Sunday, December 29, 2013

In the Ethical Grey Zone: My Workplace Romance

Dear Viny,

I love my husband, but I have always had a feeling that I am unable to be emotionally monogamous. Two years ago, I started a new job and fell hard for my supervisor (we can call him “Brandon”). He does not have the authority to punish or fire me – it's more of a leadership role. We work in a very liberal field so there is lots of talk about social issues such as race, gender, feminism, sexuality, identity, and so on. Everyone knows that he is pansexual and that his wife has given him the ok to have a relationship with any man that he wants...but unfortunately for me, she hasn't said the same about women.

There were no confessions of romantic feelings until 8 months after I started working there. He was in a bad mood one morning and I asked him privately if everything was ok and he confessed that things were really bad with his wife. He had found out that she had been sleeping with a childhood friend while he was out of town for work. He told me he was moving out and getting his own place. A little later, he admitted that he had feelings for me (without any prompting from me) and said that he thought we should be careful that we didn't cross any lines since he is a supervisor.

Around this same time, I realized I wouldn't want to leave my husband for Brandon. I feel like I need Brandon in my life, but I don't want to become Brandon's wife or live-in girlfriend. I don't think we'd have a very healthy relationship as we are too much alike for a traditional relationship to work. We don't think about practical things often, and especially not when we are with each other. Our spouses help to balance us.

I spoke with my husband about a poly relationship. He was ok with it for me but wasn't really interested in pursuing anyone himself. Because I felt so much guilt and shame for how I felt about Brandon, I didn't mention that I already knew someone I wanted to pursue a relationship with. Meanwhile, Brandon and his wife worked things out, and so things between me and Brandon went back to how they were before our confessions of mutual attraction, except with more sexual tension since I knew that on some level he felt the same things I did.

Then, this fall, Brandon and I had to spend a lot more time together because of a major project our company had. For 3 days we made out like teenagers all over the building. We were irresponsible in regards to our jobs. We never had sex but pretty much everything else happened. I haven't told my husband this part of the story, but he does know that I care for Brandon deeply, and feels a bit jealous.

Brandon and I put a stop to things but work has become difficult since then. We are back to an emotional affair (though with more knowledge of the other person's feelings and more consideration of the other person's feelings) but the electricity between us now feels painful. We have both become depressed and we aren't getting as much work done. We are committed to making things between us as platonic as possible, at least for now, but there is a pain (emotional, that turns into physical symptoms like nausea) that we are both feeling by being separated. It's probably the worst pain I've ever experienced emotionally.

So that's my story of infidelity and shame that is more in a grey zone than what it would have been in a traditional relationship. I don't even know what question I'm asking. I'm sure there is part of me that wants to hear that everything I'm doing is justifiable, but really I just want all four of us to be happy...both with our primary partners and with each other. And I don't know if that is possible. I think perhaps Brandon's wife is more open now to a poly type of relationship, and I know my husband is, but I don't think either of them would be ok with us seeing each other. Any advice?



Dear Nadya,

One thing at a time, my sweet-n-savory sesame snacklet, one thing at a time!

You're in quite a tangle. Let's see if we can separate out the strands.

One: you are suffering, because you are madly in love and cannot be with the person you desire.
Two: you and your supervisor at work are in a relationship that would generally be considered inappropriate.
Three: although your husband has agreed, at least in theory, to allowing you to explore polyamory, you haven't been completely upfront with him about your relationship with Brandon.
Four: Brandon and his wife have a rocky marriage, and a lack of clarity around sexual boundaries may be part of their problem.
Five: you are suffering, because you can't imagine a situation in which everyone involved in this mess can be happy.

With regards to Issue Numero Uno, a bit of emotional triage is all I can offer. We both know that the only cure for what ails you is blissful, guilt-free union with your beloved – and unfortunately, there are some pretty formidable obstacles in the way of that happening any time soon. I'd advise you to cope with your emotional pain the way you would deal with a chronic physical illness: accept it, and work on managing your symptoms. In your current frame of mind, you will need to be very cautious about “medicating” yourself, because you could easily slip into substance addiction. You'd do best to focus on eating right, sleeping as well as you can, and getting an appropriate amount of exercise. Of course, you don't feel like doing any of these things. You are under the influence of powerful hormones (most likely a cocktail of adrenaline, phenylethylamine, and testosterone) that make it hard to focus on anything but Brandon. So, find out what you can about these hormones, then try to work around their effects. And don't despair: this too shall pass.

As for the second issue: I haf some gut news, und I haf some bat news. The good news is that there isn't much of an ethical distinction between the inappropriate relationship you and Brandon already have and the inappropriate relationship you and Brandon would like to be having. Your emotional affair is already wreaking havoc on your productivity at work, and it sounds like you've already done some cavorting in back rooms and stairwells, so why not just fuck and get it over with? (Ah, if only it were that simple!) So here's the bad news: if you and Brandon want to continue your affair in good conscience, you will need to either change the current system or change jobs – and this is true whether or not the two of you choose to indulge in the pleasures of physical contact. As you might have guessed, I am all for reforming the current social system, and the asinine “Just Say No!” approach to dealing with workplace romances is just one of many things I'd change if I could. This is a big ol' bear to tackle, though. Your best bet may be to redefine your roles at work so that Brandon is no longer your supervisor.

The third issue is probably the simplest to solve: you need to come clean. I realize that a simple confession isn't necessarily easy. If spilling the whole story is too difficult right now, you can at least begin by telling your husband that you are interested in exploring a relationship with someone specific, namely Brandon, and ask him how he feels about that possibility. In my opinion, polyamorous relationships work well only when current and prospective partners are committed to being honest and open with each other, about all of their sexual and/or romantic involvements. If you want this to work, it's time to begin establishing clear lines of communication with your husband. Talk to him about your feelings and hopes for the future, and make sure you understand what his expectations are. You are probably afraid your husband will say, “Y'know, on second thought, I don't think I'm okay with this whole poly idea,” or, “No fucking way – anyone but Brandon!” – and I understand that living with the fear of a possible “no” seems easier than living with the certainty of a “no” that's been uttered aloud. I've been in your shoes, and they weren't very comfy. The night I realized I wanted my theoretically open marriage to become a for-real open marriage, I didn't sleep a wink: as I lay next to my sleeping husband, all I could do was rehearse what I planned to say to him in the morning. I was falling in love with another man; I very much wanted my husband's express permission before beginning a physical relationship; and I was terrified he would refuse to give it. I still remember what that fear felt like. But I pushed through it, and you can, too. Be courageous. Tell the truth about what you want.

