I was heartbroken and confused, but, after the breakup with Joe, I decided to throw myself into my long-distance relationship with Tim. We started talking more and more and made arrangements to see each other about monthly. He took me to prom and we were serious from then through college (always long-distance), and we eventually got married and had three kids. We’ve now been married 20 years.
My ex-boyfriend from high school, Joe, happened to go to college near me. I only saw him once at a party three years after our breakup, but we talked and he came to my apartment and stayed awhile, just holding me. He had a long distance girlfriend then too. It was like we both wanted to make a move but were scared to and would have felt bad if we did because of our respective significant others. Suddenly, he left after an hour or so and that was it. I never saw him again.
Years later, he saw my mom’s name on a conference list and sought her out to see how I was. He was married by then, but he got my email and he emailed me. I don’t really remember his email, but he said I replied once and, after that, his messages came back undeliverable. Maybe I blocked him, I can’t remember. Fifteen years after that, he messaged me on Facebook. He’s now been married 18 years. He just seemed to want to catch up. I didn’t reply. He messaged me again two months later. I was going to a reunion and feeling nostalgic, so I replied. (He is a year behind me, so he wouldn’t be at the reunion).
Anyway, we started talking, and he told me he always thinks of me when my favorite band comes on the radio. We did some reminiscing every few days for a week or so. Then we talked on phone because I had to tell him about my husband’s brain cancer. He complimented me for being so strong. We texted some more every week or so. He then said he wanted to apologize for being a jerk to me in high school. He wanted to explain in person, he said. I was curious and had business his way, so we met for lunch. He said he was having a lot of family issues back then. We had a deep conversation and caught up. He’s still married, with two teens. He has done well for himself and looks to be a great dad and husband, and he has his own business on top of his job. I have always felt drawn to him, but we never had sex as we were only 16 when we dated.
My marriage was a mess before my husband’s cancer and the tumor makes my husband act obnoxiously (his personality changes). He is on disability and won’t do housework even thought he is stable now and can do things he wants to do. I am sympathetic and have been his biggest supporter through 2.5 years of his brain cancer treatment, including three surgeries and several weeks in the hospital. I feel loyal to taking care of him and our kids, but I have almost packed up several times.
Now, all I can think about is Joe. He occasionally messages me late when he is coming home from his second job, and we chat. We have had lunch twice and he said I look great. He always says he hopes to see me again or talk again, but sometimes we aren’t in touch for a week or two. When he does call, he always asks how I’m doing and I’ve told him it’s not easy with my husband. He likes all my Facebook stuff almost immediately…
I want to just come clean and tell him I’ve always liked him. Should I or not? It’s killing me because I can’t talk to anyone about this. He said he told his wife we had lunch. I haven’t told my husband about him because I would never hear the end of it even though it’s just platonic now. I don’t intend to start a physical thing but want my feelings for him out in the open. I want to know if he feels the same way after all these years. He did seek me out several times, after all; was it just to reconnect as friends, or does he want more? — Going Nuts
First of all, I’m very sorry about your husband’s illness and the toll it has taken on him, you, your relationship, and your family. I can only imagine the kind of stress you’ve been under the last few years, especially if, as you say, your marriage was “a mess” even before his diagnosis. And now you probably feel like you can’t leave him because he’s sick, and, while your loyalty is admirable, the truth is that starting an emotional affair with someone else — a married man, at that — isn’t any better than leaving your sick husband. It’s worse. It opens a can of worms I don’t think you OR Joe, your former high school flame, are prepared to deal with. Please, I urge you — close this can, leave the past in the past, and deal with your marriage without the distraction of someone else who is very likely as lost as you are.
There’s a reason Joe has sought you out throughout the years, and my suspicion is that it has as much to do with disappointments in his own relationship and life as any nostalgic feelings he might have for you personally. Maybe his marriage is a mess, too. Maybe he’s lonely. Maybe he’s looking for something to connect him to the young man he used to be when his future was a blank slate and before the reality of life’s responsibilities started knocking him around. Maybe the period you were together in high school was a pivotal moment in his timeline when the course of his life swerved and he thinks that, by connecting to you, he can somehow go back and get a re-do. Maybe you just are a friendly voice amid the noise of his current reality — a distraction, something or someone that demands nothing from him.
I imagine he is some of those things for you, too. I can appreciate how the temptation to lose yourself in the fantasy of what could have been or what might be between you is awesome. Amid the noise of your messed-up marriage and your husband’s cancer and the demands on you to keep it all together and support your family is this friendly voice who listens to you and compliments you and tells you you look great. But it would be a mistake to give this friendly voice from your past anything more from you. It would be a mistake to hear in his voice an offering of anything more than what it is: an equally lonely cry for an escape from the shackles of everyday problems.
You can’t be that escape for each other. Not now. If you were both single? Sure — go for it. But you’re not. You both have spouses. You both have families who need your attention. Deal with the mess you say your marriage is. Go to counseling. Get support for family members of cancer patients. Consider your options. Don’t stay in a marriage that no longer works for you out of some sense of obligation. Don’t look elsewhere for the freedom you crave, because doing so will only create more burdens and problems. Don’t look toward the past for answers or escape; look ahead. You can be your own friendly voice of support. You can be your own hope of freedom. It’s not too late to have the life you want. But a boy you knew when you were young who has grown into a man with a marriage and problems of his own isn’t how you’ll get it. He may be a nice distraction in the short run, but he’ll create far more burdens and heartache for you in the long run.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.