Having It Both Ways: Fear sets in – What if I fall in love?

Having It Both Ways: Fear sets in – What if I fall in love?

Is monogamy relevant in contemporary society?Read more about the Having It Both Ways Project!

UPDATE:  Read the follow up to this post here

For the past year and a half I’ve been having an affair off and on with someone who is in a relationship.  A miserable relationship with an awful, atrocious human being, but a relationship nonetheless.  While we now live in other places and have only seen each other twice this year, we talk constantly, sometimes it’s super hot talk, sometimes it’s me playing therapist to hear about his relationship woes, sometimes it’s him yelling at me for my political philosophy that he doesn’t agree with, but most times…. it’s just really really hot talk.

A month ago I started having hot conversations with another married guy.  I don’t know many of the details of his situation, but like the guy back home, I’m not this guy’s first affair, nor do I doubt I’ll be his last.

I also had a friend who was known for cheating on his long term partner SEVERAL times.

A married female friend of mine said to me this weekend “without religion telling us what is acceptable, we probably wouldn’t have come up with monogamy on our own.”  She and her husband have been together for a VERY long time, and recently decided to start thinking about having a more “open” relationship.  There are rules and guidelines, but the understanding is that there are adventures that the relatively inexperienced couple could have outside of their relationship as long as they maintained their marriage.  They’ve been in couples counseling for more than six months, and their therapist outright told them that of all of her couples, they communicate their needs and concerns better than any other she sees.  They are stable, rational, consenting adults who know the red flags to watch out for in making something like this work.

Another married friend of mine has been with her husband for 12 years and was shocked to hear the above story.  “I could never do that,” she told me.  “I’m too jealous,” and I think she also said possessive.  She also said that when emotions are involved it’s harder to allow for encounters like the one the couple above described, and both her and her husband have too many emotions wrapped into their relationship.

That’s not to say, however, that the open marriage couple doesn’t – their rule is:  they come home to each other.  They are partners and there is a commitment between them.  Clearly, however, the emotions that are in play with the two top men above are significantly detached.  Guy number one doesn’t love his wife, guy number two doesn’t love me, and both aren’t getting something that they clearly need in their existing relationships.  Which is why they come to me.

That’s why people cheat, right?  Well… mostly.  Because a need is not being fulfilled?  I suppose there is always the “Self Loathing Cheater” … you know the ones who cheat because “if she loves me there’s clearly something wrong with her” or “I don’t deserve to be happy because I’m a horrible person so I’ll sabotage our relationship.”  But let’s just focus on the needs not being fulfilled because that fits in with my two guys.

My non-monogamous friend asked me “what’s the difference between having girlfriends that you can go see chick flicks with for two hours and someone with whom you can have a different form of sex with for two hours?”  It’s a fair question.  If you’re not talking about love, it’s just fun and games, does it constitute cheating or an affair?  Many many many women, especially those back home, would say yes, because they would see it as a betrayal of trust.  I think they do have a point there.  If the spouse is lying about it and sneaking around, then it is a betrayal, isn’t it?  It’s a lie.  But what if you both discussed it, the rules, and the terms and ensured there was no love involved here?  Is it still a betrayal?

My mom’s second husband cheated on her and it left her a profoundly different person who is certainly a lot less trusting, and that’s a factor in her current relationship.  She was never able to get over that sense of betrayal.  The cheater in that situation, however, never loved the women he was with, nor did he love her any less, but I’m confident if he came to her and said “I’m a sex addict can I ……?” she’d never consent.  I doubt there are many wives, particularly in Oklahoma who would, addiction or not.

As I’m beginning to date and go on dates with people who are specifically looking for commitments, I’m starting to wonder about my own ability to be in a monogamous relationship with someone.  What if I fall for a guy and he can’t fulfill me in the deep emotional way that women do?  Are emotional cuddly relationships with women acceptable because we just take for granted that women have “lady friends” or does it become something different because I use to be a lesbian?  Is an emotional affair between me and another woman still an affair?  Does our culture accept that there are things that we don’t expect men to be able to provide so we look to obtain them from our “lady friends?”

If we say yes – would the same be true if I ended up in a long term relationship with a woman that I was deeply and profoundly emotionally in love with – but who wasn’t into wild crazy adventurous spontaneous sex, and thus that part of me was left unfulfilled?  If I stepped out on her and had a “play partner” I boinked occasionally, but didn’t love, is that still unacceptable?  Is it the same thing?

My biggest fear in dating folks is in falling in love with someone who doesn’t meet all of my needs.  But is it wrong to assume that I can find someone who actually will?  And is it more sensible to decide what needs 100% must be met and what are more…. soft needs that can be somehow available elsewhere?   I think once you grow up and realize that there really isn’t that one single soulmate that completes you perfectly, the former begins to look more appealing.  The people who are in relationships like that are often times obsessed with each other, co-dependent, and incredibly dysfunctional.  So that’s not exactly healthy either.

