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Thursday, October 11, 2012

SL Letter of the Day: Nonmonogamous Blues

Posted by on Thu, Oct 11, 2012 at 11:34 AM

I'm on hiatus while working on a manuscript for a new book. In the meantime, please enjoy these classic Savage Love letters pulled from previous columns. I will be back November 1st, when the book is finished. —Dan

Originally published November 19, 2009:

I am a happily married, happily nonmonogamous male. We are not wild swinger types. For us it's more about the fact that monogamy does not work than about nailing everything that walks by. Anyway, I have encountered an odd situation a few times now, and again last night, where I'll be flirting with a potential fling and she knows I'm married and she's very interested. But when she finds out my marriage is nonmonogamous, she suddenly backs out. Case in point, a coworker: We have been flirting since I started my new job a few months ago. Today she asked me what my wife would do if she found out I was sneaking around on her. Good time to make a full disclosure! But when I told her my situation, that was the end of our flirtation.

Any idea why women find the idea of cheating with me okay, but once they find out I have a free go of things, they walk?

No Figuring Women

My response after the jump...

This woman didn't find the idea of cheating with you "okay," NFW, she wanted to fuck you because you're married and presumably monogamous. Try to look at it from her perspective: When she thought you were willing to cheat on your wife to be with her, NFW, that meant you found her so attractive, so utterly irresistible, that you would break your marriage vows and risk everything to get into her pants. Sleeping with her with your wife's permission? Meh, where's the ego boost in that?


Comments (67) RSS

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Couple of thoughts. The simpler one being that maybe she had a significant other and figured that you'd have a multual blackmail (for lack of a better term) thing going if you did have sex. If your wife is cool with it, then what does she (the co-worker) have to hold over your head if you screw her over or piss her off?
Secondly, I've heard of this kind of thing from multiple married guys (I think Dan has another letter from a guy in a similar sittuation). I also have known women who will ocassionally make a married guy their "target" and go after him with gusto. All I can think is that it must be an ego thing.
Note: I'm not trying to be sexist. I've just really only experienced this kind of thing with women seeking married men. The men I know might continue flirting with a woman after finding out she's married but they don't seek out married women. I wonder if there is any trend of this sort in the queer community?
Posted by MarquisDesMoines on October 11, 2012 at 12:08 PM · Report this
very bad homo 2
Some people just flirt for fun. When it comes right down to it, they don't actually want to sleep with you. She thought she could flirt safely because nothing would ever come of it.
Posted by very bad homo on October 11, 2012 at 12:09 PM · Report this
I'm with 2 on this one. They might *seem* interested, but they could just be getting their flirt on with someone they perceive as safe. When it turns out that you actually *can* get sexual with them, they back away.
Posted by clashfan on October 11, 2012 at 12:12 PM · Report this
@2 and @3: I dunno. I'd believe that if she hadn't asked him "what his wife would do if she found out he was sneaking around on her." That's an awfully bold question to ask if you're just "flirting to flirt". That kind of question makes it sound more like she's titillated by the idea of sneaking around with a married guy.
Posted by dchari on October 11, 2012 at 12:43 PM · Report this
very bad homo 5
@4 It's just more of the fantasy, I think. People love the idea of danger more than the actual risk.
Posted by very bad homo on October 11, 2012 at 12:56 PM · Report this
mr. herriman 7
I have witnessed this exact scenario first hand, and I do think that many women are more ok with the idea of an illicit encounter because men cheating on their wives is something that is generally assumed to be not that freaky, whereas open relationships are generally looked at as freaky.

And yeah, it is about ego- she wants to feel special - like he's breaking the rules just for her. But if nonmonogamy in his marriage is an agreed upon thing, she'll wonder if it's something that happens all the time for him, and will feel just like a plaything rather than an equal partner in crime.

Also, I think she'll often assume he's lying. "No, really, my wife's cool with it ..." I doubt she's convinced. But personally I'd have no use for a woman who would prefer that the guy is lying to his wife. If I were a man, any such woman would immediately lose any appeal she once had. Being a dirtbag is not sexy. As a wife I would insist that my awareness of the affair/fling be known to the other woman, rather than let her think that she was getting one over on me. Anyone who would walk under that requirement is someone you'd be well rid of.
Posted by mr. herriman on October 11, 2012 at 1:18 PM · Report this
Geni 8
In my experience, the person who does this is looking for an exclusive relationship; in other words, they're hoping that if you sleep together, they'll become your one and only. Once they find out the chances of that are slim to none because you're committed to your marriage AND openly non-monogamous, they run like hell. FWIW, it's been men who did that to me.
Posted by Geni on October 11, 2012 at 1:45 PM · Report this
Could the acknowledged non-monogamy be a turn-off to the prospecting lady because of STDs? Theoretically, in a "monogamous" relationship the guy would be extra-careful to protect himself, and therefore his partner(s), against STDS because acquiring one would be an instant tell to his wife that he had been unfaithful, whereas if the non-monogamy is open and acknowledged the prospective might think he's sleeping around more -- and more carelessly -- than he would be if he had to sneak out to do it? Just a thought.
Posted by Calpete on October 11, 2012 at 1:49 PM · Report this
It could also be a case of the woman who is looking for the "perfect" guy, who is attracted to married men because they are considered valuable by another woman. In this case, the woman thinks the man who is married is a good candidate for being a "perfect" guy because another woman found him to be good enough to marry. It may not sound logical (it isn't), but it is a thought process some women go through. It's what Alanis Morissette sings about: "I meet the man of my dreams and then I meet his beautiful wife."

