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Frying pan or fire

Making high-stakes life choices

Dear Dr Ren:

I read your column online as Xtra West isn’t delivered in the ‘burbs where I live. I’m not your typical reader and this isn’t your typical situation. I hope you can tell me what to do.

By the time I was 25, I’d married my high school sweetheart and had three kids. Now, ten years later, I have the kids, aging parents, a job, a mortgage, and a husband who still hasn’t met his potential. I love my family, but feel like something is missing.

Recently I took a course in the city where I met Sue, a younger, vibrant lesbian (the first I’ve known). Long story short, we fell in love. I don’t consider myself a lesbian, and I don’t want to disrupt my family, but now that I know what happiness feels like, my other life is suffocating me.

I didn’t mean for any of this to happen and I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I love my children and parents. Hell, I think I even love my boring husband. But I don’t want to look back on my life with regret.

Sue is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. If I choose her, how can I not lose my family? If I choose my family, how can I convince Sue to keep being my lover?

How can I possibly know which is the best choice? Help, please!

Six of One

Dear Half Dozen:

Although you feel alone in your dilemma, yours is a frequent lament of the long-married, regardless of demographics. Granted, a suburban wife with a lesbian lover gives your story a twist, but finding tarnish on the happily-ever-after dream is ubiquitous.

I understand that, although you were hungry for a change in your life, a lesbian lover was not the form you thought it would take. Now, here you are, basking in limerence–that giddy all-consuming romantic phase of new relationships–only to realize that your “real” life may be in jeopardy. As much fun as having one foot in each camp may be, deception is difficult to sustain bloodlessly long-term.

You ask how to know which would be the better choice. That may depend on when you make your choice. At present, it seems the seas are rocky enough without anyone standing up in the boat. The stakes are high, and you will want to have sufficient information to make an informed decision. Gathering that data may take a while.

You have dependents: your children, parents, and husband. The only one divorceable is your husband. Regardless of how you order the rest of your life, your parents and children will be part of it. Do you envision moving Sue into your suburban home and lifestyle? Does she? You would surely have to address the lesbian issue then.

Perhaps you want to allow yourself more time to see where this affair leads. The problems with that plan include the timeline of limerence (18-24 months, or longer with fuel like an unsuspecting husband) and the personally detrimental effect of cheating on people who trust you. Sue may well tire of a woman who doesn’t define as lesbian and may want a more secure position than that of mistress. Your husband, too, may begin to question your frequent trips to the city. Are you interested in getting good at cheating?

A torrid, taboo, secret escapade often looks better in January than in December. Might Sue be a symbol of a freedom you desire and deserve, but not represent the path you want for the rest of your life?

Another option is to modify your suburban life. Do you play a part in its dreariness? Nobody’s life sparkles endlessly or effortlessly. We all must battle apathy and weariness to try new experiences. What would happen if you invited your husband to tango lessons or a kissing class? When did you last openly appreciate him, or seduce him? Do you know whether he is longing for more as well? Have you tried marriage counselling?

You may find that after giving your marriage every fair chance, you truly are done with it. Then would be an appropriate time to grieve the loss of your husband and all the attendant dreams that die with divorce, and look for what fits for you next.

I don’t get the impression in your letter that you are in that place. If I am correct, then your affair with Sue is an experiment, and a dangerous one at that. You would be wise to proceed cautiously, especially as you want to hurt as few people as possible. To that end, take this secret with you to your grave. Confessions are cruel and needless.

You say that Sue is the best thing that’s ever happened to you. At one point you swore the same thing of your husband, and probably each of your children in turn. Our perspective skews with time. If you strive to make your decisions in the best interests of yourself and those you love, you need not fear regret.

Take your time and trust your long-term sensibilities. You’ll make the right choices.