(The Root) —
"How often are affairs nonsexual? I've dated married women before. Two relationships were not sexual — not because they didn't want it but because I wasn't interested." —F.T.
Wow. I'm sure the husbands of the two women you didn't have sex with appreciate your lack of carnal interest in their wives. But you don't get any kudos, sir, for knowingly "dating" married women. The nonsexual relationship you allude to is most often referred to as an emotional affair.
In David J. Moultrup's book Husbands, Wives & Lovers: The Emotional System of the Extramarital Affair, he defines it as "a relationship between a person and someone other than [their] spouse [or lover] that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance and overall dynamic balance in the marriage." Even though there's no sex, the relationship you describe can be just as devastating to a marriage as sexual infidelity.
Unfortunately, the frequency of emotional affairs is hard to accurately quantify because few people confess, even anonymously, to an affair of any kind. Nevertheless, some reports say that emotional affairs are on the rise, thanks to the convenience of technology and the plethora of social networking sites that keep everyone so connected.
There's also the troubling issue of people who think like you do, who are having emotional affairs and rationalizing that what they are doing couldn't be so bad, since it's not as if there's sex involved. This could not be further from the truth.
Did these wives tell you things they didn't tell their husbands? If their husbands knew about you, did they downplay the relationship by saying "He's just a friend"? Did these women look forward to spending time with you more than they did their husbands? If you answered "yes" to any of the above, then you were having an emotional affair.
An emotional affair doesn't come with the pesky risks of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. But just like a sexual affair, it contains deception, secrecy and a breach of trust. You know those times when you wooed married women over cozy dinners or long walks by providing a listening ear and "just" allowing them to be themselves, with no judgment? In those moments, you were robbing a husband somewhere of his wife's feelings, time, interest and concern. You were a participant in stealing the soul of a marriage.
I'm guessing you probably don't care, and it's not as if you have to. As I told the woman who wrote in last week, wondering whether she should have a heart-to-heart with the woman she thought her man might be involved with, the third party — that would be you — didn't make any sort of commitment or take any vows to honor a relationship.
What I didn't say — only because the subject then didn't call for it — is that it's still all manner of grimy to get physically or emotionally involved with someone you know is in a committed relationship. It sends the message not only that you don't respect relationships but also that you don't have much respect for yourself, either.
It's quite curious to me why anyone would willingly want to play second fiddle. Women are told so many horror stories about how hard it is to find a good man, or how their worth is diminished when they don't have one around, that I can somewhat understand the rationale for being girlfriend No. 2, even if I don't condone the action.
But men are fed the idea that there's a surplus of available women. Even if having the numbers on your side still means that a good woman might be hard to find, are you telling me that the best you can do to get your physical and emotional needs met is playing No. 2 to another man? If it's a connection you seek, you would be better served by finding an unattached woman who is actually available to indulge you instead of emotional tricking with off-limits women.
I know that part of the guy theory of why married women make great jump-offs is that they don't require a lot of time because they don't have much of it. They're also easy on the pockets because the husband should take care of the wining and dining. And all they really require is good sex. But in at least two of your relationships, you're not getting that. So what are you getting out of these arrangements?
Maybe your ego gets a boost from the knowledge that you can pull another man's lady. Maybe you don't really feel that you have enough to contribute in a relationship, and you're going for women who don't or can't require much. Or maybe you don't feel that you deserve to be someone's No. 1.
Whatever your reason is for consistently dating married women, whether you have sex with them or not, you definitely need to see a therapist. The right one will help you discover the root cause of why you seek relationships in which you can be destructive and also help empower you to be a better, more self-respecting man.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.