Dearest sweet peas: It’s become my tradition that every time I reach a new decade of columns I do a Q&A, in which I whip out shorter answers to several questions instead of the usual longer, single question column.
Enjoy the read and come back for more next week.
What’s it all about?
It’s all about love. Trite, but true. Today’s column is about love too. Romantic love, specifically. I didn’t intend for it to be that way. I intended for there to be one question about how an attractive 34 year-old woman might go about getting laid sans love. I wrote the answer, but I’m not yet satisfied enough with it to publish it, even though it features advice from an old cowboy I met twenty years ago. I intended for there to be another question about poetry and which ten books of poems you should read, but my answer went on so long that it didn’t fit into this column that’s allegedly, but not actually, a brief q & a.
Last year I met a guy who is wonderful, though I recognize he has a lot of growing up to do (he’s 24). We get along well, have a similar sense of humor (which is sort of rare for me), and have great sex. After nine months, I still get a tingle in my gut when I see him. Our relationship started casually, but over time we got to know each other and became ourselves around each other. We can cook together and be silly and go on adventures and read to each other and have sex on the floor and then make a cake and eat it in bed. In the beginning, I was okay with us not being monogamous, but once our relationship became more than a fling, I realized I wanted a commitment. We talked and he told me that sleeping with just one person could get boring, but that he clearly likes me or else he wouldn’t spend time with me. He said he was afraid I would change him somehow—turn him into someone he’s not. I didn’t understand him then, and I still don’t. Am I just dense? He likes me, but not enough to say he likes only me? Maybe it’s that simple.
We still see each other pretty often, just now without the sex. I care for him, but I don’t know if I’m foolish to stick around to see where it goes. Am I torturing myself by keeping him a part of my life?
Dear Needs Direction,
I have a lot of letters like yours. Most go on at length, describing all sorts of maddening situations and communications in bewildered detail, but in each there is the same tiny question at its core: can I convince the person about whom I’m crazy to be crazy about me?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is no.
The sad but strong and true answer is the one you already told yourself: this man likes you, but not the way you like him. Which is to say, not enough.
So now you get to decide what you want to do about that. Are you able to be friends—or even occasional lovers—with this man who is less crazy about you than you are about him without feeling:
a) bad about yourself
b) resentful of him or
c) like you’re always aching for more?
If the answer is not yes on all three counts, I suggest you give your friendship a rest, even if it’s just for the time it takes you to get over him. There are so many things to be tortured about, sweet pea. So many torturous things in this life. Don’t let a man who doesn’t love you be one of them.
I’m crushing in middle age. That’s pretty much it. I’m middle aged, married, and crushing on a friend. And it’s full blown, just like in high school, sweaty palms, distracted, giddy, the whole she-bang. So far it has gone no farther than flirting and I really, really know better. My question isn’t what should I do (I’m pretty clear I should behave), but what should I do with all this delightful but distressing energy?
Steer clear of the object of your crush and use that “delightful but distressing energy” to reinvest in what matters most to you—your marriage, it seems. Do something extra sweet for your spouse this week. Have sex tonight and make it hella hot and good. Go for a long walk or a lingering dinner together and lovingly discuss how you’re going to keep your love as well as your romance strong. You’re clear you don’t want to act on your crush, so trust that clarity and be grateful that you have it, sweet pea. My inbox is jammed with emails from people who are not so clear. They’re tortured by indecision and guilt and lust. They love X but want to fuck Z. It is the plight of almost every middle aged monogamous married person at one time or another. We all love X but want to fuck Z.
Z is so gleaming, so crystalline, so unlikely to bitch at you for neglecting to take out the recycling. Nobody has to haggle with Z. Z doesn’t wear a watch. Z is like a motorcycle with no one on it. Beautiful. Going nowhere.
I’ve been involved with a married man for the past several months. I am also married. I’ve been married for eight years and he’s been married for thirty-three years. I’m 36; he’s 61. We’ve known each other for years and had an intense attraction (physical, emotional, professional, intellectual, spiritual) for most of that time, but managed not to act on it until recently. Then we started seeing each other for passionate little rendezvous that included hot heavy petting but never more. We decided we would leave our spouses to be together, and set the wheels in motion.
About a month ago—a few weeks before we were each going to move into private spaces so we could finally consummate our years-long lovelovelove for each other—he and his wife called me up. “I do not love you,” he droned into the phone like a robot while she coached in the background. She got on the phone and told me that our relationship was bullshit, a fantasy. I cried into the phone, told him I did love him, apologized to his wife, who had been my friend, and hung up.
Three weeks passed without a peep from him. I bawled and cried and squalled like a monkey every day. I decided that my marriage was beyond repair after this relationship. I’m taking my own place in a month.
My married boyfriend contacted me last week to apologize and to tell me that he did—and does—love me, but that he and his wife are endeavoring to rebuild what they had, though he has little hope because he’s in love with me.
I STILL want to be with this guy. I know he’s acted terribly in so many ways, as have I, but I have deep forgiveness in my heart for him. I think he is in the incredibly difficult process of deciding to be with me, which will be devastating for him because it requires that he dissolve the business he built with his wife and rearrange his life completely and reimagine who he is in the world. That is a lot to do. Here are my questions:
1) Am I a total scumbag because I think the rightest, truest thing in the world is for this man to devastate his decades-long partner, who is a wonderful person, to be with me?
2) Is there any possibility of this relationship being any good whatsoever, given its weird and destructive beginning? I have no experience with this, having a history of mostly emotionally stable relationships with available partners. Can something so fucked up turn out okay?
