3 min

I’m attracted to my boyfriend’s ex-wife

Dear Dr Ren,

I’m experiencing something that con-fuses and embarrasses me.

I’m in my mid-40s, hold a responsible job, I’m good to my family and friends, and I’ve been a loyal partner for almost 10 years. I’m stable.

I’ve known I was gay since adolescence. I dated girls in high school but found sex with them routine and mechanical. As soon as I went away to university and came out, I knew I’d found myself.

My partner was married before, and we are friendly with his ex-wife (they have kids together). Recently, I’ve found myself sexually attracted to her. I haven’t experienced this with any other woman, and it’s just so screamingly inappropriate. I can’t discuss this with anyone, act on it or make it go away. I can’t quit seeing her, or start “seeing” her, or discuss it with my partner.

Is this about her, me, my relationship, my orientation? Will it pass? What do I do? I’m so confused and…


Dear Disgraced,

Lucky is the person who gets through life without some sort of sexual dilemma. These crises almost always throw us for a loop.

Let’s deconstruct your alarm.

You learned in high school that having sex with women made you uncomfortable. A few years later you came out and settled into a romantic, erotic and social framework that fit you better.

It sounds like you’ve always maintained friendships with women. You’ve been sharing camaraderie (and family bonds) with a woman who enjoyed the same kind of relationship you now have with your partner. That can be a very intimate connection. It could be that since both of you have felt erotically attracted to your boyfriend, it is easy for you to feel an erotic charge for her. She may even have noticed some chemistry but, being more accustomed to heterosexual attraction, been able to dismiss it or relegate it benignly to her fantasy bank.

Let’s look at this from yet another perspective.

You settled into your queer orientation a couple of decades ago. You’ve been with your present mate for one of them. You describe your life as “stable.” If you found yourself attracted to an available woman, you might actually have to act on those feelings to test them out. In this situation, the consequences of doing so would likely be so enormous and so negative that it demands you do not. How could you design a safer scenario?

You allow yourself the anguish and exhilaration of emotional and mental meanderings but never stray into behavioural experimentation.

If you were truly in a crisis regarding your orientation, you would find yourself attracted to women, not just one woman. Sounds like you can safely eliminate that worry.

You seem to be quite fond of this woman who is an integral part of your chosen family. What a bonus! Intimacy reigns. She’s the former lover of your current lover, the mother of your stepchildren, a hang-out buddy. Sexual fantasies are almost unavoidable, and acting on them forbidden.

The taboo element is in high gear with this fantasy, and you now have it married to shame and guilt. Why would you torture yourself this way?

After 10 years a relationship can lose lustre if it is not polished with care and attention. Many seek relief from such boredom in affairs, but those can prove more dangerous and bruising than intended. One must be brave and foolish to attempt this avenue.

Others withdraw from frustration by immersing themselves in work, sports, alcohol or drugs. Previously precious shared time becomes cordial (hopefully) habitual cohabitation. Less is invested in, and reaped from, the relationship.

Sometimes it’s not the marriage that’s disappointing us but our own stagnant lives. We look for something to shake things up, to bring us focus, to give us something to get excited about. It’s times like this when we are vulnerable to scammers and hard luck stories, so hungry are we to feel lucky or needed. Taboo also takes on a more alluring pull.

If you are personally or relationally bored, involvement rather than escape is the solution.

What if you just allowed yourself the luxury of indulging in the taboo fantasy? That may well discharge it, stripped as it would be of its forbidden nature. Commonly, suppressing thoughts makes them stronger, while permission weakens them. Almost everyone experiences surprising and unwanted fantasies at some time — for a parent, child or sibling, a co-worker or student. They rattle us but go away again, unexplained and unspoken. The trick is to accept them but not act upon them.

Worst-case scenario is that you have developed this “crush” as a justification for leaving your relationship. Making a pass at this woman would accomplish this tidily. If this is what’s happening, you’re better off figuring that out and disentangling honestly. Leaving well is always the best policy.

Otherwise, this is likely not serious. Determine if it is masking something deeper. If not, accept it and move on.