Emotional Affairs: Do they count for writers?

The DJs on the radio the other day were talking about Kirstie Allie’s new book, and they said part of it talked about the relationship she had with John Travolta, where she “fell head-over-heels in love with him” while she was married to Parker Stevenson. She said, according to the DJs, that nothing physical happened between them. It was an “emotional affair.” That got me thinking: what exactly qualifies a relationship as an emotional affair? And would one of those be not-as-bad as a physical affair?

Wikipedia gives a definition of an emotional affair as,

A relationship between a person and someone other than (their) spouse (or lover) that has an impact on the level of intimacy, emotional distance and overall dynamic balance in the marriage. The role of an affair is to create emotional distance in the marriage.

A Redbook article says,

It’s not so much that you’re not talking with your husband—there’s always stuff to discuss, thanks to kids and mortgages — but you’re not sharing with him. Your innermost thoughts, funny jokes, and interesting personal experiences are saved up and spilled to the other guy instead of your spouse. And even if you never so much as touch him, this emotional attachment has just as much potential as a sexual fling to damage your marriage. “We only have so much emotional energy; the more of it we spend outside of our marriage, the less we have inside our marriage,” says [psychotherapist M. Gary] Neuman. “And after a while, we simply do not have enough emotions and love and caring and time for both.”

So it sounds like an emotional affair can be just as bad as a physical affair. But those definitions scare me: I expend tons of emotional energy on other men all the time. In my writing.

Oh sure, those men are fictitious. But I fall in love with them just the same. They’re soooo gorgeous! And they look at me—er, I mean, my female characters—with the intense passion of a thousand suns, and they speak eloquent words of conviction and love to me to my female characters, and I write down their words, record their actions, and it’s as though I’m living their lives with them…. Oh, dear Lord, am I having emotional affairs with my characters?!?

This is the world of the writer. All of my characters are very real to me. They talk to me. They are perfect. They say what I want them to say. And they do what I need them to do. (Most of the time, anyway. Sometimes they act on their own….)  Okay, true, they only exist in my head. They are part of my imagination. Hmmm…!

Crap! Maybe this means that I’ve been falling in love with myself…? Well, we writers are a narcissistic bunch. Can you have an emotional affair with yourself…? Oh, look at the time! I’m late for therapy…. 😉

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