Monogamy = Monotony?—Why Couples Go Rogue

Can an open relationship be the key to happiness in your relationship? Challenging societal norms on monogamy may unlock hidden desires or reveal a level a honesty you’ve never experienced with a partner.

For many of us, the urge to couple up is a strong one. It might even be programmed into our DNA. But does love mean never dating or having sex with other people?

Several years ago, I decided to challenge the idea that the only way to a loving, committed relationship was to be monogamous. My then-boyfriend and I decided to try an open relationship. We were committed to each other, referred to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend, and were both allowed to date and be physically intimate with other people. We eventually broke up (for various reasons, most of which weren’t related to our openness), but since then I’ve remained interested in rethinking relationships—and it turns out I’m not alone.

Nonmonoga-me—Current Trends

Estimates suggest there are more than half a million openly polyamorous families in the U.S., and in 2010, an estimated eight million couples were practicing some form of nonmonogamy. Even among married couples, open relationships can be successful; some studies suggest they’re common in gay marriages.

For today’s 20- and 30-somethings, these trends are meaningful. More than 40 percent of millenials think marriage is “becoming obsolete” (compared to 43 percent of Gen Xers, 35 percent of baby boomers, and 32 percent of people aged 65-plus). And almost half of millenials say they view changes in family structures positively, compared to only a quarter of elderly respondents. In other words, monogamy—though a perfectly viable choice—doesn’t work for everyone.

It certainly wasn’t working for me. Blame it on a couple unhealthy relationships in my youth: For whatever reason, in my mind “monogamy” had come to be associated with possessiveness, jealousy, and claustrophobia—not quite what one desires from everlasting love. I wanted to care about someone without feeling owned by them, and I wanted that someone to feel the same way. Add to that the fact that I’d been single for a while (after having been in a monogamous relationship for even longer) and—I’m woman enough to admit it—wasn’t ready to give up the freedom to flirt with strangers. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what I wanted, exactly, but I knew I didn’t want to feel suffocated by a partner. So when I started dating…let’s call him ‘Bryce,’ I geared myself up for hurt feelings, got over my own awkwardness, and broached it: Have you ever thought about having an open relationship?

Open relationships tend to fall into two general categories, says Greatist Expert and sex counselor Ian Kerner: Couples might negotiate a nonmonogamous arrangement like the one I had with Bryce, in which each individual has the freedom to date and/or have sex with people outside the relationship. Or couples will choose to swing, adventuring outside their monogamous relationship as a unit (having sex with other people together, as in a three-or-more-some). But these categories are pretty fluid, and they shift depending on a given couple’s needs and boundaries.

Monogamy = Monotony?—Why Couples Go Rogue

The tricky thing about relationships is they’re all different, so there’s no “one reason” why people decide to explore alternative relationship models. Still, there are a wide range of theories about why monogamy hasn’t proved universally satisfying. Some experts say it has roots in genetics: About 80 percent of primates are polygamous, and similar estimates apply to human hunter-gatherer societies. (Still, it’s not useful to get caught up in the “is it natural” argument, says Kerner: Variation is what’s natural, more so than monogamy or nonmonogamy.)

Other research suggests different people have different needs for a satisfying relationship. In The Monogamy Gap, Eric Anderson suggests open relationships allow partners to meet their respective needs without demanding more than one partner can give. There’s also a cultural component: Fidelity stats vary widely among cultures, and evidence suggests countries with more permissive attitudes toward sex also have longer-lasting marriages. In Nordic countries, many married couples openly discuss “parallel relationships”—ranging from drawn-out affairs to holiday flings—with their partners, yet marriage remains a respected institution. Then again, sex advice columnist Dan Savage says nonmonogamy might just come down to plain old boredom.

In short, there are as many reasons to be nonmonogamous as there are nonmonogamous people—and therein lies a bit of a problem. Even if a couple agrees to be nonmonogamous, their reasons for doing so might be in conflict. In my case, I wanted to be in a nonmonogamous relationship because I wanted to challenge social assumptions about love; Bryce wanted to be in a nonmonogamous relationship because I wanted to be in one, and he wanted to be with me. Perhaps not surprisingly, this stirred up conflict between us when I actually started seeing other people. While I was fine when Bryce made out with a mutual friend, he couldn’t stomach the thought of me doing the same. This eventually led to resentment on both sides and jealousy on his—and suddenly I found myself back in a claustrophobic relationship, arguing about who belonged to whom.

Should You Put a Ring on It? — New Directions

Not surprisingly, the green-eyed monster is a common challenge for nonmonogamous partners across the board, regardless of gender or sexuality. The best way to deal? Honesty. In numerous studies, open communication is the prime driver of relationship satisfaction (this is true in any relationship), and the best coping mechanism for jealousy. For couples venturing into opendom, it’s important for partners to communicate their needs and work out an agreement in advance of any rendezvous.

In retrospect, I should have been more honest with myself, and acknowledged that (regardless of what he said) Bryce didn’t really want to be nonmonogamous; it would have spared us both some heartache. It’s easy to be attracted to nonmonogamy’s sexier side, but it actually requires incredibly high levels of trust, communication, openness, and intimacy with your primary partner—meaning that just like monogamy, open relationships can be pretty stressful, and they’re certainly not for everyone. In other words, nonmonogamy is by no means a ticket out of relationship problems, and it might actually be a source of them. It can also be thrilling, rewarding, and enlightening.

No matter what, say experts, whether a couple decides to be open or monogamous should be a matter of choice. “When there is no stigma to having an open sexual relationship,”writes Anderson, “men and women will begin to be more honest about what they want…and how they desire to achieve it.”

As for me, these days I’m a one-man kinda gal—which I learned by being open.

Curated by Erbe
Original Article


Is Monogamy Over?

What will happen to the unfaithful people of the world?

Social scientists have long known that the majority of men and women choose partners based on the idea that both they and their partner will be monogamous, so monogamy—and monogamists—will be fine. I worry for those people who say they’re monogamous but (through no fault of their own) “can’t help themselves” to helping themselves to sex outside of monogamy’s general parameters.

Cheating may be just as natural as monogamy (after all, both sexes been doing that forever as well), but thanks to our innate preference for monogamy, few of us consciously choose to be with a cheater.

Consider what usually happens when a monogamist is confronted with the fact that their partner is a cheater. Do they squeal with joy and ask to see the used condom? Not often. Instead, the monogamist becomes angry, insulted, and hurt. Their immediate instinct is to detach themselves from the fraudulent monogamist—usually via divorce—while warning the other monogamists that there’s a cheater in their midst—usually via the internet.

Which could mean that in the very near future, for every cheat-ing site there could be a cheat-er site, containing the profiles of all known cheaters. And that’s when I really will be worried for cheaters. After all, the word “cheater” is not on most people’s top ten lists of what they look for in a partner. If we actually had a choice, how many people will choose cheaters? Who will want to partner with them?

Perhaps the cheaters could self-identify before they entered into known monogamist territory. After all, when it comes to cheaters, many monogamists claim that it’s not so much the sex that bothers them, but the lying. That’s what makes the monogamists really angry. They didn’t get to choose.

And so, in the interest of cheaters everywhere, let’s test this theory.

Cheater to monogamist: “Darling, you’re beautiful, intelligent and accomplished. I love you and want to marry you. But one of the things you need to know about me is that I get off on complicated sex moves administered by a sex worker to whom I pay two hundred dollars an hour. I will need to see her once or twice a week. Just like you see your trainer?”

