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Unstrung Harp

Complicated friendships and confusing boundaries

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​I'm struggling with something, so I thought I'd poll the audience and sanity check my reactions. It's hard for me to tell sometimes what is a healthy boundary and what is just me being neurotic and petty. I’ve had my feelings and perceptions negated a lot in my life, so it’s confusing. Feedback appreciated. Jeez, this is long, but also vaguely scandalous, so maybe some of you will stay with me.

 
I have a friend of the opposite sex (we're both hetero) who I met online about 10 months ago. We've spent a huge amount of time communicating online since then, multiple conversations daily, and have come to know each other well on a fairly deep level, lots of personal disclosure, etc. I think he’d agree that we’ve become really important to each other. At times boundaries have been an issue in various directions, and because of that we've had a number of major blow outs throughout the months, as we try to negotiate and renegotiate those boundaries. The fact that we both have mood disorders likely doesn't help. It's been a tremendously beneficial relationship emotionally in a lot of ways, for both of us I think, so we've gone through the murky waters together because of that, even though at times it’s been really hard. He’s someone I feel close to most of the time, except a few things have happened at various points that have caused conflict.
 
Over last summer things got a little intense. I told him I was developing feelings for him beyond where they should be (I’m married). He’s known at various points that I had these feelings, and at various points was in turn gracious and kind about that, then propositioned me, then insisted on talking about his current romantic infatuation, who was a mutual acquaintance, in relatively rapid succession. There were some blowups over that. I have repeatedly said that I have no interest in hearing about who he finds attractive or who has the hots for him, because it hurts my feelings, but he tends to forget that I’ve set this boundary, and brings it up again, which usually leads to a fight. 
 
This is complicated by the fact that in the early fall, during a period of what I realized after the fact was likely  hypomanic hypersexuality, he and I got into a brief but intense virtual sexual thing, the emotional fallout from which I’m been processing for months (again, I’m married, not proud of what happened, but there it is). After some struggle, we’d gotten to a place of fairly solid friendship ground over the past two months. Nonetheless, I’m still smarting from the whole thing, struggling a bit in my marriage for (mostly) unrelated reasons, and have taken a big ego hit from the whole thing. He’s been making noises again lately about wanting to talk to me about potential love interests, in particular somebody he first brought up around the time things were happening between us, and I ignored most of these overtures hoping they would go away. They didn’t go away, I attempted to explain to him how it hurts me to have to talk about his love interests, and the shit hit the fan for the umpteenth time over this issue. I’m conflicted.
 
I care about him, know he’s lonely and isolated, and want him to be happy, and don’t want there to be an artificial barrier of things we can’t talk about. At the same time, it really hurts me to have to talk about this stuff with him, and I’m tired of explaining that. I know that eventually I’ll have to be okay with it, but right now I’m not, particularly when he’s talking about someone he was clearly ruminating over while he was involving himself with me. I feel like it should be okay with him that I don’t want to talk about it at this point, that I shouldn’t have to keep defending that territory, and that he should understand why it upsets me, but also wonder if it’s unrealistic to expect him to not share that part of what’s happening with him. I realize there’s a lot you could say about boundaries and this relationship, and the wisdom of my being friends with him given my marital transgressions, but it’s an important relationship to me, for a lot of reasons, so please be gentle. Thoughts on whether I’m wrong to not be willing to talk about relationships and his “ideal woman” with him at this point? Is that selfish of me? Or selfish in a reasonable way? I mostly feel like it’s reasonable, but I don’t think he does. Or does it not even matter if it’s reasonable, and he should respect my boundary without my having to defend it and explain it?

 

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In this case, I think the latter. If it hurts you and you're friends, I think it is fair to ask it of him. If he doesn't respect that I think he's being selfish.

But, I tend to expect a lot of friends and sometimes too much. Still trying to figure out what you can and cannot expect from friends, so I will wait for more responses.

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Double post.

Edited by Sawi

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Technically, if you aren't talking to him about your husband, it would seem reasonable to expect him to not talk to you about his other women.

 

But there are so many unhealthy things about your emotional affair, I find it hard to say he's being selfish.  

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In this case, I think the latter. If it hurts you and you're friends, I think it is fair to ask it of him. If he doesn't respect that I think he's being selfish.

