DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: This may be complicated.
I have known Someone for about five years now and have always really enjoyed their company. Over the past 3ish months, Someone and I have gotten quite a bit closer, having more in-depth conversations, sharing more of our attention and time with each other. Though they live about 5 hours away from me, we’re both quite comfortable on the internet and use it daily for our jobs. Someone has been dating their current partner for… damn, 13 years? 14 years? They’ve been dating, living together, and sharing a life for their entire adult lives, nearly.
My birthday came around and, as always, I threw a party! Small gathering, only my closest friends, really great food and music, quiet, reserved. And Someone actually decided to fly out… but asked their partner to stay home. Someone stayed with ME for several days, before and after the party, and it was marvelous. Truly marvelous. We clicked and shared great chemistry, we had so many common interests and talking was effortless for us both. They got a little physical with me, but only touching and sharing a bed to sleep in. It’s important to me to be absolutely clear we did NOT kiss, hold hands, have sex, or share any intimacy beyond lounging together and watching movies and a very long hug before they left.
Now it’s my turn to visit them. When I asked what their partner would be up to, they told me “They’ll be out of town.” Then it evolved to Someone wanting to get a hotel instead of staying with their roommates at their house – to the tune of several hundred dollars…
Someone is a very sexual person and I am certainly not. Someone also wants desperately to be in an open relationship with their 13-year partner, and they steadfastly refuse.
So we’ve reached the point where I feel I need to come out and say – I have no interest in helping them cheat on their partner. We’ve had the conversations, Someone believes it’s time for them to find a new job, move out of the shared house with their partner, and move on geographically, mentally, emotionally, and with different relationships – that after 13 years, they don’t feel the kinship they deserve. And all of Someone’s friends agree – they should have left years ago.
But I still feel unwell about the prospect of helping someone cheat. I don’t want to be a fling that grows cold in a few months or be the spark that starts a fire between two people. I don’t want to be a cause for malcontent.
I can’t help how I feel, and Someone can’t help how they feel, but I can certainly NOT help them be promiscuous with me and hurt their partner. So… how do I say that? How should I convey that I do not want to be physical despite our feelings? Am I already helping them be unfaithful because I’m letting them share such deep emotions with me while still, technically, in a monogamous relationship?
It’s All So Murky
DEAR ITS ALL SO MURKY: It’s not that murky, IASM, not really. It’s actually fairly straightforward. Or rather, it would be if you and Someone were dealing with the same issues and you are emphatically not. In fact, that’s the entire problem; you and they are coming at this from radically different directions; not so much as “parallel vs. perpendicular” as “a car and a freight train on course for a head-on collision”. And unfortunately, Someone’s the freight train in this equation.
Here’s the big disconnect. Someone clearly wants out of their marriage and they are at a point where they’re not particularly subtle about it. Nor, for that matter, do they seem concerned about the manner in which they do so or the fallout that would result from it. While I don’t doubt that you and Someone have a connection or that the two of you really got closer while they were visiting you, I’d be worried that Someone is seeing you as a potential Relationship Self-Destruct Button rather than a potential partner.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure they legitimately care, but this has all the hallmarks of someone feeling something, anything, and being willing to round that up to… love, lust, whatever, so that they can finally have a justification to leave a relationship that they clearly want out of. This isn’t all that uncommon. Some folks have a hard time leaving a relationship if they don’t feel as though they have a crashpad waiting for them as soon as they eject. Others have a difficult time accepting that a relationship can be over because they want it to be over; they feel like they need a cause or a reason to end it. Still others worry that if they don’t burn every bridge behind them, they may not be able to leave or would just come back. Cheating – or “falling for” someone – is as good a way to meet any or all of those parameters as one is wont to find. God knows that it would make it very, very difficult for any but the most ardent partner want to try to make things work.
Now, why Someone feels like they can’t just break up with their partner is ultimately their business. The problem is that they’re making it your business too and that’s not fair.
Which is where your end of things comes in. You aren’t a sexual person. You don’t say if this is because you’re asexual, demisexual or just have a low libido or what, but that alone is a big reason why what Someone is doing is Not Cool. They’re trying very hard to pull you into their drama, and using your feelings as the lever to make it happen. The fact that they’re making it increasingly blatant that they want to cheat and to cheat with you is bad in general, but the fact that you care about them makes it worse. They may not be doing it consciously, but it is a form of manipulation. It’s not very good or effective manipulation. But it’s still manipulation. And that ain’t cool.
Just as importantly though, it’s not cool to put you in a position where you’re an accessory to their crime. Some folks may be ok with being the piece on the side for their own reasons, but you aren’t. And even if you were, it sounds like you’re not ok with being the hammer that Someone is using to smack their partner in the junk. Because I can’t emphasize this enough: that’s also not cool of them. And it’s good of you that you’re not only aware of this, but that you’re willing to draw boundaries and say “um… no.”
To be clear: I don’t think Someone is thinking “oh, I know, I’ll use IASM as my catspaw to get what I want” and then laughing while twirling a glorious villain mustache. I think they’re taking your relationship and the way it intensified recently as an opportunity to get what they’re ultimately after: a get-out-of-relationship-no-backsies card. I suspect that they’re sincere in how they think they feel, but I don’t think they’re aware that all of this seems to be an affair of mutual inconvenience, not True Love blooming in the shadow of a crumbling relationship. That’s not fair, that’s not kind and that’s not a good way to end things, no matter how badly they want out. Especially since it seems that their partners’ sins are “we’re no longer a good match for each other” rather than them being The Bad One.
So what do you tell Someone? Well, honestly, you tell them what you told me. First, that you’re not a sexual person (if you’re asexual, I suggest saying that) and that your feelings don’t have a sexual or physical aspect to them. Secondly, however, as much as you care for Someone, you’re also not interested in being the reason for or the cause of their relationship ending and you won’t be dragged into their drama. In fact, I would suggest that – assuming you want some sort of relationship with Someone going forward – that Someone needs to quit farting around and be the one to pull the trigger on the break-up they so clearly want instead of hoping that someone else will do it for them. They need to put on their grown-up pants and end things with their partner, quickly, cleanly and directly, rather than trying to engineer a confrontation. Unless and until they do, they need to dial things back with you because none of it is fair to you. And if they care and respect you as much as they imply… well, then they shouldn’t treat you like an accessory in all of this.
Draw some lines in the sand, IASM and make it clear that you won’t cross ’em for love nor money nor Pappy Van Winkle. Sex isn’t in the cards, period, and Someone needs to muscle up and deal with their relationship issues first, because they’re making it everyone’s problem. Until then? They need to step back and not expect you to take a guest-starring role in their drama, just because the two of you are close and getting closer. That’s not what friends do, that’s not what lovers do and it’s certainly not something that one does to people one respects.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org