"I've been spending time with a girl who is married. She's in a committed, and exclusive relationship, but I have developed feelings for her. I think she might even have feelings for me. Should I pursue her?"
This is not a post about morals.
Personally, my views lean strongly towards scientific evolution and evolutionary psychology. In that context, among mammal relationships, it's difficult to identify clear moral boundaries in anything at all...
And... we're mammals, too... so we also face ambiguity where morality is concerned.
Are relationships meant to be exclusive? Are they meant to last lifelong? Is infidelity natural or unnatural? Are we designed to be monogamous?
Are the rules for humans different than for other mammals, and if so, why?
None of these questions have clear, definitive answers that I can find in nature, and we are creatures born of nature, too.
I won't try to convince you of what's "right" or "wrong" here... but I do have strong opinions and perspective on this topic, from personal experience.
Difficult Questions, Difficult Answers
I've been right where you're at, asking the same questions you are right now...
Why am I feeling this way? Why is my attraction so strong?
Why are all of my thoughts so focused on her? Why do I feel there is no other option?
Should I pursue this woman?
What are the consequences?
I'm going to dig into what your emotions and thoughts are doing, and help you get an outside perspective on what's happening inside your head, and inside your heart.
Getting Perspective on Your Emotions
Right now, your emotional brain is screaming at you...
"Go pursue her now!"
Your brain is designed for this very purpose, because relationships are important to our survival. 250 million years of mammal-brain evolution means that you will feel overwhelmed with deep emotional drives.
It's important to see this clearly, and understand that your emotional brain is simply trying to do its job-
- Your reptile brain is pushing you to pursue sex, and the possibility of reproduction.
- Your mammal brain is pushing to you develop deep social connection, and pair-bonding relationships.
Neither of these brains are wrong...
BUT - and here's the problem - your emotional brains have no "big picture" perspective.
As strong as your emotions are, they lack perspective on the future, on life consequences, and on your core values.
- It drives you to eat that pizza, even though you've been working hard to lose weight.
- It drives you to watch porn, even though there is zero relationship there... zero social value... zero chance of having children.
- Have you ever bought something that you later thought was a stupid waste of money?
- Have you ever gotten too close to someone that you later thought "what the heck was I thinking?"
- Have you ever hesitated to say hello to someone, apply for a job, or to be courageous, just because of some kind of irrational fear?
I'm sure you can find plenty of other examples where in-the-moment, your emotional brain made a lot of sense to you, but ultimately led you into unwanted situations... and even disastrous ones.
It's important to see that your emotional mind is powerful but severely limited in its perspective on your world - because it can only see this moment right now.
Watch it, listen to it, but don't trust it blindly to make good decisions for your future.
Getting Perspective on Your Thoughts
The emotions that you feel will be so intense, that your thoughts will play a role in this too. They'll scramble, trying to explain the situation and what you're feeling.
You'll believe darn near anything to justify that emotional attraction.
I know, because I've been there.
Here are likely the five things your brain is telling you.
- This is my soulmate, the best person I will ever find.
- This person is deeply unhappy. I need to save them.
- If I break up this relationship, no one is really being hurt here... ultimately it's for the best, for everyone.
- I have no other choices.
- Normally this would be wrong, but this situation is unique.
Let's look at each of these, honestly.
"This is my soulmate..."
This is my soulmate, the best person I will ever find. I will never find someone like him/her, and they don't belong with this other person.
First, as compelling as the idea of soulmates is, I'm sorry to tell you that they are not really a thing.
What we describe as a "soulmate" connection is an intense, overwhelming set of emotions that are caused by dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, all at the same time.
It's intense... in fact it's downright intoxicating.
But here's the thing...
That crazy madly-in-love feeling you're feeling right now? You can create that any time you want, with a better person, in a much better situation, and you don't need to compromise your values or hurt anyone in order to do it.
Your brain will argue strongly, because all of those drugs are on full-throttle, trying to convince you to pursue this woman.
But the truth is the truth.
Try to get perspective on this- as strong as your emotional brain is, your rational brain can still see clearly, if you seek the truth honestly.
