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Emotional affairs vs. "appropriate" friendships with the opposite sex

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STR:
I’m not sure where to post this, but I thought the “Women” section might be an appropriate place. SO Reboot Partner has been discussing her husband's (potential) emotional affair with his former assistant, and my post is on a related topic.

The last time I looked at porn was February 23, 2013. Since that time, I have done a lot of work on myself, trying to stop to all of my sexually compulsive behavior and to become a more committed husband to my wife. I think it’s fair to say that I have made tremendous progress in a lot of areas. I no longer look at porn, I no longer ogle women on the street, I no longer fantasize about women, and I no longer masturbate. Those are all things that I used to do on a daily basis, and for most of my life, I would not have believed it was possible for me to stop doing those things, at least not until I was 80 years old or something.

I am very glad that I never “cheated on” my wife in the sense of touching any other woman, but I have come to realize that I have cheated on her in a sense by seeking something from other women that I should have only sought from her. In particular, there is a young woman (YW, for short) that has lived in the same building that my wife and I lived in for the past 5 years. I’ve spoken about YW a few times in my journal at YBR, but long story short, YW and I hit it off from the very beginning. I am very introverted and almost never have conversations with people, unless those people are nerdy and academic and can talk about nerdy/academic subjects. YW is very nerdy and academic, and she is one of those few people that I can easily have long conversations with despite my introversion and social awkwardness. Since we live in the same building, we run into each naturally from time to time, and we always end up chatting for a while.

At some point in time (3 years ago or so), we started meeting each other for lunch so that we could chat for longer sessions (e.g. 1.5 to 2 hours). I didn't tell my wife about these lunches, so they were essentially a secret that I kept from her. In addition to being drawn to YW's academic brain, I was/am drawn to her caring and nurturing heart. She’s a very empathetic person who is good at providing emotional support, and I have always been drawn to those types of people (especially when they are female. My mother has never provided me with emotional support, so maybe that has something to do with it). Over time, our topics of conversation broadened to include sharing information of a more personal and emotional nature, and I found myself sensing a strong emotional bond to her. (I later realized that I was essentially having an “emotional affair” with her). Neither of us made any “moves” on each other, and I never tried to touch her or anything along those lines.

However, I was very physically attracted to her. Up until a year ago, I used to fantasize about YW all the time, during masturbation and during sex with my wife. There was a long stretch of time over which I thought about YW during pretty much every orgasm that I had, always saving in my mind a really arousing fantasy about her for just the right moment. I even reached a point where I had a difficult time getting erect without thinking about her.

In addition to fantasizing about her sexually, I also used to daydream about what it would be like to be married to her. I didn’t want to trade my wife for YW, but I did think it would be nice to live in two parallel universes, where I could be married to my current wife in one and to YW in the other.

It took a lot of difficult and painful work on myself to reach the point where I am today, where I no longer fantasize about YW in any way. I initiated a recent conversation with her about defining our relationship. I don’t think either of us considers the other to be a “friend”, in the sense that we don’t really hang out together or see each other that often, particularly when you consider that we live so close to each other. She said that she thinks of our relationship as a “mentoring one”, in the sense that I am able to share a lot of my own experience in planning out my career and such, which is something that she has been doing since I met her.

I don’t have any siblings, and I think I’ve always subconsciously sought to have 1-2 really close friends in my life that could play a surrogate-sibling role. In the case of YW, I have come to think of her as a kind of “younger sister that I never had”, and I told her once that I would love to have her for a sister. The interactions that we have with each other would be perfectly appropriate for actual siblings, but that’s the problem: she isn’t my sister, and I am not her brother. I am a married man, and she is a single female.

So I guess that brings me to the point of my post, which is to say that in addition to not looking at porn, not ogling, not fantasizing, and not masturbating, I have also come to realize that one of my goals in recovery is to be able to have healthy/appropriate friendships with females without any kind of physical attraction or emotional attachment getting in the way. (If that’s even possible…?).

My wife and I have spoken about putting boundaries on my interactions with YW that my wife is comfortable with, and I stick to those boundaries. I tell my wife ahead of time if YW and I are planning to get together, and I don't really initiate any of these get-togethers anymore. When we do meet (which isn't very often), it's usually because YW suggests a meeting, which I think she does out of obligation rather than a burning desire to spend time with me. But I still find myself thinking about YW way too much, and find myself wanting to spend more time with her than we currently spend. (We have been meeting for lunch once every 1-3 months, which isn’t very often in my mind).

