I’m a new reader and dig your crazy no-bullshit advice. But I’m writing not so much for advice, but to throw down the gauntlet. My understanding is that always ends well.
The subject is me cheating on my wife. I’m sick of feeling guilty about wanting to, and rationally I’m having a hard time figuring out why I shouldn’t because I think it may actually help our marriage and improve the chances of us providing a happy home for our children. Clearly a convenient conclusion but one I’ve done a lot of thinking about.
Here are the supporting facts:
1. My wife is no longer interested in sex. She is too busy and tired from stressing over the kids and delivering our little royals to their next playdate to generate biological feelings for me. Before the children were born we had a “zestful” sexual relationship but no longer.
2. It is said men in general have a much higher sex drive. I am a man and find this to be a considerably large understatement, along the lines of saying Transformers might be a shitty movie.
3. I find my wife sexy; I also find other women sexy. Some of these women will have sex with me and we will enjoy it.
4. Having sex with other women will relieve much of the emotional resentment I have against my wife for her sexual indifference (even though I empathize with her), and we will have a better emotional relationship as a lack of sex will no longer be a source of conflict.
5. I will feel physically better if I have sex with other women because I will be released from the buzzing, thrumming miasma of lust that plagues me every moment during a sexless week. Believe me, most men are familiar with these feelings.
6. My wife is an outstanding mother, and otherwise a good wife and best friend.
7. I believe my children will be happier raised in a home with a caring mother and father present.
8. My wife and I have spoken about my inescapable need for physical affection; we have tried methods to rekindle her physical passions, but to no avail.
9. Deep down I believe she would tolerate my affairs as long as I was safe, respectful, discreet, and continued to be a good father and husband. I think she would prefer that approach over a frank discussion about open marriage, which would hurt and offend her with its brazenness. I would rather carry the burden of culpability than dispel her sense of our family.
10. Affairs with other women will not change my love for her.
Finally—and this is more of an observation—if gay men can maintain their marriages while entertaining outside engagements, isn’t it biased and unrealistic to punish their heterosexual peers for addressing the same urges?
My challenge to you is to make a compelling case why, on balance, I should not pursue outside affairs in the interests of my family’s longevity and happiness, provided the facts above. I don’t think you can.
Cheating Gauntlet Man
Cheating is called cheating for a reason. The issue on the table is honesty, not sex. If the lack of sex in your relationship poses a serious threat to your marriage, you should sit down with your wife and tell her that. You should ask to see a couples’ therapist together. You should say that you need her to commit to some concrete plan for changing things between you, whether that means letting someone watch the kids one afternoon and one evening per week so you can have time together, or deciding on a minimum fooling-around schedule, or reading a book about sex therapy and then talking about it, or some combination of those things. Tell her that you need to know that things are going to change, because your frustration and powerlessness in this area is affecting your outlook on your life and your marriage.
Here’s what you shouldn’t do: Assume that your wife would be fine with you discretely running around town, fucking other women, or that she’d prefer that scenario to discussing this openly. Because I can personally fucking guarantee you, your wife would rather talk about it. She is not remotely ok with you fucking around. You’ve been watching too much “Mad Men.” Making a rousing argument for fucking other women on the sneak is a pretty elaborate way to justify something that’s unjustifiable. It’s a brave-looking way of being a total chickenshit.
Fucking other people when your wife thinks that you two are monogamous is dishonest, hurtful and beyond insulting. It’s the kind of thing that many people never, ever get over. It’s the kind of thing that will lead to you, alone, in a one-bedroom apartment, while your sexy, wonderful wife remarries someone handsome and loyal and honest who makes his desires known instead of hiding behind logic and lists.
Married gay people who fuck around on the side tend to have conversations about it first. The difference between discussing it openly and honestly and just sneaking around behind someone’s back is enormous. Having an open marriage and cheating are two entirely fucking different things. The former is a choice. The latter is a crime that’s willfully committed against the other person. When you cheat on someone, you betray their trust, you rip apart their love for you, you embarrass the fuck out of them, you depress them (in this case, at a time when she has little people who depend on her and she can’t really afford to be depressed beyond belief), and you permanently alter their ability to respect you. Do you know how bad that feels, loving and believing in someone more than anyone else, and then having your love injured irreparably?
It’s unspeakably arrogant to assume that your wife will never find out so you don’t have to examine any of these very real consequences. How often do you think random women who fuck married men end up telling the wives about the affairs? How often do you think wives find out by other means? All the fucking time.