There's not a whole lot you can do about the fourth issue. You can provide support and counsel, of course. For example, you can suggest that Brandon ask his wife how she would feel about him seeing another woman. If she is open to that possibility, perhaps you and she might even one day become friends, and when she and Brandon start chucking the good china at each other, she'll invite you to play referee. (Stranger things have happened, believe me!) Ultimately, though, you have to accept that Brandon and his wife have their own little red wagon to pull. You can't pull it for them. You can hope it doesn't come careening down the hill one day, but it might, and if it does, it could easily crash right into you. That's one of the risks of being involved with people who are involved with other people. Practice letting go.

Finally, here's my advice for tackling Issue Five: imagine the future you want – and I mean imagine it in detail – and then start moving toward it, one step at a time. If all of your problems were magically solved overnight, but you didn't know this had happened, how would you figure out that you had begun living your ideal scenario? What would clue you in to the fact that something had changed while you slept? What would you spend your day doing? With whom would you interact, and how? Your best chance of achieving what you want – happiness for yourself and others – begins with imagination and faith. Don't fool yourself: no one can be happy all the time. But when we are fully engaged in our lives, working toward goals that benefit not just ourselves but also others, and expressing our love openly and fearlessly, we are free from the shame that keeps us small.

You've got your work cut out for you in 2014, that's for sure – but if you're willing to keep at it, bit by bit, you just might create something beautiful. Okay, I'd best sign off before I turn into one of those tacky motivational posters!

Pinecones and petunias,

Friday, December 20, 2013

Should I Tell My Parents I'm Poly?

Dear Viny,

I'm a single Mom happily involved in what I anticipate to be a long-term poly relationship. I've been with my lover in a poly pod situation for 9 months. He and I continue to grow stronger as a couple, and our families (his wife, her OSO, and all of our children) are also growing into more of a community together.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to be out to my parents about my poly relationship, but not if it's going to cause me all kinds of stress and discomfort. When I was a teenager and came out as queer, my parents handled it 'right' ("We love you anyway"), but we never spoke about it, and they never asked about my relationships. My parents have seen me through a variety of sexual identities (undefined, lesbian, bisexual) and they've seen me marry and divorce, but sexuality has always been this big awkward subject we avoid talking about. As much as I've grown and changed, I am still sensitive to my parents' concerns and criticisms, and I have sometimes felt the need to lie about my relationships to preserve my sense of self. I should add that the way they handled my divorce several years ago made the whole experience enormously harder for me. They claimed to be supportive but their comments made me furious and miserable.

It's hard to predict how they might react and how I might feel if I told them about my current situation. My brother, who is a psychologist and has a much closer relationship to my parents, advises me not to tell them, saying they “wouldn't understand.” My concern is that they might see us in the only way they can manage – in a bad light. But then I feel guilty for selling them short perhaps, and leaving them out by not sharing the source of much of my happiness. What if they reacted in a loving way? Am I being unfair if I don't give them a chance to be supportive? If I choose to keep my romantic life private, do you have any tips for how to not feel guilty about it? Thank you.

A Reluctant Daughter


Dear Reluctant,

Hang on a sec while I tie back my hair, roll up my sleeves, and don my heavy-duty gloves: this is one sticky wicket of a question. I'm glad you asked it, though, because so many people in alternative relationship configurations are currently agonizing over whether or not to tell someone they love about...well, about all the people they love.

I know quite a few polyamorous people who still aren't “out” to their families. Some plan to stay in the closet indefinitely. Others dread the day when they'll finally have to sit the dear (or not-so-dear) old folks down and explain to them what the birds and bees have really been doing in those cozy nests and honeycombed hives of theirs. They're pretty sure the parental reaction to this revelation – “Mom? Dad? Guess what? I'm [insert non-monogamous sexual identity term-of-choice]!” – is going to fall somewhere in the range from “What?” to “WHAAAAT???!!!

There are some wonderfully open, surprisingly savvy, exceptionally accepting parents out there. Unfortunately, yours don't seem to be among them. “We love you anyway” isn't exactly marching in the Pride Parade, knowwhatimean? I'm sure your brother is correct: Your parents are not going to understand. They will worry about you. They will worry about your child(ren). In the initial freak-out phase, they may even say some truly nasty things.

Nevertheless, I think you should tell them.

I would give the same advice to anyone with basically loving, basically sane parents: If you have something “big” to share – I'm gay, I'm poly, I'm asexual, whatever – share it.

I'm not saying you have to tell them now, or even that you should tell them now. In fact, it might be better to wait a while. There is something to be said for having a good chunk of time under your belt (“Junior and I have been an integral part of a jolly poly pod for over a year – and would you believe it, the world hasn't ended! No one's laced the Kool-Aid yet, but I'll keep you posted, okay?”). I am, however, suggesting that you plan on telling them before too much time goes by. Start preparing yourself now. If you want to have a meaningful, healthy relationship with your parents in the future, there will come a time when you will want them to know who you are and what your life is like, at least in accurate outline. Even if you just want to facilitate good grandparent-grandchild connections, you will ultimately need to come clean, and when that day comes, you won't want a pile of lies in the way of the truth.

Believe me, I understand your reluctance. It took me eight years to come out to my own parents. They're wonderful people, both of them, and I love them dearly. They are also conservative, repressed, devoutly religious Mormons. It was painfully clear to me that the best I could hope for was, “We love you anyway.” We did get there, eventually, but their initial response to my old news went something like this: Why did you have to go and ruin everything? We don't NEED to know what goes on in the privacy of your bedroom, we don't WANT to learn anything about your immoral lifestyle, and we have NO INTEREST in ever meeting any of your “extraneous” people. What good can possibly come of your telling us something we didn't want to know?

I'm going to share a portion of the long letter I wrote to my parents in January of 2007, in which I answered their rhetorical questions, because it explains why I chose to come out, and also why I am encouraging you to come out to your folks as well. (You can read the whole letter here – but I have to warn you, it's practically a novella.) 

