You can fall in love with almost anyone – but there are certain people you are not supposed to fall in love with.
Your boss. Your friend’s Dad. Your best friend’s partner. Someone from a different religion, different class. Someone way older or younger than you.
All these people wear badges saying ‘Off limits!’ and ‘Mustn’t touch!’ because they are a violation of our social order.
Which, of course, makes them even more enticing.
Tracey Cox reveals the appeal of taboo love, as it’s revealed dating someone who violates our social order rarely lasts (file image)
THREE REASONS WHY TABOO LOVE RARELY LASTS
There are always exceptions but most forbidden relationships fall by the wayside because…
The main appeal is that they’re forbidden.
Most affairs fizzle out rapidly, once they’re out in the open. It’s exciting having to meet without people knowing, getting away with it. Once everyone knows, the mystery is removed. One minute you’re kissing passionately in an alleyway, the next you’re walking around Waitrose. Not so special after all.
Another problem with affairs: you know what each other is capable of.
Opposites attract but like-minded couples last longer.
Falling in love with someone very, very different from you is a high at first. How refreshing to be with someone who thinks so differently! I’ll never get bored with this person!
No, but you might get frustrated and fed up.
It’s hell of a lot easier to walk through life with someone who comes from the same background, age group and culture as you.
These things shape us. They make us who we are.
The more similar you are, the more likely you are to want the same things and share the same values.
You live your relationship in a goldfish bowl.
Couples in forbidden relationships are fascinating to others.
If you’re much older or much younger than your partner, eyes settle on you for longer. People watch you: what’s going on there? Are they mother/son, father/daughter?
If it’s a culture thing, parents watch every move, looking for the first sign of cracks.
It’s stressful being watched all the time. Especially if others are willing you to fail. It can feel like you have to have a perfect relationship to justify being together.
Why ‘forbidden’ is appealing
The clue’s in the name, for starters.
No-one likes being told what to do and if something is banned, it instantly becomes more appealing – especially in an erotic sense because lust thrives on things that are out of bounds.
Secrecy increases intimacy. If you’re forced to hide your passionate love, it helps develop that sense of ‘you and I against the world’.
If your relationship is under threat – discovery would mean you couldn’t see each other again – it becomes even more precious. This might be the last time you see each other! Get to kiss each other! Have sex with each other!
There are plenty of reasons why most of us are tempted by someone we shouldn’t be tempted by, at some stage in our lives.
But is it worth it? Seeing someone who is a no-no doesn’t generally sit well with work colleagues, family or friends.
You have to justify decisions, often lie, put your reputation or theirs at risk.
Does it ever really end well?
I spoke to two women who gave into a forbidden love – with very different experiences.
I’ll let you be the judge.
(The names have been changed.)
‘I married the man who broke my best friend’s heart’
‘My friend Kate isn’t a particularly possessive person and I think if it had been any other ex of hers, she wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if I rocked up and said, ‘Hey! Guess who my new boyfriend is? Your old one’.
But this wasn’t just any ex. This was the love of her life who she was planning to spend the rest of her life with. When he broke it off – which had nothing to do with me, I hasten to add – I have never seen anyone more devastated.
As her best mate, I was the one who sat with her and cuddled her while she cried. It took her months to get back to any kind of normal: she was utterly heartbroken.
He told me later she ticked all the boxes but there was no passion and he thought it was kinder to leave.
Kate is now in another relationship with a very nice man but I have always thought she was just going through the motions. I can’t tell you whether that’s changed because she hasn’t spoken to me since she found out about us.
I always got on well with her ex but he was my best friend’s fiancé, so totally off limits. I found him very attractive and great fun but we didn’t ever flirt with each other.
When they split, he texted me to say he hoped she was going to be OK and would I look after her, and I wished him well and that was that.
Until I ran into him at a live music event about eight months later. I was surprised how good it was to see him. We chatted away, having more and more drinks, and around two hours in, I started to feel guilty. I said to him, ‘Not sure Kate would be thrilled about us chatting for so long’. He looked at me and said, ‘No. But I’m not with Kate anymore. And I’m really enjoying talking to you.’
That was the point when I should have walked away because it was the first hint that there was anything going on other than old friends catching up.
But I didn’t walk away. I really liked him, I’d been single for three years, I was lonely and hadn’t met anyone I liked for ages. Kate had met her new guy by then. I was drunk, he was drunk, we had years of friendship under our belt – what happened was inevitable. We went back to my place and slept together.
When I opened my eyes the next day, the enormity of what I’d done hit me hard. I was overwhelmed with guilt and sure he would regret it.
I was wrong. He pulled me to him and said he’d been wanting this for such a long time.
