When polyamory isn’t an option, is cheating an option?

Nearly a year ago, Wes wrote this post on the blog about whether it is permissible, morally, to accept an offer of sex from someone in a monogamous relationship.  I was not in agreement with him when I read it, but my disagreement was based on a moral foundation I know Wes does not accept (primarily Kantian), so I didn’t argue since it would have turned into a meta-argument.  I find his logic sound, I just found the basic assumptions to be lacking somewhat.   I carry different moral foundations that the argument presented in that post, and so I realized that it would turn into a conversation about meta-ethics and moral foundation theory, rather than about the question at hand.

Over the last year I have thought about this issue a little, and I have come to agree with his argument, Kantian counter-positions or not, but only in some cases.   I agree that the point of harm is the decision to cheat, and that acting on it only adds the potential harm of STDs or pregnancy  (if precautions against such things are not taken, of course).  The emotional harm was already done, and it is this point where the other person should focus their attention on why they care if their partners wants other sex/romantic  partners, and possibly accept polyamory as another option.  

My reason for refusing the proposition of sex from a monogamous person, morally, has to do with what Wes Said in his post:

the fact that someone is a cheater raises all kinds of concerns about that person’s trustworthiness, character, compassion, and decency. I have absolutely no problem with categorically turning down cheaters for those reasons.

I think that everyone should have a negative response to such a proposition if the person asking is untrustworthy.  I think that a decent person would not even want to sleep with someone in a situation where you can’t trust their character, personality, etc.  I have trouble finding it possible to both be a decent person and wanting to say yes to such a person.  But if an untrustworthy person is still appealing to you, then I suppose you can do whatever you like, even if I don’t think it’s the right decision.  I would not will that maxim to be universal law, but I can’t make decisions for other people either.

However, not everyone who requests, or at least wants, to have sex with someone besides their committed and supposedly exclusive partner (married or not) is untrustworthy or a bad person.  Sometimes, they have good reasons to want and request such a thing.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, because I had a long conversation with a long-time friend today that both depressed and angered me.  It spoke to all the reasons why I advocate for non-monogamy, especially where it rubs against traditional and conservative (patriarchal) notions of marriage, relationships, and commitment.  I’m writing about this because this friend of mine needs and wants romantic, emotional, and sexual intimacy in her life, and is not getting it.


The occasional 2 minutes is not enough.

My friend, who will obviously remain anonymous, divulged to me today that she has been unhappy with many aspects of her marriage for a while.  Sex happens perhaps every month or two, and lasts just about long enough for her husband to be done.  The old squirt and snooze.

Now, she has talked to him about her lack of satisfaction with this amount of physical intimacy, and he had insisted that things are “OK” and that he’s just not going to change.  He’s happy, he’s not going to change, and with her not being able to support herself right now (she’s a house-mom), leaving is not much of an option.  She’s stuck in a situation where she is unhappy, stuck at home most of the time, and wants more from life.  He’s not going to give it to her apparently, and her transparently finding it elsewhere is not a realistic option.  Polyamory is not an option.

She does not want to hurt him, she does not want to put the kids in a situation of going through a potential divorce (her parents were divorced, which was hard on her growing up), and her kids are fairly young.  But she is also seriously considering accepting what she knows are open offers to receive some level of emotional, sexual, and possibly romantic intimacy from other people she knows. She’s thinking about the possibility of cheating.

I want to tell her to do it.  I want to tell her to find the happiness she wants, even if it means cheating.  Her situation, with a selfish and un-giving husband, is a situation where the chains of monogamy are most clear to me.  This type of situation is why Ashley Madison exists.  My friend would benefit from polyamory (ideally, if she wanted that), but that is not an option she can count on happening with any level of probability.  She wants real intimacy, and cannot get it because of this traditional definition of marriage which keeps too many people (both men and women) in unhappy situations, which lead to cheating.