...For a very long time, I wondered if I was making the right decision in keeping you in the dark about really important things going on in my life. We are NOT talking here about my private sexual life. We are talking about my life. When people start dating someone, fall in love, and end up moving to be in the vicinity of that person, or make the decision not to move on account of that person, it’s almost always the case that their family, friends, and even acquaintances are at least aware of the relationship that is exerting such an influence on every decision being made. I felt I was always having to hide from you, to omit, to change the topic, and this went against my very strong commitment to complete honesty. It especially pained me to have to worry about [my son, still an only child at age 10] innocently disclosing something to you. It wasn’t just my own discomfort that was the problem, either. [My husband] was never very comfortable with the fact that you guys didn’t know, and worried about what to say if ever you called while I was away for the weekend. Then, after [my husband's mother] knew the whole story, she had to feel uncomfortable about keeping something from you, too. To make matters worse, it’s not just other people in the family who’ve been unwittingly drawn into this intrigue: I’ve actually had to warn my neighbors not to say anything to you. The whole ruse was getting truly ridiculous. When [my son] started saying things that made me think his relationship with you two was being compromised, because he didn’t feel he could “really talk to you” since you “wouldn’t approve of our lives,” I began to think it was high time to stop lying to you -- that my desire to spare you grief was not really an excuse for my own cowardice.

Several months ago, I was editing a manuscript for a therapist, and came across some mental exercise in which readers were admonished to reflect upon what they’d do if they knew that they had only one more week to live (or something along those lines). I realized that I didn’t want to die without my own parents knowing who I really am. You may think that it’s selfish to want to be remembered accurately after my death; you may not even sympathize with that desire at all. But I place great value on authenticity and truth, in all its splendor and all its ugliness.... Anyway, I realized that if I would want to tell you the truth before I died, I should be telling you the truth now.

As for what good could possibly come from having told you something you didn’t want to hear, only time will tell, I guess. Both of you have lamented that there is more distance between us now, as though my having revealed the truth has actually widened the rift. As I said to Mom, I have known just how wide the rift is for a long time now. It was only an eventuality for you; it was an actuality for me. All I’ve done is cleared the fog away, shown you what was at your feet all along. I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe that ignorance is bliss. Fake bliss doesn’t count. Bliss that can be shattered by the truth doesn’t count. So, here we are: this is reality. It may look bleak to you, but I see a lot of hope here. Any gain we make now, any advance in our understanding and acceptance of each other, will be a real gain. We have a solid foundation now for re-building our relationship, if we choose to do so. And I know that I want to have a meaningful relationship with both of you, and am committed to working to make that happen. I love and care about you both. Sometimes I wish I could make you happy, but that’s something you will have to do for yourselves.

The way I see it, Reluctant, there is no way you can keep your romantic life completely private, because your romantic life has become such a big part of your everyday life, and your everyday life is entwined with the everyday lives of so many others. You are a mother: you do not have the luxury of complete privacy. It's one thing to teach children social discretion – “Sweetie, there is no need to tell the UPS delivery person that the reason I can't come to the door is because I'm on the toilet!” – and it's another thing entirely to ask them to lie for you.

At its best, polyamory is about creating relationships grounded in honesty and mutual respect. It's also about showing up as your authentic self and doing the work, even when it makes you feel uncomfortable. It's about maintaining healthy personal boundaries while granting others their autonomy. And it's about courageously cultivating love. I believe that whenever we apply these principles in our interactions with other human beings – our parents included! – we are making the right choice.

Snowflakes and milkshakes,

Monday, December 16, 2013

How Do I Ask a Question without Giving You My Email Address? (A Point of Process)

Dear Viny,

Is there a way to pose a completely anonymous question? I have been reading your posts and like the insight you are sharing. I would like to pose a question and not share my email address. I guess me doing this is to see if it is a requirement to have a valid email when submitting.

I tried sending my question and it said I needed a valid email. Would you work on lifting this restriction for those of us that are not completely comfortable yet? Thanks.



Dear Anonymous,

Yes! There is a way to pose a completely anonymous question! I know, because YOU posed THIS question, and I don't have a coroner's clue who you are. 

The new "Blogger Contact Form" widget I'm using requires that you enter an email if you want to submit a question, and there doesn't seem to be an easy way to alter the html. However, you can apparently type in a fake email address, as long as it takes the form of a valid email address -- because I seriously doubt that the email address YOU used to send THIS question is your real one. Who knew?

The downside of using a fake email when sending me a question is that there is no way for me to contact you privately. If I want to respond to your question, I have to post it to the world.

So, for anyone else out there who desires complete anonymity: just make up an email address, and then go ahead and ask your question.

A few suggestions: 

However, since I may choose not to post your question on the blog, you may not hear back from me. If you're good with that, I'm good with that. Here's to hearing from you, whoever you are!

Twinkles and Sparkles,

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Love Is Not a Game

Dear Viny,

My significant other, Connor, and I are in an open relationship. Connor has an ex-girlfriend named Shanna. The two of them dated for about a year, during the same time that Connor and I were first getting together. Shanna knew Connor was also dating me, but wasn't interested in getting to know me and rejected any effort on my part to become friends with her. But about a year after she and Connor broke up, Shanna started writing me through Facebook. A couple weeks ago, she invited me to dinner. Now she is expressing interest in possibly having a sexual relationship with me. However, she's ignoring Connor, and is actually being quite rude at any effort on his part to be friendly with her. I have no idea why Shanna is interested in being with me all of a sudden, when she never expressed any interest in me during the time she and Connor were a couple. Is she just doing this as some weird power play? Is it appropriate for me to even consider her offer?

--Suspicious of Her Motives


Dear Suspicious,

When my siblings and I were kids, my father would sometimes entertain us by reading aloud from Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. I remember being impressed by Judith Martin's ability to deliver a painful put-down with just the right balance of primness and aplomb. If only I were better at channeling that Miss Manners 'tude, I could help you rehearse polite ways to tell Shanna to go fuck herself.

I confess I'm wondering why you are even considering considering Shanna's offer. Why aren't you simply thanking your plucky stellar orbs, in all their shining luminosity, that Connor is no longer involved with this woman, and that you are therefore no longer under any obligation to interact with her, even vicariously?

Clearly, you must be tempted by her sexual advances, or you wouldn't be writing me.

Maybe you're really attracted to Shanna. Maybe you feel like Shanna owes you something – an apology, for starters – and this is a roundabout way of getting your needs met. Maybe, given that Connor was involved with her in the past, you are intrigued by this opportunity because it provides a window into his experiences. Maybe you're crazy-curious: Do Shanna's stories match Connor's stories? Why did the two of them break up anyway? What did Connor tell her about you? And, above all, what is she like in bed?