Tracey (pictured) spoke to one woman who lost a friend but gained a husband from dating her best friend’s ex
I was shocked because there had been no mention of any of this the previous night. He then admitted that, after the split, he toyed with the idea of asking me out but didn’t want to put me in an awkward position.
It was dawning on me that this wasn’t a one-night-stand that could be easily covered up but a relationship that might have legs. I felt very confused. Kate was my best friend but here was a guy I was strongly attracted to, knew well, liked and who wanted a future with me. I was 37 and wanted kids.
I was so torn. Their relationship was over so I wasn’t actually doing anything wrong but there is an unspoken code that you don’t date your friend’s exes. Especially the one who broke her heart and that she is still probably in love with.
I knew it might come down to a choice between a dear friend of 17 years and a relationship with someone who might be the one. To me, the only solution was to see if there was a chance for a future before putting everything on the line. So, we saw each other secretly for about two months, telling no-one.
The relationship moved from ‘Am I sure about this? I have so much to lose’ to ‘This is my soul mate and I can’t imagine life without him’ in six weeks. But lots of people feel like that in the first three months, so I still kept quiet.
And that’s when it all fell apart. We got less and less careful and when Kate turned up at my place unannounced one day, his car was parked outside and we were caught red handed.
I saw her pull up, realised his car was in full view and nearly threw up. It was pointless pretending so we just let her in and all of us stood looking at each other.
I will never, ever forget her face. So many emotions flashed over it. Confusion. Shock. Incredulity. Pain. Betrayal. Anger. Disgust.
She said nothing. Just looked from one to the other of us for what felt like hours, then looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Don’t ever contact me again’.
That was it.
I ran after her. I went to her house. I’ve spoken to her friends, her mum, her boyfriend. I’ve written countless emails, texts and letters. I’ve told her how sorry I am, countless times. That I didn’t mean to do it, it just happened. Not once has she replied and I doubt she ever will.
I wonder if it would have been any different if we’d come clean and told her the truth earlier. I’m not sure.
In the end, I lost a friend but I gained a husband. It was absolutely worth it but the guilt is still there. I know some friends see me differently after this and it’s still something I wrestle with.’
‘I had an affair with my married workmate’
‘When I was 10, I vividly remember my mother and father having a big row about her flirting with another man at a party. It turned out she’d been having an affair with him. My mum and I went to live with her sister for a while after she got found out, then they reconciled.
Because of that, I have always hated cheaters. It feels personal: it nearly cost me my dad! If you had told me before it happened, that I would fall for a married man, I would have laughed in your face.
A woman who was having an affair with her married co-worker, said she’s relieved lockdown put an end to their relationship (file image)
I guess no-one chooses to be in that situation. I certainly didn’t. It started out innocently: I became friends with a married colleague from work. Our jobs are boring (I work for an insurance company) and he’s about the only person there with a sense of humour.
It started with us sending funny emails, then he’d bring me back coffee when he got one for himself. Then we started having lunch together. There was nothing underhand about it, at the start anyway, so we thought it was funny when workmates teased us about being ‘work husband and wife’.
I didn’t have a real husband but he did have a wife – and two young children. I’d seen photos of them and she called often, so it’s not like I can pretend I didn’t know. But we were just mates, so what was the problem?
Except we grew closer and closer.
I broke up with my boyfriend at the time and Dan was the person I went to for comfort. He was amazing. Told me I was special and the guy didn’t deserve me and said all the right things.
The first time we texted out of work hours was that weekend. He texted ‘Are u ok? Thinking of you’ at 9pm on a Saturday night. My heart lurched and it made me so happy. I knew then, that I was in trouble.
I tried not to reply but lasted two minutes. I sent back a heart and ‘That meant so much’. He texted back immediately and said ‘I’m always thinking of you. Not just tonight’.
And so it began. It started as an emotional affair: the two of us admitting we had romantic feelings. Him confessing his marriage wasn’t perfect. All the cliches.
I told him, if he planned on leaving, I would wait for him but that I wasn’t prepared to do anything physically until then. But we were meeting secretly in pubs by then and I decided no harm in a kiss and a few kisses later, he was coming back to mine and we were having sex.
It went on for eight months. He told me he loved me but showed no signs of leaving. His kids are three and five. How could he? I’d have lost respect for him anyway, if he did leave.
I hated waiting around for scraps of his time. I hated lying at work and I know people suspected and judged me. The mistress is the homewrecker, the married man just the guy who got tempted. I felt like crap about myself for being with someone who belongs to another woman.
Then along came the virus and working from home. Lockdown finished what I (like to think) I would have finished soon anyway. In lots of ways I was relieved, but I’m lonely now and how do you find a connection that’s more than just sex in the middle of a pandemic?’
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