I'm afraid I'll be unfaithful to my husband

I love him to death, but I'm not so hot at fidelity.


Cary Tennis
January 29, 2008 4:30PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I'm engaged to be married to a wonderful, wonderful man. He is smart, dedicated to pursuing an intellectual life, handsome, great in bed, and inventive, sexy, sweet, hilarious, playful, dependable, trustworthy, honest, able to analyze himself and willing to talk out problems and concerns. He takes care of me, thinks I'm great and is utterly in love with me. Nothing better in this world.

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My issue? I have been unfaithful in the past, and am terrified that I will cheat on this man and poison the life that I want to build with him. Possible reasons -- I was a gawky, weird girl who turned unexpectedly into a beautiful one at some point in college. This perhaps led to me being unprepared and bowled over by the new possibilities. Maybe I'm still selfishly enjoying something I didn't expect I would ever have during my formative years -- attention and pursuit by attractive people. At one point I slept with a friend's boyfriend, causing terrible and destructive consequences for a lot of people. You would think that would have deterred me, but no, I have kissed other guys during two serious relationships. My rationale to try and calm the guilt was that these relationships were not perfect, were going to end at some point anyway, I was having an experience (well, this wasn't rational, but you know the letting yourself get carried away and imagining you're not making a choice).

The other bit of the mishmash is that sexually, I'm really attracted to women. I think about women more when I fantasize. I have had a couple of unsuccessful hookups with women, and have come to realize that while the sex charge is there, I don't have the desire to build an emotional connection with another woman, no desire for romance and companionship -- that part is absent from the equation. I think I've come to the point where I see that it would have been good to do a little more sexy experimenting, but that time has passed, as there is no way I want to destroy a wonderful partnership for a couple of hot slick nights. Every choice means something is no longer possible, right? I would like to emphasize that I am quite attracted to men both physically and emotionally, and I have a really good sex life with my fiancé.

There are a lot of other things, my longing for wild fun times countered by my desire for spiritual and intellectual growth, I could go on for pages. But it boils down to: I want to be true to my man, I don't want to lie to him ever ever ever. Clearly, I've done a lot of thinking about this. What I believe I need is some big-picture perspective, a creed and a plan. I need concrete ways of being, backed up with spiritual resolve to help me keep the trust and love and life I will have with my husband strong and untainted.

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I feel like you're the guy to give it to me, Cary, I really hope you will.

Determined but Scared of My Own Weakness

Dear Determined,

At considerable peril to your own hopes and dreams, you need to do the strong and courageous thing. You need to sit down with your fiancé and tell him the truth.

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You need to tell him that you cannot promise fidelity -- not that you don't want to be faithful to him, not that you don't love him enough to try to be faithful to him, but that your history, viewed dispassionately, shows a singular lack of talent for it. You also need to tell him that you are attracted to women.

He needs to know that. He may be perfectly fine with it. He may be a realistic person. The point is that the promise of marriage brings certain expectations, and it's a good idea to clarify those expectations. The monogamous expectation also has medical implications -- i.e., if by marrying you he may risk exposure to STDs, he has a right to know that.

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It would be different if you didn't know, or hadn't thought about it as carefully and deeply as you obviously have -- and hats off to you, by the way, for the diligence and struggle you have put into this. You appear to be, in my short acquaintance, a person of high ideals and principles. You have already acquired more self-knowledge than many achieve in a lifetime. So please don't blow it here. If you want to always tell him the truth, the time to start is now.

I fear that by pushing you to be honest I may ruin everything! I hope that is not the case. I'm just reflecting back what you say. If you said you felt certain you were done with finding new sex partners, I would believe you. But you don't say that. You admit to deep ambivalence. So you probably aren't done. People who are done sound like they're done. You don't sound like you're done. You sound like you have more to do. That's OK. Do more. When you're done you'll know. Maybe you'll never be done. Maybe a marriage can encompass that. Again, the point is to speak the truth and clarify expectations all around.

But before you tell him all this, ask yourself: What do you want him to do? Do you want him to marry you anyway? Do you want a postponement until you're done? Do you want perhaps to enter into some kind of counseling to examine your compatibility? Do you want him to just go for it anyway, to take the risk of your occasionally not being 100 percent faithful to him? Do you want a don't-ask, don't-tell marriage? Do you want to have a marriage that tacitly allows for outside sexual encounters and bisexuality? In other words, what are you asking him to do?

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And consider what conditions you are prepared to accept. What if he says he would end the marriage upon the first occasion of infidelity? Would you be willing to marry him on those terms? What if he says that the idea of your bisexuality strangely intrigues him? What then?

But in considering his possible responses, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves. Mainly what you need to do is figure out what you want from him. For when you tell him these things, that will be his likely question: What do you want? (I can imagine you at this point saying, But Cary, that's what I wrote to you for; what do you think? What do I think? I think that after you tell him the truth, the two of you might benefit from some professional pre-marriage counseling.)

The bottom line is that you need to tell him the truth. You may not understand all the implications of the truth, or your own motives for telling the truth. But you have to start there. If you want to never never never lie to him, you have to begin by always always always telling him the truth.

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