Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"To Date, Or Not to Date..." (Dealing with an OSO's Reluctant Spouse, Part I)

Dear Viny,

I'm interested in a woman who is married. She's interested in me, too, and would like to try dating, but not without agreement from her husband. I respect (and am grateful for) that, but now I'm hearing stories about how upset it's making him.

She's really pushing him to try to accept the paradigm of ethical non-monogamy, but it came out of nowhere for him, and I'm worried. She assures me that he's growing through the process, and that even he likes the changes he's seeing in himself. But he still isn't sure about opening their marriage, and I keep hearing things like, "We talked about you and me kissing, and he threw up twice."

I don't feel like their relationship is my business, but I'm not comfortable being a part of something so upsetting for someone else. I want explorations like this to be about love and enjoyment, not distress to the point of vomiting.

Really not sure what to do.

-Debacle Herein


Dear Debacle,

Your choices are actually pretty clear: you can close the door on this possibility, or you can keep the door cracked while you wait for something to change.

If you decide to close the door, you'll be looking at disappointment – yours, hers, and (who knows?) maybe even her husband's. You can probably also expect to come up against some hard feelings. (As a general rule, closed doors are neither particularly interesting nor particularly soft.) But you will have made a definite decision, and can continue on down the avenue. If you change your mind, you can always go back and ring this particular lady's bell – but please don't go re-visiting your decision to re-visit, or you may lose some valuable bits in a freak door-slamming accident.

Should you choose to keep the door slightly ajar, you'll be dealing with some challenging emotions – yours, hers, and definitely her husband's: impatience, anxiety, guilt, anger, jealousy, distress to the point of vomiting, etc. You will also be distracted by a veritable parade of conundrums: How involved in their marital drama do you want to be? Is partial ignorance partial bliss? To what extent are you responsible for someone else's feelings? To what extent are you responsible your own feelings? What makes you think you are a separate entity from him, or her – or anyone else, for that matter? Would hypnotherapy be an ethically defensible way to get the husband on board? But what if he consented to being hypnotized? And does sexting count as sex?

This whole being-involved-with-people thing is a mess. Why on earth do we do it?

Debacle, I hate to say it, but if you're looking for love and enjoyment that doesn't cause anyone any emotional distress, dating a married person is a completely batshit idea. So is dating a single person. So is simply being a person, dating or not.

I'm sure you are well aware that every rose has its thorn, and every night has its dawn, and cliché cowboys everywhere are gonna keep twanging their sad, sad songs even when they don't understand the basics of meter and rhyme. So let's move on. It seems to me that the real source of your confusion is that you don't know your own heart.

Simply put: you need to figure out whether you are more uncomfortable than interested, or more interested than uncomfortable.

Trying to gauge how uncomfortable you are based on your assessment of how uncomfortable you are making other people is a surefire way of getting nowhere. It's just as ridiculous as trying to gauge how interested in someone you are based on your assessment of how interested s/he is in you. We all do this, of course. It's another of our stupid human tricks: circle around the rim of the cauldron until you get so exhausted that you fall in, or you fall out.

I believe that all ethical action is predicated on a commitment to self-awareness. Inner clarity is what allows us to experience true empathy. So, as soon as you notice yourself aimlessly circling an issue, stop. Ask yourself, “Am I being honest with myself about my desires and fears, my abilities and limitations? How open am I to experience? How open am I to others? What do I – real-I – want?”

I have a hunch that you already know the answer. Quiet your mind, and you will feel it in your body.

Umbrellas & Ululations,

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