Dear Vix: ‘Is it ever acceptable to date a married man?’

·5-min read
Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in ‘Brief Encounter’  (Rex Features)
Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in ‘Brief Encounter’ (Rex Features)

Dear Vix,

Is it ever acceptable to date a married man? Recently, on a dating site, I matched with someone who seemed too good to be true – he’s gorgeous, intelligent and we have the same interests. He quickly told me that he lived in a different European city, but came to the UK regularly for work. Then it transpired that he was still married. He said that he’d married his best friend, but after the children came along, their sex life had evaporated because she didn’t want it anymore. They’re just together for the children and he’ll leave when they’re older. I get it – that’s what my parents did, too. I asked if his wife knew that he was looking elsewhere and was told: “Sort of, as long as it’s not obvious”. He appears to be saying that she is aware, but doesn’t want to know any details and isn’t dating herself – so it’s not quite an open marriage, but it’s not far off. I suppose it’s more like a “turning a blind eye” situation.

We haven’t met yet, but we’ve talked – a lot – once for two hours straight! He said he feels like he’s known me forever – and I feel the same. Plus, he’s so different to my ex. I’m feeling really lonely at the moment, and he’s keeping me sane. At the back of my head, though, I keep thinking that I need to stop it because I’m the one who’s going to get hurt. I can see that I already have strong feelings for someone that will never be available; it’s a situation that I really didn’t want to get into – and should perhaps have stopped as soon as he said he was married. At the same time, I’m addicted – I’m already comparing everyone else to him, and no-one else seems half as good-looking, intelligent or funny. I can’t wait to hear from him, and I’ll admit to hoping one day he might leave sooner, if things really are as dry as he says they are. I also really want to have sex again – and mid-Covid, that’s a pretty hard task. Please help. I don’t want to lose myself. Susan

Dear Susan,

I ache for you, I really do. And you’re not going to want to hear what I have to say – but I have to say it. This man may well be gorgeous, charismatic, intelligent and fun, but it doesn’t sound to me like he is in a straightforward, ethically non-monogamous relationship (where dating a married man, if you’re sure you can handle it, would be acceptable) – not really. And I don’t think he is going to leave his wife.

How do I know? Well, he’s already shown what he’s made of: by going on dating websites, rather than choosing to work on the obvious issues in his marriage, it tells me he’s seeking escapism. So many people do this, and I understand it – because the hard and unpleasant work lies in confronting the awful inevitability that you’re not in love anymore, or that your relationship has come to a natural close.

When you have children together, it can be even harder to face up to what you need to do to move on. But this does not show strength of character. Going to couple’s therapy, having hard conversations, facing up to the truth and having clear boundaries if you decide to open up your marriage – not burying your head in the sand or living in denial – that’s strength of character. And that’s the sort of man you should be with.

While divorce can have an impact on kids, studies have shown that children do not benefit simply from having two parents in the same home – in fact, being around two parents where there is conflict or unhappiness can be more damaging to kids than two happily separated (or divorced) parents.

And while I have every sympathy with people who can’t bear to think of splitting because they love their kids, and worry about harming them, those very same parents have to own the fact that they could well be damaging their children anyway – by creating a home filled with loneliness, resentment, conflict or lies.

We all have a right to be happy. And there are ways of splitting harmoniously – it doesn’t always have to be a dramatic showdown (see here for an earlier Dear Vix column from a “consciously uncoupled” reader). But the chances of a split being messy are far, far more likely if someone cheats.

I say “cheats” because, if I’m honest, I see some major red flags in your beau’s explanation of his home life. Let’s start by looking at his assertion that his wife “is aware, but doesn’t want to know any details”. Convenient that she isn’t dating herself, isn’t it? But doesn’t mind him doing it. Really?

Is it not entirely possible that he’s spinning you a line and is just plain, old-fashioned cheating? I’ll give you one hint as to how to tell: on his dating profile, did he have photos which showed his face? Or did he carefully cut those off at the neck, leaving shots of his body or torso – and only swap ones that could identify him once you’d connected? Look for those kind of clues. Something tells me you’ll find them.

Still, I’m not surprised that you and this guy have been drawn to each other – because other than the fact that you are single and he isn’t, you have some distinct commonalities. You’re both lonely and want to have sex again; you’re both looking for connection: physical and emotional, especially after long periods of lockdown and self-isolation. That’s why you spend hours talking, and that’s why you’ve gravitated towards each other. These are basic human needs that we can all relate to.

But your paramour is married. He shares a bed with someone else (and if he claims otherwise, I’d recommend taking that with a huge pinch of salt) – which means that you are in a love triangle. There aren’t two people in this relationship, there are three. More, if you include his children. And I think there are serious issues with consent when one person is being intimate with another without the full knowledge and agreement of their spouse.

I don’t want to be overly-judgemental, here: life is messy, people are human. We all make mistakes. But I’d be wanting to know a lot more about his intentions, if it were me – okay, so they’re “just together for the children”. Will he leave as soon as they turn 18? How old are they now – how long, feasibly, might you be waiting, if things work out? What are the terms of their living arrangements? What will they do when the children start asking questions? Why isn’t his wife dating, if he is? What if you fall in love?

Also, I notice you say “date” in your email, rather than “sleep with”. That tells me you want more. But you won’t get “more” from a man who is already married.

Sometimes, affairs do work out – but it is rare. For starters, you’d likely have a huge issue with trusting this man, even if you were in an above-board relationship with him. And even if you believe (after extensive interrogation) that he is telling the truth about his relationship with his wife and you are totally happy to be someone’s “bit on the side” – well I’d ask you to ask yourself this question: why? And (crucially): don’t you deserve more?

Hard as it is, I’d wholly recommend cutting this off now, before you meet and (inevitably) have sex. After that, your feelings are only likely to grow stronger. Start by going “no contact” with him – there are other tips you could try, here. You already know what to do, because you said it yourself in your email: stop it, because you’re going to get hurt.

Victoria Richards is The Independent’s advice columnist. Having problems with work, love, family or friends? Contact

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