A web of deceit and misdirection, or, how to ruin two relationships
October 18, 2015 7:48 PM   Subscribe

I've been dating a lovely woman for almost 4 years this fall but, within the past year, have developed an on-again-off-again romantic relationship with a former coworker. I feel the later has developed to a point that it is make-or-break while the former continues along without hiccup. I have a huge number of conflicting feelings...

How do I choose one over the other? Does the fact that I'm even contemplating the choice signal that I don't deserve either? How do I give up on what is a loving, fun relationship for one that appears more exciting, more emotionally connected but also long-distance and potentially volatile?

I know I can't be the first to have experienced this sort of conflict ... but I'm having an awfully difficult time navigating past it.
posted by landofthefree to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For starters, do they know about each other? Do they each believe their relationship with you is exclusive?
posted by smorgasbord at 7:50 PM on October 18, 2015

I don't think you can "choose one over the other" until you've been honest with both of them.
posted by HuronBob at 8:02 PM on October 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you were happy with the first, you wouldn't have gotten involved with the second. And if you were happy with the second, you would have let go of the first. Neither seems to make you happy, so you should keep looking.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:03 PM on October 18, 2015 [11 favorites]

@smorgasbord - The woman I've been in a long-term relationship believes it is exclusive. The former coworker knows I've been in a relationship the whole time...
posted by landofthefree at 8:05 PM on October 18, 2015

I think you should break up with the woman you've been "dating" for 4 years. I think the fact that you refer to it as dating - and not as a relationship or partnership - speaks volumes about your commitment. Oh, and also the fact that you're cheating on her. Let her go. She deserves better.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:09 PM on October 18, 2015 [93 favorites]

Thanks for your follow-up. I'm with NoraCharles, it sounds like ending things with the first would be the right decision. If you wanted to continue things with her, I'd be completely honest about what's been going on and see where how she reacts. I'm in agreement with those above who feel it's not the ideal relationship for you since you'd either have truly been exclusive (or worked out an honest non-monogamous relationship agreement.)

I also agree with NoraCharles that neither one is likely an ideal partner for you. However, the second woman sounds like perhaps a catalyst for helping you move your dating and relationship life in the direction you really want. Perhaps that's a very committed, monogamous long-term relationship but maybe it's something else, and that's really OK. However, it's going to take a lot of honesty and reflection, both with yourself and others. I don't think you'd need to end things with her but rather continue being honest with her (and yourself) as time goes on.

Additionally, I'd continue reflecting on this situation and yourself, your life beyond relationships. Sometimes we feel conflicted or torn over relationships with people because both potential people are so awesome. However, it can also be because we feel uncertain about other areas of our lives and it's easier to focus on the relationship drama (or at least suspense) rather than dealing with the other issue (work, family, etc.) head on.

If you're interested in literature, I recommend this novel by author Wilhelm Genazino: I'm not aware of it being translated into English (yet) but you should be able to put the review into GoogleTranslate. It's a good read and features a protagonist who's in the exact same situation you are right now.
posted by smorgasbord at 8:19 PM on October 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

I have been torn between two people before, though never cheated on anyone in a long-term relationship. I came to the conclusion that neither was the right fit; I'm now of the school of thought that when you know, you know. It sounds like you're half-heartedly looking for a way out of your longer relationship (by dating someone long-distance, who therefore isn't fully available, and dating them on and off). Certainly I agree that it shouldn't be your "choice" to pick your longer partner if she doesn't even know this has been going on. Why would *she* want to be with you?
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:31 PM on October 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Of course you don't want to choose. Right now you're getting the best of both worlds: you get to have your stability and emotional support AND your naughty, fun, sexy times. This is exactly why people do what you're doing right now.

Nobody is ever going to be your everything. But the fact you haven't had the balls to tell your long-term girlfriend about cheating on her speaks volumes about your respect for her (the fact you're cheating on her in the first place says that). End that relationship at least.
posted by schroedinger at 9:15 PM on October 18, 2015 [41 favorites]

You've already given up on your long-term girlfriend. You're being cruel and very unfair to her. If you've been with her for 4 years, she is probably feeling very secure with you and could be planning a future with you. You, on the other hand, are betraying her and her trust. Break up with her immediately. It's the only ethical choice here.
posted by quince at 9:53 PM on October 18, 2015 [25 favorites]

I think you need to end both relationships. The former because you aren't happy enough to keep your promise, and the latter because you aren't willing to end the former relationship for it. Be single for a while and figure out who and what you really want.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:00 PM on October 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'd agree with the advice to break up with your long term girlfriend. If it were me, I'd be more upset by the fact you consider it "dating" after four years than I would the other woman. But either one tells me there's a serious issue in the relationship,and for some reason you don't feel like dealing with it head on.

