I have feelings for my friend’s spouse. I have not acted on these feelings, but I do know that he feels the same way about me. What should I do?
--Treading Dangerous Waters
You feel yourself attracted to your friend’s spouse, and have reason to believe that he has similar feelings for you. My initial response is, “So what?” If we went around acting upon every emotion and feeling that we ever had, we would be out of control. Without some boundaries, some values and internal checks, we run the risk of shipwrecking our lives and those of everyone we care about and who care about us. For goodness’ sake—our ability to reason, to think through our choices, and sometimes to choose counter to our natural impulses, is what separates us from lower forms of animals!
But you asked me what you should do about the rush of feelings that you have for this married man. As I said, we can’t always control the feelings that stir inside us, but we can control whether or not we act on our feelings. It might even be true, as some argue, that because we don't choose our desires, we can't change them by using our rational powers. But still, even in that case we can choose whether to act upon our desires.
There’s a strange thing about the power of desire: Like a waft of sleep dust that’s blown into your face, desire dulls your senses. When you’re under its influence, you are barely aware of other people—before too long, you actually convince yourself that other people’s feelings don’t matter at all. To you at that moment, nothing matters but the object of your longing and the consummation of your yearning. In the throes of desire, reality quickly becomes distorted.
Desire has another strange side to it. When it lifts, you usually wake up to destruction all around you—especially when the object of your desire (like the spouse of your friend) was off limits to you in the first place.
Whether or not you act upon the attraction you feel for your friend’s spouse depends upon one thing: your character. Character is the sum total of morals, values, and beliefs that a person holds deeply and draws from when it's time to make choices. What do I believe, if anything, about the sacredness of marriage, whether it’s my marriage or someone else’s? Is mutual attraction reason enough to act upon one’s desires? What value do I place upon friendship? What kinds of relationships do I think ought to be absolutely off limits, and why?
In the end, it turns out, our choices determine our character.
My suspicion is that you’ve written to me, admitting to your feelings for your friend’s spouse, as a way of checking in with yourself (as well as with other “Whispering Hope” readers). You’re re-inspecting your own boundaries and trying to weigh your desires against your values. That’s good and important to do.
In case I have failed to do so already, let me make it clear that I believe married men (and women) are off limits. If the notion of adultery being morally wrong doesn’t grab you by the throat, then how about this: it’s not worth it. The bliss of an adulterous relationship is rarely worth the inevitable hurt and devastation that accompanies it. Besides, you can’t build your happiness on the heap of another woman’s ruin.