Or maybe it just feels good to be desired, even if it's for the “wrong” reason.

If you want to give Shanna the benefit of the doubt – just in case she is actually a very sweet person with a small smidgin of growing up to do – you could counter her sophomoric game-playing with some straight-up communication. You might try asking her why she wasn't willing to get to know you until after she and Connor broke up, for example, or why she is currently giving Connor the cold shoulder.

However, I really think you'd be better off just steering clear of Shanna. Why? Because love is not a game. My advice is to kindly – but firmly! – decline her sexual advances.

In other words, fancy it up however you like, but tell her no.

No, thank you.

(All together, now: En Oh / spells NO / out you go / with a ho-ho-ho....)

Kumquats and Cartwheels,

Saturday, December 7, 2013

ISO Simple Terms for Complicated Relationships

Dear Viny,

I have a lexical problem. I am a happily married man who is in a relationship with a happily married woman who is not my wife. Talking about a monogamous relationship is easy; talking about a more complex situation is hard. 
Do I have a wife and a girlfriend? Do I have a first wife and a second wife? Do I have a primary partner and a secondary one (ew)? 
I refuse to say that I'm "polyamorous," both because it conjures images of key parties and orgies, and because it's linguistically absurd. Unfortunately, there is no better word for my situation. 
You're used to addressing these issues; is there any linguistic shorthand that you've found useful in talking about situations like this?

-Lacking Vocabulary


Dear Lacking,

I hear you, brother. Terminology is tough. Out here on the fringes of polite discourse, lexical lawlessness runs roughshod over the plains of smooth speech, and neologisms brawl in every corner saloon. What's a relationship pioneer to say?

According to the nice folks at the Oxford English Dictionary, polyamory is “the fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.” For the record, I have no problem with this definition.

However, words don't come with their OED tags securely attached. This is why, for you, the term “polyamory” conjures images of key parties and orgies, neither of which feels like “you” to you; whereas for me, the term conjures up images of Renaissance Faires and riding crops, neither of which feels like “me” to me. I've been OED-definition polyamorous for over fifteen years, and I still sometimes balk at identifying myself as poly – probably because I really don't know what other people are going to think I mean when I stitch that Scarlet “P” to my chest.

If you can't stand “polyamorous,” there's always “ethical non-monogamy” or “consensual non-monogamy.” The problem with these terms is that they are even more polysyllabic than “polyamory,” which in common parlance gets mercifully shortened to “poly” with little loss of explanatory power. Also, there is no simple way of turning them into adjectives: you might as well tell your friends you are “pretentiously non-monogamous.”

You can say you are in an open relationship, or an “alternative” relationship (less clear, but has a certain cachet). But again, there is no corresponding adjective you can use to label yourself – and everyone needs a label, right?

So, how about a new term? At Burning Man this year, I heard someone say she was a fan of “freestyle” relationships. I'm kind of hoping it will catch on. It's like “free love,” only more stylish. And since it's borrowed from swimming terminology, it implies a certain amount of healthy exercise. (Relationships require work, you know?) Best of all, you can be a “freestylist” without signaling allegiance to any particular camp – at least until there get to be enough freestylists out there to start forming a camp of their own, with its own particular set of rules, not to mention a whole lexicon aimed at distinguishing camp insiders from camp outsiders.

As for what to call your people...well, let's just say that three years ago, I wrote a post on this topic (A 'Sweetie' by Any Other Name) in another blog, in which I came to no definitive conclusions. And I'm still stumped.

I recommend adopting whatever terms appeal to you. Have some fun, and don't worry about whether you're making any sense to other people when you say stuff like, “Yeah, I'm taking the whole postmodern harem out to dinner,” or, “My honey takes tango lessons every Tuesday with one of her love buddies,” or, “Darling, did I mention that my paramour, my metamour, his pet, and their pal are all going to be joining us for cucumber sandwiches and tea this afternoon?”

Marmalade and Rémoulade,

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Mistress in a Moral Quandary

Dear Viny,

I have been involved with a married man for the past 2 years. I haven't told many of my friends about this because it's something you're not supposed to do. And, because some of them are married – and hate the idea of cheating or being cheated on – I'm just not bringing it up. I met this man online after putting out an ad for a 'friends with benefits' relationship on Craig's List. I do not know his wife and he keeps his life with her completely separate from me. I don't know – and don't want to know – what she even looks like. He and I meet downtown for lunch or at my house several times a week. A lot of early mornings on his way to work. The sex is quite amazing.

Aside from the social stigma of the relationship, I personally have no problem with seeing him like this. If I knew his wife, worked with her, even saw her somewhere, I wouldn't do it. But I have no relationship with her. I guess I'm writing you because worrying about what others think about me is the problem for me, and not the relationship itself. I want to know your opinion on extramarital affairs and whether you think they are just wrong, period. I've had feedback from friends who tell me it's dishonest and/or hurtful. I want to resolve this for myself, but obviously I'm spinning my wheels and need an objective view on it.

Please be kind,


Dear Janice,

I wish I could invite you to cozy up to my kitchen table with a mug of ginger tea and a slice of leftover Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, so that we could have this conversation in person. Sometimes, electronic communication can feel so cold.

When I give you my opinion, please picture me giving it warmly. My subjective view – there is no such thing as an objective view – is that what you are doing is wrong.

That said, you're hardly the only person out there involved in what I consider to be an unethical relationship. Fifteen years ago, I myself was in the middle of a steamy affair with a married man. (Well, half an affair, anyway: my husband knew about the relationship, but my lover's wife did not.) And in the time since then, I have heard a lot of confessions from friends and acquaintances who are fucking someone technically off-limits to them, or who are madly in love with someone they “shouldn't” be, or who have engaged in some kind of sexual behavior not sanctioned by their partner(s). Mr. and Ms. Wrong can be extremely compelling, and a lot of us are going to end up doing them.

I will further concede that good can come of bad choices. For all I know, your affair will end up resulting in more good than bad, on balance. In her book Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel argues that “an illicit liaison can be catastrophic, but it can also be a liberation, a source of strength, a healing.” She also points out that different cultures have different ideas about how to perform ethical calculations. In American culture, cheating is bad, and lying about it adds insult to injury; in other cultures, cheating is considered more acceptable, and “a protective opacity....not only maintains marital harmony but also is a mark of respect.”

