A lesser woman?

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Cary’s classic column from WEDNESDAY, JAN 29, 2003

The married man I’m sleeping with feels less guilty about it because I’m bisexual!


Dear Cary,

I’m a 30-year-old, intelligent, funny, independent, beautiful woman — or so I hear. I’m bisexual, but have been predominantly involved with women for the past 10 years.

I’ve known this great guy, an acquaintance from work, for several years now and he’s always attracted me in many ways. Good-looking, intelligent, extremely witty, charming, sensitive, an intellectual, the works. Oh, and married too. For his part I’ve always felt that he, too, was very attracted to me. He always made sure I knew it very clearly.

Fast-forward to last November, when we allowed ourselves to let it happen. We went out for dinner and a maddeningly passionate night followed. We’ve been seeing each other regularly and avidly, me trying not to fall completely in love with him, him wrestling with his guilt demons. Everything is unspoken between us. We act like friends, or rather fuck-buddies, but we have a really special and rare connection.

Fast-forward again to last Saturday. We were chatting online and the subject of my bisexuality came up (I have been totally open about this with him since Minute 1). He said that despite his earlier attraction to me the fact that I slept with women too had sparked his interest even more. OK, tell me something new; all men in this galaxy get all giddy when faced with a bi woman. The problem is that he added that this not only drew him more toward me, but that it also made him feel “less guilty about cheating on his wife,” because it’s not like he is with a typical woman, “it’s a whole different world.”

This crushed me. I really care about this guy, but I couldn’t help feeling like he saw me as some sort of a lesser woman, or a scientific experiment, or a circus freak. Why is it that men will do anything to have a bisexual lover but never know how to handle it? Should I withhold this fact from my future guy lovers for a while so that they feel they can really connect to me as a regular human being? Or am I overreacting?

Princess Turned to Frog

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Dear Princess,

You may be overreacting a little, but that’s pretty dumb and insensitive what he said. I wonder why he said it. People sometimes say dumb and insensitive things when they are under enormous pressure, or when they are struggling with inner conflict. He must feel a fair amount of guilt and fear, however much he’s trying to act casual.

He has probably rehearsed in his head what he would say to his wife, should she discover his unfaithfulness. But imagine his telling her that it’s OK because you’re bisexual! That would be funny if it weren’t so bizarre. Any attempt to spin the situation would only deepen the wound. But the mind, writhing in moral dissonance, produces just such ghastly fantasies. It’s crazy and weird but true. I guess it’s how we try in vain to protect ourselves from the truth. I mean, it’s much easier for him to tell himself that it’s OK because you’re bisexual than it would be to tell himself that he’s betraying his wife.

It’s less painful, I guess, to pretend. I doubt that he sees you as a circus freak. He no doubt likes you a whole lot. But if there is a grain of revelation in what he said, it’s that, because you have mostly been with women, he doesn’t see you as the kind who would want to marry him and take him away from his wife. In his mental harem you’re probably the eternal temptress.

Also because you have not been married, you may have a blind spot about what a monumental struggle he is going through. I’m not saying this out of sympathy for him, but to help you see how distorted and crazy his behavior may become as he attempts to not deal with the situation. He faces the possibility of losing his wife if she finds out, plus he probably believes that because you are bisexual, he could never completely own you. You’ll always have that Sapphic option, both titillating and terrifying: While bisexual women attract men, they also frighten them, because the one thing a man has got they don’t really need.

There are larger questions here. If you are falling in love with him, and he is married, you’re pretty much guaranteed to bring some unhappiness into the world. Somebody’s going to get screwed. So here’s an idea for doing your part to create a sustainable erosphere. Go and make more happiness to combat the unhappiness you create. Do some good, selfless, joyful things. Call in sick and take a kid to the movies. Give money to beggars. Go to the beach and buy some cotton candy. Call your parents and tell them you love them. Make rainbows with a hose on the front lawn. And think up some better things than these.

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I fell for a younger guy and now my head is spinning

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 I’m a wife, a mother and a doctoral candidate. I’m not the kind of person this happens to. What the hell am I doing?

