Questions about love and sex in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org, or anonymously using this form. Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.
I was hoping you might shed some light on a situation I’ve found myself in. Over the past four years I’ve been in a relationship with my bf. The first year was great, but after I moved in with him and his roommates, another couple moved into the house as well. There was a chick who tried to break us up. It soured me on my trust and appreciation for him to stand up for us, since I was being taken advantage of and we were disrespected, but I couldn’t say anything because all the housemates worked at the same workplace and I didn’t.
My bf and I moved into our own place after a year of that, and our relationship continued to decline. I called my mom daily for a breath of normalcy, as I lived in a tiny college town far away from home. Fast forward two years and he and I have moved in with his parents so we could save to move closer to my family — specifically, my mom.
Well, mom passed away about a month ago. I had started talking to a couple of guys I met while gaming, and they gave me support and the attention I needed while I stayed in the hospital and hospice with Mom as she passed. My bf stayed at the hospital a few of those nights and shared the experience. However, while he wasn’t there, I was receiving four-hour-long phone calls from one of those guys every night and texts from the other guy (Ryan). Ryan invited me to visit him for a sort of vacation and touristy-sightseeing trip to his hometown of Las Vegas (would be my first time) when it was all said and done.
Mom’s illness was terminal. I was the only one present at her death. She had been my best friend. It shook me.
I decided after weeks of being back at my bf’s parents’ house and playing every night for hours with Ryan that I wanted to meet him. Our conversations got serious, sexual, happy, ridiculous — but he never made me feel like I was wasting his time. Granted, I quit my job to stay with my mom and have yet to feel comfortable getting a new job. Ryan is temporarily unemployed as well. Be that as it may, I made the trip.
We fell in love; it was like a dream. He has invited me to stay for two and a half weeks at the end of this month and has already bought my roundtrip boarding passes. Now I don’t know what to do. I still love my bf and he doesn’t know, but it’s killing me that I’ve cheated for the first time in my life. My mom only wanted me to be happy and safe. I had gotten to show her a picture of Ryan before she passed, and she said he was cute. That was before he and I even fell as hard as we did for each other. She was upset with my bf for mistreating me in the past. But that was before he stayed in the hospital with me to support me supporting her. I feel like that was a breakthrough for us. But I found someone who treats me well. So far at least. I’m so lost. I wouldn’t have gotten into this had I been able to run it by my mom from the start.
I’ve been an emotional wreck for two months. I can’t even stay with my dad and sister because the absence of my mom haunts me so much. I would usually ask her for her help, but seeing as that’s not an option and my counselor isn’t taking sides, I turn to you. I know it’s unlikely you’ll even see this, but I could really use some advice. Thank you.
—Replacing One Type of Love with Another
First, let me offer you my deepest sympathies on the loss of your mother. My mom passed away when I was in my early 20s, and on top of the grief, it makes so many little things so much harder. Even now, years later, I think of things at least once a week — sometimes once a day — that I wish I could ask her. I commend you for having the self-awareness to reach out elsewhere for advice. I was not that wise that quickly!
It’s not typically smart to make big life decisions when you’re grieving. But, Replacing, you have backed yourself into a corner, and you may have to. You mention a counselor, a father and a sister — I urge you to let all of them know once you have decided to pursue a course of action with your romances. You will need someone to lean on, someone who knows what’s up — someone who can physically be there to support you.
It is entirely possible to love more than one person at once. There is no value in disparaging or dismissing the things you feel just because they can’t work out pragmatically. It’s entirely possible that you do still love your boyfriend and you do love Ryan — but unless all three of you are polyamorous, it is not possible to make that work. The logistics of maintaining multiple romantic relationships are daunting, even when all parties are on board. It’s not something you can do on your own, through backchannels, using deception. That’s exhausting, not to mention unethical.
But you also need to accept that the choice may not be yours to make. Your boyfriend, regardless of the ups and downs of your relationship, is still a complete human being with agency, and he deserves the right to make an informed choice about where you go from here.
Tell him that you cheated, Replacing. And, while you’re at it, be honest with Ryan about the fact that you still have feelings for your boyfriend and about the status of that relationship. It might be ugly, on both counts — but unless you’re in physical danger from one or both of them, you need to rip off the bandage. The way they each react will inform your choices moving forward.
You can’t control their reaction, but you can control who you are in relation to it. Commit to accepting the choices they make with respect. Commit to living with integrity and self-awareness going forward. Commit to honoring your grief and growing from it. The more wisdom and grace you can offer yourself, the stronger all of your relationships will be in the future, even if neither of these make the cut.
And, Replacing, I know it’s hard to imagine moving home, with all the reminders of your mom around. But think of it as a chance to maintain the thread of connection to her. It will hurt, but just being present with her absence may be the grounding in reality that you need to get through this.