How To Tell If He's in an Open Marriage or Just Cheating

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.


Dear Roe, 

Hi, single straight woman in her mid-twenties here. I’ve had a flirty friendship with a married guy in his 30s for about a year (he’s been married for a couple of years). Since we met, he’s spoken to me a lot about his wife, telling me that he’s not happy in his marriage. His wife doesn’t have a high sex drive and won’t try anything experimental or kinky in bed, whereas we seem to share the same sexual interests.

I had no interest in having an affair with this man and breaking up a marriage, but I figured if he wasn’t being satisfied at home a bit of flirting with me was a fairly harmless release for him. Over a few months, the flirting moved from suggestive banter to pretty explicit sexting, and lots of talk about what we’d do to each other were he single. It all seemed hypothetical, but now he’s after telling me that he and his wife have agreed that because she won’t fulfil his needs, he’s allowed to have sex outside of the marriage, and he wants to sleep with me.

The thing is, I’m not sure I believe him. He told me I just have to trust him that his wife agreed to this, and got all offended when I asked how I was supposed to know if he was lying, so I dropped it. But do people really have those kinds of open marriages? And how do I know he’s not just lying and planning to cheat on his wife?

Yeah, he’s just lying and planning to cheat on his wife.

The signs are all there. Your Sexty-Texty Man complains about his wife to young single women (yes, plural: I have my doubts you’re the only one he’s pulling this move on). It’s a cliché disrespectful-dickhead-testing-the-waters-with-the-young-single-girl move.

A man who’s genuinely worried about problems in his marriage and is attempting to fix them will talk about these issues to a therapist, or his guy mates, or other married friends who will understand what he’s going through. He might even put on his big-boy pants and talk about his marital problems with his bloody wife.

A man who’s genuinely worried about problems in his marriage and is attempting to fix them does not talk about these issues to young, single, twenty-something women who are attracted to him; and he definitely doesn’t then proceed to flirt with these women, sext them, and talk about what they’d do were they not married.

This is classic cheater’s grooming – complain about their relationship, play the victim by blaming the spouse, make you feel special by saying you can fulfil their needs in a way their partner can’t, and then gradually up the flirting ante until healthy boundaries are so far in the distance you can no longer even see them.

This is what he’s doing. You know this is what he’s doing. You know he’s a bit skeazy and not trustworthy – which is why you very rightly don’t trust him, and think he’s spinning you a line about this open-marriage stuff. Trust those good instincts, girl. Because it is indeed utter bollocks.

Not because open relationships don’t exist – they absolutely do, and can be as healthy and loving as monogamous relationships. But the clue to open relationships is in their name: they’re not just open in terms of letting other people in, but also in terms of honesty, transparency and openness between the two primary partners.

People in healthy open relationships have a constant dialogue about their own relationship, what they want from each other, what they want from outside partners, what they’re comfortable with, who they’re allowed be with, what they’re allowed to do with outside partners, etc., etc.

So, how do I know that your Wedded-But-Wants-You-Bedded Man isn’t in either a completely open relationship, or even a slightly ajar marriage? Because if he was, you could confirm this with his wife. If she genuinely had no problem with him fooling around, if they were having the honest conversations that need to be had when opening up a marriage, there should be no problem with having her tell you that yes, they’re exploring an open marriage; yes, she’s fine with it; yes, you can sleep with her husband; and thank you, aren’t you so sweet for checking in.

Seriously. She should be grateful that you’re being ethical and respectful about it and making sure – and happy to talk to you. And he should be happy to arrange that.

Even if she prefers not to meet you, there should be no issue in having her give you a quick phone call or leaving you a, “Hi, happy Friday, yes you can ring in the weekend by doing my husband” voicemail.

But that’s not going to happen. You know it isn’t going to happen. Because you know he doesn’t have permission to fuck around, and that you – and his poor wife – are being played.

And so you should exit the situation entirely. Because it’s one thing to have a bit of flirty banter with a good guy who’s in a healthy, respectful relationship – that can be genuinely harmless and a bit of fun. But if you get into these interactions with a liar and a player, of course he’s going to end up pushing boundaries, and it will stray into harmful territory – for everyone involved.

His wife could end up devastated and hurt, and yes, their relationship could end because of your flirtations with him. And of course if this happens he’s the one at fault for betraying the trust of his partner, not you – I’m not placing all or even most of the blame on you or letting him off the hook for a second.

But knowingly contributing to someone else’s heartbreak just isn’t cool, so don’t do that, and rewarding asshats with attention just encourages them, so don’t do that either.

The biggest lesson to learn from this? Survival lives in the gut, so trust it.

If your gut is telling you that someone’s a lying skeaze and you should leave, it’s because something’s about to flatline.

Follow your gut and run– and hopefully it’ll be straight into the arms of someone who presents less of a coital clusterfuck.

***

Dear Roe, Just curious – how do lesbians lose their virginity, anyway?

Virginity, noun: a state of sexual purity that can only be lost when a man puts his Biblical Canon into a woman’s Shame-Cave of Christ.

Or at least, that’s what history tells us.

Virginity has always been a very tricky, controversial business, and one primarily concerned with controlling, shaming and placing a monetary and/or social value on women.

The modern understanding of the term virginity – someone who hasn’t experienced penile-vaginal penetration – came into common consciousness in the thirteenth century, and was quickly turned into a bargaining chip for men via a woman’s dowry, another facet of her being that belonged to her father until ownership of both the girl and her virginity was transferred to her husband.

