In this week's Lifeclass, Lesley Garner advises a reader who wanted an affair and craves excitement.
I am a married woman in my mid forties with two grown-up children. I emigrated to Australia five years ago, and I have a wonderful job, nice friends and a fantastic husband. The trouble is I am in love with another man. I used to work with him but he is now working elsewhere.
He and I hit it off immediately when we met two years ago. He, too, emigrated from Britain so we had a lot in common. I loved his personality, wit, humour, looks, the whole lot. The physical attraction and chemistry was immense and always is whenever I see him (which hasn't been for six months). He is also married with young children but has told me he is unhappy. Things came to a head a year ago when we shared a kiss and told of our feelings for each other. However, since then he has barely spoken to me.
On one occasion, after he had drunk a fair bit of alcohol, he told me he loved me, and that I was everything he wanted, but he couldn't leave his kids. I haven't seen him since. When I contacted him shortly after this conversation he told me I shouldn't take it to heart.
I have been grieving for so long for this man. He emailed me a month ago, and asked me out to lunch. I was on a complete high for days but then he cancelled an hour before we were due to meet. I rearranged, then he cancelled again.
I know that whatever we had is over. But how do I move on? Every minute of every day I think of him. I check my emails and cell phone obsessively. My poor husband has no idea. He just thinks I am depressed and tries to cheer me up as best he can. I love my husband, he is one in a million. But I confess to feeling bored. I need some passion and excitement, and I thought I had found it with this man. I am ashamed to admit, I did want an affair.
Can you offer me any words of advice or comfort? Maybe you could direct me to an essay in one of your books that might help.
When I read your email I knew that I wanted to address it in this column but I also knew that I didn't want you to spend another unnecessary minute in this anguished, deluded, infatuated state. So I sent you a brief reply. I said that I would answer you in due course, but that in the meantime this man had absolutely nothing to offer you, and you should read a bracing book called He's Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt. You sent me back a cheery reply, thanking me for the recommendation and saying that Greg Behrendt's other book, It's Called a Break Up Because It's Broken, was also terrific.
I'm not usually that brisk and direct but I recognise the syndrome of self-delusion, both in myself and in other people, and I know that there is something seductive about it. Who doesn't enjoy being intoxicated? Intoxication, whether from drink, drugs or our own self-generated, hormonal chemistry, is not just seductive, it's addictive. And if we don't consume the toxins wisely, we risk surrendering to a turmoil of false hope, excitement, danger and fantasy. If being intoxicated weren't addictive, our chirpy, commonsensical, everyday self – the one who sounds like our best friend – would have talked us out of this mess long before.
It is possible to resist the onset of hopeless love. I watched a mature friend do it once. She was very attracted to an unsuitable man but she took a deep breath and walked away because, as she admirably said: "I didn't want to feel like a teenager again."
But it can be thrilling to feel like a teenager. And it can be especially thrilling if you have been feeling like a sober, responsible adult for a very long time.
So why didn't you, a sober, responsible adult, walk away from the lure of an affair that could only end badly? Firstly, to get into this kind of mess, and to see any hope in it, we have to be vulnerable. Depressed emotional states, the ones that follow break-up, divorce, death, can make us vulnerable. Our morale has to be very low in order for us to build hope on such fragile foundations. You say you were bored; boredom can certainly lower our resistance to emotional infection.
Secondly, there obviously was a spark. And there was encouragement. I don't blame you at all for responding to an excitement you hadn't felt for a long, long time. The trouble began when you decided to focus on certain signals and completely ignore others, just as strong ones. You exercised no caution or self-preservation.
The trouble is, as you have discovered, once an infection like this has taken hold, it doesn't disappear with a dose of antibiotics. It becomes a raging fever that is very difficult to shake off. He didn't have it as badly as you. In fact, he backed off very quickly, and after that point, you were out there on your own, reading the runes. Something in one of my books that might help you is a chapter called "How Do You Know When It's Over?" from Everything I've Ever Learned about Love. The difference between the two of you – a difference that I would say alarmed him – is that he didn't lose his grip on reality.
I think that when these things happen to sensible, mature adults they can be much more devastating than when they happen to teenagers. We have forgotten what it feels like to be at the mercy of our hormones. The sense of wonder is more overwhelming. Me? At my age? When I thought I would never fall in love again?
It sounds from your second email, Louise, as though you are beginning to get a grip but I want to give you a bit more hope. You need to take further action. You didn't really want the man. You didn't really want to turn your perfectly good life upside down. What you wanted, as you admit, was excitement. Well, there are plenty of ways to find excitement without wrecking your life, and I don't mean buying new underwear and trying to seduce your lovely husband – at least, not right away.
I recently went to a talk given by the American life coach Martha Beck and she had something relevant to say. The state of feeling in love can be replicated by other means without wrecking your marriage. Tribal people and shamans pursue a state of ecstasy via the Four Ds – dancing, drumming, dreaming and drugs. Obviously, I am not recommending drugs, but dancing and drumming can certainly elevate your mood without a hangover. These are the tried-and-tested techniques for dissolving boundaries and feeling at one with life, otherwise known, when another person is involved, as falling in love. I would also recommend adventurous sports, skiing, climbing, skydiving, sea diving, sailing, surfing, anything that gives an adrenalin surge and leaves you high. And these are activities your husband might enjoy, too. When we get too comfortable in life we get bored. When we get bored, we are vulnerable to recklessness. We take stupid risks.
The preventive cure for boredom-induced recklessness is to take a deliberate and planned step out of our own comfort zone. Take calculated risks instead. Here's another book suggestion. Try Martha Beck's The Joy Diet. It will give you some ideas of how to tap into your own resources of happiness and excitement.
What do you think? Can you recover from unrequited love? Or do you have a different problem for me to look at?
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