Last week, I received an email from one of my readers regarding his concerns with traditional monogamy. Below, I’ve answered his question. For those of you short on time the gist of my answer is as follows: Having a relationship without a side attraction every once in a while is like dating a garden hose. To think you’ll be with one person for the rest of your life and not develop an attraction with another person is a lie they perpetuate in the text book you receive when you enroll in Falling in Love School at Monogamy University.
THE MESSAGE: hello slash. so im in this dilemma, i broke up with my girlfriend because i didnt want to cheat on her. i love her to death, she's been one of my longest relationships, but I'm kind of a manwhore...and i didnt want to cheat on her so i broke up with her. what should i do? should i have sex with girls to get it out of my system? or should i just get back with her? thanks, rusty seedy
Dear rusty seedy,
I honestly think the way to go deeper in a relationship is to deal with your attractions as they arise [pun intended] while still remaining in your relationship. Seriously, it may be scary, it may be hard, but it’s these sorts of lessons that deepen our connection to those we love and strengthen our ability to communicate about profound issues in the future.
This is a dilemma that came up various times in my past relationship with Sasha and how I handled it depended on my mercurial state. I never developed a be-all-use-all template. I don’t think one exists. Rather, my preferred route when approaching matters of the heart is any route that involves transparency, communication and staying in the game.
Six months into our new relationship, Sasha told me she was attracted to someone else. She told me that they'd met in dance class. She let the statement hang in the air for the longest time. The fact that she'd already referred to herself and the guy with a pronoun felt like a rope slung over a tree branch. I knew that the outcome of our relationship depended on how I treated that rope. Would I make it into a noose and hang our connection? Would I grab onto it and use it to swing myself out of our relationship? Or would I use it as an opportunity to pull myself into the tree so I might get a better view?
When she said she wanted to explore this attraction, I was hit with a wave of anxiety typically reserved for car crashes (>read my post about my car crash here). I began to imagine all kinds of scenarios that included a bee with this strange guy’s face buzzing into my life and pollenating my lovely flower.
A long silence settled between us. I was hurt. I was sad. I was angry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run away. I wanted to fold myself over and cry. And underneath it all, I was also excited and slightly flattered in a strange way (like this guy was a microscope showing me something I shouldn’t ever take for granted). I wanted to do a million other things besides talk about it.... and I could have...easily.
Over the course of the next few days though, we shared many a long night talking about what she saw in this other person and what she hoped to gain from the connection. We even explored some scary places, like maybe I wasn’t enough for her.
Since our own relationship was so new and fragile, I didn’t think it would survive this attraction. I told her it was fine if she pursued it, but I just didn’t want to be involved with her while she did it. I suggested she take six months. Maybe, when she was finished exploring it, I’d be available and maybe I wouldn’t. That discussion, though difficult, strengthened our connection and in the end she chose me rather than him.
Two years later she met a surf instructor on our vacation. She wanted to explore the attraction. Again, many long discussions ensued. We were in a solid place in our relationship and my reaction reflected this change. I told her I trusted her completely and invited her to explore the connection under one condition. She’d need to be 100% transparent with what was going on. That meant no secrets.
I wanted to know everything that happened along the way. Not just about meeting up and hooking up, but phone calls, voice mail messages, texts and everything in between. I also requested that she make herself available to talk about the topic whenever I needed - whether that meant at 1:00 am or while she was at work.
She pursued the guy. Sometimes our conversations about the situation were easy, sometimes they were downright messy, but through the process we grew closer and more connected and our love grew to a deeper place. In the end, the fates just wouldn’t cooperate. After a series of short phone calls between her and the guy, dozens of voice mail messages, a couple of proposed meet-ups that fell through, the attraction fizzled out.
It’s my belief that any attraction outside of our primary relationship exists for a reason. It’s like life strutting by like a male peacock, fanning his feathers and saying “Hey, over here! Look at me! I have something I want you to learn! ” Each attraction is a gift and the longer you’re in a relationship, the more gifts you’re going to get.
It’s unfortunate that Monogamy University treats these attractions as bad - because they aren’t. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post (>read my post on opposite sex friendships), we perpetuate ancient templates of monogamy that no longer work.
For instance, most monogamists treat a relationship like a child capturing a frog. They put the relationship in an empty coffee can and punch holes in the lid, causing all other relationships, opposite sex friendships and otherwise, to die. Often, the relationship dies as a result. A frog, after all, just isn’t made to live in a can.
The template for my parents generation is to meet, marry, move into a home and build a wall around any relationship that might allow sunlight and oxygen into the can. One thing I know for certain is that one person can not be absolutely everything to any other one person - which is why, according to statistics that have been bandied about, half of all married men and a third of all married women have cheated.
The biggest surprise in exploring these attractions is finding that many of these attractions aren’t even meant to be sexual. I’ve found, more often than not, when I explore my attractions there is an important lesson I’m supposed to learn from the person I’m attracted to. Ninety percent of the time, the attraction dissipates completely after talking with the person.
Had my girlfriend decided to breakup with me each time she wanted to explore her attractions to “get it out of her system” it would have robbed me of my ability to learn important lessons about myself and our relationship. By choosing to stay in the game, we both learned about our ability to set boundaries, the edges of jealousy, and the gray area between retreating into ourselves and over-reacting.
It sounds like you’re finding that being an ethical slut just isn’t giving you the satisfaction you thought it would give you. You’re probably missing lots of the great things that come with being in a solid monogamous relationship. With that said, should you just get back with her? If it's out of guilt, then no. If it's out of love and you think it has potential then I think it’s worth talking to her again and exploring what a different version of monogamy might look like. If you do, be prepared, it's probably not going to get fixed with an apology, a flower, and a nice dinner?
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