Crazy in New York

I went online looking for casual sex and ended up falling for the guy. But I already have a boyfriend. Now what?

By Cary Tennis

Published September 2, 2003 7:04PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am a 23-year-old woman who is completely confused and ashamed, and I don't know who to turn to.

A few weeks ago, I put up an advertisement on an online dating site. I stated my age and said I wanted casual sex. I did this without much forethought, mostly because I was feeling lonely and sexual from watching Internet pornography all afternoon. I got 200 responses (I live in New York City), and I wrote back to the hottest-sounding man -- a partner at a prestigious law firm, six years older than me, taller than me (I'm tall), very handsome, and nice in his e-mail.

We met and had an amazing night, and then got together twice more. My friends told me to watch out -- they said that these corporate lawyers are nothing but salespeople who have enticing appearances with nothing behind their double faces and big wallets. I didn't see this at all: Our meetings were surprisingly tender and intimate. I felt like Jennifer Lopez in "Maid in Manhattan." I was expecting (and wanting) something pornographic and casual, and instead found what felt like a beautiful, disarming human connection -- and kindness; I am very comfortable and confident with him. Contrary to my advertisement, there is lots of cuddling and very little sex. I don't know where it could lead, but I haven't felt like this in a long time.

So what is the problem? As you can maybe guess from my introduction, I am a cheater (and I hate myself). I have a boyfriend from Spain. I met my boyfriend when I went to work in Spain for the first time, and in my new job I was lonely and depressed. He was a co-worker, and during the past two years he has saved me from my loneliness. He has been my best friend, my Prince Charming, my love, my family, and everything to me. We have lived together and shared a happy life. He envisions getting married, and I have thought about it too.

I ask myself, why in the world would I cheat? One explanation is that I am alone this summer (he gets to NYC in two weeks), so I wrote an ad on a whim, and "one thing led to another," never to be repeated. I was, for the first time in years, back in my country, among my friends, feeling confident and energetic. (I never really made friends in Spain, and I worked very hard.) On the other hand, looking back, I have thought about writing personal ads for a long time. I keep journals, and they are full of sadness and discontentment.

My Spanish boyfriend was the first man I had sex with, so that was a reason to put everything I had into keeping the relationship alive. It began without much chemistry, but I respected his kindness and reliability. I may have had some initial attraction, but we were inexperienced, and he put a lot of pressure on me to have sex, and I gave in to his pressure too quickly. I never regained my comfort with him after that. (He later said it may have been his Latin culture at work in the beginning -- and he did nothing but respect me afterward.) During the next two years, we put a lot of energy into the relationship, and became best friends anyway, but the sex was never great. We have different rhythms, different preferences, and it is never spiritual.

He sees me as his virgin, his innocent little girl, because I told him that I have never been with another man, and I was very vulnerable when we met during my first week abroad. He thinks I like cookies and funny movies and takes little interest in my work life. (Maybe I am scared to share it with him. Who knows?) He doesn't know me as I am in my home country -- I had never had intercourse, but I had a very active sex life, including 33 men, threesomes, Internet dating, all different flavors and types. I was confident and sociable (and a little disorganized -- something I credit him for helping me change). I had also gone through a string of heartbreaks, and I was happy to find someone stable. When I came back to America, I began to feel like my old self again, and I think that is how I met The Lawyer.

I don't know what to do now. I am only 23, and I am maybe not ready to be married. But my Spanish boyfriend found work in America to be with me and is coming to live here (in another city, for now). I have feelings for this other man I met online, chemistry I have never had with my boyfriend and first love, as well as feelings of shame. The idea of hurting my boyfriend makes me physically ill.

I told him I might want to see other people while he was gone, and he joked about it, and said, "Just save a little love for me, and don't tell me what you've done." He told me he wouldn't mind me having a physical encounter with someone else, but to save the emotional for him. I tried, but ended up doing the opposite. Would you please help me make sense of this?

Confused in New York

Dear Confused,

When things get very confusing, it's helpful to simplify. That often means making some decisions. At times of overwhelming confusion even a bad decision is better than no decision at all. It's a way of taking some control, slowing things down to a speed you can handle.

In the case of the Spanish boyfriend and the New York lawyer: Just pick one. If it were me, I'd pick the New York lawyer, but you can pick either one. Just pick one. Tell the other one goodbye. And do the straight boyfriend/girlfriend thing for a while. Be a good girlfriend. Set yourself some rules to follow: No Internet dating while you're with the boyfriend. No casual sex. Just stick to the boyfriend and try to develop that one relationship into something that makes sense to you, that doesn't drive you crazy, that doesn't fill you with fear. If you find yourself guessing, stop. Don't guess. Don't wonder. Don't follow your feelings. Feel them, but don't follow them. Follow your rules.

Try monogamy for a while. It's way less confusing.

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Cary Tennis

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