A 19-year-old wants my husband

We're polyamorous but I think she needs discipline more than sex.

By Cary Tennis
July 10, 2007 2:18PM (UTC)
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Dear Reader,

Check this out! My buddy, the excellent writer and former Salon staffer Chris Colin, wrote a profile of me in SFGate, the online partner of our fair city's San Francisco Chronicle.

Here's me in 1983 with a glass of scotch! More news on the book -- and the band -- soon. Stay tuned! --CT


Dear Cary,

I find myself in a bit of a strange, disheartening situation.

My husband works part time, and one of his co-workers is a 19-year-old girl (I am 31, my husband is 36). To say that she's developed a bit of a crush on him would be a gross understatement. She knows that we're poly, and she knows that he's into BDSM, which she apparently has a bit of a leaning toward (their boss, a woman, is also into BDSM and has been talking to her about it).


She's 19, recently graduated from high school, and has discovered the joys of partying. Before meeting my husband she had been somewhat sexually active, but was still technically a virgin, and she pretty much flat-out propositioned my husband, asking him to be her first, with the thought that it would be better than losing her virginity to some random dude in a drunken stupor. Due to the high drama factor, he turned her down. But in the way of blissfully ignorant teenagers everywhere, she continues to pursue him with abandon.

She frequently calls and texts him, usually to regale him with stories of how trashed she got the night before (or is right now). As predicted, she did lose her virginity to a random dude while in a drunken stupor, so now there's the added bonus of "I wish it had been you, it would have been so much better." From what my husband has told me about her, she's one of those girls who is somewhat attractive, but hangs out with the really cute girls; she has terrible self-esteem, and so she parties as a way to be part of the popular group.

My heart aches for this girl. She's going out pretty much every night, getting drunk and taking pretty much whatever drugs the people she is with are putting in front of her. Because her self-esteem is so low, she responds to pretty much any and all male attention. I feel fairly confident, given the fact that she's A) pretty oblivious in general and B) having sex mainly when she's falling-down drunk, that she's not using any sort of protection. It makes me sad, because to a lesser extent I was this girl, and I know where she is headed. I was lucky -- for some reason, I was never interested in trying anything beyond pot and acid, but she doesn't seem to have the stop mechanism that prevented me from going down that road myself. She's not going to college because her parents have led her to believe that there's no point.


Probably in the very near future, it's very likely that one or more of the following is going to happen: She's going to get pregnant; she's going to catch an STD of some sort; somebody is going to put meth in front of her and she's going to try it and more than likely she's going to like it, because it's going to be a synthetic replacement for the self-esteem she doesn't have. I hate to make broad generalizations, because sometimes the unexpected happens, but it's not too hard to look at all the individual pieces here and make a pretty good deduction as to how this is going to work out.

It makes me so sad to think about this girl out there, guided solely by what her stupid teenage friends are telling her to do. I know how she feels, I know why she acts the way she acts, because I was this girl. I was lucky -- when I look back on those years in my life, most of the guys I hung out with (and pretty much all of the guys I did drugs with) looked on me with a big-brotherly attitude, which I'm sure played a big part in my not being taken advantage of or pushed into doing things that would have really caused problems for me. This girl doesn't seem to have that, in any way, shape or form. Her parents belittle her to the point where she often sleeps on the floors of friends' houses or in her car rather than go home. I almost want to have my husband invite her over so I can befriend her, in the hopes that having a positive female role model in her life would maybe help. But given some of the behavior we've witnessed from her and her friends, I feel pretty confident that her knowing where we live would result in drunken 2 a.m. drop-bys (the cemetery she and her friends use as a partying site is less than a mile from where we live), and I don't really want to invite that particular brand of drama into my -- and my kids' -- lives.


So what, if anything, do I do? The mother in me wants to take care of this girl, to encourage her to go to college, to stop having unprotected sex with whatever dude is at the party she's at, to make a decision about what drugs she is and isn't going to do and stick with it. Part of me wants to tell my husband to broach the subject of a dominant/submissive relationship with her, because he feels pretty strongly that if he did, she would do what he told her to do. But is that right? She's not our responsibility -- technically she's an adult, she's not anybody's responsibility, and who are we to judge how she chooses to live her life? Who the hell am I, to think I might know what's best for this girl? And yet ... I know from experience that these are bad choices she's making, and it kills me to think that she might waste her life on working just enough to score her next hit while attempting to pursue child support from her three baby daddies. Why should she have to learn the hard way, especially when the hard way doesn't have a start-over button?

I'm sorry this is such a long letter, but I'd really like to get a little perspective on this.

Mother Hen


Dear Mother Hen,

I relate to this situation. I grew up with troubled peers. I was a high-functioning but troubled person myself. I witnessed the peer support that would arise when there were no adults to turn to. I witnessed the surrogate parenting that occurred in the absence of a stable social structure. I saw the older among us help the younger. I saw the stronger help the weaker. I believe that lives were saved. We nurtured and policed ourselves and each other as best we could. At times I think a couch or a floor to sleep on made the difference between a deadly overdose and a morning spent crying and shaking.

It's not a pretty world, the world you describe and the world I am remembering. It is filled with danger and loneliness and fear. So I sympathize with your situation, and encourage you to follow your instincts in this regard. I think you probably can be a positive female role model for this young woman. I think you and your husband probably can act as surrogate parents. It may do some good. It may help her get over something, or get through something. It's worth a try. You will of course have to recognize that you cannot save her. But you can be there enough for her to save herself. It's a thin line you plan to walk. But it is worth walking.


It's not without emotional risk. You know that. There are also issues of legal liability that you ought to look into. How would you keep meth out of your house, for instance? What would you do if you found that she was bringing drugs into your house? How would you protect your family from unsavory characters she might bring around? You know what meth can do to people. If there is any way you can keep her from doing meth a first time, great. If there is any way you can minimize her exposure to it, great. Meth is so destructive! Keep her away from it if you can! And if she gets involved with meth, you may have to cut her loose. Beyond a certain point, you lose all authority; the drug becomes her authority. But perhaps you can help her before it's too late.

You mention some non-mainstream aspects of your lifestyle. That is your business. But because in reaching out to help this young woman you may expose yourself to outside scrutiny, I think it will be in your best interest to maintain a strict boundary of privacy around those activities while you are trying to help this young woman.

I do not know exactly what you envision when you suggest the formation of a dominant/submissive relationship between your husband and this young woman. Though I'm a little out of my depth here, I suppose that through a highly structured relationship with him, she might be able to create for herself and then internalize a strong father figure, a kind of made-to-order superego. But if it is not already obvious, I would definitely say this: If he's to be a father figure, then keep sex out of it. Beyond the obvious incestuous implications, there is the fact that, having discovered the power of her own seductiveness, she now needs to learn how to control it, to rein it in -- to husband it, if you will.

Even if the relationship is kept nonsexual, and even if you and your husband have experience with such things, jealous feelings may still arise. They may in fact arise with unexpected intensity, since you will be reenacting family archetypes in a sexually charged atmosphere. So, um, good luck with that!


The important thing is that this girl needs help and you want to help her. So please, have courage, try to help her, and do not let fears about disruption, mishap and inconvenience hold you back. Get involved in her life. Be a rock for her. Be the mother hen. Invite her into your life and into the life of your family. Just know that you will have to set inviolable limits, and that if she cannot abide by them, you will have to cut her loose.

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