I have been married to the same man for 13 years, during which time we have had imaginative and satisfying sex. I have also been friends with a man who is adept at verbal communication and talented at using it to flirt and seduce. We don't talk about sex exclusively, but I find myself liking it more than I should when we do, and I haven't exactly discouraged his attentions. However, I have drawn the line at acting on my feelings, especially after he finally married last year.
Several years ago, we had phone sex once when I was drunk and a few weeks later when I was not thinking too clearly. I told my husband, and he forgave me, but he wasn't pleased. This man and I have also exchanged erotic stories. Other than that, we have met only occasionally for birthdays and holidays, and our actions have been limited to a hug and a kiss on the cheek. After he got married, I was even more motivated to keep us both out of trouble. Still, when we met, I would dress purposefully, down to my choice of underwear. Last week, I told this man that I wanted to limit our exchanges to the platonic -- that I thought he was amazing, but I was feeling guilty. He was angry. My clumsy attempts to explain made things worse. Now he won't return my e-mail.
We've been friends for 15 years. Should I try to reclaim this friendship? I've had some of the best sex with my husband after writing and reading these fantasies we share, and he tells me he has had similar intensity with his wife. Is this promoting our mutual sexuality or is it adultery?
Confused in California
I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I don't think it's adultery. I think, rather, that it's some form of erotic play that raises questions about the boundaries of private behavior within a marriage, and ultimately about the structure of the postmodern personality -- that is, you have only one body, and if that body fucks another body, that's adultery. But you have multiple states of being. There's nothing terribly complicated or far out about that: You enter a different state of being when you get lost in a work of art, for instance, or a daydream. You don't turn into someone else, but you participate fully in a state of being that springs from the imagination, or from the imagination's interacting with the product of another imagination.
If you feel you have to lie about this, then it raises questions about what constitutes betrayal. If you and your husband have an understanding about the complexity of the imagination and of the erotic sensibility, then perhaps you can agree that this kind of play is not really betrayal or adultery, although it's not something you and your husband can comfortably sit around and chat about either. That is, just because you can't talk comfortably about it doesn't mean it's betrayal. It may mean that it's just pretty weird to talk about -- because it is indeed on the very frontier of our understanding about what a self is. Even though we're seeing a rapid splintering or shattering of the unitary self into a multiplicity of selves as new media further extend our senses into imaginative realms, we're still basically just apes with big televisions. That is, we as individuals, in our personal lives, tend to lag behind what we collectively, as a postmodern civilization, are evolving into.
Heady, no? We're not all that advanced, personality-wise, social-conditioning-wise is what I'm saying; we're still born as one body, out of one body, raised and put in those little desks in elementary school and taught to read as one body. And furthermore we're not all at the same Godforsaken gothic Road Warrior-themed cyberpunk cafe ordering cappuccinos from Tank Girl. Dig? Am I even getting close to what you're talking about?
We still organize society around bodies. One body per marriage partner, one body per person. But as media saturates us and splinters us, as we learn to navigate postmodernity, as sexuality also splinters into realms of simulacra and machines, things are going to get weirder and weirder and weirder. So what we need, I think, is some kind of postmodern primer on marriage, fidelity and adultery -- what it is and what it means in a postmodern age. You can't get off easily by just saying that marriage is obsolete. There's too much to be gained by it. We like to be married.
I'm not the guy to write such a primer. Now somebody like Sherry Turkle and her group at MIT -- they'd be more up for something like that. Sherry Turkle, she's got a big scary French-toasted mind, but she can still talk to us apes with big televisions without scaring us into the woods. So that's my vote: Sherry Turkle should write some kind of a primer for postmodern marriage.
Go try to read one of her books and see if you don't agree.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked Directory