morality, ethics and self-worth

I had a lovely little IM exchange with a gent I know the other day…this is the man who has a crush on me, but is married. Apparently, “the fam” left him alone in town while they took a little summer vacation. Meanwhile, my family is also away. And I think he was trying to feel me out or make a play to see if I might venture into forbidden territory with him…

We chatted (all while accomplishing scads of other tasks, I’m sure, being it was during the work day and all!) about morality, ethics and the very slight nuance of meaning that distinguishes them (please feel free to consult your unabridged dictionary here, as I shall not pursue a deep dive into this portion of the discussion).

Having had some experience with decidedly immoral behaviors in my past, I am not one to judge too harshly others’ behavior or situations. However, I do have a pretty firm view of what I believe to be right and wrong based on my own experience (as much as any moral code). That said, I’m friends with many married guys with whom I share chemistry or attraction, and we still continue to behave as friends — i.e. go out for lunch or drinks, or chat on the phone once in a while, etc. So this fellow and I flirted around with the idea of catching up for a drink…with me thinking this would be a great time to get really clear with him about what I think is in bounds and what is clearly out-of-bounds as it relates to me, the divorcee, and him, the married dude.

Based on the flavor of his text messages, however, it was becoming clear that he was thinking catching up for a drink would be a great time to cross one or more of those lines I’d drawn, or was planning to draw, in the sand. And so I told him we could have a drink if he could behave…to which he respectfully declined, offering me instead (once more) the opportunity for all of the pleasure with none of the commitment.

“That always sounds so good to a man,” I replied. And there are ways in which I can see why they’d think this would also sound good to a woman…particularly given all the research suggesting women get the short end of the stick in marriage. (Egad, I do always talk in clichés!)  Yet I wonder if his wife knows that she’s in an open marriage?

Our conversation concluded with him asking me whether my stance was a moral or ethical decision. My reply? Neither. Even if it’s only about pleasure, even if I’m not at this moment seeking commitment, I still have no desire to engage in any sort of relationship-like arrangement with a fellow I can’t call when I want to, who can’t jet off with me to New York for the weekend or who can’t/won’t introduce me to his friends. It goes right back to the issue of availability. It just doesn’t interest me…no matter how horny I am. That’s why I’ve got Doc Johnson, after all…

My position has nothing to do with morals or ethics…it has to do with what I wrote about a couple of weeks ago:  keeping my eyes on the prize — and about self-worth. I now simply value myself too much to become entangled in something that leaves me emotionally empty and bereft, a situation that puts me at risk for no emotional up side. And it feels good to own it and to value myself enough to stand firm…no matter how tempting the thought might be…because I can get my pleasure without commitment elsewhere, should I decide to.

what changes once it’s final?


As usual, I checked in with Facebook in the morning before I left for work. Status updates from Chi-guy tend to be few and far between, so I noted with interest his comment about the cold, rainy day being an appropriate backdrop for the kind of day he had planned. I wondered if this was it…

Divorce is something I’ll never really find a way to rejoice. Even if it’s absolutely the right thing and the best thing for all parties, there is no way for me to view it wholly as a win-win. It’s a moody or melancholy occasion at best. And so I made a mental note to call and check in this evening. (Again, “super friend” mode…)

As it happened, we texted back and forth a few times throughout the day, and he confided his newly (legally) single status to me late in the afternoon. Does this change anything? Not really. We still live in different cities, find each other attractive and flirt. But nothing’s really different, right?

He acknowledged that it’s been an emotional day. He was comforted by having his daughter with him for the evening and overnight. And he generally seemed in good spirits having had, as he pointed out, “some time to get used to the idea.”

So maybe it’s his candor and openness, or his sense of humor — we seem to laugh a great deal together — but those are things we’ve shared for months. It seems they’ve always been there. Perhaps it’s that he’s genuinely available now in a way that he wasn’t before.

Whatever the case, I’m telling you one thing for certain:  this man has never been so sexy!

an unexpected call

Yesterday, I received one of the strangest phone calls of my life.

A long-time male friend of mine called, immediately chastised me for not having called him in a long time and told me that he understood why:  “I know you’re mad at me.” I’ll call this Mediterranean friend of mine Adonis — after all, most of my girlfriends do.