Eventually she will likely leave him (that’s my guess) when she is able to be economically independent.  Whether she would be better off doing now, I cannot say.  I’m leaning towards yes, but I don’t have to deal with all of the consequences of that decision.  But for now, she remains unhappy, unfulfilled, and there is a world out there full of people who would love her more and give her some of what she desires.

And I know there are many people like her out there.

Is cheating sometimes the only option?

So, what is she supposed to do? She has the option to cheat, if she wants it.  She has said that she has people who only need her “yes” to get at least some of her desires fulfilled.  She could do so in a way that would almost certainly not be found out.  She could do so with people she knows and trusts.  Does she have a better option?

Is it better to live with this lack of fulfillment while not breaking her marriage vows and possibly exposing her family to harm, or is it better to take the risk of having an affair and possibly having a secret boyfriend? In her place, I would be very tempted to take the risk and have some happiness, rather than live unhappily.  Of course I don’t have to make that choice, which is why polyamory is the shiznit.

I would not want to live a life of quiet desperation.  I would not want to hurt someone I loved, but in this situation that love seems to be mostly one way (I’m assuming she still loves him, and his actions clearly indicate he does not love her; at least not well).  I would want to broach the subject of polyamory with my partner, and if that didn’t work I would be very tempted to leave and/or cheat, if I were in a similar situation.

So, what would I suggest she do?

You are probably guessing that I would advise that she try to have a serious conversation with her husband about some sort of non-monogamous arrangement.  And ideally, I think she should do that.  But then I think that if she does that, he will suddenly look differently at her going out on a Saturday night to see friends.  He might, in fact, insist that she not do so.  That would make any cheating harder to pull off, even if she didn’t accept his (hypotheitical) insistence of not going out anymore, because he would be curious and prying if he suspected she wanted to do so.  So, given that, is it not only easier pragmatically, but in terms of her ability to find some happiness, just to cheat?

He seems to think that things are fine.  He’s happy getting his rocks off every several weeks, but she wants more and she could get away with doing so.  Probably.  So, in this situation, is it better to cheat?

In a world where polyamory is more mainstream, no it would not be better.  We, however, are not going to get to that world any time soon.  And yes, the idealist in me wants her to take a stand for her desires openly, and demand that he make a better effort to try and fulfill her needs (she has done this, somewhat, to no avail), and to demand that he either let her go find it willingly or share, and fly the polyamory flag.  Or, at least fly the find-a-partner-who-treats-me-well flag.  She has not said she wants to be polyamorous per se, but she has said that she wants sexual and emotional intimacy, and he will not give it any more than he already does.

So should she cheat?

Yes.  I think she should.  And when she can get away, she should.  Because in this case it is not the seeker of extra-marital sex who is untrustworthy or a bad person, it is the person she is stuck with who is.  And I am not convinced that such people deserve the respect of marriage vows.  I don’t think he’s given all he can give to their relationship, and she shouldn’t have to suffer because of that.

Polyamory is great, but it can’t solve this problem because polyamory requires the consent of her husband, and he almost certainly will not give it.  And if he should be hurt by any such cheating, he should take responsibility for being a terrible partner, both emotionally and sexually, and deal with it.  You can’t be an un-giving partner and also expect your partner to be happy just with you.

Where polyamory is needed; relationship advice blogs.

Occasionally I check out the blogs at wordpress (which is the software this site is run on) for tags like “religion” or, in today’s case, “relationships,” to see what people are writing about.  And most of the time I find a bunch of crap, but occasionally I find something interesting.  Today, I found a couple of posts that touched on polyamory.

Over at Emilystarz, we have a post simply called “My Life” which is about a fairly common situation of a woman who has a man in her life who has been, and wants to be, sexual with other people.  The added complication of a baby between them makes the situation more frustrating to see, and it is obvious to me that this is just one more situation where monogamy is not working for at least one person in the relationship.

Now, all I know from the post there is what is written, so any advice I have is most-likely crap.  But I think people in such situations should be aware of polyamory, even if they ultimately decide against it, part ways, or whatever.  I think that this issue of responsible non-monogamy needs to be part of the conversation, not only in specific cases such as this, but in all similar cases with relationships.

