Is it ever okay to tangle with a married guy?


Dear Alex,
It seems people write in to you often with their various romantic conundrums, so I thought I’d give it a go.

In short: a guy I dated back about 20 years ago in college got back in touch with me. He has been married since his early 20s – met the woman almost right after we had dated – and basically things are not completely happy in marital land, particularly when it comes to the physical relationship.

When he got in touch I was wondering, OK, the guy is married, what does he want… It turns out they have agreed to have an open relationship meaning both are free to pursue romantic liaisons with others. They do have two almost grown children and have been through their ups and downs. But it was clear he was committed to staying with her. I happen to be 40, single and seeking a committed, loving relationship and maybe the possibility of a family. So…

We did end up meeting once for coffee, and then decided to have a visit. It turned out to be very emotionally and physically intense. We got along very well and were extremely attracted to one another. Now, I am left wondering, why did I do this… In fact I have fallen a bit in love with the guy, given the fact he is just about all that I want in a partner – smart, intellectual, kind, sexy, warm, down to earth, worldly, sensual — except for the married part.

My feeling is that you probably would unequivocally steer good, kind, smart, sexy women away from this scenario. After all, what I want is the partnership, someone to give me their total attention and commitment. And here I am in love with a married guy who seems to be trying out seeing other people. A clue is the fact that he has expressed the fact this is probably “not healthy for either of us” to do on a regular basis. Which indicates to me either it was also emotionally intense for him (I know it was good in other ways), and he is not ready to jeopardize his marriage.

For myself, I am wondering why a guy would stay married to a woman who is clearly not meeting his needs. I mean, the fellow seemed starved for contact and a real erotic connection. So I am left feeling puzzled, a bit hurt, and a bit angry at myself for getting myself into this sticky wicket in the first place.
So I am curious to know what your take is on this.

With thanks,
Dubious Desiree

First of all, Desiree, just want to say how much I appreciate your writing a letter devoid of spelling and grammatical mistakes.  I’d fax you a piece of Godiva if the technology existed.

Second, I’d like to commend you on predicting my response.  Your guess that I would “unequivocally steer good, kind, smart, sexy women away from this scenario” is right on.

Imagine this: you’re on the market to buy a house.  In the meantime, you’ve stumbled upon a really nice place that you just love, love, love.  Except that the owner has made it very clear that it’s for rent only. But you think, “Hey, I really like this place.  Why don’t I just move in and see what happens.”

What happens is that you really do like this place.  And after a few months, you ask the owner if he’s willing to sell.  Nope, he says.  And you realize that you have to do the search all over again, and go through the pain of moving all over again.

Did you know that place was for rent only?  Yes you did.  Did you go ahead and do the imprudent thing and move in anyway, even though you were in the market to buy a place?  Yup.  Got anyone to blame but you?  Nope.

To end the extended metaphor, you’re looking to buy, Desiree (that’s when you said “what I want is the partnership, someone to give me their total attention and commitment”).  He’s looking to lease (aka fooling around).

This is simply not going to work out in your favor.

It’s cute that you’ve ‘fallen in love’, as you put it, but not very helpful.  And you’ve grown up to become a 40yr old woman — not a girl — so you have the capacity to resist self-destructive impulses like this.  Exercise that capacity.

Also, when you were in your twenties, you could afford to blow five years or ten on a mediocre relationship.  Without putting too fine a point on it, you no longer have that luxury of time.

So you need to start looking elsewhere.   Immediately.

Now this may not be what you want to hear, ’cause you’re having so much fun!  You feel so alive!  (Incidentally, that’s exactly the kind of thing a novice heroin or coke user would say.)

But this is what I want you to focus on: the amount of frustration, pain and puzzlement you’re feeling right now is nothing compared to what you’ll feel if you continue this dalliance another few months.  You need to bail immediately, for your own good and his.  Once he’s properly divorced, single and not a swinger, then you can talk again.  Maybe.

I think it’s great that you are clear on what truly fulfills you: “what I want is the partnership, someone to give me their total attention and commitment.” So go for it! Go talk to some of the other 3 billions dudes on the planet.  I bet there are a few hundred million of them who are more available than this fella and less toxic for you.  You’re in a vulnerable state, so the best way to make sure this doesn’t go any further is to start hanging out with other guys.


Categories: Dating for Women

9 Comments on “Is it ever okay to tangle with a married guy?”

  1. Robyn

    Dear Desiree,

    “If they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you….”. Even if this guy does divorce, the chances of total attention and commitment from him are not the best.

    Get out now, before you get even more entangled with this guy. I know it’s easier said than done, but you’re only courting more and more heartbreak if you continue seeing him.

    Good Luck from some one who’s “been there”.

  2. Chrissie

    Your advice was spot on. Time’s awastin’ to be playing sloppy seconds at age 40. But I would like to comment on one thing she said:
    … It turns out they have agreed to have an open relationship meaning both are free to pursue romantic liaisons with others…
    Wonder what the wife would say if she heard this little tidbit. I would be surprised if she didn’t fall over in shock. Men will say whatever it takes to get what they want. Please, ladies, don’t be so desperate, believing everything said to intice you. A wise old man
    said we are Goddesses. ;-) Believe him. And treasure the gift you have to give to someone worthy of it. I wish someone had given me this advice years ago when I needed it.