But, I tend to expect a lot of friends and sometimes too much. Still trying to figure out what you can and cannot expect from friends, so I will wait for more responses.

Thanks for the feedback, Sawi.

Edited by Unstrung Harp

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Technically, if you aren't talking to him about your husband, it would seem reasonable to expect him to not talk to you about his other women.

 

But there are so many unhealthy things about your emotional affair, I find it hard to say he's being selfish.

Fair enough. But whatever it was in the past, I don't know that I'd classify it as an emotional affair at this point. And really there's nothing he seems to like more than me talking about my husband. I doubt seriously I'm capable of provoking bad feeling like that where he's concerned.

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I think that if you aren't willing to talk about his relationship/potential relationships then you view this as far more than a friendship. I think you are heading down a path that could damage your marriage, and I'm not sure that is something you would want.

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I think that if you aren't willing to talk about his relationship/potential relationships then you view this as far more than a friendship. I think you are heading down a path that could damage your marriage, and I'm not sure that is something you would want.

Maybe. But I think it's more about me trying to heal from something that's been painful without someone who says he cares about me perpetually picking at the scabs so they remain open wounds. Because it's the open wounds that are more damaging than anything else. Because every time he does it it feels like he's saying "look how much this thing that potentially fucked up your life didn't matter to me." Which translates in my head to "look how much you don't matter to me." And then he tells me I'm his best friend.

Edited by Unstrung Harp

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I think setting the boundary of him not talking to you about romantic interests is completely reasonable. There were (are?) romantic feelings between you, and it makes sense that it hurts you to hear about his other relationships. Maybe that will shift for you in time, but it hasn't yet, and I would hope he would respect that.

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I stopped reading when you said you were married.  If you are doing or saying anything to this other guy that you would NOT want your hubby to hear, you are having an emotional affair.  Confide in your hubby instead. 

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I agree with scatty. You shouldn't be romantically jealous of anyone but your husband. This entire "relationhip" has almost no boundaries by virtue of its mere existence.

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Well, I'm not sure what to say. From your responses to others, it appears that you talk to him about your husband. If that is the case, it makes it open for him to talk about his relationships with women. This is an emotional affair. If you are jealous of other women with him it's very dangerous territory. You are emotionally cheating and if things are rocky with you and your spouse, you are not going to solve them by talking to another male. I personally, think emotionally cheating is way worse than physically cheating. I mean you can have sex with someone and it not mean a thing, I get that, but when you have an emotional bond with someone, that's way more intimate and I find it more difficult to deal with than a quick roll in then hay.

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​I realize I set myself up for this by posting here, and I regret posting it for that and other reasons, but there’s not much I can do about that short of deleting my posting and leaving a bunch of decontextualized comments. Maybe I’ll do that at some point, but I don’t know.

 
Mal and Sawi, thanks for answering my actual question and validating that I have a right to have feelings about the specific situation I was asking about, a situation that has been tremendously painful on a number of levels, including the guilt I feel about how things have transpired.
 
jt - thanks for broaching your feedback in a way that felt like concern and not judgment.
 
everyone else (and any future everyone else’s) - though you likely meant well on some level, I get the feeling from your tone that my Scarlet letter is about to come in the mail. I assure you it’s not necessary, as I issued myself one months ago and am trying to focus less on feeling shitty about myself and more on how to heal from and resolve what has been a tremendously painful and isolating situation, one that I haven’t felt able to share or talk over with anyone aside from my pdoc/therapist, within the time constraints of a 50 minute appointment in which I also have to discuss my meds and the many other things that are going on in my life. As you might imagine, anticipating dealing with people’s judgements about the situation is the primary reason I haven’t overtly shared it with anyone before now. My sarcastic reference to scandal aside, believe me, I know this has been a complicated and fucked up situation, and that I have crossed boundaries that I shouldn’t have crossed in my marriage. We are about to start marriage counseling for a variety of reasons, and I’ll see where that takes us. Right now my life is a giant question mark, completely separate from my friendship with the person I mentioned. And at the age of 46, that is scary as hell.
 
