(Salon/Zach Trenholm)

I'm in my first serious lesbian relationship

She has a history of cheating. Should I worry?

Cary Tennis
September 26, 2011 4:01AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am 20 years old and in my first lesbian relationship, with a girl I'll call Anna. We haven't been together long, but we recently lived together for a couple of months, and it went astoundingly well (confirming clichés, I know, but that's OK). I went through a period of angst while coming to terms with the change in how I see my sexuality, but I'm mostly through it. It helps that I'm totally in love with her, and I see a real future for us.


The problem is this: She has a serious history of cheating. I know several people she's dated before, and a few of my closest friends are people who've known her since childhood. When she started college, she had rather extensive series of short sexual relationships -- raising the eyebrows of the friends from home -- before meeting her most recent girlfriend, whom she dated for almost two years (I'll call her Jane). I met her while she was dating this girl; I was present at parties where Anna hooked up with other people. Jane never knew about any of it (very few of Anna's friends were also friends with Jane -- most of them didn't like Jane very much, which I suppose is another story), and Anna has told me outright that if Jane had known about the cheating, the relationship would have been over in an instant. She was being purposely deceitful, and readily admits this. The kicker is, when we first connected (kissed, drunk, at a party, which led to lots of talking, and then mutual romantic feelings pretty soon thereafter), she was still dating Jane. I knew she was in a relationship, I knew I didn't approve of the cheating, but I couldn't help myself. Making out at a party is one thing, but even afterward, I couldn't stop thinking about her. It later turned out that she had been fighting with Jane for several days before the night we kissed, and that the relationship had been on life support for at least a few months -- they'd been fighting, not having sex, etc. Anna broke it off with Jane about a week after kissing me. I'm not so self-centered as to think I was the cause of the breakup, but I was certainly a catalyst. Anna says she does not regret how things happened, because she ended up with me (which is almost too flattering to question, you know?).

Anna and I have talked about this extensively; as evidenced by the fact that I'm writing to you, the idea that I'm dating someone who has felt OK about cheating in a monogamous relationship causes me no small amount of grief. She doesn't defend what she did with Jane, but she's also never volunteered a promise that she'd never do it again (and I've never outright asked her to promise that, because honestly, I don't know if I want to hear the answer).

I am very much in love with this girl, and I want her in my life in a serious way. I know that she feels the same way. I truly don't believe that she would ever actively try to hurt me. But I have this horrible, nagging feeling that the first time we get in a big fight, or if our sex life stagnates, or whatever else causes people to wander, she'd start sneaking around. She gets seriously offended when I suggest this, but again, doesn't outright promise otherwise.


My rationalization for not running the other way is that she's only 21 years old, and people our age do stupid shit. For a while I dated boys I didn't like very much and wasn't attracted to because I thought it was what I was supposed to be doing. I let them fall in love with me and then broke their hearts when I figured out I couldn't reciprocate (yes, this happened on multiple occasions, and yes, I feel guilty). While that seems more forgivable than straight-up cheating, I think, are we all not just on a spectrum of screwing things up while trying to figure out who we are and how the world works? I realize that telling myself that people change, the most famous of delusions, makes me sound like a sucker. But in a lot of ways, I believe it's real -- at this point in my life, I'm a different person every three months. Is it ridiculous to think that maybe that applies to fidelity as well? Am I putting too much faith in the changes that happen in the hazy area of life between youthful folly and adult maturity? Or am I just setting myself up for a big, embarrassing broken heart?




Dear Insecure,

Here's an idea. While you're trying to figure out who you are and how the world works, why not take seriously the proposition that the legacy of our parents' world, the restrictive, monogamous, marriage model, just may not be the most realistic model for a relationship at your age and stage of life. Why not have a loving talk with Anna and tell her that if she wants to have sex with someone, or if she doesn't even know she wants to but ends up doing it anyway, that it's not going to be the end of the world. Why not tell her that all you require of her is that she be honest with you.


You don't have to do it the way it's always been done. It may be awkward because you don't have any mainstream models. But that doesn't mean that you can't at least try to reshape the world of relationships in a way that takes into account what we're really like and what we really do.

Why not take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try to reshape your world?

Easier said than done, I know. So here is a suggestion about how to think about this. Try to distance yourself a little from the immediate passions that arise when you think of her cheating on you, and ask yourself this: Could you survive if she had some other sexual experiences? Would you collapse and die if you found out? What would actually happen? You might think in dramatic terms at first, but what would actually happen if you found out she had slept with someone else? You would probably have an emotional reaction, right? You might be angry and hurt. But would you have to take certain irrevocable actions, or could you just accept what you are feeling, say what you are feeling, and see what happens next?


Could you do that? Could you live through it?

Your life is an open book. This is your chance to write the script.

I don't see why each generation shouldn't try to change the world. When I was 21, I thought we were going to change the world. We tried to fashion a new world of relationships that were more realistic and true to our spirits.


And maybe we didn't completely change the world but there were a few things we knew to be true and those things are still true. We knew that connections could sometimes be made instantly between people and that life could still go on. We knew these things and we tried to live our lives honestly.

There are enormous social pressures working against the pure perceptions of young people. But that's no reason to blindly accept the romantic myths and oppressive practices of an older and increasingly irrelevant social order. You are the only people who are really seeing clearly what it is like to be alive. You are the only ones who can lead humanity out of our old, tired ideas. If you do, mankind will benefit. Eventually, generation by generation, humanity will evolve to more realistic and compassionate forms of courtship and coupling. We just have to.

So that's my advice to you.

Tell her that you know she's human, and that if she has sex with someone else, all you require of her is that she tell you about it. Tell her, OK, I'm really afraid you're going to cheat on me, so instead of living in fear, I'm going to say that it's not the end of the world if you cheat on me, except I don't want you to lie to me. You don't need my permission, but you need to tell me afterward. 


That seems fair, doesn't it? Then you have some choices. If you can't live with her behavior then you can do what seems best. It's better than pretending. It's better than being lied to.

Just lay it out there. Laying it out there gives you some power in the relationship, too. It shows that you're not afraid, that you can live with whatever happens.

So why not be large of heart? Why not be large of spirit? Why not be courageous, and tell your girlfriend, OK, let's face that it might happen, and let's agree to talk about it if it does happen, and let's try to  live as loving human beings, accepting each other, accepting that we're not perfect but we're not monsters, either, and that what we have is beautiful but fragile, and that life is short and the challenges are great, so let's do our best to be kind, and wise, and true to ourselves.

Creative Getaway


Citizens of the Dream

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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