No idea about the former coworker, but it shouldn't be a choice of "woman A" or "woman B". Deal with the first things first.
posted by frumiousb at 12:02 AM on October 19, 2015

The woman I've been in a long-term relationship believes it is exclusive. The former coworker knows I've been in a relationship the whole time...

Please read this previous answer and then consider whether you will be able to be faithful in your long term relationship. The fact that you find the affair seductive even though you describe the potential relationship with this woman as "volatile" signals to me that you may simply thrive on drama.

In which case, you're really not relationship-ready material.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:42 AM on October 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

You are avoiding the word cheating even though it's crystal clear you are doing so. You seem to be presenting your dilemma as a choice between two balanced, healthy, conflict-free options, and minimizing the fact that you've broken one relationship for the sake of a new exciting thing. You're like the dog with a bone who sees his reflection in a lake and, thinking it's another dog with a bigger bone, tries to grab it. Now you have no bones.

For starters, break up with your girlfriend. "Without hiccup" my foot. I don't think she'd describe your relationship as "without hiccup" if she knew you've been cheating on her for months. And if you're even asking this question, you're not taking the relationship seriously. Set her free so she can find someone who won't fuck around behind her back.

The woman with whom you're cheating may know about your girlfriend, but does she know that your girlfriend believes you are exclusive? If the answer is yes, it's highly unlikely that she's interested in an official relationship, and since she knows you're willing to cheat there will always be an element of distrust there. If she doesn't know, you are lying to her as well.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:44 AM on October 19, 2015 [30 favorites]

I doubt you would be cheating like this and presenting it like this if you were happy in your relationship. So at the very least, you should break up with your girlfriend, even from a totally self-interested perspective.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:14 AM on October 19, 2015

I think you should break up with your long-term girlfriend, since if you were really happy with her you wouldn't have spent the last year cheating on her.

However, I would also prepare myself (if I were you) for the possibility that the other woman you have been having an affair with will lose interest in you once you become actually available, since that seems to happen pretty regularly.
posted by colfax at 7:23 AM on October 19, 2015

"How do I give up on what is a loving, fun relationship"

Whoa, let's stop right there. You've been fucking another woman behind her back for the better part of this entire year. Therefore, your 4-year-relationship is, by definition, absolutely not a "loving, fun relationship" at all. You could have given her how many diseases? Gross. Your actions are the exact opposite of what love is. Don't kid yourself about this any longer - instead, immediately break up with her and tell her the truth.

To your girlfriend of nearly 4-years who deserves so much better: "I totally fucked up, I'm not the guy I've apparently been fooling you into thinking I am, and I have some terrible news to tell you: I'm ashamed to say I have been secretly having sex with my old coworker, Name, off and on for the better part of this year, and I am very sorry. I am clearly not healthy enough to be in any type of a committed relationship right now, so we need to break up. Again, I'm so sorry."

As for getting involved with your old co-worker again, I don't get why the hell you'd want to be in a clearly foreseeably "volatile" relationship with anybody. Unless, of course, you get off on The Dramaz.

Dude, you have got to start bringing your real, authentic self to relationships. The correct answer here is actually C, none of the above.
posted by hush at 7:58 AM on October 19, 2015 [11 favorites]

Whatever you do, you need to start being honest with your girlfriend, like, yesterday. If for no other reason, she deserves the information about HER OWN HEALTH that she now needs to get tested. Plus, she deserves to make a fully informed decision about whether she wishes to continue dating a cheater.
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:00 AM on October 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

What? No. You're cheating on your partner which means you don't GET to be with her. Have fun in your new thing because your relationship is over and has been since you started fucking someone else behind your partner's back.
posted by tristeza at 8:10 AM on October 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

This isn't about a choice, you already made your choices. You just need to stop lying about them.

Women don't automatically belong to you until you decide otherwise. You forced one woman into a nonmonogamous relationship without her consent, so you don't get to decide to stay with her by continuing to lie and disrespect her preferences for the life she wants to live.

