counselor. Run the possibility of a workplace affair (emotional and/or physical) by them, and pick their brain to get their expert perspective on the fallout that goes along with an affair: short-term, medium-term, and long-term. This is their bread and butter; they've seen it and heard it thousands of times, and can give you a head's up on what some of the typical outcomes are (and while you may think your crush is atypical and special, it isn't -- and hearing that from someone who has data to back it up might help give you clarity). Again, spend big on this consult -- get a recommendation for someone who is super experienced in this area, and pay them whatever it takes to see you.

This due diligence will at least keep your head a little anchored in reality, while your loins and emotions tug you toward the fantasy. You'll at least know better what you might be getting yourself into before you do anything else with your co-worker.

And, as always, it's a best practice NOT to talk about personal issues with colleagues, whether or not you're attracted to them. It's unprofessional, and other people pick up on it (you may think you are being discreet, but I can guarantee that someone is already sniffing your emo vibe...).
posted by nacho fries at 9:58 PM on August 11, 2014 [7 favorites]

Crushes are fine, but ultimately, this is not really about this woman you met at work who you don't really know super-well. It's about you.

Figure out what you really want, what this lady represents to you. To be noticed? To be desired? The lovely thrill of discovering a connection with someone? A new friend with common interests that your wife doesn't share? Something else?

It is okay to be excited and a little infatuated over new friendships. It is not okay to go all zero-sum game and think that you need to question your marriage over it. If you need to displace your wife in order to enjoy a friendship with this coworker, then you and your wife have some stuff to work out before you are ready to engage in healthy relationships with other women.

I say this as someone who has strong friendships with men who are not my husband. I am by no means conservative on the issue of opposite-sex friendships outside of one's marriage.
posted by desuetude at 11:00 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Eighteen years married? So you are 40-ish, the time of regretting what you (think) you have missed, and telling your selfish self that you are going to grab happiness. It is called midlife crisis, and you are not the first or last to suffer it. Some times people in your situation are encouraged to make a list of what problems an affair or divorce would solve, and what problems an affair or divorce would cause. For you and for all your family. Also for your inamorata.
posted by Cranberry at 1:04 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

now that I'm in this place I'm in, I'm seeing things in a different light and I am beginning to question everything.

I think this is a really good thing, and it's what therapy is for. 18 years of things being basically good can lead to a bit of complacency and taking a good thing for granted, but it can also lead to ignoring some things you're unhappy with because you've so much invested in the relationship - love, shared history, plans for the future, etc. Give yourself a chance in solo therapy to be brutally honest with yourself about the relationship you already have. It might be that you realise there are some things that you've been compromising on that you imagine would be different with the new person. Now's the time to realise them, and to decide if they're fixable and how to fix them. At that point you could consider couple's therapy. If you come to the conclusion that actually there are things that aren't right and will never be right, you have the chance to make a decision about what to do. To stay anyway because you love your wife and have a "good enough" relationship, or to decide that you want something more from life. At this point you need to be really honest with her though, and definitely resolve things with her before you start something else. I am speaking from experience of not having done these things in the right order, and it's what I wish I knew then.

People have this thing of it's not real love, people don't just fall in love etc, but I always wonder if those people have actually experienced it. Yes you can just fall in love, and sometimes it's real and not just a crush or limerance or whatever, and either way when you're in the middle of it it just feels so very overwhelming and all-encompassing that it can be a painful thing to manage. There's a lot of confusion and angst, so be kind to yourself. You haven't done anything and you're trying to figure out the right way. That's really great. Only you know what's going on inside you so don't think that what you're feeling should be dismissed by people who've never met you. Nature abhors a vacuum and if this woman fulfils a need in you then you need to find out what that need is and see if you can meet it at home. But you know, sometimes people just fall in love with another person and decide that their future is going to be different. Yes it's selfish, in that you're putting your needs first, but that's not always the worst thing in the world. Settling for something that isn't truly what you want and making someone slowly miserable over the course of the next 18 years can be selfish in it's own way. But you're not at that stage yet so you still have the freedom of sorting things at home and one day looking back at this as the catalyst that turned a good marriage into a really great one, with honesty and no hidden resentments.