These are also the same women who are *surprised* when said "perfect" man later cheats on them.
Posted by soldia on October 11, 2012 at 1:54 PM · Report this
@2 and @3, and @Dan: Not an either/or, and there are other possibilities. Amongst others and for example, I've seen people target married lovers as an ascendancy / fuck you over game, (i.e. the point is to take something away from somebody else, with the goal being the power trip).
Posted by seeker6079 on October 11, 2012 at 1:58 PM · Report this
Uggh at people who generalize about women from the sample of one. I hope everyone turns him down.

Maybe she was a person adept at managing cogntive dissonance, as we all are regarding one issue or other. For example, maybe she's familier with the idea of men fooling around while the idea of a healthy non-monogamous marriage seems objectionable and even 'unnatural,' therefore a turn-down. What's the point of making it a case of unfigurable womankind?
Posted by fahima on October 11, 2012 at 2:37 PM · Report this
Speaking as the proud mistress to a married man (his marriage is not open), sometimes it's just the appeal of knowing exactly what is available and on the table and what isn't. When I met my guy, I was not interested in nor capable of offering any real emotional relationship. I know it sounds crazy, but it can be hard finding guys who really actually only want one thing. After a couple awkward situations and one blowup, I made the decision to try a fling with a married fella. It's worked wonderfully - he loves his wife but the sex just isn't there, so I get his sexual energy pointed my way. I get great sex with no strings and no threat of future strings, he gets great sex that helps him to stay content with his wife and the mother of his kids. Wifey gets a more attentive husband who isn't constantly resentful of her because he's deprived, kids get a happier home life with less conflict in it. It may not work this well for everyone, but it certainly has for us - we've even developed a really cool friendship along the way, and been great for each others' self esteem.

Sometimes, married guys are just where it's at.
Posted by Celestia on October 11, 2012 at 3:32 PM · Report this
mtnlion 14
@13, we are all so impressed and delighted by your selflessness.
Posted by mtnlion on October 11, 2012 at 3:45 PM · Report this
@13 wow, you're fucking a guy with a wife and kids. Honey they're marriage IS open, just the wife doesn't know about it. Write back when she finds out, he throws you under the bus, and the kids are traumatized by the sudden high conflict in the home.
Posted by wxPDX on October 11, 2012 at 4:39 PM · Report this
@13 wow, you're fucking a guy with a wife and kids. Honey their marriage IS open, just the wife doesn't know about it. Write back when she finds out, he throws you under the bus, and the kids are traumatized by the sudden high conflict in the home.
Posted by wxPDX on October 11, 2012 at 4:40 PM · Report this
@14, 15-16, with no sex this "marriage" is not really real intimacy-wise anyway, it's more like a friendship. And Celeste (@13) is actually helping it stay together. If you think a catastrophe is bound to happen, just think about this: it would probably be bound to happen anyway, even if Celeste wasn't there to keep things under control. Yes, maybe the marriage will end -- but it will take a lot longer for this to happen, thanks to Celeste.

And if you're worried about lying -- let s/he who never needed to lie (to save someone, to keep a family afloat, etc.) throw the first stone.

It never ceases to amaze me how people will interpret win-win situations as 'bad' just because they don't fit their preconceptions. @13, don't pay attention to them -- they know not whereof they speak.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 11, 2012 at 6:02 PM · Report this
The ego-boost theory isn't bad, but I have another theory that I hope is less unflattering to these women. I think the women are dismayed when they realize NFW is a) still enjoying a healthy sex life with his wife and b) not interested in leaving her for any new lover. If he were having an illicit affair, there'd be the possibility the Other Woman could draw him away from his marriage permanently - that the affair would have long-term potential. NFW is obviously content in his marriage and intends to hold onto it, so he isn't attractive to other women who are hoping to win his undivided attention.
Posted by Skipper Jo on October 11, 2012 at 8:08 PM · Report this
mr. herriman 19
@ skipper jo: speaking for myself, I didn't mean the ego thing as an insult. I see nothing wrong at all with wanting to feel special. Just saying I do think it's a factor for many women, which means fewer results for the LW.
Posted by mr. herriman on October 11, 2012 at 9:20 PM · Report this
@13. How do you know they aren't having sex? That's what my husband told his mistress... And it was a huge lie. What a surprise that a guy who would lie to his wife would lie to you too. But whatever you need to do to justify your behavior, honey.
Posted by sad in Chicago on October 11, 2012 at 9:50 PM · Report this
@12: The guy wasn't generalizing all women based on his experience with one. His exact words were, "I have encountered an odd situation a few times now, and again last night, where I'll be flirting with a potential fling and she knows I'm married and she's very interested. But when she finds out my marriage is nonmonogamous, she suddenly backs out." I took this as meaning that the first time it happened--and probably the second--he just took it as an isolated case, but it had happened enough times now that it looked like a pattern.

