The Lower Brain: Is This Fantasy World Fiction or Real?

Tired father sleeping with baby on his lap. Photo: grinvalds (Getty)

In this week’s edition of The Lower Brain, Sara Benincasa discusses new fantasy with a sleep-deprived new daddy. Is the life he’s built wearing him thin to the point of breaking, or is he going through the common new father syndrome? The kicker: There’s an old flame pulling him in the wrong direction…

Dear Sara:

I’m 29 and married with a baby. I met my wife in grad school and have been married for three years. We tried really hard to have a kid, and I love my son and am really glad he’s here. But while we were trying to conceive, sex became more of a science experiment than anything else. Now he’s five months old and sex is gone from my life.

I recently reconnected with my high school girlfriend via the Internet. She’s in a different time zone a few thousand miles away so sometimes she’s awake when I get up to feed my son. She works in bars and restaurants so she’s up late all the time. Her life seems way more interesting than my own so I like to hear her stories about work. We also reminisce about old times.

We’ve never said anything sexual to each other, but I feel this amazing connection with her. I’m exhausted all the time, but I’ve started volunteering for more night shifts with my son because I know I’ll get to talk to this girl. If my wife found out, she would be furious. I think I can keep my feelings under control, but I don’t know. What should I do?

Signed,

Not Trying To Be A Jerk

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Dear NTTBAJ:

This is a tough situation but by no means an unusual one. The arrival of a child, whether by birth or by adoption, is an incredible disruption to the status quo in any couple’s relationship. Add to that the extraordinary physical and hormonal changes your wife underwent during the process of growing and giving birth to your son, as well as your shared new schedule, plus the abundance of new equipment and toys in the home, the lack of sleep, the abundant new financial responsibilities, the care and feeding of a helpless but very loud little creature…you are both going through it.

At these times, cracks in a relationship may inevitably begin to show. It’s a common time for mental health issues to arise. And it’s certainly a time when one or both partners may sometimes imagine life would be better with another person.

However, I’m here to tell you that you’re living in a fantasy world. Your fun, seemingly carefree high school girlfriend has issues of her own and remains a complex, flawed individual like any other. You’re only seeing the cute stuff because you’re constructing a relationship based on limited information. You are also veering in the direction of an emotional affair.

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I’d tell you to stop talking to her, but you’d probably love that because right now you’re into rule-breaking. That would feel like some kind of sexy permission to be “bad.” Instead, I think you should get into solo therapy in order to deal with what’s going on. You need a place where you can let everything out on a regular basis. That way, you won’t explode from the pressure of keeping these secrets.

I don’t think you’re a bad guy, a bad dad, or even a very bad husband. But you’re troubled and stressed, and if you go too far, you could fuck up your marriage and your life in a way that truly isn’t worth it. If in the long run you end up leaving your wife – which I doubt – it shouldn’t be for some fantasy of what was. It should be because you know you’ll be happier on your own as a loving single father and independent man. But I don’t think that’s your future. I think you’re just having a tough time, and I promise you can get through this.