Just whatever you do, do not say anything at all to the other person, because at that point it can take on a life of it's own and the speed will completely disorient you.

Please feel free to memail me.
posted by outoftime at 2:18 AM on August 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's called limerence and it's effectively a form of temporary insanity. It does not last. Do not make any decisions while in the throes of limerence -- you are currently as irrational as you would be if you were snorting coke every day. Seriously, people experiencing limerence have the same brain chemistry and MRI readings as someone on cocaine.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:05 PM on August 11
Go back up and read her comment. It is where it's at. I'd favorite it 17,849 times if I was able. It is Capital T Truth; she's got it nailed. She's defined it exactly. Go back and read it again. And then again.

Not that the knowledge is going to free you from the euphoria -- limerance can only be disciplined, and endured. It's like a hot-air balloon filling up to drag you off, you'd best run around that balloon tearing huge rents in it, anything to keep it from dragging you off then dumping you in a desert or an icy ocean. But no matter how many holes you can rip into it, that sucker is still a danger.



Telling you to tell your wife? I just don't get that one. Why rock her boat? This is your temporary insanity/inanity, you need not drag her into it.

You're not bad, you're not wrong. You've got bit by the love-bug, that's all, and too bad that the love-bug doesn't have an outrageously painful, debilitating sting that rots parts of your flesh like those 3 inch super wasps somewheres in Asia. No, the sting of the love-bug is an outrageously pleasurable, debilitating sting that rots parts of your life.



1. Right now, start behaving "as if."
2. Do this for six months and during that time also tell your wife something true about your day every day.
3. Once a week, try to do something new together with your wife.

posted by warriorqueen at 6:57 PM on August 11
How to recover your footing before parts of your life start rotting and falling off? Go back up and read warriorqueen, who has given us words that are as good as gold, and if you follow her words you will be good as gold, too. She's got a three-part how-to that is totally good sense. And it'll bust that damn limerance to rags and dust.


Your crush is just another human being. She ate today, she maybe took a run in the park, maybe she is rubbing her husbands shoulders right now, or rubbing him somewheres else, or alternating between those. Likely she pooped today, maybe there wasn't any toilet paper in the john and she called to her sweetie to bring her some from the bag o' stuff they grabbed earlier at walmart, he did it and then ran fast, in horror, shock and awe.
/anecdote Or maybe there isn't any tp in the house at all, no napkins either, nothing, she's stuck on the john while he drives over to the stop-n-go to buy some -- that happened to me, and my ex was in a big hurry, at my request, and she got pulled over, and her and that cop laughed their asses off after she told him what was up, she holding up that toilet paper in that cops flashlight glare; I bet that son of a bitch is still laughing at me. It's left me wounded. /end anecdote

Any-old-ways, your crush is just another kid on the bus, and not your life partner. I've had plenty of crushes but I've never had a life partner, and I sure wanted it, and I sure tried, I played house a couple of times but not ever close to what you're living -- I can hold forth on just exactly how goddamn lucky you are.



You wanted hive mind, you've got hive mind. Consensus is overwhelming. Knock it off. Dust off your discipline, wear it like armor. Look yourself in the eye -- no kidding, head to the mirror -- ask yourself dead on: do you really want to be that cliche?


Take your wife to dinner tomorrow night, hold her hand when you walk to the table. Reach out and hold her hand some, just a little, as you eat, and as you talk. When she looks up at you with a wtf? kiss your index finger, reach across and touch it to the back of her hand, and wink at her. It'll be fun. Don't talk about her no-account brother who isn't paying back that money like he's supposed to, don't talk about politics, don't talk about anything heavy. If you say one goddamn word about weight gain or calories or carbs we will all come and kick your shins. Don't look at the prices, eat exactly what you really want to eat, make sure you let her know you're going to buy (insert whatever here) so she'll do the same. Enjoy your dinner with your wife. Enjoy the company of the very best friend you've ever had, the very best friend you ever will have.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:26 AM on August 12, 2014 [12 favorites]

How about ethical non monogamy? A few offhand suggestions -

Step out of the monogamy framework, with your wife's consent, and your crush's. Difficult. Not available to everyone, based on their circumstances. Honestly I wouldn't fuck anyone where I work, but YMMV.

