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Nearly Beloved

My boyfriend, who's lived with me for four years, is still married. His wife and I are good friends, and I don’t mind their friendship at all. (They’ve known each other since high school and have a 9-year-old daughter.) Recently, when his wife and I were both at a family gathering, my boyfriend thought it would be funny to point out that I’m actually not his wife, she is. I got very upset and left the party because he is not the sheik of Saudi Arabia and I am not part of his harem. We got in an argument and broke up. He says it was just a joke. Do you think I overreacted?

--Lost My Sense Of Humor

Nothing says “You’re the one!” quite like a marriage certificate inscribed with the name of the other “one.”

Marriage generally signifies a lifelong commitment to another person (unless the two people marrying are Hollywood stars, in which case, it may signify a weekend commitment). Remaining legally married to one woman is typically a major impediment to becoming the long-term, live-in boyfriend of another. While relationships do come in varying forms these days, a guy with an interest in spending all or part of the rest of his life with somebody would be wise (and kind) to first dispense with spending the rest of his life with somebody else.

Did you really need to wait for your boyfriend to rub your nose in his marital status to notice you were smelling something, and it wasn’t the April Fresh Scent of Downy? Perhaps there’s some compelling reason they’re still officially together -- like, if they divorce, the little girl won’t inherit Great Uncle Nutso’s bazillions. Or, perhaps it has more to do with the four years you’ve spent underreacting to their marriage, to the tune of Kumbaya. Evidently, you were fine with him having his cake, and your cake, too -- providing he didn’t advertise it: “Family, gather round, say hello to my mistress! Grandma, you remember my concubine?”

How lovely that you’re “good friends” with his wife. What do you two talk about, how he misses the bowl, and whether his herpes has cleared up yet? Obviously, relationship communism -- what’s yours is hers, and what’s hers is officially hers -- is a failed experiment. It’s one thing if you truly don’t care. It’s another thing entirely, if, between group hugs, you’re building up a Chernobyl-like core of resentment because you can’t even squeeze bigamy out of the guy.

According to Dr. Harriet Lerner, in The Dance of Anger, this kind of suck-it-up “niceness” suggests you think having a relationship is more important than having a self. Eventually, the self refuses to stay sucked, and comes out in the worst of ways. For example, an unwillingness to calmly assert yourself from the start probably explains why a joking stab at irony by your boyfriend led to a public tantrum and a relationship-ending blow-out. Think about it: If somebody asks, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” you probably don’t scream “Racist pig!” -- unless chickens at intersections somehow represent a racial sore spot for you. You WERE part of this guy’s “harem,” and if that didn’t work for you, the time to inform him, “it’s her or me, not her AND me,” was four-plus years ago. This might not have stopped the guy from racking up more wedding anniversaries -- but it probably would’ve saved you four years smiling through gritted teeth while trying to slow-dance with a 135-pound wife hanging off your back.

Posted by aalkon at March 15, 2006 4:56 PM

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Wow. Just wow. I can't believe she was in that relationship for four years. I can't believe she's now asking if she over-reacted. Personally, I think she under-reacted to the fact that he's married. Good advice, as usual, Amy.

Posted by: Anne at March 17, 2006 6:15 AM

Thank you!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 17, 2006 8:28 AM

It never fails to amaze me that people need to be told this stuff. I love reading your advice, because you give it to them straight, the way I would. Too many people are putting way too much value in being part of a relationship at the expense of their own happiness.

Posted by: Stephanie at March 17, 2006 3:28 PM

Thank you so much! Where do you read me?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 17, 2006 4:33 PM

what does saudi arabia and harems have to do with this...? i would really appreciate if we could leave cultural slurs out of unrelated-comments.

Posted by: amy smith at March 21, 2006 4:51 AM

Do harems not exist in Saudi Arabia? If they don't, I'm sorry. But, how about this: Saudi Arabia is one of the more backward countries in the world, and a source of numerous terrorists and numerous barbaric practices and policies. Let's have it all out in the open, let's all talk about it as much as possible. In journalism, this is referred to as "sunshine laws" -- to open information to the public. I'll do a bit of sunshining here, to let you know how idiotically politically correct you are in making a comment like that.

Here's how the primitive Saudis treat gays:


Here's how the primitive Saudis treat women:


You can keep your lips zipped about the barbarians, but that doesn't mean they'll go away. In fact, information not aired tends to be much more damaging in the long run than information that is. And kudos to the Muslim woman from Los Angeles who recently spoke out about sick Muslim fundamentalism. Let's have more of that. Cultural insensitivity? I'm all for it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 21, 2006 3:46 PM

Amy, spot on. The current King of Saudi Arabia is believed to have no less than 30 wives... so your comment about a harem is not inappropriate.

Posted by: Agatha at March 28, 2006 8:11 AM

Here is the link from a recent Guardian article referring to King Abdullah's domestic arrangements.


Posted by: Agatha at March 28, 2006 8:14 AM

Thank you so much, Agatha...you rock!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at March 28, 2006 8:22 AM

For anyone looking for some sensible info on Islam and its cultural strengths and deficiencies, I highly recommend the book "No god but God" by Reza Aslan, an Iranian ex-pat and faithful Muslim who clearly knows what's what in Islam. Yes, he acknowledges that Middle Eastern cultures are largely backward and sexist and worse; Islam, he contends, was originally meant to put an end to all that. (It's true! Check it out for yourselves, and be sure to have a copy of the Quran handy to corroborate Aslan's quotes. Muhammad's visions, much like Jesus Christ's, have been distorted and perverted almost beyond recognition by generations of clerics with axes to grind and agendas to push.)

Posted by: redwolf81068 at April 4, 2006 6:44 PM

I think that you have overreacted because it'd be normal if you have such good relationships to make a joke out of it. If you love each other just come back.

Posted by: Herpes Girl at April 12, 2006 1:25 PM

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