Didn't Dan post a link a while back to a study about this very topic? As I recall, a group of women were presented with a "profile" of a man, with each profile tailored to the woman's stated preferences. Half the women were told that the man in question was single and available, and the other half were told he was married or in a relationship. I believe the results showed that something like twice as many women in the "married/in a relationship" group were interested in pursuing something with the profiled man as in the "single and available" group. The folks conducting the study opined that the women who believed the man was already "taken" saw the fact that he was in a relationship as "vouching for him" as relationship material. Hello, cognitive dissonance, because if he's open to your advances and able to be lured away from that relationship, how does that make him relationship material?

I had a friend years ago who seemed to prefer pursuing men who were "taken," and it was clear that she got an ego boost from knowing that a guy would be willing to risk his stable relationship to get with her. She had been horribly abused by her father as a child, and had had two kids with a loser deadbeat by the time she was eighteen, and I believe her behavior was because she perceived herself as worthless. In her mind, if a single guy paid attention to her, how did she know he wasn't just using her for a warm body in his bed until he got a better offer? But if a guy was already in a relationship and paid attention to her, it must mean he was genuinely into her. So I think the "ego boost" motivation can come from deep-seated self-esteem issues as much as from just plain narcissism. Not that that makes the behavior all right, and it's not something I would ever do, but I don't think it's always coming from a malicious place.
Posted by Snoopy The Cat on October 11, 2012 at 10:28 PM · Report this
ankylosaur I don't think this is a win-win situation. It's just a placebo, it's not fixing the real underlying problem.

And keep in mind we only have his word things are great. They may not be. The wife may know something's up and be stressing like crazy trying to figure out what. Same for the kids. They may know their Dad is up to something but don't know how to deal.
Posted by msanonymous on October 11, 2012 at 11:01 PM · Report this
Reverend Tap 24
In a situation like this, when the woman you're flirting with makes her sudden about-face, you could write in to an advice columnist to try and get some third-party discussion going after the fact to try and figure out why, could ask her.

Crazy idea, I know, but the woman who's actually just been turned off by the revelation that your proposed fling isn't cheating might have a tiny bit better idea what about that made her lose interest than a bunch of anonymous freaks performing amateur psychoanalysis on her online.

Constant free-flowing communication is the end-all-be-all of success in an open relationship. I'm honestly rather surprised it hasn't been brought up yet.
Posted by Reverend Tap on October 12, 2012 at 3:28 AM · Report this
mtnlion 25
@17, I know just what I speak of (or whatever pretentious kind of phrasing you used).

This is an open-and-shut case of dishonesty and betrayal. It's wrong to fuck someone else when you promise someone you love to be faithful. It's pretty simple, really, no matter how people try to defend cheating.

Just because the couple isn't having sex (which, by the way, why are we taking the husband's word on this?) does not lower the status of their marriage to friendship. You don't get to decide that. When one marries, they ought to understand that sometimes it's not going to be awesome. If they can't handle that without fucking someone else, maybe a monogamous marriage isn't for them, which is fine if you discuss it with your spouse.

My "preconception" is that people should stand by their word, act like adults, and communicate when they are dissatisfied. My "preconception" is that people treat one another with respect and try to actually work on the problems in their marriage. Also, this is going to be a lose-lose-lose when the wife is clued in. Short-term solutions are never the way to go.
Posted by mtnlion on October 12, 2012 at 8:50 AM · Report this
mtnlion 26
I also hold Celeste's callous insight on the whole situation ("we've developed a really cool friendship"!) in high contempt.
Posted by mtnlion on October 12, 2012 at 8:54 AM · Report this
@23 makes a good point. I screwed up a relationship for my husband by not appreciating the other woman's perspective. I didn't give them enough privacy, making clear to her that I knew what they talked / emailed /texted about. In retrospect, until things were more solid between them, I should have stayed the fuck out of it.

Since then, our approach is for my husband to tell prospective women that we have "an understanding." In fact, we do have an understanding. But it's the oldest lie in the book, so a woman who is looking for a cheater may interpret those words as a lie. And therefore put him in the attractive cheater box, rather than the freaky non-monogamous box.
Posted by EricaP on October 12, 2012 at 9:24 AM · Report this
sanguisuga 28
I don't have anything to add to the idea of the ego boost, but I have run into somewhat of a similar situation. I don't knowingly flirt with married men, and the idea of having some kind of illict affair holds no attraction for me. I have met a few guys online that advertise themselves as "available", but in subsequent chatting, it comes out that they're actually married, and have an "open relationship". That's where I completely lose interest, because it adds a layer of drama and well, work, to the potential relationship. If you tell me that the wifey is in on it, well, I need to meet her, don't I? And not online, either. I'm going to need proof that she's aware and fully on board. And quite frankly, that's a hassle. Who wants their first "date" to include a guy and his wife? I have yet to meet any guy that's worth it. Especially if we're talking some kind of a casual fuckbuddy situation.
Posted by sanguisuga on October 12, 2012 at 12:21 PM · Report this
Neur0mancer 29
EricaP -
Your approach as described made me chuckle. I seem to recall that when this letter (or another one very much like it) was posted originally, there was a lot of debate in the comments about the ethics of honesty around this.
Some people said the man should just lie to such women, claiming to be a cheater, since the 3rd party was willing to be a cheater herself. Others pushed back, saying that would-be cheaters still have a right to honesty from those they want to cheat with.
What you describe is either a middle ground, or what someone (I believe it was Robert Heinlein) described as the best way to lie - tell the exact truth, but in such as way that people do not believe you.
Posted by Neur0mancer on October 12, 2012 at 1:13 PM · Report this
Thank you, ankylosaur, for responding to 14, 15, and 26 more eloquently than I could and hitting the nail right on the head!