Hmm. Maybe this is not a good example. Why? Because the monogamist probably doesn’t have time to see a trainer.

And that’s another strike against cheaters. Monogamists believe that if you have time to cheat, you have too much time on your hands.

No, monogamy is not obsolete. But you can see why I’m worried about cheaters. In the very near future, they may be obsolete. And that would be a shame. Because cheaters are so darn hilarious.

Curated by Erbe
Original Article

“Ethical Cheating”: What Is It?

There is a growing movement of people who are able to be honest with their mate that the traditional model isn’t working.

When the news broke recently that hackers had breached Ashley Madison, the dating website that helps married people find out-of-wedlock romance, the Internet responded with a lot of snark and not much sympathy.

We read Twitter so you don’t have to, and the take-away is this: If you cheat and get caught, you are getting what you deserve; and, if you cheat and get caught because you entered your personal information into a cheaters’ dating website whose marketing tagline is “Life is short. Have an affair,” you really are getting what you deserve.

But married daters looking for someone to defend their honor have at last found a spokesman: Brandon Wade, 45, the founder of the new website, which caters to individuals and couples looking for others with whom to engage in what Mr. Wade calls “ethical cheating.” This involves telling a spouse that you are going to be unfaithful, or including the spouse in new, outside-the-marriage relationships, he said. started in May and, Mr. Wade said, now has 150,000 users, with more than half of the members identifying as couples who are in open relationships. The site’s members are more likely to be men than women, 68 percent of members have earned a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent are 18 to 35.

To get started on a journey toward polyamorous partnering, users fill out a form with questions that reflect, it must be said, a certain open-mindedness. The “Orientation” section asks users to define themselves by “romantic orientation” (“biromantic” and “sapiomantic” are among the options) and other attributes, while the “Life Choices” section dives into issues like tolerance to marijuana-smoking (“420 friendly nonconsumer,” “recreational heavy consumer”).

Under the “Looking to Meet” heading, users designate the type of relationship they are seeking (“monogamish,” “poly dating,” “swinging”) and the identity of those they would like to meet (there are dozens of different options, including “pangender,” “two-spirit,” “woman” and “intersex”).

Also provided are primers to help newbies, including an essay entitled, “How to Cheat on Your Wife.” It advises that men disclose their intent to their wives before they begin to date.

Mr. Wade said he was raised in Singapore with what he deemed a “Tiger Mom type of upbringing.” He studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then, he said, earned an M.B.A. at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. in 1995. He worked at Booz Allen and General Electric, he added. But corporate life wasn’t a good match for him.

He decided to take an entrepreneurial route. In 2006, he introduced, which is, according to promotional material, “the leading sugar daddy dating website.” In 2011, he unveiled, a site on which users can auction off dates.

“Most of my dating websites have been created out of personal need,” he said. “OpenMinded is my next evolution in my relationships.”

Before marrying his current wife, he said, she and he discussed his progressive views about monogamy. “I told my wife, ‘If this relationship doesn’t work out, I’m never going to get married again,’ ” he said.

Curated by Erbe
Original Article

What is New Monogamy? And is it for you?

Affairs outside of marriage are nothing new, but this take on monogamy is.

If there’s anything fundamental to the meaning of marriage in Western society, it’s monogamy. In fact, monogamy may be the only thing that remains essential to most people’s idea of marriage. People no longer marry for economic, dynastic, or procreative reasons as they did for millennia; they can’t be compelled to marry by law, religion, or custom; they don’t need to marry to have sex or cohabit or even produce and raise children. But throughout all of this staggering change, the requirement and expectation of monogamy as the emotional glue that keeps the whole structure of marriage from collapsing under its own weight has remained constant.

Given the almost universal public denunciation and disapproval of infidelity (which doesn’t exclude the barely hidden schadenfreude at the deliciously scandalous goings-on of celebrities, famous preachers, major political figures, sports heroes, or even your office coworker caught in flagrante), you’d think that infidelity must be quite rare. At least nice people don’t do it–we wouldn’t do it.

Except that we would and we do–much more than most people seem to realize. As a culture committed, in theory, to monogamy, our actions tell a different story. It isn’t just that, as therapists, we need to understand that infidelity happens–we all know that already. What some of us may not realize is how often it happens. Research varies, but according to some surveys, such as those reported by Joan Atwood and Limor Schwartz in the 2002 Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 55 percent of married women and 65 percent of married men report being unfaithful at some point in their marriage. Up to one-half of married women have at least one lover after they are married before the age of 40.

If these surveys are correct, the high incidence of infidelity isn’t because we live in a particularly licentious, amoral age–the public jeremiads of religious scolds notwithstanding. According to noted anthropologist and researcher Helen Fisher, extramarital affairs have always happened at this high rate, but only now are we getting a more accurate, statistically informed, picture of what’s going on. Fisher also reports that what you might call this “state of affairs” holds true across at least five other cultures worldwide that she’s studied.

Within our profession, virtually all couples therapists, whatever their model–psychodynamic, systems, behavioral, insight-oriented, solution-focused–have believed since the field’s earliest days that no troubled marriage can recover as long as there’s a “third party” hovering in the wings. Ongoing infidelity, however defined–sexual, emotional, physical, “cyber”–is, for most therapists, an automatic deal-breaker to meaningful therapy, not to mention clinical improvement in the marriage.

One major impediment to the view that an affair indicates that something is profoundly wrong in the marriage, however, is that 35 to 55 percent of people having affairs report they were happy in their marriage at the time of their infidelity. They also report good sex and rewarding family lives. So how can we continue viewing affairs as symptoms of dysfunctional marriages when apparently so many of them seem to happen to otherwise “normal,” even happy couples? The one-size-fits-all view of infidelity never questions the standard model of monogamy, much less helps a couple explore anew model of monogamy that might work better for them and their own particular marriage. Furthermore, a therapist who takes sides, implicitly vilifying one partner as “bad,” endorsing the other as “good,” is much more likely to lose the couple early on, since infidelity is rarely a black-and-white issue.

What’s so great about monogamy?

A bigger obstacle to our ability to help couples in the wake of an affair is that, too often, we couples therapists–the keepers of the flame of marriage, so to speak–assume we actually understand what monogamy means in a given relationship. For many decades, the old idea–an exclusive sexual and romantic connection with one person throughout the life of the marriage–has comprised our default definition of it, even though we often fudge a bit about the acceptability of outside opposite-gender friendships, work flirtations, and porn use (as long as it doesn’t cross some undefined line into “addiction”), and condone a certain amount of open grazing in fantasy life.

But if the stories we hear from couples coming into our offices these days are any indication, we’re in for a sea change. Whether we like it or not, many couples are far less encumbered with the legal, moral, and social strictures and expectations around marriage that held sway for our parents or even for us, if we were married 20 to 30 or more years ago. With divorce rates hovering at 50 percent, couples today are extremely aware of the impermanence of marriage in our culture and the many centrifugal forces in society pulling it apart. Once past the first, dewy, romantic days as newlyweds, many couples seem to expect that infidelity, however defined, is likelier than not. But far from becoming jaded and cynical about their own marriages, they want to protect their relationship–in ways that may surprise or even shock some of us. Instead of wanting to trade in the old partner for the new person, they reject the assumption that, somehow, the second time around, love will be “real,” and they’ll never again be tempted to stray.