I think it needs to be part of our cultural conversation about relationships.  With that in mind, let’s move onto the next post I found.  In this case we have a writer asking for advice, and getting an awful response.  It’s over at lovejays.com, and it is entitled “Playing the Field.”  here’s the gist:

Q: Dear Love Jays,

Is it okay I’m dating one guy (we aren’t exclusive) and sleeping with another?

A: Dear Double Dippin’,

Non-exclusive dating gives you the freedom to date, sleep, or hang out with anyone your little heart desires. Dating is a time when you get to explore several options and decide which person (if any) has the potential of becoming more serious.

So, is it okay that you’re dating one and sleeping with another? Technically, yes. Would I recommend continuing this behavior? No. Sex embodies much more emotions than just the physical exchanges of pleasure between our “money spots”. Sex was designed to be shared between two people who are committed to each other and share something special. Casually having sex with people will eventually take its toll on the mental psyche of woman or man. I’m sure there are several of you who want to rebuttal my last statement, but rest assured – you will have your “aha” moment one day. Long story short, sex simply makes things complicated – physically and emotionally.

Easy advice – pick one and stick to ‘em! It’s much much easier to focus your attention on one person and will save you from emotionally damage, even if you are unaware of it at this moment.. If you get bored of him, on to the next one. That’s the beauty of dating!


Mr. J

This, quite frankly, is the poly equivalent to reading a creationist argument for an atheist.  Reading this is like looking at a train wreck of relationship advice.

To deconstruct what is wrong with this advice, I would have to start from page one of polyamory.  I’d have to link so many posts from this blog in the past…I just don’t have the energy to do it.

Oh fine…here a couple of examples:

  1. The Bachelorette and Polyamory
  2. Poly lessons I learned from cheating while monogamous

But, onto the post.  Let’s do it a piece at a time:

Non-exclusive dating gives you the freedom to date, sleep, or hang out with anyone your little heart desires. Dating is a time when you get to explore several options and decide which person (if any) has the potential of becoming more serious.

This is not awful.  If I were to try and be fair to this, I could even partially agree with this.  The first sentence, in fact, is spot on.  It’s a statement of fact, but then with the following sentence it takes a turn for the worse.

Where it says “…and decide which person (if any) has the potential of becoming more serious,” it could be read to mean that we use this time to decide which people are worth keeping around, which is true for polyamory as well.  But the “more serious,” as we shall see, implies exclusivity.  Exclusive does not mean more serious, nor vice-versa.

“Mr. J” continues:

So, is it okay that you’re dating one and sleeping with another? Technically, yes. Would I recommend continuing this behavior? No. Sex embodies much more emotions than just the physical exchanges of pleasure between our “money spots”. Sex was designed to be shared between two people who are committed to each other and share something special.

Sex does often involve many emotions, and should be dealt with responsibly, both in terms of physical safety and emotional maturity.  My experience with sex with many people over the years in serially monogamous, polyamorous, and group sex environments has shown me that we are capable of sex in more ways than most people have imagined.

Sex is great between two people.  It has the capability to draw them emotionally close, bring great pleasure, and is even good exercise.  But there is no necessary damage to that relationship just because you have it with other people.  The only way this is possible is by not being safe (and thus subjecting yourself to potential infections) or to not developing your emotional self such that you deal with emotional issues such as jealousy.

Things like jealousy are real issues that need to be dealt with, and it is fortunate that they can be dealt with.  And let’s not forget that some people are simply not prone to it in the same way.  But jealousy is not, in itself, an excuse not to pursue our desires.  Rather, it is a challenge to work on.  Like fear, it stands against us and makes us dip into the well of our baser instincts.  It makes us act irrational, possessive, and petty rather than mature and rational.  Jealousy is not something to be proud of; it is something to try and heal if we can.