As to those asking how I know that my guy is not getting sexually fulfilled at home, good question. I asked it myself early on, because as has been observed, the man is willing to cheat on his wife, so his credibility is pretty much nonexistent. He pulled out his phone and showed me a text conversation he'd had about a week before he and I first spoke. In the course of an argument he mentioned that three times a year wasn't enough for him - she responded that it was "more than enough" for her.

To me, this demonstrated that not only was he unfulfilled, but he had approached her about this (more than once, based on the tone of the text messages) and she was flatly refusing to make any kind of effort to improve the situation for him. To me (and I'm pretty sure Dan has said the same in similar circumstances a couple times?) that puts this solidly into the realm of acceptable cheating.

Oh and @22, I highly, highly doubt his two and four year old know Daddy's up to something, and as far as I can tell (he still occasionally shows me texts between himself and the wife) he's being truthful when he says that things are much much better between the two of them than they've been since before the marriage started.
Posted by Celestia on October 12, 2012 at 2:58 PM · Report this
@30, just for the record, I wouldn't put it past a guy to create a second account in his wife's name so that he can create a false trail to show you. When he shows you her texts are they coming from a work account, or from an easy-to-create gmail account, or the like?

A friend of mine once insisted on meeting the understanding wife, only to find out after a while that the "wife" was another girlfriend who agreed to play "wife" in order to convince my friend.

People are capable of anything.

Also for the record, Dan doesn't say it's okay to cheat just because you don't have sex very often. There has to also be a solid reason why divorce is off the table.
Posted by EricaP on October 12, 2012 at 3:24 PM · Report this
mr. herriman 32
Listen to EricaP - she is dead on with both of her posts.
Posted by mr. herriman on October 12, 2012 at 3:48 PM · Report this
@24: Asking her assumes that she will be honest with you (and herself) about her true reasons for losing interest. Some of them could be pretty embarrassing and self-confronting to admit to out loud. Go ahead and ask, but be prepared to receive an excuse rather than the honest truth.
Posted by avast2006 on October 12, 2012 at 4:52 PM · Report this
I am so with Erica at 31. You were doubtful if he and his wife were really just roommates, if he'd talked to her about wanting sex more often... and soon after it turns out he's saved a string of text messages that establish that! You wonder if she's happier now... and soon after it turns out a string of text messages establishes she is!

Posted by IPJ on October 12, 2012 at 6:22 PM · Report this
Reverend Tap 35
@33: Sure, but the same can be said of any difficult and/or emotionally charged situation. Doesn't mean you shouldn't at least try to talk it over like adults.
Posted by Reverend Tap on October 13, 2012 at 2:54 AM · Report this
@31&34 ... wait. So he's meant to have automagically known before I even asked that I would ask that question, and have sent himself fake text messages well in advance (before even meeting me)? Because I'm pretty sure he didn't fake them in the ten seconds between me bringing it up and him getting out the cell phone, so it obviously wasn't faked after I asked.
Posted by Celestia on October 13, 2012 at 8:40 AM · Report this
Uhm, so if Celestia is being lied to, how is it her fault if she makes decisions based on those lies? she's done her part. If she's being fed lies, then it's NOT HER FAULT, SHE'S NOT THE LIAR.

To put it another way, I borrow five dollars from her, telling her that I'll pay her back 6 dollars next week. She loans me the five dollars. Lo and behold, I'm no where to be seen next week. She got had. She isn't stupid.
Posted by MameSnidely on October 13, 2012 at 9:26 AM · Report this
mr. herriman 38
@37: the whole relationship is predicated on a massive lie, therefore other lies should always be expected. A more apt comparison than a $5 loan would be walking into the lake and being surprised to get wet.
Posted by mr. herriman on October 13, 2012 at 12:11 PM · Report this
@36, Maybe his dealings with the last woman he cheated with taught him that women want to know he's not having much sex with his wife. If you have access to his phone, take a look and see how many other, innocuous conversations he has with this wife-account. There should be many more innocuous chats about the kids or who's getting the milk than chats about their sex life and the state of their relationship.

It's your life. All I would advise, going forward, is that if he wants to skip condoms because he's supposedly only having sex with you and his almost asexual wife... please don't believe him. Please stick with condoms.
Posted by EricaP on October 13, 2012 at 3:44 PM · Report this
mtnlion 40
EricaP is right. Dan has a pretty strict policy on "acceptable" cheating; your guy doesn't meet the criteria. He's lying his ass off to his wife instead of just getting out of the marriage. Celestia, why doesn't the couple divorce? It would be far less messy than what he's doing with you right now and how it will presumably end. In fact, it would be far more responsible of him to divorce now so that she isn't entitled to all his shit after she finds out about the affair and divorces him.
Posted by mtnlion on October 13, 2012 at 3:57 PM · Report this
mtnlion 41
Also, it hardly matters whether or not he's having sex with his wife. Unless there was a clause in their vows that states that her low libido nullifies the whole loyalty thing, this is not an excuse to cheat. It no more legitimizes his behavior, or Celestia's proud role in the deception. He's being a child.
Posted by mtnlion on October 13, 2012 at 4:03 PM · Report this
Agreed mtnlion. And Celestia his kids may not know now but how long will that last? And why not end the relationship, or even have an honest conversation about opening the relationship?
Posted by msanonymous on October 13, 2012 at 5:48 PM · Report this
Water, wet. He lies to and cheats on the woman he's married to. It's willfully naive to believe he never lies to or cheats on any other women he sleeps with.