That being said, there is a context for everything, and the context for this friendship is that after a couple of years of my husband treating me like he was no longer interested in anything I had to say, no longer had faith in my ability to lead a productive life or accomplish my goals, giving me little credit for maintaining our life and raising our wonderful kids, and literally rolling his eyes with contempt when I brought up the slightest issue, it felt really good to meet someone who was interested in me and didn’t think I was crazy and dysfunctional and really listened to what I had to say. Yes, that person should have been my husband, but it fucking wasn’t. This other person was there for me when my husband wasn’t there. Yes I know that talking to someone who wasn’t my husband probably put additional space in our relationship, but maybe I was tired of feeling like I didn’t exist, and tired of feeling like a completely fuck up and a mental patient and a disappointment.
 
The sexual stuff happened in the context of those feelings, but also in the context of a year in which I lost two people who were important to me, one in a brutal tragic way. A year in which my mother, who has always been an emotional ballast for me, had a stroke and began showing signs of dementia and has never been herself since. A summer in which I was processing the memory of a rape I had never acknowledged happened, which fucked with my sexuality in ways I don’t even understand. And a summer in which I had several med changes and went into what was likely a few months long hypomanic episode, complete with intense hypersexuality that I have never before experienced. I haven't know which way is up in my life for a year.
 
Meanwhile, the friend in question spent time with me, actively listened to me, asked me thoughtful questions that helped me think about some of my issues in a different way, served as a sounding board about things, convinced me to go to Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings to deal with some of my family stuff, told me when I seemed a little hypomanic and over the top, encouraged me in a variety of ways to pursue things that would make me happier, and yes, even encouraged me to get marriage counseling and work things out with my husband. So perhaps you can empathize with why it’s hard to throw all of those things away, and why I’ve chosen to go through the emotional pain and complication of trying to solidify a friendship with him, a process that is made harder when the scabs I mentioned in one of my responses (which you probably didn’t read if you didn’t get past the word “married”) keep getting ripped off. That is why I posted. Because that particular thing was causing me pain, on top of the tremendous pain and confusion of the past year. Feeling judged for the whole thing on top of everything else isn’t at all helpful.
Edited by Unstrung Harp
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I'm not one to pass judgement because I left my first husband for a man 10 years my junior.  I met him online, on CrazyBoards, in fact.  The fact that it worked out-- we've been married for a year and together for 5 years now is, in my mind, sort of lucky happenstance because more often than not these things end up pretty badly.  So with that in mind, here's my opinion.

 

1.)  There are intimacy and communication issues in your marriage that need to be addressed.  Yes, everyone gets a little boost from flirtation and a new person, but people in relationships that are fulfilling don't let things go to the point where you have no matter what the circumstances.  I can't tell you what to do with your marriage, but that's probably where you need to start.  I don't really think it's useful for anyone, even someone married with kids, to stay in an unfulfilling relationship.  Couples therapy is really wonderful for figuring out if a marriage can be saved and, if it can, building that framework.  I'd recommend this to you ASAP.

 

2.) This was most definitely an emotional affair and still sounds like it is, and even if you break it off completely, until the above is dealt with, it will happen again with this person or someone else.  At some point you may end up sleeping with someone else.

 

I'm not into morals or ethics about this, really-- I mean, you do need to be honest with your husband, yourself, and the guy involved.  But what I see is that you're in at least one and probably two very unhealthy romantic relationships.  I can't see how this would help anyone, especially someone with a mood disorder.  It's hard to end a marriage and face that you're in some really shitty relationships, but that's the only way you can grow as a person and be healthy.

Edited by dianthus

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I don't think what I said amounts to a scarlet letter. *You* knew there was something wrong, or you wouldn't have posted it. Unless you meant we should have assisted you in maintaining an emotional affair.

 

And now you are rationalizing. If your marriage has such dire problems, you either have to work on it with your husband, or separate from him.

 

I have friends who live in a variety of relationships, including polyamorous ones. What makes it work is honesty.

 

ETA: As you may recall from the Crazy Rules, we don't walk on eggshells around here.

