Why get married? And more marriage-adjacent questions.
Dear Dan: I’m a 38-year-old bi woman who has been sleeping with a married male coworker for the last eight months. We’re a walking cliché: I’m a nurse, he’s a doctor, and one night he ended up spilling a lot of personal information about his marriage to me (sexless, non-romantic, she might be a lesbian) before asking if he could kiss me. I declined. Three months and many text messages later, I met him for drinks. The next thing I know we are falling in love and spending as much time together as we can manage. Even though he is married and has kids, this has been one of the best relationships of my adult life. He loves me in ways I never thought possible. (He even savors my COVID-19 curves.) The obvious problem here is that he is married and his wife allegedly doesn’t know about his unhappiness in their marriage. We have to arrange our dates around his work schedule and his lies to his wife. I find myself becoming increasingly jealous of the time he spends with his wife and his inability to spend more time with me. I want him to confront the issues in his marriage, and I want him to at least attempt being honest with her so we can figure out if it’s even possible for us to move forward.
My question is this: How do I have this conversation with him without it seeming like an ultimatum? I adore him, and I don’t think he’s lying to me about his marriage. But I long to have more freedom in our relationship. I love that I finally found someone who treats me so well when we are together, but my heart is breaking because our love exists in the shadows. It’s a win/win for him—he gets his marriage, his kids, his “real life,” and me too. But I can’t even text or even call him freely, and I certainly couldn’t rely on him in an emergency. I want this to work. I don’t necessarily want him to get divorced, Dan, as I fear it would cause him to resent me, but that would honestly be my preference. What should I do?
Outside The Home Exists Romance
Dear OTHER: What are you willing to settle for, OTHER?
If you can’t live without Dr. Married, and you can only have him on his terms—terms he set at the start, terms designed to keep his wife in the dark—then you’ll have to accept his terms. You can only see Dr. Married during office hours, you can’t call or text him, and you’re on your own if you have an emergency outside office hours. But agreeing to his terms at the outset doesn’t obligate you to stick to his terms forever. Terms can be renegotiated. But unless you’re willing to issue an ultimatum, OTHER, Dr. Married has no incentive to renegotiate the terms of your relationship.
Zooming out for a second: I get letters all the time from women who ask me how issue to an ultimatum without seeming like they’re issuing an ultimatum. I don’t get many letters from men like that for good and not-so-good reasons: men are socialized to feel entitled to what they want, men are praised when they ask for what they want, and consequently men are likelier to get what they want.
To get what you want, OTHER, you’re gonna have to man up: feel entitled, act entitled, make demands. And you gotta be willing to walk. You have to go in fully prepared to use the leverage you actually have here—your presence in Dr. Married’s life—or nothing will change. His circumstances have required you to live in the shadows if you wanted to see him, and maybe that worked for you once. But it doesn’t work for you anymore, and Dr. Married needs to understand that if his circumstances don’t change—if he doesn’t change them—then he’s going to lose you.
There’s a middle ground between divorce, your preferred circumstance, and things staying exactly as they are. Dr. Married’s wife is surely aware that her marriage is sexless and non-romantic—assuming he’s told you the truth—and if his wife’s actually a lesbian, well, perhaps she’d like the freedom to date other women too. (Or date them openly, I should say; for all we know she’s been getting some pussy on the side herself.) If they want to stay together for the kids, if they have a constructive, functional, low-conflict loving partnership, and it would be possible to daylight you without anyone having to get divorced, maybe you could settle for those terms.
Dear Dan: I’m a bi man in a straight marriage. We have two young children. My wife and I have been working through some relationship issues. Because of these, she has not been open to sex with me, and for eighteen months our marriage has been essentially sexless. I’m not happy with this, but we are working on things. Since we stopped having sex, I have been using my wife’s used panties to masturbate. I work from home and do a lot of the household work, including laundry. Every couple of weeks, I will take a couple of her panties from the laundry. I rub myself with one pair and sniff the other one. I enjoy the way the fabric feels and am turned on by knowing that they’ve been rubbing up against her pussy. It makes me feel very close to her. I finish by ejaculating into her panties, and then I rinse them out and wash them. I’m very careful not to stain or damage them. This is something I do to feel more connected with her sexually. I don’t get hard thinking that she’s wearing panties I came in; I get hard thinking about coming in panties she’s worn. But I worry that I’m violating her—which is not something I want to do. I know that if I were doing this with a stranger’s panties, or with the panties of someone I knew but was not in an intimate relationship with, it would be at best creepy and at worst a sex crime. But she’s my wife, and although we are in a hard place right now, we’re trying to find our way back to each other. So, is this an acceptable way for me to get off while we work on our relationship? Or is it a violation?
Wonders About Nuzzling Knickers
Dear WANK: I’m torn.
If you and the wife were fucking, WANK, she might enjoy knowing that, however many years and two kids later, you’re still so crazy about her that you’re down in the laundry room perving on her dirty panties. But you aren’t fucking and things are strained for reasons you didn’t share. So you need to ask yourself whether this perving, if your wife were to find out about it, would set you two back. If you think it would—if, say, your wife isn’t fucking you because she feels like you don’t respect her opinions, her boundaries, her autonomy, etc.—then the risk (further damaging your marriage) has to outweigh the rewards (momentarily draining your sack.)
That said, WANK, if perving on your wife’s panties—without damaging or staining them—is helping you remain faithful during this sexless period of your marriage… and sustaining your attraction to your wife though this difficult time… well, an argument/rationalization could be made that your wife benefits from this perving. And these aren’t stolen panties—these aren’t a stranger’s panties or a roommate’s panties—these are panties your wife hands over to you for laundering. That you derive a moment’s pleasure from them on their way from laundry basket to washing machine could be self-servingly filed, I guess, under “what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
But if you feel like your wife would regard this as a violation—and I’m guessing you feel that way, WANK, since you’re asking me about it and not her—then you might wanna knock it off.
Dear Dan: Quick question: Why get married? I’m a 29-year-old lesbian who got married to a woman at 26 and divorced at 28. We had a pretty low key wedding, but we still stated to all of our friends and family that we were in it for the long haul, people wished us well, bought us gifts, gave us money. When I realized it was a huge mistake (we rushed into it, we ignored huge incompatibilities), I felt terrible for all the usual reasons involved a break up, Dan, but I also felt like we were letting down our friends, family, and all gays everywhere. I’m jaded right now, I realize, but seriously: WHY DO THIS? Why get married? Why do this thing that adds so much stress and pressure to leaving a relationship that might have run its course, as MOST relationships eventually do?
Dear MAD: Quick answer: People get married for love—ideally, at least these days, and it was not always thus. (Suggested reading: Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz.) But sometimes I think people marry for the same reasons you think no one should, MAD: the stress of ending a marriage—the pressure to stay in a marriage—often prompts a couple to work through a rough patch. Of course that pressure can keep two people together who really shouldn’t be together anymore—or never should’ve been together, MAD, like you and your ex-wife—but sometimes two people stick it out to avoid the embarrassment, expense, and drama of divorce and eventually get to a place where they’re genuinely happy to still be together. Maybe a wedding isn’t a promise that two people will stay together forever, MAD, but rather a promise that two people will have to think long and hard before parting.