I am a 38-year-old woman, married with two young children. Recently, I went on a business trip and had an affair with a man 30 years my senior and something of a mentor figure. The following day he avoided me; when he did finally talk to me, he was distant and patronising.
When I emailed him about work, it took him a week to respond. Several days later, I sent him another email telling him how I felt, but also included work-related things; I wanted to indicate that I was happy to leave it at that. He responded to every banal detail in the email, but avoided any mention of what had happened between us.
I miss him terribly. I’m also sad that I perhaps misjudged him, and wonder if he isn’t such a lovely person. I know he has two adult children and problems with his wife.
The other issue is my relationship with my husband. Why did this affair happen when I had never been unfaithful before? We do quarrel, but have sex once or twice a week. However, I’m not particularly attracted to him and go through the motions. (Although the affair has unexpectedly boosted our intimacy.) We were in love when we married, but after the children were born I felt I could have lived without sex.
Where do I go from here? Leaving my husband fills me with dread. I feel I love him most of the time, but is that enough? I would love to contact this other man the next time I’m in his town, strictly in a professional capacity, but I’m scared he might say no. I wouldn’t be against repeating the night, as well, but that is not my primary aim.
Be honest with yourself and stop pretending you want to see this other man for work reasons. I think your primary aim is to repeat that night, and I can understand why. An experience like that can be exciting and heady; but it’s not sustainable in the real world. Plus, you are married and he has made it obvious that he doesn’t want to see you. You need to listen to the silence from him.
You ask why this affair happened. I talked to psychotherapist Cate Campbell (bacp.org.uk), who specialises in relationships and has written two books about sex. She told me about a study by Rosemary Basson, a professor of sexual medicine, that found that 10 years was the maximum length of time “active desire” could stretch in a relationship for many people. After that, “regardless of your age or how much in love you are, desire is responsive and follows arousal, rather than occurring spontaneously”.
Often, Campbell continued, “People think their lack of desire is the fault of the relationship they are in and blame that.” Yet it is often simply in a rut. Your husband probably feels the same. You are comparing your fling with the domesticity of your marriage – and that is not fair. “We put pressure on ourselves to feel desired [and desire], but actually desire doesn’t go with the humdrum aspects of marriage and having small children,” Campbell explained. “It’s hard to drum desire up in those circumstances and easy to beat yourself up about it. Don’t throw your life away for this fantasy.”
It was impossible to tell if your marriage is in trouble, because your letter is so clouded by the headiness of your night with this man; however, it did sound as if there is a lot to commend it. Until you can see clearly, I wouldn’t make any rash decisions. You ask, why now? I imagine it was a convergence of the right time, a person you found attractive and being away from home. It doesn’t mean that you are going to be serially unfaithful. However, when clarity returns, if you are still unhappy you will need to address the issues in your marriage.
Affairs are often a distress flare sent up by one person when there is a problem for both partners. You and your husband need to communicate, and Campbell strongly recommended that you and he make time for each other “not to have sex but to chat and reinvigorate your life together”. It is so easy to stop doing this once children become the focus. Can you remember how you communicated best in the early days? Do you have nonsexual needs that are not being met? People can feel they lose themselves after having children. Maybe, for you, this fling was a way to get back in touch with who you were, or what you feel you are missing out on now.
• Send your problem to firstname.lastname@example.org. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence
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