  3. Zann

    Wow. Great, concise, right-to-the point advice. The further along I got in her letter, the more my head wanted to explode; and the more my head wanted to explode, the more I wanted to scream across the ethernet and into Desiree’s ear: “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!” Just no. Thanks for unequivocally giving her the feedback she needs to hear (and asked for) and for reminding me that the upside of being a more mature women is having that capacity to resist the lure of what I call the chemistry siren (“It was so intense & seemed so real!”) and to instead choose what will more likely lead us to our goals, whether that be a committed intimate relationship or simply living a life that is self-loving and drama free. Desiree — let this guy fly his freedom-to-explore flag from someone else’s rooftop.

  4. Roberta

    I completely agree with Dr. Alex’s advice. Well said. Why, oh why, do women settle for less than they deserve? This is a woman who is clear on what she’s looking for…and she should always stay true to herself. Mr. Married is looking for an emotional crutch to help maintain his public illusion of a happy marriage, and there’s no reason Desiree should become his crutch. The bit of fun she’s experiencing will soon turn to pain. It’s a losing situation, and she will be the loser. Men like this are weak and shallow, and that’s not what she’s looking for. A woman put in this position needs to stand up for herself, be strong, and send him away. He’ll move along and find someone else to victimize. She should break all communication with him, and allow space for the wonderful man who is due to arrive soon in her life. Never settle for less than you deserve. Be a Goddess with self-respect and your Renaissance Man will appear. This cheating husband is not him. Move on. The universe is bountiful and full of great, available men.

    1. Ali Binazir MD MPhil Post author

      @Roberta: In these situations, it’s very tempting to condemn the man and his motives and call him names. However, that’s a dangerous thing to do, considering how we know nothing about him at all. No need to demonize or blame. Much better just to focus on what truly fulfills you, then take appropriate action towards that. It’s not about him; it’s about you. And I love your focus on abundance. Yes, there are legions of men who are a better fit for her.

  5. Isabella

    I agree with above all comments. what happen when a woman meet a married man, the man wants to end the unhappy marriage but the wife doesn’t with the fear of losing the security umbrella? Shall she wait until they divorced completely? or just go on & meet other guys?

    Demi Yen

    1. Ali Binazir MD MPhil Post author

      @Demi/Isabella — I don’t recommend putting your life on hold waiting for an outcome that’s uncertain anyway. Let’s say you have tickets for an 8pm concert on a Friday night. If a guy tells you on Tuesday, “I’m working late that night and won’t know whether I’ll be free until 6pm Friday,” are you going to wait? Or are you going to ask someone else who can give you an early and firm commitment and go enjoy the concert? It’s generally not wise to make a priority people who consider you merely as an option, even if it’s entirely not their own fault.

  6. desiree

    Hey folks, wow, thanks for the advice. I am reading this now for a dose of strength! One thing I didn’t mention was how being with this man even for a weekend helped me get in touch with myself in that intoxicating way that good physical connection can; I call it the “sex effect” which is when men turn their heads when you are enjoying some action. That is the addictive part, in addition to the ‘chemistry siren’ (nice expression!) -I am struggling right now mightily because we are still in contact, there are no plans to meet again, and it’s left entirely open. In this openness the expectation rushes in – maybe he will see we are ‘meant to be,’ leave his wife, see the light, etc. I cannot believe I am having these thoughts; I have a PhD and am a very smart lady with many years of therapy behind me! But so it goes, here I am.

    Listen, thanks for all of the support and encouragement here, and thanks Alex for being so direct. It’s all really helpful. I agree: I need to cut contact for a while so I can at least become more open for something new. While it’s very hard to meet people we are truly compatible with (especially in my case, it seems), I must exercise some faith and trust and hope here!

  7. desiree

    Hi again, also, just to say, while it doesn’t look good, this guy really is not a jerk. He and his wife do have a very good relationship, in some respects apparently, and I know he is not deceiving her. She has given him approval to see other people with some basic guidelines in place. He has also expressed concern for me and seems to have some ambivalence about our contact. He knows I am looking for something much more, and I am a terrible candidate for this sort of ‘dalliance.’ I have dated some real jerks and he is not one, so I just wanted to clear the record on that. Thanks Alex for that comment.

    I also want to mention how powerful it is when someone really desires us and wants us. That is about as intoxicating as it gets. That had not happened for me in a long time; despite the fact that I know I’m attractive, this man was the first in ages to really call it and act on it. He happened to be the wrong man. I’d like to understand basically how we can cultivate that feeling- that wonderful sensation when we know we are desirable- without being dependent on others to provide that for us. Maybe that is not possible; we are social, relational beings and we do respond to one another. For me that is what this experience has left me wondering about.