Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I’m Married to a Man, But Keep Thinking About My Ex-Girlfriend”

I am a 35-year-old, well-educated woman, married for nearly six years, with a three-year-old child. “Mark,” my husband, is a very patient, understanding, kindhearted guy. But I am not at all happy with him. He is everything a woman wants — that’s what my friend says — which doesn’t help me feel any better for having thoughts of wanting out.

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.

***************

Follow along on Facebook, and Instagram.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

28 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Northern Star December 7, 2018, 11:02 am

    Cheryl is a piece of crap. I’m sorry that you’ve clung to this woman for so long. You should have realized long ago that the affair was toxic (and gone to counseling to understand what a healthy relationship looks like).

    So please go get some counseling now. You may be bi, you may be gay, who knows—but as long as you have this unhealthy fixation on Cheryl, you won’t be happy. Whether you stay with your husband or not.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie December 7, 2018, 11:10 am

    I don’t know if I agree this time. I think Wendy is right about the illicitness of the affair being a big draw. It started verboten and that still has a pull to it. You were not allowed to sleep with her so there’s the thrill of the secret. As it became more open and push came to shove, you made a choice.

    Is your husband everything you want in a person? Probably not. You’re right at what they used to call the 7 year itch. But have you thought about NOT running away? About getting into therapy (individual couple or both) to figure out what’s missing in your life and try to figure out how you or the two of you can bring that into your lives?

    You may be gay, and I agree that you do need to find your truth. But it seems you had one female partner that was exciting and compelling that you return to but you always leave. You’re like a ping pong ball and I don’t know if leaving your husband for Cheryl is going to stop it. It hasn’t before.

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    • avatar

      JD December 7, 2018, 11:44 am

      I think this is a really good point to separate the intensity of the drama and danger of the “affair” from if you really just are gay and would only be happy with a woman. If it is just the intensity aspect then that is something to look at in depth. Intense relationships like this are just more interesting, feel more passionate and more intense. They are generally, pretty much always, not healthy. So perhaps 7 years in, you are a bit bored, life is much more dull than the drama of that past relationship and you are feeling a longing for that rush. If you find that is the case then marriage counseling. The intense feelings and rush can be brought back into your marriage.

      Of course, if it is that you just are never going to be happy with a man then you delve into dealing with that.

      All around some therapy for yourself is paramount to work through exactly what it is that you are feeling. You already took a major leap in meeting with this woman and in some sense that is a bit of a betrayal of your marriage (not like cheating but not really right) so before you make actual mistakes that you cannot come back from, figuring this out is priority.

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  • avatar

    Sue Jones December 7, 2018, 12:23 pm

    LW has to figure out how to make herself happy. Whether or not she is actually fully lesbian or bisexual is besides the point. She wasn’t truly happy with Cheryl, nor was she truly happy with her husband. Truth is LW you are not fully happy . Period. You need to figure out how to be happy whether you are alone or with your husband or your ex-girlfriend. Your happiness does not depend upon who you are involved with, but it depends upon YOU. I suggest you start some therapy to learn how to nourish yourself. I do not believe this is as simple as you are really a lesbian and in a relationship with a man. I believe this is about you and your perennial dissatisfaction with life. You tend to swing back and forth and the grass always looks greener on the other side from wherever you are. You need to try to make yourself happy and figure out whether you can be happy enough with your husband because you are now the parent of a very young child together. The child comes first. Period.

    Maybe this means that you open your marriage up so that you can have Cheryl in your life as well as co-parent your child with your husband together. Maybe that won’t work either or your husband won’t agree to that, but I really think that the unhappiness issue lies within you and if left unaddressed, you would be unhappy no matter who you ended up with. Best of luck.

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    • Lucidity

      Lucidity December 7, 2018, 1:26 pm

      Do not keep Cheryl in your life. Cheryl is a garbage human being. She is a predator who took advantage of her position of authority to screw MULTIPLE students. Block Cheryl, delete her contact information, and get into therapy.

