Dear Amy:

After all the information I have read lately about "emotional affairs," I am convinced that my three-year Internet relationship with a great guy I knew in high school has to end. Both of us are married, and we used one rationalization after another during the last three years to explain why our friendship was so helpful to us and why it was not hurting anyone, but the intensity of the relationship was building and finally even he agreed that it had to end.

So, after roughly 2,500 e-mails and countless hours spent instant-messaging (harmless conversations, or so I thought) now what? Now that we have done the "right" thing, why do I feel so miserable? No one talks much about this part. All the experts say to end it, get over it, but they don't say how.

My husband of 20-plus years and a few other close friends have heard about this guy over the years because all along I told myself that there was nothing to hide. I said that he was just another friend who happened to be a member of the opposite sex. It was not an affair; it was a friendship in my mind.

Well, friends come and go for all sorts of reasons and life goes on, but boy -- this is different. I find myself wanting to e-mail or instant message him just "one more time." I have not discussed this with anyone, because I keep hoping that it will just get easier with time.

I need some advice for how to put this behind me and move on. I am not the only one in this situation; I am fairly certain of that. I would also be interested to know what your other readers have to say on this subject.

Emotionally Distressed

Although emotional affairs have existed forever, the prevalence and ease of the Internet is making these emotional affairs more common, according to the book "Not 'Just Friends': Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity," by therapist Shirley P. Glass (Free Press, $15).

Glass reports that of the 210 clients she has counseled for infidelity, 82 percent said that their affairs started as friendships.

Your letter is a perfect example of how these affairs start and of how serious they can becomze.

This is where the cliches come in. Time does heal all wounds. Take your day in increments and tell yourself that you won't contact him in the morning and then at noon tell yourself that you will continue to succeed throughout the afternoon.

You will need activities and thoughts to fill in those countless hours soaked up by your affair. Make plans and develop interests and hobbies in order to stay busy.

Glass's book suggests that you disclose this to your husband in order to rebuild the trust in your marriage. I think that this tough question is better left to your judgment. If you do choose to tell your husband, it should be under the direction of a marriage counselor.

In terms of healing your own heart, you have to remember that doing the right thing doesn't guarantee that it will be easy. If it were, then everyone would do it. Often, the right thing is also the hardest thing, but doing the hardest thing can make you strong.

Dear Amy:

I have this friend whom I have known for a little more than a year, and I have very strong feelings for him. He and I have had sex a few times, but during this he also talked about sleeping with other girls and said he planned to move into one of their homes.

I really want to have a relationship with this guy because I really like him, but whenever I talk to him about it he says that someday we will -- or he will try to change the subject. I don't know if I should keep talking to him about it or if I should just drop it altogether. I am so confused!

Confused and Hurt

I don't know how you can like somebody who doesn't respect you or the multiple other women he's sleeping with.

Let me remove your confusion. You will never have a "relationship" with this guy because he doesn't have relationships -- he has sex.

If you choose to continue to have sex with him -- and I dearly hope you won't -- he must wear a condom. Because of his multiple partners, he is exposing you (and other partners) to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Keep in mind that an STD will outlive this "friendship" by many years.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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