"This person is deeply unhappy..."
"This person is deeply unhappy. I need to save them. I'll treat them far better, and they deserve that."
Nope. In fact, you can not be the one to "save" them.
If they're really in that bad of a relationship, then they absolutely need to save themselves. They need to be able to make the right decisions for their own life- and to make the decision about their relationship without outside temptations or influences.
If they can't, you're just creating a dependent relationship, and that's a huge warning sign.
They're unhappy, so...
- What exactly are they expecting from their partner? Are they communicating their needs to their partner? Is their partner even able to provide those things?
- How are they dealing with that situation? By, potentially, running away, into someone else's arms?
- How will they deal with you when you have problems in your relationship someday?
Big, glaring red, neon warning signs.
"No one is really being hurt here..."
"No one is really being hurt here. Heck if it were me, I'd want my girlfriend to be happy, even though it would hurt me for awhile to be dumped."
Really? Are you absolutely certain about that?
I think you might think differently if you were in her partner's shoes.
"I have no other choices..."
"I have no other choices. I must pursue this person, or else I will die alone, and they will be miserable for the rest of their lives too. That's just unfair to everyone."
The perception of scarcity is a powerful, and painful limiting belief.
But it's completely false.
There are about 3.5 billion women on the planet. How many women have you asked out on dates this month?
Just in your own country, there are probably millions of single women that you can pursue. You can even pursue dozens of them at the same time openly and honestly, with no moral conflicts, if you really wanted to.
So why THIS one, who is NOT single?
And perhaps the biggest point of all. If you feel so needy that you have to destroy someone else's life, just to feel like someone likes you, how messed up is that?
Pursuing someone who is already in a committed relationship Is no different than being hungry, and deciding to carjack someone in the grocery store parking lot so you get some "free groceries."
It just makes way more sense to me to walk into the store and get your own.
"This situation is totally unique..."
"This situation is totally unique... normally, I'd see this as wrong, but in this is an exception and my normal core values & morality don't apply."
I pointed out earlier that your emotions will be so intense - that your rational mind will believe anything just to validate them.
This particular argument will be your brain's last-ditch effort to eliminate your resistance. Part of your mind knows that you're not OK with hurting someone for no reason. It knows there will be consequences. It senses you're making a mistake.
And yet it will still try to convince you that you should pursue this person.
This experience reminds me very much idea of the angel and demon on your shoulders arguing with each other and trying to convince you they are right.
It's total bullshit. Don't buy that crap. You will regret it.
Getting Perspective on this Situation, and these People
We've had a look at what's happening inside your head. Hopefully you've got a bit more clarity there. Now let's look at your present reality, and your future.
Remember, your emotional mind sucks at "big picture" perspective. By that I mean the long-term consequences, the situation you're creating, for yourself, and for others.
Let's zoom out and have a clear look.
Let's say you decide to pursue her, and let's say you win her. You've pretty much got a mess on your hands now.
- First, there's probably a guy that hates you now. He'll be deeply hurt, and deeply angry. He may even have murder on his mind.
- Probably there will be social backlash, any mutual friends you had now, think you're a shithead.
- Probably (but not necessarily) you'll feel some level of guilt and authenticity-shame that you breached your own values of Respect and Compassion - because you'd want someone to show you those values if the situation were reversed.
- Oh, and did you like having female friends? Because that's over now. Your new partner is very unlikely to be uncomfortable with you having female friends now, since that's how your relationship with her began.
But there's another big mess here.
You're now in a relationship with a girl who you know will jump ship for a "better deal."
What do you think your chances are that she's going to stay with you?
Even if you marry her?
Even if you have kids together?
What happens in 5 years, or 10, or 15 when the relationship's getting stale, romance is a bit thin, and another guy starts showing interest in her?
I think you already know the answer.
Put yourself in her husband's ( or boyfriend's ) shoes
When your values feel emotionally confused, and a social situation feels unclear, it helps to reverse roles to gain perspective.
Imagine that you are her boyfriend or husband right now, and some other guy came along.
What would you want to happen in this situation?
