Male bonding

I am married to a wonderful woman but I just had sex with a man. Should I tell my wife?

Published November 7, 2002 12:45PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I've been married to a wonderful woman for four years. We're both professionals and deeply involved in our careers, and have numerous friends.

Last year I developed a friendship with a British male colleague, and one evening after several post-work cocktails, we had sex. It wasn't what I would call "love sex," but more of a recreational thing: The closest thing I could compare it to in my previous physical experience with other males is probably ... wrestling(?) Intimate for sure, but I guess I would say that it was more about fun, sport and physical pleasure than about love, romance and commitment.

I am perplexed by my situation and its relationship to the changing social mores of our time. I know my wife experiences deep, distinctively feminine intimacies with her female friends that she does not share with me, and I do not expect her to. My ongoing friendship with this man is something completely different than that which I share with my wife, but I do not feel as though it contradicts or would necessarily serve as an "alternative" to my marriage.

Might the modern homosexual movement inadvertently be expanding the (fundamentally uptight) definition of traditional male friendships to include such ribald intimacies? Need I "confess" the details of this friendship to my wife, or am I allowed to enjoy this experience as a uniquely male dynamic of the friendship, one that I can consider mine alone? I guess I can't tell if I'm just being a traditional "cheat" or if I'm experiencing a historical development in the idea of what modern male friendship may or may not include. How many details of our recent camping trip need my wife be privy to -- and what purpose would a cataloging of the details serve?

Man to Man

Dear Man to Man,

If you tell her, she will find it troubling. How troubling it is hard to say. She might find the news less threatening than if you were having sex with a woman, thinking it less likely that you would leave her for a man. On the other hand, it might hint at a deep ambivalence toward her sex that she might find even more profoundly unsettling. It's possible that she could accept it intellectually while still being emotionally stunned. Because of the prevalence of HIV infection among homosexual men, she might fear that you have endangered her health in an unconscionable way. You would have to reassure her that you used some form of prophylaxis against disease. It is hard to say, not knowing either one of you. For all these reasons, if you were to tell her, you would have to think it through, consider all the consequences, and do it carefully.

If this practice of yours continues, you will have to tell her, because to go on with such a secret would mean that you were living a double life. It would grow beyond the realm of that narrow but firm band of privacy that provides a measure of psychological freedom in marriage. But if it was just a strange and unexpected adventure, perhaps it would be better to keep it to yourself.

Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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