Tag Archives: cheating

Bogeyman in a Red Dress

If there’s one toxic, terrifying thing that (straight) monogamy normalizes, it’s the idea that a partner’s friends are a sexual or romantic threat.

You know. The idea that friendships men and women can never be “benign”. The assertion that these friendships will destroy your marriage. The idea that unless it’s couples being friends with couples as a unit, opposite-sex friendships should peter out as romantic relationships become stable. That men and women can’t be “just friends.”

I had to go three pages deep in Google to find one article saying opposite-sex friendships were sometimes maybe okay for people in relationships*, and that one still said there was always going to be sexual tension. It calls that tension and jealousy a bonus–keeps partners on their toes.

So those of you who agree with this. I got a question.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.

Are you literally sexually attracted to every person of your preferred gender?

Really?

If so, don’t you dare ever call bisexuals “sex maniacs” again; your sexuality is clearly an all-encompassing fetish. Seriously. I’m a sex-blogging bisexual with an extraordinarily high sex drive and a preference for multiple partners–and the idea of being attracted to or having a potential relationship with every person I connect with as a friend, even if we restrict to similar ages, sounds absurd.

But fine. Lets say for the sake of argument that any person of one’s preferred gender is a potential partner. If circumstances were different, if they were single, if the right song had played or rain or one too many drinks had pushed them together years ago. If sometime in the future things were different. Of course there are people we wonder that about. Of course it makes sense to acknowledge that potential is there.

We also need to acknowledge that it’s only potential. That friends are capable of choosing to stay friends, that it’s a continual process, and what might have been or what could be are not what you choose, because you value the friendship that is. Banning people from having friends on the off chance that any given friendship could turn into a sexual or romantic relationship based on the slightest hint of desire makes no sense. Anyone with the barest shred of reasonable humanity knows better than to act on every impulse.

If someone is going to cheat,they’re willing to break the agreements of your relationship. Period. It’s not because they were tempted, it’s not because that woman they’ve known since college has been turning up the heat, inching up her skirt and moving too close by increments until he had an affair without realizing it. The cheating partner chose to cheat. Period. Every time. The person or people they cheat with may or may not have known it was an affair. They may or may not have known you existed at all. And if they knew, then yes, they did a shitty thing. But they’re an accomplice. Your partner cheated. Your partner broke an agreement with you. That is not okay. Imposing a rule isolating partners from friends isn’t going to stop them from breaking the relationship agreement and cheating, it just adds another layer of lying and hiding to the formula. If they’re willing to cheat, restricting friendships will not stop them.

Restricting any kind of access to close to half the human population (or all of it, for bi folks) is a pretty extreme form of social isolation.

Isolating partners is necessary for partner abuse. Isolating partners is a form of partner abuse.

I don’t want to hear “It’s for their own good.” You don’t make decisions for adults that are “for their own good.” That suggests they don’t have the ability to make good decisions themselves. It’s demeaning.

I don’t want to hear “It’s a slippery slope.” Your partner will either be honest with you, or they won’t. They will either respect the agreement of your sexual and romantic exclusivity, or they won’t. In either case, it’s unreasonable to ban behaviors that are not inherently problematic to prevent the risk of those that are.

I definitely don’t want to hear “They shouldn’t need anyone but me.” They shouldn’t need you. If you’re isolating your partner to ensure they can’t leave you without being totally, horribly alone, you’re abusing them.

And “It’s not that I don’t trust my partner, I don’t trust those other people” is a lie. It is that you don’t trust your partner. Your partner will not cheat accidentally. If your partner has a friend who is pursuing sex or romance despite knowing that would violate their relationship agreement, then yes, it makes sense to discuss your concerns with your partner, over how they’re setting boundaries and whether their friend respects them. It doesn’t make sense for this discussion to conclude “no friends with this whole gender, ever.”