Like Erica says, use condoms.
Posted by IPJ on October 13, 2012 at 6:03 PM · Report this
I'll add to Celestia that in the end your both adults and free to make your own choices. But EricaP is making some good points that I think are worth thinking about?
Posted by msanonymous on October 13, 2012 at 6:08 PM · Report this
@20, he may be lying and he may be telling the truth. In fact, people may be lying, or telling the truth, even when they don't have affairs. We always have to, at some point, make that leap of faith.

Life is dangerous, and nothing is guaranteed. I'm really sorry for what your husband did to you, but this is not the same as saying that all situations are just the same. Everything is case by case.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 14, 2012 at 9:24 AM · Report this
@msanonymous(22), the problem is that we don't know what exactly is going on in Celestia's case -- so maybe you're right and it's a placebo, but maybe you aren't and it is indeed a win-win situation.

Dan has described often enough situations in which one partner found in an extramarital affair the strength to keep fulfilling his/her needs, given the absence of sex in his/her primary relationship.

Maybe this the case of Celestia's boyfriend, and maybe it isn't. I prefer to see things optimistically if at all possible, which is why I reacted accordingly. But if you want my most thoughtful opinion -- I don't know that it really is a win-win situation, but neither do you that it isn't.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 14, 2012 at 9:28 AM · Report this
@mtnlion(@25), the "pretentious" phrasing was "whereof you speak", using an adverbialized preposition (where-of) in the typical Germanic pattern found in other similar languages (see Dutch waarvan, German wovon, etc.), and reconstructible to proto-Germanic. I'm sorry you have negative feelings for such a nice feature of the grammar of your language.

Americans tend to have strong feelings about lies -- which you call 'dishonesty' and 'betrayal'. Not entering too deeply into the philosophical details, I'll just direct you to the many things Dan has written in his blog about situations in which cheating may be justified.

Indeed people should stand by their word. But life being the way it is, this is not always possible, or even reasonable or decent. I'm sorry that the world is this way -- I wish it weren't --, but it is.

I agree the husband and wife should communicate. If at all possible, this is the best solution. Alas, this is not always possible--regardless of the best intentions of all concerned.

But what I do find more than a tad arrogant is your assumption -- not to repeat the word "preconception" -- that Celestia's case has to be the worst case scenario. You choose not to entertain the possibility that their situation may be less obvious and clear-cut than the ones you're thinking about. That is your prerrogative, but you do have to accept the fact that you may be wrong.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 14, 2012 at 9:37 AM · Report this
@Celestia, EricaP et al. are simply pointing out what the worst-case scenario could be. I think at least EricaP (who tends to be reasonable) will agree that not all cases are the worst-case scenario, and for all we know you may be in exactly the situation you described -- having an affair that is making you, your man, and his wife happier.

God knows that this is possible, and Dan has already established a number of cases in his column to the effect that it does happen. I personally know a couple in which the man was indeed deprived of sex by his wife, and who suffered visibly because of this.

Yes, there are bad people out there, and your man might be one of them. Yes, it is possible to create fake accounts to try to manipulate people.

But then again, he might not be a bad man. I believe the chances that he is being sincere are probably better than the chances that he went through all the trouble that EricaP's imagination attributed to him. We can't be sure, of course. But there's such a thing as being too careful in life. You might also let a very good thing slip by just because you didn't make the leap of faith and trusted him.

Keep your eyes open, but don't wear your worst-case-scenario glasses. After all, it is possible that at least some of the people who defend the worst case scenario here simply had bad experiences and are projecting them on your case.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 14, 2012 at 9:46 AM · Report this
mtnlion 49
@ankylosaur, I don't have negative feelings about the language; I have negative feelings about the way you use it so condescendingly.

You're right, I didn't give Celestia the benefit of the doubt because she gave me no reason to do so. When people behave poorly, I do not rush to make excuses for them, especially when their tone indicates they feel no remorse.

I understand the world is full of people who make bad decisions, hurt those they claim to love, or simply fail to uphold their end of the bargain (I'm including the wife in this one, too). I am not naive to this. But that's my entire comment on this issue: people should avoid doing these things because they cause pain in relationships and families and make each other's lives worse. This is basic. It's not too late for Celestia or the husband to make new choices.

We should strive to be good, and Celestia's cool description of her part in this is heartless. The way she talks about it is wrong. It respects nothing of his wife or children outside of what she conveniently perceives as "good for them all" because our consciences must do tricks so we feel okay about some of the things we do.

