I’m in a very complicated relationship.
Ten months ago, I started an affair with a man who is 13 years older than me. He has been with the same woman for 15 years. I had been engaged to another man for nearly six years, but I recently called off my engagement. It was mutual. My ex and I had been in a rut for about a year and a half. We both knew it had to end.
My new man’s girlfriend isn’t well. She has had two open-heart surgeries in the last year and she gets depressed easily. She is also addicted to heroin and she won't give it up. He has tried to leave her, but when he does she threatens to kill herself. She is very dependent on him. She is turning 40, lives with her parents, and she doesn't have a car or license. They have been living 200 miles apart for three years and she’s only come to see him twice, while he’s gone to see her countless times. It’s like she wants to stay in the relationship for convenience — not for love.
I love this man very much. Until he came along, I thought the idea of soul mates was a myth. We connect on a level I never imagined. When I’m with him, I feel a wholeness I’ve been searching for my entire life and he feels the same way.
Of course, I don't want to be the other woman anymore. He says he wants to end things with her, but he hasn’t yet. He’s come close a couple times when they were on the phone. But he doesn't want to do it over the phone, which I also understand. I understand it’s delicate; she’s delicate. He hates to cause anyone pain, which is why he has endured this relationship for so long.
I don't want to push him to do something he isn't ready to do. I also don't want to seem like an overbearing or controlling girlfriend. I’ve talked to him about the way I feel. I have told him exactly what I have told you. He knows how I feel.
Now, the advice I am looking for is this: When should I start pushing him to end his relationship? If he still doesn’t act, how long should I wait? And, what’s the best course of action?
Ready to Be His Girl
You describe your current relationship as “complicated.” I’d go ahead and kick that up a notch to “anguished” or even “tortured.” Oy.
Let me see if I’ve got this right: you’re in love with a man who’s been with a woman for 15 years. The woman in question is a depressive heroin addict who’s had two open-heart surgeries in the past year and lives with her parents at age 40. They live apart from one another and he now avoids seeing her. I think I speak for everyone in the room in posing the question: Wuh?
I realize that life’s messy and nobody’s perfect. But you also have to take responsibility for the decisions you make.
I can certainly understand if the man in your life feels anxious about leaving this woman, given that she’s used the threat of suicide to keep him around. But the fact that she would do this, and continue to use heroin, and sunk into such a profound dependence on her parents — all these facts suggest that her problems go far beyond this relationship. And they also suggest to me that your lover is deep into a co-dependent situation.
Indeed, the real question to me is why your soul mate has stayed with her for 15 years? And why he’s not ready to leave her so you guys can start your own life together?
Let me offer two theories. First, if I did the math right, it’s only been two months since you ended your engagement with your fiancé. It could be that your current lover wants a little more time to transpire before he’s ready to follow suit. Is this fair? Probably not. But it’s not exactly a shocking outcome.
Look, Ready, I realize that life’s messy and nobody’s perfect. But you also have to take responsibility for the decisions you make. You chose to remain engaged to a man whom you did not love. You chose to cheat on your fiancé. And you chose a man who was clearly not fully available to you. I’m not trying to scold you. But those are the facts on the ground.
The second theory is that your lover is too deeply enmeshed in this co-dependent relationship to extract himself. It’s significant to me (and unsettling) that you make no mention of how he responded when you told him how you felt.
The hardline approach here would be that this guy is never going to commit to you until you stop enabling him. Why should he? He currently enjoys the attention of both women, without having to risk anything. Do you really want to be involved in this mess? No. You don’t. So tell this guy that you left your fiancé, and that if he wants to be with you, he should leave his depressed junkie girlfriend. Now.
That sounds to me like sensible advice. But I’m going to suggest a slightly different course of action, one that will allow you to let this guy decide how to end this relationship on his own terms.
My advice is to take some time to be on your own. As in: not with this guy.
I know that sounds crazy, given how much you guys adore one another. But step back and look at the situation, Ready: you’re not really with this guy as it is, not in the way you want to be. He’s got to work up the nerve to disentangle himself from this woman — and not because you’re threatening him, but because it’s what he truly wants to do.
My advice is to take some time to be on your own.
Think about this as well, Ready: you’ve been with a man, or two men, for most of the past decade. Now you’re involved with this guy who has lots and lots of drama. Don’t you think it might be time to focus on yourself for a few weeks, or months? To reconnect with your own feelings, priorities, and goals? One may be the loneliest number. But sometimes it’s the most necessary one, as well.
If this guy loves you as much as he claims to, he needs to show you that by taking care of his unfinished business. If he can’t do this, then he was never going to be the man you needed him to be. And it’s better to know that sooner rather than later.
Both of you guys have a track record of drifting along in unfulfilling relationships, ones that keep you from the deeper happiness you deserve. The last thing you want is for this relationship to meet that grim fate.
Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.
This program aired on October 14, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.