Today’s couples are far likelier to think about negotiating ahead of time what they mean by “fidelity” and how they define monogamy in their own relationship.

It isn’t that there’s an epidemic of mate-swapping libertines out Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, the iconographic ’60s take on the theme. In fact, most couples practicing what I call the “new monogamy” still want and desire a committed monogamous marriage, as well as the same long-term loving attachment, affection, mutual trust, and security that traditional monogamy has always promised–if not always delivered. It’s just that their notions about what constitutes emotional and sexual “commitment,” “fidelity,” and “monogamy” itself are more expansive and varied than what we’ve long considered the norm.

What is new monogamy?

So what do we mean by this many-splendored “new monogamy,” and how does it compare with the old? The new monogamy is, baldly speaking, the recognition that, for an increasing number of couples, marital attachment involves a more fluid idea of connection to the primary partner than is true of the “old monogamy.” Within the new notion of monogamy, each partner assumes that the other is, and will remain, the main attachment, but that outside attachments of one kind or another are allowed–as long as they don’t threaten the primary connection.

The key to these arrangements, and what makes them meaningful within the framework of emotional commitment, is that there can be no secrecy between partners about the arrangements. The fidelity resides in the fact that these couples work out openly and together what will be and will not be allowed in their relationships with Party C, and maybe Parties D, E, and F. To couples engaged in the new monogamy, it isn’t the outside sexual relationships themselves, but the attendant secrets, lies, denial, silences, and hidden rendezvous that make them so destructive to the marriage. Rightly or wrongly, today, many couples consider that honesty and openness cleanse affairs, rendering them essentially harmless.

But how does this actually work in practice? Does “being honest” solve all the problems arising when an outside person is brought inside the marriage? Are these couples just kidding themselves, while trying to have their cake and eat it, too?

Partners who define themselves as a couple (as opposed to two people who happen to hook up now and then, or who engage in what are understood to be short-term affairs, or “friends with benefits,” as they’re sometimes called) inevitably come to some kind of contract about monogamy–explicit, implicit, or both–whether they fully realize it or not.

The explicit monogamy agreement

The explicit monogamy agreement is what’s said or committed to out loud by both and defines the partnership’s overt rules, which usually forbid outside sexual and/or romantic involvements until death–of one party or the marriage itself. An explicit monogamy agreement can be a marriage vow that generally assumes and sometimes articulates both a personal and legal vow: we pledge our troth to one other person, not to one other person and whomever else we might individually fancy over the years.

We generally take this explicit contract very seriously, regardless of whether we break it at some point–we believe in it, even if we don’t necessarily maintain it. In several polls researching adultery in different cultures around the world, reported by Pamela Druckerman inLust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee, more than 80 percent of respondents indicated they thought infidelity was wrong. Of those who admitted to having been caught cheating, a majority said they didn’t think of themselves as the “cheating kind.” Apparently, even when we’re committing infidelity, we don’t like to think of ourselves as the kind of people who’d commit infidelity. In that wonderful capacity for double-think so characteristic of our species, we can be unfaithful while believing quite sincerely that unfaithful is what other people are. When we make an explicit vow to be monogamous, we fully intend to keep it, even though many of us don’t.

The implicit monogamy agreement

However, the implicit monogamy agreement or understanding between the couple is different from the spoken, explicit monogamy agreement and may never be discussed at all. Often based on cultural mores, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), traditional sex roles, family background, and personal moral values, the implicit agreement may never be openly visited before the commitment ceremony, or even after. Indeed, each partner may hold a different, even opposing, understanding of what the agreement is, and different expectations about the commitment each has made. For example, implicit monogamy agreements include, “We promise to be faithful until one of us grows tired of the other,” or “I know you won’t cheat, but I probably will,” or (traditionally a woman’s vow) “I’ll be faithful, but you won’t because you’re a guy,” or “We’ll be faithful except for a little swinging when we go on vacation.”

Often a sudden collision between each partner’s implicit contract precipitates a marital crisis. For example, Ryan and Tina were in therapy with me for an affair that Tina was having with a neighbor. Ryan was devastated by Tina’s affair, even though he himself admitted to six or seven of his own sexual “dalliances” with women throughout the years of their marriage. His wife had known about his affairs and put up with them, assuming that “that’s what men do.” What shocked Ryan was, first, thatTina was having an affair–the implicit rule was that he could, but she couldn’t. Even more shocking was that her affair was no dalliance. “Tina fell inlove with this guy,” Ryan wailed. “I never loved the women I slept with; they were just for sex. I never thought anything like this would ever happen!”

In Ryan’s mind, his implicit monogamy agreement was that his affairs were acceptable as long as there was no emotional connection. That she should have an affair and, worst betrayal of all, actually fall in love, had no place in what he thought was their agreement. In these cases, the most useful focus of therapy is on the discovery and disclosure of the unspoken, implicit rules that cover each spouse’s behavior and attitudes toward fidelity. If a husband believes that it’s ok for him to chat online with other women, perhaps using a webcam to have sexual experiences with them over the Internet, is it also ok for his wife to do the same? If the wife has a strong emotional connection to a male friend and texts and e-mails him all day long, sharing her most intimate feelings and desires, is it alright for her husband to have the same type of relationship with a woman friend?

In the therapy with Ryan and Tina, we worked on exposing the implicit expectations that both had of the relationship and what monogamy meant to them. We also dug into what each of their parents believed about relationships and marriage. It was interesting that Tina’s mother had had an affair when Tina was young, which no one ever talked about–Tina only found out when an aunt let it slip one night at the dinner table. Ryan’s father went to strip clubs regularly and no one in his family thought it was unusual–it was the kind of thing men did. Now Ryan had a new understanding of how his mother might have felt about this behavior when Tina expressed her distaste and disappointment at hearing that her father-in-law spent evenings watching pole-dancers. Ryan looked at her strangely and said, “But isn’t it a compliment to women to know that we like to look at them?” Tina burst into tears. She said to him, “No, it’s a compliment if you want to listen to us. That’s why I started my affair. He listened to me, you never do.”

Bridging the gap

New monogamists try to eliminate the gap that so often exists between explicit and implicit rules in the “old monogamy.” From the viewpoint of the new monogamy, the trick is to establish and continually revisit rules to provide clear guidelines for maintaining a monogamous relationship–while keeping them loose enough to encourage growth and exploration for both partners. Some couples keep renegotiating their rules about monogamy, either directly or more subtly, as they age and pass through different developmental stages of their marriage. Accordingly, these rules can change, when they have children, when the children go off to school or leave home, during menopause, at retirement, or when the spouses’ roles change–a wife’s taking up a career once the kids are out of the nest, for example.

I see many couples in my office who look quite conventional and conservative, even staid, who report that they regularly meet with “play partners,” or couples they’ve met online, for sex dates. Several with children who’ve just entered school seem to seek a break from the routine of work and domestic chores and want to rekindle a youthful sense of adventure, sexual excitement, and desirability. They want to remain monogamous, however, and have no intention of leaving their marriages. According to the terms of their monogamy agreement, they meet with the other couples purely for fun and sport; all sexual contact between all four (or more) happens together in the same room and only on weekends; and there’s to be no individual outside contact between the partners of the different couples. The couples discuss their feelings about their sexual play both before and after the events.

