Dear Lala, Ive been in affair with older colleague for years – when do I give up?

In a new twist on Lalalaletmeexplain's hit column, readers ask for her expert advice on their own love, sex and relationship problems.

Here, she offers advice to a woman who has been 'the other woman' for three years. Sign up below – for free! – to see what Lala has to say…

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Dear Lala, I’ve been seeing a guy from work for the past 3 years, he’s 16 years older than me and I’ve never had a connection like this before.

He is my best friend, and he tells me I’m his, however he lives three hours away and has a girlfriend who also works with us (we all work remotely for a big company).


He isn’t happy in his relationship, and we have had the conversation of taking things further however his response is always he can’t because of money, losing his house, losing family due to the age gap, and having to move.

I understand where he is coming from but at the same time, we both tell each other we are best friends and want to be part of each other’s lives. He said he can’t imagine life without me in it. We talk all day every day and then on the phone in the evenings for 2+ hours.

He said it’s not about the physical side of the relationship either.

Should I continue to pursue this in hopes something might happen or just move on? I care about him deeply and he is so supportive and caring.

This is a very difficult position to be in, a position which, quite frankly, none of us should ever put ourselves in. Staying well away from people who are already in relationships can save us a lot of pain and turmoil. And whilst I believe that the blame for infidelity always falls squarely on the person who is cheating, I also believe that we have a moral obligation to not enable them to cause such pain and harm to another person.

Though you owe no loyalty or respect to his girlfriend, you are complicit in her being deceived and betrayed and that’s a pretty sh*tty thing, but that does not mean that you’re a sh*tty person. I know how easy it is to fall into these things, and how quickly feelings can develop, and how sometimes even the most moral of us can get swept away with lust and chemistry and end up losing sight of what we are doing until it’s too late.

It’s a horrible thing to be involved in for the reasons I’ve stated, but even more so because of how it ends up impacting on you and your life, and your ability to have any sort of control over your own relationship. Without hearing his side of the story, we will never know what led to the affair or whether he really means the things he is saying.

I wanted to hear from people who have been in similar positions to him to establish whether they could give some perspective on his claims that he wants to leave but can’t. I put up a story thread on IG and several people responded.

One man said: “When I started the affair, I was at a crisis point in my life, debt, family problems, work stress, it was all piling on top of me. The affair provided a distraction, but also an escape. When I was with her, or talking to her, or even thinking about her, I didn’t feel the overwhelming sense of desperation that dominated my real life. I could pretend for a while that I was a different man living a different life. When I told her that I couldn’t leave because of my children and the cost of divorce I wasn’t lying, but I wasn’t telling the truth either. Those things were a barrier that would have made leaving very hard, but if I had really intended to be with her then they wouldn’t have stopped me. I didn’t want to be in a relationship with her because if I was, where could I escape to? She was my perfect fantasy world – I didn’t want her to be real.”

Another said: “When you’re in something like this it is extremely hard to get out of because of the knock-on effect. You know that it’s not just your wife who will suffer, it’s your wider family and friends too. I don’t want to sound like I’m looking for sympathy but when you get yourself into an affair it becomes very overwhelming, and you almost feel trapped. I have been telling the woman I’m sleeping with that I do intend to leave but that she needs to wait until I’ve sorted everything with my house and finances. I’m not doing anything to sort out my house or finances, I’m just biding time because I’m worried that if I leave her, she’s going to blow the whole thing up and destroy my marriage.”

And finally: “I’m in this situation and I genuinely mean the things I say, I’m desperate to get out, there is no love left in my relationship, but my partner will take me to the cleaners, and I just can’t fathom how to leave without losing everything I have worked my whole life to build.”

As I said, only he will know which camp he falls into. The real question is whether you are willing to stick around to find out.

His words really mean nothing, it’s easy to make declarations of love, and excuses for not leaving, his actions are the only thing that will reveal the truth. Will there ever be a time when losing his money, house, family and having to move won’t be a barrier? How is he ever going to get to a point where those things won’t be problematic? What would he have to do to get there?

It sounds unrealistic to me to think that at some point those things will miraculously not be an issue anymore. It sounds like for you two to be together, he is going to have to be willing to sacrifice it all and start again.

One of the people I spoke to who had been in a similar position to your man said that his house and money were genuine barriers and that he eventually left his wife when his mistress offered him a home and stability.

He suggested offering those things and assuring him that you will support him while he gets back on his feet, he said that if he still makes excuses then he will never leave. But that’s a huge thing to commit to and could leave you in a very weird dynamic where you feel that you can’t ever leave him because he has given up so much for you.

And, do you really want to start a proper relationship with someone who has shown you how they handle being unhappy with a partner? Would you ever be able to fully trust that he wouldn’t turn to another woman at the first sign of trouble in your relationship?

From our e-mail exchange I established that neither of you have, or want, children; and that you are in your mid-thirties. If you were someone who knew that they definitely wanted children, I would be telling you to immediately run and stop wasting your time and your fertile years.

If you were under 25, I would also be saying something about the age gap and the potential risks that can come from big gaps, but I think that age gaps close as we get older and mid-thirties and late forties is not a potentially concerning gap in the way that 19 and 35 might be. So, those things aren’t a factor, the biggest factor here is you, your life, your self-esteem, your happiness.

Being a side chick, mistress, lover, fling, or whatever you want to call it, to someone who you have deep feelings for is usually a very lonely and soul-destroying experience. Knowing that the person you love is sleeping next to another woman every night is painful.

Not being able to spend Valentine’s day or Christmas/Eid/Hannukah (insert your favourite religious festival here) with your person is sad. Not being able to rely on your partner to be able to jump out of bed and run to you in an emergency is hard.

It can really grate on your self-esteem too, inevitable questions about why he won’t leave, or what she’s got that you haven’t, or whether they’ve recently had sex, can be tormenting and can leave us feeling lacking.

Right now, you are only getting half of a relationship. You might speak every day, but he’s not yours. His family don’t know about you. You are a secret. Being someone’s shameful secret is not fun.

When you were a little girl did you imagine that you would grow up and have a partner who couldn’t tell anyone about you? Did you envisage your life being with a man who regularly sleeps with someone else (don’t listen to him when he says they don’t have sex – it’s very likely that they do)?

And can you really believe anything he says? He is clearly an excellent liar, he has pulled the wool over his girlfriend’s eyes for three years, he must have told hundreds of lies to be able to do that. How can you ever be sure that you are getting the truth? Especially when his actions and his words don’t match up.

I think you need to consider whether you would feel the same if he was all yours. Would the connection be as strong if it wasn’t fuelled by the excitement of an affair?

You also need to consider whether you are prepared to go on like this for three, or six more years? What things are you missing out on by giving your whole heart to someone who is only giving you half of theirs, and very little of their physical presence? It sounds like you have very strong feelings and that ending it voluntarily on the basis that it’s not going anywhere would be extremely hard for you, but we have one short life, and years pass quickly, and wasting it on something that will never amount to anything is a sad way to pass the time.

Personally, I would want to reach ultimatum point fairly soon, take some of your power back and be clear about what you want and set a time limit for it happening. If that means losing him then so be it, it’s better than losing years of your life. Whatever happens, it’s going to be painful and it’s going to be hard. You just have to decide when to pull the plaster off. Something has got to give.

You deserve more than occasional visits, lies, and sneaky phone calls.

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