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  • avatar

    Essie December 7, 2018, 12:31 pm

    ” He is everything a woman wants — that’s what my friend says — ”

    ” I wanted to date guys and to have a normal relationship with someone I could see a possible future with. ”

    “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. ”

    This letter just screams of someone who’s doing what she thinks she’s supposed to do. What other people expect her to do. Not what she wants. Not what she feels is right for her. And she’s made a series of spectacularly bad decisions because of it.

    LW, when you say you wanted someone you could have a future with, did you mean that you couldn’t have a future with Cheryl, or you couldn’t have a future in a relationship with any woman? I think Cheryl’s a bit of a red herring. She’s an escape hatch from the unfulfilling relationships LW had. Whether those relationships were unfulfilling because they were with men, or because they were with the wrong men, is something only LW can answer.

    I think the first thing to do, LW, is to figure out your own sexuality, and be honest with yourself about it. Leave Cheryl and Mark out of it for the moment. Leave out the princess dreams you had when you were 5. Who are you NOW? What do you want?

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark December 7, 2018, 12:38 pm

    Really feel for the husband here. And uh, yeah. Him alone. But damn, that 40 year old lesbian is one truly nasty piece of work seducing/fucking/fucking up her student. Wanna place bets the LW was not the only one either.
    .
    Sorry, but it’s 2018! Meaning my patience with vapid, confused and closeted idiots ended a decade ago. Now this deliberately sad group is something I simply no longer can muster up much sympathy for… Especially since they seemingly ALWAYS marry hapless str8s and (of course!) somehow manage to procreate in their warped determination to fuck up as many lives as possible.

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    • avatar

      Northern Star December 7, 2018, 12:45 pm

      “Wanna place bets the LW was not the only one either.”

      We don’t have to place bets. The LW actually tells us pathetic creep Cheryl was screwing a bunch of students. I have zero patience for professors preying on their students.

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  • avatar

    anonymousse December 7, 2018, 1:04 pm

    I think you should start seeing a counselor. You need to figure out what you really want. Your husband deserves that and so do you.
    I think married people sometimes reminisce and wonder “what if?” and ruminate about the different paths they could have taken but this sounds deeper than that. Please book an appointment with a good therapist or relationship counselor and work through your unhappiness.

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    • avatar

      Betty December 7, 2018, 1:34 pm

      I 100% agree. Don’t make any decisions until you have met with a counselor (or better yet two–one for marriage counseling and another to sort yourself out). I am not convinced that the attraction to Cheryl is that she is a woman–it could be that you’re bored and wondering if this is what you really want out of life and she symbolizes excitement (and, as you wrote, danger). You owe it to your husband and your daughter to try to get yourself sorted out before making big decisions.

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  • avatar

    csp December 7, 2018, 1:31 pm

    LW – I agree with the counseling. I feel like you are a lot like the couple from yesterday or the movie This is 40. You are sitting in your life and it is boring and day to day. Now you are remembering a time that you were young and wild and desired. This is what a mid life crisis is.

    Now, the question you need to ask yourself is were you ever really in love with your husband. Did you ever passionately desire each other. Because if you never felt that way, then it might be time to move on. However, if you did at one time, maybe taking time to reconnect would be worth a try.

    Look, even if you broke up and started over, your single life wouldn’t look the same as when you were younger because you have baggage and so will everyone you date. I think that maybe you just need a little shake up instead of blow up.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom December 7, 2018, 2:05 pm

    I agree with everyone above who says to get counseling. I also wonder if you are afraid to be alone. It is so convenient to keep a back burner person who is exciting and forbidden to run to when you decide to break up.

    I have to wonder if you like the combination of excitement and danger. You did meet up again with the professor and that’s crossing boundaries within your marriage. Was it exciting? Did you get that sense of danger? Can you get a sense of excitement in another way, maybe skydiving or bungee jumping or does it have to be something like forbidden sex?

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  • avatar

    ron December 7, 2018, 2:14 pm

    Yes, Cheryl is a serious, serial predator. LW might be surprised how little she actually means to Cheryl. 40-year olds have relationships with 20-year olds, because they are either seeking much younger, enjoy have a huge power dynamic in their favor, or have their sexual interested fixated on a particular age.