In my office, we discuss these encounters–the emotions, personalities involved, complexities, and problems that arise–like we do any other marital issue. These new monogamists are just as committed to each other as traditional couples, though they may feel more connected to each other because of the mutual trust that they insist develops when partners allow each other to have sexual experiences with someone else and they themselves either watch or participate. In my experience, when rules are clear beforehand, complaints of jealousy or feelings of betrayal are rare. Often the couples naturally grow beyond and leave behind the outside relationships. One couple, for example, stopped their “play” when they became pregnant with their third child.


Having made a stab at defining monogamy, new and old, let’s look at infidelity. What does that loaded word really mean? Basically, like Gaul, all affairs can be divided into three parts: 1. the dishonesty; 2. the outside relationship; and 3. the sexual infidelity. All three exist on a continuum, with different levels and degrees.

Dishonesty can mean anything from hiding a full-fledged affair to not mentioning that one’s attracted to, and having fantasies about, the cute check-out boy at the grocery. Some dishonest behaviors are more egregious and destructive than others. Bob and Tanya, for example, had been married for 15 years when Tanya found Bob’s letters to his lover Adele on his laptop when he left it open one night. The adoring and quite explicit letters made abundantly clear that he’d been sleeping with Adele for several years. But when Tanya confronted Bob, he adamantly denied the obvious evidence. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said flatly. “Those e-mails must be from other people–I never wrote them.” She dragged him to therapy, but it was still weeks before he finally admitted what was screamingly obvious–he was indeed having an affair, which had been going on for years. The marriage broke up not, in my opinion, because of the affair, but because Bob’s betrayal had been so deep, so obtuse, so unyielding that Tanya felt (probably correctly) that she could never trust him again.

By contrast, Tim and Elaine came into therapy after he’d told her that his assistant, Missy, was coming on to him at work. That might have been no more than embarrassing except that Tim confessed to Elaine that he was attracted to Missy and was daydreaming about asking her out. In fact, Missy beat him to the punch and asked him to come to her apartment for drinks one night. He’d gone and, although he wouldn’t admit to intercourse, it was clear that they’d had some sort of sexual experience. Afterward, he felt bad, told Elaine about it–without explicit details–and now they were in therapy to talk about his distress and their relationship. He wanted Missy–but he didn’t want to want her–he wanted his wife, and he couldn’t have both. This couple worked out their dilemma (Missy had to go) and Elaine never stopped trusting Tim because his honesty had given her a sense of confidence in him and their relationship.

The second aspect of affairs is the outside relationship, which can be with a good friend at work or an old college drinking buddy, an ex-lover or ex-spouse one occasionally meets for lunch, a one-night stand, or a full-fledged mistress. In our culture, intimacy, privacy, secrecy, and loyalty are often reserved (in theory) entirely for the spouse. Within this conceptual model of “togetherness,” sharing personal information with a close friend of the opposite sex may be considered a threat to the marriage. Sharing intimate thoughts and secrets with such friends can be considered a kind of theft from the primary relationship–“that’s our business,” the offended partner might think–and it can sometimes cross the line from friendship to romantic and sexual attraction. Even a stimulating intellectual, social, and political connection can be considered dangerous–political campaigns, for example, are rife with affairs that draw upon the adrenaline-fueled excitement and camaraderie of the contest. Even if never acted on physically, this outside “friendship” can feel like a betrayal to the spouse when the partner obviously finds it so much more vital, exciting, and intimate than the dull domesticity of home.

Brad and Janet had been married for 14 years, with two children, 10 and 12. Brad was a computer programmer who worked nights and Janet was a socially isolated, stay-at-home mom. Brad had exposure to many professional relationships, many of which were with women. Janet routinely read his e-mail, listened in on his phone calls, and checked his pockets, before it finally sank in that her husband did have only friendly professional contact with these women. At that point, they figured out ways to bring the women into the relationship on a social level, including them in dinner parties and other social events. Janet began to realize that Brad’s friends could be her pipeline to a richer social life. Furthermore, with communication skills they learned in therapy, she was able to tell him when she felt uncomfortable about his women friends’ calling him at the house or spending too much time on the phone with him. He was able to empathize with her feelings and, thereafter, included her or got off the phone.

The third and most fraught aspect of affairs is, of course, sexual infidelity. Again, infidelity occurs on a continuum and is sometimes as much in the eye of the beholder as in the actual behavior. Some, particularly those of strong religious beliefs, consider that “coveting” one neighbor’s wife or “lusting” after another, not to mention using porn, are as much breaches of fidelity as checking into a cheap motel with a secret lover. By contrast, one spouse may allow the other free reign on Internet sexual relationships as long as there’s no actual meeting or “touching.” Sex with prostitutes or even a purely sexual quickie with someone may be acceptable, as long as the sex is compartmentalized in a distant emotional universe far, far away from the Planet Earth of the “real” relationship.

Navigating new monogamy

In the culture of the new monogamy, couples are negotiating their fidelity in many ways that most therapists haven’t explored or even considered much. When a couple tells me there’s been an affair, I can’t assume I know what they mean. I need to assess what exactly monogamy means to them or what constitutes a breach of fidelity to them. What are the terms of their explicit and implicit monogamy agreement? How can my view of fidelity as either a professional who’s open-minded to their version of monogamy or as someone who’s more traditional in her beliefs define the therapy so it works best for them?

Although I’ve always thought of myself as pretty open and reasonably “hip,” I’ve been fired by more than one couple for being perceived as too traditional. There have been times when couples have come into my office and it’s been hard for me to keep my jaw from dropping open as I listened to their stories. Sometimes I ask couples to recount how they manage their relationships, not so much out of voyeuristic curiosity about the details of their sex lives as out of a fascination with how they balance the multiple levels of commitment with their various partners. I often wonder aloud to client couples, “How do you keep it all straight?” Sometimes they’ll indulge me. For instance, they’ll explain that on those nights that they have outside partners, they’ll agree that one will stay home with the kids, while the other meets the lover. Or they’ll take turns having that lover at home for the night. Or sometimes they each have a lover at home on the same night, waking up in the morning to all have breakfast together. Sometimes they might have a boyfriend or girlfriend or another couple come home to bed with them. They come to therapy, not to get permission to do what they’re doing, but to get their communication clear. The relationships that are working smoothly don’t come into my office and I can only assume that they have found a way to balance the transparency and communication necessary to keep it all straight.

Sometimes I get confused by the characters in the plot, and couples have gotten frustrated with me, and felt that my more traditional views were showing. Perhaps my inability to concentrate on the complexity of some of the more integrated monogamy agreements interferes with the therapy. One couple told me they wanted to find a younger therapist who was a specialist in swinging. I asked if I could follow up with them. They looked at me like I had asked them for a sex tape.

The new monogamy, while a reality that I believe must be recognized, doesn’t by any means ensure smooth sailing through the life of a marriage. Between two people making a life together, there’ll always be plenty of opportunity for mutual misunderstanding, hurt feelings, miscommunication, sexual ennui, and conflict, regardless of which version of monogamy–new, old, or in-between–defines their relationship. But rather than impose a preset agenda on the couple, it’s my job to help them make the best choices for their own relationship and work out a monogamy agreement in full consciousness of what they’re doing. It isn’t that one or the other can’t have any secrets, for example; it’s just that therapy should help them both agree about whether secrets are allowed. Often in the process of becoming fully aware of their original implicit monogamy agreement, couples are in a better position to renegotiate it, taking into account the people they are now as opposed to who they were when first married. Sometimes the result can be both greater individuation and a stronger marital bond.

