I’m a pansexual woman in a het-monogamous marriage to a cis man for more than a decade. He knew my sexual and romantic attractions at the outset of our relationship and was (still is) accepting, and I was sure that I would always be able to be monogamous. That said, my attractions to women and trans men have kept gnawing at me and I have asked my partner for an open relationship in any form (d.a.d.t. or open/poly), but he refuses. A few years ago, I cheated with a woman – I couldn’t help myself – I didn’t want to end the relationship, but I was going crazy. My husband found out, initially was furious but then seemed to understand what I was going through. While the debacle initially opened up conversation, it’s now back to total silence about this. My husband refuses to acknowledge my attractions and the frustration of constantly denying them and I am at a loss of what to do.
I am tempted to cheat but be more discreet this time, as a way to release the pressure valve, so to speak. I know that sounds awful, but I feel like maybe it’s less awful than blowing up my marriage, home – our kids’ lives.
I don’t know what to do. But I know that this is unsustainable and I will end up cheating again, not because I don’t love my husband and not because I’m not attracted to him, but because this straight relationship is just not enough for me. Help!
Your letter reminded me of a interview of Myrna Kurland, who was not straight and married to a man in the 1940s, from the book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall by Marie Cartier.
“I would get up at one or two a.m. and I would call every gay bar I had the number to from the 1940s. I wouldn’t say anything. I would just stay on the phone and listen to the sounds in the background. I would stay on until they hung up, and then I would call another one of my numbers, until I had called all the numbers I had … That phone. Those numbers. That was my lifeline … It meant there was a place somewhere — even if I couldn’t go there — that place was out there. I could hear it. Freedom.”
Myrna called the bars two to three times a week like this, for fourteen years.
You are this woman. Your affairs – the ones in the past and the ones in the future – are your phone calls. You will cheat on your husband again. And probably more than once.
It is not hard to cheat. Cheating is easy. Cheating is also really sexy, something about the taboo and the secrecy, it can feel really hot. Hell, even getting caught cheating can feel good. Cheating can feel good because it scratches whatever itches you might have. You can replay a night over and over, drinking up the memory of the affair until there’s not a drip left and then you can go out and get another cup. It sets our imagination on fire. Cheating is a form of escape from our current situation, it allows us to momentarily be with someone else, maybe even be someone else, for a night. Honesty has consequences. Cheating, if we don’t get caught, does not.
Cheating has nothing to do with being bisexual or pansexual in and of itself; but it is what we do when we feel like we’re out of choices. It’s an action for when we feel stuck. We are helpless in our situation – my husband will be devastated, my children will be hurt, my livelihood will fall apart, my family will be destroyed. Why ruin good things, why hurt others needlessly?
I do not believe in demonizing people who cheat. Maybe this is because I’ve been there, on both sides, more than once. Maybe because I believe people are good, even when their actions hurt. Or maybe I just know how complex and nuanced a life can be and how sometimes our actions–even bad actions or painful actions–seem to make sense at the time.
You are not a bad person for cheating on your husband. You are not a bad person for contemplating doing it again. What you are is unsatisfied. What you are is unfulfilled. This is of no fault of your husband, or of your family, or of you. It doesn’t matter why you’re unsatisfied and unfulfilled, but it is important to recognize it. You say yourself in your letter it’s “just not enough”.
You have a choice, though; we always have a choice. You can do several things. You can choose to let things stay the way they are, you hooking up in secret until you get caught again and it’s painful and disastrous for your family; hooking up in secret until you catch feelings with a person and it’s painful and disastrous to you. Or you can confront your very valid needs and discuss them openly, letting your husband know this isn’t just a desire but a need you have. And go from there. And don’t let the conversation fizzle out until you both reach a solution – and that solution might be that the two of you separate. Your husband is a capable adult; trust he will recover. Your children are resilient; show them what it’s like to not settle, show them what it’s like to embrace who you’ve grown into. When they are your age and unhappy in a situation, wouldn’t you want them to be brave enough to change it? What is the point of compromising ourselves for others when in reality everyone involved – you, your family – will be hurt. What are you saving by self-sacrificing your desires?
You are not a bad person for cheating but you are also not a brave person. You don’t have to rock the boat, you don’t have to confront these feelings or share them with your partner honestly. You don’t have to make a plan, move in with a friend or a parent for awhile, you don’t have to acknowledge the impact it will have on your husband, you don’t have to deal with the headache of paperwork or splitting finances, you don’t have to fuck anything up — because that’s what brave people do. Brave people fuck things up and we are all better for it in the long run.
You might think you and your family has a comfortable life, but it’s not comfortable. You’re buzzing with the things you’re denying yourself. Not just physical intimacy, but perhaps more. Think about what’s on the horizon — let your imagination lead your way forward. Going on dates, being in public with a person you’re crushing on, physical intimacy over a longer period of time than an affair would allow, being out in the queer community, holding hands while walking down the street.
Wouldn’t you rather hang up the phone and join the party?