Dear Joseph,
I have a moral dilemma. I have been close friends with a married man for six years. His wife was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and for the past year she has been unable to communicate. She is now deteriorating seriously and does not have much time left. In a sense, he lost her a year ago. The man and I have always had a strong mutual attraction as well as a deep friendship, but we never crossed the line into an affair. In the past few months, he has told me he'd like to start a relationship with me, including being physical (I am single), and does not see any reason to wait--that he is lonely, grieving, and has no close relationships now. I am very torn about this because, while I care for him deeply and even believe we may be destined to be together, a part of me feels that to act now would be morally obscene. He and his wife have three fairly young children. I would be grateful for your comments.
--Torn and in Love

Dear Torn,
As they say in Yiddish, "Oy vey." The situation you describe is so sad. If you decided to allow your relationship with this man to turn into an affair at this time, I would not condemn you as acting in a "morally obscene" manner. But, having said that, I think you should wait.

You write that the sick woman does not have much time left. Why then rush matters and commit what is still an act of adultery? You note that the couple have three young children. Since it seems likely that you and this man eventually will wed, I believe you will be able to guarantee a far better relationship with your future stepchildren if you can convey to them, down the road, that you and their father did not carry on a romantic relationship while their mother was dying. If they come to know that the two of you had done so, I suspect that your relationship with them will be damaged, perhaps permanently.

To start a physical relationship now is wrong for yet another reason. This man is still the one in charge of making medical decisions regarding his wife. There is something very unseemly, to say the least, about the one making such decisions already involved in a sort of quasi-marriage to another.

You also write that you have been close friends with this man for six years. From the tone of your letter, it sounds like the strong mutual attraction existed even before his wife became ill. You exercised restraint then, and I believe you should exercise restraint now. Be there for your friend emotionally, but not physically.

Joseph Telushkin, a rabbi and Beliefnet columnist, is the author of 10 books, including "The Book of Jewish Values," from Bell Tower/Crown.

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