Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dismaying Story #106: A Rival by Any Other Name...

This post is a multi-part email conversation I had with a young woman. I thought about combining this into the single question, single answer format but it seems to work as is. I'm interested in your reaction to this:

Dear Andrew,

About eight years ago, I met the most kindred spirit I have ever met. She and I were both in our last year of our undergrads in psychology and we instantly bonded. We did "hook up" a few times and I think I was somewhat in love with her. I think we are both bi but I've never really defined myself sexually.

She and I had a huge falling out about six years ago and we had not spoken since until October 2006. We have since reconnected and that bond is still there.

I however, have a very serious boyfriend with whom I am living now. He and I have been together two years and our relationship has been wonderful. I am quite sure he is going to propose to me soon. He is aware of my past bi-sexual experiences and we have a very honest and healthy relationship.

My problem? This friend stayed with us this past weekend and I still have very obvious sexual feelings for her. I realized I am still very much in love with her and have no idea what to do with my feelings. I can't get her out of my head.

What do I do?

Signed, Confused and Unsure

Dear Confused and Unsure,

You are confused between love and that initial rush of excitement that comes from newness and variety. You have a significant relationship with your boyfriend that you have developed over some time. I don't hear you express any dissatisfaction with that relationship so I assume the only fly in the ointment is the reappearance of this distraction, this kindred spirit.

You couldn't possibly know if you love her. You haven't had enough time together recently to establish that. So when you say "I am still very much in love with her," what you really mean is that you are in the midst of that rush of infatuation. This is your libido talking, not your cranium or your heart.

Let's play what if. What if you had just spent the same amount of time with her that you have spent with your boyfriend. You would have gone past the infatuation excitement and settled down into everyday life. You would have discovered that she is just a normal person, just as you discovered that about your boyfriend and he about you. You would have settled into a more mature relationship, like you currently have with your boyfriend -- good, but not as madly exciting. When you did spend time together with her years ago, it ended up not working out.

This is not a fair comparison between the girl and your boyfriend because you are comparing two different stages. Do you remember the rush of excitement when you first met him?

It sounds to me like you are being swayed by all that adrenaline and lust. My advice is not to give into those urges in the short term. It would be the same kind of betrayal to your boyfriend as if you met a new guy and hopped in the sack with him just because you felt the excited urge to do so. You are in a committed monogamous relationship, so act like it.

If time moves on and your feelings persist, then you might have to reconsider. If he asks you to marry him in the meantime and your attraction for another person causes you to hesitate, you might not be ready to be married ... to anybody. Or he might not be the right guy.

But you don't know that right now. Just because your libido speaks up over another person, and someone so different at that, doesn't mean he isn't the right guy. It might just mean you have an adventuresome streak, or that you haven't really figured out what it means to be truly committed to a relationship. Even people who have been married thirty years find themselves sexually attracted to other people. Commitment means you don't act on those urges.

All the best,

Hi Andrew,

Thank you so much for your well thought-out response. It was quite upfront and honest which is maybe just what I needed.

I agree with you on most of your points but feel slight hesitation when referring to this woman as someone I simply lust after. You are right, if I spent the same time with her as I have spent with my boyfriend, I would indeed fall out of the excitement stage at some point and fall into routine and pure commitment.

I guess my hesitation comes from my bisexuality - that is, I just realized that I am indeed attracted to both men and women and am not sure what I can do about it. I do love my boyfriend and would never be unfaithful to him but there must be other women out there that want a husband and children and to spend the rest of their lives with their families but still have urges to be with women.

I am not looking for permission to cheat on my boyfriend, nor do I question my wanting to be with him. I am completely open and honest with him and am wondering if I should share my thoughts with him. He knows I've been with both women and men. It's just that this one particular woman is someone that has haunted me my whole life. She and I get along so well and I just feel I need to be honest with my feelings to both my partner and her, though I may be wrong in wanting this.

Signed, Still Confused and Unsure.

Dear Still Confused,

I don't recommend sharing this with your boyfriend. How would you feel if he said to you, "I just wanted you to know -- that girl who lives down the hall is really hot and she has me all worked into a lather. I have these strong urges to be with her and I'm not sure what to do about it. I just thought I'd let you know that."

