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Every once in a while I scan the advice columns for a little view into humanity. It’s interesting to see what folks are struggling with and especially interesting to see how advice columnists respond.
More than every once in a while I come across something that seems to encapsulate where our crazy culture is in its thinking about relationships.
So it was when I read this from “Torn” in a recent advice column:
“Torn” writes that almost 20 years ago he’d had a long teen romance. Because of family pressure it ended. He later married and had kids with another (as did she), but says he always regretted walking away from his young sweetheart.
Flash forward. She’s divorced, they recently connected through the Internet, “… and it was fantastic, talking about our families and old times … our feelings and emotions came back tenfold.”
They are now having an affair, and he’s considering leaving his two young children and a wife he cares for to be with his honey from the past.
“Torn” is not the most disturbing part of the story. There are lots of folks in his position, men and women caught up in the dopamine “high” of an illicit passion who can’t see clearly.
It’s the advice columnist’s response that caught my attention, because it reflects a culture that is selfish, shortsighted and, in the end, destructive.
The columnist cautions him about the costs of divorce — financial, legal and emotional — though she doesn’t seem to know the half of it. But then, “On the other hand, if you break off with your old sweetheart, you may still harbor regrets and give less of yourself to your family. …You’d benefit from professional counseling to help you come to the decision you can best handle.”
I wonder: Would the advice columnist have us say such things to her husband in the same circumstance?
Of course not. But that just shows how messed up our cultural mantra is: Don’t worry first about those people counting on you, to whom you made a lifelong commitment. It’s all about what you think will make you “happy” in the moment.
Pulling a family apart is profoundly destructive. And for what? To rekindle an old love affair the romantic power of which won’t survive? News flash: The lover is enticing precisely because she’s a fantasy. With her, there’s just never any garbage to take out.
Wait until he hooks up with her. That changes, and real life sets in. I’ve seen it happen. Odds are, he will have utterly ripped apart his life for nothing.
But even if he decides he is with his “true” love, will the cost to others, to him, be worth it? For starters, his children will know they weren’t worth enough to their dad for him to stick with their mom. And, will those children learn that when they get married — it’s OK to drop the spouse, or be dropped, when something “better” comes along?
Who knows how leaving his family may impact even his grandchildren some day.
Yes, “Torn” may have real problems in his marriage. Or he may just be bored and facing a midlife crisis or desiring to relive his youth. Whatever the case, he needs to put the fantasy lover aside, ask his wife for forgiveness and address issues with her head-on, looking for real happiness where it may best be found.
Besides, there’s a reason “Torn” didn’t marry the lover all those years ago — and I doubt it was just family pressure. He did marry his wife, and for her good and for his own it’s his job to never foolishly let a lover compete with her.
“Torn,” this can be a wake-up call to do the hard work of finding the real happiness and peace that being a person of character will bring to you.
I know what I’m talking about here. To all the “Torns” out there, my advice is: Don’t listen to the “all about me” culture. You can’t find lasting joy there.
(Betsy Hart hosts the “It Takes a Parent” radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through betsysblog.com)