DEAR CAROLYN: I have been seeing a married woman for 15 years. She was my childhood sweetheart and we never really got over each other. I know I need to break away, but whenever I try, I get pulled back in (I know, I know).
She doesn’t know if she can ever leave her marriage. I know she wants to. I just don’t think she has the strength to. The marriage is not good, but she has adult children that will never accept me and she is afraid they will reject her if she ends her marriage.
She is “content” with our relationship the way it is, but I want more. I just read a letter I wrote her nine years ago explaining I need more, and it could have been written yesterday. I feel like my life is passing me by.
I know in my heart it will never work out, but it is hard to imagine my life differently. Help! Is counseling something I should consider?
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– Tell Me I Am Stupid for Wanting Only One Person for 40 Years
DEAR WANTING: Yes, counseling, but skip the “consider” stage and just go.
I’m not going to call you stupid, though. I actually think you’ve been quite … well, I won’t say smart, but effective at getting what you want. For whatever reason, you get something out of the pining.
Why do I say that? Because otherwise you wouldn’t put up with it. People are unique little snowflakes and all that, but we’re all quite consistent on finding ways to do exactly what we want.
I don’t know what emotional vacancy this vigil of yours fills. I just see the consistency and certainty of your choices.
Try framing this as a misapplication-of-free-will story. The mind is so powerful that if you don’t enlist it as your ally, and don’t turn it to something that it has the power to achieve, then you’re royally stewed.
Changing other people’s choices isn’t in your mind’s power, right?
Please break the spell by recognizing the reason you haven’t been able to “imagine my life differently”: You haven’t actually wanted to.
Changing what you want is wrenching, but possible. Ask people who have broken out of ruts of all kinds – generally you’ll find one of three catalysts at work. One is necessity, where someone dumps you or dies or fires you, or you become seriously ill, or life otherwise cuts stasis off your list of choices.
Another is the surprise appearance of a healthy alternative. A course-changing opportunity can end a 15-year drama inside of a week.
The third is achieving a state of self-loathing – or just abject boredom with your own stalled self – that inspires you to tear the list into little bits and just do something.