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Home » The Vine

The Vine: August 28, 2013

Submitted by on August 28, 2013 – 12:07 PM16 Comments


In honor of my wonderful friend A's birthday this week, I decided to ask a question that has kept me up nights for almost a decade.

A and I met online nine years ago this month (thanks, former forums!). Since then, it has been PMs, DMs, iMessages, Gchat messages, Skype, Facetime, and even good old snail mail between us.

We have never met in person.

When we first began talking, I was a 19-year-old who had no money and was temporarily living at home with my strict parents; the thought of me flying across the country to meet him seemed dangerous and too expensive. A year after that, I met my now-husband, who knew fully about A and about our close friendship. A few days after our wedding, my husband informed me that he felt my relationship with A was inappropriate (girls shouldn't be BFFs with boys, etc.) and that I was to stop all contact with him.

I raged against that particular idea, but have gone in and out of complying with his wishes over the last seven years –informing A that we wouldn't be speaking ever again and breaking contact for a few months (once, it was up to a year) before deciding to rekindle our friendship. My groveling has become a top-notch skill, but all of the credit goes to A's forgiveness powers. We catch up on the time lost, then pick up our usual habits again. All of this is in secret, however, because if my husband found out, he has claimed in the past that he would leave me.

My friendship with A has been a major sticking point with my husband throughout our whole marriage. I consider myself an independent woman and have never hidden that from my husband, even before we were married. I feel like I am between a rock and a hard place: keeping my husband's trust and keeping a friendship that is important to me.

Additionally, nine years feels too long to be friends and to have never met. I feel like this is the year I am going to make it happen, but there is no way to approach it without lies, deceit, and potential scandal. A has been unemployed for a few years and hasn't wanted to come to my city because the sneaking around would annoy him to no end.

My question is: how can I reconcile this inflammatory situation and how can I meet my friend, finally?

Intimate E-Pal and IRL Stranger

Dear Stranger,

Forget meeting A, you need to deal with your marriage, and specifically the fact that your husband thought, correctly, that he could forbid your friendship with A. You have enough red flags there to make a string of bunting, seriously, and your cutesy phrasing of "girls shouldn't be BFFs with boys" fails to hide that that's sexist, mistrustful, and deeply controlling. And you know it is. And so does Husband, because he waited until a few days after the wedding to spring it on you.

You went along, which is a problem, but then at the same time you didn't exactly, which is also a problem. You married a guy who didn't trust you or respect your existing relationships; bait-and-switched you once the rings were on with "oh, by the way: that isn't appropriate," like you're seven years old; and emotionally blackmailed you into obedience by threatening to leave you if you stayed in contact with A. I mean, unacceptable. You should have dealt with it, using that word, years ago, or called Husband's bluff, but you didn't, and I think you have to ask yourself why, because you don't actually talk that much about what makes A's friendship valuable to you in the here and now. Not that he's not a lovely person with whom you have a lot in common, but you…don't really talk about that.

What you do say is that you struck up the relationship when you didn't have much else going on…and that he forgives you for waffling on whether you want it in your life, quite possibly because he doesn't have much going on (he's unemployed for years; he keeps letting you/your husband yank his chain). Nothing about things you both like or his sense of humor or anything like that. So you have to look at what A's friendship really satisfies for you, because I think at this point? It's drama, and putting one over on Husband.

Go to counseling, by yourself, and talk about the situation, because it's not really about A and it hasn't been for years. It's about you going from a "strict" family of origin to a new family with your husband where he thinks he can not only make rules about your friendships, but change them once you made your relationship with him legal; it's about you not feeling like you have any agency in these situations, and kind of unconsciously thumbing your nose via this friendship, which because you've never met and Husband has forbid it has a strong whiff of danger and drama. Again, A may have many worthy and appealing qualities, but 1) a backbone is not one of them and 2) you need to figure out what you get out of the sneaking around, and find a healthier and more direct way to set boundaries with Husband.