I am voicing that I find her actions to be cruel and against what I would call moral. She is not required to care about my opinion, nor are you, but she took the liberty of laying out her side of the story and it simply looks bad. I'm still open to hearing more details about why this behavior is acceptable, but nobody's really offered me anything. I am flexible on morality in lots of cases, but sometimes you see something and it just seems starkly wrong. This is one of them. The couple should divorce.
Posted by mtnlion on October 14, 2012 at 11:28 AM · Report this
@mtnlion, the reason why I used the language so condescendingly is that people often rush to the same conclusion you made. It's the default case scenario: if someone is in Celestia's situation, it must be bad. It is against that default setting that I was reacting. I did not want to make you feel bad; if I did so, I apologize.

You assume Celestia behaved poorly, but I frankly don't see why. She found -- apparently -- a win-win situation in which everybody is happier now than it was before. (Assuming that everything is as she says -- but we usually do pay this courtesy to anybody who describes his/her situation here.)

In that sense, I don't think I'm rushing to defend her. I'm simply assuming that her description of the situation is correct. If indeed that is the case, then I stand by what I said to her. You describe her part in her story as "heartless", but frankly I don't see that. She wanted to make sure her boyfriend was in a bad situation in his marriage before going ahead -- how is this heartless? Again assuming everything is as she said, and that her boyfriend isn't lying -- he tried to talk to his wife, and didn't get what he needed. Now he does, and his relationship with his wife improved -- and Celestia describes it as a plus. It doesn't seem to me that she is simply ignoring the wife and the kids. Do you really think this is heartless? You say it looks bad; I don't think so. To me, it looks neutral.

(Disclosure: I have a friend who is trapped in a sexless marriage with a wife who does not want to communicate on the topic. She thinks he "shouldn't want it so much". He doesn't want to divorce because he does love her, despite the lack of sex; he would be shattered if he divorced her. And there's the children. The result is not pretty to watch.)

Your comment on people in general boils down to one (quite good) rule: please don't hurt others. As a corollary, please avoid situations in which you may hurt others. I agree with that rule; in fact, I will go as far as saying that everybody here in this thread agrees with it -- Celestia included.

But if there is one thing that life has taught me -- and I've been through a number of rather uncommon situations because of my work (I do fieldwork among indigenous groups in the Amazon basin) -- it is that life throws at you situations in which ready-made rules break down. Flexibility and the vision that rules, even moral-ethical rules, are guides rather than unbreakable laws is, by my experience, a better guide to reality.

I'm not a Christian, but I like the idea of not throwing the first stone. If you see something and it just seems starkly wrong, you may still be wrong about that -- we're not perfect, we don't know everything. Here's my addendum to your moral rule: do your best not to be in situations in which you may hurt others, but also think about what to do if you see yourself in one of them, because sometimes it is not your choice. As for other people, if you can't avoid judging them, try to understand them as best as you can before doing so.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 14, 2012 at 2:06 PM · Report this
@38, any relationship can be based on a lie, and you can never know with 100% certainty whether your partner is telling you the truth about his/her feelings for you. Yet we trust, because we know it may work.

@37's point is that it is not necessarily wrong to trust people. If indeed there is a good reason why her boyfriend is lying to his wife -- and a sexless marriage, depending on the situation, may well be a good reason (see other columns by Dan) -- then she may well be right in trusting him.

Americans tend to be strong on the "once a liar always a liar" rule, often ignoring important events from their own lives. I say Celestia may be right about her boyfriend -- and if so, then her situation is not bad at all.

And if he is a liar and is just manipulating Celestia... then it is not her fault, just as it wouldn't be her fault if a faithful monogamous boyfriend were also manipulating her. @37 is indeed right: that would be the boyfriend's fault, not hers.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 14, 2012 at 2:16 PM · Report this
To avoid ambiguities: "If indeed there is a good reason why her (= Celestia's) boyfriend is lying to his wife -- and a sexless marriage, depedning on the situation, may well be a good reason (see other columns by Dan) -- then she (= Celestia, not the wife) may well be right in trusting him.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 14, 2012 at 2:20 PM · Report this
ankylosaur @50, why does your friend feel trapped and yet also feel he would be shattered by a divorce? Maybe you should encourage him to realize that many people get divorced, and it is generally not the end of the world. If they are bound together for financial reasons, they could separate but live in the same house -- that would allow him to date other people while continuing to maintain his connection with his children.

If he still feels passionately in love with his wife, can you suggest to your friend that he read the work of David Schnarch, particularly Passionate Marriage (1997) and Intimacy & Desire (2011)? Or these interviews, at least:……
Posted by EricaP on October 14, 2012 at 2:45 PM · Report this
mtnlion 54
I agree with much of what you say, and agree that most people approach life with good intentions. Life changes, obstacles arise, and we can't or don't always stick with those original intentions. But to call this a win-win is shortsighted. Today, if Celestia is being truthful, things may be better for the marriage and for her sex life. But--and correct me if I'm wrong--most affairs don't just end neatly with the man having a better marriage and the mistress sexually satisfied. The wife could find out, which would be devastating, or the mistress could develop deeper feelings, or the husband for that matter. These kinds of things don't usually just resolve painlessly.

Also, I do find outright (and ongoing) deception to be wrong and I guess that's non-negotiable for me. The giant lie the husband continues to live denies his wife the truth about her marriage and her life. And the truth is everything.