One couple I see, Ned and Beatrice, who’d always kept what they thought was a clear agreement around monogamy–no outside sexual partners–discovered that they were both having sexual liaisons when they traveled for work. First Ned, the husband, got “caught” and confessed to several experiences that he described as “non-emotional, just purely recreational, sex.” Beatrice felt hurt and betrayed, and wondered whether she should leave Ned. I asked her not to make any decisions for at least six months because her feelings were intense right then, and it would be hard to make a clear decision.

For several weeks, we worked on the betrayal of their original monogamy agreement. Then Beatrice confessed that she, too, had had several dalliances on the road, and found that really they hadn’t affected her feelings for her husband. They were both surprised and wondered if this was a sign that they were growing apart. I asked them whether the secrets and the lying would eventually force them to feel as though they were living parallel lives. They felt it would, and that their answer (not mine) was to agree that each could continue their outside sexual experiences, but with clearer rules.

They agreed they could each have sex with other people outside the marriage, but only while traveling separately. In addition, they could never have sex with a colleague who worked for the same firm or have sex more than once with the same person. The other important rule was that they had to tell their partner afterward that it had happened, but with no details unless they felt compelled to share some emotional experience they were having about the incident. If that happened, they agreed they’d need to do some crisis intervention to figure out what was happening in their marriage.

Both Ned and Beatrice said that they could never have had this type of open marriage earlier in their lives. “At younger ages we would have been too threatened,” she said. “But now I know neither of us is going to end the marriage. We love each other, but we married young and we never had sex with anyone else, ever. I figure I’m in my fifties, and how many years do I have left to have sex?” she added. “I wanted to experience what it was like, and I feel like I have my husband’s permission, and that’s made me feel so close to him. I feel like I’m a fully alive sexual being. I’m more attractive to my husband because I know that I’m attractive to other men. I can’t explain it,” she concluded, “but I feel like I love Ned more than ever.”

Another kind of marriage

There are marriages in which couples agree to live parallel, emotionally unconnected lives, while each partner pursues love and sex outside. It may be particularly hard for our culture to sympathize with these unions since they so profoundly break the basic “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage” rule. In fact, not only are there times when you can have one (marriage) without the other (love), this arrangement may seem to the participants as the only one that really makes sense, given their circumstances. It may even seem like the only right thing to do.

For example, Jack and Karla married during their last year at an Ivy League college. At that time, their agreement was that Jack would pursue a career in law and Karla would go to graduate school, become a teacher, but give up her teaching career to be a stay-at-home mother when they had children. This she’d done. Now in their forties, with their children in their teens, Karla had blossomed, in more ways than one. She’d taken up graduate studies and was working on a doctorate in education, a field she loved. In addition, as she finally told Jack one night, she was having an affair with a professor from her graduate school–in fact, she’d been having an affair with him for 10 years.

In this explosive conversation with her husband, a high-powered litigator with a leading law firm, she said–yelled, actually–that he hadn’t reallyseen her for more than a decade, except as the ever-dependable keeper of his house and mother of his children. She felt more like a golden retriever with him than a real person–although the golden would have gotten more attention. Meanwhile, her professor told her she was a unique, smart, beautiful woman, and it was largely due to his influence that she’d decided to continue her education.

Outside of her marriage, Karla had been living an entirely separate and distinct life with the professor–sleeping at his apartment on weekends when she told Jack she was at conferences, and getting virtually all of her emotional support, guidance, and companionship from him. She felt that he was her true partner and the man she loved. Jack was almost completely wound up with the single-minded pursuit-to-the-top of the legal food chain. He knew nothing of her, as she knew nothing of him or his life without her.

Although Karla felt her life would be meaningless without her lover (who’d asked her to leave Jack), she decided not to divorce, knowing it would publicly embarrass Jack and destroy his chances for promotion. The firm was old and traditional, the partners were all married and frowned on divorce, their wives were largely “company wives,” and “family values” was virtually the firm’s founding motto. She also worried that the financial upheaval would derail her future plans and compromise her kids’ financial security. She’d only revealed her affair to Jack because she’d felt that it would be in both of their best interests if he took a lover as well–this might bring some type of equity to their marriage and ease her guilt.

They appeared to be in a real bind. Karla said that if she felt she wouldn’t injure her husband’s chances or her own and her kids’ financial security, she would indeed leave him and pursue her own personal and professional growth. However, such a move would clearly jeopardize Jack’s career. The solution she and her husband ultimately arrived at would most likely shock Dr. Laura. By the time therapy ended, Jack had acquired a lover and, after much calm negotiation, he and Karla agreed that they’d, in effect, carry on parallel lives: maintain outside lovers while staying in their primary relationship, if only for show.

Together, Karla and Jack made an informed, transparent decision to do what they thought would work best for them. True, their solution went against the current norm: if your marriage is irretrievable, leave it for a new romance and the new promise of “happily ever after,” even if you must do it multiple times. Yet it could be argued that, in some ways, the approach they took was more adult, more orderly, and even more responsible to all parties concerned.

The expectation of monogamy

If couples are becoming more flexible in the way they define monogamy, it could be partly because people live longer than in previous centuries and one spouse is far less likely to leave the other widowed after 5 or 10 years than used to be the case. Now couples are expected to stay sexually and emotionally connected to each other for 40, 50, even 60 years. There’s no precedent in any culture for staying married and passionate about the same person for that amount of time. We aren’t trained or advised about how to remain monogamous and happy with a single sexual partner for half a century, probably because we’ve never before had to be.

Monogamy is a conscious choice made by human beings, and perhaps the best choice for our species. A long-term, connected, monogamous relationship makes for better parenting and encourages emotional creativity among humans: to get along with someone for many years, you have to learn certain relational skills, including self-control, psychological acuity, patience, conscious empathy, and simple kindness. If monogamy is not natural to humans but a choice that we make and negotiate every day, then it becomes an opportunity to protect our most intimate bonds while continuing to grow as individuals.

Marriage can no longer be regarded as a constant steady state, without variables or changes, which we automatically fall into once we’ve said our vows. It’s a relationship that’s continually being renegotiated–even if we aren’t conscious of the fact. It’s far better that we negotiate with each other with honesty, sensitivity, and eyes fully open to what we’re doing than simply engage in magical thinking that it’ll all work out if we just keep pressing blindly forward, wishing for happily ever after.

Curated by Erbe
Original Article

Impermanent Relationship Commitment… Just Right for This Couple

I wanted kinship, drama, and obsession with someone eccentric in my twenties; equality, worldliness, and stability with someone calm in my thirties; intimacy, attention, and adventure with someone exotic in my forties.

A few years ago, my husband, Rob, and I converted our traditional marriage to a polyamorous one. It’s been remarkably smooth. We’re very happy with our choice. And yet eventually we’ll probably divorce. Does this mean that polyamory failed us? Not at all.

Like many of our generation, Rob and I are children of divorce, and so when we got married a dozen years ago, we designed a quasi-Buddhist ceremony that made room for the concept of anicca, or impermanence. We wrote our own vows and left out the “until death do we part” and “forsaking all others” stuff: Instead, we spoke about the inevitability of change and pledged to support one another as we continued to evolve.

We meant it, but we had no idea what that might look like. We didn’t anticipate that our evolution could involve the desire for sex and relationships with other people.

But that’s what happened. In our previous relationships and with one another, we’d both been serial monogamists, but after we finished having babies, we looked around and realized that although many things about our marriage were stellar—close friendship, mutual support and admiration, compatible co-parenting—we weren’t ideal for one another sexually. We never really had been. Our libidos don’t match; I’m more “sex motivated” of the two of us. Our relationship had thrived despite a lack of romantic chemistry.