No. Doesn't work. It's okay to have the urges (I think everyone has them), but your partner should be able to trust that you will resist them.

If you become convinced that your feelings for another person mean you don't want to be with your boyfriend, THAT is when you open up about it and be honest. But that isn't the case here. You are feeling what I believe to be transient attractions. Those are best kept to yourself, otherwise you will hurt him and your relationship for no purpose.

That's not keeping a secret. It is protecting your loved one from a harmful message, which he has no need to know.

I don't think the fact that she is female is relevant. If we assume you are bi-sexual, or at the least comfortable with closeness with both genders, then what difference does the gender of the third party make? It still boils down an attraction to a third party. If left alone, it is harmless. If acted upon, it is a betrayal of your commitment.

Some women might have urges related only to men, while you might have urges related to both genders. That doesn't change what your response should be.

I've always said, if the attraction is that strong, break up first, THEN take up with someone else, not the other way around. But only IF the attraction is that strong.

Best regards,

Hi again Andrew,

LOL - Okay - the way you presented that makes complete sense. I am trying to imagine if he came to me about an attraction to a man and you are right, it (the person's sex) wouldn't make a difference to me - his attraction would simply make me question our relationship and his intentions.

I guess the confusion for me lies in the fact that most straight men fantasize over two women being together and my boyfriend has even told me that if I want to be with a woman, then it would be okay with him. So from my perspective, I was given an "allowance" to feel this way and even to act on these feelings.

I agree with Kinsey's scale - the sexuality continuum - and feel that I've never classified myself thereby rendering me confused at this point in my life where I feel absolute defined attraction for both my boyfriend and my female friend.

But really, what you say makes complete sense to me and I feel I just have to see where my feelings go and stay true to myself and not hurt anyone in the process. I am committed to my boyfriend and would never jeopardize our relationship for anything.

Signed, Confused but Committed

Dear Confused but Committed,

That's an interesting wrinkle, but I would be very cautious of taking him at his word.

Have you ever seen the movie Indecent Proposal with Robert Redford? A couple is offered a million dollars if she will spend one night with the rich guy. The couple discusses it, she does it, with her husband's blessing, but she can never forgive him for valuing the money more than her, and he can never forgive her for the indiscretion, no matter the benefit.

Your boyfriend might say he wouldn't mind if you hooked up with someone else, but that is no guarantee he wouldn't mind if it ever happened. Most people are simply wired to want monogamy, whether it's training or biology I don't know, but the arrival of a rival almost always spells the beginning of the end, regardless of the flavor of the rival.

All the best,

Okay, so what does everyone else think? Does the gender of the third party make any difference when it comes to commitment? What if he says it's okay with him? Do you agree with me that jagged rocks usually lie just beneath the surface of that particular pool?


  1. I agree with your advice to this person, just because her boyfriend "thinks" it would be alright for her to have relations with another woman, doesn't mean he's prepared for the emotional consequences that come with that act.
    It doesn't sound to me like she is really ready for a fully committed relationship, but that's just my "old married lady" opinion.

  2. Hmm... so there's a girl he wants and he has permission to be with a woman... wow, what a conundrum.

  3. Anonymous3:40 AM

    my personal opinion is that when you think so much about someone else, you're clearly not in the right relationship. i am in the right relationships and one of the ways i can tell that is the fact that ever since i met him i NEVER felt one hinge of attraction towards someone else. we are way past the honeymoon stage and we have been living together for a while - we do have the ordinary conflicts on who washes the dishes and who does the cooking - and still there's no-one that holds a candle to him in my mind.

    i think this person should be more careful about what consequences her actions have. her boyfriend may think he's in a committed relationship heading for marriage while she is fantasizing about someone else. basically this could mean she's leading him on.

  4. Shan: The letter writer is a young woman, not a guy.

  5. Personally, I don't think that the gender of the third party makes any difference; a wander eye is still a wandering eye. My last boyfriend was big, stocky, and fair. I'm normally attracted to wiry brunettes but I cannot picture said boyfriend giving me a pass to mess around with that cute little auburn-haired anthro major just because my natural inclinations are not always for teddy-bearish blonds.

