You Make It Easier for Them / You’re Just a Fantasy
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’m good friends with a couple who are recently married. The three of us love to go out to the movies or bowling or dinner together, but they always seem to be fighting when we meet. They are uncomfortable with one another when we are together, like they were just arguing and are trying to hide it from me. And it makes me uncomfortable. I like them, but I’m starting to not have a good time when I’m with them.
Dr. Hurd replies,
It’s possible the problem was there all along. Only now they’re more comfortable with you and they show their issues a bit more. I don’t mean that it’s deliberate; it’s just the byproduct of feeling more comfortable with you. So in a way you should perhaps feel complimented!
You have the option to spend less time with them. You might also try to include another person or two in your gatherings with this couple. I call that creating a “buffer.” In a way, you’re probably their buffer. Couples who don’t get along well in private often like having a third party as a buffer. Even pets have been known to fill the role. A buffer gives them something or someone else to focus on so the attention is not solely on the object of their discontent; be it a temporary argument or a more long-term struggle. Your bringing along a friend could help reinforce that buffer effect, since they might not feel as comfortable with the new person as they do with you.
Examine your feelings and thoughts. Why, exactly, are you uncomfortable when you’re with them? For example, do you feel like it’s your job to intervene and somehow resolve their difficulties? It’s not, by the way, and it’s highly unlikely they think so either. While either partner would probably love for you to side with one against the other, that’s a lose-lose proposition, as you undoubtedly know.
It’s OK to be uncomfortable with this, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. However, it’s possible your discomfort is based on an invalid idea or assumption. So, given what you have told me, my suggestion is to check in with yourself about what the discomfort would “say” if it could “talk.” With that added insight, you might be able to self-correct and come back to enjoying your get-togethers.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I have been directly approached in a sexual manner by a co-worker. Normally I would be complimented, but in this case I’m actually appalled because he is married and has teenage children. He sends me suggestive emails outlining his various fantasies, and never misses a chance to “run into” me somewhere. I am no prude—I have no issue with any of this other than the fact that he publicly presents himself as a heterosexual husband and a father—while unabashedly coming on to me in a very homosexual manner. I’m not sure what to do—I politely told him I was not interested, but it made no difference. What to do?
Dr. Hurd replies,
First of all, keep in mind that you’re his fantasy. I’m not saying he’s not serious. I’m sure he does wish to have a sexual encounter with you. But that’s probably all it is. Of course, not knowing him I can’t say for certain, but his plate is already full, and his actually acting on his fantasy is highly unlikely, precisely for the reasons you’ve said. Undoubtedly he’s not satisfied with his life the way it is. He’s looking for an outlet; not to change the overall infrastructure of his life, but to have a fun and pleasant distraction. Interestingly, even the fantasy itself can provide this for him.
In my experience, married people who have affairs or flings—gay or straight; that’s left to another column—are not trying to totally replace what they have. If he really wanted out of his marriage and family situation, then he’d already have ended that marriage, dealt with all the consequences, and began looking for someone new. This is true even when the situation is not complicated by a still-in-the-closet “heterosexual” husband pursuing a guy.
People who have extramarital or otherwise secretive affairs will often tell you they enjoy the excitement of it. The fact that they could get caught often excites them even more. Or perhaps more often, they like the added sense of intimacy that comes from having a relationship that only you and the other person know about. I doubt this man is looking for an intimate connection of any kind, outside of sex. But if you’re single and looking for a realistic, openly public and long-term/stable kind of connection, you’ll never find it with him.
If you do anything with him, and I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t—that’s up to you—then my primary advice would be for you to see it for what it is, and nothing more.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email Dr. Hurd