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Tempted by an old boyfriend

by: Jim Duzak

Dear Jim: I just heard from “Michael,” an old boyfriend from the early 1980s. We didn’t so much break up as drift apart; He went off to grad school in Chicago, and I went to Spain for a year that turned into three years. But I guess I never lost my feelings for him because they all came back when I saw his name on the email. I’m married and so is Michael.

I’m not saying my marriage is a bad one, but it’s lacking some of the special things that Michael and I had. Michael still lives in the Chicago area but he’s coming here next month for a conference and wants to take me to dinner. I’m really torn about this. I’m not looking to complicate my life, and I don’t want the hassle of trying to explain the situation to my husband but I’m still fond of Michael. Do you think we could meet but keep things on a platonic level? (“Undecided” in L.A.)

Dear Undecided: Sure, it’s possible to keep things on a platonic level, in the sense of not having sex. But if you get together with Michael you’re running the risk that---sex or no sex---you could become emotionally involved with him in a way that could threaten your marriage and/or his marriage.

Although Michael is very much a real person, in some ways he’s a fantasy. He’s still, in your mind, that wonderful guy you fell in love with many years ago. Because your relationship with him was never tested by the daily demands and compromises of marriage, he has an unfair advantage over your husband. Unlike your husband, you’ve probably never seen Michael when he was angry or sick or depressed or in a foul mood (or if you did, it was so long ago you’ve probably forgotten it).

Whatever those “special things” are that you say are lacking in your marriage, I guarantee they’ll become even more prominent in your mind if you and Michael were to get together. If, for example, Michael expresses himself more freely than your husband does, or makes you laugh more often, or inspires more sexual fantasies, you’re going to resent your husband for not being Michael.

Having dinner with Michael would be playing with fire. You said that just seeing his name triggered a positive response. What do you think would happen if you were to feel his touch on your hand, or kiss him goodnight? And what if Michael has a similar response to you? How would you handle it if he confesses that he’s never gotten over you, or that his marriage is a troubled one?

All in all, I see the risks outweighing the rewards. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore whatever frustrations you’re having in your marriage. I don’t know the details, but it sounds as if you’re not as happy as you’d like to be. Unless you address the sources of your frustrations, your marriage may eventually come apart---whether you see Michael or not. So put your energy into improving the present rather than trying to resurrect the past.

Good luck.

Jim Duzak, the “Attorney at Love”, has spent his entire adult life dealing with issues of marriage, divorce, single-parenting, post-divorce dating, and remarriage. By age twenty, he was a husband and father. By thirty, he was divorced and raising his daughter by himself. He met his second wife through a personal ad, and at one time owned and operated a dating service specializing in mid-life matchups. As an attorney, Jim represented hundreds of clients in divorce and custody cases, and later served as a full-time divorce mediator for one of the busiest family courts in the country. Jim has also written and lectured about personal ads and online dating, and for many years has done one-on-one relationship coaching. As he says in his book, he has pretty much seen it all, heard it all, or done it all, including making a lot of the mistakes that he tries to keep his readers and clients from making. Despite his qualifications, Jim prefers that people think of him not as an “expert” but as a coach, counselor and trusted friend. A native New Englander, Jim is a graduate of Central Connecticut State University and Boston College Law School. He now lives in southeastern Arizona. Mid-Life Divorce and the Rebirth of Commitment (Cold Tree Press, 2007) is his first book.

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