To me, what really works about marriage is the feeling that you have someone on your side, who would never do anything to hurt you. When that person betrays you, it’s hard to get that feeling back. And in the company of children, believing in your partner is unquestionably crucial, and intoxicating, really. You know that you’re supported and cared for. Having that support and trust and care ripped from you, when there are little kids in the picture, could make someone feel more vulnerable and heartsick than you can possibly imagine.
I know you think I’m being dramatic. I am not fucking being dramatic.
Now, to be fair, I think that for heterosexual men, what really works about marriage is the feeling that you have a woman on your side, who loves you and loves your kids, and who is also very attracted to you. When that person rejects you, over and over again, it’s hard to get that feeling of well-being back. Believing in your marriage and having regular sex with your wife is also unquestionably crucial, and intoxicating, really. Having that support and attention ripped from you, when there are little kids in the picture, could make a man feel more vulnerable and heartsick than his wife can possibly imagine.
If that feels accurate to you, then my guess is that you don’t really want to fuck random women as much as you think you do. What you really want is to feel desired and adored by your wife, whom you love very much. You feel invisible. You feel like she doesn’t want or even love you anymore.
Your challenge in this situation is to show up and make yourself vulnerable, not to disappear and force her into an inherently vulnerable position. Your challenge is to resist the urge to avenge your wife’s lack of desire (by fucking other women). Even though you’ve gone to elaborate lengths to make this form of punishment appear harmless and logical, at some level, this is about you feeling hurt and neglected and powerless to change it.
When you feel hurt and vulnerable and you’re willing to talk openly about it? That’s an opportunity for your marriage to grow into something more beautiful than it was before. You already have a decent marriage. Don’t run away and protect yourself and lie and hide and fuck yourself and your kids over in the process. That may be the easy way out in the short term. In the long term, though, you’ll drop a bomb in the middle of your life, and you won’t be able to pick up the pieces once it goes off.
Honesty. That’s all you need. You need to go to your wife and be very honest about your sexual needs. If she waves you off, and doesn’t listen, don’t accept that. Make her understand that this is a gigantic thing in your life, and your marriage is at stake.
Now, I have to admit, I’m sort of wondering how involved you are with your little royals. You talk about your wife ushering them hither and thither, but not you. And you seem to assume that you’ll have plenty of free time to wander off and fuck other women. Does your wife have that kind of free time? If she wanted to have an affair, could she conceivably free up her schedule to fuck someone on the sly? I’m guessing that she’s running around in circles, picking little fucking shoes up off the floor, or waking up in the middle of the night with a sick kid, or doing another fucking load of laundry because you forgot. While you imagine fucking other women, what is your wife doing? Loading the dishwasher? Sleeping, because she never fucking gets enough sleep and she feels exhausted all the time because she never has a second to herself?
If so, I would suggest that you get to know your little royals a little better. Tell your wife that you’re going to take Saturdays from 10 to 4, and she can do whatever she wants. Her interest in sucking your cock may experience an uptick under such circumstances.
But if your kids are very little and your wife is very, very busy with them in ways that you could be, too, if you got off your smug ass and made it so, yet you sit back and watch her rushing around in circles and you still expect her to keep everything running AND fuck you every night once the kids are tucked away? You really should divorce your wife and hire a housekeeper, a nanny and a live-in sex worker instead. Because that’s the level of service you seem to require.
I suggest you spend more time with your kids, and also more time thinking about what’s best for them, so the burden of stress doesn’t always rest on your wife. Find out how you can do more around the house so your wife is less sick of seeing your fat face, begging for a tuggy. Meditate. Exercise more often to burn off all of that free-floating lust. What ever happened to good old-fashioned jacking off, anyway? Christ almighty. But more than anything else, learn to speak honestly to your wife. Explain to her what your minimum needs are, and (IMPORTANT!) ask her what her minimum needs are, in order to feel happy. Explain that you really feel like your marriage will suffer horribly if you don’t have more sex, and (IMPORTANT!) ask her if you can’t watch the kids more or take over the dishes every night so she can read a book. Say, “I’ll put the kids down, then we make out right after that, then I’ll do all the dishes while you go to sleep.” Believe me that there are ways to entice her.
Obviously you need to adjust your expectations a little about how much sex you can have, and she needs to adjust her expectations that sex can only happen when she’s totally in the mood. Sometimes, you get in the mood by going for it, plain and simple. Sometimes you get in the mood by saying “Well, it’s Friday at 3 p.m. and we’re home alone. It’s now or fucking never.” Sometimes you get in the mood by watching your husband usher the royals to a play date while you flip through a magazine for once in your sorry life. I know, it’s all so fucking romantic. The faster you both accept that having a family sometimes means not fucking like rabbits whenever the mood strikes, the faster you’re going to wake up to a new paradigm that isn’t as compromised and flat as it sounds, it’s just different. The sex is actually just as good. We were built for it. Everyone gets worked up over how it should start, how it should unfold, how spontaneous it should be, how much it should resemble a scene out of Top Gun, all blowing curtains and plinky soft rock. Sex itself is pretty excellent with or without the candles and the plinky plonk.
