Monday, December 2, 2013

Guest post: Fidelity

I achingly relate to other doctor mamas each time I read this blog. It is not an easy path that we have chosen. There are a myriad of challenges and rewards on this journey. Some challenges and rewards will be generally the same between us, such as becoming mothers, graduating medical school, and starting practice. Yet even those general similarities will be experienced differently by each mother, each doctor, each wife, each partner, each daughter, each sister, each aunt, and each of us women, under the many hats that we wear.

Lately there has been something on my mind. Not the usual things, like medicine and professional development and children's needs and schedules, though those are all still there. My career as a military physician has taken me away from home a lot this year. The time away from home has presented many challenges (which I would love to discuss with other military doctor mamas), but there was one that I did not anticipate: what do you do when you are attracted to someone else?

We have all had chemistry with someone as soon as we meet them. An instant attraction. Some people are just destined to get along. This chemistry might be with someone of the same or opposite sex, and is probably a prerequisite for those great friendships that sustain us all. I have many friends of both sexes with whom I enjoy a lovely chemistry. Have I found other men attractive since I got married? Of course I have. But I have always considered the question of fidelity (and consequently the topic of unfaithfulness), to be an issue of uncontained sexual desire, and therefore, not applicable to me, since I can "control" myself.

However, now, as a human being and wife and mother, I find myself struggling with thoughts and questions that never occurred to me before. My marriage is actually quite wonderful. I love my husband. Yet, we are separated by so much time and distance lately, that sometimes my life at home takes on that same wispy feel as a dream lost on waking. I miss it and I want it so badly, but it is frustratingly inaccessible. I'm certain that many women in medical training or practice can relate to this feeling. I remember longing for my husband and family even when I was home, because I felt like I was never there. However, I also have always felt that my connection to my home life is more real and tangible than any other connections I have.

Realistically, many of us in medicine will see our colleagues, on an hour-for-hour basis, more than our own families. We can and should expect to form strong bonds with those people at work whom we genuinely connect with. But what happens when one day, you find that the bond is something deeper and stronger than you anticipated – and you don't know what to do?

I know that I am committed to my marriage and I do not ever, ever want it to end. I know that I want to share my life with the wonderful man that I married. I do not foresee that changing. How then, can I struggle to realistically and honestly address the question of fidelity?

Given the sensitive nature of this topic, I hesitate to divulge too much, but I would like to explain this: the person I am attracted to is also married. He is not a patient. He is not in the military. He has a family. He loves his wife and kids. Our attraction is mutual. We genuinely like each other and respect each other, but we are not in love. We have discussed it. We have vowed to not "act" on it. It seems so simple on paper, but I never could have imagined how hard it would be. Even as a write and re-write this post in hopes of "getting it right," I see that nothing I write can convey the frustration, loneliness, doubt, guilt, and confusion that I feel.

I have no doubt that some people will judge me for confessing to these feelings. I recognize that this post might make some people uncomfortable. It makes me very uncomfortable. I write in order to open the door to genuine discussion on a very taboo and (I believe) common topic. I don't know if anyone will post on this other than in a safe, generic way, since many of you have an online presence which may preclude you from writing honestly as yourself. I understand that. I want to be anonymous, too. Yet my own sense of shame bothers me. What exactly do I have to be ashamed of?

I hope that some of you will reply. I sincerely want to ask – what do you do when you are attracted to someone else? How do you cope? Especially when you are away from your home and family? How do you answer those haunting questions that you never, ever thought would be in your head, such as: Is it wrong to be attracted to someone else? If so, why? Is it only wrong if you "act on it" by crossing some sort of physical or sexual line? If so, why? Is it therefore less wrong to "only" have an emotional connection with someone? Why?

Perhaps KC would be willing to post comments for those who are not comfortable doing so.


11 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Oh goodness. I have never been in a situation like this, but I have found folks I work with attractive. When I felt feelings of attraction that weren't just passing, I made every effort to be honest with myself and to never be alone with that person. Too much temptation. Too much risk. Way too much to lose. Attraction and being "smitten" doesn't equal knowing that that person will be able to "weather storms" with you like your husband, it doesn't say anything about long-term compatibility.

    Your marriage to your husband sounds amazing, though difficult at times. Don't risk it on something that isn't guaranteed especially since you are in a vulnerable place, far away from your loved one with physical and emotional needs that shouldn't be minimized.

