In 2001 I joined a social-networking site that promoted writing and art. I "friended" a guy who lived far away from me -- we would read each other's stories and share details about each other's lives. It was both friendly and flirty -- he would comment on pictures of me and vice versa, but nothing serious came of it. We both went through (and read about each other's) many relationships and breakups, along with everything else life has to offer.
About a month ago, he contacted me and said that he wanted to visit me. While I was single at the time, I knew him to be in a serious relationship. I also knew that he and his live-in girlfriend rarely had sex, due to side effects from her medication, but that they were very much in love. It was clear that if he visited me, it would be a "sexcation." He told me it would be a one-time thing, seeing as he loved his girlfriend and planned to marry her eventually, but justified it because he had been "lusting" after me for 10 years and he wanted to meet me and just have fun for a weekend. The timing was very specific, as he had to wait until his girlfriend left town to visit her friends -- he told her he was visiting his friends out of town, when in reality he was visiting me.
He came to visit me, and we had an amazing time. Granted, most of it was spent in bed, but we got along quite well as (clothed) friends too. It all felt very comfortable and extremely fun, but the whole weekend seemed kind of dreamlike. Although I had a fantastic time, I was glad when he left, because I was not interested in prolonging what felt, at the core, to be morally wrong, and which I knew would be messy, at the very least, if it became anything more.
We spoke a few days later and told each other what a great time we had. He asked me if it was "bad" that he was already considering "doing it again," and if I had lost respect for him as a friend because of what he had done to his girlfriend. He said that he considered me a friend but thought about sex with me constantly, and that he was able to compartmentalize it in his "male mind" because it was just sex, and "did that make [him] an asshole?"
Their relationship, according to him, makes him very happy, and on the rare occasion that they do have sex (we're talking like once every two to three months), he says it is phenomenal. He said the only thing that was bothering him about our tryst was the fear of getting caught. Although I did not feel that it was my place to assume things about his relationship and lecture him on my morals, I told him that personally, I could not see the point (or a future) in being in a relationship without a) trust and b) sex, but that I would be "available" to him as long as I was single.
Honestly, the sex we had was the best sex I've had in a long time and I really had a great time hanging out with him. But instead of wishing I could see him again, I found myself wishing I could find someone in my city that I had as much chemistry with. Then again, I'm also human, and if someone I care about offers to come visit me for a weekend of dreamlike supersex, I will say yes, despite what their personal life may be like (to a degree).
The whole experience got me thinking a lot about relationships in general, and my own family history (both my mother and grandmother were cheated on in terrible ways by their husbands). Right now, I feel bad for his girlfriend, but not bad enough to tell him I'm not interested in doing it again. My question is, do you think, based on the information I gave you, that their relationship, and relationships like it, have staying power? What is, if any, the moral difference between doing what I did (once), and doing it again in the future, for him and for me? I've never cheated on anyone, and (as far as I know) I've never been cheated on. But I can't help feeling that now, in a way, I have.
Dubious Down Under
You're conspiring with this guy to deceive his girlfriend. You're in it as much as he is. So unless you can all come clean and find some accommodation, it's not tenable and I can't condone it.
That sounded wonderfully final until I asked myself why. Why is lying so bad? And just how bad is lying, anyway?
Philosophers spend their lives figuring these things out. And then I come along, Internet punk boy, and I'm like, Oh, yeah, lying, it's bad. Even in cases of extreme horniness, it is bad.
Methinks my thinking may lack the requisite depth and subtlety.
So what do I do? I search the Web.
Ever heard of Jonathan Wallace? Me neither before now. But I read his essay on lying, and I think if you read this essay you will be reminded, as I was, why lying is such a destructive thing and why you feel as bad as you do about this.
So here is what I propose to you. I propose that you say to this guy that if he has the courage to tell his live-in girlfriend what he is up to, and if he can reach some accommodation with her, then fine, you would be glad to continue having the delightful experiences you have been having with him.
Otherwise, no. It's not fair to her. And it's not fair for you to be a part of it. Read that essay by Jonathan Wallace, and read this useful essay about Sissela Bok's book "Lying: Moral Choice in Private and Public Life" (1978) and see if you don't agree.
But then comes a further difficulty. Say you agree that your position is untenable. All you have to do is tell him that unless he levels with his girlfriend, you won't see him anymore.
He's the one who has to tell her.
How will he overcome the voices in his head telling him, "You can't just tell your girlfriend that you had the hots for this woman and you lied to her and went and had sex with this other woman and you don't think it was really such a bad thing to do but you recognize that you lied and that's bad and so you're ready for whatever she may have to say or do and you're even willing to see the relationship end if that's what she thinks has to happen but you're just gosh darn it doing the gosh darn right thing because argh! argh! argh! that's the only thing you can think of to do that doesn't make you into a total moral coward and it's the only thing you can think of that will let you lie awake at night with yourself and not be always wanting in self-disgust to throw yourself out a high window."
Why can't he just say, "So there. So I did it. I throw myself on your mercy"?
Why can't he just say that? Why would that be so hard to say?
Well, if we had the answer to that, it'd be a whole new world. So that's a question for another column. For now, for you, it's simple. Just tell him that you can't do this anymore because it's not fair to his girlfriend.
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