I have a tremendous amount of weird hope that this is going to work out great for this man I love so much and me. I want to plunge in and recklessly love him to pieces! I have a bottomless well of goodwill for him, and I’m just waiting for him to come and drink from the well. Should I get my head checked?
Dear Adulterous Dope,
You poor thing. I’m sorry for your heartbreak. There are many questions woven into your letter in regards to how this love tangle you’re in might unknot itself, but you asked me only two, so I’ll get right to them:
- You are not a total scumbag because you think the rightest, truest thing in the world is for this man to devastate his decades-long partner, who is a wonderful person, to be with you, but you are a fool to think that you know what the rightest, truest thing is for anyone but yourself. Your lover must decide if destroying the life he’s made with his wife in order to create a life with you is the rightest, truest thing for him. It might be. It might not be. Your opinion about this matters little. Just as your lover’s wife can’t fully imagine the “years-long lovelovelove” you and her husband have for each other, you cannot fully imagine what goes on between the two of them. It wasn’t a robot who called you up and said he didn’t love you, sweet pea. It was your beloved paramour. He’s mixed up and conflicted—perhaps because he’s scared about all he’ll lose if he ends his marriage; perhaps because he realized he loves his wife in a different and more powerful way than he loves you. Only time will tell which is truer. Meanwhile, there is only the painful information that he has so clearly given you: that, at least for now, he wants to stay with his wife and rebuild his marriage, regardless of his feelings for you.
- Because of this, your second question—about the possibility of your relationship working out given its destructive beginnings—is moot. Of course it can. All sorts of bright shiny couples have emerged from enormous piles of reeking love crap. But it seems to me that you’re the only one stepping out of the dung, sister. That man you love? He isn’t anywhere near the barn. He’s up in the house on the hill, home with his wonderful wife. I’m sorry to say it, but I think you’re going to have to ask a different question, the one only you can answer: how you’re going to live your life without the man you love. This involves some suffering. But you will be okay, dear one. I can see your future okayness so clearly it’s like an apple sitting in my palm. Just do your work and live your life and squall like a monkey until you can’t squall anymore. The good thing about a squall is that it blows all the enormous piles of reeking crap away. It leaves behind only the rightest, truest things.
I’m getting married in July. Why do I feel totally aggressive and angry? How does anyone get through this event?
My guess is you’re the bride and that you feel aggressive and angry because you’re in wedding planning hell and you’re caught up in all the expectations, outdated fairy tales, overpriced products, and irrational beliefs that one adheres to when one believes it possible to flawlessly orchestrate the behaviors, conversations, drinking habits and outfits of a large group of in-laws, out-laws, friends, strangers and coworkers while simultaneously having a meaningful and intimate exchange with your sweetheart in front of an audience. It is not. Or at least it’s not possible in exactly the way you’re imagining now, sweet pea. I’m quite certain that whatever you’re all worked up about these days—the colors of your napkins, the invitation that should or should not be sent to your mother’s cousin Ray—matters little and whatever will actually happen on that day in July when you get married will positively blow your mind.
Your wedding is going to be a kick, honey bun, but only after you accept that it isn’t something to “get through.” Perhaps it might help to stop thinking about it as the perfect “event,” but rather a messy, beautiful, and gloriously unexpected day in your sweet life. My own wedding was really something, though for a good stretch it appeared that everything had gone to hell. As our one hundred or so guests arrived, it was pouring rain and we’d made no rain contingency plans for our outdoor wedding. Mr. Sugar realized he forgot his pants sixty miles away, back in the city where we lived, and I realized I forgot the marriage license. My mother-in-law arrived dressed like a sheepherder from Biblical times if sheepherders from Biblical times wore teal and one of my old friends pulled me aside to grill me about why I hadn’t chosen her to be a bridesmaid. I couldn’t find the bobby pins I’d brought to pin my veil to my hair and then once other bobby pins had been purchased, in a mad dash relay effort that involved two local drugstores, I and seven of my girlfriends couldn’t get the god damn veil to stay on my head.
Many of those things seemed calamitous at the time, but they are now among my most treasured memories of that day. If they hadn’t happened, I’d have never run down the street in the rain holding Mr. Sugar’s hand laughing and crying at the same time because I was going to have to marry him in a dingy library basement instead of on the banks of a beautiful river. I’d have never felt the way it feels when everyone you know volunteers to drive at an illegal speed to retrieve a pair of pants and a piece of paper. I’d have never known what a Biblical-times sheepherder might look like in teal, or that important piece of information about my old friend. And I wouldn’t have been so distracted by getting those god damned bobby pins in my hair that I didn’t realize the rain had stopped and Mr. Sugar had discreetly enlisted our guests to carry one hundred white wooden chairs a quarter mile, from the terrible library basement back to the grassy spot on the banks of the beautiful river, where I hoped to marry him in the sunlight and did.
We all get lost in the minutiae, but don’t lose this day. Make a list of everything that needs to be seen to and decided and worried about between now and July and then circle the things that matter the most to you and do them right. Delegate or decide on the other stuff and refuse to worry anymore. Let your wedding be a wonder. Let it be one hell of a good time. Let it be what you can’t yet imagine and wouldn’t orchestrate even if you could. Remember why it is you’ve gone to so much trouble that you’ve been driven to anger and aggression and an online advice columnist. You’re getting married, sweet pea! There’s a day in July that’s a shimmering slice of your mysterious destiny. All you’ve got to do is show up.