It's possible that your lover's wife will never find out about you, and that what she doesn't know will never hurt her. Or maybe she sort of senses what's going on, but prefers a “don't ask, don't tell” arrangement, and has subtly managed to convey this to her husband, whose discretion is actually in line with her wishes. Or maybe she has the female equivalent of a cuckold fetish, and her husband regularly thrills her to orgasm by recounting the lurid details of his latest dalliance with you. Maybe you only think you're a big secret. I don't know, and it sounds like you don't know, either.

You don't want to know.

And for me, that's the sticking point in your story. I can try to wrap my head around the idea that not everyone values honesty and transparency to the degree I do. However, you have made it pretty clear that your relationship depends on maintaining a level of ignorance that has the potential to cause real harm, regardless of the cultural backgrounds or personal predilections of the people involved.

You admit that if you knew your lover's wife – or even saw her somewhere! – you wouldn't be doing what you're doing. Your relationship is thus contingent on treating a fellow human being as an abstraction, not a person. It's not just about keeping your world separate from hers: you actually need her not to matter. But she is a real person, and she does matter.

We're all wired to behave as though the humans we know matter more than humans we don't know. That's fine, because it has to be fine: at present, we aren't capable of re-wiring ourselves. However, when we actively cultivate thoughtlessness – when we refuse to set foot in the sweat shop, because we want to keep buying the shoes – we know we are behaving unethically, by our own subjective standards.

I want to leave you with a story. It's the summer of 2000, and my married lover and his wife are on the verge of divorce. For months, they've been in couples counseling, but it isn't working. At home, safe in my own bed, sleeping beside my sweet, supportive, totally-in-the-know husband, I'm having recurring nightmares. In these dreams, I am always in her house, and she knows. So I'm hiding in the blueblack dark of the upstairs TV room, hoping she won't find me. I hear her come in the front door, talking angrily. Then she climbs the stairs. Then she walks down the hallway. When she enters the room, I can't hide any longer, and I know I have to save myself: it's kill or be killed. So I step out onto the balcony. She follows me. Then I scoop her into my arms and toss her over the railing. Night after night, when she hits the ground, she fails to die.

You didn't ask for my advice, Janice, but I'm going to give you some anyway: make love, not war. You can put a hippie headband on the old cliché and disregard it if you like, but I think it's imminently applicable to your situation.

Hearts & stars,

Sunday, November 24, 2013

For the New Poly Couple: Establishing Boundaries

Dear Viny,

I recently started dating a former boyfriend again. We dated in high school and then broke up in college, but kept in touch for a few years while we were living in different cities. Now we live in the same city, and when we first met up he told me that he only wanted an open relationship, and that this was something he'd been considering for a year or so. I had never considered it, but I decided to take an interest and see if this was something I would enjoy because we have a history and are able to communicate.

When we started, a couple of months ago, he didn't have very strict boundaries and he has slept with significantly more people than I have. He also recently found someone else he'd like to date and I realized I was having trouble overcoming jealousy so I asked if we could come to some agreement as to boundaries. I asked him if he would be alright keeping this new metamour as the only other person he has sexual contact with and he said he would do that.

Last night a female friend of his came into town who he has a sexual history with. He told me that at the end of the night they kissed, and I was very upset. He said he didn't realize kissing wasn't allowed. I felt as if it was a big betrayal because I thought we had a clear agreement. We got into an argument and he's "emotionally drained" and suggested spending some time apart. I went home and decided that what I needed was important and he needed to do at least one of the things we agreed upon if he wants this to continue. I feel like he didn't respect what I needed and I'm concerned that this won't work if talking is draining for him. I shouldn't feel bad for communicating what I want.

Do you have any advice? I'm currently reading "The Ethical Slut" and trying to get input from more experienced polys because I want to enjoy this type of relationship as much as everyone says I can!



Dear M,

It sounds like you and your boyfriend could both use a break – not from each other, necessarily, but from aspects of your relationship that are becoming problematic. You seem genuinely interested in exploring polyamory, but you need a break from your boyfriend's parade of new sexual partners. And your boyfriend seems genuinely interested in connecting with you, but he needs a break from conversations that focus primarily on your hurt feelings.

Of course you have a right to your emotions, and it is important for you to be able to communicate how you feel. However, your boyfriend has the right to set a boundary if he starts to feel overwhelmed by the amount of emotional processing you want to do right now. Try to respect his request for some time apart as a legitimate attempt to take care of your relationship, rather than worrying that he doesn't care about you enough to engage.

For his part, your boyfriend has a right to his own body, and it is important for him to be able to express himself sexually with consenting partners of his choosing. However, you have the right to set a boundary if you start to feel concerned that his choices are taking a toll on your physical or mental health. In my opinion, he needs to honor your request that he slow down and stop introducing new sexual partners into the mix, at least until you have time to sort out your feelings and come to clearer agreements.

My advice is for the two of you to pack your metaphorical knapsacks and retreat into the wilderness of your separate souls for, say, three or four days. Go ahead and text each other “good morning” and “good night” if you can't bear to be completely out of contact, but give each other some serious space. With the gift of space comes the gift of time: time in which you are not hashing and re-hashing who did what to whom; not stewing about the most recent insensitive or controlling or hypocritical thing the other person did or said; not crying into your cocktails while you argue and fret and try to problem-solve; and yes, unfortunately, not having passionate make-up sex – at least not yet.

I suggest you use all this freed-up time to think about what you want out of your relationship together. He can think about what he wants with you, and you can think about what you want with him. You've each had a few months to explore what it's like having an open relationship, so now is also a good time to think about what you hope to get out of this type of arrangement in the future. What gifts and challenges have you encountered so far? Where do you hope to be in six months from now? How about a year? Five years? I recommend actually writing these things down, so that you aren't tempted to change your story when the time comes to reconvene and compare notes. It takes real courage to share who you really are and what you really want, so agree beforehand that you will receive each other's revelations in a spirit of compassion, without judging them. Also, be prepared for discrepancies: the two of you probably don't want exactly the same thing, and that's okay. The goal of this exercise is simply for each of you to develop a clearer picture of what you want, so that you can better identify the areas of overlap.

Once you understand how your separate pictures match up, you can focus on the goals you have in common. Relationships always function better when you are working as a team to achieve something you both want. Of course, there is the scary possibility that you will find out there isn't much overlap in your separate visions of the future. But if that's the case, wouldn't it be better to find that out sooner rather than later?

