Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. I’ve apparently damned someone to hell? Let’s preface this with me admitting that I’m a terrible person. I’ve been married for eight years to a really wonderful man who is an amazing father to our daughter. The problem is that we stopped having sex after our daughter was born. Five years ago. We’ve talked for years about how we’re just roommates raising a kid together and how we should probably fix that or change something. Then, about a year ago, we started talking about how we would go about living something akin to separate lives. An open marriage? Separate bedrooms? We had just bought a house and weren’t in a great financial place to actually divorce, and everything was friendly so there wasn’t much impetus to actually do anything. So we just coasted a bit. Why mess things up for no reason?
I did start flirting with people and stopped wearing my wedding ring, but I have been busy with the house and work and the kid, so it’s not like I was out trolling Tinder. Recently, I decided that we should just get divorced, because the whole “we’re friends and roommates” thing is just not enough for me. He’d probably coast along forever in this weird limbo if I let him. I decided this needs to happen sooner rather than later because someone that I am extremely attracted to has recently come back into my life. We have been friends for over a decade (I knew him before I met my husband) and suddenly have this amazing chemistry that wasn’t there before, and I think I could have a real relationship with this man. The thing is, there was an evening where we were together and away from everything and everyone else, and we kissed. We kissed a lot. There was no actual sex, but that line got blurry. I felt horribly guilty, even though it was something I theoretically had permission to do. The “we really need to actually get divorced” conversation happened with the husband the next day, and we have started the process.
I haven’t seen Chemistry Guy since that night of kissing, but we’ve texted frequently and talked on the phone for the first time today. Here’s where the damning comes in. He told me today, as we were talking about how complicated divorce is, even when it’s amicable, that he doesn’t know if anything can happen between us, even if I do get divorced, because he recently found God and feels that by being involved with me the way we were will cause him to be damned to hell because I was married at the time. I had no idea that he felt so strongly about God or that he felt that way about my marital status. He knew the entire situation with me and my husband and never mentioned it. I definitely didn’t know that I was putting his soul in danger by kissing him. I also definitely want to kiss him again.
I asked him if he would have been OK with what happened between us if I was divorced. He said he didn’t know. I don’t believe that what we did would have endangered his soul, but I feel terrible that he does! What can I possibly do or say to fix that? I may be a terrible person, but I’m not “intentionally condemning a soul to hell” terrible. Also, is it terrible for me to think that the damage is already done so he should find a way to be OK with it so that we can enjoy that aforementioned chemistry and see what happens? I mean, I’ll be divorced officially soon, and you can’t really get more damned, right? Can we make up for it somehow? Is there community service for the soul?
A: It may be that this strange make-out session that came after a long hiatus and was followed almost immediately by “Of course, if we ever kissed again, we’d go straight to hell” was the impetus you needed to realize your roommate-style marriage was not working for you. And insofar as it provided you with the motivation necessary to start divorce proceedings, I think it was a good thing. But you need to thank this guy for reminding you of what’s possible out there and move on—not waste your breath trying to convince him you’re not the wanton seductress responsible for damning his soul to hell and that the two of you have a viable romantic future together. It’s not terrible for you to wish he could let go of this weird salvation-based math problem, but it is unreasonable to think you’re going to be able to successfully talk him out of his very specific, very strongly held religious beliefs. Don’t go from one weird, confusing limbo-style relationship to another. You’re getting divorced so that you can find someone who wants to have a real relationship with you, where they don’t hold you off at arm’s length. There’s no way to “make up for” something that you can’t change, namely the fact that you were in an open marriage when you first kissed him—which he knew when he kissed you. It’s an impossible request. He’s giving you the gift of clarity by his bizarre, after-the-fact insistence that you’ve endangered his soul. Run for the hills.