Write dirty stories about your crush. Do not share them.

Get a crush on someone else.

Tell your wife about your crush in a sexy way. Again, not available to everyone. I have a crush on somebody at the moment, it is total limerence, but I live in a social framework where I can tell my husband about it and it is just slightly interesting conversation.

There are therapists who are open to these things, but you have to screen for them.
posted by Mistress at 3:45 AM on August 12, 2014

If it were me, I would want to know if my spouse had a crush. I would want to know IF my spouse were telling me as a first step in dealing with and moving on from it. Your wife knows you well, I'd say the likelihood of her sensing something's off is relatively high, and if I were her that would eat me up inside.

A few months of crush with no outward reciprocation (thank goodness) is not something you want to risk your marriage for.

These things happen. We're all kidding ourselves if we think this sort of thing isn't going to happen in a LTR. But it's how you handle it that matters. So if you want to kill this crush, step one would be to confess and get thee to counselling.
posted by scuza at 4:32 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

What worked for me is realizing that I was crushing on an idealized "The way we interact the X hours a week we interact together OBVIOUSLY means that we would interact the EXACT same way the other 100+ hours of the week if we were in a relationship together!" version of the person.
posted by Lucinda at 6:14 AM on August 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Tell your wife about your crush vs. don't tell your wife about your crush - I agree with all of the advice to do the former, and here's why. Some folks mistakenly think marriages are these super fragile things, where one needs to engage in a lot of rosy bullshit fakery and manage their spouse with kid gloves, as if the spouse has the emotional intelligence of a child -- "Oh of course I am only attracted to YOU, honey, I mean, I don't even notice other attractive people!" Who for a moment actually believes that? Please.

It is a sign of maturity when a married couple can mutually recognize that Yes, of course, there are other attractive people out there, and we are actively choosing time and again to be with each other. A marriage worth being in is one where you can feel safe enough to reveal your true, authentic self (warts and all) to your chosen one, and vice versa. Telling a spouse about a crush does not have to be this big awful thing. It can be done with kindness and love. Have faith. This is a bit counterintuitive - telling and talking through your feelings about a crush actually takes away it's power, and, if done thoughtfully (this is where a therapist can be helpful), can actually create even more trust with your wife.

My DH and I (we're hetero) know exactly who the crushy people are both at each others' workplaces, and in our friend group, and we are much stronger for it.
posted by hush at 8:12 AM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Affairs and relationships do not start with nothing. It starts small, simple talks first, a quick hi and bye, then develops into more conversation, more trust, more sharing and before you know it you are having an emotional relationship. You should know the boundaries and most likely you ignored those. So here you are. It is time to back off, set up those boundaries in place (assuming you think your marriage is more important than this "smitten" phase that you are in). If you could cut off contact with her that would be good, if not, start being reserved and avoiding unnecessary contact. All of this presumes that you want to save your marriage.
posted by jellyjam at 12:23 PM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you've been through this kind of thing before, what has helped you work through it?

I'm not a man, and I'm currently not married, but here's how:

I remember I'm married (or in a committed monogamous relationship). I think about how betrayed and sick I would feel if my partner cheated on me. I think about how I do not want to hurt anyone like that. I think about how I want to feel about myself, and I do not want to feel guilty, and I do not want to lie. I think about how it destroyed my mother when my father cheated on her and left her for a woman he worked with. This makes it easy to resist temptation.

In fact, I managed to resist temptation through the last four miserable, celibate years of my marriage to an alcoholic, when I had the urge, the opportunity, and a damn good excuse. I didn't cheat because of all the reasons above. I'm glad and proud that I didn't.

Coming from the other side of the question, as a woman who has been cheated on (by a different husband, and yes, he did it with someone from work), I know you haven't done it (yet) and are trying (I hope) not to, but:

This is something I have never and will never understand - how men can cheat on their partners, and then say something like, "It just happened." No, it did not "just happen." You did it. Own it. You're not at the mercy of your sexual and emotional urges. You're not a three-year-old who can't stop eating candy. You are an adult and you are in control of your actions, and you are responsible for the consequences of those actions. Just because you really really want to and and you have the opportunity and OMG it's so exciting! does not mean you are helpless to stop it from happening. Men should expect better of themselves.

