Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I met my fiancé, we’ll call him A, in 2019 on a dating site. He was sweet, funny, educated, and driven. He told me he had never been married and didn’t have children. I have one boy from a previous relationship. A was a travel nurse and I was a staff nurse at the time. We went on our first date the day after my 30th birthday. We hit it off immediately and the relationship moved pretty fast.
After a few months, I introduced him to my son and after a year, we decided to travel together. We get time off between our assignments, usually a couple weeks which we use to spend time with our families.
Last October, A proposed to me and I said yes. He met my entire family and everyone loves him, I told them we are getting married, etc. I’ve always found it strange that he had never taken me to meet his family though. I tried not to push the subject, because he said he had a strained relationship with everyone.
When he returned from his family this time, however, I found another woman’s underwear in his laundry. I panicked and did a background check on him. As it turns out, he has been married for 13 years and has 4 children. I’m so shocked and angry. I told his wife, who he has since left to be with me. I don’t know what to do. I love him, but he has lied to me everyday of our relationship and has been unfaithful as well. It’s hard not to curl into a ball and give up. I feel so stupid, I told whole family we are getting married.
What do I do?
Alright, before I get to the question, I want to remind folks about my policy around fake letters and the like: I don’t get terribly worked up about whether letters are fake or not. 99% of the time, they’re glaringly obvious and never make it further than the inbox. Of the remaining 1%, it’s worth remembering that letters to advice columns aren’t just for the person writing in. Most questions are functionally just theoretical exercises to majority of the readership, but even when a letter isn’t relevant to your life circumstances, there’s still often a lesson to be learned from them.
But it’s also worth remembering: sometimes shit that sounds too extreme or unbelievable can be all too real.
So with that in mind, let’s start with an obvious fact. The answer to this is incredibly simple, UH: you dump the dude. You dump this guy so hard his grandparents divorce retroactively. You dump him so hard that his caveman ancestors look up and say “what the hell was that?”
Now, granted: it’s easy enough for me to say that. I’m the loudmouth with the advice column, not someone who invested two years and who knows how much energy into this relationship. That alone can make it difficult to want to pull the trigger on the break-up. Then there’s the humiliation factor. It’s easy enough for those of us on the outside to say “wait, how is this even a question?” But for you, there’s the act of ending things with him, and then there’s dealing with all the fallout of ending a relationship with someone. After all, you and he were engaged! You were making plans, you may have been actively researching venues, checking out bands and DJs, tasting cakes and planning guest lists. You may have already asked folks to be your bridesmaids and maids of honor or even sent out save the date cards. Now it’s not just a case of having a good cry with your friends, binging some comfort shows on Netflix or Hulu and hitting the gym like it owes you money. No, now you have to cancel everything, recoup your deposits and — oh yeah — explain to folks why the wedding is off.
It’s bad enough when a relationship ends. But facing down the fact that you were lied to — that this guy hid an entire goddamn family — and you bought his lies, hook, line and sinker? That means facing people’s judgement. The looks of pity on people’s faces, now that you’re The Woman Whose Fiancé was Already Married. The way his shitty behavior ends up being grafted onto your identity. And if that’s not bad enough, there’re also the questions of “how did you not know this?” There’s the pain of not just having been lied to, but having been fooled so thoroughly by someone that you had no idea that, again, this dude hid an entire family from you. This is just an extra layer of pain, a chef’s kiss of “fuck you” on top of what is already a pretty devastating situation.
But as awful and terrifying all that is?
You should do it anyway.
There’re times when someone’s sins can be forgiven. There are times when you can, if not excuse someone’s lies, at least understand the reason for them. Yes, they hurt you, but everybody is human and sometimes their actions may have caused harm, but it’s harm that can be repaired. They can re-earn your trust and work to make you whole again.
This ain’t one of ’em. This is so far from being one of those times that the very concept of “can you get over this” will take thousands of years to reach you even travelling at superluminal speeds.