Finally, I want to leave you with a few thoughts on the difference between boundaries and rules.

A boundary is something you set for yourself. A rule is something you agree to follow for someone else's sake.

When you are in a relationship, it is important to understand each other's boundaries so that you can try to honor them whenever possible – but you have to realize that the only boundaries you can actually control are your own. When there is a mismatch – that is, when your partner's boundaries lie outside your own comfort zone, or vice versa – you might want to agree on some rules that will enable both of you to feel more comfortable. But beware: every rule invites interpretation and every interpretation invites misinterpretation and every misinterpretation invites conflict.

That sounds ominous, doesn't it? Let me explain: whenever you make a rule, you are in effect drawing a line in the sand. Then life happens, in all its complexity: a breeze picks up, the tide comes in, and pretty soon, all that's left of that line is your memory vs. your partner's, adorned with broken seashells and rotting bits of kelp. You thought “no sexual contact between you and anyone but me and one other person” meant one thing; he thought it meant another. Voilà: you feel betrayed – and he probably feels betrayed, too!

So, don't make rules lightly. In particular, be very careful about making rules that change other people's already-existing relationships. In this specific instance, your partner's friend, the visitor with whom he has a sexual history, was affected by a rule you and your partner agreed upon – but that she had no say in. That's a set-up for a conflict of interests. Your boyfriend was in an awkward position: on one side, the Scylla of his friend's expectation of affection; and on the other, the Charybdis of your prohibition against it. Kissing his friend at the end of the evening probably seemed like the safest route to take!

That's my two cents. Don't spend it all in once place. ;-)

Heliotropes and Isotopes,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Wife Wants to Open Our Marriage -- Help!

Dear Viny,

My wife and I have been happily married for more than a decade, but recently she approached me wanting to discuss the possibility of turning our monogamous marriage into an open marriage. I've struggled through almost every emotion imaginable: hurt, anger, heartbreak, betrayal, fear, jealousy, and even a bit of excitement. I've spent a lot of time doing some serious soul searching, and while I feel that hypothetically I'm actually all right with the idea of an open marriage, things start to get messy when I begin thinking of specifics. The thought of my wife doing specific things with a specific person makes me very uncomfortable. As I've tried to figure out what feelings are at the root of this discomfort, I've come back time and again to the feelings of jealousy or envy. I've leaned more towards using the word envy because it feels less negative to me. It's not that I want to stop my wife from experiencing these things, I just keep wishing that I could be the person she was experiencing them with. Do you have any advice about how I can approach dealing with these strong feelings of envy?

An Envious Husband


Dear Envious,

Almost twenty years ago, back in the days when we still had a land-line phone with an actual cord, my husband got a call from a mystery woman. She said she'd seen him around and had looked up his number because she thought he was cute. Then she asked if he was married. He said he was. “But are you happily married?” she pressed. He said he was. They talked for a few minutes longer, and then the conversation ended.

A couple of days later, my husband was still thinking about that phone call. We were sitting on the lawn underneath the old walnut tree in our back yard, and he was speculating about his mystery caller's identity. He thought she might be the new undergraduate assistant in the genetics lab where he worked. I asked if she was pretty. He said she was. Then he said, “I wonder sometimes what it would be like to touch someone else the way I touch you.” He paused. “Like this,” he added, tenderly tucking a strand of hair behind my right ear. 
Something in the pit of my stomach plummeted.

A moment earlier, I had been strolling down the sunny sidewalk of my pedestrian life, and now, suddenly, I felt like I was teetering on the brink of a dark chasm.

I quickly regained my composure, but I can still remember that feeling of emotional vertigo. It was caused by imagining my husband making an intimate gesture – a very specific gesture, one I could picture only too clearly – toward a specific woman, one who wasn't me.

My visceral reaction surprised me. After all, my husband and I had agreed to an open marriage before we tied the knot. Or, at any rate, we had agreed that infidelity wasn't going to be a deal-breaker, so long as we were honest about it. This seemed rational, given that we were only nineteen when we married each other. I mean, what were the chances neither of us was ever going to want to experience sexual intimacy with someone else?

However, it's one thing to have a theoretically open marriage, and quite another to actually open it. Theory is tidy, and keeps certain inconvenient details at a distance. Reality is messy, in-your-face, and fraught with emotional peril.

Although nothing ever came of that mystery phone call, my husband and I did end up actually opening our marriage a couple of years later. The first time I fell in love with someone else, my husband went through the kind of turmoil you describe in your letter. Then, when my husband fell in love with someone else, it was my turn to experience jealousy – which, I quickly realized, is a confusing melange of anxiety, anger, and grief, alternately heated by arousal and chilled by exhaustion, topped with a big dollop of self-loathing.

In a word: YUCK.

You are not alone, Envious. A lot of other people have gone through the yuck-fest you are going through right now. Having experienced it myself, I can promise you this: if you want to get over your negative feelings, and you are willing to work hard and wait patiently, you will get over them.

Here's the crucial question you need to answer for yourself: Do you, in fact, want to get over your strong feelings of envy? Do you want to get over them badly enough to go all the way into them? Because I can also promise you this: it's going to get worse before it gets better.

I'm sure you realize that your envy may very well be the only thing stopping your wife from engaging in those scary specifics. If feeling terrible is the only form of control you have left, in a situation that seems like it could so easily spin out of control, what incentive do you have to feel better?

I can't answer this question for you. Your wife can't answer this question for you. No one can answer this question but YOU.

I'm not going to lie to you: if you choose this path, you'll be headed straight into the fire swamp. That's why it's really, really important for you to do the choosing. If you can take responsibility for your choice, then you can take responsibility for your feelings – and that, right there, is the shortest route out of the swamp. On the other hand, if you approach this passively, allowing yourself to be dragged along but never actively choosing your way, you're going to be tempted to blame your wife for every bad feeling you experience – and the two of you will probably walk in circles, getting more and more bogged down with every step.

Since you could probably use a bit of encouragement right about now, let me tell you what's on the other side of the swamp: freedom from fear.

It's a place worth getting to. Absolutely.

Although I can't tell you which path to choose, here's some advice you can take along, wherever you decide to go:

Get Centered. Get Educated. Get Connected.

