Dear Dr. Gail: I am 23 years old and having a passionate affair with an older married man. We are deeply in love but he has four children and doesn't want to "destroy" his family, as he puts it. This has been going on for seven months now. When should I expect him to make a decision and put it into action?Dear Young Lover: When it comes to the emotional minefield of an affair, there is no easy answer that always applies. Still, I will reply to your question with one word: Never.
This man has been waffling for months, and it’s almost certain he will continue to waffle as long as you let him.
If you try to walk away, he will try to reel you in. He can keep you in place by constantly putting you off. You’ll be waiting until the kids go to summer camp, enter high school, finish college, move out of the house, etc.
If he does make a decision, it's because he is cornered. For example, if you become too demanding, to the point that his wife becomes suspicious, he will likely decide you are not worth the trouble. Only then will he bail on you or, in your words, “make a decision.”
Certainly, there are people who use an affair to get out of an unhappy marriage. If your married lover were one of them, he would already be moving out of the house and filing divorce papers. But this isn’t happening here. It’s extremely rare for an affair to result in a successful marriage.
Often, people having affairs aren’t trying to be overtly manipulative — they simply want both spouse and sweetheart. This goes for both men and women having affairs. As the saying goes, they want to have their cake and eat it, too.
So it is up to you to take action. Because he won't, unless forced. Actually, his waffling is making a strong statement, but you're not listening. He's saying that he prefers not to leave his family for you, and so he won’t be doing it.
Objectively, this kind of moral commitment to his family is admirable, even though from your vantage point it doesn’t look so terrific. Then again, his moral compass has gone awry if he is having an affair. (We will get to your moral compass in a moment.) What’s more, you have no idea whether he is being fully honest with you. For all you know, he doesn’t want to pay alimony or child support; he doesn’t want to start all over again with a 23-year-old; he doesn’t want to risk a perfectly fine marriage for an unknown; he doesn’t want his colleagues gossiping. There could be dozens of things he’s not letting on.
As for you: What are you doing having an affair with a married man? In the unlikely event you did end up together, you would always feel like a home-wrecker. He would always be guilty and resentful. These factors are enough to destroy a relationship that would be fine under less complex circumstances.
It is excruciating to relinquish someone you love, but an older married man is not a good long-term romantic prospect for you. This applies no matter how much in love you are. Being swept away by the excitement of an affair means you fail to ask the important questions you would otherwise ask: Do you have plenty in common? Do you share future goals? Do you agree on whether to have children together? Do you really get along without the heightened drama of being the “other woman”?
In this case, you are at the beginning of adulthood, whereas he is at a much different stage of life. Has the thrill and competition made you sweep aside logical thoughts, especially when you are enjoying the ego rush of being younger and hotter than his wife, and when you are “winning” whenever he spends time with you instead of with her?
It is up to you to decide not to tolerate this situation. Tell him, “I love me more than you love me,” and find a man who is willing and able to be yours alone.Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: It’s common for a person having an affair to string someone along with vague promises. Don’t expect anyone else to change the status quo. You must be the one to do so.