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.