    I would distance myself from this person for now, right now! You mention lines that could be crossed; I don't want to be mean or judgmental, but in my opinion a line has already been crossed since you and the person you mentioned have shared your attraction with each other. And even though you both have said you won't "act on it", sounds like a set-up to me; if one of you has a bad day, a fight with your respective spouse, etc . . . could be a recipe for disaster with lasting effects on both of your families. Your marriage, though long-distant sounds like something you don't want to lose, but that's what you risk in this case.

    Do you think it's time to tell your husband? Or tell someone else you trust that can help with accountability? Be careful. I hope things work out for you and soon :-)

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  3. I can't say I've ever been seriously attracted to another man in the time I've been married, and for that I feel fortunate. In my much younger days, I cheated on a boyfriend once. I didn't intend to, but it just happened. And I managed to hurt everyone involved, and made myself seriously miserable. It's the worst feeling to betray someone who loves you.

    Try an exercise: pretend the post you wrote was written by your husband about a woman he works with. How would you feel? Would you want him to sit down and tell you about it? I'm guessing you'd feel pretty bad. If that's the answer, maybe it's time to do like Mommabee suggested and distance yourself immediately from this man.

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  4. I found myself (while happily married and I'm still happily married) attracted to my attorney while we were having to work together intimately regarding a legal matter (that did not involve divorcing my husband whatsoever). My husband would get daily updates about the legal matter. It got to the point where I was dreaming/lusting about my attorney because he was "there" for me and my husband (who was much better looking) wasn't physically around. The key to surviving these experiences is KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. Do NOT throw away your life, your marriage and your kids lives over a lusting moment--do not. I promise you will regret it for the rest of your life regardless of the outcome. Do other things to keep yourself sexually satisfied; try to find time to "see" your husband whether it's skyping, talking, sending each other videos of one person talking and giving sweet messages. Your kids will never forgive you for ruining their lives. Your husband may forgive you but your marriage will never be the same and you will feel horrible. I have never cheated on my husband but I have been attracted to other people while married. I never acted on any of it because I feel to cheat is to be selfish and that is the worst kind of karma. Keep your distance; don't discuss this attraction and know that anyone who is willing to be so emotionally intimate with someone who is not his wife is a douchebag. I also believe that you can only fall into something like that if your heart is open to the idea. Close your heart and mind to the possibility. It will end poorly. You are normal for having these feelings but just don't act on it. And there is such thing as emotional cheating in my book so keep that in mind too. Best of luck. You are brave for sharing.

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  5. I agree with Mommabee in that a line has already been crossed. An intimate conversation with another man about feelings you share is a recipe for disaster. The fact your partners are excluded from that conversation means you know it's wrong. I can feel your anguish and conflict and really feel for you. It's a horrible situation to be in, and I think you are doing the right thing in questioning it. However, you are also in a very dangerous situation - it would be all too easy to succumb to the secret you share. You need to stay away from any alone time with this man. I have never been in your position, but I have found other men attractive. Each time, I'm aware that what draws me to them is usually the very same traits my husband has. Once I recognise this, the attraction becomes nothing more mysterious or magical than a reminder of what a wonderful man I married. Does this man resemble your husband in any way? Given you say how much you love your husband, perhaps the attraction to him is more home sickness for your husband? Use this as a wake up call - talk with your husband about what's happened. Whether you go into great detail or merely tell him you are worried you are finding other men attractive is up to you. But use it as a conversation opener about what you and your husband can do together to strengthen your own bond and to communicate more, whether in person or not. Turn the intimacy you have shared with this other man toward your husband. Whatever you do, do not take things any further - only hurt can come of this. Even if this new man turned out to be the love of your life, what a horrible way for a new relationship to start. It would forever be your history together. I can tell from your writings this is not what you want, so walk away now and talk to your husband. Good luck. I wish you well, and thank you for sharing such a vulnerable moment. We are only human after all.

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  6. First off, I applaud your honesty. I have been in this position. In my case I'm still a medical student with a wonderful understanding husband and kids. But a while ago I completely fell into (what I thought was) love with a guy a in his final year of med school. It was all encompassing and an amazing passion which I've never felt with my husband. However throughout my love for my husband never waned.

    I love my husband and that will never change. And now in retrospect at times I feel that I can't believe what I did. But it was unavoidable and like an impact that was waiting to happen. And it did and it's done and I really believe that it I've learnt from the experience. I don't want to go on about it too much. I don't believe that I should be condemned for what happened because I am not the type to ever do anything like that again nor was I before this happened. I really believe there are people out there that we have a connection with that is unavoidable... and occasionally things like this happen. I really was in love with this guy. And I probably will always love him in a way. But I've grown from the experience and will I guess, carry it within me always.