    Wendy assumes quite a lot. LW never says how she actually feels about her husband. Does she love him? Did she once feel a passion for him, which has since cooled. From what she says about him, he probably represents about as happy as she can be with a man, so if she is bi-, she’s bi leaning far to the lesbian side. She also never talks about any sexual experiences or dating any woman other than Cheryl. It’s a shame she doesn’t have this experience in her background, since it would tell her a lot about herself.

    Cheryl could represent the excitement of an illicit relationship, could represent her preferred power dynamic in a relationship, or could be an indication that she’s a lesbian. Not really enough info.

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  • avatar

    CET December 8, 2018, 9:41 am

    LW, it sounds like you are one of those people where the grass is always greener on the other side. If you had married Cheryl and had lived with her for 6 years and had a child with her, believe me, the honeymoon would wear off. You would be annoyed by certain things about her. You would see her “bad side”. The drudgery of day to day live would be there. You are looking at her with rose colored glasses (or any new relationship). My advice is to start seeing a good therapist. AND you and your husband work on your relationship…work hard at it…read books on how to make your relationship better…do a weekly date night…talk…really talk about your true feelings…and start seeing a marriage counselor together. Did you ever love your husband? Did you ever desire him? Marriage is hard work. To anyone. I’ve been married now 24 years and it’s like a rollercoaster. Sometimes times are bad and you have to really work at it. Other times it becomes great again and you are close and grateful you worked at it when times were tough. Any new relationship is sparkly and fun and easy. This is the nature of marriage. You have a 3 year old together. Do it for your child. Good luck. (PS – my advice would be different if he was an a**hole or abusive or just really bad for you)

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  • avatar

    CET December 8, 2018, 9:42 am

    PS – My advice is based on you being bisexual and not a lesbian. If you are a lesbian and have denying your true sexuality just to please others and do what you think is right, then that is different. And very sad for your husband and child.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros December 8, 2018, 10:01 am

    I don’t think this is really about Cheryl. LW, I think that you chose to marry your husband because it gave you a cookie cutter life that looked good on paper. Now, you’re coming to terms with the fact that either you chose the wrong person or you chose the wrong gender. In either of those cases, Cheryl represents what you “could have had,” either you exploring your sexuality or having someone you are passionate about.

    All you really talk about in regard to your husband is how choosing him would give you the, to be perfectly honest, average suburban family life that you apparently wanted. I don’t know if you had doubts at the time on whether you were that into him or not, but it seems like you just sort of were like, “if I choose the normal, practical guy, then I get everything a person should want!” rather than focusing on whether he was someone you could have a family with AND be happy with. It’s as though you thought that he and Cheryl were the only options, and they weren’t. (Or you saw it as a “SO THERE!” moment toward Cheryl and/or your doubts about your sexuality.)

    I had a friend whose dream has always solely been to have kids. She never really seemed that into having a husband, but in her world, a husband was a vehicle to having kids. So, she dated a guy for four months and then when he wanted to get married, she did. I don’t know that she liked him that much, but she was ready to have the family life she had dreamed about. Except she didn’t realize that you can’t just special-order your life, and they got divorced 3 years later (no kids yet, thankfully).

    Anyway, maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the impression I got from your letter. But either way, I agree that counseling is the way to go. There’s a lot that you need to figure out. But I hope that you realize that staying in a marriage solely because “you made a commitment” (which honestly sounds like a euphemism for “well, I HAVE to”) and you think that kids shouldn’t have divorced parents (hey, we all survived, it’s not THAT big a deal) is a terrible idea. Incredibly unfair to your husband and incredibly unfair to your kid who probably wants parents who are loved and happy.

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  • avatar

    keyblade December 8, 2018, 11:57 am

    As other posters have noted, this sounds like an early mid-life crises to me. The letter writer has met the major relationship milestones she hoped reached (find a good partner, become a parent) and now she’s wondering what is left for her life she’s staring down forty.

    The letter writer doesn’t sound like she loves or is even particularly attached to her husband. Has this always been the case? Because if there was passion at the beginning, I tend to think it could be reclaimed but if it was never there to begin with, she is unlikely to conjure up feelings by her sheer force of will.

