I am engaged to a woman 15 years my junior. She's smart, pretty, and loyal. We have created a solid relationship based on shared interests, communication, and trust. But for some time, I've enjoyed the company of a wide range of women, especially when I travel. This company often involves sex, though not always. It has become part of my identity as a man, and I don’t want to entirely give it up. It brings me great joy and a constant sense of adventure, which is important as I'm nearing 40. My problem is that I can't tell my girlfriend. She simply is not mature enough to understand that lifelong monogamy is just not right for everyone. She would leave me for sure, which would devastate me. But on the other hand, I feel like I'm violating the sense of trust that we have developed. What should I do?
He Said: If you don't tell her, she will find out eventually. So your question is moot. The real question is this: Why are you engaged to someone who does not share your values? Monogamy is one of the first topics any new couple should discuss to avoid having to make the excruciating choice you now face. If you are really unwilling to give monogamy a try (which seems rather foolhardy), it is your responsibility to tell her the truth so that she can make an informed choice about the relationship. This is a woman you claim to care about, so why would you keep a significant part of your life hidden from her? After all, she might surprise you and react with more of an open mind than you predict. If not, it is better to come to a resolution immediately. Years of hiding and secrecy will do neither of you any good.
She Said: Like it or not, in this culture, monogamy is assumed to be the norm for a long-term relationship, especially marriage. That’s not to say non-monogamy can’t work, but just like English is the native language in the United States, monogamy is the default state of a marriage. Anything that deviates from that needs to be discussed up front. The fact that you haven’t yet discussed it, and have continued to have sex with others when you travel (at least it sounds that way to me), is contrary to the trust on which you say your relationship is built. Let’s cut to the chase. You are cheating—not because you’re sleeping with others, but because you’re playing by a different set of rules without informing your partner—and it sounds like you have been for a long time.
First, search your soul. What is more crucial to your joy and identity: Marrying your fiancée, or continuing to have sex with new women? If the answer is your fiancée, then man up and find a way to boost your masculine ego that doesn’t involve bedding new women. The adventuresome options are endless: Start a business, get in the best shape of your life, finish a triathlon, make a million dollars. But if literal wander-lust is as or more important to you than your partner is, then you have two choices:
1. The brutally honest approach. Tell her what you’ve done, that you don’t believe in long-term monogamy, and that you want a marriage in which flings are okay during trips away from each other. Of course, you must give her the same privilege, so think long and hard about whether this is really what you want. My guess is this will backfire. She will demand monogamy going forward, and might even leave you. But who knows? Maybe she’s game and you’ll be in the clear—except for the host of emotions that might come calling when she goes on her next business trip.
2. The old-school patriarchal approach. Continue your travel flings and keep them secret, but remember, every secret you keep has to be lived with not just today, and next month, and next year—but until the day you die. The more there are, the more complicated and compartmentalized your own mind becomes. Secrets come with a high price, and most people fail to keep them forever. This practical consideration is in addition to the moral qualms and pain they cause to everyone involved, including yourself.
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