    I know this will upset people and lead to criticism of my morals perhaps. By no means am I advocating infidelity... and certainly I have been highly judgmental of people who do cheat. But I have made peace with the whole thing within myself. It has not affected my family life and I won't let it. I just wanted you to know there are others people out there too who have felt as you do.

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  7. First of all, you should not be ashamed! It is clear that you are struggling with this and seeking adviace and support is a good way to gain perspective and figure out what is right for you. Even though I am not going to necessarily add anything new, I feel compelled to add my voice the some of the previous commenters. It sounds like you value your marriage. If this is the case, you have to avoid this new crush as much as possible. Love and sexuality are irrational by design, otherwise the Earth would never have been peopled. Attraction will lead to action if given the opportunity. In order to avoid that, if in fact you wish to avoid that, you have to assure that the opportunity does NOT exist. Certainly, intimate discussions of feelings are inevitably going to lead to more. In fact, I think emotional intimacy is, in some cases, more of a betrayal than sex. If I were in your position, I would cease all contact with this person. No one last dinner, no phone conversations, no texts. Just a polite email to the person indicating that you have too much to lose after which point I think you should reach out to your husband and try to find solutions to the sense of isolation and alienation from your family that you are feeling. A good marriage is a VERY hard thing to find, much harder than a crush, an attraction, or even a love, great or small. It would be a shame to lose your marriage and then discover in one or two or twelve months that this new person is not the kind of long-term fit your husband is.

    I once heard a segment on a radio show about this very topic, from a man who had struggled as you are struggling and decided to stick with his marriage and end his crush. He described his moment of realization, in which it occurred to him that there are an infinite number of ways to cheat but only one way to remain faithful. He realized that monogamy, rather than the boring, staid institution of popular culture, is actually a singular, powerful force in and of itself, in which two people decide to reinvest in each other that which could easily be invested elsewhere. I am put in mind of a poem by Norman Fischer which he wrote for his wife on their wedding day:

    Of all the woman
    Of all the world
    Delicate in their various encasing of body and mind
    This one bent before me on the bed
    Is the one through whom
    All must be loved
    As I have promised.

    Now, it would be different if he were writing in ten years into the marriage -- a more heroic sentiment! :-). But still, I think it is powerful. Maybe you can harness the passion and attraction and connection you have with this other person and use it to stregthen your marriage. Best of luck to you as you navigate this profound challenge!

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  8. I have never been in this position, perhaps I am too tired - ha. But in all seriousness, as a fellow military physician, be sure you understand the ramifications if you do have any relationship that is even construed as extramarital: 1. A hospital is a small fishbowl and you can't do anything without everyone knowing 2. Adultery is punishable under UCMJ and while most of the Soldiers/Marines I see so not have anything legal pursued, I do have a patient who is being prosecuted and the woman was not AD. Honest advice that I use in other situations where I want something would be to try not indulge, in this case to separate yourself from him, and if after a few weeks/months it's something you miss or still want then go from there-- unfortunately if the relationship is something you still want then you may need to talk to your husband about this.

    Good luck. FWIW I've resigned my commission so in 7 months I'll be out and won't have to worry about being separated from my family which is a fear of mine -- I don't know where you are in your obligation but at some point perhaps you will need to consider whether the military lifestyle is best for your family, until then it's out of your hands though.

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  9. Posting this comment from the author:

    Dear fellow MiMs,

    Thank you, so deeply, for your comments on my post. This has been an extremely difficult time for me. I am grateful that your replies were so thoughtful and honest and sincere and non-judgmental. Writing this post and reading the replies was exactly the breath of fresh air that I needed. There is no question in my mind what the "right" thing to do is, but now I know that I can do it. In this case, discussing the situation with the man in question, while perceived as an act of intimacy by some (correctly, I suppose), was intended as a way of addressing the elephant in the room. Doing so really helped to deflate the tension that had been building between us. Also, yes, he reminds me so much of my husband that it is uncanny. But he is not my husband, and I do not love him. And even before this post went up, I created distance and space between us. All that remains is to forgive myself. And finally, yes, while I am proud to serve, I do not know how much more of this life I or my family can take. It is not an easy path that any of us have chosen. Thank you ladies, for being there.

