Maybe the institution of marriage is failing. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, and many of the rest of them aren’t in good shape. The institution as a whole deserves re-thinking, and the rules surrounding it deserve re-thinking. Should I observe the conventional rules and avoid dating married men, or should I view each circumstance as unique? Should I, or shouldn’t I, date married men?
A friend who plays Black Jack and Roulette in Atlantic City from time to time says gambling is not destructive if you follow the rules for getting into the game, and the rules for getting out of the game. A relationship with a married man is a gamble. The odds are stacked legally, financially, historically, and personally against you, but if you follow the rules going in, and stick to the rules for getting out, maybe you can come out ahead.
Outside of marriages where there is some kind of disability or illness, I put marriages in which the men are looking elsewhere in two categories: the marriage is “happy” but unfulfilling sexually; or the marriage is falling apart.
The first kind is the least dangerous because, if you can accept the lack of a marital end game, this relationship can go on for a long time, filling holes in each of your lives while not endangering his marriage.
The second kind is riskier, because even if he falls in love with you, his wife can yank him back into place. He’ll feel guilty dumping you, but nowhere near as guilty as he will feel if his wife commits suicide, attempts to wreck his career, or if he is no longer able to afford the things he has worked so hard to obtain. Even abuse can become so familiar that it is easier to work within that unpleasant but stable context than it would be to enjoy the support of the woman you love. He [and you] should also feel a niggling cynicism that his infatuation with you will turn to dust just the way his love for his wife did.
Here are my rules: If in situation number one; clarify the rules, and proceed if you want. In situation number two, gird yourself for devastation if you enter, remembering that some great loves went through the phase when one or both were married to someone else. You have to have a strong constitution, compassion, sangfroid, and patience to make such a situation come out right.
In situation one, love doesn’t matter; in situation two, you have to believe in love.