At 19, the man I loved went to college and opted to date others. I was devastated. Soon after, he wanted me back and proposed marriage. I accepted, then had sex with someone else. I decided it was a sign I wasn’t ready for marriage and broke off the engagement. I have been faithful since. I am now 34, five years married, with one child. My now-married ex-fiancé contacted me again four years ago and my husband supported the idea of a friendship. Now my ex is getting divorced and contacting me a lot. When we interact, I feel an emotional charge, but decided I could consciously decide to remain in control. But I am having compulsive repetitive thoughts about my past choices and feel haunted by nostalgia (my ex and my husband do not know). Do I feel this way because he is my soul mate? Is it a sign of maturity to keep the friendship or am I naive to attempt friendship with an ex?
Naive? No. Self-destructive? Maybe. If you have a friendship in which there is physical attraction or sexualized behavior like flirting, that relationship is the foundation for an affair or a one-night stand. True friendship is platonic. You may find the other person attractive but are not interested in swapping spit or other bodily fluids. The connection shared in platonic friendships is based on things like common interests or simpatico feelings in conversation. By contrast, the emotional charge you describe may be stress, the nervous system’s not-so-romantic warning of an impending threat or anxiety attack, which can be accompanied by repetitive thoughts and, if left unchecked, impulsive behavior.
Remember, the social cues about love imbedded in songs, movies and poems are written by the lovesick (also known as the infatuated or lust-addled) and have little to do with real love or soul mates. So if a charge arises when you are facing a personal challenge like public speaking, it’s worthwhile to plow forward. But in situations like yours, it’s best to be still.
It’s natural for a self-actualizing person to review periodically their practice of decision-making and make adjustments as needed. But it is unkind to abuse yourself with thoughts that your past choices were wrong. It’s history; let it go and be present so you can make sane choices now. And keep this in mind: It’s easy to fantasize about someone you are not living with, especially when that person hails from a period in your life when you were free of most adult responsibilities.
I urge you to respect your husband’s trust. Nurture it by sharing your anxieties with him (but not with your ex) and working through it together, perhaps with the help of a counselor. Otherwise you’ll likely return to that on-off pattern of relationship (with either or both men) that was set in your psyche by your experience over the years with your old flame.
I was listening to you on V101.1 FM and had to e-mail. My family and friends don’t like my husband and didn’t from the beginning. I was so in love, I believed they would change. After seven years, my family still refuses to include him in conversations during holidays. I would not do this again. My family comes first and my friends are too important.
I feel like the Riddler, but here goes: Is your husband not your family? Is he not your friend? In their fascinating autobiography Friends: A Love Story, Angela Bassett and Courtney Vance suggest that married couples reorder their lives: God, spouse, self, family.
So if your husband has a personality defect that makes him intolerable, get him to counseling. But if you are still trying to gain approval of family and friends, get yourself to a therapist.