This is not an unusual revelation, of course, and in most marriages, it results in screaming matches, or swallowed resentment, or affairs conducted amidst lies and betrayals. But Rob and I didn’t see our “problem” that way—we didn’t even really see it as a problem. We saw it as a reality, and an opportunity for positive change. We became poly.

I look at it like this: Humans go through multiple phases over the course of a lifetime. It makes sense that our relationship needs shift, too. I wanted kinship, drama, and obsession with someone eccentric in my twenties; equality, worldliness, and stability with someone calm in my thirties; intimacy, attention, and adventure with someone exotic in my forties. Each phase has required partners with different personalities, interests, and energies. As I see it, it’s unfair to expect one person to evolve over many decades on a precisely parallel path to my own. Which is why I also believe that we should stop thinking about the end of a marriage as a crisis and start thinking about it as a reality.

Maybe longevity isn’t the best indicator of a relationship’s success. Why not measure marriages by the level of satisfaction reported, or the self-actualization achievable, or how much the people respect one another even after it’s over, rather than as an endurance test? In Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender and the Edge of Normal,the cultural critic Jack Halberstam calls our culture’s infatuation with long-term monogamy “the romance of permanence.” In a 2012 interview, Halberstam suggested that rather than have weddings to celebrate the beginning of a union, we instead throw parties to honor milestones like getting through a difficult job loss or health crisis together, or to reward surviving the sleepless years of early parenting, or to cheer an amicable and fruitful separation.


Poly people tend to view divorce in a less binary way than mainstream culture does. Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, a sociologist who studies polyamory, has written about how, in contrast to a dominant worldview in which a “successful” relationship is one which is “the two people involved remain together at all costs,” polyamorists have a broader and more flexible take on the demise of relationships. “Poly people,” she writes, “ultimately define their relationships as both voluntary and utilitarian, in that they are designed to meet participants’ needs.” We understand that the relationship might have to change when needs change. One of the people Sheff interviewed called this “moving apart without blame.” Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow, with her “conscious uncoupling,” was onto something after all.

In this regard, monogamous couples could stand to learn a thing or two from those of us forging an alternative path. For Rob and me, our guess is that having spent the last few years living poly will actually make dissolving the husband-and-wife phase of our relationship a lot gentler than if we hadn’t taken that left turn at Sexytown.

For the last few years, most days at my house look like this: my partner Mike, who lives with us, helps me with dinner while Rob tends to the kids. We all eat together, and then Mike and I put the kids to bed while Rob texts a woman he’s met on OKCupid. Once the kids are down, the three of us sit on the couch for a movie and a cup of tea. Sometimes Rob stays home with the kids while Mike and I go out dancing. Sometimes Mike and I stay home while Rob travels for work or goes on a date. Sometimes Rob and I go out to a play while Mike stays home. Sometimes Mike and I take the kids camping and Rob spends the weekend combing bookstores. Sometimes Mike and Rob watch football together while I volunteer. Sometimes we all take a family vacation together.


Our arrangement wouldn’t work for everyone. It helps that, when Rob and I first became poly, our kids were very young, young enough so that this has pretty much always been their normal. It also helps that Mike didn’t have kids of his own, but is great with ours: my kids say they have two dads. And it helps that both these men are tidy Cancers who share a love for progressive politics and sports blogs; they are also guys who have always enjoyed living with male friends. And they’re wonderful, generous, thoughtful people who like each other, who love me, and who value the extra help and freedom that comes with having a third adult around: there’s a symbiosis they have together. We might argue about stuff like what to feed the kids for lunch or who threw out the last of the conditioner, but I honestly can’t remember a fight that stemmed purely from the fact of our poly arrangement.

Rob’s turning 50 soon, and he recently said that he’s thinking about the possibility of considering a shift within the next few years. We’ve been together for nearly two decades, and I know that his shifting need is not a reflection on me or an indication that I’ve fallen down on the job as his wife, any more than my relationship with Mike is an indication that Rob is somehow deficient as a husband. So we’re having an ongoing conversation about whether this might mean that he’d move out, and if such a move is an economically wise for us, and where the best place to move might be, and if separate households might necessitate a legal proceeding like divorce. Nothing feels dire, and no one feels hurt or rejected.

Practicing polyamory has helped us refrain from seeing this as a failure: failure to be everything to one another, failure to be people we’re not. Like many of the folks Dr. Sheff has reported on in her studies, we’re able to see a shift in the parameters of our relationship as an inevitable change rather than a reason for guilt or anger or blame. We love each other and we want each other to be happy, and part of being happy means getting our needs met. We want to support—not stand in the way of—one another getting our needs met, even if those needs involve reconfiguring our partnership. We know we can still be close and loving, no matter our relationship status.

Curated by Erbe
Original Article

Prehistoric Humans May have Started Favoring Monogamy Because of This

It’s nice to think that monogamy is something that came about because people were just that into each other, but new research is here to crush that dream.

A study from the University of Waterloo found that prehistoric humans may have started favoring monogamy (and looking down at polygamy) thanks to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and peer pressure. Clearly, the stuff of prehistoric romance.

For their research, scientists used computer-modeling techniques to simulate the evolution of different mating behaviors in human populations based on demographics and disease transmission. They discovered that, as hunter-gatherers started settling in one place and living in larger populations, STIs like gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia were more likely to spread. The price of civilization is high.

When the STIs infiltrated the population, it decreased fertility rates among men with multiple sex partners. Unfortunately, there was no medication or Planned Parenthood to come to the rescue back in the day. Since dudes weren’t down with making less babies, they changed their mating behavior to allow them to produce more offspring and act in a way that was better for the group. This was also probably the origin of the phrase “taking one for the team.”

Groups that practiced monogamy ended up becoming bigger than those that didn’t and, since there’s power in numbers, they could overpower those that were still polygamous. And there you have it.

Researchers point out that this probably isn’t the only reason we shifted toward a more monogamous society, since, hello, female choice also played a role, but it’s an interesting model.

So next time you get misty-eyed over a friend’s wedding, just know what’s really behind the union: The deep-seeded fear of STIs.

Curated by Erbe
Original Article

Who is Using Who for Sex?

We’ve all been there, or known someone who has.

Why do smart, compassionate, beautiful women find themselves pining after emotionally unavailable men?

For a while, I was the one my girlfriends always went to when they needed to vent about that one guy who never called them back. I’ve been texted at all hours with excited declarations like “he wants me to come over to watch a movie. It’s 2 am, but still!” And then, there’s the inevitable anguish when “he” doesn’t want a relationship. 

I’ve heard all the stories. I know all the details. Year after year, it’s the same. And it’s heartbreaking. I know too many women who are being used for sex – and none of them are willing to admit it, until it’s too late.

It’s been said to ‘never take advice from some you wouldn’t want to trade places with.’ I’m not an expert, by any means. I am not some magical relationship fairy, who’s never made a bad decision. I have been in this situation myself, but it took me years after the fact to finally look back and admit it. If you want advice on learning how to see through manipulation before it’s too late, read on. The tips I’m about to share with you came from years of my own mistakes, and from watching my friends fall into the same traps year after year.

If a woman is looking for a relationship, why would anyone think it’s okay to manipulate her? Why do one-sided relationships drag on for months and months, until someone’s self-worth has been suffocated? 

