Question from a reader:
Hi. I am the other woman in a relationship that has been going on for more than a few years. It is (quite) emotional but has never been physical. He flirts incessantly but never once crossed the line. He’s married, with grown children who are out of the house for good. I am single with none.
I know it is an affair and not just a friendship because he keeps it all a secret. His wife knows I exist, but we have never met. He and I worked together for several years, and she knew about me then. I don’t know what she knows of me now.
He talks to me about everything (except their sex life) including a lot about his wife…her (many) problems with family and friends, her therapy…his kids…and a lot about work. Politics (we vehemently disagree!) and sports and pretty much everything under the sun. His friends are their couple friends and he feels no connection to the men, and he really seems to have no other male friends. Which is a puzzle…people at work love him…he is very warm and caring and friendly to them. Oh and very attractive physically. And professionally successful, though not a Master of the Universe.
There have been several points through these years when I was certain it would end, most especially when he went through some life changing medical issues. But we go on. And on. Texting daily, talking about everything under the sun and then some, flirting madly (90% of the time initiated by him, but I jump right in!), seeing each other at every possible opportunity, at least once a week. There have been times I have tried to push him away, but he fights for me. We have virtually no contact most weekends. Not “none”, but very little.
So I am reading through your blog, trying to understand the degree of “wrong” of this relationship, and the risks and possible outcomes. I realize the absence of a physical relationship makes it a little strange, since there is an obvious attraction, and I guess I secretly hope it really isn’t that “bad” for that reason. What is your opinion of the wrongness and risks of emotional affairs? I should say I am extremely independent in every aspect of my life and really don’t know what I would do if one day he said he was free. And that I love him and believe he loves me.
This is a frequent question and it I agree it can be a bit confusing in some situations. Many people convince themselves that as long as there’s no sex, it’s not an affair. But it certainly can be. An affair really has to do with secrecy, deception of the partner and betrayal. It also has to do with the amount of emotional energy that you put into the other person and are no longer giving your partner. Most people are more disturbed by the breaking of trust than by the sex—it’s what’s most difficult to recover from when a partner has an affair.
Emotional affairs are certainly easier to rationalize than emotional/physical affairs — and easier to explain away (“We are just friends!”), but they can be every bit as dangerous and devastating. In some ways, even more so because of the strong emotional bond present (as compared to let’s say just a one-night stand). I wrote a blog about the different types of affairs and emotional ones are certainly a type.
But I don’t want to confuse things. A true, close friendship between a man and a woman isn’t necessarily an emotional affair. I truly believe that men and women CAN be friends (my two closest friends are women and there is nothing inappropriate at all going on with either of them). And sometimes I share private thoughts with my friends that I might not with my wife. However, this doesn’t mean I’m having an affair with them or wish to (I’m not and I don’t). It just means they are trusted confidentes who happen to be women. Most people tell something to their “BFF” that they might not to their spouse. I don’t think it’s inherently a wrong thing to do or a sign of an affair (although it could be).
You seem to be asking me whether you are having an affair or not. I can’t tell from what you’ve written whether you are actually having an affair or not, although I think you might very well be on the cusp on one. You haven’t given me enough information to really determine that except to say that you are flirting madly — which is beyond friendship, although sometimes even friends “get their flirt on” without intention (although I don’t think it’s appropriate, but it’s not having an affair either) — find him attractive, and think you love him. So I have questions to see if we can nail it down:
Have you actually kissed when you see each other? Do you tell each other you love each other (in a romantic way)? Do you discuss “only if we weren’t married, we would be together” sorts of things? Do your discussions become sexualized? Have you told each other that you fantasize about each other? Have you traded nude or semi-nude photos of each other? Is there romantic-type jealousies involved with each other? Have you discussed the possibility of having sex with each other? Has he discussed feeling guilty for his contact with you? Are you not dating anyone else because of him?
If two or more of them are “yes”, you are most definitely having an affair. Even if you answered no to all these questions, you’re still in a grey area and on dangerous ground based on everything else you told me. It has all the earmarks of an emotional affair. And since you see each other all the time, the opportunity for it become physical is ever-present.
You do however say you love him and believes he loves you (so I guess that means you haven’t told each other?). That to me says that at least your feelings are beyond a friendship. But it takes two to tango. You believe that he feels romantically towards you as well. That’s a good indication that this isn’t merely a friendship. The fact that you mentioned that you found him “very physically attractive” is also an indication that your feelings for him go beyond the boundaries of friendship. You are on very very dangerous ground.
But I think the biggest indicator that this is an affair, that this is “wrong”, that your relationship is kept a secret from his wife. That you are having clandestine contact and clandestine meetings. It’s the biggest indication to me that an affair is going on, even if only in HIS mind. It’s a bell-weather — if you can’t tell your spouse about something important going on in your life, it’s a red flag that what’s going on is “wrong.” I’ve never kept my female friends a secret from my wife. She knows them. She likes them. She’s not threatened. If I had a secret friend, she would assume that something was going on. I wouldn’t blame her.
So while you say he hasn’t “crossed any lines”, I would beg to differ. Some lines have been crossed. You’re not exactly in a friendship even if not in a full blown affair. But appear to be on the cusp of one