Some history:

  • I met Adonis well over a decade ago, before my marriage, while he was separated from his Midwestern wife. (They later reconciled; a few years ago, she committed suicide. He is now living with another woman from a Southern European country, who I’ll call Genna.)
  • Adonis and I went out a few times during his separation, but I soon stopped seeing him because I felt uncomfortable with the situation and his desire to move too quickly in our relationship.
  • I’ve never slept with him.
  • Without telling my ex how Adonis and I met, I had occasion to introduce the two. My husband thought Adonis was cool…so, from then on, our families celebrated children’s birthdays and other occasions together, socializing a few times a year. We were at his wife’s funeral.

After much small talk and some discussion of my ex and child support, he came back to the topic of my being mad at him. Again I insisted that I wasn’t angry with him. And then he said, “I know you like me…and I like you, too, but I’m in a relationship…”

I was flabbergasted! It’s true that I find Adonis attractive and, given our history, I feel comfortable being mildly flirtatious with him. I enjoy his attention. There was a time after his wife’s death when we talked a lot and I wondered if I might be the woman to whom he was most emotionally connected. I appreciate his sense of style, his DIY skills, his entrepreneurial skills…but (and it’s a big but) Adonis has a very black and white way of thinking: He has a temper, he can be argumentative, he is not often willing to consider other perspectives. He is remarkably non-judgmental, yet stubborn and resistant to change. I have often argued with him about parenting and other topics. In other words, I realized long ago we would not make a successful match.

Luckily, Adonis can go on about his point of view at length with no encouragement, so I sat stupefied while he went on:  “…I can’t disrupt my children’s lives and make them live through another loss like that. We may yell and fight, but the children love Genna.”

“Adonis,” I had gathered my wits, “I like you as a friend, and I know full well that we could never have a successful relationship. I’ve heard you complain about Genna and I’ve seen the two or you argue, and I simply think that you deserve someone with a greater capacity for joy in your life.” Not to mention, I thought, that all this arguing in front of the children does not provide a great example or bode well for the children’s future relationships. This and several other thoughts I kept to myself.

He went on:  “Well, the last time you were here, you said that you find me attractive and that you want to go out with me, and when you say things like that in front of her…” he trailed off.

Okay, wow! I admit that I can be bawdy, inappropriate and say or do provocative things (always with humorous, not harmful, intent). It was true that the last time I’d taken the children there for a play date, I had indulged in some wine. It’s true that I was generally of a mind to have my physical desires met around the time of my visit (though not by Adonis). It’s true that the conversation between me and Genna became uncomfortable later in the day (which I mostly attributed to our cultural differences). But I cannot recall nor possibly imagine how on Earth I would have said such things! I racked my brain.

There was a time that day when Genna was saying some mean / disrespectful things about Adonis. I may have jumped to my friend’s defense with a playful, “I’d date him” or something, meant in an entirely harmless fashion (even if it is inappropriate), save perhaps to remind her that she’d made a pretty good catch. Also, later in the evening, I suggested we go out for sushi sometime. Perhaps this was the “wanting to go out with him” part of this confusion.

Finally, I owned my bit of all this, “You know it’s true that I haven’t given Genna the level of respect she deserves as the woman of your house and, for that, I’m sorry.”

As if all of this were not random nor awkward enough, Adonis next suggested that, even if we were to go out and do things together, it would get complicated and mess up our friendship.

Okay, I had mentioned sushi, but that was clearly not what he was talking about.

I cut him short, “I would never do that.” And shortly thereafter I ended the call, thinking “Seriously, did this conversation really just happen?”

me or Max, misunderstood

About 14 months ago…

It was actually before we broke the news to our children that their father was moving out that I had a “lovers’ quarrel” of sorts with Max. Of course we weren’t lovers, and it was more of a misunderstanding that went something like this:

I misinterpreted a joke (I took it too literally) and thought, with disgust, “Who does he think I am? Does he really think I’m that stupid?!” I probably should have responded with this thought, but I’m sure my reply (I no longer recall exactly) was something more passive-aggressive in nature.

He replied with a text, “One of the things I always liked about you was your sense of humor.”