The honest answer: We may walk into these bad situations on accident, but we stay there on purpose.

Look, we live in the 21st Century. Mutual, no-strings attached, casual intercourse is totally okay. It’s also just fine for two people to start out on the same page, and change their minds later. You are entitled to end a relationship how and when you wish, and so is he. Everyone has the right to choose. But it is wrong to make the conscious decision to manipulate, coerce, or string someone along just for sex.

Men are not the only guilty parties here. Women use men for sex, as well. But for the purposes of this article, I’m taking aim at the most common scenario. Whether you are male or female, it is important to protect your heart and recognize your needs. Here’s how.

  1. Ask yourself: What are my needs?

    An emotionally healthy relationship requires having conversations that don’t always lead to sex. It requires two people who are there for each other, whether sex is a factor or not. Do you wish he’d take you out on dates? Are you hoping he’ll introduce you to his friends and family? Would you be happier if he shared more with you than just his body? All of us have needs, and you should take the time to define them for yourself.

  2. Make your needs clear before sex is even brought up in conversation.

    Millennials live in a social media-driven culture where we almost “compete” to see who is less attached and more “chill.” I’d go into the reasons behind this, but that’s a topic for another day. My point here is this: Once upon a time, it was completely normal to say “I’m interested in a relationship with you, and would love to take you out on a date.” Now, the boundaries between friendship, casual sex, and dating are a lot less clear. While it’s totally fine to want a casual relationship for sex, it’s not okay to pursue one with someone who wants more than that. If you’ve been burned in the past, recognize that every day is a new opportunity to change the pattern. You’re the captain of your own ship. Your well-being should not be left up to another person. Avoiding manipulation requires YOU making your intentions clear from the start.

  3. Recognize red flags.

    If he’s always unavailable on weekends, but he’ll call you at 11 pm on a Wednesday night to “hang out,” that’s a red flag. If you’ve made it clear you want a relationship, but he keeps ignoring the issue, that’s a red flag. If you’ve never meet his friends (or you’re introduced as merely his ‘friend’ if you do), that’s a red flag. If he goes days without answering your texts (unless it’s to set up a cozy Netflix and chill session), that’s a red flag. If he tells you that he’s not looking for anything serious…that’s THE sign it’s not happening.

…Do you see where I’m going with this?

  1. Be honest with yourself.

    All too often, we diminish our feelings to suit the person we’re hoping to impress. I know it can be difficult to assess the situation amid the endless butterflies and infatuated thoughts. But if you really examine the situation, it’s often pretty obvious when a guy is not down for commitment.

  2. The only person you can change is you. 

    At this point, you may be thinking, “I’ll be the one to change his mind!” But I am here to tell you that it doesn’t work that way. If he changes his mind for you, it won’t be because you let him sleep with you, allowed him to repeatedly ignore you, and pretended that you don’t have needs. You deserve love and respect. And this requires loving and respecting yourself. If you want a relationship, and it’s clear that he doesn’t… your friend should find a new sex buddy and you should look for commitment elsewhere.

So – are you setting yourself up for heartbreak? Most of us already have the answers, we’re just too afraid to see them. No amount of calling your girlfriends, reading advice articles, or scrolling through his Instagram will give you the validation you need. You deserve to be honest with yourself, and to find a partner who is honest, too.

Alien Encounter (AKA: A Non-Monogamist Goes to a Wedding)

“’Til death do us part,” has always been replaced in my mind with, “’Til next Tuesday, then…we’ll see.”

When I was a child, I used to play house. Like most children, I would mimic what I grew up with, so, of course, I was often a single mother. I did have a healthy example of a relationship through my grandparents who to this are completely and madly in love. While I realize that high levels of commitment are possible, I tend to find them improbable, and have never desired them in my own life. I haven’t entertained the concept of marriage or long-term monogamy since back in the days of cabbage patch kids when I would receive pretend phone calls from a pretend absentee husband (who was always named after the boy I had a current crush on) telling me he’d be late again and to go ahead and start pretend dinner without him.

In my more recent romantic endeavors, which are slightly more real, I still never pretend to say forever. I’m the kind of person who changes so much from day to day, let alone year to year, that I think it’s unfair to make such a promise when you know it can’t be kept. I believe that marriage is great for some people, but fewer than we’re willing to admit, and definitely not me. “’Til death do us part,” has always been replaced in my mind with, “’Til next Tuesday, then…we’ll see.” So the thought of weddings seemed as make-believe as the phone calls I was receiving from Scott when I was seven years old in my playroom kitchen.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of queer friends, who up until recently didn’t even have the legal right to exchange vows, in addition to a lot of nomadic wanderers like myself who are equally either against or afraid of commitment. Those I know who are married were already in their matrimonial state when I found them, and lucky for me, I’ve never had to buy a dress just to watch them prove their love for one another. This luck has lasted for about fifteen years, but came to an abrupt end this last winter.

My current partner, like so many others, has a family. And his family, also like so many others, likes to get together around the holidays. His cousin happened to plan her wedding on January 2 in Florida. A strange date to me, but who am I to judge? This date happened to be a great way to ensure that everyone’s holidays revolve around a one special bride. Because it’s really the only time of year his family sees him, he was guilted into attending this silliness. Now, I’m not big on holidays, but I love New Years Eve. I also love trips to Florida, hotel sex, and free cake. I was promised all of these if I were to accompany him on this journey. So I went. And I discovered a few things, including but not limited to: weddings are weird.

The first thing I learned was that weddings have websites. As if the bride and groom are comedians trying to get road gigs, they’ve got an “about” page, a bio, and a schedule of events. Upon visiting their dot com, I discovered many things about the bride and groom. Apparently the bride was romantically sleeping off a headache before she came out of the bedroom. That’s when the groom got down on one knee! They like each other because they both like board games. Amazing that two people with such distinct similarities could ever have found each other. The schedule of events page at one point actually read, “the bride and groom will then go to their room, and be in there for approximately a half hour, before coming down to the reception…” Did they just tell us they were gonna fuck?! I’m sorry. “Consummate?” And a half hour? I can’t tell if they’re joking.

Before the ceremony

So we drive from California to Daytona where we meet his family with the usual, “hey how are ya, nice to meet ya, please don’t think of me as your next daughter-in-law…” greetings. Oh, did I mention I hadn’t met his parents yet? Yeah, so that happens. It’s fine. When you’re in a place surrounded by alligators, your partner’s parents don’t seem so bad.

The next day is the big event. Until now the only weddings I’d ever attended were Catholic, so I’m expecting a long ceremony including a full mass and no kiss at the end. I’m wrong. I’ve already had much of the hotel sex I’d been promised so I’m in a fairly good mood. It also helps that the wedding was not at a church, but rather held on a large patio at a hotel with a nicer pool than ours, making me wish I’d worn my swimsuit under my dress.

The ceremony

As soon as we get there, I feel as though I’m being sized-up by the entire family. I wish I’d brought a sign to wear around my neck that reads, “I’m not trying to join. I’m also not the reason he got divorced.” But I hear signs are out of fashion for weddings these days. In an attempt to keep it cool and casual, I stuff my face with hors d’oeuvres. I look around and there doesn’t appear to be any free cake just yet. Then I remember from the few weddings I’ve been to that the cake comes later. I decide I can wait, but not long.