So. Reduce your contact with A and tell him you need to work some things out, with yourself, so that this isn't an emotional affair. Take a few appointments with a therapist and talk about how to manage the situation with Husband, because I think you need to figure yourself out before you decide whether/how to tell him the truth about your ongoing contact with A — yes, the initial request was unreasonable across all fronts, but you acceded to it and then lied for years on end, so he's going to be furious and he'll have some right to that response. And think about what you want from Husband, why you married him, whether something about his bossy conservatism appeals to you viscerally and whether you want to continue dealing with that as an adult.

And then I think you tell Husband the truth, and if he leaves, in my opinion it's a mitzvah, but of course I know nothing else about him either, so get yourselves to couples counseling first and maybe try to tell him in that safe space so he's not immediately flinging his shit into a suitcase all "I TOLD YOU," but: for real, you should have lanced this boil the day your husband "informed" you that you weren't to have male friends. You didn't; now it's infected. Go to a doctor. Get some help finding agency in your life, because "wonderful" aside, your friendship with A reads more to me like teenage rebellion against your spouse, and everyone involved deserves better.

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  • attica says:

    Man, it's hard to read this letter without flames bursting from the sides of my face.

    I hope Stranger, in addition to following all of Sars's spot-on advice, has some money of her own squirrelled away, where hubby can't get to it. I foresee a need for it, and I don't mean for springing for cross-country airfare to visit A.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    It sounds like, to me, that "A", by virtue of this virtual friendship, has been many things to you over the years, not the least of which is a rebellion/escape from a family life that restricts and comforts you in equal measure. What A isn't, right now, is a real person.

    I don't mean you're at the end of the most patient catfish scheme ever, or that you think A is a robot or imaginary, but let's face it, he's the next best thing. He's your old stuffed animal that you whispered to at night, he's the burger joint you stop off at when you're shopping by yourself even though you've told your spouse you're committed to eating healthy, he's the trashy novel you hide in your drawer. He's the tiny space you've carved out for yourself.

    But unfortunately, because of the setup you've got going here, he hasn't changed for you, in all these years, at all. You're still rebelling like a teenager, and A is still the little room with no windows where you go to scream and rant and let off steam just like you did over a decade ago.

    Your husband is, from what you write, an insecure and controlling nit at best, but he's not the one keeping you frozen in time and personal evolution. Neither is A, for that matter. What they both seem to be doing is providing a secure platform of repression that you can lash out against in a way you've been doing since you were nineteen. It's comfortable. It's familiar. And it's bothering you, or you wouldn't have written this letter.

    Discomfort is coming. That's just a fact, and no guilty pleasure or secret friend or marriage can ward it off forever. It's time to find new pleasures that aren't secret, or embarrassing, or a hangover from your younger days. To grow up, in other words.

    You're ready and you know it. Let A become a person, with all the potential disappointments that entails, talk to your husband, with all the anger that might generate in both of you*, and move on up. The time is now.

    *Naturally, if you are afraid for your physical well-being, you need to alter this advice. NO MATTER WHAT, NOBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO PHYSICALLY HARM, RESTRAIN, OR SCARE YOU.

  • Maria says:

    Agree wholeheartedly with Sars. Unless your goal in life was to become a top-notch groveler, in which case Score!, something has to change. I submit that staying in this spin cycle allows you to have something to focus on rather than moving forward with…what, exactly?

    Best of luck to you. I hope you go to counseling to see about some help for this. Of all the reasons there are to stay awake at night, this isn't a good one.

  • Kristin says:

    I re-read this a couple of times and a few things stick out to me; you refer to yourself as "Intimate E-Pal". I have some friends whom I've never met except online or by phone for various reasons, but I'd never refer to our friendships as "intimate" as that's a word I save for actual, you know, classically intimate relationships. I'm wondering why, if your husband knew prior to your marriage about this friendship, the objection came after? Was it, as we're all assuming, because he's controlling and waited until the rings were on? Or did he discover an element to said friendship that might legitimately have bothered him? I'm not accusing but just wondering. Men are pretty sensitive about stuff like that (shit, so are women) and I have to say I might have some empathy for your husband if he truly feels your relationship with A might be a threat to your marriage. Which, based on the fact that you were willing to lie about it, it just might be. Take Sars' advice and get some counseling for yourself to figure out why you're OK with this situation and how you can improve it for everyone involved. Good luck!

