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In a recent column, I mock-lamented the lack of a better expression than "tit for tat" to describe the writer's situation and received not one but two gently chiding notes assuring me that there was indeed another phrase commonly used to express the concept of rote reciprocity. This one was kind of cute:
If not a better, then at least a non-punning expression for "tit for tat" is "quid pro quo." I eagerly await a male reader's letter complaining of erectile dysfunction and marred by a dangling participle.
And now back to our previously scheduled tedious marital concern.
I recently broke it off with my boyfriend of three years. The thing is, I was married the whole time. I never meant to fall in love with my boyfriend. I met him in a forum I found to talk about my marital problems. He was doing the same, though he got divorced more than a year ago. Before I met him, I was somewhat dissatisfied with the lack of sex and affection in my marriage, but accepted it as my lot in life. I figured my husband was a good man every other way, so I could put up with those problems. With the BF, though, I experienced intense passion, love, and attention. Now that we've broken up, it feels like I went from the hot tub into a cold pool.
I want affection. I want my husband to hug me, hold me ... to care. I've asked him numerous times, but the only way he listens is if I threaten to leave. I guess what I'm asking is, how can I make my husband listen?
Yes. Um. It all depends on what you want him to hear. I'm willing to bet that if you murmured, "Oh, by the way, honey, I've been cheating on you for three years every chance I get, and I'm really sad now because I broke up with my cheating-partner, who was much better than you in bed and out, so won't you please hold me?," he'd listen. Seriously. I'm almost positive.
Look, it may be that your husband was stingy with the demonstration of affection. That can be hurtful, even harmful. It is well within one's rights to request more demo (more affection is probably another story), but it doesn't work to treat another person as a sort of affection vending machine: you put in, I don't know, time, dinners, and blow jobs, and they crank out the sweet words and spontaneous hugs and kisses?
I think more to the point here, though, is that it's entirely possible that ship has sailed. He may have been insufficiently demonstrative (or actually insufficiently affectionate, who can tell?) due to his own innate temperament or some sort of damage. Your marriage may originally have been short on sex due to low libido (his, apparently) or bad habits or lack of spark. I can't help guessing, though, that in the intervening three years (at least), you were emotionally (and sometimes physically) absent yourself, and this cannot have escaped his attention. There is a reason why divorce suits on the grounds of infidelity used to cite "alienation of affection." I have to assume your recent behavior has turned a bad situation worse and very likely made the marriage unsalvageable. Sorry!
No, really, I am. How committed, though, could you really have been to salvaging it? I am a big fan of Internet forums, and I don't make the mistake that others, less familiar with the concept of chat, might make of thinking that you went there expressly to attract someone new, someone who might really "understand you." If you'd been looking for a date, you could have skipped the chitchat and gone straight to Match.com. You certainly did nothing to avoid attracting and then cleaving unto another dude, though, did you? Don't you think, as a married woman who was concerned about the state of her marriage (or really, just a married woman, period), that was ... unwise?
Gallivanting off with Boyfriend and then complaining, once it's over, that your husband is just as apparently uninterested in you as before and wondering how do you fix him is not cricket. It isn't fair to your husband to use him as a somewhat unsatisfactory second-stringer, and worse (at least for you), I don't think it's going to work. I think the next time you get mad at him for his inherent or reactive cold-fishiness, you are going to slip up and, instead of merely threatening to leave him, crow that you did, in fact, leave him for three years and he never noticed. And that will be that. I think, since you have nothing good to say for him beyond "he's a good man and I figured I just had to put up with him," you ought to let him go. Surely being unsatisfied and miserable is not your lot in life, any more than being treated as a combination encumbrance and convenience ought to be his, poor guy.
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