Now, I would address the idea of an open marriage, but I think you need to completely redesign your marriage to accommodate your wife’s and your needs before you think about that option. And anyway, open marriage means both of you can have sex with other people. It doesn’t mean that you can but she can’t. (I’ve heard of this arrangement, and sorry, but it’s sexist and idiotic.) That path is pretty perilous, particularly with kids in the picture. Maybe they can swing it in France. I don’t doubt it. If I had access to lots of red wine and stinky cheese and smoking hot Parisian men, I might pry open my sad little heteronormative mind to just about anything.
But you haven’t really worked on your sex life in earnest yet. It’s understandable that this is not your wife’s top priority, but if you’re really contemplating cheating as much as you seem to be, then you’ll be doing her a big favor by making the bleakness of your current outlook very, very clear to her. She needs to stop waiting for magic to happen, and start making a concrete effort to meet you halfway. You need to meet her halfway, too. If I were the one charged with handling the lion’s share of the kid-related shit, I don’t think I could look my husband in the eye without sneering, let alone fuck him.
Again, this is not “Mad Men.” Right now, you are keeping a big part of who you are hidden. As long as you’re lying, you can’t have a good marriage. More lying won’t fix that.
My boyfriend told me last night he wants me to sleep with other men. He says if I am willing to be in an open relationship, then he wants to “make it work.” If I am unwilling to consent, then we’re going to break up. These are my options, and I don’t know what to do. The decision we’re going to make needs to happen quickly, so I hope you can offer your advice soon.
Some background: I am 28; he is 21 (if you are shaking your head already, I don’t blame you). We’ve been together for just under two years. We met over Pride Weekend 2011, the day after New York State legalized gay marriage, a heady time. I had recently ended a two-and-a-half year relationship with a man who was 15 years my senior, and I was doing typical newly-single things: fooling around with a bunch of guys, going out all the time, spending all the money. I met this handsome, charming 19-year-old and thought he would be my summer fling, but ended up developing strong feelings for him. Later that summer, he went back to college upstate, and I became his long-distance boyfriend. We’ve been together in a monogamous relationship ever since, which has required a lot of sacrifice on my part, specifically traveling to see him at school and also visiting him twice when he spent a semester overseas. This is our second summer living together, and I have never loved anyone more in my life.
I am surprised by this development, but I can’t say it’s coming out of nowhere. There have been some issues in the past with him keeping secrets (exchanging nude photos with guys online, being on Grindr when he lived overseas) and me finding out via snooping (I’m the worst), but never any cheating. I feel like we’ve moved past these trust issues, and I’m deeply grateful that he had the courage to tell me this rather than sleeping around behind my back.
We discussed too many things to reprint here, but the main issue seems to be that he feels like something is missing from our (very active) sex life, that it’s not as exciting as it used to be. He does not want to rip off my clothes and throw me on the bed every time he sees me, as he once did. He finds me attractive but is not actively attracted to me in the same way he used to be. That sounds like fairly standard long-term relationship stuff to me, but since this is his first one, he is apparently freaked out by it. Worse, he often feels like it is difficult to get into the mood to have sex with me. I feel terrible that he has been regularly consenting to sex that he wasn’t 100% into. He doesn’t want to switch things up in the bedroom, either; he just wants causal sex with randos, but he doesn’t want to date them.
For my part, I am very happy with our sex life and have never had better sexual chemistry with someone, so it saddens me to learn that the feeling is not mutual. I should note here that my previous relationship was highly dysfunctional and my then-boyfriend had zero sex drive, meaning sometimes six months or more would go by without any action. This led me to secretly cheat outside of the relationship until it ended. All of which is to say I understand how bad it feels when you’re with someone you love and the sexy times are not all that you want them to be.
My boyfriend says he loves me, I am his best friend, he wants to be with me forever, and the thought of breaking up is both unfathomable and sickening. I agree with him on all these points, but he also seems not very into the idea of having sex with me! It’s hard to know why he wants to continue if that’s the case. Is he just too afraid to break up with me?