Either way, it’s unfair for any of us to say what is or isn’t acceptable for one couple or another.  Decrying that X is right for everyone puts us back into 1950′s America where everything looked the same, sounded the same, and was the same.  It’s the Edward Scissorhands society, and I think we can all agree we don’t want to live there.  What works for the open relationship couple works for them.  Monogamy is only acceptable to my mom and her husband.  Who is any of us to say  which is better or worse.   What is difficult is that when looking for models in society, fictional, or real – there are no examples for which we can compare our own experience.  There are no public examples of non-monogamous couples who make it work, at least mainstream couples.  No fictional examples on television or in books either.  How can we pattern what our relationships should be if there is no path before us?  It leaves us making it up as we go along.

My friend said that this is what our generation is changing most about our society.  We are the “no boundaries” generation, especially when it comes to sex and sexuality.  Perhaps, it’s why we’re so open and affirming of LGBT couples.  The culture war is a boundary war – a massive shift between older generations who grew up being taught “we just don’t do things that way….”  Compared to my generation that is more open to embracing the differences people have or differences people seek.  The uniqueness of the individual.

As I’m dating and meeting more people, sure part of it is about learning more about myself, but ultimately it’s about uncovering what kind of relationship will work best for me.  I’m frustrated that I don’t have that answer readily available.  I know in my head what would be nice to have, but I don’t know how that works in actual practice, nor if its even attainable.  In the end, the biggest fear I have after each date I go on, whether I liked the person or not, is: holy shit… what if this turns out to be “the one” and he or she isn’t capable of meeting my needs.  Does that then me that he or she ISN’T the one?  And does that mean I should always hold out for the perfect person?  If I do that though, might I be waiting forever?  Or does it mean that I’ll end up like guys #1 and #2 stepping out looking to have those needs fulfilled.

I guess – I just want answers and there aren’t any.  There’s so much grey area – 50 shades of grey area – and I’m more comfortable with knowing an absolute definitive answer.

15 Responses »

  1. Sarah your libertarian is showing ;)

    Selfishness and monogamy don’t work together well.

    Like greed and charity. You can be greedy and also charitable but not as charitable as you would be if you weren’t greedy. Isn’t it better to be charitable rather than greedy? One could accurately say that being charitable is better for the other person; being charitable is a more moral selfless act than greed. Yet you could still be both; of course at the expense of the other person.

    Is it nobler to be selfless in a relationship for the sake of the happiness of the partner or is it selfish for the partner to expect a selfless commitment?

    Many in society demonize greed so the act of being greedy, and still maintain a level of charity, is decided by much of society to still be immoral.

    We could make the same argument that it’s a personal choice, to be as greedy as we want and as selfish as we want. But is it better for society to be either? If you find someone who isn’t hurt by selfishness is anything being harmed, the individual or society as a whole? Can relationships be drama free if one or both are selfish? Do you really expect to have all your needs met in a relationship?

    I think it’s best to treat others with love and kindness at the sacrifice of your own personal happiness. We expect it every day from people even to the point that many in society would like to dictate and force others to live that way.

    As far as falling in love, if you actually love someone then you care about their feelings over your own. If you wanted to have an open relationship and they don’t do you really love them if you go ahead with it? Sure love requires tolerance but it also rejects selfishness.

    I will say this though, when you “talk hot” or emotional or physical “fooling around” on someone else’s boyfriend, husband, wife or friend no matter how “miserable” they say they are in the relationship you should still think about how you are hurting the partner. Just as we expect it of others in society. (We want the greedy to think about how they affect the poor.) Or you become just as selfish as any other rich greedy person.

    If you meet a person and they say “hey I really want a big screen TV and I can’t afford it. That owner wont just give me some money so I am going to go rob their store, Can you drive the getaway car? “, and you do, aren’t you just as complicit in the robbing of that persons store? Is it worth the damage to the store owner just for the selfish reason that the guy wanted to have a bigger TV?

    If you don’t care about how your actions might damage the relationship or hurting the other person, how can really you expect better of others?

    Sorry for the long ramble.

    • I reject the idea that having sex with someone takes something from someone else. That a spouse owns the sex with his or her other spouse. If that were true then jerking off instead of having sex with your spouse wouldn’t be acceptable. Porn wouldn’t be acceptable. Thinking about someone else wouldn’t be acceptable.

      I’m not taking something from someone. Sex isn’t a thing to take away from someone else like money, or a big TV. If I was preventing either of their partners from having what they want or need it would be taking something from them. But again – this is the difference between someone having their needs met and someone not having their needs met.

      By your logic – the women in these relationships are wrong for not providing their husbands with the sex that the husbands need. The women aren’t being selfless enough.