It doesn’t matter that he’s left his wife now. It doesn’t matter how much he says he loves you. This isn’t a case of “he was in the process of getting divorced and there was some unfortunate overlap with his relationship with you.” It’s not even some strained romance novel-esque “you were a mistress and his marriage was loveless and he couldn’t leave her just yet for understandable reasons, but now he has and while your start may have been rocky, true love will help guide you from here.” This is someone who — and I can’t fucking stress this enough — hid an entire fucking family from you for two years. He proposed to you, not only while still with his wife, but when you honestly and sincerely believed him to be single.
If sheer chance hadn’t caused you to discover the truth, what in pluperfect fuckery was he going to do? Keep pushing the wedding date back far enough that a quickie divorce came through before you ever found out? Pray that when you applied for the marriage license that his name didn’t pop up in the database already? Was he going to spring this on you and hope that you were too committed to leave him? Or was he just going to play it out for as long as possible and then leave when things got too close?
Trick question: the answer doesn’t matter. No matter what his plans were, this was a lie so egregious that there’s really no place for understanding. This is not the sort of thing that you come back from. This is a “nuke the site from orbit” sort of situation, a relationship extinction-level event to make the Tunguska Event look like a firecracker with delusions of grandeur. And, I might add, it was about yay-close to being a literal crime.
So, no, there really are no questions about what to do about him besides kick him to the curb with the rest of the trash. He doesn’t get any reward for coming clean now, especially not one that gets him what he wants. The only question is how do you handle the fallout of it all. My advice? Be honest about it. Tell your story: this is someone who preyed upon your willingness to love and trust. He was a grifter and a conman, someone who went out of his way to deceive you. You did nothing wrong here; the only “fault” of yours is to trust that someone wasn’t secretly the villain of a shitty Hallmark Christmas movie. And if folks think that you should have “known better” some how… ask them how many times they have run into someone who was so committed to the bit that they were willing to propose marriage after years together.
Here is a truth: your only flaw here — such as it is — is that you loved not too wisely but too well. You trusted someone who went out of his way to deceive you, to gaslight you and to trick you. That is not your fault. You are not to blame. Trusting people is not a character flaw. Loving someone who turns out not to be deserving of your love is not something to be ashamed of. The flaws are all his. The shame is all his.
Your only job for the immediate future is to forgive yourself for loving someone who took advantage of that love. Take time to surround yourself with the people who love you and support you and let yourself heal so that you don’t develop a callus on your soul. This will take time, but you will heal. You will get over this and move forward in life, a little wiser, a little more guarded, but no less worthy of love.
But first, you have to excise this dude out of your life. Kick him out and let the story of what he did go on to be a warning to others.
You’ll be ok. I promise.
Hi, Doctor NerdLove:
I (she/her, 33) always crush on unavailable people. For instance, my last three crushes have been a woman who was too young for me, a straight friend of mine, and a friend who is both sapphic and in an open relationship, but is not looking for love (plus she’s way more talented and funny than I am, so it wouldn’t work out anyway). Is there a way to 1) deal gracefully with this constant feeling of inadequacy and romantic despair and 2) crush on more suitable people? I’ve tried dating apps but I haven’t been able to get much out of them, maybe because of being trans or because there’s something I’m doing wrong (I thought I had a good, descriptive bio and decent pictures, but over 1 year of constant use I had few matches and those I had weren’t interested, although I was able to make one friend, so yay). I think I pass the Grimes test in that I have a few passions and am a sweet (maybe too sweet and that’s why people aren’t attracted to me? they might get childish vibes from me?) and articulate person, but couldn’t form any romantic connection whatsoever on apps. However, I have made lots of friends in the past year, something I’m happy about, so maybe I’m not so bad socially. I clearly am doing something wrong, though.
Let The Wrong Ones In
One of the things I’ve learned in my time — as a dating coach, as an advice columnist and in my own dating adventures — is that our brains are bastards. One of the things that we often forget is that our brains aren’t designed to make us happy; they’re designed to keep us safe. The problem is that not only can being “safe” make us miserable, but a lot of times, the thing our brains are “protecting” us from is… well, ourselves. Specifically, they’re not protecting us from real threats, but from the things we’re afraid of.
I realize this doesn’t make sense, but hey: brains aren’t logical. They’re hallucinating wads of tapioca and electricity that drive a big-ass robot made out of rocks and meat, plunging from one crazy situation to another spurred on by various drives and desires. Logic doesn’t enter the picture… at least, not in any form that we’d recognize.
