I’ve stopped seeing a married man. Was I unfair to end it?

The question I’m 47 years old. Five years ago, I got involved with a married man with two kids. The relationship was intense, hyper-sexual and obsessive. I felt uneasy and tried to end it many times, but was always easily persuaded otherwise by him. He started living separately from his wife two years back and there was terrible heartache with the children going back and forth. I was getting unhappier, more neurotic, and not in control of my see-saw emotions.

Then the pandemic brought immense trauma. First, my mother died, swiftly followed by my father and then, in the second wave, my sister-in-law also died of coronavirus. I have become entwined with my brother’s life, helping him resurrect a routine, looking out for his two daughters.

In the midst of all that, I felt I didn’t need to live with what had become a gnawing, unhappy situation with the married man. I tried to explain to him, but I think he’d become so used to me ending it that he thought it’ll be like other times when we would argue and then make up. But I really did finish it this time. I stopped calling him, didn’t respond to his messages. That was three months ago. I feel better for it and am in a more stable space, but feel bad because sometimes I think I have been unfair in ending it like that. Was I hasty? Do I need to meet him and have a rational conversation?

Philippa’s answer You have borne a lot of loss and I’m sorry. But I’ll address what you asked me, should you meet your lover again?

It seems you were in the habit of ending things with him and then getting back together again. You remind me of a person determined to stop smoking. She knows it’s bad for her, will damage her health, but without ever even putting it into words she finds herself lighting another cigarette; no decision-making process, she just does it. With an addict, there are usually two parts to them: the sensible, this-is-bad-for-me part and the impulsive, unthinking part, who reaches for the cigarette, the drink, the drug or, in your case, the man.

You have two parts to you: the part that wants to be with him and the part that doesn’t. I’m going to call them Ms Adventure and Ms Sensible. Ms Adventure makes innocent-sounding suggestions, like, “Maybe we should have a rational conversation,” knowing that if you meet up for some rational conversation, going by past form, you will be seduced all over again. So that is Ms Adventure’s way of tricking Ms Sensible, who knows there’s something not quite right about this suggestion, so she sensibly writes to me.

When we are addicted to drink, in our mind we think about what a first or a second drink used to feel like, which fuels the yearning. We don’t think of how we feel in the morning afterwards, we don’t dwell on not being able to stop once we start, we just remember the good bits. And I think there were probably good bits to your affair, loads of great sex, and Ms Adventure will tempt you with these, and she’ll gloss over the gnawing unhappiness and the see-saw emotions.

You say you feel more stable without this relationship, but you have come up with an excuse to meet him again, which sounds very much like an addict reaching for those cigarettes. Do you need to contact him again as a question of doing the right, rational thing? No, you don’t.

But I’m interested in Ms Adventure, that part of you who is untouched by the sensible, practical part of you and that wants to put you in the position of being in danger of seduction again. Is this for some distraction away from mourning those you have lost and how you feel for your brother and your nieces? Some intense, hyper-sexual passion would be a welcome distraction. What I think is, you know you feel better without him, but you have not admitted that you cannot resist him. If you meet him again you won’t have ended it, the meeting will be a continuation of it.

What are you going to do with that part of you that longs for passion and intensity, but never quite puts that into words? You cannot ignore her, or she’ll do something that wouldn’t be in the best interest for both parts of you. You’d better find out a bit more about her; you don’t want her sabotaging the sensible part of you. The rational conversation that needs to be had is between Ms Sensible and Ms Adventure. What would they say to each other? I think you might always be in a see-saw of emotion unless you give Ms Adventure a voice and allow Ms Sensible to compromise. They may conclude that you need to take up painting, or try internet dating, and that you are giving support to your brother, but not getting any yourself. I’d recommend joining a grief group or otherwise finding support (cruse.org.uk). Do something for you, but without falling back down a hole you’ve just managed to climb out of.