Too much, too soon?

I was married at age 19 to a wonderful man, but how do I experience life without losing my husband?


Cary Tennis
April 26, 2004 11:41PM (UTC)

Dear reader,

If you have had your question answered in this column and would like to tell a 10-minute story about it on stage, and you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, please write to me. Put "Porchlight Storytelling Series" in the subject of your e-mail, so I know what it's about. In your e-mail, please briefly describe your story: What was your problem, what I said to you, what you did, and how things turned out.

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There is a storytelling series in San Francisco called Porchlight, run by Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte. I'd been going for a while, and it seemed like the perfect venue for a night of stories from the Since You Asked column. So I asked Beth and Arline and they said they'd be up for it.

My reasons for doing this are several. As you may know, a few weeks ago I put on a performance at San Francisco's Odeon bar called Blabbermouth. It was sort of a Dada-inspired event, via a 1950s San Francisco beat tradition in which audience members would rise spontaneously and speak about whatever was on their minds. You may not be the kind of person who spontaneously stands up and tells your story in public -- that's why you write to me, right? Nevertheless, I believe that some of your stories, if told aloud, can change people's lives. And I'm betting that as you have found resolution to your problem, time has given you some perspective. What once was a deeply trying matter may now appear more like a passing episode, instructive but no longer charged with emotion. After all, a problem that has been solved is a kind of victory. It's a completed thing. The telling of it, in fact, signals its completion. And then you move on.

So here is how I see it working. Based on your e-mails, I would make a rough selection of stories. If I select your story I would call you on the phone (so please include your phone number in your e-mail). Then we would meet as a group, all the people with stories. From that meeting would come an initial set of six stories that work together as a group, with complementary themes and tones.

And then those six storytellers would come together for an evening with Beth and Arline. We would all eat food and talk about the stories. And then a few days later we would all go to the Porchlight where Beth and Arline would introduce you and everyone would tell their stories.

So what do you say? If you're up for it, please drop me a line.

Dear Cary,

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I was married young, to an amazing man who I have no doubt I want to spend the rest of my life with. He is only the second person I have ever slept with, and the only person I have had extensive sexual experiences with. We have amazing sex, and I am satisfied nearly every time. Now, at 25, after six years of marriage, I find myself wanting more. I feel that I am of "experimental" age, yet I am committed to one man for the rest of my days. I desire to have experiences with other men, with multiple other men, for no other reason than just to have fun and have pleasure with other people.

I am also attracted to women for the first time in my life, having lurid dreams and looking for "women seeking women" in the personals, even looking at my friends differently when we go out. This is a first, and I'm convinced it's because of my need to experiment.

I have cautiously broached this idea with my husband, of possibly hooking up with other people for the fun of it, and this is not an option. He strongly opposes infidelity in any respect and would divorce me if I cheated on him, especially if it were planned. I've tried to make him understand (hypothetically, of course) that this would not diminish my love for him, but no go. I've thought about simply living out my fantasies behind his back, but I'm afraid of opening a can of worms that I can't put the lid back onto. My husband is my best friend, and I would feel awful keeping secrets from him. And I realize that one night of curiosity is hardly worth the lifetime of love, trust and friendship that we have built together.

My urges are becoming uncontrollable. Is this a normal phase that will pass, or something I need to indulge in? I don't want to begin to resent the relatively calm but satisfying sex life I now have. Should I try to make my husband see? If the situation were reversed I'm not sure I would have the understanding I'm asking from him. Help!

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Too Much Too Young

Dear Too Much Too Young,

The way I try to answer questions like yours is to follow each option out several moves into the future and balance the possibilities for pain and disruption against the possibilities for growth, pleasure and creativity. In your case I just don't know what to tell you.

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If you start having affairs, you'll be betraying your husband. If you don't, you'll feel a prisoner in your marriage. If you leave him just so you can have the freedom to explore, you may find after a year or two that you want to return. And you may experience a lot of emotional pain, as sex is rarely just a physical encounter.

The one thing that makes sense is to first vigorously, passionately exhaust all avenues in the marriage for discreet exploration. What can you do between the two of you to make your life more exciting? What exactly might he agree to? Would he have to know about every possible thing you might do? What about some kinds of structured or therapeutic physical encounters? Would he be OK if you went out with other women as opposed to other men? Would he be interested in a threesome with you and another woman, perhaps? Would he be OK if perhaps you agreed that you'll take a trip and whatever you do on that trip is your business and it won't be discussed? You would have to negotiate safe sex and all that, of course, but there may be ways you can expand the boundaries of your marriage without breaking it.

There are many ways to open a marriage up, but both people have to be willing, and sometimes after you open up a marriage you find the door won't shut properly. All I can say is, struggle with this until some kind of truth and certainty emerges. Look for the kind of truth and certainty with which you first said, "I want to marry this man." Then trust it, whatever it is.

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If I were a priest or the president or your father I'd tell you to stay in your place. But I'm none of those. I'm just a torn and tattered flag over a small, forgotten country, waiting for an occasional breeze. I'm just watching, mystified and amazed.

In other words, not to be cryptic: I don't have a clear answer for you about whether to have an affair or not have an affair, stay married or not stay married. What I can suggest is that you find somebody who specializes in marriage and family counseling and get some ongoing guidance. No matter what you decide to do, it's not going to be easy, and you're going to need some help getting through it.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked directory.

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Cary Tennis

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