[Two Pronged] On fidelity and fairness
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I'm writing from London where the culture is entirely different from home (Philippine society), or at least in the field where I belong. The rules of attraction in the academic field, I guess, must be different in any society. For example, friends from other fields, whether from here or back home, would find dating apps like Tinder a happy place to be. The last thing I would need from this life is for my current or former students to find me there! So the good old face-to-face interaction always works for me. But not so well when there are several barriers to push attraction to its logical conclusion: steady and exclusive dating.
I have been in a very long engagement with a great person. We have both grown older together— we are the same age — and even more independently through the years. So independent that we can afford to communicate once in a blue moon and still with so much familiarity and a very deep sense of basic affection. To illustrate this rather unaccustomed attachment, which can be passionate or dispassionate on my part, depending on my disposition at a given time and situation, I would compare my partner's presence in my life to the sun. I almost always take it for granted that the sun shines in the east every morning. But I know full well that for it not to shine one day can only be catastrophic. So I've spent most of our years of living independently avoiding this catastrophe, even more so whenever there are potential or alternative sources of attraction, passion, and joy.
However, some encounters are more compelling than others. I have met a wondrous person in the UK with whom I share so much of my own disappointments and hopes for this world. It has been so far very fruitful, fulfilling, and a friendship so full of promise and in a weird way and unbeknownst even to this person, dissatisfaction. It comes mainly from what I am judging as inappropriate yet very deep attraction. I can only speak for myself but I also don't want to lie about how I am suspecting that the attraction is something mutual. I also know full well that my suspicion does not necessarily confirm this person's actual feelings about me. Let's just say I've been in this world long enough to know the uses and abuses of observation.
The first barrier is obviously my own bias for fidelity and fairness. Distance and independence, for me, are not excuses for fooling around, not when two consenting adults have not decided to change the rules. The second has to do with what seems to trump all compelling reasons for new beginnings. It would have been easier to dive right in and follow my own instincts as to what feels like a more fruitful and meaningful partnership at the moment if we weren't very far apart in terms of age; and therefore aren't similarly situated in terms of our accomplishments in the field. Proximity, similarity, and social acceptability are factors which I find most relevant in handling my own intimate affairs. And when I say relevant, I am approaching those 3 on equal measure; and that is also how I keep things stable in this department of love and other demons.
How do I handle this?
Thank you for your email.
It seems from your account that you find yourself in a position that is very familiar to many who are in long-distance relationships (LDRs): you have achieved an equilibrium which enables you to maintain your connection with your overseas partner yet you have met someone else where you currently live and work who offers an alternative full of promise.
Your LDR is longstanding and you have learned to maintain your affection for each other even when communication is only occasional. What you do not tell us is why the familiarity and affection you feel for this person have not led to a more permanent relationship. All you say is that you have taken steps whenever necessary to avoid any "potential or alternative sources of attraction, passion and joy" which presumably merely enforces the current stasis. Yet if this is a relationship that you have been happy to nurture so long and so faithfully, why has it not developed further, for example into marriage? Of course you have not told us very much about your partner, not even if it is a man or woman, but should it be the latter same-sex marriage is readily available in more enlightened countries such as the UK. Is it a reluctance to commit? Or perhaps more likely, an absence of the passion required to turn a friendship, however deep, into something else?
Whatever the truth of it, your strategy of avoiding competing relationships now appears to be under siege because you have met a "wondrous person" to whom you are deeply attracted and who you suspect reciprocates your feelings. However, you then say that this relationship is hindered firstly by your bias for fidelity and secondly by age and professional achievement differences.
How are you to handle this? Well, you need to decide firstly whether your LDR is ever going anywhere. If it is, then you have to close the door to Mr Wondrous. If not, then you must decide whether Mr Wondrous' impediments are sufficient to prevent that relationship from developing further. Should all else fail, don't forget that there are lots of available Englishmen on your very doorstep!
All the best,
Thank you very much for your letter. BTW, I love the way you write. Actually, I love the way everyone who writes to us does (admittedly, one self-absorbed reason is that I feel they are exceptionally bright to realize they can get insights/help from us—charot!) but somehow, yours resonates with something deep inside of me.
Most people lose interest after 1,600 words (and at this point, this column is already over 1,000) so I do not want to go beyond that number.
Thus, rather than explain fully what I mean, I hope you can pick out what are most salient in Mr Baer's and my responses and use them as springboards from which you do further thinking and reach your own conclusions. I am also grateful that Mr Baer has already responded to your most immediate concerns.
In response to "Proximity, similarity, and social acceptability are ... most relevant in handling my own intimate affairs," I hope that you reconsider whether social acceptability should be as high a priority as you make it.
You and he (and I mean both your current partner and this wondrous person) have so much going for you and your future/s, and social acceptability might be the very hindrance to making that happen.
Already it threatens to. Why should age and (therefore) unequal accomplishments in your field be a hindrance to a lifelong commitment with a person whom you obviously like, trust, respect, and could learn to love (if you haven't already)?
Social acceptability can oftentimes smack down the true rebel in you, making your primary relationship/s lack in what Filipinos call asim (exciting, still new, ….not tedious, not predictable).
You also say: "[I] compare my partner's presence in my life to the sun. I ... take it for granted … But I know full well that for it not to shine one day can only be catastrophic."
IMHO, I would be happier if my daughter (or my true blue BFFs), rather than my partner, compared my presence to the sun. Yes, the sun's presence guarantees security and dependability and can be catastrophic if gone from one's life. But one does not need only the sun from one's primary (or only) relationship. Among other necessities is the moon as well – with its deep, dark secrets. And what about Anais Nin's "I'm restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again"?
Surely you want a primary partner who is like not only the sun, but, at different times, is also like the moon, the stars, and/or other situations (heavenly or not) to bask and indulge in? Situations where you can allow that powerful brain and brave (though at the moment slightly fearful) heart of yours to soar to its greatest heights and yes, even to plumb its deepest depths?
True, your current partner has been a ballast to tether you when needed (and thank God for ballasts) but I I do not see him encouraging you to fly and dive.
I see your wondrous friend as a potential partner who could both tether and inspire, balance and push you to greater heights and deeper depths. But you know something? Even if time and/or circumstances prove him unequal to that honor, he has at least gotten you to question the trajectory of your life and that, certainly counts for a hell of a whole lot.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.