Sex can be shared between two people who share something special, sure.  It’s great when that happens.  But it does not imply that at some other time those same two people might also have some special sexy time with some other people with whom they share a close and special relationship.  Further, sex can also can be shared between three or four people who share something special, or even between some people who just sort of like each other a bit and like each others’ bodies.  This conservative view of sex espoused by “Mr. J” is simply not true in general, and so it should not be espoused as general advice.

It may be true for Mr. (and/or Miss.) J, but if it isn’t true for many people, then it’s only true by accident and not by necessity or generally.  Nonetheless, he continues:

Casually having sex with people will eventually take its toll on the mental psyche of woman or man. I’m sure there are several of you who want to rebuttal my last statement, but rest assured – you will have your “aha” moment one day.

I, and many other committed polyamorous (and swinging) people out here in the world have a different experience.  My “aha” moment was realizing that the mythology of the ideal “one” that exists for each of us was the problem.  Mr. J needs to check his assumptions about the very nature of relationships before proclaiming general truths about love and sex, because there are many of us who find his view, well, parochial.

Still, he persists:

Long story short, sex simply makes things complicated – physically and emotionally.

It sure does.  How does this imply that we should have to limit ourselves to one person, ultimately? Because it’s easier? It might be easier, except when you are in love with two people, when you have to repress your natural sexuality in favor of a cultural construct which asks us to repress much of that sexuality, etc for the sake of an ideal.  There is a real existential agony that can exist in moments when we yearn for two loves, and feel like we have to choose.  How awful to be told that you, in fact, should choose rather than consider other options, such as polyamory, swinging, etc.  How trite.  How small-minded. How limited—and limiting!

Why, for the sake of all that is not holy, would anyone have to choose simply because it is superficially “easier”? It’s only easier because it conforms to the narrative you, Mr. J, are drowning in.  Swim to the surface, Mr. J, and breathe pure air.

So, my advice to Double Dippin’; Love who you love, how you love them (even if it’s just dirty, fun, sex) openly, honestly, and with consideration and respect.  Don’t let Mr. J’s conservative views on sexuality ruin your ride in life or force you to choose when you may not have to.

That’s all I can stomach, today.

Poly lessons I learned from cheating while monogamous.

This post will be hard for me to write.  It will be difficult because it involves mistakes I have made juxtaposed with ideas about love and polyamory that may come across as crass, cold, and possibly uncaring.  There will undoubtedly be people who read this that think of me as an asshole for the thoughts I will express below, but I think it’s worth exploring these ideas anyway.

After all, it is such experiences which helped give me perspective on polyamory, and perhaps some people will sympathize or have experienced similar things.

So, I have not always been polyamorous.  Well, I suppose somewhere deep down, I have always been predisposed to polyamory, but I have not always practiced polyamory in my relationships.  I discovered it early, being around 20 or so, and while I had a quasi polyamorous relationship back then, I was immature, uninformed, and was not really ready to have very healthy relationships then.

So, after college I was monogamous, serially so anyway.  And during the most serious relationship I was in during my 20’s, I acted badly on at least one occasion.  All of the details of the act are not necessary, but it should be sufficient for me to say that I cheated, hid that act from my girlfriend (with whom I was living at the time), and it was eventually found out.

But I want to focus in on a small part of all of this in order to draw out a lesson I learned about myself, love, and non-monogamy from that time.  This part occurred a long while (I think 6 months or so) before she found out about the act.  It was pretty immediately after the act happened, in fact.  It was the first real opportunity I had to reflect on it in the presence of my girlfriend, and I regret not coming clean at that time, but it’s the past….

I loved her.  In many ways, I still do.  But I truly loved her then and appreciated our relationship and all the wonderful times we had.  Sure, we argued about things like cleaning (she was terribly messy), being on time (She was perpetually late), and so forth, but I loved her genuinely.  The sex was great, she got along with my friends, and I loved being with her.  I found her very attractive, passionate, and there was never a lack of desire from my part.

The cheating act, therefore, was not about lack of attention or satisfaction.  It was just about me being into someone else I had met and with whom I had spent some time in social gatherings  One weekend, the circumstances allowed the possibility to act on it, which I did.  Yes, alcohol was involved, but the responsibility was ours.  We both knew what we were doing was wrong.  We did it anyway.