    On a completely shallow note, Sars, I like the expression "family of origin" and immediately thought of 2 obnoxious Mr. T jokes because I'm 12.

  • JB says:

    There's… a lot unsaid here. At first glance, it seems like this is just a tale of a husband that is very insecure and/or very controlling, but the one question I have is this: Is there anything ABOUT the nature of the friendship with A that would raise red flags with the husband? Is A the person you would go to first when happy, upset, you need to talk to someone, etc. instead of your husband? If so, I can see why this could cause him some grief. Unfortunately, I think that if he DOES ever find out that you've maintained a secret friendship with A behind his back, it's only going to validate husband's belief that he was in the right to not trust you and forbid the friendship. I don't get the sense that in your mind, this friendship has ever been anything but 100% platonic, and you presume A feels the same. Also: what, exactly, do you expect to get out of having a real-life friendship with A that would be different than what you have now?

    The one other question I have is are you of an ethnic/religious group where it is a cultural taboo to maintain friendships with men other than your husband?

  • Rachel says:

    Oh wow, where to begin?

    I agree wholeheartedly with Jen S 1.0 in that "A" is not a "real" person to you. You've never really had to deal with him other than on your own terms. You've never made plans and had him stand you up or had him be rude to your friends or come over for dinner and be all "well, that was… interesting" about a meal you'd spent all day cooking. He's not a fully formed person in your life. And that's AN issue, and so is your husband's behaviors, but I think THE issue here is that you, despite being late-20's (I'm guessing, from the timeline you provided), are not an adult.

    You went from a strict household (where you likely didn't have much say in anything) to another, simliarly strict household. You aren't making all your own decisions and what's worse, you aren't even questioning the decisions that are being made FOR you. That's a problem. The lying and sneaking around is also not what I'd consider adult behavior. Plenty of people do it, sure, but in your particular case, you are still taking on the role of the child and you're worried that your Mean Daddy (in the form of your husband) is going to punish you.

    How's that working out?

    Counseling is a good step. Coming clean and being honest is another. You're of adult age. Start acting like one.

  • S says:

    I have to disagree with Sars (sorry Sars). If your husband had a secret online female friend would you be cool with that?
    One who you had asked him to stop contacting?
    One whom with he shared thoughts and feelings?
    And then he decided to go meet this person in person?

    That is not protecting your marriage. You are letting someone else meet emotional needs. You have an intimacy (most likely a false intimacy because it is all virtual) with this person. You may wonder why you can't talk like this to your husband. You may like the way this person is supportive and never gives you a hard time like your husband. You may wonder….etc etc. This is how affairs start. First emotional, and then physical.

    If you truly want to get in touch with this person, you have to get it out in the open. Perhaps you could say 'Remember so and so, my pen pal from "pamie"? I saw him online and sent a note. I wanted to let you know. I enjoyed talking to him about (some topic that your husband is not interested in). I understand your concern so what do you think if I email him but include you on the emails?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    If your husband had a secret online female friend would you be cool with that?

    A fair question, but I'm not sure it's pertinent here (you're welcome to disagree) (again) (hee). A *wasn't* a secret. Husband knew about him ("fully aware"). Husband waited until the marriage was legal to announce that that friendship was no longer welcome, and while I agree that there may have been something he sensed in the air, as others pointed out, that the friendship was More Than, the bottom line is that the friendship is secret *because Husband forbade it*.

    It's still a bad call to have hidden it, IMHO, because she's lying to her spouse and encouraging him to think he gets a say in her pre-existing friendships, which…not that your spouse shouldn't come first, generally, but if this is so worrisome to you don't put a ring on it in the first place, guy.

    But if protecting the marriage is the concern, Husband shouldn't have leveraged said marriage to insist she end a friendship that pre-dated theirs. I get what you're saying and I agree on the GPs, but if Husband is the injured party here, it's his own doing.

  • Stranger says:

    I was not expecting to have several new assholes ripped open when this letter was answered.

    I wrote this Vine letter in early May, and by mid-May, my husband had decided that I was being too demanding of him in general and moved out for two and a half months. During that time (and still), we attended weekly couples therapy; early on, we discussed that I did not feel emotionally safe around him and had been siphoning that emotional energy elsewhere (without specifically mentioning A). We are still in the throes of figuring out our marriage.