And don't prey on the vulnerability you cause by manipulating a tearful confession so she'll fight to win you back out of heartbreak rather than clear-headed decision-making. End it and get out of her way.

And unless the former coworker has specifically expressed an interest in anything more than a fling, you don't automatically get to have her either. She knows who you are and she's fine with what she and you are doing to your previous partner, it's entirely possible she's not interested in any sort of actual trust-based relationship with you.

You must break up with your previous partner. What happens with the other woman is between you and her and is not solely your decision.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:36 AM on October 19, 2015 [23 favorites]

I have a huge number of conflicting feelings...

No you don't. What you have is a huge number of thoughts about how to have your cake and eat it too. You've been cheating on your girlfriend for a year. You've been lying to her for a year. You've been treating her poorly for a year. You are an asshole. A big one. And it sounds like you're trying to pretend that you're not. You made the choice, over and over again, to treat your previous partner terribly. You are living in a reality that you intentionally created through the choices you've made. You are an asshole and you need to accept that. Break up with your previous partner because you're living a lie and that's something she didn't choose to be a part of.
posted by Stynxno at 8:42 AM on October 19, 2015 [24 favorites]

How do I choose one over the other?

You're not deciding between two different types of pie here. These are women to whom you've been lying for a long time.

a loving, fun relationship

Oh, please. You don't love this woman. If you did you wouldn't be cheating on her.

Break it off with both of them and don't start dating again until you can learn to treat a partner with some respect.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 8:57 AM on October 19, 2015 [7 favorites]

This question breaks my heart.

It's interesting that you say that maybe you don't "deserve" either of them in your second sentence. This isn't about being deserving. Like someone said above, you're not choosing between two types of pie here.

If the concept of deserve enters this situation at all it is simply to observe that your girlfriend of four years does not deserve to be treated the way that you are treating her. No one does.

I think some serious soul searching is in order. Sorry, I know it's not pleasant to sit down with ourselves and examine ourselves honestly, especially when we have not behaved honorably. But this is what you will need to do.

You say you love your girlfriend of four years. Is this how you treat a person you love? Really ask yourself that. Do you want someone who says they love you to treat you this way? Love is a verb. You can say you have a loving relationship until your face is blue but you have not behaved as if you respect her, let alone as if you love her.

We cannot help you. Perhaps a good therapist is in order. Sorry to trot out the typical ask advice but if anyone needs an objective third party with whom to speak about their actions it is you.

You know what you have to do. Break up with both of them. Yes. Be alone. Yes, sorry, it is not going to be fun to hang out with only yourself, without any drama or sweet words or sex or whatever it is these two women provide to you. But it will be necessary, unless you want to keep repeating this pattern throughout your days.

Do you want to keep treating women the way you are treating these women? Like prizes or objects that you deserve? Without respect? Without love?

I don't think so. You wouldn't ask this question if your answer was yes.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 9:17 AM on October 19, 2015 [11 favorites]

Just wanted to in chime to agree with everyone else that yes, this is cheating, even if nothing physical is happening it is still cheating because your heart is divided. I'm not sure why you seem to be avoiding admitting this to yourself but it's an extremely shitty and fucked up thing to do to your long term girlfriend. You must break up with her now, or at minimum confess to her about the cheating IMMEDIATELY, because she deserves better.
posted by a strong female character at 2:57 PM on October 19, 2015 [5 favorites]

To make a long story short I was once the "woman dating a guy for a long time", then he started going out with someone else. He wasn't honest, he wasn't considerate, and to top it off when I confronted him he thought it was never going to be a problem, because he said " you guys will never meet anyway". I agree with everyone else that it's an extremely shitty and fucked up thing to do to your long term girlfriend.
posted by dragonbaby07 at 4:46 PM on October 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Men who don't have the balls to make a move, decide what they want and feel like it's OK for them to game the system.... I can't even.

If you were happy, fulfilled, etc., you WOULD NOT WANT SOMEONE ELSE.


If something is lacking in your primary relationship, TALK ABOUT IT. Whatever GF #2 is giving you, if you need it and your GF #1 can't give it, then BREAK UP. Articulate it. Tell her. If nothing else, you owe her honesty.

Be a man. Make a choice. Say the words.

Or settle, and live your life knowing you're settling and fucking up a bunch of other people's lives in the process.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:48 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

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