"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.
I need your advice on what I should do about a relationship I once had.
I live and teach in another country. Some years ago, I was involved in a romantic relationship with one of my students. She knew I was married and was keen to marry me. But I told her that I needed to do right by my family as we had young children.
The last time we had a telephone conversation, we talked about whether I loved her more than my wife. I knew what her question meant. She apologised for asking and told me that perhaps 10 years later, we could take the relationship further.
After she returned to Malaysia, she called me up. But I later lost my phone, along with her phone number. So I wrote her several e-mails but she did not respond. In the meantime, she came to my country and visited some of the associations I used to work with.
It has been almost 10 years and she is currently pursuing her doctorate overseas. When I visit her Facebook account, I see that her status is “single”. Often, I feel for her and hardly a day passes that I do not think about her.
Now that my children have grown and my wife is more focused on them, I want to rekindle our relationship. But I am unable to reach her, even after contacting her friends.
What should I do? Any advice?
Looking to reconnect
There are two things going on here that you have to examine in order to find a way forward.
First is that affair you had 10 years ago. I won’t go into the ethics of a teacher having an affair with a student, nor will I ask whether you went the whole way or whether it was an emotional affair. What I will point out is that you believed at that time that you had found your true love.
As you chose to keep to your marriage vows and maintain your family, I want to ask you this: when you decided not to pursue your romance, did you think of it as a sacrifice?
If so, did you also make some kind of bargain with yourself? Did you secretly think, “If I make this sacrifice now, I will get my just reward later.”
If you did, that’s quite a common type of bargain. Life is difficult and uncertain and so we’re constantly bargaining with fate. You may have done this as a child, with those little urgent prayers, “Please God, if I pass this exam, I’ll be nice to my sibling forever.”
While these thoughts are natural, you have to accept that life doesn’t work that way. Yes, our actions do help shape our environment. However, giving up a romance in 2008 doesn’t guarantee a karmic reward in 2018. Principles don’t function on the basis of blue-chip financial investments.
For all you know, she was simply enjoying the excitement of a forbidden affair.
The second thing is that you have no idea what your romantic interest is really like. It’s been 10 years since you spoke. Perhaps she is an amazing person, your romance was meant to be, and you are soulmates yearning to be reunited.
But for all you know, she was simply enjoying the excitement of a forbidden affair. In the cold light of day you have to examine what kind of woman is happy to pursue a romance that she knows will break up a marriage and leave little kids in a broken home.
I must say, I don’t like the sound of her at all. I think it much more likely that you had a little fling 10 years ago and that you proceeded to romanticise it into the love story of the century out of sheer guilt.
However, you are an adult, your children are grown, and you are entitled to happiness.
I suggest you do this. Be honest with yourself and see if this dream romance has any foundation in fact. Be cold, analytical and ask yourself what was really going on 10 years ago.
Also think of this: you have a wife you loved enough to marry and have children with. As you say, the kids are adults now. What would happen if you dated your wife, making love the way you did when you were young? Could you perhaps fan the flames and rekindle your romance, reforming your marriage and make it better than ever before?
Your wife has loved you all these years; that’s not something you want to just chuck away.
Do all of that and if you are still convinced you want to pursue that other woman, it means talking to your wife and coming to a reasonable, kind understanding of how you divide your property, and of how divorce will affect the two of you.
Still want to go for it? Then telephone that woman’s university and leave a message with the department secretary. Or e-mail the dean and ask to be put in touch. In the age of the Net, it really isn’t hard to find people.