Questions about love and sex in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (queries can also be sent anonymously using this form). Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.
Throughout witnessing a series of traumatic events happen to my daughter over the course of a very difficult year, I’ve developed strong attachment to and connection with an eighteen year old friend of hers. I’m thirty-five and in a relationship with the father of my younger children. This young man and I have been having an incredibly mutually amenable, emotional, creatively inspiring and sexual affair for the past few months and are both developing real feelings for one another. We have made my family aware of our activities. My daughter and partner are very hurt, but I am having trouble feeling ashamed as this has been and continues to be such a fulfilling experience for him and me. I do not at this point wish to envision my life without this young man, but have no real idea how to navigate the circumstances I’ve chosen for myself. How do I maintain my family and my muse?
Can I have my cake and eat it, too?
This is quite the layered love triangle. I will begin by addressing the fact that you’ve recently witnessed a series of traumatic events. I am inclined to believe you have been suffering from PTSD as a result. We normally associate post-traumatic stress disorder with veterans who have returned from combat, but there are many negative experiences that can cause someone to suffer for months to years following the event. And the suffering often causes more suffering.
When someone is suffering, she may develop what I know to be called STERBS—short-term emotional release behaviors, which include activities such as drinking too much alcohol, abusing drugs, sleeping or eating too much or not enough, behaving recklessly and, in your case, infidelity. These activities make the suffering disappear or dissipate, for the short term. Usually, however, the long-term consequences are traumatic in and of themselves, so she ends up crashing from a massive “sugar rush” like you would from binging on too much cake.
Let me give a specific example. I know a women who endured years of infertility that included multiple miscarriages. She was also prone to depression after experiencing multiple traumas in her childhood and adolescence. The combination of suffering led her to abusing alcohol and cheating on her spouse. From the article “PTSD Spirituality: Cheating Spouses, Infidelity, and PTSD” by Dr. John Zemler: “The alcohol is an effort to dull the memories and any ongoing physical [and emotional] pain. The promiscuity is often an attempt to try and feel alive and sometimes an attempt to feel they have enough personal worth so as to be desirable by another person, even if only for a sexual quickie. The trauma they survived eats at their sense of self and diminishes their ability to realize their own self-worth.” I recommend reading this piece in its entirety, as it goes on to discuss the repercussions that often include alienating the life partner because she feels she doesn’t deserve the love of the person who truly loves her. It’s a vicious cycle, with multiple victims spinning with her.
I’m sure it feels amazing to have a much younger lover taking you away from all the “adulting” you have been doing, especially being a mother who is worried about her newly adult daughter. In and of itself, watching your daughter becoming an adult could be triggering a younger version of yourself with a sweet tooth, making her friend a tasty dessert. You may soon find you need to cut down on the sugar before you gain many pounds of unwanted baggage.
I wish you the best, my dear, as well as those who love you.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 247.