For the last year I have been seeing my ex from 15 years ago. She is married with three kids. I am also married but (am separated). We both have not had the funds to get a divorce, especially her because hers is going to cost a lot, because she knows that her husband will fight her tooth and nail. She is solely dependent on him for financial security. They don’t sleep in the same bed, nor do they have sex (at least I hope not). She tells me that she definitely wants to divorce him and wants to be with me.
When we first started seeing each other and I moved out of my house, she started coming to where I am currently living at nights and on weekends, but she would have to get up every morning early and go back to her house. That took a great toll on her body, so she stopped doing that. So now we see each other when we can, and this is very hard to deal with, especially when he is there and she is there, and all I can get is a text from her ’cause she damn sure can’t call me while he is there. She does, however, call me when she goes to bed.
Whenever we aren’t together I freak out and start worrying about things, like are they in the same room together, is she gonna change her mind ’cause he is being nice to her, is she ever gonna divorce him, and then I start taking it out on her and being a jerk to her and she’s just about ready to tell me to hit the road. I want to get a grip and deal with this, ’cause I really do believe that we are gonna start saving money and start getting things rolling as far as our divorces go. I can’t leave her because we found each other, and I love her so much and I know she loves me just as much, and I don’t wanna lose her, so please tell me what I should do and how I should deal with this.
— L.W., Las Vegas
In modern usage, the word "integrity" is associated with moral values, as in, "That man lacks integrity." Meaning, perhaps, that the man is dishonest, a thief, does not stand by his word, etc. But there is another, more literal way to use the word "integrity," and I think of it as I read your letter.
From the Latin integra, meaning "inner strength" — integrity refers to the inner strength yielded from things being "rightly related." Structural engineers and carpenters are among the few who still use this word literally; perhaps you’ve seen someone lift a 2-by-4 piece of lumber to his eye, roll it around a few times, then put it back in the bin because "the board lacks integrity."
L.W., love relationships between people who are married to other people lack integrity, not first because these relationships are wrong, bad, naughty, immoral, etc., but because the participants cannot, by definition, be rightly related. Marriage is a powerful symbol, a symbol that remains powerful even when the mates are long-estranged, physically separated and categorically done with the marriage. Right now, this symbol is an immutable barrier between you and your ex.
You have a "love out of context," which, ultimately, can have no other outcome than being chronically beset by various combinations of fear, insecurity, anxiety, conflicts and disconnects. Your love is clandestine, and love doesn’t thrive in secret. Furthermore, you and your ex cannot ultimately have clarity about your potential together unless and until you are both actually available.
Right now, neither of you is available. No amount of love for the other will change that. The only thing that will change is … choosing each other. Don’t tell me, "But we’ve already done that!" No, you haven’t. I know that because both of you are still married.
You have three choices: 1) End the relationship, 2) Admit to what you have chosen for now — the chaos of a kinda/sorta relationship that lacks inner strength or 3) You can choose each other. You can decide this love is worth any sacrifice, even the sacrifice of losing nearly everything in a divorce and living in an economy apartment eating lots of macaroni and cheese off a cheap card table.
We can’t complain about not having what we have thus far not chosen.
Well, we can complain, I suppose, but our complaints wouldn’t have any integrity.
Originally published in View News, April 5, 2011.