I have been married for 10 years on my second marriage. I love the man I’m married to and see us together for life. I am also having an affair with another man. He is also married, on his first marriage of 30-plus years. He loves his wife and also sees himself staying married to her. We love each other deeply, but we also love our spouses. We have no intention of leaving them. We are having regular sex with our spouses, though both of our spouses are more conservative in that area than we are, and so we readily admit that our sexual relationship no doubt adds to the strong feelings we have for each other. Still, after a year in this relationship, our friendship and companionship are as much a factor in our love for each other as the sex. We feel “committed” to each other, to the extent we can be in that type of relationship.
Neither my boyfriend nor I are particularly religious, but we do see the “moral” side of how society would view our relationship. We do feel some guilt because, although we are very careful, if our spouses found out they would feel devastated. And we love them and care for them enough not to want to see them hurt. We see ourselves as not particularly suited to live together in a married relationship. We love our spouses, with whom we enjoy our public lives. In fact, we both have seen that we are nicer to our spouses, let the “little things” go more and are more accepting of the little annoyances of marriage because of our relationship with each other.
My question is: Do you think that a person can love two people romantically — equally but differently — at the same time? Do you think it’s possible in today’s world for the love to continue and to have a 20-year love affair while being happily married to another? Is a person’s capacity to love someone romantically limited to one commitment? Have you ever seen this type of “parallel” relationship work/last? — N.W., Seattle
Why am I convinced that you already know — and have long since concluded — everything I’m about to type?
It is not only possible to love two people romantically at the same time, it’s quite common. Show me a high-quality, faithfully exclusive marriage of 40-50 years, and often one or both mates encountered at least one experience of connection, love, longing and certainly sexual attraction to someone else.
And yes, sometimes the love continues, as you say. Sometimes forever. In some cases, people acknowledge the love, then ignore it. Sometimes they “convert” the love feelings into an abiding, warm friendship. Other times, the love feelings are too unruly, and the person in question must needs sever the relationship entirely. Other times, people divorce and pursue developing the new love. Other times, they do exactly what you are doing.
Have I seen “parallel relationships” work/last? Well, I’ve seen them last, yes. Work? Depends entirely on what people mean by “work.” And the definition of “work” will be dependent on the answer to another question.
To me, the most important question: What is it, exactly, that I want?
If a person said ...
I love my spouse, and I want this marriage. I enjoy this identity in my public life. I have regular, warm, comfortable sex with my spouse. Though it’s not the sex I’d like to have. There’s enough good here that I’m willing to negotiate the less-conservative sex I would most like to have. I have decided to abandon efforts to negotiate an edgier, more multidimensional sexual courtship with my spouse. But just because I’ve lowered my expectations of sex with my spouse does not mean I’m willing to lower my expectations of sex. It happens that I love another, too. This person would maybe not be suitable for me as a spouse, and I have no such illusions or desires thereof. But this person does provide the additional dimensions of sexual courtship that I desire. And, while I have no motive to devastate my spouse with the discovery of this affair, and while I am therefore committed to great care and vigilance to conceal it, I am nonetheless willing to assume the risk of devastating my spouse. For me, the only way to have all I want from life is to lead a double life. I understand this means that no one person will ever have my entire heart. I accept that. Maybe I prefer it.
... then I would say the world you have forged, N.W., would be the perfect world for that person.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.