Pillow talk

Should I tell my girlfriend I had a dream about sleeping with another woman?

Published October 10, 2003 7:18PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My girlfriend and I have been together about three years. We're open with each other about everything, help each other out with emotional and practical problems, have a great time together, love each other's friends and families, have similar fantasies about our future together and enjoy frequent, wonderful sex. It's a great relationship, and I feel incredibly lucky to have found her.

Recently I ran into an old high school friend that I hadn't seen in a while. She's someone I once had a minor crush on, but never really considered asking out. Anyway, we got to talking, and before you know it we were in her apartment. We were sitting on her bed and talking and all of a sudden there was this tension there -- tension neither of us resisted. Eventually we were making out, and then clothes began coming off, and I was engaged in the first adulterous act of my life. Afterward, we were lying on the bed and still talking, and my mind was racing ... how could I have done this? What does this mean? Should I tell my friend I have a girlfriend? Should I tell my girlfriend I cheated on her? And then ... my alarm went off.

As I reached for the snooze bar I was thankful that my moral dilemma had simply vaporized with the coming of a new day.

Only it hadn't, quite. Generally, after having an erotic dream I can't stop thinking about the person (whether they were fictional or someone I actually knew) for at least the rest of the morning. This time, I'm preoccupied with whether I should tell my girlfriend about it. My instinct says no, since I have a feeling that erotic dreams about other people are not uncommon; it's happened to me once or twice before. What distinguishes this dream from the others is that during it, I was aware I was cheating on her and I didn't stop ... I even started thinking thoughts like, "Well, maybe she'll never find out," and, "It's just a one-time thing. She doesn't need to know." I was quite despicable. I guess I kind of want to tell her about it now because I was planning on hiding it from her before I knew it wasn't real -- some kind of confirmation for my own soul that I wasn't being dishonest. I guess at the root of it, I feel guilty even though in waking life I didn't do anything wrong.

Did I get off on a technicality, or am I actually innocent? Would it do more harm than good to bring it up?

Dream Weasel

Dear Dream Weasel,

Nothing is more private than a dream. If you have no concept of a private life, it's time you got one. Likewise, if you have no concept of how your revelations can affect others, here's how: If you tell your girlfriend about this dream, unless she is an academic specialist in dreams and remarkably efficient at compartmentalizing her emotions -- in other words, unless she is an alien life form -- she is going to wonder what it means that you told her. She is going to wonder if perhaps you told her because you've been fantasizing about this old high-school friend of yours while you two are having sex. She's going to wonder if you floated it as a trial balloon to see how she feels about your cheating on her. She's going to wonder if you're cheating on her already, and made up the part about the dream. She's going to wonder if you have any balls at all. She's going to wonder about your compulsion to confess, and what that might mean if you and she ever get married and become enmeshed in a complex civil lawsuit over a condominium with a leaking roof: She'll begin to wonder if you might feel compelled to confess that you had, indeed, contrary to the condominium association's rules and the contractor's warranty on the roof, attempted to fix a minor leak yourself with Silly Putty and a hunting knife, aggravating the original construction defect, nullifying the warranty and ruining any claim for damages resulting from the leaking roof -- which leak, incidentally, destroyed her heirloom rug but left your golf clubs untouched. She's going to wonder if you are one of those guys who wakes up one day with an urge to sleep with your neighbor and feels compelled to tell your wife about it when she's seven months pregnant and really doesn't want to know.

If you tell her about your dream, she's going to wonder about you. If you like it when she wonders about you, and if wondering about you is one of her great pleasures in life, then please, tell her in detail.

But I wouldn't, if I were you. What's the payoff? Relief of guilt? Guilt over what? You did nothing wrong. You can't be guilty for your dreams. You don't control your dreams. They're like cats. They come and go as they please.

So, OK, if you must tell her the dream, tell her the whole dream story, only in the end, tell her that the girl that you slept with was her, and that the one you felt guilty about was your mother. Nah, that wouldn't work either. Just zip it.

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By Cary Tennis

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