    I'm with JKR and anonymous--I think this girl needs to reassess her position in her current relationship and her perspective on her lady friend before she makes a mistake. I suspect JKR is right that the boyfriend doesn't quite grasp the full ramifications of this (and, frankly, I'm not sure I'd want him for a husband if he did and agreed to it anyway, but that's just me).

  6. I agree with you Andrew. The third party makes no difference as to the sex of said party. Someone ALWAYS ends up hurt when there is another person brought into the mix. Perhaps this lady needs to take a break and really assess where she wants to be without either of these two people being involved in the decision??

  7. Andrew,
    I say that you are spot on with your advice. I agree the gender is not an issue. The issue is, committment to a relationship, understanding that it is natural to be attracted to other people while in a relationship, knowing that it is not okay to act on our base impulses. I agree that sharing her thoughts/feelings with her boyfriend would be ill advised.
    I also agree that pillow talk fantasies about introducing a third sexual partner can be fun and engaging, it needs to left as a fantasy. The reality of these types of situations rarely work out the way you would think they would. As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.

  8. I had a friend who took her life after indulging her husband in one of these arrangements. She thought she could handle the aftermath but she was wrong.

    Not only are those submerged rocks jagged, Andrew, but they're probably covered in slime. This is one slip I wouldn't risk if I were her.

    (And I answered your CG question on my blog...thanks for asking!)

  9. Regarding other people who are married already and how they live monogamously, it comes down to fulfilling a promise to the other to be monogamous. Period.

    It is not that a married person won't ever see another and not think they are attractive. Staying monogamous is a choice and the payoff for resisting temptation is that (hopefully) the spouse, too, will be monogamous thereby making the relationship strong and trustworthy.

    A good marriage has its ups and downs. Some serious things can be experienced together as the years go by which makes lustful feelings seem petty.

    The only exception to this would be if both partners decided to have an open marriage. I have no personal experience with that.

    I do have a happy marriage, even in rough times.

  10. I absolutely agree with you. If you are committing to a marriage, then commit already. Leave the third parties out of the mix and put them in your secret fantasy world. And fantasy for the most part, never seems to work well in the world of reality.

  11. I think adding a third wheel to any committed relationship, no matter the sex the third person is, will cause the dynamics of the relationship to change significantly. Most of the time in a bad way.

  12. I found you through a comment on seeking perfect peace that you found through my blog! Didn't even know you had read it. I read through several of your posts and am impressed with the advice and direction you offer.

    This girl throws around the word "love" so easily. In loving someone we want the best for them, and are willing to set aside our agendas for that to happen. Everyone deserves to be loved completely, without reservation. This is not happening. Keeping an open door to old relationships under the guise of indulging his fantasy, is just deceit. Deceit is cancer to a relationship. If maintained in one area, it will spread to others as the conscience becomes seared/accustomed to it. I hear coldness in her cleverness. I hope she at least cares enough for him to tell him she is not ready for the commitment at hand.

  13. While I agree that monogamy is monogamy and deceit is ruinous to a relationship, there may be a gender factor here. I would imagine that there is something that a woman can give that a man can't (and vice versa), and that must be difficult for the bisexual person. If you are attracted to both men and women, and in a relationship, there could be a kind of mourning for the loss of the other sex.

    Just thought I'd throw that out there.

  14. Andrew... do you want to know what I found interesting about this whole conversation between the two of you? I THOUGHT while reading the first letter AND your first response that the person who WROTE the letter was a man! It was not until the 2nd letter and response that I caught on! How's that for weird?

  15. Oh... and I think your advice was excellent ... as usual!

  16. Anonymous4:24 AM

    Hello Everyone,

    I am the woman that emailed Andrew and I'm very happy to hear your feedback. Of course it is hard for me to hear others' comments that I do not know what love is. Perhaps you are right, but perhaps I do know what true love is. Thank you klhp for your comment - it is true - it's hard to "pick a side" and commit. I will take all of your comments to heart and decide if what I am feeling is true to me or not. It's much easier to judge another persons comments when you aren't wearing their shoes. With that in mind I will do some serious soul searching.