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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.