Carolyn Hax: Breaking up to be with affair partner

Carolyn Hax
Columnist August 1, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I’m not proud to admit this, but I cheated on my significant other. It’s more like “having an affair,” because it’s still going on. The other guy is our friend, whose girlfriend is also our friend. We hang out all the time together. Anyway, we somehow started talking more and one thing led to another . . .

We want to be together, as in, break up with our significant others and start dating.

The problem? One of his immediate family members is in a long-term relationship with one of hers (think siblings). We already know how awkward this would be. I know we should break up with our significant others, which I’m currently planning on doing, but how does the rest work out? How do we start dating without it being some huge scandal?


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Scandal

The scandalous behavior has already happened, so you’ll just have to stand up and take it.

Break up with your (public) significant others immediately — like, tonight. Breakups don’t take “planning,” just guts.*

Then, take several weeks away from each other to clear your heads.

If you still want to be together at that point, then face the family with all the truth they need: “It wasn’t planned, we just fell for each other. We showed horrible judgment, though, in dealing with these feelings. I’m sorry.”

This isn’t a golden ticket to forgiveness, since some or all of these family members might still blacklist you. The point is merely to assure people that you’re not going to pile on the insults by pretending things didn’t go down the way they did. It’s also a good idea for your future. Wherever you end up — together or apart, in the fold or banished from it — it’s best to focus on what you did, why, and whether this means either of you will do this again, vs. how best to get away with it. And no “love made us do it” cop-outs; there’s always more to it.

*Exception: People who leave an abuser do need to plan, carefully.

Re: Affair:

Just curious why you recommended a multi-week break? They seem pretty sure they want to be together — so why suffer through a hard time apart? I also am with someone I started dating as part of an affair, and people say this to me all the time. I just can’t see any merit in it.

Anonymous

Because being on your own between relationships has a corrective effect. It helps you see what you’d do or wear or eat, when you’d go to bed, when you’d get up, what you’d watch or listen to, and on and on, without having someone else’s needs, wants and tastes to accommodate. It helps you remember who you are. That stuff can get rubbed off over a long time with someone.

In fact, being free from old routines and limitations can feel euphoric. So: Are you sure it’s this new person who makes you feel so happy, or is it just freedom from an old love that didn’t fit anymore?

A break will help you tell the difference — particularly important when you’re attracted to someone and thus poorly positioned to spot where you’ll need to bend for this new person’s needs, wants and tastes.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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