Q. I have been married for seven years and I have a daughter. I am close friends with a gay man who is incredibly charming and charismatic. Although I've shared every single communication I've had with this man with my husband (no secrets there), this man consumes my thoughts. I sometimes desire him physically more than I desire my husband. In some ways, it seems innocent because he is gay. Yet, I am wondering: Do I need to end the friendship?
A. Only you can say for sure whether this friendship is so destructive to your marriage that you must end it. But it is probably worthwhile to scale it back.
Everybody has thoughts and fantasies that concern other people, so that is not unusual. But yours are so consuming that you are putting a lot of emotional energy into them. Your thoughts are sexual even though you are not having sex with your gay friend.
The problem is that the energy you are using on your friend is energy you are not channeling into your marriage.
Because your friend is gay, you feel that you have permission to have an intense friendship with him. The real question is why you are so focused on him. Is there something missing in your marriage — possibly something you could have more of if you weren’t so taken with someone else?
While it seems that it should be “innocent” because your relationship with your gay friend will never turn sexual, that is a naive viewpoint. When people feel incredibly intimate emotionally, sometimes the physical line gets crossed.
Even though people have one predominant sexual orientation, that doesn’t mean they have zero attraction when it comes to the nondominant orientation. Plenty of people have some element of bisexuality, big or small, so it is shortsighted to think that it’s impossible for any physical intimacy. You are playing with fire.
As you say, because you feel this relationship is so innocent, and because you are not keeping it a secret from your husband, you can easily be fooled and go farther down this path than you otherwise would. There is something about the intensity of this that, doubtless, is secret from your husband.
So, should you completely cut off your friendship? No. Ideally, you can recognize that you are spending too much emotional energy being intimate with your friend, and back off.
If your friend were not gay, or if he were showing sexual interest in you, I would advise you to just break it off. But from what you have said, that would be unnecessary. Your friend, in fact, may have no idea how you feel about him. He might not be participating in whatever you think is going on between you two, and have no idea you are so emotionally invested in him.
What you should do is examine your marriage and see if there is something missing. Is there something in this friendship that you are longing for in your marriage? It is a worthy task to concentrate on making your marriage as emotionally sustaining as your friendship is.
I suggest that, the next time you get together with your friend, include your husband. That will likely help cool down the intensity you feel on a one-to-one basis.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Emotional energy channeled into an intense friendship necessarily takes emotional energy away from your spouse.
Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.
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