Getting centered means taking charge of your own emotions. Yes, emotions often arise in response to external stimuli. The truth is, we often have very little control over the way we feel. Someone says something that “pushes a button,” or a sad song comes on the radio, or the sound of rain on the roof calls up a memory from childhood. We can, however, choose how we experience our emotions. So, when you are feeling bad, just allow yourself to feel bad. Don't judge the feeling. Let it be – and then, when you're ready, let it go.

Getting educated means approaching each experience as an opportunity to grow. Learn everything you can – about yourself, your wife, your relationship, and relationships in general. Who are you, and who do you want to be? Who is she, and who does she want to be? What kind of relationship do you have, and what kind of relationship do you want to build together? How have other people answered these kinds of questions?

Getting connected means putting the pieces together, whether the “pieces” are ideas or things or people. Right now, the pieces are in disarray, and your life feels chaotic. However, sometimes a major shake-up can be a good thing: it gives you a chance to re-evaluate and re-arrange. Take stock of what you have, and be grateful you have so much to work with.

Bouquets and Sobriquets,

P.S. If you do end up deciding you want to see what's on the other side of jealousy badly enough to go slogging all the way through, you can find some practical tips for navigating the swamp here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Love Triangle with a Lukewarm Twist

Dear Viny,

I'm developing feelings for a guy (let's call him "Evan") who says he's into both myself and my partner. My partner seems more ambivalent about Evan, which is frustrating me. My partner and I have been doing "V" relationships in a couple of different directions for a while now and I'd really like to try a triad for once. Evan is super-cute, really into both of us, and a great kisser. While my partner hasn't rejected him outright, he pushed for a 3-way with a new guy over a date with Evan last weekend. Even if my partner continues to be ambivalent, I still plan to see Evan and see where it leads. I know that if my partner and Evan are going to make a connection it's got to happen organically, but do you have any suggestions to (a) help them connect and/or (b) help make sure Evan doesn't get hurt by my partner not returning his feelings?

--Angling for a Triad


Dear Angling,

Have you asked your partner why he feels ambivalent about Evan? It could be that your partner simply doesn't feel an attraction to the guy; or the issue could be more complicated than that. How does your partner feel about triads? Does he share your desire to share a lover, or would he prefer to keep your threesomes casual? If your partner's ambivalence stems from underlying feelings of jealousy, he's going to have a tough time feeling enthusiastic about any guy you're really into.

Don't proceed on assumptions. Give your partner the chance to express himself directly, and reassure him that you will do your best to listen with an open mind. Once you are reasonably sure you understand where your partner is coming from, you will have a better idea of what, if anything, you can do to facilitate a connection between him and Evan.

If your partner is attracted to Evan, but doesn't want to have to watch you getting all lovey-dovey with him, then you might consider encouraging your partner and Evan to go out without you a few times. Meanwhile, you and your partner can talk more about what it would mean to expand your dyad into a triad. If it turns out that he just isn't ready to take that step, you will need to accept how he feels and stop trying for triangles.

However, if the real problem is that Evan leaves your partner limp, you definitely shouldn't push for a sexual connection between the two of them. You think Evan is super-cute, but the smile that sends you into the stratosphere might remind your partner of some douchebag in his freshman gym class. Romantic chemistry is often a mystery. Assuming your partner finds Evan basically likeable, you could arrange for the three of you to spend time together at venues where there's very little opportunity for a hook-up. (This is the best way to spare Evan's feelings, by the way: avoiding situations in which your partner feels pressured to reciprocate.) It's possible that, over time, your partner may warm up to Evan, but he's probably never going to get hot for him.

Triads are tough to get just right. What are the chances you and your partner are going to find the same person equally appealing? I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but your partner may be actually unlikely to like the guys you pick, and you might not be any more likely to like guys he picks. The two of you share a lot in common – and that's precisely why you are both going to be drawn to people who have something different to offer, something the two of you aren't already getting from each other. Let's say you and your partner bonded over a mutual love of anime and ice-skating. Enter Evan, whom you like because he's into, say, astronomy and home décor – but your partner is bored to tears by conversations about whether or not you should order those “Moons of Saturn” throw pillows. If your partner had his 'druthers, he would prefer to date someone who's all about health food – but, unfortunately, the mere mention of a chia-flaxseed-spinach-spirulina shake makes you ill.

I'm not saying triads are impossible, mind you. I know one MF couple that became a MFF triad after the woman fell in love with one of her female friends. It took a little while for the man to bond with his partner's new lover, but he did end up developing feelings for her, and the three of them have been living together happily for several years now.

I understand your desire to close that “V.” For me, one of the deepest delights of being in open relationships is being able to share someone I love with someone else I love. Even when jealousy comes up – and, if there's sexual chemistry involved, it always does – it doesn't stand a chance against the “all's right with the world!” euphoria I get when everyone is getting along. There's a flip side to that coin, though. I tend to feel disappointed when two people I love fail to make any sort of friendly connection – or, even worse, actually disapprove of each other. In these cases, I sometimes have to remind myself that their lack of enthusiasm is not some kind of personal affront to me.

You're wise to realize that a connection between your partner and Evan will have to develop organically, if it's going to develop at all. It's one thing to foster friendships between other people by creating opportunities for them to interact; it's another thing entirely to insist that their feelings follow your agenda.

Bangles and spangles,

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lament from the Sidelines: Do Poly Men Get Less Play?

Dear Viny,

I'm a heterosexual guy in an open marriage, but over the years I've had few occasions to take much advantage of my freedom. It's not that I don't want to; it's more that I just don't know how. You see, women don't really flirt with me or think of me as potentially anything but a friend. I often think that if only I were a woman, I would have a very clear idea of what sorts of clothing, body language, etc. would communicate sexiness and availability, but for a man I can't seem to see any equivalent. It seems the situation is a lot worse for poly guys, because to single women we're that creepy married guy, and to partnered women most of us are unnecessary, because poly women can take their pick of hundreds of willing single men, PLUS all the studliest poly men, who are also available to them. Do you think, Viny, that in the Brave New Poly Paradigm, there's any hope for all of us invisible surplus males?

– W.E.


Dear W.E.,

Yes, I think there's hope for anyone – male or female, cis or trans – who is willing to set aside a narrative that's functioning primarily as an excuse.

It sounds like the story you're telling yourself is some version of, “There's nothing I can do.” Well, maybe it's time to get off your duff, sugar puff. You say women don't flirt with you – but do you flirt with them? You say you don't see any way for a man to communicate sexiness and availability – but have you even tried?

