Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Unshakable love for married man masks another problem
Tormented: I'm in love with my married boss. I thought it would get better with time, but it's getting worse. We had two minor physical encounters about four years ago, decided it was a bad idea, and returned to our just-professional relationship. My personal life has been a mess since then, and I know it's because the way I feel about him makes it impossible to date anyone else meaningfully. Please help.
Carolyn: Obvious things first: Have you looked for another job?
Tormented again: I've worked incredibly hard at carving out THIS job, which is very meaningful to me. I provide OB-GYN services to an underserved, at-risk population, and my boss is the chief of staff at the clinic. After delivering hundreds of babies, I don't want to just leave. I have many repeat patients, and I know how tough it would be for them to find someone to replace me. So no, I can't just leave.
Carolyn: Okay, next obvious question: Have you gotten any counseling?
I realize this is eminently pooh-poohable (the H is silent), but hear me out. Counseling could just turn into paying someone to hear you talk about your lovesickness, but it could also help you see why you're so hung up on one person — and maybe even why you're hung up on this person. Or, if you've done this before, hung up on one idea, that everything will be solved if you're with X.
It could be that you have fears or doubts that are expressing themselves in your pining for things you can't have. It could be this guy fills a perceived need in ways that you never fully realized, and figuring that out will enable you to address the need and at least weaken your attraction to him.
Even if that doesn't turn out to be true, talking to someone can help you figure out some creative alternatives to resigning yourself to this fate. That is pretty much what you've done here: You've decided that you can't have the guy, can't move on and can't leave the job. I count two "can'ts" that involve choices, and that right there is room to maneuver, and room to improve.
Seattle: Re: Tormented: As one who serially dated only married men, and then married the last one (yes, I had issues), I can only say, in retrospect and in my humble opinion, I was in love with impossible relationships as a way to dodge responsibility for my choices. Being needed was one way of rationalizing that I was justified in staying in situations that were not healthy. It's just a sign of being disconnected from one's self and purpose. I wasted a lot of years that I would give anything to have back.
Carolyn: "Disconnected from one's self and purpose" — I like the way you said that. When you stick to the idea that nothing about your situation can change, you don't allow yourself to think about what you actually want, what you actually can do, and which among your realistic and available options you'd like to pursue. In fact, it becomes habit and even natural to feed that narrative. It becomes your "normal." It's a very self-defeating way to think.