In a haze of loneliness and hormones (read PMS), I escalated, lashed out and started a drama cycle that lasted from one evening through the next morning from text to email and back again. I confess I spent a few hours in tears for, during this “spat,” three things happened:

  1. I recently mentioned a conversation about being alone with a divorced colleague who asked me if I’d ever feared being alone for the rest of my life. Well, this emotional crisis, this exchange with Max took me there. Somewhere in the midst of it, I experienced that horrific fear that maybe, just maybe, I would be alone for the rest of my life. I had connected with another man, but connecting with unavailable men was only going to get me to where? Alone.
  2. I realized how emotionally dependent I’d become on a man who was not available to me. And then I realized this was my pattern. Many of my relationships had been long distance, I had crushed on too many fellas that were gay or already in relationships or, for whatever reason, were not going to be able to commit to me. And, as part of this realization, it dawned on me once again that…
  3. I don’t want to be anyone’s fantasy. I want to be a wonderful man’s wonderful reality. And if he’s not in a position to commit to me and be in a relationship and create a real life together, then I want nothing to do with it! I mean, I can flirt and play, but I’ll be in control and I’m not going to let myself get attached to or involved with another man who sees me as a distraction, a daydream or fantasy. The men can fantasize all they want, but I’m going to keep myself from being emotionally drawn into it.

And with these realizations, I knew that my relationship with Max could not go on as it was, that I needed to be less dependent on him. As much as he and his attention had been gifts and had helped me to reclaim my intuition and confidence, our flirtatious friendship — or, rather, my reliance on it — was now doing me as much harm as good. To him, I may have been an intelligent, beautiful, attractive woman with whom he shared chemistry and mutual crush. But no matter how much he respected me, our relationship could never be one of equals, because he was going home to his wife and step-children each day, while I was sleeping alone.

seeing Max again

Nearly 18 months ago…

When I got off the plane in Max’s region,  I couldn’t wait to get to work. I mean, of course, that I couldn’t wait to see Max!

After a couple of meetings, we got a chance to talk.

“How do you do this?,” he asked, “I mean travel, as a single mother, with your children at home?”

That was quite an assumption for Max to make! He must have been scoping out my ring finger (I was no longer wearing my ring). After all, I had yet to tell my husband that our relationship was over nor asked him to move out. It hadn’t even dawned on me that my girlfriend in Max’s region might have spilled to him that I’d asked after him.

Later I had an opportunity to ask Max about his own children. That’s when he told me: two grown children, four stepdaughters and two grandchildren. Grandchildren?! I had guessed Max’s age at 44. He was older than I thought — and, having married a woman with four daughters, he clearly had a great deal of capacity.

I reveled at telling my girlfriends about this development . . . their consistent response:  “Not only is he gorgeous, but also a saint! No wonder you like him!”


That evening, I had the pleasure of meeting Max’s wife. As predicted, she was a bottle blond. And she was an attractive mother of four, had crow’s-feet (or shall I say “laugh lines”?) and a warm, authentic presence accompanied by a boisterous laugh.

By the end of the evening, I was compelled to confide in her. “I have a huge work crush on your husband,” I admitted. “He has been such a joy to work with, communicative, cooperative, willing, steady and pleasant in every way. Not to mention, he’s hot.”

She laughed and leaned close to me. “Oh, that is so sweet — I can’t wait to tell him! He is every one of those things at home, too, consistent and steady and never raises his voice…” We laughed and chatted for a bit longer before good-byes. Then she insisted I come back to the area with my children on vacation and stay with them.

Um…maybe not a great idea!

Finally, as I hugged Max goodbye, I whispered into his ear, “I just told your wife that I have a huge crush on you…but I bet you already knew that.”

“I’m no fool,” he said. We smiled at one another and slowly released our embrace.

are you available?

About nine months ago…

When I began to unravel the habits, behaviors and shared responsibilities of married life, I realized something. It had been months since I’d been touched. Sure, I mean it would have been nice to have someone hold my hand, put an arm around me, embrace me…but I suddenly felt quite eager (i.e. desperate) to get naked and, well, randy. And with another human of the opposite sex.

I reached out to a number of my male friends, most of whom are married, to ask if they knew of any guy friends who might be in a situation similar to mine, which I summarized as such:  “If horniness were fatal, I’d be dead already!”

Imagine my surprise when a couple of them inquired about my other criteria  — coyly disguised as a request for descriptors, such as height, hair color…and whether this fellow’s being single was a requirement. I won’t guess whether these (ahem) gentlemen were inquiring about such details for themselves or friends of theirs, but I made a decision at that moment:

Even if I was only looking for sport, I wanted someone who was available. Someone reachable when I wanted to reach out, someone without such certain limits, someone who could actually contribute something to the interaction.

And availability isn’t just about whether someone is married or not. It’s about whether he is free and willing to engage, connect, share presence. Some married men are more than willing to make themselves available, while some single men — such as my recently divorcing friend, Chi-guy — just can’t wrap their heads around opening themselves to such opportunity.

At least not yet…