Primal Urge vs. Restraint

Q: Is it wrong to have an emotional affair with an old girlfriend whom I recently met at a high school reunion? We never went beyond dating because of religious differences. We now realize we love one another and always have but are both in long-term committed marriages with grown children and she has grandchildren. Can't we just be together when we can and no one knows or gets hurt? How harmful is that? I would leave my wife for her but she would never leave her husband. What choice do I have? I don't want to lose her again. -- Terry, 58

Dr. Susan: The seductive lure of old flames is amazingly powerful. It's like returning to our youthful days when we felt with an intensity that is rarer as we get older. What you're so sure is true love now may or may not be what you think. Your marriage has dulled, and you can't see how it would hurt anyone if you were to sneak around a bit. When you say you've always loved one another, that's just your hormones doing their best to convince your brain that "this was meant to be." But that's hooey. Lying and cheating was never "meant to be."

The fact that your old girlfriend would never leave her husband is an important variable. Say the two of you got together. Eventually, she will feel too guilty and uncomfortable about living a deceitful life. And that will be the end, no matter how heartbreaking to both of you. Or, your mates will discover what's going on (this happens all the time, so don't imagine you will be able to keep a secret better than anyone else). And then there will be intense hurt spread over both families.

Ideally, though it's not a viable option here, you'd both divorce before taking up with one another. Or you'd discuss your attraction for your old flames with your current mates and see how much pain just talking about it will cause, much less giving in to it. Best and most ethical option would be to stop communicating with your old flame for a matter of months, at least, and see if you can each reconnect with your own spouses.

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