Think deeply on your values, and how you would want to be treated if you were "the boyfriend".
Because if you pursue her, and win her then... guess what?
You're that guy now.
My Personal Experiences
Unfortunately, I have personal experience with this situation, three times.
In all three situations, I encountered a woman in an unhappy relationship, and I became part of the reason she left that relationship. I enabled her to jump ship.
It wasn't intentional, and I really didn't want to hurt anyone.... but I was absolutely blind to the realities of the situation I was creating... for her current partner, for myself, and for our future as a couple.
In every way, this is the worst way to start a relationship- with pain, confusion, inner conflict, social conflict, shame, and lack of trust. If you really like this woman, do not start a relationship with her in this way.
If her relationship is that bad, she'll become available again one day. Let that happen on her own terms, in her own timing, of her own decision, and for her own reasons.
That's what respect looks like, for everyone involved.
Also, karma is a b*tch...
No matter what your emotional brain is telling you, don't "dive under the bus." This is a bad place to put yourself in. It will not end well for you.
Remember my own three relationships I mentioned that started this way?
All three of those relationships ended the same way they began.
Years later, my romantic partner became unhappy, and someone else enabled her to jump ship. And she chose to take that opportunity.
You knew this was going to happen didn't you?
I just wish someone had told me...
These were very important, very central life lessons for me. But they weren't fun.
What to Do
I try to live by personal social ethic...
Leave the people in my world better than I found them.
That includes people I love. That includes people that I like. That even includes people that I think are total ass-hats.
No matter the situation, I hope I never allow myself to violate my own core values again, no matter how strong my emotional brain is screaming at me.
- I would never want my wife to do that to me, or someone else to pursue my wife- so why would I do that to someone else?
- I've been at the receiving end of this kind of situation, and it sucks beyond belief. Most people would rather be shot in the head than be cheated on- it feels worse than death. Relationships are that central to our lives. If you do that to someone knowingly, consider what you're doing to them. Walking up and stabbing someone would probably be kinder.
- I value loyalty, commitment and honesty enough that this would personally bother me on a personal core values level as well. Authenticity shame- knowing that I let myself down.
- Cascading impacts. What happens to the kids, family, and futures of these people?
- "Karma", in the philosophical sense. Whatever I do to others, I deserve to have done to me.
- If someone chooses to ditch their partner to be with you, expect that the same will happen to you. It's just a matter of when.
Recognize that you are making a choice here.
Understand that if you choose to pursue this woman, then you are making a decision to hurt someone, consciously.
Hurting someone is not an accidental, unintended side effect of your choice... it is the choice you're making, because you want something they have.
At the receiving end of this situation, life sucks beyond belief.
Most people would rather be shot in the head than be cheated on- it feels worse than death.
Relationships are that central to our lives. If you break up someone's relationship knowingly, consider what you're doing to them. Walking up and stabbing someone would probably be kinder.
Let her become single first, on her own terms and without your help
If she's really unhappy with her relationship, let her deal with that first, on her own terms. Wait for her to be single. And then start from zero, as two single people. You'll both respect each other far more.
Keep your values strong, and only accept women into your life who share your values. You'll both be happier.
Love does not demand a 'Relationship'
I have a number of wonderful women in my life, who I have deep emotional connections with. Some of them are married, or in committed relationships.
In another time, in a less mature me, I would find those emotions too intense and too confusing. I would feel intensely pressured to pursue them, to build a romantic and sexual relationship there.
I'd feel deeply confused and conflicted... all of the experiences I described above.
But I've learned that confusion is not needed at all.
It's possible to love someone deeply, without any need for that relationship to cross into any kind of physical, sexual, or romantic territory.
In fact, these relationships tend to be far deeper and more honest and open, because we're forced to confront and talk about these things, and make sure we're both clear about how we're feeling and what we want.
There are no expectations or stresses between us.
It's amazing, and I count these relationships among the deepest and most beautiful relationships I've ever found.
If you're craving depth of connection with someone you cherish deeply, it does not need to become sexual relationship at all.
Consider that, and you might just find what you're looking for in the incredible friendship you already have.
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