      Marriage doesn’t mean that someone owns you, your thoughts, your sex, your sexuality… that’s just a really old fashioned way of thinking about it. Like – women who were once thought of as property. I just don’t hold that view.

      • I’m in a totally open marriage, so I have no problem with sex outside of committed relationship. Different people have different perspectives on ethics, but I consider having sex with another person’s SO without their consent is unethical. My reasoning is that doing that makes you party to a breach of contract between the your lover and her SO. The right thing to do is to encourage the person to be honest with their SO and either get the relationship open or end it. I don’t think encouraging or facilitating cheating is ethical.

  2. The problem I can’t get past in that logic is there is a commitment. I think that is the part being left out. Two people enter into a commitment and one or both believe it to be binding. If the commitment is to be monogamous and to not have sex with someone else then by having sex with someone else the contract is broken. There is betrayal and someone is hurt.

    Sure the contact is with the other person not with you but aren’t you still complicit in the breaking of the contract…without you could the contract have been broken? Sure someone else could facilitate it down the road because the person clearly wants to break that contract. But is that justification for being a part of it?

    Whether the idea if making those commitments are old fashion doesn’t really matter in the breaking of the commitment. They need to not make the commitment/promise to that other person and then no one gets hurt.

    • Didn’t the wife break the contract by not having sex with her husband or meet his needs? So since she broke the commitment first so its invalidated by her.

      I’m not involved in a commitment with either person. In both of these cases the “contract” was already broken previously by another person they had an affair with. So these “contracts” of which you speak, have already been broken multiple times by both people and not because of me.

      I didn’t say breaking a contract was old fashioned – your definition of the “commitment” is old fashioned. That is what the blog post is about. That traditional definitions of commitments, marriage, and monogamy are old fashioned and don’t work for me as I’m working on finding a long term relationship. Your idea of a commitment or promise is different from many of the examples I have above. More traditional, more conservative. That’s fine for you and for your relationship, it won’t be the way I work, because I require something different in any long term commitment I enter into.

      • Ah That is a different thing all together then. I was talking from the perspective of there being deceit against someone who is still committed to the original agreement.

        That is a mutual breaking of the contract….very different. No deceit necessary there…if anyone of them no longer wants to maintain the commitment/contract/promise whatever then they should simply get out of it.

        However by staying though they are validating the commitment as someting they are willing to still accept.

        • My argument is that having an affair doesn’t mean that the spouse that cheats is the only one to blame for the problems in their marriage. Clearly there are deeper problems between them both and the cheater isn’t the one to blame simply because he or she cheats. My friend Sarah posted on facebook: “I think people like to throw “the other woman” or “the other man” under the bus because that’s easier instead of digging deeper and asking what they, themselves, had done or failed to do that led to a betrayal that deep.”

  3. I doubt that I am going to sway your mind since you seem to be sticking to your guns on this one…But my Buddhist dana $.02 is this…

    You seem to say in your FB comments that you don’t believe in universal morals – that is patently false. It is wrong to kill to another life; it is wrong it lie and steal; it is wrong to do something that would hurt someone when you know about the consequences.

    But in Buddhism sometimes it’s best to break the rules – the only person you will have to answer to is yourself. At the core of all decisions we should all ask ourselves – is that action compassionate and free from ego? and if not, am I prepared for the reaction?

    No matter what you or I think society tells us to do or not to do it all comes back to that. Contracts are meaningless; words can be meaningless. Actions always have power. Sex has power. Compassion has power.

    To think that ANY action operates in a vacuum is naive at best. Every single action has a reaction.*

    I’m not going to say what you’re doing is wrong – I don’t know the particulars. But I do think there is a better way to think about this situation that you and others are facing.

    *And nooo, I’m not talking about racking up karma points so you can ascend in a later life. That’s just ridiculous.

    • Let me ask you something – if a train is barreling down the tracks and you have two choices – 1. the train goes onto a bridge that is broken and will kill everyone on board or 2. you switch the track to a different route where there is a person in a car stuck on the tracks and can’t be removed – what do you do?

      So no. There are no universal morals. Most would kill the person in the car to save the train full of people. Not all killing is wrong. Was killing Bin Laden wrong? And in Buddhism there are no absolutes – its all about what is better than something else in efforts to relieve yourself from detachment and end suffering.

      According to Buddhist philosophy “To know what is right and wrong in god-centered religions, all that is needed is to do as you are told. But in a human-centered religion like Buddhism, to know what is right or wrong, you have to develop a deep self-awareness and self-understanding. And ethics based on understanding are always stronger than those that are a response to a command. So to know what is right and wrong, the Buddhist looks at three things – the intention, the effect the act will have upon oneself and the effect it will have upon others. If the intention is good (rooted in giving, love and wisdom), if it helps myself (helps me to be more giving, more loving and wiser) and help others (helps them to be more giving, more loving and wiser), then my deeds and actions are wholesome, good and moral. Of course, there are many variations of this. Sometimes I act with the best of intentions but it may not benefit either myself or others. Sometimes my intentions are far from good, but my action helps others nonetheless. Sometimes I act out of good intentions and my acts help me but perhaps cause some distress to others. In such cases, my actions are mixed – a mixture of good and not-so-good. When intentions are bad and the action helps neither myself nor others, such an action is bad. And when my intention is good and my action benefits both myself and others, then the deed is wholly good.”

