Dear Ms. Peirano,

26 years ago I fell in love with my then-deputy boss, completely unexpectedly and unhappily. Unexpectedly, because my first great love had committed suicide almost a year earlier and I didn’t believe that I would ever fall in love again. Unhappy because, on the one hand, he was my superior, also 15 years older, married with two children. He also looked for a job close to home (approx. 250 km away), which he managed to do about six months later.

It was already clear to me back then that there was more from both sides, but for the reasons mentioned and the fear of rejection (I simply couldn’t have coped with that in my unstable state at the time), I never confessed my feelings to him. We kept in touch sporadically, with every call, card or email from him my heart beat in my throat. At some point I found out that he was married for the second time and had two children again. All of this – even though it was years later – was like a stab in the heart.

A few years later I fell in love with my current partner Tim, who is a few years younger than me. We have now been together for almost 18 years, not married, no children, but together we have achieved a lot financially.

About 2.5 years ago, Jonas and I wrote again and it became a constant, daily and very intimate exchange. I then told him that I was madly in love with him at the time and was heartbroken when he left. He confessed to me that he felt the same way, but I was so young and that’s why he left it alone.

Now of course the whole thing is something like an (emotional) affair, sex inevitably plays a very minor role, honestly due to a lack of opportunities. We barely manage to meet three times a year. JonasĀ is very emotional, which means my emotional side comes to the fore and I now know what I’ve been missing in my current relationship for many years.

Tim and I have almost everything, but loving feelings are in short supply. We get along, laugh, and function as a successful “business team,” but I don’t remember him ever saying he loved me.

Of course, I realize that it can’t stay like this forever and that I’ll have to make a decision at some point, but that’s very difficult for me. I no longer want to do without Jonas, but I also don’t want to do without the independence of my current life.

Jonas would leave his family for me in a heartbeat. But I’m realistic and convinced that it wouldn’t be a walk in the park. His wife got wind of us about a year ago, which would make things even more difficult. The children are 12 and 14, which doesn’t make it any easier, nor does the rest of the environment. I’ve told him several times that I’m afraid that our love might not withstand the “external influences”, but he absolutely doesn’t see it that way. Apart from that, I haven’t completely given up my rational thinking and I know that the 15 year age difference is not without its own, my life would be completely different, I would have to take care of the children, among other things, and I don’t have many of the advantages that I currently have would have more. I would be very happy about a little help!

Very dear thanks

Merle T.

Dear Merle T.,

It sounds to me as if you not only have two completely different love stories with completely different men, but also have two completely different parts of your personality.

One part is more rational, likes things to be comfortable and pragmatic, orderly – and perhaps this part is secretly quite satisfied that there are no overly big or passionate feelings at play in your long-term relationship with Tim. Has this thought ever occurred to you?

I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. During my doctorate, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.

Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.

Do you have questions, problems or heartache? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.

I can imagine that you experienced the suicide of your boyfriend at the time as a serious breach of trust. He left you for good by committing suicide, and he probably didn’t tell you about it beforehand (otherwise you would have prevented it). This is an incredibly traumatic way to lose someone.

Maybe you wanted to play it safe after that, and Tim offered that in his rational, reliable way. He seems like a good companion and the two of you make a good team.

For years her feelings for Jonas were more on a fantasy level and therefore did not become real and threatening. Maybe it was even some kind of emotional lightning rod?

And for over two years, the emotional side of you has made itself heard. You have ventured out of your emotional shell and are allowing yourself to have big feelings – and that is probably better because Jonas is also someone who can show feelings.

But now, after 2.5 years, your rational side wants to know what happens next. It becomes clear: the thoughts of a future with Jonas trigger strong fears in you. I can understand that well! I have accompanied similar processes and they were usually very stressful and grueling for everyone involved over the years.

When Jonas reveals to his wife that he wants to separate from her and live with her, things will get emotional. And his children will probably blame you for destroying the family. Jonas’ stress will probably also seriously affect your relationship (which has so far been based on few meetings outside of everyday life). It could be that he will then have even less time and attention for you than he does now.

I can also imagine that your orderly, comfortable, predictable life would quickly come to an end. And the order-loving part of your personality that has worked hard to make your life exactly that way wouldn’t be happy with that either.

How about you first do the obvious thing, take heart and talk to Tim about your relationship? Does he feel the same way you do that your relationship is not loving? Would he like to change anything about it?

Would he perhaps be willing to open up the relationship and accept that both of them are open to others erotically or emotionally? Maybe having both men in your life with open agreements wouldn’t be the worst solution, at least for you.

Because if you choose a man, it would probably trigger a lot of unrest within you. Living in Jonas’ shambles would drive your calm, pragmatic part of your personality to despair, and your longing, emotional part of your personality would wither away at Tim’s side and long for more love.

However, Jonas would then also have to see whether he can open up his relationship or whether he can consciously continue their relationship secretly – at least until the children leave the house. That sounds like a very stressful and difficult situation. But the alternatives – namely either breaking off contact between the two of you or separating from his wife and destroying the family – are not easy options either.

I hope I was able to bring you some clarity. It will definitely remain difficult for now.

Best regards

Julia Peirano