Cary’s classic column from MONDAY, OCT 6, 2008

Hi Cary,

I’m a 28-year-old doctoral student, wife and mother; it’s a life I would’ve described once as busy, happy and thankfully boring. All has changed. This last summer, I went to my 10-year high school reunion and ended up having an affair. Up until that point, my husband was the only person I had ever had sex with. My husband and I met when I was a senior in high school. I hadn’t been saving myself for my future husband (no great moral or religious convictions involved). I was just waiting for a nice respectful guy. I did not know we would remain in love and marry five years later, but that is exactly what happened. He has insisted many times in our 11-year relationship that I would want to have sex with somebody else someday. I thought the notion was preposterous; I assured him I was too level-headed to want something so silly. Well, it turns out, he was right and I was naïve. Despite my intoxication, I was quite calculated in my decision making. The boy was 21 (so he said) and had crashed the after party; we didn’t know each other beforehand. It appeared to be the quintessential one-night stand, and I have now learned the hard way that infidelity is a crime of opportunity.

Since that night, I’ve discovered some interesting things about the boy. First, he’s not even 21 (which was a scandalous-enough age for me), he’s only 18. I about had a heart attack when I Googled him and saw he was in eighth grade in 2004. Second, he graduated high school last May and is an incoming freshman where I go to school and TEACH. After confronting him about lying, you’d think I’d wash my hands of the whole thing and try to pretend it never happened. That is what I had planned on doing, after all. Instead, I have been talking to him, texting him and IM-ing him almost every day, in secret of course, but often. We’ve hung out a few times. We have not had sex again, but that’s not for a lack of desire on my part, as I fantasize about him daily and we flirt constantly.

I gave him the opportunity to “escape” from this soap opera right after I discovered his lie. I wrote him a long e-mail, explained how complex my life is, how he’s just a young kid who shouldn’t be weighed down by my drama, and how it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if we cut our losses and stopped our “friendship,” as I am uncertain as to whether I will be able to keep it only friendly. Surprisingly, he seems uninterested in actually having sex again (though he only insists on abstaining for my good, he rationalizes). He is still texting me and IM-ing me on a daily basis about seemingly inconsequential things, much to my confusion and delight.

I’m baffled at our behavior — his and mine. I can’t figure out what he could possibly be getting from our relationship. I assumed he was using me for sex (as I was him) and that we would easily just stop talking. Instead, I have this sinking suspicion that we are using each other, I just can’t for the life of me understand for what. Talking to him is exciting, he makes me laugh, and I give him advice about his love life and he even wants to give me advice on my marriage (what does an 18-year-old know about marriage?!). I also give him advice about navigating school, and tomorrow I’m meeting him to help him figure out how to catch up in one of his classes he was thinking about dropping.

Even more baffling to me is how I could have anything in common with an 18-year-old. He’s shattered every misconception I’ve ever had about undergraduates, let alone freshmen! He’s handsome and surprisingly smart; he has novel and interesting opinions. I admire his free spirit and rebelliousness and he always keeps me guessing. I have a feeling that both of us are flattered by the other’s attention.

Cary, I was once faithful, logical and level-headed. Suddenly I feel like a stupid teenager again with a giant crush. My whole world has flipped upside down. I thought I knew myself, that I knew and understood the world, and suddenly I don’t think I understand anything anymore. I do feel guilty and ashamed about my infidelity, but that’s overshadowed for now by my obsession with meeting and communicating with this boy. What could he possibly want from me, and what am I getting from him? What in the world are we doing?!

Completely Out of Character

Dear Out of Character,

I guess what I am struck by — well, let’s back up. First, since you refer to this young man as a boy, I strongly suggest that in your conduct with this person you scrupulously comply with all laws and professional regulations that apply. You were wrong about his age to start with; I’d suggest you verify his age — for real. If you don’t know what laws and professional regulations apply, find out. And then make sure you comply with them. Also you’re going to have to work out this thorny problem of deceiving your husband. But you also need to work out what is going on emotionally. If I can be of any help at all, it is probably in that area.

Here’s how I would put it: You have been visited by a stranger. That stranger is yourself. She demands that you get to know her.

While you’ve been pursuing your degree, you’ve been pretending she doesn’t exist. But here she is. She has desires and tastes that may shock you. They don’t make sense to you. But here she is. Think how she feels.

In pursuit of intellectual accomplishment we sometimes shunt aside elements of our personality; years later they arrive like strangers at our door. We ask, Who is this? Who is this person? Do I know this person? You don’t know me?! she asks. I’m you!

You’re me?

Sure I am.

Thus begins the hard but rewarding work of integration. Each personality is like a family, or a town. So get to know the relatives. It’s not a stranger at all. It’s you. Get to know her.

I want to make this observation, too: Your emotional life is at least as complex, and requires as much subtle intellectual attention, as the subject of your doctoral studies. Like any body of knowledge, it requires that the questions we pose be informed and pointed.

