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My lover won’t leave his family. Should I wait or move on? | Relationships

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The question I am in a situation that is making me frustrated and unhappy. I met a man on a dating app four years ago. He has a partner and young kids. From the first date, there was a strong connection and we quickly fell in love. This is still so today. He works close to my home town, but lives with his family 200 miles away. He keeps saying someday he will separate from his partner, but I don’t see this happening. He tells me they agree they don’t have romantic feelings for each other now, but they are bringing up their two kids together.

We see each other twice a week and although everything is perfect when we’re together, we don’t spend non-working days together, or meet each other’s friends and family.

His father left his mother when he was six and he has never seen him again; I think he feels he will fail his children if he separates from their mother, the same way his father failed him. I can understand his reasons, but I could never do what he does and lead a double life and lie to everyone. After four years, I want to move on and meet somebody who I can have a normal relationship with, a life together, to introduce him to my family and friends and know his people as well.

In my free time I am alone while he spends all his weekends and holidays with his family. I tried several times to end it, but I missed him too much. Should I keep waiting? Should I put more pressure on him? I don’t know what to think of him and his situation, or what to do.

Philippa’s answer What, I wonder, makes this connection so special? After his father disappeared, your lover will have longed for him. The yearning may have become like a sort of default setting for him, so perhaps, unconsciously, he chose someone who lives far away, so he could yearn for them. But this time, when he wants, on his terms, he gets to have them, too. Then he can return to his family and build up the longing he has for you to make the next time as special as the last. Or perhaps his father’s desertion may have conditioned him to be wary of investing all his love in just one place.

Longing for someone is a much more charged emotion than merely loving someone. It is felt more intensely. If we longed for a parent’s attention, which was only intermittently given, that attention can feel euphoric. The yearning you are feeling may feel as good and as right as it does because it is familiar to you. Perhaps you also loved a parent who may have not given you all the attention you craved and so someone else, who isn’t giving their whole self to you, lights up a very old feeling in you. If you see it like this, and feel it like this, it may be easier to let go of him. The meanings we make of our lives make a difference to how we live them. Reciprocal, equal and dependable love isn’t as intense as longing. I’m offering these thoughts in case they help. If they don’t, then disregard them.

If you did ever finally have him fully in your life, would he not need another secret to keep his excitement alive? Would he not need someone else who was out of reach to run to occasionally? Your lover is lying to his next of kin and so it is possible he is capable of deceiving you, too. He may be doing this already.

You seem to be settling for the role of secret mistress. What would be the long-term consequences of this on your self-esteem? One thing that struck me is that you do have friends and family and yet you are spending holidays and much free time alone. Fill this time with people, with activities you love, with projects you care about. He may be your lover, but don’t make him your whole life. Build up and commit to other priorities, too.

Many might criticise you for choosing someone who is already spoken for, but it is not you who has made any promises that you are breaking. If it wasn’t you he was being unfaithful with, it would be somebody else. You met him online, where he was looking for extramarital action. You cannot imagine splitting yourself in two, as he manages to – living one life with you and another with her as if the two lives are not connected – but many people do this, and it is not uncommon for such an arrangement to go on for decades. And if your situation is going to go on for such a long time, then you will need to make your life sufficiently interesting, absorbing and peopled for the times he isn’t there. Love is important, but you need more in your life than this love.

Listen to your conflicted feelings, consider which feelings matter the most to you, and work out from them what you really need for your long-term future.

Philippa Perry’s The Book You Want Everyone You Love* To Read *(and maybe a few you don’t) is published by Cornerstone at £18.99. Buy it for £16.14 at guardianbookshop.com

Every week Philippa Perry addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Philippa, please send your problem to [email protected]. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions

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