Everyone eventually starts to head over to the chairs, set up in two separate columns, as if to say, “we like each other but we’re not family YET.” All the guests are asked to grab a rock from a basket. I think my question, “are we going to stone the bride?” is a fair one at this point. We take our seats and I learn something else about weddings: they have programs. Great, I love plays! I look for the bride’s headshot and bio with a blurb about how she’s been doing off-Broadway projects for so long and she’s super grateful to join the touring cast of RENT. It’s not there. But a schedule is, which is nice because I’m able to treat it like a countdown to cake.

The music begins and I can’t help but be distracted by a couple making out on the beach. They look like they’re really going for it, and I don’t understand why we’re all looking back at a bunch of girls in bad dresses walking awkwardly down an aisle when sexy fun times are happening right in front of us. The bride is wearing white, adding to the ever-growing list of things I don’t understand. I mean, we all read the website, right? They were living together. Am I being presumptuous when I say she’s probably not a virgin anymore? Maybe it’s possible with this couple, but honestly, why are we all so inclined to pretend? It’s like the “ooos” and “aaahhhs” that come out of everyone’s mouths as they look at the people marching one by one. It all feels so rehearsed, and why? BECAUSE IT IS! They rehearse these things! “Ooooo, the bride is glowing!” Well sure she is, and so are all of us. This is Florida, and that’s not glow, that’s sweat.

Dad symbolically kisses the bride goodbye forever, like he’s never going to see her again, before sitting in the front row where he’s got a better view of her now than he did when she went to college. “Goodbye forever…or until you move back in with me and your mom because you realize you shouldn’t have spent so much on a wedding and should’ve used that money for a down payment on a house.”

The next thing that happens is possibly my favorite thing in the world. The bride’s aunt gets up to speak. She reads a passage from one of the bride’s favorite books, which happens to be a Winnie the Pooh book. It’s cute because it’s about friends that last forever, but that’s not why I’m so psyched. The passage begins with the words, “Pooh is in me, Pooh is in all of us.” How am I not supposed to laugh?!?! WHY IS NO ONE ELSE LAUGHING?!?!?!

The man wearing the white collar tells us to think a positive thought for the bride and groom and put that energy into the rock before we pass the rock toward the middle of the aisle where someone with a basket will collect it. Great, I don’t even get to keep the rock?! Fine, I wish them good sex for as long as they can stand each other and the courage to get out of it if and when they ever feel it’s time before passing my rock to the middle.

As people are talking about forever, I can’t help but think to myself, how can you be so bold? How can anyone make a promise even for tomorrow, in a world where literally the only thing that’s for sure is change? How do you know you’re still going to be boring two years from now? Let alone fifty?! Why are you doing this to yourself? You’re an American woman who can buy her own land! You don’t need this. And his family doesn’t need goats in exchange for you. So why go through all of it? If you need the attention, become an actor.

The wedding is officially over and it’s time for cake! No? Still no cake?! Oh great, pictures. My partner’s mom tries to get me to pose with the family. I politely decline, three times. After two it feels a little less polite but I just don’t want to be a part of this memory. I want to be like a ghost. You feel my presence but you can’t quite put a finger on just how I look or what I say or how much cake I eat. Speaking of cake…

The reception

We head up to the reception and the bride and groom theoretically head up to their room to fuck like they said they would. I finally get some free food, and quickly realize that nothing’s free. My asparagus and potatoes come at the cost of waiting through several speeches before my partner’s mother switches her seat so she can sit next to me and attempt a Spanish Inquisition about her son, and myself, and how we met. It’s as though she’s expecting a sweet, romantic story. I tell her “online” and am vague with my answers in hopes to shut it down.

Throughout the evening, people cling on their glasses prompting the bride and groom to kiss. That’s right, like dogs with a pre-conditioned response. It’s Pavlov’s kiss. I can only hope this trained response carries over into their day-to-day lives. Maybe after the honeymoon, he’s at a work meeting and someone at the conference table accidentally hits their water glass with a pen. Next thing you know, he’s planting a big wet one on his boss. “Oops. Sorry about that, boss. I just got married.” “Ahh,” everyone gets it and laughs it off because he’s trained now.

I think it’s important to mention that I’m a person who likes to play games when she’s bored. So, I begin to play a game with my partner. I tell him that every time we hear the group say “Aw” at something adorable and/or sickeningly sweet, it’s one more guy that gets added to the gangbang he owes me for coming to this wedding. We may not be quite as traditional as the bride and groom, but we like games just as much!

So, we’ve watched the ancient tradition of a woman being given away as though she’s switching owners. We’ve also watched a series of awkward dances while I successfully avoided the dance floor myself, not because I don’t love dancing, but because I feel twerking is inappropriate in front of Christian grandparents with heart conditions. I’ve also successfully avoided pretending like I care about catching fake flowers at the end of the night. And best of all, I finally get my cake!!!

So, why do we get married?

The night was as successful as it could be, but I can’t help but wonder why this all still happens? Why do we still feel the need? I understand there are tax breaks that come with marriage, and certain rights that a married couple has that no one else does, like insurance coverage and other protections. But it doesn’t seem to be about that. If it were, everyone would just do this in a courtroom. So why? Why do people who are supposedly utterly and completely in love feel a need to go through this whole charade? And why is it so highly valued by some? I’ve grown up with girls whose main goal in life was marriage, and who feel like they’re not whole until they find someone to take through this archaic ritual.

It’s my understanding that love is between the people who are in it, and if it’s real, it doesn’t need to be shouted about. If you happen to be a person who needs a promise of forever, why do these particular traditions stick around? Why does the female need a rock that was probably found by an African living a terrible life just so some woman living across the globe can have something shiny on her finger? Why does she wear a big white dress to pretend like she’s this pristine, virginal thing when really she’s someone who should be proud of her past, whether it’s peppered with mistakes or not, because it’s what got her to where she is now? Why does the groom dress like all the other men and just stand there while he’s “given” a woman, “his” woman? Why is there an aisle? Why do all of these people need to be here to watch? When you look at it, really look at it, the only thing that makes sense about a wedding is the cake. I know why there’s cake.

The entire event left me feeling like an alien or a time traveler who knows the truth but can’t say anything because it’ll mess with the time space continuum. So I’ll say it now: if you’re in love, just be in love, for however long, with whomever it happens to be with. Be nice to each other. Listen to each other. Talk to each other. And if it fades away or becomes less fun, then allow each other to go your separate ways amicably and know that you’ll always have those beautiful memories of great hotel sex.

Can You Still Have a Good Relationship With Different Sexual Desires?

Is it possible to have a good relationship regardless of the differences in sexual desires?

Sex is all about trying new things. It’s generally good to keep a level of openness regarding the act, considering there is so much to try. It’s about having a good time and being with a person you like and should be treated as such. However, if your partner doesn’t feel comfortable with trying new things, or has tried something before and didn’t like it, it’s important to respect that.

I’ve personally had partners whose ideologies on sex did not entirely line up. One in particular constantly would try to pressure me into trying new sex acts. Sometimes I would try them and like them, but other times I wasn’t entirely comfortable. I’ve learned since then that maintaining open communication is the most important part of experimentation.

It’s totally possible to have a good relationship regardless. If anything, this exploration could bring the two of you even closer together. Coming to a compromise is crucial regarding sex, and allows a stronger bond. At the same time, being open and honest about your desires is what matters the most. If you aren’t comfortable, be sure to communicate, otherwise it will be entirely physically and even emotionally unpleasant for the both of you.