    I did not mention that I have two young children, though I believe it's pertinent in the face of all the given advice. I can fully confirm that if my children weren't in the picture, I would have been out years ago due to similar behaviors by my husband and his family of origin. But there is something about keeping our family intact that is compelling me to put in the work.

    My only quibble is the expressed-in-the-comments notion that I am not an adult; my initial reaction was of the "You don't know me! You don't know my business!" variety, but I am able to reconcile that Vine letters cannot be long on detail and back story. How could you base your opinion on anything other than what I'd written? Suffice it to say that I have lived an adult life and have this small sophomoric facet that I am trying to work out.

    To answer the few questions I've seen in the comments: I am a part of a religious culture (but not doctrine!) that promotes "cleaving" in the way of no opposite-sex friends; I don't feel that there is anything about our friendship that is threatening to my husband, except that A happens to have a penis; and my use of the word "intimate" in my handle was meant to denote that we're close friends.

    TL;DR Therapy is being had, I'm trying to be better, and Tomato Nation does not mess around.

  • clobbered says:

    I'll start off by saying I am married (monogamously to a man), my BFFs are predominantly male, and I certainly have deep and meaningful friendships with men I have neither met nor even know what they look like. So, to be clear, none of those things are wrong or even vaguely not ok by themselves.

    But… this is not the situation you are in. You are in the middle of a multi-year deception that you have clearly oscillated wildly on resolving. At this point, whatever the merits, you have ample evidence that rejecting A is not a workable solution for you. Do you have an idea on why not? Without judging (whoever has not told a lie to get out of an unpleasant confrontation can throw the first stone), living like this is really stressful. I am going to guess that you are reaching the "I don't want to live like this anymore" point. So you are a juncture. Ask yourself – "What is the best thing that could realistically happen? What is the worst?" Obviously "my husband goes 'okay, have a fun trip' and I spend a great weekend with A having long walks on the beach then go home Monday and pick the marriage where I left it off" is magical thinking. Really think this through.

    Also ask yourself – what if A was a slightly smelly old man with bad teeth? Would this change any of the outcome? Not that I am suggesting that your relationship with him is not platonic, but I wonder how much aspirations transfer you have engaged in over what is clearly not an all-roses marriage.

    The reason Sars points you to therapy (and I hope you take that to heart and not go "I don't need therapy, all I need is A and my husband to stop being a controlling d***") is that you have a big decision point coming up and you want to give yourself every chance to think it through.

    I'm much older than you so please take this kindly, as it is intended as such: the solution to a problem with a man is never another man. The solution to a problem with a man is fixing it, or leaving him with the courage to know that you will be alone and you will be just fine.

  • Carrborette says:

    Lots of heated comments today! Stranger, I'm glad you chimed in…since time passes between when folks write in and when the letters get posted, it's helpful to have more background and good to know that you and your husband are going through therapy together. I hope if you find you need support as an individual, you can get that through individual therapy. (Your line about trying to "be better"…many of us work hard to improve ourselves and how we interact with to others, but I think it's important to be gentle towards ourselves, too.)

    Mostly I just wanted to say: hang in there! Hopefully things will get worked out (either with a marriage where you feel supported and emotionally safe, or if that isn't possible, an exit strategy with a good support system and knowing that you truly tried.)

  • Cij says:

    Stranger, you are definitely going through a lot of heavy stuff, and I am glad you are in therapy- sometimes it's good to have a professional to help out.

    I wanted to chime in a little bit about your children- I think working to save a marriage is great and admirable, but I also know (from personal experience) that sometimes having the parents "stick it out for the children" isn't the best thing for the children. It was better for my sibling and myself when our folks divorced because we no longer lived under a very unhappy and bitter roof. Our parents were happier (and got along better) once they were divorced. In a weird way, it made our family stronger.

    Obviously, you know best what you should do, but mostly, you need to make sure you and your kids are happy and safe.