Edited by crtclms

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And there's a difference between walking on eggshells and bringing an unnecessary tone of derision, which you are doing. Others on the thread have shown that it's possible to have an opinion and give feedback without doing so with the tone of derision you are using. I said the situation was fucked up, and I also said that I've been in a bad emotional space about it. I provided context, because there is a context. I regret making the post, but I have no intention of arguing with you or anyone else for what seems to be the sole point of making me feel shitty about something I already feel shitty about. It must be nice to have all the fucking answers. Really, I'm done.

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I just wish you luck with this and hope you're able to make healthy choices for yourself.

 

You're not the first or the last person to get caught in this kind of thing-- in fact, I'd say a great percentage of monogamous people end up in some sort of affair (emotional or otherwise) at some point in their lives.  We all know it's wrong.  Lots of people fuck up this way.  I'm not trying to dismiss it or say it's okay, just that it seems to be part of the human condition. 

 

What I'm seeing is that you're continuing this friendship and it seems to be hurting you, and it seems like your marriage is hurting you.  None of this is good for someone with a mood disorder.  You can process shit in therapy for months or years, but at some point you're going to really be honest with yourself about the viability of both of these relationships that you're in so that you can protect yourself and become personally healthy.  That's not something I (or anyone here) can answer for you.

Edited by dianthus

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And there's a difference between walking on eggshells and bringing an unnecessary tone of derision, which you are doing. Others on the thread have shown that it's possible to have an opinion and give feedback without doing so with the tone of derision you are using. I said the situation was fucked up, and I also said that I've been in a bad emotional space about it. I provided context, because there is a context. I regret making the post, but I have no intention of arguing with you or anyone else for what seems to be the sole point of making me feel shitty about something I already feel shitty about. It must be nice to have all the fucking answers. Really, I'm done.

You don't know from derision. I am not being derisive, I am not ridiculing you, or holding you in contempt. This is my tone when I disagree with something. I suggest you skip over my posts if you don't like my tone.

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I think that if you aren't willing to talk about his relationship/potential relationships then you view this as far more than a friendship. I think you are heading down a path that could damage your marriage, and I'm not sure that is something you would want.

Maybe. But I think it's more about me trying to heal from something that's been painful without someone who says he cares about me perpetually picking at the scabs so they remain open wounds. Because it's the open wounds that are more damaging than anything else. Because every time he does it it feels like he's saying "look how much this thing that potentially fucked up your life didn't matter to me." Which translates in my head to "look how much you don't matter to me." And then he tells me I'm his best friend.

 

 

If he's telling you that he doesn't matter to you... then no matter how much you want it, you logically don't matter very much to him. If you mattered then he wouldn't be hurting you. In which case you're pining after something that is repeatedly hurting you. And it's hurting you. So it's time to go so that it stops hurting.

 

Some people, when they are unable to end things, do so in a passive aggressive way. They do this thing where they drive the other person to end it. I wonder if he's doing that with you.

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I think that if you aren't willing to talk about his relationship/potential relationships then you view this as far more than a friendship. I think you are heading down a path that could damage your marriage, and I'm not sure that is something you would want.

Maybe. But I think it's more about me trying to heal from something that's been painful without someone who says he cares about me perpetually picking at the scabs so they remain open wounds. Because it's the open wounds that are more damaging than anything else. Because every time he does it it feels like he's saying "look how much this thing that potentially fucked up your life didn't matter to me." Which translates in my head to "look how much you don't matter to me." And then he tells me I'm his best friend.

 

 

If he's telling you that he doesn't matter to you... then no matter how much you want it, you logically don't matter very much to him. If you mattered then he wouldn't be hurting you. In which case you're pining after something that is repeatedly hurting you. And it's hurting you. So it's time to go so that it stops hurting.

 

Some people, when they are unable to end things, do so in a passive aggressive way. They do this thing where they drive the other person to end it. I wonder if he's doing that with you.

 

He and I had a conversation about this after I posted that response. Writing the post and that particular response actually helped me crystalize my thinking. he said some things that made me feel better in that regard. There's really no "it" to end besides a friendship. It seemed for maybe a second some months ago that maybe an it was possible in some other kind of context than the one in which I actually lead my life, but now it's really about a friendship. Nonetheless, my feelings aren't like light switches. I can't just turn them off. Sometimes they're complicated. And I can know that it's not going to lead to anything and still not want to hear in detail about his conquests and interests.

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