A couple of days later I was faced with my girlfriend, and I had a choice.  I knew that it would have been easy to get away with what happened, and so while I felt like I should say something, I hesitated.  And so with the intention of sitting her down and telling her, despite knowing it could end the relationship, I found her and could only express a strained but genuine smile.  She was happy.  She was in a great mood, had plans for the day she was excitedly telling me about, and I was genuinely glad to see her.  Yes, the sex had been good with the other girl.  Yes I also liked the other girl.  Yes, I had violated a trust.  Yes, I should have stopped her and said something.

But we were happy. A rationalization for sure, but a true one.

It was at this moment that it fully clicked home for me that there is no contradiction between loving two people.  Or at least loving one person while enjoying sex and intimacy with another person, as I cannot say honestly I was in love with the other girl; that would be a severe stretch of the truth.  We were recent acquaintances, really.  I didn’t know her very well.  But we liked each other, shared attraction, and decided to act on it spontaneously.

I felt the tension of knowing I had acted badly and feeling genuine love for the person whose trust I had violated.  It was guilt mixed with happiness.  I knew, at that moment, that I would be capable of caring for a person deeply and genuinely while also being with someone else.  I knew that polyamory was something I wanted and would be capable of.  The irony of discovering this in the context of doing it all very wrong is not lost on me at all.

We were together for some time after this, even after she found out about the act.  We actually had a polyamorous relationship with another woman later on, which was a fairly successful even if relatively short triad.  The cheating act did create problems, but we worked through them and moved on.  I don’t know if the trust ever fully returned, and the relationship eventually faded until we were friends with benefits, friends, and now there is distance between us.

Now I’m married, and she engaged.  We don’t talk much anymore, but are on friendly terms.  I still love her and care about her, even knowing we cannot work as partners nor, do I think, would either of us want to.  Such is life.


So, here is the thing.  I violated an important trust.  I had sex with another woman while in a monogamous relationship, and after having done so all I could think about was how happy I was with my girlfriend, how much I loved her, and how much I still wanted to be with her. I also thought about how in an ideal world I would continue to see that other girl.  That never happened.  We only saw each other a couple times after that, and eventually job opportunities led her away.

There was no immediate, visceral contradiction there for me.  Yes, there was a tension, but it was mostly fear of losing a person I loved with some guilt for having done it.  But there was no deep feeling of having done something inherently wrong; no feeling that sex with another person while in a relationship was always wrong, just wrong when done in this way.

I was aware of the fact that according to common wisdom there should have been a contradiction there, but it didn’t exist for me.  The tension was all in knowing that I could do it again, at least not in the wrong way.  I wanted to do it in the right way.  And eventually (after she found out) we would start talking about opening up our relationship, and we eventually did decide to become polyamorous.

I was as if, in my mind at that time, I was already polyamorous.  I completely got how one could share and be shared without it being an issue.  The fact that we were not polyamorous at the time, that we had not agreed to share, was a problem that did erode at me, but we continued to be happy.  In fact, later on she did something rather similar with a male friend of hers while visiting home and did disclose it to me immediately.  And it was fine.

It was fine because in my mind I was already willing to share.  I was already geared to have that conversation.  I had already stopped thinking about her as being exclusively mine.  I would love her whether she was with other men (or women) or not.  I loved her because I loved her, not because she loved only me.

Now that I am polyamorous, I experience a similar feeling all the time.  Whether I spend some intimate time with Gina, Ginny, or someone else, if I am to then spend time with my wife or my girlfriend afterwards, I am then focused on them.  The fact that I just had sex with another person cannot touch what I have with them.  What I have with them is special, powerful, and transcends such silly things as where my penis was just a little while ago or whose penis was with them.

Why does that matter? Why should that matter?