I have thought about ending all interaction with YW as a response to my thinking about her too much. I know that some people who are trying to overcome a PMO addiction have placed filters on their computers to make it difficult for them to access porn, and while I don’t have a problem with that, I think our goal should ultimately be to reach a point where we can sit at a computer by ourselves with a fully-functional Internet connection without choosing to look at porn. By the same token, my goal is not to eliminate people like YW from my life altogether: my goal is to be able to be around women like her without her dominating my thoughts when we’re apart.

I'm not totally on board with the idea of spending more time with YW than I currently do, but I also find that the small amount of time we currently spend together leaves me feeling unsatisfied. In some ways, she's a bit like porn in that respect: getting a little bit of her time makes me want more, and I never get enough to satisfy me.

I’m not sure I have a question for the group here, but I thought I would just throw this out there to see if any of you fine ladies and/or gentlemen would like to weigh in…

Rainiegirl:
I believe it is possible to have appropriate friendships with the opposite sex. I have had many close friendships with men. On the other hand, I have never fantasized about them sexualy. I think that if your in a relationship and you cross that line, you should probaly end the friendship. Please don't take offence to this but I think you need to see your affair with a different perspective. The fact is that you have used this YW for sexual pleasure and you have used your wife's body to do so. It is offensive to both women. You can't take that back and say that you now feel a sibling type bond to the girl. If you had a physical afair with the YW would you still feel that it is OK to meet up with her on a regular basis? In my mind a emotional affair is worse than a physical one.

Bibbity:
I feel that this particular relationship has gone too far.  You've already formed the emotional bond and fantasized about her during sex.  The barrier that should have encircled you and your wife's bond has been breached and there is no going back.  My personal opinion (which you can take or leave!) is to end the meetings with this person. I view her as a 'threat' that needs to be eliminated and you should see it that way too.  Your sexual and emotional energy should be directed at your wife.  I am sure this woman knows the effect she is having on you and although I do not know her I think that is pretty cruel to do to your wife.  I would never hang out with a married man consistently unless I was expecting it to go further.  It's just not the proper 'rules of engagement'.

Can you be friends with other women?  I think so but recognize the signs of emotional attachment before they happen so you don't go further in your heart and mind.  My husband doesn't really have female friends that aren't also friends with me and he doesn't hang out with them in private. 

Also can I say how great it is that you've come so far in your journey.  It is simply amazing what you've accomplished and it sounds like you want to do right by your wife!

SO Reboot Partner:
STR, I'm very grateful you posted this and was gracious enough to tell your story. Thank you.

You obviously have worked through your own moral compass and made your own decision. I understand how it feels on the spouse end of the story, but it is very good to hear that the hard work of really hammering out the why for one's own self is possible. It is a feat that leaves me in awe.

One of the common elements of those that really conquer their PMO issue (you, lte and others) is this ability to listen to others then build a ethos rather than simply adhere to a list of do's and don'ts. Of course testing that is going to bring discomfort, since when we go against our own value system we usually don't like it much, but the end results are right there.

STR:

--- Quote from: Rainiegirl on May 31, 2014, 05:49:37 PM ---I believe it is possible to have appropriate friendships with the opposite sex. I have had many close friendships with men. On the other hand, I have never fantasized about them sexualy. I think that if your in a relationship and you cross that line, you should probaly end the friendship. Please don't take offence to this but I think you need to see your affair with a different perspective. The fact is that you have used this YW for sexual pleasure and you have used your wife's body to do so. It is offensive to both women. You can't take that back and say that you now feel a sibling type bond to the girl. If you had a physical afair with the YW would you still feel that it is OK to meet up with her on a regular basis? In my mind a emotional affair is worse than a physical one.

--- End quote ---

Hi Rainiegirl - Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I used to think that an emotional affair was "not as bad" as a physical affair, but I have learned firsthand the dangers of emotional affairs and I feel like I now have the wherewithal to avoid going down that road again. I agree with what you say, and on some level, I have already taken steps in the direction of ending the relationship with YW. Some number of months ago I stopped contacting her at all, other than for building-related minutiae. I also stopped "hanging around the building in hopes of running into her", which I used to do a lot. There has always been a good possibility that YW would move out of town, and as recently as a few weeks ago, I was 95% certain that she would be moving this summer. But things changed unexpectedly and it looks like she'll probably be staying for a while.

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