Dear Richard Madeley: An old (now married) ‘friend with benefits’ has hinted she wants a fling

Man undressing woman
'I'd like to call a halt to it all, yet I do miss her company' - iStockphoto

Dear Richard

I’m a Brit living in America. Several years ago on a trip home, I met a fascinating woman through friends. We spent some time together and got on like a house on fire, but didn’t become involved romantically. A year later, after I’d invited her to come and visit a few times, she came. We got on well again and became physically intimate. Over the succeeding three years the same thing happened a few times – we visited one another, spent some time together, then went back to our own lives.

Then, like an idiot, I told her on one visit that I loved her and asked her to marry me. She said yes; but we couldn’t live together for a while as she had to stay in the UK for family reasons and I had to carry on working in the States to build up my pension and generally get my ducks in  a row for retirement. So we carried on as before, with a kind of understanding that we were ‘in contemplation of marriage’ as the lawyers say.

Then, before Christmas, she sent me an invitation to a wedding – hers! (I declined.) I’d never heard of the guy, though given our fairly easy-going arrangement I couldn’t exactly insist that she keep herself for me alone. Nevertheless, I was upset and felt let down.

Recently (the wedding was in March), she’s been calling and messaging again – nothing overtly sexual but intimate and familiar.

I reckon she always saw me as a kind of ‘friend with benefits’ and agreed to marry me for security, which then became available in a more convenient package. I’d like to call a halt to it all and slink off with a few shreds of my dignity intact; except I know she doesn’t make friends easily and, to be honest, neither do I, and I’d miss having her in my life in some way. What do you think I should do?

— Rob, via email

Dear Rob

Well, you have multiple questions to answer here, don’t you? Firstly, are you comfortable with the notion of sleeping with another man’s wife? Specifically, his very new wife? They only got married a couple of months ago!

I tend not to make moral judgments on such matters because I know how complicated life can be. But I must say I think there’s something pretty cold-blooded about embarking on an affair (however intermittent the encounters may be) with a woman who’s only just walked up the aisle with her new husband.

Secondly, what does her apparent wish to renew her sexual relationship with you (I say ‘apparent’ because you’re reading quite a lot into her recent, far-from-explicit calls and messages) say about her? It seems to me that if she really is signalling a desire to renew a love life with you, that reveals a classic ‘user’ personality. She wanted to marry this man (for reasons you can only guess at), yet she wants to retain your services for secret sex. Hmm. Some would say that you – and he – are being used. Played. Manipulated. Are you OK with that, Rob?

Thirdly, shouldn’t you be listening to your inner voice? You tell me you’d like to ‘call a halt to it all’ and preserve your dignity. That doesn’t sound to me like a man desperate to renew what was always a stop-start, essentially peripatetic relationship.

You ask me what I think you should do. I think you should do what you believe will make you happiest. But that’s not a cop-out from me, because I have a corollary; I’m pretty clear on what will, ultimately, bring you happiness. I’ll summarise it in two words: walk away.