Almost 15 years ago, I had an affair/fling, or whatever you want to call it, with my college professor. I was 20. “Cheryl” was 40 and had a reputation of getting involved with female students which almost cost her a career at some point. We kept this incredibly exciting, passionate – and at times dangerous — secret relationship going for almost three years. I ended it to be with someone else. I wanted to date guys and to have a normal relationship with someone I could see a possible future with. Little did I know that I would get back with Cheryl a year later, after breaking up with my boyfriend. This became the pattern of our relationship for the next eight years. I’d get into a relationship and as soon as things would fall apart, I’d run back to Cheryl who became more open about us by then. When I first met my husband, seven years ago, I was still in contact with her. She told me that she wanted me to either stop seeing Mark or stop seeing her. I chose to continue seeing Mark.
I feel like this is the life I’ve dreamt of since I was a child. I have a nice home, a loving husband, and a kid. I’m living the dream, but I’m so unhappy, and I’m disappointed with myself for being unhappy. It feels sometimes that I’ve dreamt about the wrong things. Lately, I’ve been thinking of Cheryl, and I even reconnected with her. We had lunch together and we caught up. I know seeing her again was a mistake, especially now that I’m having doubts about my marriage and I have no intention to further pursue any kind of contact with her.
I also know I’m being selfish. My husband is not perfect (I’ve been paying too much attention to his imperfections lately), but he deserves better. Not to mention that I’ve made a commitment and I have to follow through with it. Plus, my daughter deserves to live in a happy home with both of her parents. I keep thinking that it’s a phase and it will pass. People must’ve experienced what I’m going through all the time and marriages don’t just end because of it. I just hate that I’m thinking of Cheryl at this point,and I can see now that the moment I started thinking of and missing her was the beginning of the end of all my past relationships. — The Beginning of Another End?
What you are describing is not a phase that will pass. And it’s not something you can sweep under the rug. It sounds to me like you have been denying your sexual identity for years in an attempt to live the heteronormative life that you’ve been “dreaming” of since childhood, most likely because every message you received — from society, from family, from friends — is that the heteronormative path was the only one that would lead to happiness. And that is a big fucking lie. A heteronormative path isn’t even the only path to happiness for totally straight CIS gender folks. Getting married (to someone of the opposite sex), having babies, buying a house — that whole thing that you probably grew up believing was THE one and only dream to have is not for everyone, and you have been doing yourself, your husband, and your child a disservice all these years that you’ve been clinging to this lie. You don’t have to be married to be happy. You don’t have to be married to a man to be happy. Clearly, being married to your husband doesn’t make you happy. And spoiler alert: You are never, ever going to be able to force yourself to enjoy the “dream” you have finally realized because it was never really, truly YOUR dream. It was just some manufactured bullshit that you bought into because you didn’t realize there were other possibilities for you.
Yes, you made a commitment to your husband, and I believe, like I am sure you do, that marriage vows are sacred and that they should be upheld and honored to the best of a person’s and couple’s ability. When the going gets tough in a marriage, you work through it. But sometimes relationships simply don’t work. People grow so far apart that they can’t find their way back to each other, betrayals are too great to overcome, things change in such a way that two people simply aren’t right for each other anymore or maybe, it turns out, they never were. I would suspect you and your husband fall into the latter camp – that he was probably the best man you found, you knew in your heart you wouldn’t find a better one, and so you married him despite maybe not feeling in love with him and not sharing the exciting passion you once felt with Cheryl.
Cheryl, by the way, probably isn’t the right match for you either. She has always been a “safe” way to explore your sexual identity because the inappropriateness of your relationship – at least in the beginning – was not highlighted by your same-sex status, but rather by her position as your professor, first and foremost, and her being twice your age. In your affair with her, you could stray from the heteronormative path without it being the focus on your bucking convention. And, of course, your relationship had to be cloaked in secrecy not because it was a gay relationship, but because it could cost Cheryl her career, and that cloak of secrecy protected you. It also kept you from honestly and authentically living your truth.
What IS your truth? That’s what you need to finally figure out. It’s a shame it wasn’t figured out earlier, before you married someone you weren’t and aren’t really in love with, but life is messy sometimes, and it’s never too late to right a wrong. What is your truth? Figure it out, commit not to continuing to live a lie but to living authentically. This will probably be very painful — for you, your husband, and your child. But the short-term pain will be worth the long-term gains. You and your husband will always be family because you have a child together. And together you can — and absolutely should — always care for and love and provide the best you can for your child. But that doesn’t mean staying with someone who isn’t right for you. That won’t benefit you, it won’t benefit your child, and it won’t benefit your husband whom, as you say, deserves better. If you set him free, he will be available to find someone who can appreciate and love him wholly in all the ways a partner should. And so will you. And that probably doesn’t veer to far from the dream you always had, after all.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.