      Thus I am helping the men and because their wives don’t know about it they do not suffer. Nor do the men because they are getting what they need. Thus I am helping to end suffering and giving to both men while the women don’t have to suffer with worry, be concerned about keeping their families together or their relationships in tact…. right? So by a Buddhist understanding I’m good.

  4. Just my two cents for what it’s worth…but I hear you say want the “emotional” aspect from a relationship that you can’t seem to find w/ the men you have dated…but you like the spontaneous, wild sex life you can have with them. I think that is one HUGE difference between the two sexes. Men can have just sex w/ no emotional attachment, but for women…there is always a part of our heart emotionally involved in the act of sex or love making. When having this discussion w/ my husband his explanation to me is that sex for him is just an act but when he feels emotionally connected to me is when we are having deep discussions about our future, our children, when we are cuddling, sometimes it’s just a look or something I might say that brings a memory to mind. Marriage is a continual work in progress. Neither my husband nor I are the same people we were when we got married almost 23 yrs ago but what I adore about my husband is he makes me want to be a better person & I believe I do the same for him. Has it all been wine & roses?? Heavens no….lol…but we have been fortunate in that the tough times have made us dig deep & closer to one another. It’s all too easy to just throw in the towel & give up when things get tough or stagnant. It’s the respect we have for each other that keeps us working on our relationship. I think when someone strays in a relationship it’s because they no longer have respect for their partner. That just makes me sad…because @ some point they quit trying…Sarah…I don’t want you to give up on love…you can find the best of both with just one sex…just don’t settle…you deserve to be happy. If a guy or girl with cheat w/ you ….they will certainly cheat on you….I don’t necessarily believe once a cheater always a cheater…but don’t sell yourself short. You have so much to offer someone!!!! Demand only the best…be picky…sometimes you have to kiss a million frogs to find your prince or princess ;)

    • I think that’s just a stereotype of the sexes. For instance, I’m a guy, and I get emotionally attached very easily especially if sex is involved. I have had girlfriends though who thought of sex as just an act with no deeper emotional significance. I know of others like this as well, though it’s not usually what we see in the movies.

  5. Very interesting! I’m seeing more and more of this out there. It’s good.

    The way I see it, people (as a whole) aren’t really monogamous. We’re serial monogamists, entering into a series of monogamous relationships before actually making a marriage commitment. But even then, we’re not really monogamous. Close to 50% of marriages end in divorce, and when it comes to cheating (depending on your sources) 60% of men and 40% of women admit to either cheating on their spouses or that they would cheat if they knew they wouldn’t get caught.

    I think open relationships or polyamorous relationships are fine as long as all parties involved are honest and follow whatever rules they’ve set down.

    I understand that when someone cheats, that trust has been violated. But, as in the case of the sex addict you mentioned, it were to have been brought up and permission had been sought, the spouse would likely feel betrayed anyway. That doesn’t make cheating okay, but it does raise an interesting question: Why is there so much importance placed on sex? Centuries of religious and cultural influence, no doubt. But I think love transcends physical action. We’ve put sex on a pedestal. Love is more than sex. Or, at least, I think it should be.

    Keep up the good work! And good luck with the dating! :D

  6. Pingback: » Having It Both Ways: Other people’s morals do not apply to you, even of they think they do Sarah Burris

  7. While your viewpoint is apparently a very unpopular one, I happen to agree very much. I was once in a sexual relationship with a married woman who assured me that her sexual relationship with her husband was long since dead. I don’t feel that the outside party (you, or I) owes their wife’s fidelity to the other party in the marriage. I don’t have a relationship with this man, I have a relationship with his wife, and she chooses her relationship status with him as she wishes to.

    In short, I don’t owe the maintenance of his wife’s fidelity to someone I’ve never met and don’t even know.

    However, I’ve taken a lot of heat for this viewpoint over the years. (rueful smile) Apparently a lot of people feel that I should honor the concept of fidelity, presumably because I would want others to honor my own wife’s fidelity (I’m actually unmarried). But the thing is, I wouldn’t want others to honor my wife’s fidelity. She’s free to make her own choices. If she wants to cheat on me, it’s not up to someone else to stop her. My relationship with her is a personal bond between her and I, not myself and a stranger.

  8. Pingback: » Having it Both Ways: America’s Favorite Past Time – Sex and Judgment Sarah Burris

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