You ask, “What could he possibly want from me, and what am I getting from him?” That can easily be answered, but only begins to get at the heart of the matter.

For starters, you’re getting love, for heaven’s sake. Who doesn’t want love? You’re getting admiration and the wonderful feeling of being sexually attractive to someone. These are not trivial things. But they are elementary. As you accept what has happened, I think you are going to ask bigger, more profound and thoughtful questions.

For now, I suggest that you confess. Confess that you are human. You are not that different from anyone else.

You are just as capable of acting in a way that is scandalous, dishonest, secretive, alluring, sensuous and dangerous as anyone else. You are also reasonable, intelligent, diligent, honest and reliable. You are both.

Surprise: This is you!

Let’s celebrate what this means: You are not only a doctoral student but a woman of mystery, trapped in intrigue.

Did you think that this mad, crazy love the poets write about was something they made up? It has come to visit you. So I implore you to open yourself to this and learn. Again, speaking in very elementary terms, here are some of the guiding principles, or salient features, of this new terrain.

You don’t have control of your attraction.

You don’t understand it.

It feels wonderful.

It defies social norms.

It exposes you to danger.

You feel you are betraying someone.

You are breaking rules.

It is forbidden.

It came unexpectedly.

You and your love object are outwardly very different — your social class, age and education are markedly different.

You can’t make sense of it.

You are conducting it in secret.

It fulfills needs you did not know you had.

You are frightened by the fact that you cannot turn it off and on; it is out of your control.

You are, of course, faced with tricky practical and ethical problems because of it. So work out the practical problems. Deal with them upfront. But honor what this means. You are more complicated and passionate than you thought.

I’ve been cheating on my husband for a year and it’s driving me crazy

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Cary’s classic column from Friday, Feb 27, 2004

I’m a good girl, but I can’t seem to stop.


Dear Cary,

I had to have liquid courage to be able to write this message.

I’m married. I’ve been having an affair for nearly a year.

It’s the same-old, same-old someone-I-work-with kinda thing. I’ve been married for several years and we’d been together for several years before that. Lots of ups and downs, highs and lows, but about 15 months ago I had never felt happier or more content with my life. No kids, but that was what we wanted for now. Lots of time and all that.

Then we moved and I started a new job. And the very first day I was there I met him. So, enormous, earth-shattering, energy-shifting attraction is apparent. I thought it was just me but it turned out to be entirely mutual. Months of e-mailing, flirting and knee-melting eye contact ensue. Then it got physical. Then it got really physical. And it was wonderful. All of it. It was amazing how much we really, genuinely liked each other and how attracted we were to each other.

But of course, there’s a husband and a girlfriend in this picture. Both husband and girlfriend are delightful, attractive, talented, supernice people that anyone would be lucky to have. So things got a little crazy, chances were taken and of course a couple of close calls later we were thinking that it was time to cool it. That lasted a few weeks. Things get started again but at a lower temperature. Then more chances were taken, then things cooled off again (me feeling horribly guilty and used and sick with myself), then they heat up again and here we are.

I love how you tell people things they can take with them forever. I need that. I think sometimes that I’m literally going to crack in half from the strain of this. Sometimes out of nowhere my throat just closes and I well up. Anywhere, grocery store, work, driving. I had a perfect, wonderful and blessed life that for some reason I felt I had to completely trash. I’m a nice, good girl. I’m happy nearly all the time. I have lots of friends who think highly of me. I’m smart and attractive and have always been thought of as solid as a rock. I earned my moral superiority. This is all so deeply out of character, so nightmarish. I saw it all happening and knew it was wrong but I still went on. It was not a case of temporary insanity by any means. It didn’t “just happen.” The buildup took ages. It’s like I’m having a dream but I just can’t wake up, I can’t make it stop or go away. I haven’t told my husband but it has still affected my marriage profoundly and I’m not sure that it will recover.

For God’s sake, I know that there are way bigger problems one could have. I’m sure that this sounds like a spoiled brat crying about her diamond shoes being too tight. But I’m also pretty sure that I’m not the only person in the world doing this. (Does this sound like I’m trying to justify why you should help me? Well, maybe I am.) I have no one to turn to. Tonight is the first time that I have cried about this. I think I’m absolutely at my wit’s end. I can’t stop thinking about him or seeing him when there’s an opportunity. I think I’m probably half in love.