“My partner can’t have friends of the opposite gender” means “I don’t trust my partner.” That may be fair. They may not be trustworthy. People do cheat, and lie, and the rest. The truth is, people sometimes cheat. If they do, it might mean they’re planning to leave you. It might not. (They might just be lying scumbags who feel entitled to treat partners as things. Why don’t you want them leaving again?) If they cheat, you need to decide how you want to handle that. And it’s hard. It’s fucking hard. I don’t wish it on anyone. If they leave you, of course I offer sympathies. Being dumped is horrible and you deserve ice cream…but they have every right to leave. You have every right to leave. Relationships have to be voluntary. Isolating partners to prevent them being scumbags won’t work, and preventing them leaving (probably) won’t work and it’s abusive if it does.

Oh, and polyamorous people do it, too. “You can play with/fuck/date other people but I can end it/you need my permission.” When rules for protocol surrounding a behavior become more important than the behavior itself…it leads to problems.


 

* Hello, heteronormativity! “relationship advice” is for straight people, unless it says “gay” in the title, and bisexuals just need to pretend they’re [orientation that people assume based on current partner] and use advice for that group.

Negotiating Power

I once told a man he should cheat.

We hadn’t seen each other for some time. He looked exhausted. Miserable. He was talking about his partner of more than three decades, about hospital visits and stress and fear. About making every decision, wondering whether it was the right one. His partner’s dementia had progressed to the point he couldn’t make decisions about medical consent anymore. He didn’t remember things he should, he slipped sometimes into other times or experiences.

They had no romantic relationship anymore. How could they, when one of them could remember the other’s name only intermittently? They had no sexual relationship anymore. Not safe, when one’s mental state and physical health were tenuous at best.

“I’m celibate.” He shrugged. “I don’t want to be, but there it is.”

I told him he should cheat. What else was I going to say? Wait for your partner to die, maybe for years, look forward to the freedom to have sex or intimacy again?

A relationship–any relationship–is an agreement. There are terms and conditions. I’ll cook, you do dishes. If you have sex with someone else, I’ll leave. The terms can be somewhat fluid and not always discussed, but they’re no less real for that. Your relationship is how you interact with another person: when you change, or they do, what you are together changes. The terms and conditions change. They have to, if the relationship respects the needs of the people in it at all.

Sometimes renegotiating an agreement isn’t possible. Maybe there’s abuse: a person who can’t safely leave an abusive relationship still has every right to exercise autonomy, and shouldn’t be bound by terms and conditions they have not consented to. Maybe there’s dementia, a coma, an injury or illness that leaves a person unable to consent. Should their partner be bound to an agreement they would not be able to make or affirm anymore?

I won’t try to sugarcoat it. It is cheating, to break a relationship agreement instead of renegotiating it or ending the relationship. And I want to phrase this carefully because I know how many cheaters will say they had to cheat, because they would not be able to do what they want if they talked to their partners. That’s bullshit. Cheating because a partner wouldn’t understand or might end the relationship is cowardice. It’s the refusal to respect the conditions the cheating person has agreed to, it places their pleasure above their partners’ right to informed consent, and it is utterly despicable.

Cheating because one partner cannot consent…it’s cheating. It’s cheating, and the situation is awful and the world is awful for letting these situations exist. I don’t think it can happen without admitting that the relationship is already irrevocably damaged. At the same time, I won’t say that the man I advised to cheat should have had to leave his partner– to stop caring for him, living with him, being his companion–if he wanted to receive any kind of affection at all. I don’t think a person who is unable to leave an abusive situation should have to be isolated from intimacy until and unless they can gather the resources to escape abuse.

It’s been a few years. I don’t know whether he did cheat, before his partner died. We don’t see each other often and it’s not my place to ask. But I think I’d give the same advice again. I’m not sure it’s the right thing. It probably isn’t. But when the ability to even discuss the terms of a relationship is absent, I think it’s only compassionate to expect those terms to be less binding than they once were.