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Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.
During a particularly deadening lull in my marriage, I imagined The Man of My Dreams. He is rugged and works with his hands—furniture maker, say, — and he has an artist's soul. He also has a PhD in English literature. He's an intellectual, an idealist, and also a do-gooder; he works with underserved populations doing some selfless, life-affirming, world-bettering thing. In my mind's eye, I saw chiseled good looks and a wicked twinkle in the eye. I daydreamed long evenings of red wine and poetry nestled together on a two-seater he had made with his bare hands. Just imagining that this man might exist and that he might take a shine to me, too, got me through a period in my marriage when I thought it might end. Virtual infidelity. In imagining a perfect match for myself out there somewhere, and I felt rescued.
Things in my marriage got better (note to readers: Resentment is a waste of time. Forgive! Disappointed? So what? Your partner probably is, too. Forgive!), and my Dream Man receded. I hope he's off making some other desperate wife happy.
And then, without warning, I met him, the Dream Man. I met the works-with-his-hands, can-recite-any poem, quick-witted, soul-of-an-artist man, he of the chiseled good looks and awe-inspiring volunteer work on the side. It was spooky, realizing this, and I took my spooked self to a psychic and asked, Who is this man to me?
He is taken. And so am I, of course. But meeting him has disturbed my atmospheres.
She smiled and said, "Oh, honey, you need this, and do not feel guilty. He's your muse, sent to make you feel alive again, and you manifested him. Only trouble, you manifested him for someone else—he's taken!" She wished me better luck next time.
He is taken. And so am I, of course. But meeting him has disturbed my atmospheres. I dream of him. I have torrid dreams like I've never had before. I can't wait to turn in at night and find out where we'll do it next. I cast my husband through the “You're not him” screen, and I know it's not fair.
So, Steve, who is this man to me? I can't say that I've disturbed his atmospheres one iota. We've had some wonderful, spark-filled intellectual exchanges, but that is it. I wouldn't dream of ending my marriage, but I need to find a place for him in my universe that doesn't have me swooning about in a fit of unrequited ardor and longing. Or is there some creative end to all this mooning about for a man I can't have?
Do you have advice for a middle-aged woman suddenly in the throes of a mad, mad crush?
I’m pretty much with your psychic on this one. Your crush sounds amazing — cosmically (and almost comically) endowed with the very qualities you desire — but he’s taken. So are you.
Play out the possible scenarios here:
1. You continue to find excuses to see him, eventually announce your love, launch into a passionate affair, and completely ruin one another’s lives.
2. You continue to see him, eventually announce your love, and he smiles nervously and tells you that he’s flattered, but he’s happily married. He also informs you that he gets hit on an awful lot by married women, possibly because he’s a chiseled, poetry-spouting intellectual who volunteers at a soup kitchen and works with his hands.
3. You recognize that your lust for this man, while totally understandable and exciting, is actually becoming masochistic, because he’s not available to you. And you stop subjecting yourself to his charms.
4. You continue to lust after him but refrain from taking any action, which leaves you stewing in your own nocturnal fantasies, holding your husband to an impossible standard, and feeling disheartened because the man of your dreams remains, in effect, stuck in your dreams.
It’s this final option that strikes me as the most plausible and troubling.
These crushes have meaning. They help signal ways in which one partner or the other seeks to feel alive.
Look: Long-term monogamy is hard work. It’s perfectly understandable that men and women develop crushes over the course of their marriages. These crushes have meaning. They help signal ways in which one partner or the other seeks to feel alive — or alive again in a way that haven’t for some time.
If you want an in-depth discussion of these dynamics, I recommend you check out the brilliant clinician and researcher Esther Perel, whose work focuses on the difficulty of monogamy and the deeper meanings of infidelity. My partner Cheryl Strayed and I were also lucky enough to interview Perel for our podcast, Dear Sugar Radio.
I suspect Perel would advise you to think about what this particular infatuation means to you, as well as the fantasy archetype you constructed to rescue you during that “lull” in your marriage. What are these idealized figures telling you about certain needs that aren’t being met in your marriage? Perel would do so not in the hopes of instigating an affair, but so you can investigate the roots of your desires, rather than feeling besieged and thwarted by them.
Good luck, Aswoon!
Author's note: A lot of this letter is really about harboring a crush. We hear about a lot of crushes on Dear Sugar Radio. So much so that we devoted a whole episode to them. Surely, you readers have some experience in this area. What more does Aswoon need to hear? Let her know in the comments section below. And feel free to send a letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can use this form, or send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.
Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.
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