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  10. Hi author. I know you replied and thanked all of us for comments already. But I noticed that was 5 days ago, and now is the time- more so than before- that you need encouragement. Now is when the missing sets in, the second-guessing, the replaying of memories in your mind, the endless "what ifs."

    My advice: Shut. It. Down. You did the RIGHT thing by distancing yourself from the other man. You did the RIGHT thing. Please never, ever question that. Congratulations on making the right decision. It was brave of you to post and ask for help. It was also the smartest thing you could have done.

    Your bravery has inspired me, and reminded me of a promise I made to myself a few years ago that I need to share.

    I was in your shoes. I was in the military, deployed twice to Iraq with a year "home" in between, that actually consisted of TDYs and multiple field exercises. Although my husband was at the same post, we rarely saw each other. I was also dealing with the combat death of a close friend. As a result, I needed emotional support and I grew closer and closer to another man. We were attracted to each other. But I didn't do the right thing. I cheated.

    I'm going to spare myself from hashing out every last detail of how it happened, how long it lasted, and how it fell apart, suffice to say it all ended in tears. It was a huge disaster. The worst part was that it felt great for a while. I felt "alive" again and all that other nonsense. But it was an illusion based on fantasies and daydreams. Relationships that begin in with a lie will never be healthy. Relationships you have to keep secret will never be healthy. There was not one good thing that came from acting on my attraction to another man NO MATTER how lonely and sad I was. That was no excuse.

    My husband found out. Blessed man, he forgave me. We spent some time apart that I asked for to "get to know myself" again, which I now look back on as wasted time. What I now know that time was for was to forgive myself. What I shouldn't have done was put him through more months of pain and isolation waiting for me to come around.

    As for the other man, there was no middle ground. He had to be cut out of my life. There was no way to acknowledge our attraction but keep it at bay. Eventually, there was no way to keep living with the pain we caused each other. There is no place in my life for him as a friend, not in a capacity that would be healthy and supportive, as friends are supposed to be. We no longer speak or keep in contact. I have no idea what state he lives in. It hurt for a while, but my life now is very full and happy. I do not miss him. There is no void.

    This all happened several years ago. Now, I'm out of the military and have a new career in medicine. My husband and I are closer than ever, largely because now we know what it takes to stay close, and the cost we can pay if we do not. We are expecting our first child this spring. My husband has forgiven me, I have forgiven myself, and God has forgiven me. Infidelity is not something that comes up, or an accusation he holds over my head. Honestly, at this point it feels almost like it happened to a different person.

    One of the things I promised myself along my path to forgiveness was that I would use my story to stop the same pain from happening to other couples. Consider it my penance, so to speak. I am so blessed to have my husband back. Blessed beyond anything I deserve. Saving other women from this decision is one small thing I can do.

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  11. (con't)

    If I could go back and do it all again, I would do it so differently. We speak so much in the military and medicine about feminism. Leaning in, shattering the glass ceiling, etc. But what feminism is really about is respect and equality for women both legally and culturally. Did my decision command respect in any way? NO. There were so many other things I could have done in my time of loneliness. Improve my mind, improve my body, improve my leadership skills. Strengthening my relationships with old friends would have been a great idea, instead of falling into the more readily available relationship that was right in front of me. I could have been a really great leader instead of distracting myself with one deleterious relationship.

    I've made some changes to my life in my new career. Yes, I spend hours upon hours with the people I work with. Am I as close to them as I was to co-workers in the military? No. And that is deliberate. I have work friends, female and male, although the males are deliberately kept at arm's length. I don't engage in conversations that aren't "me"...you know, the ones about guns, cars, and women that invariably come up in a testosterone-centered environment. I don't stalk out of the room or anything, I simply don't contribute. Professionally, I am consistently dependable and exceedingly well-read. I know my patients well and keep in touch with old friends. If this were high school, I wouldn't win Prom Queen or sit at the popular kid's table in the hospital cafeteria, but I am liked, respected, and trusted. I choose who I am now. I don't let my circumstances, my environment, or my co-workers decide for me. This is my do-over.

    Please let my story be a lesson to you and whoever else out there that is struggling with loneliness and temptation. Even if you decide you are currently married to the wrong person, there is a right way and a wrong way to end a relationship. Give them the same respect you would have given them in the beginning. If you believe you are in the right marriage, guard it with all your strength. If you aren't sure, give yourself time and space, particularly from the person who is tempting you. I'm not big on platitudes but I do like this one: The grass isn't greener on the other side. It's greener where you water it.

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