Q: Three years ago, I was divorced six weeks from a 22-year marriage when I got involved with a married co-worker and persuaded him to divorce his wife for me. He has been married five times and cheated on all of his wives. I have reason to believe he’s still having sex with his ex-wife. I´m not sure what to do. I refinanced my house a few months after meeting him and paid off his and his wife´s $14,000 credit card debt (my idea, to help him out of the marriage). He’s been repaying me $250 a month, although I also usually pay for his plane ticket here. (I moved for work.) He´s a pretty bad alcoholic. Not a mean one, just a goofy one. I know he has a bad marital track record, but he’s in his 50s; his marriage-hopping has to stop…you’d think. Crazy as it seems, I´m madly in love. He is charming, is generous, and shows me he loves me in little ways — cards, phone calls, etc. Really, I’m not dumb. I’m a librarian with a master’s. But, tell me: How bad is this?
A: Oh, the charming, generous things he does, like putting your credit card back in your wallet and closing the snap.
He doesn’t sound like an evil person; he just is who he is: an undercapitalized, serially married goofy drunk who’s probably sleeping with his ex-wife. Three years ago, you were just-divorced and probably panicking about your prospects, when you spotted your Mr. Right (aka an age-appropriate, conveniently located, attractive man with a pulse). Hellooo, confirmation bias! That’s a common human irrationality — the tendency to snuggle up to information that confirms what you want to believe and to ignore any information that doesn’t. Before long, you were slammed with “cognitive dissonance,” the clash of two simultaneously held opposing beliefs — your belief that this is a worthy love thing versus how this guy goes to the altar more often than some men go to the carwash.
To reduce the psychological friction of cognitive dissonance, you’re prone to justify whichever belief shines up your ego. The more some choice costs you the more driven you’ll be to defend it — like when you’ve abruptly thrown 14K at the idea that you can change a man who thinks soul mates come in six-packs. And no, you aren’t that “dumb”; you’re just that human. Deep down, you know that love — real love — is never having to say, “Are you cheating on me with your ex-wife?”
Keep in mind that the term “madly in love” refers to a state where you aren’t making rational decisions. You need to get in the habit of standing back from your life and assessing what you’re doing — especially when you’re at your neediest. Recognize your human propensity to act irrationally — to let your emotions lead and then to mop up afterward with a bunch of self-justifications. If you can accept yourself as human and fallible, you won’t feel so compelled to toss less-than-flattering facts in the hall closet behind the badminton net. Be open with yourself (and even your friends) about your flaws and fears and you should start managing them in healthier ways — instead of paying off a bunch of pantsuits a guy’s wife bought five years ago at Macy’s and telling yourself you’ve found love.
Q: Through no one’s fault but my own, I am a rather pathetic, washed-up character — a man approaching 40, slaving away for $10/hour, and getting around on my bike after having to sell my car. Yet, I’m ever driven by my wants — for pretty ladies in their early 20s. Do I have any hope?
A: It’s tough attracting the ladies when you have transportation issues: “I’ll be over at 8. Wanna run behind my bike, or would you prefer to balance yourself on my handlebars?” This might fly if you’re 23 and parking your bike outside the drafty garret where you write mind-blowingly beautiful poetry or if your hobbies include shrinking your “carbon footprint” while snarling that the eco-posers tooling around in their Priuses are fouling the environment. Unfortunately, most hot young chickies willing to date a guy cresting 40 expect him to have achieved some status and position, and not a position paying slightly better than fast food. Still, if you can’t substantially increase your income, you might increase your status by making a difference. You could start and run a humanitarian organization (like Robert Werner, who started BC Digital Divide, refurbishing donated computers and giving them to the needy). But, if you do this solely to get chicks, they’ll surely see through it. Ultimately, this mostly has to be about a passion to help others, and not just to help others who are 23 and hot out of their clothes.