My wife and I have been married for eight years and we have to daughters. A few nights ago my best friend, who is a woman, told me she loves me.
Let's back up for a minute. Rachel is my best friend and has been since high school (we're all in our early thirties now). I realized I was in love with Rachel when I was 18 and brushed it off as a crush or lust or infatuation. But as years passed my feelings grew. I never acted on them and she never gave me any sign that she felt the same so I suppressed my feelings so as not to ruin our friendship. Time passed. We dated other people. She had a son and moved out of state for a few years. I got married and my girls were born. When she moved back I was mildly nervous but she, my wife and I got along so well that I thought I had nothing to be concerned about. Her son and my daughters get along and we all have a nice time together.
A point of contention between my wife and me is that I smoke pot. Andrea, my wife, has never said more than a few words about it which basically amounted to she didn't want me smoking all the time but otherwise it didn't bother her. She's not into it but doesn't mind that I am. About six months ago we were talking about the legalization in WA and CO and she said she didn't agree with that, I said I did and that I enjoy it and don't have a problem with it. That has bothered her since. After our second daughter was born five years ago I believe Andrea was depressed, although she vehemently disagreed. (I've dealt with my share of depression over the years so I recognized the signs.) The tension between us was so thick I felt like I couldn't breathe at times when we were around each other. So our relationship became almost non-existent. No sex, hugging, kissing hand-holding, etc. We didn't even sit on the same furniture for months and months.
Things slowly got better but the physical relationship has not returned. This has been going on for about five years. I've told her more than once that I need intimacy between us, and not just sex, but physical contact and emotional support. I don't get any of that and she tells me she just isn't interested in that anymore. I also had a vasectomy around this time. Andrea did not object until after the procedure, and that has been a problem for her since. Fast forward to a few nights ago when Rachel told me she loves me. She and I usually get together about once a week and play games at her place, watch movies, etc. We have many similar interests, especially in books and sense of humor so we enjoy each other's company very much.
The night Rachel told me she loves me, Andrea and I had a frank discussion about our relationship. My wife—Andrea—told me she thinks I should be with someone who makes me happy and that she knows she isn't that person. To complicate things further, Andrea told Rachel that she thinks I'm cheating on her. Andrea told me she thinks I have slept with Rachel and that I might currently be sleeping with her. I absolutely have not slept with Rachel. But all this coming together: Andrea's suspicions of cheating, our lack of intimacy, her dislike of my pot use, Rachel's confession of love, my suppression of that love—it all leaves me with an overwhelming whirlwind of emotion. I am utterly lost. I've suppressed my love for Rachel for so long because I never believed we would be together. But I'm human and I still wanted an emotional connection so I eventually got married.
I don't want to hurt Andrea or our children but how do I turn my back on a love that I have desperately sought for so long?
I've read your column for a long time so I think I can guess what you might say: that I'm in for a lot emotional conversations and some hurt feelings no matter what I decide. I guess I needed to tell someone. I could probably go on for days but I think you get the idea. Thanks for listening.
Love Is Complicated
My response after the jump...
Do you read the New York Times, LIC?
Maria Bello wrote an absolutely beautiful "Modern Love" essay in last Sunday's paper. I think you should read it, LIC, you and Rachel and Andrea.
There's a lot going on in Bello's piece—go read it—but I was particularly moved by Bello's reflections on what it means to be someone's partner.
It’s hard for me even to define the term “partner.” For five years I considered my partner to be a friend then in his 70s, John Calley, with whom I talked daily. He was the one who picked me up each time I had a breakdown about another failed romance. Because we were platonic, did that make him any less of a partner?
And I have never understood the distinction of “primary” partner. Does that imply we have secondary and tertiary partners, too? Can my primary partner be my sister or child or best friend, or does it have to be someone I am having sex with? I have two friends who are sisters who have lived together for 15 years and raised a daughter. Are they not partners because they don’t have sex? And many married couples I know haven’t had sex for years. Are they any less partners?
My feelings about attachment and partnership have always been that they are fluid and evolving. Jack’s father, Dan, will always be my partner because we share Jack. Dan is the best father and the most wonderful man I’ve known. Just because our relationship is nonsexual doesn’t make him any less of a partner. We share the same core values, including putting our son first. My more recent ex, Bryn, remains my partner because we share our activism. And Clare will always be my partner because she is also my best friend.
It seems to me that you could be happily partnered with Andrea, LIC, if being partnered with Andrea didn't prevent you from being partnered with Rachel as well. But if polyamory isn't something the three of you can wrap your heads around—and it's not something most people can wrap their heads around—then it may be time for you to end the marriage aspect of your partnership with Andrea.
But ending your marriage doesn't mean ending your partnership. You and Andrea can continue to love and support each other, just as Maria and Dan have continued to love and support each other, and you can continue to love and parent your children together after your marriage is over, no longer spouses but still partners.