Dear Father Tony,
I'm writing because yesterday a friend of ours said "They have an open relationship" when he introduced us to someone. I didn't like it. It felt weird.
My "husband" and I have been together for twelve years. Yes, we have sex with other men. But we don't "cheat" on each other. We talk about it. It's not like a "free-for-all" thing. We know what NOT to do that would make each other mad. We don't hide it, but really it's nobody's damn business, and I did not like getting introduced that way. But it got me thinking.
This weekend, my husband is going to LA. He (we) have been emailing someone we both know who lives there. I'm sure they will have sex, but this is different. It's like dating. He's staying with the guy. It's like a possible romance with me out of the picture. Where do I draw the line? Are we trashing each other this way? Years from now will I be alone and kicking myself for being stupid?
Dear King Arthur,
You guys are having what I call Gilligan's Island sex. Even though Gilligan, the skipper, the professor, MaryAnn and Ginger were celibate on the island, if they had each had spouses on the mainland but decided to have a bracketed sexual relationship while being castaways, they would have gone through a mental process of justification similar to that performed by most couples in so-called open relationships. If Gilligan and Ginger had gotten down together, would it have led to romance that would have washed away the strength of their earlier relationships? If the Professor and MaryAnn had surrendered to their desire for each other, would they have remained on the island even when rescue arrived, turning their backs on their earlier involvements? (The Howells don't figure in this for two reasons. They were together, and they were not hot, although perhaps in leather and chains....)
Whenever we go outside our relationships for sex, we are subscribing to some premises (Please note that I am not saying I personally agree with all these).
a) Sex is not love.
b) This activity is manageable .
c) This activity will enhance, not harm our significant relationship.
d) This activity will not devalue our lovers/spouses.
e) This activity will not result in a lowering of self-respect.
f) This activity will not deceive the third person or make him/her feel used.
g) This activity is good recreation.
h) This activity is more expressive of human nature than is monogamy.
i) This activity will not bring resentments into our primary relationships.
j) Love is what we give to one person exclusively (Or, in the case of some polyamorous folks, to a larger fixed number) but all the rest get sex and friendship.
You and your partner need to discuss all of those premises so that you will know which ones you both agree or disagree with. You've probably already done this, so the real question is "Are there unforeseen dangers that you both may eventually regret?"
Yes, King Arthur, when your guy goes to LA, there is the danger that he may fall in love with the man he stays with. There is also the danger that he may fall in love with someone seated next to him on the flight. He may also fall for the taxi driver who keeps checking him out in the rearview mirror on route from the airport.
The world is full of opportunities to fall. The only way to avoid them is for you both to stay in bed forever. Even there, if you are watching TV it is possible eventually that one of you might fall in love with Ryan Seacrest and begin to think of him while you are having sex with each other.
One wonders what parts of us go out to play when we have sex outside our partnerships. Is it just our dicks, butts and lips, or do we bring our hearts into the beds of other men? And even if we do not bring our hearts into those activities, can other men steal them from us? It has been known to happen.
Whenever I get this far into these thoughts, I fold the cards and remind myself that the meandering of our partners' hearts is beyond our control. I would ask you to reframe the question this way: Am I diminishing what I give my partner/lover when I have sex with others? Is he deprived of something by dint of my actions? Is he deserving of something that I am giving to someone else?
That's the great thing about sex. It's so yo-yo-ular. You can give it away on Monday in your backyard, on Tuesday in LA, and it's yours to give away again by Wednesday. The heart? Not so bouncy.
My short answer is don't worry about the guy in LA. Unless you murder all the men in the world, there will always be some version of the guy in LA. In this case, the responsibility for the maintenance of your relationship is more in the hands of your partner. Pack him a nice lunch and be sure the batteries in his ankle bracelet are charged.
PS: Flirting is a whole nother ball o' wax with its own melting point.