Case in point: you continually get crushes on folks who aren’t available, who are wrong for you or who can’t (or won’t) return your affections. This is actually very common; a lot of folks find themselves attracted to people who they know aren’t suitable or who will never care for them the way that they do. But here’s the thing: the reason why folks are drawn to unavailable or impossible relationships is precisely because they know, on some subconscious level, that this relationship can never and will never happen. It’s an act of self-preservation disguised as an act of self-sabotage. They are choosing unsuitable partners because it guarantees that they won’t pick someone who might actually love them back. While this may seem absurd, it’s almost always a response to a deeper, more significant issue, a way of protecting themselves from harm.
For some, it’s because they don’t believe they deserve to be happy. There’s some part of them that feels as though they’re flawed or broken or just unworthy. By crushing on folks who are unavailable, they’re punishing themselves and protecting others, keeping folks at arm’s length because they don’t feel like they have the right to get what they want. Others have been so hurt or traumatized that they can’t bear to let someone get that close to them again; while unrequited love may be painful, it’s a lesser pain, a familiar pain and one that keeps them safe from the greater, more damaging sort of hurt that can come from being vulnerable and letting them in. And for still others, it’s a fear of success.
Again: this seems absurd: why would we be afraid of success? Isn’t rejection worse?
And the answer is: not really. Because at the end of the day, rejection is ultimately a return to the status quo; yes, it hurts, but it leaves you where you were before. That status quo may not make you happy, but it’s familiar. It’s a known quantity, and one you already know how to deal with. Success, on the other hand can be mind-blanking, pants-shittingly terrifying. A frustrated fantasy is one thing. It’s is not and can never be real, which means you never have to take responsibility for it. The fantasy can live forever, exactly as you want it to. Success, on the other hand, means that you’re responsible for what happens next. Your choices have consequences. If you make a mistake — and you will, because you’re a human, like all of us — then there’s no undoing them. You can get hurt or, worse, hurt someone else. Or worse than that: you may get what you want, only to screw it all up and lose it. Fuck “it’s better to have love and lost,” sometimes it’s better to have always lived in Hell than to have been snatched out of Heaven.
Here is a truth: that’s bullshit. It’s fear fucking with you, your jerkbrain dripping poison in your ear and whispering things that sound true because you’re hearing it in your own voice. It’s the voice of the part of you that’s absorbed too much bullshit from the petty and small minded, from the assholes who want to drag you into their misery and from people who’ve curdled their souls with hate. It’s all too easy to take other people’s crap onboard and internalize it, never realizing that you’ve done it.
Here is another truth: you know, on some level, that you’re capable of so much more. That you deserve more. That you’re worthy of love and affection and tenderness and intimacy. You know this because you’ve already gone out and made new friends, people who care for you and want you to be happy. Success or failure on dating apps has less to do with your desirability or your attractiveness and everything to do with your skill at working the apps and the algorithms that run them. The same qualities that draw new friends to you are the same qualities that draw lovers to you, just as the same skills that help you make new friends are the skills that help you find new partners.
But to do that: you have to be willing to open yourself up to risk. To being hurt. And to being willing to believe that you deserve love and affection.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s still worth working on the apps as a way (not the way but a supplement) to meeting folks. But meeting folks on apps is a skill in and of itself, not a summary of your desirability or worth as a person. Letting the silence of strangers — many of whom aren’t worth your time in the first place — dictate your sense of self-worth is a recipe for madness and despair. As you’ve seen: you’ve made amazing friends and brought awesome people into your life; your results from Tinder don’t detract from that.
So if you want to stop developing crushes on unsuitable people, it’s time to do some introspection and see where the commonalities lie. It may be part of accepting yourself and recognizing your awesomeness. It may be a question of how much you’re willing to trust and how vulnerable you’re willing to be. Or it may simply be a matter of being willing to give up a level of control and accept the risks that come with loving someone who might love you back.
That’s part of the problem with love and dating: no matter how careful you are, how sensible you try to be, at some point it becomes a leap of faith. And with every leap, sometimes you don’t make it. Sometimes you fall.
But sometimes you take that leap and you fly.