Is all fair in love? (Delaware Coast Press)

Dear Dr. Hurd,

I’m at a crossroads. I’ve fallen in love with my best friend whom I have known for years. The catch? She’s married with kids. I’m not entirely sure of the depth of her feelings for me, and I don’t want to be a homewrecker. I can’t imagine not having her in my life, and these feelings have become overwhelming. I don’t know what to do.

Dear Reader,

Does she love you back? If so, then you shouldn’t rule anything out. But she first has to emotionally disengage from her current marital relationship — on her own terms. It has to be her decision with no pressure from you, including the decision to tell her husband. This will be the litmus test for proving her willingness to move on. If you really want something, you first have to pay for it.

If she can honestly tell you — and herself — that she would have left her husband anyway, and that you’re just a bonus, then there’s no reason not to pursue a relationship with her. Beware of the term ‘homewrecker,’ however. It’s often used to intimidate and create unearned guilt. If the marriage was over anyway, then it was already wrecked. Don’t take on blame where none exists.

It’s also wrong and against your self-interest for you to pursue an affair that involves deceiving her husband. That bond is hers to break, not yours. Regardless of your relationship with him, you shouldn’t take part in deception.

You didn’t tell me whether your best friend still loves her husband. Most likely she’s confused. It’s up to her to work that out for herself. If she ultimately decides that the ordeal of divorce is worth it, then that’s fine. But again, it has to be her decision, and I advise that you gently back off until that day comes. Any attempt to deceive her husband will start your new relationship based on a lie. You want to trust her in the future, but how can you do that knowing she’s capable of that sort of dishonesty? Conversely, why should she trust you, knowing that you participated in it?

Moreover, starting a relationship with her before she has made up her mind about her husband risks your friendship with her. As painful as it might be to never have a romance with her, it would be even more painful to pursue a relationship with her and have it end with her choosing her husband over you. So much for the friendship.

Affairs with married people are nearly always disasters. The ones that end well are the ones in which the married person was already decisively out of love with the current spouse. In those cases, the participants stand a chance of moving on and establishing permanent relationships. Even so, my experience has shown that most affairs end up being transitional, not permanent.

Remember that divorce is as much a financial matter as it is an emotional one. All factors must be considered, and she must be at peace with them before you pursue anything with her. The same applies to the children. If she divorces her husband, her relationship with them will be affected. Is this something she can handle? And is she willing to make that decision on their behalf? Unless she carefully thinks this out, it will come back to haunt you both.

It’s important to not allow the initial confusion to spin out of control. The best and most rational way to end any indecision is for her to first end the marriage, face the music, and then (and only then) take the risk of pursuing another relationship. If she’s unable to do that, then common sense suggests that a friendship with her is the most you’ll ever have. You’ll then need to find a woman who’s more available and stop wasting your energy on someone who isn’t.

Life involves risks. Sometimes we’re faced with dilemmas where each alternative brings with it the potential for loss. But potential loss can also mean the potential for gain. So, is it worth it?