Thanks, I just wanted to get that off my chest.
posted by caryatid at 5:10 PM on August 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is something I have never and will never understand - how men can cheat on their partners, and then say something like, "It just happened." .... Men should expect better of themselves.

I have heard women say the exact same thing. I think you're being pretty hugely unfair to men on this one.

Anyway, OP you are going through something a LOT of married people go through. You just need to do the right thing here. This isn't something you NEED to act on, nor is it something you SHOULD act on. You need to take agency in this and be very clear that you 1000% have control over what happens next. You get to choose. Your emotions don't have the power to hijack your life unless you give them that power.

Be grown up and respectful enough to not let feelings hijack your life. If you sincerely want a divorce (independent of this other woman) then address that maturely and respectfully.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:12 AM on August 13, 2014

Mod note: From the OP:
Wow. You have no idea how much you've helped me. I knew I needed to get this out of my head and into a real space somehow, and without a IRL person I was ready to confide in, I threw this out there. Seriously, it's been an amazing help. More than you know, and even more than I thought (although I've been around here a while and seen some amazing things).

I was feeling pretty desperate when I put this out there. Your replies hit me right when and how I needed them to. All of them, the ones that said I'm an OK guy dealing with things that a lot of people deal with and the ones who called me out as behaving like a self absorbed POS even though that's not how you phrased it - all of you are right at least a little bit. Part of me wants to go through point by point and explain and address everyone's responses but I know that's not what ask.metafilter is for.

I feel like I owe a little clarification and response, though. Maybe you've all sobered me up from this or maybe I sounded a bit farther gone than I really am, but I feel like I'm not quite as close to the brink as I might have made some of you feel. Telling my wife about this is not a solution here now. As prewar_lemonade said, it takes my problem and makes it hers, with nothing she can do to resolve it. That would just sit there, and it would always be there. Maybe I deserve this hanging around my neck for the rest of my days, but she does not. It's not bad advice, it's just not a fit here, at this point (and hopefully I keep myself together & it never will be necessary). She may sense that I'm crushing on this work girl, but she doesn't know how it's had me tied up in knots - because some other work stuff has had me tied up in knots that's totally legit and she does know about. If she asks me, I will admit that there's a crush. I'm flattered by this girl's friendship and she's done a lot to help me at work (not based on any feelings she may or may not have for me), she's just a good person, we are good friends, and she's shared her knowledge and connections in a way that's really boosted my career.

The non-starter of couples counseling is based on the same thing - this isn't my wife's fault, her or our marriage's flaws didn't lead to this. I led myself here. If we need counseling in the future, I'm wide open and willing to do it, but at this point it's not time. I will see a therapist on my own if I need it. And, like I knew I needed your help, I think I will know if I need to talk to someone IRL. I have the number saved.

I know some see this as midlife crisis, but there's nothing wrapped around this other than this. I am in a good place in every other way, although, yeah, statistically speaking, it's mid-life. I actually think all of the positivity in my life has sort of let this get to me in a weird way that's decidedly not midlife crisis (no, this isn't just me trying to be cool and different, I really think this is a true one-off).

I'm committed to remaining friends with this co worker. I know, you're all thinking WTF, we've all given you good advice, and you're just throwing it to the wind and you're going to keep hanging out with her and you'll F up, but I owe her this continued friendship too, at the very least not weirding out and avoiding her for no apparent reason. Sure, I will back off and let it fade out if that's what's going to happen, but there are some work details that I won't go into here that add to the rationale of not just cutting our friendship off. You just gotta trust me on that one (and I know how ironic it is that I'm asking for trust, given the circumstances...). There are also some work details that will make this easier in the near future. This person is important to me, and I owe it to her not to turn our friendship into a weird, creepy mess.