I have a pretty common problem: I don’t want to lose the man I love and my best friend, but I am also extremely against the idea of an open relationship. It makes me feel kinda old-timey, but I appreciate the stability and comfort that comes with boning the same person forever. I am not ruling out the possibility that I could be happy in an open relationship, but it would be extremely difficult for me to endure, I think. The thought of him having sexual experiences without me is really troubling, but he says he is completely comfortable with me sleeping with other men (which, to be honest, is something I don’t have a strong desire for). Sure, there are guys I would sleep with, but it’s not something I need to do to be happy and feel satisfied.
I love him, so is it worth giving an open relationship a shot and then calling it quits if it fails? Or is it better to end things while they’re good and let him explore the world and figure things out? It seems like those are the only choices I have, and no one likes having an ultimatum. As you can tell, I don’t have a very positive outlook on the open relationship scenario. I will say that I am willing to introduce other people into our sex life so that it remains a shared experience. He seems open to the idea, but I can’t tell if that’s naive or wishful thinking on my part.
Given his age, I’m not surprised that he wants a little more sexual experience. I tried to be diligent about making sure that he really wanted to be in a monogamous relationship so early in his life, and I do believe he really did at the time, but I get that these things can change. I wish he could just take a year or two and get all his fucking done and then commit to me, but I know that’s completely unrealistic. I think he’s being a bit dramatic in saying this, but he currently feels that if he is struggling with monogamy in a relationship with the person he loves the most, then monogamy will never be “viable” for him.
Right now I’m angry and hurt, focused on the sacrifices I’ve made. I’ve spent a lot of money to make this relationship work, what with the constant travel, and I’ve also called on friends to help him get summer jobs. That’s just me being petty and defensive—those are normal things to do for those we love. My point is I’m aware that I’m upset, and I don’t want to react out of anger. I want to take my time and figure this out the right way. I can’t believe he is willing to risk losing me entirely in exchange for the freedom to sleep with other men. I can’t believe that the first boyfriend who I felt comfortable enough to introduce to my family is doing this to me. I think he is scared, confused, and overwhelmed. I feel the same way. Neither of us knows how to proceed.
What should I do?
Life Is Garbage
Your boyfriend was 19 when you met him. He wants to have some experiences, not just be hidden away with you forever. He knows that in ten years, he’ll regret not going out into the world and sowing his wild, wild oats.
I would let him go. You’ve stated in 15 different ways that you don’t want an open relationship. Obviously you could try it out, but my hunch is that you’ll only end up traumatized by it.
You say you’ve given up a lot, spent a lot of money. No one has given up more than a 19-year-old guy whose been in the same long distance relationship for two years of college. He’s being honest with you. I understand your anger and disappointment, but you have to take a step back and look at this a little more clinically. You say you can’t believe that the ONE person who you love like crazy is doing this. Dude, you knew he was 19 when you met him. You can pretend that you were tricked, or cheated, or bait-and-switched, but that’s not remotely what happened, and in your clear moments you can obviously see that.
Yes, you’re hurting. And you’ll miss him. But he needs to get out and do his thing. He’s just too young for this, that’s all. Of course he has unrealistic expectations of relationships. He won’t figure out how it works until he gets more experience. I know married people who are still confused about this, simply because they’ve been married to the same person since they were teenagers.
In my personal experience, it doesn’t take all that long for a lifestyle of slutting around to sour on you. Now obviously gay men have redesigned and perfected that lifestyle in a way that makes it much less sour. And it’s also less rife with unwanted sexist implications than it is among heterosexual randos. (GodDAMN I love that word, “randos.” I wish I had more day-to-day use for it.) But I can easily see your boyfriend coming back to you eventually. Maybe that’s unrealistic, and certainly you can’t focus on it. But I can see it.
I guess you could try the open thing if you really didn’t want to see him go. I don’t know. I feel like your emotions will get in the way. And if every time he comes home from a night of hot sex, you’re right there weeping into your hands, that’s going to doom the relationship forever. At least if you give it a clean break, there’s some chance that he’ll get his fill and return. And you’ll survive with your dignity intact.
Does anyone who’s in a functioning open relationship want to weigh in on that? From what you wrote in your letter, though, I think an open relationship would be emotional hara-kiri. It just doesn’t sound like it will suit you.
And maybe it’s worth saying this: You love him a lot, but you will fall in love again, probably sooner than you expect. You might not want that now. But you never know what you’ll find out there. You could stumble on a love that puts this one to shame.
Let him go. You’ll be fine—great, in fact. Just let him go, with your blessing. Even if he gets teary and wants to come back, I would insist that he take some time away. He needs to feel what it’s like to be alone. That will do good things for him, and for you. It sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. This will suck at first, and you’ll be heartbroken. But then it’ll get much, much better. Keep the faith.
Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses.“The Cheat” photographed by Joseph Bremson. Sea of hot men photographed by “Albert.”