In our first installment of He Said/She said, Brendan and I take a stab at some difficult questions. Remember, we did not consult each other; these answers are ours alone. As always, the identity of those asking questions will be kept 100% confidential. The following answers are our opinions. Brendan and I do not hold degrees in counseling, etc.
40 year-old woman is in a marriage that is “tanking. We’ve lived in separate rooms for several years.” Husband agrees “this is not a marriage” but both seem unwilling to go through with a divorce. Enter 24 year-old male who has been working with said woman for several months. Long story short, there has been an extended flirtation, much time spent together, and lots of text messaging between woman and this co-worker (who has a girlfriend, by the way). The relationship is emotional, not physical, but woman feels co-worker wants something more. Question: “I know this can never work out, not really. He is too young. I have enough people to take care of--I don't want to mother anyone else. And I am married. And he has a girlfriend, and a long life ahead of him. And we work together. All good reasons to keep him in his box in my mind. I know better. I just want to know: WHAT IS HE THINKING??!!!!” Signed-Hidingmyfaceinshame
First of all, thank you for reading and being willing to participate in He Said/She Said. This is a much more difficult question than I anticipated we would get, but I’ll take my best shot at it. Point blank: I don’t think it matters what he is thinking. I say this because you have already acknowledged 6 reasons why this relationship “can never work out.” The only thing important about this man is that he has taught you something very important about yourself. Namely, that you have the capacity to be find emotional fulfillment from someone other than your husband, and that you are interested in finding emotional fulfillment and more. I cannot say “What you really need is a divorce,” but I can only offer that if your marriage is “tanking” and you both consider it “not a marriage,” what is keeping you both in said marriage? You say you keep finding reasons to put it off, namely the benefit of your children, but if you and husband are “sleeping in separate bedrooms” and “speaking less than roommates,” that isn’t a positive example for the children anyway. There are really two steps here: one, you need to sit down with your husband and decide what you both want. Consider this: I’m a child of divorce and my mother divorced at age 39. I don’t think either of us are “ruined” because of the experience. In my mother’s situation, it was for the best (which is not to say that there were not difficulties and downsides to the situation, but we both survived, and she enjoyed her life more, which made her a better mom to me). Maybe you can find a way to work on your marriage and get the fulfillment you are so clearly craving from your husband. Maybe it won’t work out though. That is scary, but it is better to acknowledge that and move on than continue to live in a self-professed “limbo,” which you stated was “driving me nuts.” So, step one: work on marriage and stay married or decide to end marriage and divorce. You say that you cannot cheat, but carrying on this emotional affair is a form of cheating. To clarify: You wouldn’t get a divorce because of this co-worker, you would get a divorce only if you and husband agree staying in the marriage is not an option that makes (or can make) either of you happy. Okay, so, if you do decide to move on: I wouldn’t put any stock in dating this guy. He came into your life for a reason. That reason was to show you your life, as it is, isn't working. And yes, it is highly flattering that he finds you interesting, intelligent, and attractive, and no, you are not stupid for being interested in him. Your reaction is only human nature. But, the rational, logical person in you knows not to take this further. I say this for several reasons. One is, this co-worker of yours, from the descriptions you give, doesn’t sound very mature. He isn’t ready for an actual adult relationship and definitely cannot provide what you need. Two, he has been with his girlfriend for a couple of years, and obviously, he doesn’t treat her very well if he is involved in this emotional relationship with you. If you do move on, and you decide you are ready to date, there will be people out there who will be relationship material. Hint: look for people who are both mature and trustworthy, people who you don’t have to guess what they’re thinking all the time. Divorcing at 40 doesn’t mean you will never find another relationship. In conclusion: Now is the time to be honest with your husband and yourself, do not stall that conversation for another minute. Everyone deserves to be happy, but you cannot find happiness until your life is situated so as to welcome it.
I'm going to be what I hope is mercifully blunt with you. Office Manboy probably fiddles with fantasies of "being your cowboy"** now and again, but I'd doubt he seriously considers a "relationship" of any substance - with you or with anyone else.
But, is he messing with your head? This is for you to decide.
This is how he sees you: You are, by your own description, an attractive older woman, who listens to him and gives him little chores around the house... ahem... the office.
This plays into a pretty standard desire of young men (maybe especially of "sensitive and creative" young men with a penchant for the Cure and BBC Mysteries). Manboy probably is turned on talking to you and thinking about what it might be like to take you home and let you give him a bath. However, it is probably more pleasurable for him to keep this desire in the realm of fantasy than it is to act upon it.
This is where it gets even better for him. He's got you figured out. You are just as unlikely to act as he is, and so he can step right up to the edge of Cougar Sex Canyon without falling in.
It's not just you, of course. That young chick from your office that he's always flirting with is just the target of a different set of fantasies (you know, the one with the rescuing and the submission to his Byronic will and stuff).
Anyway, your big problem here is dealing with the all-around passivity. You could take some action. Serve your husband a hot plate of divorce papers. Go ahead and attempt start a rowdy public make-out with Office Manboy the next time you're drunk at the bar. Naturally, neither of these are guaranteed to work-out in your favor. Husband might make your next few years hellacious. Manboy might flip and treat you like a predator. But you never know.
On the other hand, you could just get comfortable with doing nothing. You've got to have fantasies too, right?
So, as someone who did not grow up with texts and Facebook as means of social communication, what is the magic number (of texts, primarily) that qualifies as: friend, crush, and stalker, respectively? In a few months, are 800 texts from the same guy unusual? With my best friend: 300. With fairly good work friend: 300. With other work people: 150 combined.
Answer: Dear reader, thanks for the question. This texting question is another hard one. Reason: I’m not much of a text person, but I can tell you my students are addicted to it. I would say if someone is texting you 800 times a month, then yes, that is unusual. I wouldn’t put much stock in a text message, as they tend to be filled with unimportant information and are a casual form of communication (more casual than email or facebook even). If someone is really into you, he or she may text you a lot, but will inevitably also reach out with invitations for interaction. Also, I hope you have unlimited texting!
I don't know what the eff "normal" is for text messaging with most people of my generation. I'd be pretty pleased if I didn't get more than a dozen of them in a month under most conditions. On the other hand, each of my college students sends in the neighborhood of six to eight hundred of them over the course of a typical class meeting.
Your mileage may vary?
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