  • Maria says:

    Well with a difficult husband, a pair of young children, religious culture to abide by, and difficult inlaws…I'm not sure it's sophomoric of you to look for some sort of release, somewhere. You actually have a lot of difficulty in your life (even though you place high values on your lifestyle and love your family). I think we fall into this idea that we things can be either wonderful OR awful, when in fact they can be wonderful AND awful, at the same time.

    Unfortunately there is not a whole lot of support for women in a difficult marriage. People assume that if you are married, you are happy…because if you weren't happy, you would "just" divorce. Ah, if only it were so simple. You have to consider your children, as well as how you would manage financially and how you will fit in socially. So much to think about.

    I'm glad you are figuring out your marriage together, because whether you stay or go you should be clear about what is fixable and what is not. I think it's possible that if your marriage got better, life might feel easier. That's a beautiful goal on its own, no matter what becomes of A.

    I'm wishing you can find emotional safety with your husband most of all. I'm guessing that's what you feel with A. I wonder if on some level you felt you had the best of both worlds with A for emotional intimacy and your husband for everything else. But I guess that isn't the case due to recent events, and now I hope you can make the best of things some other way. All the best to you as you look for answers.

  • M says:

    Stranger, I'm glad you responded.

    Having kids does make a difference, as their needs are important. I wouldn't say their need for mental health is more important than yours and your husbands though, since your life so strongly affects the little ones. Taking care of yourself is taking care of them.

    Something to keep in mind is that, regardless of parents' marital status, children tend to flourish in low conflict homes, and don't do as well in high conflict homes. A low conflict home(s) with divorced parents is likely better than staying together for the kids with consistent, palpable tensions and emotional problems.

    Sars's advice about 'A' was good so I'll just share what popped into my head when I read it.
    The situation reminded me of hearing when one half of a couple is so suspicious and controlling over fears that the other half is cheating, that the innocent, if not completely healthy, half finally does cheat, since they are treated as being guilty anyway. Your husband treated you as doing something wrong and eventually, you did. It's understandable.
    There is a great old saying "Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb" that applies in these situations.

    I hope that therapy and just making yourself a priority lead to a life that is based on what you really want, not what some think you should want. Finding out what life you really do want can be tough (full disclosure, I'm still working on it) but the alternative is always being discontent, so it's worth it.

  • RC says:

    Good to hear from you, Stranger. Although I can't help but wonder what "I was being too demanding of him in general" means. If it were me and my new husband had pulled that "by the way, now that we got married three days ago I want you to cut off all ties with your male friends" nonsense (I mean seriously, who are we talking about with demands?) I would have been all "HAHA okay, I will give you six seconds to convince me that you're joking, or else I am going down to the courthouse or wherever and see if it's not too late to get an annulment, because no."

    Of course, as you said, we can't possibly know the whole of your story, but as everyone else said, many kids thrive even if their parents get divorced, especially if the alternative environment is as tense, demanding, and …emotionally complicated as it sounds. Good luck in whatever you end up doing, and be sure you take care of yourself.

  • Jen says:

    Hi Stranger,

    Hang in there. I know this is rough; I have been in your shoes. When I married young, my husband prohibited male friends. I had to choose between my friends and my marriage and thought there was only one real choice. I went years without talking to friends who had been very dear to me. My marriage ended – while I was refraining from wishing friends "happy birthday" by phone, my husband was cheating on me.

    I am now happily remarried to a man who wouldn't dream of asking me to choose between our marriage and a friendship. I was able to reconnect with one close friend, beg his forgiveness for blowing him off for years, and now he's close part of my life and and my husband's as well. When I travel across country for work, I always visit this friend, and my husband has no problems with it. Another friend (understandably) wasn't interested in restarting a friendship I discarded in favor of a jerk, and I totally get that.

    Anyway, as easy as it is to say "I would NEVER. . ." when thinking about a stranger's situation, when you're in it, it's not that clear. It's not easy to say "OK, I guess we're not married anymore, then" when you're newly married and trying to do it right and take vows seriously. Obviously I know now that the whole request was ridiculous, but it was harder to see when I was in the middle of it. It gets better. I have kids also, and ultimately decided that I'd take my chances on my own rather than model an unhealthy marriage for them. It worked out well for our family, and I hope that whatever choices you make will lead you to a happier life.

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