These pieces were never meant to be a vehicle for questions and answers and particularly not an agony aunt column, but I have succumbed. A reader from America has sent me a question. I am flattered that she thinks I may have something to add that is useful. So here is the question from Lilly (not her real name):
“When you are in a relationship, how do you stay faithful to one person, forget that there are other options out there and stop being curious about others?”
Wow! Not an easy question to start with and I am not sure I am particularly well qualified to answer it, but all I can do is say what I believe.
There is a continual buzz in the world. We are on our phones, rarely to make a call but searching our social networks to see what others are doing and suggesting what we could be doing it, if only we had the courage. We search down the latest trends? What are the trending hashtags? Sexualised advertising is everywhere, and porn is now common place. I have no problem with porn per se and for viewer it offers all sorts of potentially exciting ideas. We don’t want to be left out.
It is easy to feel that you are living a narrow and unexciting life. It is the fear that you are missing out.
I can understand why Lilly feels the need to ask her question.
Of course, that is not the reality. Everyone you are watching you is wanting what you have. It is like two mountain rescuers and their St Bernard dogs, each with a barrel of brandy around their necks. They are climbing a mountain and each few hundred metres, for €10 a tot, they buy a warming drink from each other. By the top of the mountain the barrels are empty, the mountaineers are drunk but neither has made any money.
Lilly, I come from a prejudice that being faithful is a prerequisite of love and everything hereafter will reflect that. You must bear that in mind as you read this.
Before you can even think about being unfaithful there needs to be a relationship and to stay faithful means of course that there is a relationship that you want to maintain. I don’t know how much you love your partner but from your question I assume you do. if you didn’t then you would never be asking the question.
When we form a partnership, we make formal and informal commitments which are based on love and, most importantly, trust. Making that commitment is extraordinarily difficult and requires total trust. I know that more than anyone; Sasha and I live over 3,000 miles apart. Trust is crucial to us.
Surely, Lilly, being unfaithful is a total breakdown of trust? It is never love you are betraying it is trust and that hurts far more. If you are in a shared loving relationship, then you must be faithful. It is as simple as that.
Of course, it is never as simple as that, I just liked the moral authority in the phrase. The level of trust will wax and wane. That is the nature of life and you both have a responsibility to manage the changes and ensure there is more waxing than waning. As with most things the best way to ensure this is to talk, talk and talk some more.
I haven’t always been good at communicating but over time I have improved and become much better to the point that my honesty is driving Sasha mad. A simple question from her can involve a long answer as I try to make sure that I answer honestly, and nothing is left out. Dishonesty by deliberate or accidental omission is still dishonesty.
Sasha and I also do something very rare. Every day, without exception, we write to each other and we share every thought, but don’t believe it is all loving or sensual. Mostly it is but I know when she is cross with me. Sasha can find words and phrases that, if her letter had been handwritten it would have been a scrawl of venomous green ink. Similarly, I hope I can sometimes find a tone that expresses my displeasure. But we talk through our problems. We are open and honest with each other and it doesn’t change when we are together.
We have agreed that when we are living together we will find a way to recreate our daily letters. We will make sure that we spend at least an hour or two every day properly concentrating on each other. We don’t want a chat while one of us is cooking, pushing a hoover or watching Crystal Palace playing football. We will find proper one to one time when our only concentration is on each other. We will (and please excuse this word) verbalise both our letters and the time we spend now writing letters.
The letters have done more than nurture love and trust they have made sure that we have also become best friends. We share everything. There are no secrets.
Lilly, have you noticed that we are never ‘unfaithful’ to our best friends? In our letters Sasha and I are doing what friends always do, talk. She is my best friend. We want to be best friends, we are best friends and the best and strongest love is when your partner is also your best friend.
Love and trust, like any delicate, tropical, flower need to be nourished with continual attention. They are the most delicate of flowers.
The problem is that you can have a strong, loving, stable, relationship yet still face temptations.