I hope my reply doesn't seem like a lot of "Thanks, but no thanks." And I hope it doesn't seem like a flippant, "Thanks, it's all good now." This will be hard for me but it's something I can do, and I'm able to do it largely because of your help. I was in a dark place a few days ago (remember, there's a little lag with anon posts) but my outlook has improved. I want to go through and favorite all of your comments, but better safe than sorry. Those of you who offered up a Memail exchange, I may hit you up. I am in a better place now, and I really, really think I am going to make it OK.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:03 PM on August 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can see yours and prewar lemonade's point about telling your wife, certainly, but to make a counterpoint - you say it's not her problem, but isn't it? It's a problem she has that she doesn't know about, even if it's not her fault that it exists. And if telling her would really make the crush lose its power, doesn't she potentially have the ability to help you resolve the problem?

Anyway, best of luck. Do whatever you've gotta do.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:24 PM on August 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

From an anonymous commenter:
Hey Anonymous,

your question really resonated with me for many reasons, and I just want to add my two cents.

I am basically your coworker (well, not really, but you know what I mean). I'm single and nice and a good person ;) and I have had married people develop crushes on me, and had my share of crushes on married people. Part of it is that I tend to be a little intense and over-sharey, and sometimes a connection develops quicker than any of us intended. Nothing ever happened, thankfully, not even close - but I have given this topic a lot of thought, believe me, and I do want to say some things to you.

The first and most important one - you do not really "owe" continued friendship to this coworker. What you do owe her, is to not endanger her career and good standing at work, and in her social circle. If you do cross boundaries, even if there is no full-blown affair or betrayal, people will talk, and this might endanger your reputation, and hers.

Second, it doesn't seem from your update that you really decided to do anything about this problem. The only conclusions I see is that 1) you won't tell your spouse 2) you are "committed to continuing this friendship". The way I read this, you got a little scared, got a little wake-up call, but you value this friendship too much to give up on it easily. I totally, completely get this - but, the thing is, without some safeguards in place, you might end up slipping one day, and why risk that?

So, my suggestion is

- Tell someone IRL as soon as possible, preferably today. This person should be non-judgemental and "on your side" BUT also on the side of your marriage. Someone who values fidelity and who will support your marriage.

- Create accountability. Think about what boundaries are reasonable in this situation, and discuss them with your "accountability partner". For some people, this "accountability partner" might in fact be their own spouse, but if you cannot bring yourself to confide in her right now, you can ask someone else - therapist? clergy person? it needs to be someone who would never, ever question your marriage.

- Take a step back. There is ebb and flow in every friendship, and it doesn't mean you are giving up on the friendship. Do not make it into a big deal, but cool it off for a few weeks to months. You can tell the friend that you are a little off and sorry but you are dealing with some stuff right now and might be a little less communicative for a while. Also think about what that means - no lunches together? (don't announce this, just be less available), no personal discussions for a while (if so, what does that mean? what topics will be off-limits?), no personal emails? - really figure this out

- Distract yourself. Don't be mopey. Get enthusiastic about something new.

- Get new, fun experiences with your wife.

- The best part? If you play it right, and your crush subsides, you will look at yourself in the mirror every day, and smile. Oh, and a bonus point? It's entirely possible, that you will be able to have a real, solid, no-undertones friendship with your coworker sometime in the future. With zero guilt, and zero regrets... if a little less exciting than it seems to be right now. How will you know? You will know when it's no longer a big deal for you whether you remain friends or not.

Best of luck!
And congrats on having a solid marriage of 18 years! That's really, really something - and I bet your wife must be REALLY cool.
posted by taz at 2:32 AM on August 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm committed to remaining friends with this co worker. I know, you're all thinking WTF, we've all given you good advice, and you're just throwing it to the wind and you're going to keep hanging out with her and you'll F up, but I owe her this continued friendship too, at the very least not weirding out and avoiding her for no apparent reason.

Man, if I was your wife and I read your question, and then this follow-up? I'd divorce you so hard and fast it would make a noise like a jet breaking the sound barrier.

Honestly, I think asking this question and reading the answers has been something of a release valve to the stress of this situation, but it doesn't appear that you'd made any real headway into dealing with the actual problem. Which is fine, really. Most people who find themselves in this aren't going to be able to find themselves out of it in a few short days, but stop fooling yourself into thinking everything is ok now. It's not.
posted by Dynex at 12:35 PM on August 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

> The first and most important one - you do not really "owe" continued friendship to this coworker. What you do owe her, is to not endanger her career and good standing at work, and in her social circle. If you do cross boundaries, even if there is no full-blown affair or betrayal, people will talk, and this might endanger your reputation, and hers.

