Anonymous

Friday, December 29, 2006

Question

I find myself in a bit of a dilemma. I've been in a monogamous relationship for three years now, and neither one of us has ever been sexually active with anyone else. My partner and I are both adventurous and things are great. However, as of late, I've been feeling the need to get involved with someone else. No matter what happens, I don't want to lose my current relationship, but I want to explore my sexuality with other people. I like feeling wanted by others. We are both bisexual, but unlike him, I want to act on it. I'm willing to compromise, but he doesn't like the idea of sharing me with anyone else. It's only ever been the two of us and he wants to keep it that way. He is actually afraid that if I were to experiment with others, it would destroy our relationship.

I really don't want to hurt him because he genuinely does mean everything to me, but I need to know that I'm going to have sex with other people while I'm still young enough to do stupid things and get away with it. I've tried approaching the subject with him in different ways, but he won't budge. I'm not willing to sacrifice my relationship for this, but I can't ignore my feelings.

Answer

This is what happens when a monogamous person marries someone who is not. This happens more frequently than it should because we have such a narrow way of defining sexual orientation in our culture. We think that once you know the gender of someone's preferred partner, we have them neatly labeled in all the important ways. But knowing that someone likes to have sex with men, women, or both is only the beginning of understanding their deepest sexual patterns. I believe that monogamy versus nonmonogamy is one of those vital differences. If we didn't disrespect open relationships and place an irrational value on monogamy as the only marker of an important or committed relationship, fewer people would be led to marry fundamentally incompatible partners.

I doubt that your partner can change any more than you can. To him, the fact that the two of you have given up all other sexual opportunities to be content with one another is the thing that makes this a real relationship. Monogamy makes him feel safe, special, and turned on to you. If he said he was willing to try opening the relationship, I could suggest some helpful books for the two of you to read and offer some potential ground rules. But that is not what he is saying. He is saying he will not compromise.

There's also the issue of same-sex love and lust. He is willing to own up to his bisexuality, but he doesn't feel a strong need to see what happens to his blood pressure when another man kisses him. You are squirming to get at the blood-and-bones truth of that moment. Our culture says same-sex relationships are perverse, imperfect, immature, ridiculous, and unimportant. Of course it's okay if a bisexual person functions in a heterosexual role, because that's the way everybody should behave. His romantic preference for you and you only is backed up by a million voices from conservative politicians, clergy, and psychologists. No wonder you feel considerable anxiety about exploring your interest in other women. The whole culture is telling you that's crazy, especially if you have a loving man at home, a man who protects you from homophobic scorn and violence. (He also keeps you from experiencing the hatred and mistrust that many gay people feel toward bisexuals. Let's add that just to be fair. You shouldn't enter the world of queer sex and politics thinking it is some kind of egalitarian utopia.)

You want to have him safely boxed up as your own property, but be set free to roam as well. This desire makes a lot of sense to me. You love him, and I believe you when you say that experimenting with other people won't make you love him less. But it will make him feel as if you love him less. That will hurt a lot. He won't put up with that. So none of your choices are easy, clean ones. You can stay with him and resent him, have secret affairs that will damage the relationship, or break up and go on sadder but wiser, seeking a partner with a more open attitude.

I can understand your restlessness. You feel as if you can't stand the thought of having only one partner, this one man, for the rest of your life. You are bisexual and you want to know what another woman feels like standing naked next to your own naked boy. You want to see what a lot of other men and women kiss like. You are curious about other bodies, positions, fantasies, and needs.

Yet you really do love him. You are in the tragic dilemma of loving a person who cannot make you happy. Leaving him doesn't guarantee that you'll find a better lover somewhere else. But it sounds to me as if staying with him is driving you crazy. Is it fair to accept the safety he offers without returning his level of commitment? He has chosen you as the only guiding star of his life. But you are steering your ship by other stars.

It seems to me that you will leave him sooner or later—either now, while you are not involved with someone else, or later, when you have a new love to ease your way into a different way of living. Just don't ever do this again. Don't make this mistake a second time in your life. If you are really incapable of monogamy, don't pursue a romance with someone who needs that to feel complete in the relationship. Going through the agony of this separation ought to reinforce this lesson. I'm sorry you have to go through with it, but you were set up by our culture's moral bias against polyamory and same-sex activity.

Dammit, sometimes I hate this job.