Tag Archives: infidelity

Sex, Love and Intimacy

It’s hard to sift the emotions we have around sex. Sarah lives where many of the contradictions are obvious.

“When you’re with your sugar daddy, doesn’t it feel ‘wrong’ to be so intimate? Doesn’t it feel odd, especially when you are in a relationship with someone else? Even in the polyamorous community, isn’t there jealousy?” I asked.

“Of course there’s jealousy,” Sarah says. “And it can get ugly. But in our group at least, there seems to be a deeper level of communication, openness and honesty.”

I thought about that for a while. If anyone can make love with anyone else, then I suppose much of the “possessiveness” within a relationship falls away. Or becomes obvious for the baggage it is.

“That’s exactly right,” said Sarah. “Even in ‘normal’ relationships, although our group thinks of monogamy as ‘abnormal,’ couples want to believe a partner is there because he or she wants to be there. We all recognize that being there only because of a wedding ring, or the children, or mutual dependence isn’t all that great. We all want our mate to want to be with us.

“It gets pretty clear quickly in our group if someone is bringing baggage, and it gets talked about. We see it for what it is, instead of what it pretends to be, all sorts of stuff about ‘you should do this’ or ‘you should not do that.’ It’s okay to say, ‘I feel…’  or ‘I need…’ ”

“But what about intimacy? Doesn’t the fact that you are having sex with your sugar daddy drive your boyfriend or girlfriend crazy?”

“The sex is easy. But I don’t lie close and all wrapped up all night with my sugar daddy. That’s an intimacy we won’t have. I don’t want to have that. I’m not going to fall in love with him, so there’s distance, there, too. Sex is not necessarily part of intimacy, or intimacy a part of sex, but intimacy is a part of love.”

“Doesn’t it become sex for money, then?”

“There is more to our relationship than sex. We are friends, he is a mentor, I offer whatever insights I have to questions he has, we do things together that we both enjoy. Why should the fact that we also have sex stain all of that?”

Sarah made me realize we often live our lives by rules, but rules can’t be a substitute for honesty and openness. Honesty makes us vulnerable, and can be difficult, but using rules to justify behavior, or find fault with the behavior of others, always fails the most important test.

We say “You broke the rules…” instead of saying “What you did doesn’t work for me…”

Instead of saying, “I want to be with you.”

Science of our infidelity

What if promiscuity was the result of brain wiring? What if that wiring was the result of inherited genes that impact us in ways we can not possibly anticipate?

What if what we want in a partner changes over time — not because anything happened but just because time had passed? What if infidelity isn’t “his fault” or “her fault” but caused by an invisible process outside of anyone’s control?

This musing was sparked by an article by Dr. Richard A. Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Read that article here.

I’ll jump to Dr. Friedman’s conclusion and work backwards: “For some, there is little innate temptation to cheat; for others, sexual monogamy is an uphill battle against their own biology.”

The  “biology” or propensity toward infidelity, appears to be linked to the amount and location of hormones, or receptors for those hormones, in our brains and are the result of genetic “programming.” Oxytocin and vasopressin are especially relevant. These impact behavior. In fact, according to one study, “Forty percent of the variation in promiscuous behavior in women could be attributed to genes.”

Men have their own variants. Evolution has favored men who spread their genes far and wide: i.e., prone to infidelity. But I’d like to rephrase that: Evolution favors genes able to spread far and wide through behavior of the organism in which they are carried, and that they influence to favor that spreading.

Some of you are now thinking I use this to justify any and all sorts of behavior, but that’s not the case. There are other biological forces at work as well, and social forces, etc. In the overlapping circles of self, family and society, there are many competing forces at work. It’s a pretty dynamic system. Understanding the causes of behavior does not change the fact that certain behaviors are destructive and painful.

At the same time, accurate understanding can at least mitigate that pain, and possibly reduce  the destruction. Continuing with mistaken beliefs not only prolongs pain and destruction, but often adds to it.

A partner cheating on us can lead to the belief that we are inadequate, when the real cause has little to do with us and is result of that partner’s wiring. It can be confusing when the cheating partner doesn’t know the real cause of their own behavior and blames us for being “inattentive.”

Dr. Friedman writes of a friend: “… (she had a) propensity for sexual exploration that seemed in some ways independent of the emotional status of her relationships.”

For those prone to exploration, we might believe our partner has become boring, when it is in fact our own wiring that causes us to seek new stimulation. Nothing changed for them. We do not need to judge them as lacking when our wandering is internal to us.

At the same time, belief that a partner is “immoral” or that they simply choose to hurt us, or are indifferent to our pain is probably not true and diminishes the joy that once existed.

All that said, we do not always get what we want. Hard decisions still have to be made. But to make those decisions well, we have to recognize that differences between people exist, and often for historical and/or biological reasons that are nobody’s fault.

But we still have to decide what we are willing to live with, and what we are willing to risk. There are no guarantees.

Emotional infidelity

Jackie is vivacious, with sparkling eyes and a melody of laugh that grabs attention from across the room. She has had many lovers, some of whom she stays in close touch with, sharing their lives in ways deep and profound. When her boyfriend Mike asked who she was always on the computer with, she bristled, and defended hours spent emailing Dave, a former lover.

“Mike has no right to tell me who I should talk to, and what I talk about. I’m not having sex with Dave. He was an important part of my life long before I met Mike. That’s just how it is.”

When Genevieve smiles, a corner of the world lights up as if by magic. She loves deeply, and she even loves men she had been “in love” with years ago. Some of them still want to bask in her glow: Men from her past sometimes seek to be in her present, unable to let go.

But Genevieve doesn’t go too deeply into conversations with former lovers, because she knows there’s a hook in there, a door trying to open, but more importantly, she knows her fiancé Don would not like that, any more than she would, and thinks of that as emotional infidelity.

It’s so tempting to take sides, but I don’t think there is an absolute right or wrong, here. But I do know absolutely there are consequences to the choices made.

Genevieve has chosen to make Don the focus of her emotional universe, and he knows that, and responds in kind. That “exclusive emotional intimacy” is valuable to each of them, and each knows the other is the one rock available to which they can return in a world of too little stability.

Mike may have no ability or desire to communicate on the level Jackie needs to feel complete. It’s easy to think of a situation where Mike could be perfectly good with Jackie sharing her soul, or partaking of Dave’s, but in this case, the sharing is causing friction. Dave has access to Jackie that Mike finds hard to accept.

Jackie wants it that way. She hasn’t done anything “wrong,” that’s just how she is.

The parallels to sexual behavior are valid. Readers here know I don’t think there’s an absolute right or wrong with polyamory, or casual sex with multiple partners, sequentially or simultaneously. But I know absolutely there are consequences to the choices made. If both partners are on the same page, sharing may enhance a relationship. If one wants exclusivity and the other does not, there are going to be problems.

I agree that Jackie gets to make the call about continuing her relationship with Dave. Mike has to accept that as part of Jackie. But Mike doesn’t have to accept that as part of his life. Mike does get to decide that he wants someone who does not share herself in that way with anyone but him.

If he heads for the door, Mike hasn’t done anything “wrong,” that’s just how he is.