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  • avatar

    Oracle December 8, 2018, 10:17 pm

    You are right, you do not deserve your husband. Your friend said something to you about what a great guy you husband is because she does not like your attitude/treatment of him. You are living a lie. Get a divorce and let him find someone who will love him. He also should have primary custody . You do not have your act together and since everything is about you (and you have really screwed up two lives – and I am not talking about yours) you daughter should have the parent that has their moral and judgement intact.

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    • avatar

      ron December 8, 2018, 10:27 pm

      How very super-religious and homophobic of you.

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  • avatar

    Oracle December 8, 2018, 11:04 pm

    I am not at all religious. The LW was not honest with herself. She is either bi or gay and she KNEW IT. She misled her husband into marrying her. No reason for this for this in this day and age and it has been that way for some time. She made the choice to be in the closet. Her life is based on lies and her husband married her in good faith. She is morally bankrupt. See BGM response.

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    • avatar

      anonymousse December 9, 2018, 6:37 am

      How do you know she’s never told her husband?

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      • avatar

        Oracle December 9, 2018, 8:09 am

        Oh, you think she just left that part out? Not buying it. Notice that she kept running back to “Cheryl” in between “relationships”. She gay. Not honest with herself and a user. I am with BGM here.

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    • avatar

      ron December 9, 2018, 3:10 pm

      She certainly is at least bi. I’m not convinced she’s gay. Bi or gay, she’s certainly obsessed with Cheryl.

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  • avatar

    emerald December 9, 2018, 1:07 pm

    This is a short story on how i fell in love with a married man.
    We have been seeing each other for THERE years, we love each other, he as been promising me
    he will leave is wife but he never did, time went on still the same thing. I saw an ad concerning a spell
    caster i contacted him and told him my situation after some negotiation he agreed to help me, which he did.
    within a week he divorced his wife and now we are married.
    If you need his service this is the mail you can reach him on; [email protected]

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  • avatar

    keyblade December 9, 2018, 4:03 pm

    “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.”

    I think there is an assumption being made that wanting to date guys and wanting to have a normal relationship with someone were correlated or overlapping in the letter-writer’s mind. It’s definitively a possibility. It’s much easier to envision having children with a man if one is a bi-woman. It is also easy to convince oneself that their orientation is fluid if they desire a typical-appearing spouse with kids family.

    But it could also be that she missed dick (to put it bluntly) and she realized Cheryl wasn’t stable enough to share a future with.

    “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. ”

    Cheryl does sound like her familiar, emotional back-up, when she is unsure of herself. She may be a gay woman who never allowed herself the chance to seriously explore her orientation or she may not be. But I don’t know why anyone would assume she’d write so openly about her feelings and meeting up with “Cheryl” to DW and her friends and not also be someone who was open about her significant romantic history with “Mark”. It’s true she could be really closeted, but perhaps she’s and honest wife who feels confused over her own marital dissatisfaction.

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    • avatar

      keyblade December 9, 2018, 4:14 pm

      corrections:

      It’s much easier to envision having children with a man if one is a *bi-sexual* woman

      “It is also easy to convince oneself that their orientation is fluid if they desire a typical-appearing *heterosexual* marriage with kids. ”

      “but perhaps she *is an* honest wife who feels confused over her own marital dissatisfaction.”

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    • avatar

      ron December 9, 2018, 8:25 pm

      If she really is a lesbian, rather than being bi, then it seems very strange that the only woman she has ever had sex with, or even dated, is the 20-year older former professor she first got involved with when she was 20 and has repeatedly broken up with and then dated multiple men and married a man. Is she attracted to women, but only those old enough to be her mother? Did this one woman just catch her at a very vulnerable time, so that she means something very special to her, even though their relationship has never worked long term. Frankly, she seems more like a security blanket than a great love.

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      • Dear Wendy

        Dear Wendy December 10, 2018, 8:40 am

        It’s not strange at all that a lesbian, especially raised in a particular environment, would suppress her sexual identity enough that the only female partner she’s had is a woman who preyed on her at an experimental period in her life.

        Link

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