Sasha and I met on a dating site which I have learnt later are part of a syndicated relationship and however many times I unsubscribed I pop up somewhere else. I have given up and now just delete the meeting requests and naked pictures as they arrive and send them to the junk email box. However, I do occasionally peek before deleting and think momentarily about all the sexual favours being offered. I don’t dwell for long because I love Sasha, but I can see the temptation.
It was Oscar Wilde’s character Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere’s Fan who said, “I can resist everything except temptation”. Maybe that is the creed of today’s society. Couple that with FOMO, the ‘fear of missing out’ that is driving much of modern society and we have your problem.
The reality is that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and you have this feeling that maybe it is. We have temptation thrust in our faces.
Whenever temptation has come my way I ask myself a question. What am I going to lose if I give in? I am in love with Sasha and I know she will hate me for saying this but, she isn’t perfect. She can and sometimes does annoy and upset me but the things I love far outweigh anything she could do to annoy me. Those are every bit as much a part of her personality and they make her real. It is not just that I love her but the pain of losing her would never be worth giving in to any temptations. The loss would be mine.
Lilly, the final part of your question asked about ‘being curious about others’.
I have recently edited a new book – Alexandra (www.AlexasFantasies.com) which is the story of a Ukrainian psychologist who specialises in female sensual and erotic fantasies. Other than dulled excitement of editing and proof reading these exciting stories over thirty of forty times, it is interesting because it opens something that I hadn’t previously thought about. Women have erotic fantasies every bit as much as men.
In my very misogynist way I had assumed that it was only men who had sexual fantasies. Of course, it was only men. That is why the porn industry is what it is. I was wrong as Alexandra (who I met through Sasha, she is one of her best friends) repeatedly tells me.
The problem is that women have always been reluctant to share their fantasies with their partners and, as Alexandra tells me, women need that same sensual excitement in their relationships. And so, Lilly, my advice would very much be to talk openly to your partner about your sensual needs.
Alexandra, tells me that is what women do when they talk with each other (unlike men in the pub who just brag about what they would like to do with the barmaid). Maybe if you were to talk to your partner about your fantasies, you may just find more common ground than you thought.
Being unfaithful doesn’t have to be a full on, naked romp on a rainy afternoon in a shady hotel. You can be ‘unfaithful’ without leaving your office. In the press recently there has been discussion about a concept called Micro-Cheating asking the question, are you unknowingly being unfaithful? (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42660629)
According to an Australian psychologist, a range of actions, including having a secret online conversation and leaving heart emojis on a friend’s Facebook post, might be seen as micro-cheating. Melanie Schilling told Huffington Post Australia that it comes down to “seemingly small actions that indicate a person is emotionally or physically focused on someone outside their relationship”
Further examples she gave include saving someone in your phone contacts under a different name, reaching out to an ex-partner to mark a significant event, and sharing private jokes. But these examples divided social media, with some people defending the term, while others called it abusive.
Similarly, what if you follow a good-looking man who walks through the office? Do you cast an admiring glance and wonder on his glutes and pecs, width and length? Is that being unfaithful?
I know many women who would have cuffed me round the head if I wasn’t concentrating totally at them. A glance at a pretty woman walking past me is seen as cheating. I don’t do it now.
While I was thinking about this piece I asked Sasha for her advice to you and this is what she said,
Gerry, you know that I trust you, you know that I love you and I am open and want to try new things with you (there is a little censorship here as Sasha describes something sensual that we could do on a cold winter’s night!). There are lots to try for us, and if we do this together then our love will grow.
For me the most important is that you love me and only me and that I am the one you always dream about!!
I think there is a strong trust that makes our relations so strong, so we keep our relations even though there are so many miles between us.
As ever she says everything far more succinctly than me.
Lilly, this is not an answer but some rather random thoughts. There is no single answer, but I hope my few words have given you some insights. I hope your love sustains and you are both very happy, for a very long time.
If any other of my readers have a topic they would like me to discuss, please email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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