And I understood that in that moment I should have disclosed the act, but didn’t.  I rationalized all sorts of reasons why it was better to keep it secret.  I get that even if it didn’t change how I felt or that it really should not matter, I should have disclosed.  And now I do disclose.  If I am with someone else, Ginny and Gina usually know that it is a fair possibility before it happens.  And if it does happen, they know.

And I still love them both, am happy with them both, and all is transparent.

What I learned was that sex and other people cannot damage relationships in themselves.  Relationships fall or stand on their own merits.  If your relationship is strong, it can withstand external intimacy.  If your relationships have weaknesses, those external intimacies will become a lightning rod for those weaknesses, but are not necessarily the cause of them.

So yes, cheating is a violation of trust.  But it is not the act, the sex, that does the damage.  The damage is the violation of trust.  That was a distinction I learned that day, and have ever forgotten.

Couple flirtation and polyamory

I used to be monogamous.  Ok, more precisely, I used to try to be monogamous.  I sort of slipped and fell a couple of times, to find that my penis had landed in vaginas that were not attached to my girlfriend.

I remember what is was like being a 20-something guy with a girlfriend, having frineds with girlfriends/boyfriends and doing group activities like going out for drinks, grilling at someone’s house, or sitting around playing games and such on a Saturday.  The room would tend to be full of young, attractive, sexually hungry people who flirt with each other.

I might find myself having a conversation with a girl who my friend just met recently, and it was obvious that there was some chemistry between us.  And the fact that I was “taken” made it safer to make flirty jokes (see what I did there? dirty+flirt=flirty!).  It was all just in good fun, and almost always led nowhere.

And then we all get to go home, paired off, and allow the sexual tension that we built up with such interactions with out monogamous partner.  Well, except monogamous people don’t tend to admit that this type of flirting contributed to our interest in sex those nights.

That would prove that we are not attracted to our partners anymore, or enough, or even that we never were, right?  Anyone with a very insecure partner in their past can tell you stories about those partners, after such evenings, would comment about how they saw you checking that other person out, and how they bet you’d like to ‘hit that’ (or whatever the kids say these days).

So, how often in such situations do couples talk and say things like “hey, so I saw you talking to ____ tonight.  Ze is totes into you.  I think their significant other is pretty attractive.  We should all go out together and, like, fuck each other or something!”

Ok, if THAT conversation happens on the part of both couples, they might be ok.  But more likely a less transparent conversation happens after everyone is drunk, one or two people seem really eager about the idea, and everyone else laughs nervously.

I mean, such things like partner swapping does happen. It   usually includes alcohol, of course.  Often, in such cases, it ends up ugly even if it starts out great.  It often does not happen again.  Those people later remember their younger, rebellious days where they tried swinging, polyamory, etc and all they really remember is how badly it went.

Then those people talk to me or read a blog post here or elsewhere (although why would anyole want to do that?) and think that its quite adorable how naive I am, or whatever, and go on with their life.

Except, well, they did it wrong. 

Because there are more ways to do non-monogamy wrong than to do it right.  Doing relationships well is hard,  sometimes very hard, and the more people involved the more complicated it gets. 

I would like to see a world where 20-somethings could be less monogamous.  I would like to think that such people could be honest with their partners enough to not only admit the desire, but mature enough to hear it as well.

It would lower rates of infidelity in such relationships, as well as bring to the surface emotional issues which need to be exercised by people in order to be successful partners. 

Will all of them end up polyamorous? No, probably not.  Will people get hurt? Yes, probably.  Will it fix already weak relationships? Eh, perhaps in some cases, but probably not in most.

Will it be more honest of people, considering what they really want to do? I think that it might.  It might teach all sorts of lessons about what we desire, what we can handle, as well as give people invaluable sexual experience which goes far in terms of teaching us about relationships and desires.

And yes, I am aware that many younger people are not taking monogamy as strictly as generations before did, but I still want to see more of it exist transparently. 

And I would like to see more people after their 20s keep their relationships from slipping into the default monogamy, especially when those old fires spark up. 


This post is not completely fueled by the fact that some monogamous couples I know are totally doable.

But seriously, people, stop being so sexy and monogamous!