The Monotony of Monogamy
I married my first sexual partner, and now I’m itching to cheat.
Photograph by Teresa Castracane.
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My wife and I have been together since high school, 17 years ago, and married for nine years. We are each other's only sexual partner. We both went through our own "seven-year itch," but nothing came of it, we were never unfaithful, and we stayed committed to each other. Now I find myself often wondering what it’s like to be with another woman. I have constant sexual fantasies about other women—it feels like my sexual hormones are at full throttle. I sometimes convince myself that it would be OK to have an affair. Then I realize my wife and I have something very special, and I put my sexual thoughts aside until they come up again. I haven't taken any action, but I just don't know what to do.
Your letter makes me wonder if Romeo and Juliet had been able to run off and get married whether he (or she) would be writing a similar letter 17 years later. You two do have something very special. And if everyone were like both of you, there would be no need for the HPV vaccine. But it’s also understandable that given the prospect of having sex with only one person for the entirety of your life, no matter how delectable your partner or how deep your love, you might feel an intense desire to have a sexually profligate time at least for a little while. There are few who conduct themselves with more rectitude than the Amish. But even they understand that a lifetime of virtue can be hard to bear, and some allow their children a period of wildness called rumspringa. During it teenagers leave the community and wear fashionable clothes, drink, smoke, take drugs, and have premarital sex. Once this is out of their system, the majority choose to return to the community and accept its restrictions.
You and your wife have such a good relationship that a few years ago, you were able to deal honestly with each other about the frustrations of committing so young. Since you don’t mention children (which would vastly complicate how you act on your desires), I’ll put that aside as a consideration. I’m against your unilaterally deciding to cheat, but given your internal struggle now, it’s time for another painful discussion about your union. Perhaps the prospect of proposing a temporary separation, or experimenting with an open marriage, will make you realize you don’t want to risk capsizing your relationship. But if you continue to feel trapped and miserable, and she agrees to change the rules of your marriage, if only for a while, you two need to think hard about setting some boundaries for carrying this off, i.e., living apart and not dating people your spouse knows. Before you embark, be certain you understand that your marriage will not only be changed—it could cease to exist.
Dear Prudence: Artistic Abominations
I recently left a longtime job in the medical profession and found a position at a great new startup in my field. My concern is that I seem to have brought some baggage from the old position. My former boss was an ex-Army Ranger who was a micromanaging control freak with a penchant for strict boundaries. I often came home crying in frustration at his heavy-handed demands and constant criticism of minor things such as the phrasing of an email. I (and my ex-colleagues) lived in fear of doing something he considered wrong and being reprimanded for "getting out of our lane." My new bosses have not developed their management style, so everything's rather laid back, and if I make a mistake, they tell me and act as if it’s no big deal. We're all working as a team, so the lanes cross often. Yet I find myself constantly envisioning the fallout of responding to an email too soon, saying the wrong thing, or looking stupid. I want to succeed, and mostly I do, but I’m still rewriting emails five times. Any advice?
—A Little Gun Shy
I’m sure during his Army years your former boss put himself in the line of fire and showed great bravery. However, he brought to civilian life a battlefield mentality and for 10 years you were under siege by him. Sure, what you went through wasn’t the equivalent of serving in the Gulf. But you sound as if you could be suffering from some degree of post-traumatic stress syndrome. It’s just not normal to have an anxiety attack over the wording of an email or the proper moment to hit “send.” You say your new bosses haven’t developed their management style, but maybe what you’re experiencing is their management style. They don’t want to order everyone into their “lane.” They want an environment in which you all contribute your energy and ideas to the tasks at hand. That means some things you suggest will be great and some will be stupid. You won’t know which is which if you don’t have the confidence to just throw your thoughts out there. But you’ve been bullied for so long that you’ve internalized your former boss’s drill-sergeant-like voice, and unless you quiet it, you won’t succeed in this freewheeling environment. You are a perfect candidate for short-term therapy. Look into prolonged exposure therapy, which is specifically designed to treat PTSD; or mindfulness therapy; or more traditional cognitive therapy. Treatment will help you put your former boss in his lane and out of your head.
About a month ago, my divorced father told me about an affair that he recently had with my roommate's mother, whose husband is terminally ill. They met through my friend list on Facebook, then she began sending him messages venting about having to take care of her dying husband. That led to them to sleeping together. My father said he ended it when she went crazy and started to get possessive. He also said she alluded to breaking things off with another man so that she could be with my father. Shortly afterward I stopped speaking with my father over another issue. My roommate’s mother has had numerous affairs, but my roommate, Nancy, who is also a close friend, knows about only one, and not the one with my father. The problem is that Nancy's family is planning on having Thanksgiving dinner at our house. I want to be nowhere near Nancy's mother, but I don't know how to explain to my roommate that I'd rather be by myself without spilling the news about her mother, my father, and maybe even the other men. What do I do?
—Caught in the Middle of a Reality TV Show