“But sure, that’s the Middle Ages!” I hear you (silently) cry. “We’ve moved on since then!”

Eh, have we? For millions of women, the idea of virginity is still a life-or-death issue. It’s estimated that 20,000 women are victims of “honour” killings in the Middle East and Southwest Asia every year, many because they were suspected of losing their virginity outside of marriage.

Sexual assault victims are shamed by religious conservatives for being “used”. And young women are routinely punished, disowned, or even killed when their virginity is questioned, like twelve-year-old Jasmine Archie, an Alabama schoolgirl who asphyxiated in 2004 after her mother forced her to drink bleach because she believed Jasmine was no longer a virgin.

Of course we’d like to think that this dangerous, misogynistic ideal isn’t one embraced and legitimised by the saner percentage of society. But we’re not exactly up with the times either.

Because of the narrow, heterocentric definition of virginity that only recognizes penile-vaginal penetration – a definition that really no longer fits our increasingly diverse, accepting and kinky modern world – the notion of virginity is leading to a lot of confusion, and some seriously questionable logic.

Several recent studies, including one by the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Centre in Rhode Island, have discovered that more and more Christian teens in America are having anal sex, believing that because there’s no vaginal penetration involved, this act preserves their virginity. That’s one hell of a kinky loophole. (That’s what she said.)

And this stupidly heterocentric view of virginity isn’t just confined to clueless teens or crazy zealots. Educated adult Europeans are falling afoul of the confusion too. In 2004, eighteen-year-old Londoner Rosie Reid made international headlines when she reportedly decided to sell her virginity on eBay in an attempt to help with looming university debts.

Though she billed herself as a virgin, Reid was upfront about the fact that she was a sexually active lesbian with a long-term girlfriend. Strangely, the immediate response of any sane, cerebrally functioning human – namely: ‘Eh, ye WHAT now?’ – was a question that remained unasked by both the men who rushed to bid, and the innumerable news outlets that covered the story.

To the interested men and media, Reid was a virgin not because her sexuality had gone unconsummated, but because it had yet to be consummated with a man. As ever, female sexuality was being defined not by her orientation, choice, experience or even her body, but by the ego and cocks of men – and this definition earned her £8,400.

Anyone else weeping for humanity? Just me? Alright, let me pull myself together so I can examine this.

So if virginity is no longer about the hymen, no longer about sexual innocence, no longer representative of modern society in that it ignores any non-hetero experience – then what the hell is it?

Simply abandoning the concept won’t work. Not only is the notion of virginity historically important, but being able to acknowledge the milestone of exploring your sexuality is important to the individual. So I’m not suggesting we abandon the idea of virginity; I’m merely suggesting that we make it about having sex – not sexual intercourse.

Let me explain. I’m not Bill Clinton – to me, a blow job very much counts as sex. And unfortunately for Bill, I have history on my side.

The transitive verb “sex”, from the Latin “sexus”, means “sexually motivated phenomena or behaviour”. To paraphrase, sexual intercourse is understood as penetrative sex. Sex, on the other hand, is an entire part of your life; both the sexual acts you may perform and their intellectual and emotional offshoots.

It’s simultaneously your general level of sexual activity and any specific sexual act in which you’re exploring and enjoying your sexuality. Intercourse is one good fuck for a (wo)man; sex is one giant, broad, sexy realm of (wo)mankind.

Acting on your sexuality isn’t a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am experience, gone with the pop of a magical cherry. And so losing your virginity is a process – a finger here, a blowjob there, orgasmic or merely intellectual epiphanies about your needs and desires everywhere.

And just as you get to decide how to lose your virginity and act on your sexuality, you and only you get to define it.

I, for example, was sexually assaulted at age 17. I had never done anything sexual with a man apart from kissing before my assault, but I sure as hell don’t consider it the beginning of my sexual journey.

I didn’t consent to it, so it was violence and sexual assault, not sex. This is why rape victims can still define themselves as virgins, and anyone who protests can immediately report to me for a swift slap upside the head.

And yes, lesbians and gays who’ve never played it straight but sleep with their same-sex partners can proudly shout from the rooftops that they’ve been de-virginized. Because your virginity and your sexual life can only be fully experienced and defined by one person: YOU.

And that definition? It should only be for you too, by the way. You shouldn’t be judged for it, nor judge anyone else.

People are big, glorious, complicated masses of traits and experiences, and sexuality is just one facet of that. Virginity, sexual experience or sexual identity aren’t things to ever be used to value someone.

Virginity or experience aren’t status symbols, and sex isn’t something to be withheld or doled out in order to manipulate or gain power. So don’t do that.

Which was all a very long journey back to your original question, and the only answer I can give.

How do lesbians lose their virginity? The same way as everyone else: however the fuck they want.


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Author:

Roe McDermott: Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

Reader responses

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Random
at 20 April 2016 at 13:41

Yes. A man who is unhappy in his marriage must be cheating. Men cannot simply be honest if they are in a relationship. Even though the lady in her 20-something is flirting and sexting a guy who is married, it is the guy’s fault. This line of thinking is what is wrong with advice columns like this. They are biased against men.

I think the advice here is to take responsibility and actually ask the man if he is an open relationship. If you have any doubts then drop this relationship and move on. You don’t want to be a distraction or an outlet for a man going through a bad marriage.

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