Maybe "heartless" is a bit harsh, but her phrasing just struck me as deeply selfish and deluded. I consider how it would feel to be the wife, reading that, as a total stranger unabashedly proclaims she's doing something to better her marriage by sleeping with her husband. It would be an absurd claim to read from the wife's perspective; she would not be grateful, although it seems that Celestia thinks she deserves some kind of praise. It's like listening to someone brag about how they approved someone for a loan they'll never pay off. ("They're so happy right now with their lovely new home, and I get lots of money too.")

And yes, there's a lot I don't know, but I can't really imagine what I could know that would make me any more approving of this. For every reason that might make it okay, I feel it can be refuted with a better solution than this. Interestingly, I don't usually judge people for much larger offenses. At work, my job is to treat with positive regard no matter their choices, and I don't struggle with that. I think it's the smugness and nonchalance, paired with the fact that many people on Slog often seem to want to let others off the hook for cheating.
Posted by mtnlion on October 14, 2012 at 3:00 PM · Report this
While I think there is plenty of grey area in the husband's actions (I'd lean more towards "A dishonest and probably short term solution, but possibly the best one for now" than CPOS, but that's me...) I'm surprised about the negative comments towards Celestia.

I understand the concept of "if no one dated a cheater, there'd be no cheaters," but I think Celestia is doing very little wrong. In fact, I think she's a best case scenario for this guy and his family. Let's assume he was going to find sex somewhere (and as countless priests/congressmen/pastors have proven, men tend to find the sex they want no matter the consequences) then Celestia is perfect as someone who won't be a "home wrecker" because she doesn't want a serious relationship. It may not be "win-win" but it's at least "win-kinda-win-at-least-for-now".

Posted by YUUUUUUUP on October 15, 2012 at 1:31 PM · Report this
@55, it's actually not up to Celestia whether she's a home wrecker or not. When an affair comes to light, the betrayal often ends the marriage, even if the affair partner isn't interested in a serious relationship. And the fact that her husband is no longer pestering her for sex may lead the wife to figure out that he's cheating.
Posted by EricaP on October 15, 2012 at 2:06 PM · Report this
secretagent 57
I don't get why not wanting the same thing as your partner means you deserve to be lied to. If husband says "I want more sex" and wife says "I don't", how is the next step not to say, "I need more sex if you need monogamy"? Why is his right to sexual satisfaction paramount to her right to the truth?

I'm saying this as someone who fully believes that sexual satisfaction is a right, and that a lack of it is a completely legitimate reason to divorce. They are equals, though and have equal rights to their own needs - his for sex, hers for honesty/fidelity.

The correlary here to me is like asking for a raise. You deserve the raise - you've worked for the company for 5 years, you've gone above and beyond, inflation is up, etc. Perhaps they even agreed to give you the raise and then did not. However, if you don't get the raise, that is not then your excuse to start embezzling. And Celestia, in her complicity, is the same as that bookkeeper, noting your embezzlement, looking the other way. Obviously not a perfect comparison, but worthwhile, I think
Posted by secretagent on October 15, 2012 at 3:18 PM · Report this
"However, if you don't get the raise, that is not then your excuse to start embezzling."

Many people who are treated terribly at work do start pilfering. It's not right, but it's human and common.
Posted by EricaP on October 15, 2012 at 3:26 PM · Report this
secretagent 59
Lots of things are human and common. Cheating, lying, stealing, common, common, common. That's why there are social stigmas against these things - because it is hard to be the only one fighting your baser instincts, and we all need a bit of help to know what the right thing is.

Knowing you are fallible and forgiving yourself your failures is not the same as choosing the easier option for the sake of your own comfort or convenience. Do you do your best to live with integrity, or do you make excuses for yourself? Do you hurt someone else because you are hurting?
Posted by secretagent on October 15, 2012 at 4:03 PM · Report this
mtnlion 60
@59, I'm with you. People often tell me--after I tell them it's wrong to lie/cheat/still/otherwise act immorally--that it's "human nature" to do these things. As if I don't know that.

The beauty of a human being with an exquisite brain is that we can choose to defy our nature, which is inherently greedy, selfish, and thoughtlessly cruel. We can make decisions that help others a lot even if it hurts us a little. We can take a path that leads to less harm, and make the world a better place even if it is in the small way of causing less heartache for other humans. And that is what we should try to do, and of course it's difficult and doesn't always work out, which is why we live in world that is often quite sad.

For me, the real problem is when people deny or ignore that they have such a choice, and act proud of their laziness in just going with their initial selfish impulses. Do you think I don't want to conveniently lie sometimes or leave a restaurant without paying or drive drunk?

Some think bad behavior is okay because it's human nature. That is false. It is understandable, I get it, but it's not okay. We must choose to do better.
Posted by mtnlion on October 15, 2012 at 9:16 PM · Report this
Another thing which is human and common is giving advice on internet sites to people who don't want the advice and won't take it. As I'm doing, here.

Posted by EricaP on October 15, 2012 at 10:29 PM · Report this
geoz 62
Great discussion. I can't decide where I fall on this.

