Writer and broadcaster

I’m married and in my 60s, but I’ve fallen in love with a younger man. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

I am in my early 60s, long married. We are not the greatest love match but have come this far. We have areas of tension but always back off from saying what we really feel. Our sex life, never great, is now non-existent. We don’t do much together but rub along and pursue our different interests. We have grown-up kids.

The problem is, I’ve fallen in love with another man. We really liked each other from the start. He is intelligent, calm, gentle and confident, with a refreshing lack of ego. But he is a single parent (I don’t know the history), seems to have little money, works long hours and is a lot younger.

I get a thrill out of seeing him in our limited and public interactions, and this feeling is getting stronger. We have a drink occasionally, but always in company. I would love to spend more time with him and get to know him better, but it’s not possible.

He has awakened in me desires I thought beyond me at my age. I don’t believe it’s all one way. I’ve had looks from him that suggest warm affection but also sexual interest, and I feel a great sexual tension between us. He has made no passes and I don’t believe he will as things stand.

I’ve had looks from him that suggest affection but also sexual interest, and I feel a great sexual tension between us

I went a few weeks without seeing him recently and calmed down. I told myself I had got over him, but when I next saw him my feelings were, if anything, stronger. My desires are close to unbearable.

If I tell him how I feel, he may leave the group we’re both in and I might never see him again. But if I found he had a similar passion for me, I would want to be with him. Assuming he also wanted this and we went ahead, it would cause huge hurt and guilt.

Should I tell him how I feel? Am I being an old fool? (I’m young for my age, though.) I know the heart most likely to be broken is my own. I feel the need to take care of myself, but I can’t talk to anyone I know about it.

It’s a shame you feel you can’t talk to anyone because you might find you weren’t alone in feeling like this among your friends. You might get some surprises. But I think you are right to be careful because while talking is good, it should be with someone you trust utterly, otherwise you make yourself vulnerable.

I am going to recommend that you talk to someone professional (psychotherapy.org.uk) because I think this will help to focus – and stabilise – you. It’s very hard to make decisions when you are reeling. It doesn’t mean you’ll have to lie on a couch for years: one or two sessions may be enough of an outlet.

You sound sensible and that is no bad thing. I wonder how you would feel if your husband wrote me such a letter? Relieved or betrayed? (My advice would be the same to either of you, by the way.)

Chris Mills, a psychotherapist who specialises in couples and family mediation, says: “The extent of your excitement about this new man is in direct correlation to what has been missing from your own marriage.”

He thinks you are “burning with all the stuff you have not been able to have in your marriage, but this can lead to unrealistic fantasies. You’re not imagining doing everyday things with this man [shopping together or setting up home]. It is completely sexualised.”

I think fantasies are no bad thing, and many people have them. I wonder if you have ever felt like this before, or if these feelings are new to you; or if an attraction to a man has never been so intense. The problem with fantasies comes when they take over and real life seems unbearably dull as a result.

As Mills explains: “Sexual fantasies should be fun. If instead they start to haunt us, we know we’ve got a problem. We don’t stop noticing other people when we get married. But whether we [just] enjoy the sexual fantasies or whether they become a source of pain/obsession depends on what you’re getting – or not getting – from your relationship.”

In other words, the fact that this fantasy has become so fertile and febrile is because it is so different from your everyday life.

So all paths that lead to this man, also lead back to your marriage.

“There is a chance that you and your husband could reconnect,” says Mills. “At the moment, it sounds as if neither of you knows how to communicate. And there’s a danger that if you can’t communicate, you’ll take that deficit with you into another relationship.” (After the initial fireworks!)

This man may be your next husband. He may have fantasies about you. He may want to act them out. Or he may not. You could be massively brave and ask him, but then, perhaps, the fantasy would become too real? What seems less painful: doing nothing or saying something? Interestingly, you haven’t said what you would actually like to happen.

I think your marriage has been stagnating slowly and you have been able to pretend otherwise. Now this man has come along and reminded you of who you are and what you are capable of. Whether the “new you” can go back to your old life needs careful thought.

This article first appeared in The Guardian, Family section, on 4 December 2015.