I got an email the other day that I don't want to post right now as I am worried about the reader being identified. It's an unusual situation for most of my readers, and I hope even the bare outline doesn't make anyone say "Aha! It's my old friend X!"
In short, my reader is in a toxic, emotionally intense, if physically chaste, relationship with a very troubled, recently divorced man. She has tried to get out of it, but she is having a really hard time, in part because he keeps contacting her, and in part because she misses him and in part, I think, because of toxic glue.
Toxic glue is a phrase I have just invented for whatever it is that keeps you hooked to a guy even though being hooked to him makes you very unhappy. It's worse than a crush, because a crush implies unrequited love, whereas toxic glue gets its strength from mutuality. It's not that the guy doesn't reciprocate your feelings of attachment: it's that he does when he shouldn't.
Not all my readers are Catholics, so some will not agree that a divorced man might still be a married man. However, I hope I can convince these readers at least that it is a supremely bad idea to get involved with an unhappily married man, who becomes a divorcing man, who becomes a divorced man. People caught in marital breakdowns, especially if domestic abuse or children are involved, go at least a little (and sometimes a lot) crazy. And the divorce rate is so high, not because most people divorce, but because divorced people are more likely to divorce again. In a panic, many divorcing people throw themselves into rebound relationships.
The idea that marriage can be impermanent is so entrenched in English-speaking society, it's no wonder that even Catholic girls are influenced by it and think it might be okay to date a divorced man who has not had an annulment. The zeitgeist puts Catholic girls in a weird mental position: "I shouldn't be dating a married man, but he isn't really, really married, is he? I mean, like, he could have grounds for an annulment. He probably has grounds for an annulment, and it isn't really dating anyway."
And the guilt and fear of disapproval from Catholic parents and peers might keep such girls from asking for help in situations where such men have serious personal problems, either those that come along with the agonies of failed marriage or even worse ones. It's so easy, isn't it, just to curl a lip with disapproval and say, "Well, you should have known better." But what a failure of love that is. Love says, "You deserve better. How can I help you?"
I mentioned "dating," but never mind the whole artificial, shifting concept of dating, which is usually just whatever a person says it is. Emotional attachment is emotional attachment, plain and simple. My guess is that most of the time Single women can go out for a coffee with a married male friend or colleague, no problem, and then toddle off home without a pang. This coffee is a whole lot more innocent than an emotionally intimate email exchange between a single woman and an unhappily married man, even if they never go out for coffee.
Such emotional intimacy can become glue, and it is toxic glue if the woman realizes that she wants and needs to get out of the dynamic between her and the divorcing (or otherwise troubled) man but cannot get out. And in such a situation, she really needs to get help. She might need to sit down and tell her parents everything or, if for whatever reason she is afraid of her parents, a trusted older relative, a priest or a therapist.
One thing I cannot stress enough is that young, single people are vulnerable. Young single women are particularly vulnerable because, as far as I know, unhappy older men are more likely to exploit younger single women than unhappy older women are to exploit younger single men. (I am mentally listing examples of the latter, however.) Younger people are often awed and flattered by the attentions of older people, as long as the older people are not TOO old and still attractive in some way. Younger people are more likely than older people to believe whatever they are told, especially about an attractive person's "awful" husband or wife.
Oh dear, it's all so sad. Anyway, if you are in a toxic relationship with a man to whom you are not married--sexual, not-sexual, emotional, professional--and you cannot get out, please tell someone in a position of responsibility (parent, aunt, priest, therapist) who might be able to help you.