THIS, a thousand gallons thereof. I've been in both her position and yours, and it is amazing how quckly people will start to speculate. If you want to be a friend -- a true friend, not just a mutual crush -- the kindest, most honorable, and friendliest thing you can do is to cool things off!

Also, I didn't see this recommended upthread much, but something that works for me is to talk in positive terms about my partner to my crush -- something awesome Partner did, plans Partner and I have made, things Partner and I did together. It's my way of mentally reinforcing to myself "these are the reasons I love Partner; and you, Crush, are a friend, whom I can tell about all the reasons I love Partner," and it has the added benefit of making my priorities clear to the crush. When others are around, it also combats some of the speculative gossip. But speaking only in positive terms is KEY. You can talk about relationship problems with neutral third parties (therapists, family, friends you aren't attracted to [or they you]), but never, ever to a crush. It's a sort of fake-it-till-you-make-it strategy -- I find if I start behaving the way I did when I was crushing on my partner, my head sorts itself out, and I can take the emotional excitement and channel it into something productive.

(I am also fortunate to have a partner whom I can tell about my crushes, and who will then tease me as if I were a 15yo about it. There is no faster antidote.)
posted by Westringia F. at 7:06 AM on August 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Telling my wife about this is not a solution here now.
Yeah, I agree with this. I think you give it another six months, a year, see how things are - hopefully this is a memory at that point - and then you consider talking about it with your wife. I don't think that it's the time to tell her.

I'm flattered by this girl's friendship and she's done a lot to help me at work...
Being flattered... that's an interesting way to describe a friendship. Flattery is like wine - it exhilarates you for a moment, but then it goes to your head (as Helen Rowland said). Flattery sounds dangerous to me. "Flattery is like a cigarette - it's alright if you don't inhale," said Adlai Stevenson. I might think about this emotion that you associate with the friendship. Why do you feel flattered?

she's just a good person, we are good friends
How do you know she's a good person? That's a huge claim for someone that you know pretty superficially. Good people show their character over time - long, long swaths of time, in many different contexts. Is she a good person, or do you think and assume she's a good person? And does it matter if she's a "good person" or not? Why?

If we need counseling in the future, I'm wide open and willing to do it, but at this point it's not time. I will see a therapist on my own if I need it.
Here's the thing with therapy: I used to think it was for people who were sick, people who had mental problems that needed a lot of professional help and intervention in order to get "right." I was wrong. Therapy is so valuable if for no other reason than it's an opportunity to talk with a completely objective human about yourself. A therapist has no horse in the race that is your life. They also have a lot of experience; they've seen it all. They've seen marriages collapse. They've seen people with harmless crushes work it out. They've seen everything in between. They've got experience that you don't have, and they have an objective view. I still think that therapy would be a great idea for you - what do you have to lose? Why not try it? What is stopping you? You don't have to be in crisis to get help with figuring out things in your life.

I owe her this continued friendship too, at the very least not weirding out and avoiding her for no apparent reason.
You've set up a false dichotomy here: you either have to continue your friendship as is, which allows you to nurture your crush; or, you have to go cold turkey and avoid her and weird her out. There are other options: you could be friendly but not go out of your way to talk to her. "Oh, Susie, I am so busy lately! Things are just wild in accounting! It's so great to see you though!" You've shut out the option of being friendly without being friends. Why is that?

I am in a better place now, and I really, really think I am going to make it OK.
Who are you trying to convince? Us, who don't really need convincing? Or yourself?
posted by sockermom at 9:45 AM on August 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

My husband could have written this question a year and a half ago. He definitely spoke the same words to me that the OP wrote in his follow-up, four months ago. He believed himself when he said he'd been shocked into drawing boundaries, knew how to draw and enforce them, and owed it to his workplace friend to remain friends with her because she's a good person. Although I gave him all the advice in this thread, and was loving and good and kind to him, this is us now.
posted by Capri at 8:15 AM on August 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

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