But also, I don’t think this is a good man. Besides the fact that he pursued the hell out of this when he was in love with another girl (not that I’m judging), I just get the feeling that he’s very superficial. Phony (there, I said it). I’m not excusing myself but I think I was manipulated. And yet, I can’t stop. No amount of thinking of the consequences, whether they be the damage to my marriage or the damage to my heart, stops me. I’ve tried totally cutting off contact and it doesn’t work. I love my job and it loves me. Leaving it is not an option.

I want to stop feeling so out of control. I’ve maintained my dignity but I think I’m getting to the point where I’m going to crack. I think the only thing I’ve actually learned here so far is that it’s not the shitty things that other people do to you that make you lose your trust or faith in human nature, it’s the things that you do to them. I don’t know if I’ll ever look at other people the same way. If I could do this and just go merrily about my life then who knows what’s really going on with anyone?

Am I doing this because I don’t really want my wonderful life with my nice house and my pretty things and my fantastic husband? The husband’s not entirely perfect. He’s been known to take me for granted and he’s at times been really cold. Overall, though, he loves me very much and is proud of me. The life we have is exactly what we wanted. We’re the Brad and Jennifer of our crowd. I just don’t understand what I’m doing. A while ago I thought that I wasn’t a bad person, just a person who did a bad thing, but if I keep doing it when I know better then I’ve crossed that line too. I’m so torn right now between the desire to get on a plane and get far away or to just go to bed and not get up for about a year.

Do you have any ideas for me besides the plane or the bed?

Can’t Draw the Line

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Dear Can’t Draw the Line,

Now and then we are all darkly drawn to bet everything on a loser, as if all our riches were dust compared to some powerfully plastic decoder ring from a gumball machine. I’m not saying I understand it, I’ve just noticed it happens. And since it’s a choice and not an accident, we have to figure it means something.

Perhaps, as you say, you are doing this because you don’t want your wonderful life with your nice house and your pretty things and your fantastic husband. Maybe you’d prefer sitting on a thin mattress in a cheap motel with your lipstick smeared across your tear-stained face, waiting for some cowboy to finish drinking his beer and losing at pool so he can sing you the one country song he knows by heart. Maybe you need to get this bad girl out in the open where she can spit on her husband and get slapped for it, so the cops can come and she can pretend everything’s just fine officer and then kick him in the balls and take a ride in the car with the fence between the seats.

Whatever it is, something is clearly calling your name and it’s not the life you’re living.

You seem very bright but divided emotionally. We become divided when we neglect the inner life of symbols. We neglect the inner life of symbols when the outer life of objects consumes us. The world of things exhausts us because it gives nothing back; the objects don’t breathe, they don’t sing; even a diamond ring just glitters in silence. I think you’re looking for a song filled with soul. At least that’s what I would be looking for if I were caught in the jaws of whatever’s eating you. So all I can say is: sketch the beast. What is it whose hour has come ’round at last? What does it look like and what is it slouching toward? Get hypnotized if you have to so you can see it. You’ve got to give it form, whatever is calling your name. You’ve got to apprehend it clearly.

Say it’s a locomotive racing down the track. Why are you on it? Is it the rocking motion that puts you to sleep? Or is it the pounding in your heart that keeps you awake? Are you in this for the thrills or the way it dulls the pain? Or, like always, is it a little of both?

Do you love your husband? Do you truly, truly love him? Can you see going to the ends of the earth with him, all the way to the edge where the ground gives way and you tumble arm in arm, so far down you can’t see the bottom? If you love your husband, you’ve got to tell him, and follow this all the way. Because it isn’t a one-time thing, an offhand fling. It’s a big beast that’s got you in its jaws, and you’ve got to cry for help. You’re too far gone to get out on your own. If your husband is the one, you’ve got to make a tearful confession.

If you don’t love your husband, I don’t know what to tell you. Because then the whole thing looks cheap and tawdry: Your secret doesn’t even matter. But I believe you have enormous soul, that you do love your husband and you’re just way over your head in something you don’t understand. So I say throw yourself on his mercy and find out what you’ve got. You’ve either got a man who loves you more than you know and will try to rescue you from this thing, or you’ve got a man who’s too shallow and selfish to see that this isn’t just a bad wifey doing a no-no, that this is a big, howling beast that threatens both of you.

There’s only one rule: It all means something. No matter what happens, if it ruins your marriage or you patch it up, your true task is to understand what it means. That could take a lifetime, so you might as well start in.

 

Cary Tennis Loire Valley Writing Retreat

 

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