Help! I’ve Had Only One Sexual Partner—and I’m Sick of the Monotony.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 3 2011 7:14 AM

The Monotony of Monogamy

I married my first sexual partner, and now I’m itching to cheat.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
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.

—Longing

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Dear Longing,
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.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Artistic Abominations

Dear Prudie,
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

Dear 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.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
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

Dear Caught,
At weddings the stratospheric expectations and high emotions can be combustible. At Christmas the tangible evidence of how people value each other can be hurtful. If you’re lucky, at Thanksgiving the worst that happens is Uncle Abner undoes his belt at the table and later everyone falls into a carbohydrate-induced stupor. But having Nancy’s mother at Thanksgiving is like putting a firecracker in the stuffing. If you don’t want to look this woman in the face, then tell your friend you’re going to volunteer at a soup kitchen. Given that Nancy has her mother for a mother, and also has a father who is dying, it would be more considerate, however, for you to spend the holiday with your friend, who could surely use your support. Nancy will have enough on her plate besides Thanksgiving dinner, and there’s no need for you to fill her in on the extent of her mother’s extracurricular activities. Your father shouldn’t have confided in you, especially the cringe-inducing fact that the romance started with complaints about a desperately sick spouse. So try to forget what you never should have known, and be thankful Nancy’s mother is not yours.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have a close group of friends and family, and our children have all grown up together. We are all in our 30s and 40s and for the most part lead successful and ordinary lives, except for the fact that most of us are regular marijuana smokers. I smoke only on rare occasions, but my husband smokes daily, as do the majority of our friends. We understand that it is illegal and take as much care as possible to limit our risks. It is so normal in my world that I really don't think about it much. Recently, however, one of our friends told us that his 13-year-old son caught him smoking and was pretty upset about it. He told his son that he knew it was wrong and promised to quit (which, of course, he won't do). His son will likely tell my 14-year-old son all about it, and my son is no dummy. What do we say when he asks if we smoke, too? My husband wants to deny it, but do you think we should just be honest?

—Mary Jane

Dear Mary Jane,
You should assume your friend’s son has already told your son. And a 14-year-old does not have to do too much sniffing around to conclude his father is a pothead. If you think daily pot smoking is fine for adults, I don’t understand why you’re considering lying. Maybe it’s because you’d prefer that your son didn’t grow up to do as you do. I agree that our drug laws are ludicrous and destructive. But however much you think you’re minimizing your risks, you two run the chance of ending up in jail and destroying your family. As you’re contemplating what to say to your son, have your husband try an experiment in which he doesn’t smoke pot for a week. If he can’t do it, that should tell you both something. Maybe the message is he needs some help, and that you also should expand your circle of friends. If your son asks about your pot use, you should own up to it and be honest enough to say you hope he never starts, because you both don’t want him to end up with a habit like that of his father, who can’t stop.

—Prudie


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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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