Here's an idea: why don't you find a few poly studs, and ask them how they do it. Who knows, they might even introduce you to some of their female friends and lovers. See, this is one of the niftiest features of the poly playing field: it's big enough to accommodate more than one winning team. True, the ground still isn't level. It may never be completely level. But male-male competition just got a lot less ruthless.

(I know, I know. Let's say you actually got around to interviewing some other guys for pointers. Your take-away would probably be, “Ten reasons why what works for them won't work for me.” Then you'd wriggle back down into the squelchy mud at the bottom of your comfortable rut and wait for Princess Persistent and her Siren Sextuplets to come and rescue you from your own passivity.)

Look, I don't mean to be insensitive here, but I just don't think you need any help feeling sorry for yourself. You're right: you would have better luck in the dating arena if you were a gorgeous 23-year-old vixen with a compassionate heart, a bubbly personality, and amazing tits. But how many of us fit that description? And also: what happens when that lucky girl becomes a 53-year-old with a double mastectomy? Will you still envy her then?

No matter who you are, if you want others to see you as a person worth dating, you first need to see yourself that way. As long as you keep thinking of yourself as surplus and invisible, that's what you will inevitably project in your interactions with others.

I bet you a pontoon of purple primroses that there are people in your life who consider you indispensable and irreplaceable. I have no doubt that if you asked these people what you might have to offer potential lovers, they could name all kinds of gifts – insights, experiences, talents – you have shared with them. If you're good enough for them, you're good enough.


Kisses & misses,

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Cheating, Twice Removed

Dear Viny,

Am I morally responsible for my significant other's bad relationship decisions? For example, I have a standard that I won't date people who are cheating on someone. But my significant other doesn't share that value--he has no moral problem dating people who are cheating on their significant others. To what extent am I responsible for his decisions? Should I support relationships that he has with these people? Should I get to know them as friends?

Juana B. Ethical


Dear Juana,

Oh, goody! An opportunity to play armchair philosopher! Hang on just a sec, while I pack my virtual Meerschaum with virtual tobacco and adjust my virtual pince-nez.

Let's suppose Person B takes $100 from Person A. Then, Person B and Person C blow the stolen cash on a sumptuous dinner. Person C didn't steal the money, but – it could be argued – s/he really shouldn't be eating all that escargot at Person A's expense. The question you are asking is essentially this: are you, as Person D, somehow culpable if you allow Person C to nosh on fancy edibles with Person B? That is, are you somehow indirectly harming Person A? I think the answer is a pretty clear No. You are not morally obligated to body-tackle Person C at the door of the restaurant.

Okay, that was fun. Thanks for indulging me. Unfortunately, cheating and stealing aren't analogous, real-life ethical dilemmas can't be solved in a pithy paragraph, and we're going to drive ourselves nuts if we have to start thinking about what it would look like if letters of the alphabet could fuck each other.

I sense, beneath your questions, palpable concern about the fact that you and your significant other do not agree about whether or not it is okay to date cheaters. You're not just wondering whether you should support his relationships with people you yourself wouldn't consider dating; you're also wondering, “What does it mean that we disagree with each other about something as seemingly fundamental as morality? And do you have any practical suggestions for how I can reduce conflicts that might arise, given our differences?”

I'm guessing that you have a problem with dating people who are cheating because: 1) you don't want to feel as though you are benefiting at someone else's expense; 2) you don't want to be complicit in a lie; and 3) you don't want to be involved with someone whose actions seem unethical to you.

I'm guessing that your significant other doesn't have a problem dating people who are cheating because: 1) he doesn't think anyone is being actually harmed; 2) he himself isn't breaking any promises, given that you and he have agreed that dating other people is fine; and 3) he doesn't feel it is his place to dictate how other people should conduct their romantic relationships.

Your position is perfectly reasonable. Your partner's position is also perfectly reasonable. Each of you has trouble accepting the other's position not because it seems unreasonable to you, but because you worry that accepting the other's position means you will have to re-shuffle your own ethical priorities. For example, your significant other seems to share your belief that people should be honest – it's just that, for him, “respecting others' autonomy is good” may outweigh “cheating is bad.” You, on the other hand, seem to agree with your partner that adults should be allowed to make their own decisions – after all, you don't like the idea of policing his dating life – but for you, perhaps, “encouraging ethical behavior is good” outweighs “controlling others' behavior is bad.”

In other words, both you and your significant other most likely share many of the same fundamental values. You just disagree about how to rank these values relative to one another. I assume you've heard the phrase, “The devil's in the details.”

You can minimize conflict between you and your partner by focusing on the values you share, and attempting to conduct yourselves in ways that honor your shared values. You can minimize conflict within yourself by avoiding situations in which you are forced to choose between two moral principles you hold dear.

I really value honesty. I also really value loyalty. Years ago, I had an experience (described in greater detail here) that showed me which of these principles I value more.

In my mid-twenties, I fell head over heels for a man who was engaged to be married to another woman. He wasn't being honest with her, but I told myself that his lies were none of my business. I figured I was being honest in my own relationships, and I was therefore in the clear, ethically speaking. Well, that approach worked just fine – until my husband and I were invited to my lover's wedding, and I had to sit there during the ceremony, feeling like a dirty little secret. It got worse, too. Eventually, my lover's lie became my lie: his wife called me up and asked me, point blank, whether I had checked into a motel with her husband on a certain night, and I made up a story to cover his ass.

Forced to choose between loyalty to my lover and honesty to his wife, I went with the loyal lie. After my lover and his wife divorced – over his infidelity, although it was never made explicit – I told him that I was determined to avoid another Sophie's Choice scenario: if he wanted to date other people, he had to tell them about me. At that point, I was willing to put our relationship on the line for what I thought was right.

Usually, when we want our significant other to toe the line, all we can really say is, “If you do X, I'll be mad at you.” It is only in extreme cases that we are willing to say, “If you do X, I'll leave you.” And when we say that, we have to mean it. Most of us don't mean it. Most of us are consistently going to put loyalty to our partner above our other moral principles – with one exception. Faced with a choice between loyalty to one's old partner and a smorgasbord of sexual delights with an exciting new partner, many of us will choose the sex. It may not be ethical, but it's human.

So, Juana B., here's my advice: choose both.

Polliwogs & periwinkles,