I think the factor of the existence of kids complicates it. As a non-custodial father, (shared legal custody), my decision wouldn't be separable from that relationship with the kids. I do see my kids on one of those schedules, but it isn't enough. More often now, physical custody is being shared, but I couldn't afford a lawyer. She could through her parents. I lost a lot in the arrangement.

I wasn't in the situation of cheating vs. honesty, but if that were the only factor, with the knowledge I have now, I'd rather be in a cheating relationship and see my kids and still have influence on their lives. That isn't way is portrayed above, but perhaps I have shared a scenario that adds to the complexity.

Posted by geoz on October 16, 2012 at 7:08 AM · Report this
@geoz, but there's no way to ensure that the affair will stay secret. Would you rather be in your current situation, or have your kids grow up believing that your lies and betrayal were what destroyed their family?
Posted by EricaP on October 16, 2012 at 9:08 AM · Report this
I think it makes more sense to find out through a year or two of counseling and honest discussion whether the low-libido spouse can appreciate that the lack of sex is deeply painful for the high-libido spouse, and either step up the amount of monogamous sex, or allow an open marriage.

If LLS will do neither, and refuses to acknowledge the pain or doesn't mind that you're in pain, then you end up at divorce. But in that case, you haven't thrown anything away. Surely you don't want to grow old with this person who doesn't treat you humanely...

Posted by EricaP on October 16, 2012 at 9:21 AM · Report this
I am NOT condemming celestia. Perhaps in this particular situation it IS the best solution, I don't have nearly enough information to judge. But there IS a price to be paid in this win-win situation.


Human interaction is full of situations where you -edit/allow misconceptions/don't disclose- because the full truth serves no purpose and would hurt those involved.

Perhaps "coming out" might be an equivilent. In some situatons, the cost of being out would be devastating. And in those cases, there is no shame in being in the closet to certain folk. There is a certain amount of energy spent in the deception though.

I for one, would rather spend my energy working torwards other goals.

Posted by shoeshine on October 18, 2012 at 12:23 AM · Report this
I think both perspectives are right.

I agree that Celestia is serving as a pressure relief valve on a difficult marriage. (not going to speculate on whether the husband is lying to her about conditions in the marriage.) Letting that pressure and resentment build up could well destroy the marriage sooner than it otherwise would go. If everyone in the marriage is happier as a result of their affair -- less resentment, more attentive husband, et cetera -- it is a win-win.

And I also agree that if the wife should ever find out, there will almost certainly be hell to pay in terms of divorce, strife in the household, ruptured relationships all around. It's a huge, huge risk.

Posted by avast2006 on October 18, 2012 at 1:13 AM · Report this
@53 (EricaP), the basic reason is that he sincerely, dearly loves his wife. They work well together in many ways, they have two children together (17-year-old girl, 12-year-old boy) who are wonderful, they have fulfilling careers... As he told me himself, he just cannot imagine life without his wife. (The fact that she may turn out to have some kind of genetic disease that he wasn't specific about and that may kick in in the next few years is scaring the hell out of him).

Basically, he is making the choice of staying despite suffering through a sexless marriage and despite his wife's opinion that this shouldn't be important to him, because he loves her, and his family. I've suggested books (actually online blogs) similar to the ones you mentioned, but his wife won't have it. It's one topic they have trouble discussing.

The results, from where I sit, are not pretty. But it's his choice to make, not mine. I did encourage him to divorce; I don't anymore, because he won't. I think he's waiting for his own libido to decrease, so that it will be less of a problem.

It is, I repeat, his choice. But seeing him suffer does make me sad.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 18, 2012 at 3:17 AM · Report this
"But we can't be sure the affair will forever remain a secret" is a good argument, but the uncertainties of life do not -- should not -- deter us from trying to live it in the best way we can.

Nobody can be sure a marriage will really be happy -- and yet people keep trying. (Add long list of important things in life that are not sure things -- career choices, education, etc. -- yet we go on and do them anyway).

I don't see evil intent in Celestia. Assuming her boyfriend is sincere (if he isn't, it's a different situation), I don't see evil intent in him either. If the result is an improved quality of life for everyone (including the children, who benefit from having a less stressed-out father), it is a win-win situation.

To say that it might end abruptly is to saying nothing more than could be said about pretty much anything else. Yes, it could. The risk may even be relatively high. But so it is with many a good thing in life.
Posted by ankylosaur on October 18, 2012 at 3:24 AM · Report this
ankylosaur@69, that's a hard situation. If he told his wife that her low libido might lead to him taking measures to deal with his needs elsewhere, does he think she would divorce him? How important is their marriage to her?

@70, One risk with an affair is that it might end abruptly AND with the man's wife and kids thinking he is evil incarnate. (Whatever you and I think about him.) By letting his spouse understand the reality of his experience (he wants variety, or more sex, or this particular other woman, or whatever), he has a better chance of being able to maintain a lifelong friendship with his wife/ex-wife and with his kids. Though for some people my risk assessment may be wrong. I'm sure there are some wives who would think their husband even worse for trying to open the marriage (Pervert!), than for having human failings and cheating. If Celestia's boyfriend honestly thinks his relationship with his wife & family will recover better from the discovery of an affair than from him openly asking for non-monogamy, then his choice is reasonable.

I'd still advise Celestia to stick with condoms, though.
Posted by EricaP on October 20, 2012 at 3:53 PM · Report this

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