Today on the site, we have Dr. Loren Olson, author of No More Neckties, a new memoir releasing from Oak Lane Press on May 17th. He’s here to talk about infidelity, healthy relationships, and moving on, but first, here’s more info on the book:
And here’s the post!
I’m an expert on cheating. First, I cheated on my wife and then on my husband. I’m not proud of it. It’s just a fact. Fortunately, both still love me, and I love them.
You may disagree, but I don’t see myself as the cheating kind. We hear, “Once a cheater, always a cheater. Dump him/her,” as if the cheater has a malignant character flaw. But the world isn’t divided into good and bad people. Even good people make mistakes.
We live in a world surrounded by incalculable ways to cheat but where it’s nearly impossible to keep a secret. Many of us will be caught when we cheat.
Should infidelity always be a reason to leave an otherwise healthy relationship? How can you forgive someone who has hurt you so badly? Even if you can forgive, it’s unlikely you’ll forget.
Heterosexual couples have a long tradition of vows of “forsaking all others.” Gay couples lack that tradition. We, in the LGBTQ community, are more comfortable in negotiating the terms of our relationship up front.
When Doug and I got together thirty-five years ago, I loved it when he said, “I’m monogamous. VERY monogamous.” I’d been to enough weddings where they sang, “Oh perfect love” to understand it meant we must find the one person with whom we experience love, romance, emotional intimacy, and sex.
I was forty years old when I met Doug. I was just coming out, but I’d had my share of hookups. Those helped me understand my sexuality, my attractions, my desires. But it wasn’t something I wanted for the rest of my life.
I was in love with Doug and would have promised him anything. I believed that I had found the perfect man. He would meet all my needs and I would meet his. How naïve we were.
Passion in a relationship has a shelf-life of about a year. At first, monogamy was easy. Neither of us understood how vulnerable to cheating we become when we meet the hard stuff in our lives. And we all have hard stuff.
I was never unfaithful to Doug until once when I traveled out of town to a meeting where I was to present some research on men who came out later in life. It didn’t go well. Humiliated and defeated, I slunk out of that presentation to a cocktail hour that followed.
I stood on the fringes of the crowd with no interest in interacting. An attractive younger man also stood on the edges. Then he said, “Let’s get out of here.” To be desired by someone was the perfect antidote to the poisonous earlier experience. Guilt never extinguishes desire.
I reasoned, “Out of town. A one-off. A nameless partner. Unintentional and justifiable.” I needed something, anything, to make me feel better. I didn’t know many facts about him, but facts weren’t necessary or desired. He was who I wanted him to be; I was who he wanted me to be.
I hadn’t been the partner to Doug that I intended to be. I was self-absorbed and had dedicated all my energy to other things. I had treated Doug as a distraction. We’d avoided talking about the hard stuff in our relationship.
Although we value monogamy, we aren’t very good at it. How did Doug and I get to a place where we both felt alone, helpless, and desperate for something to change? We should have recognized how distance had grown between us. Perhaps we expected too much from our relationship from the beginning.
Sex had become routine and predictable. While that created comfort with each other, we both missed the excitement of fresh, unexpected sex with someone new. We need rules, values and ideals, but boundaries in relationships can be both too tight or too loose. Sometimes we need to deconstruct old rules and establish new ones based on what’s possible.
Monogamy is absolute. For some, consensual non-monogamy may be a more realistic option than absolute monogamy. Dan Savage, a relationship and sex columnist, coined the term “monogamish.” He suggests that couples can remain loyal and committed while at the same time experiencing occasional sexual pleasure with others.
Adjustment of the rules requires vigilance and honesty. It may be frightening to talk about a wish to change the rules of a relationship but talking about the hard stuff is what solidifies a relationship.
The damage I did to my relationship with Doug and with my ex-wife had nothing to do with where I put my penis. It came from the lies I used to protect myself. Had Doug and I had those difficult conversations, we might have preserved our trust in each other.
Sometimes we do wrong to get out of difficult situations only to find that we’ve created an even more difficult one. If you are absent in your relationship, an affair isn’t going to make you present.
Doug and I accepted we weren’t perfect, and we couldn’t expect perfection from each other. We had to set aside our feelings of hurt and betrayal and discover a new relationship with each other. The things that drew us together still hold us together. Neither of us has any desire to change that.
Loren A. Olson, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist, a gifted storyteller, and the author of No More Neckties and Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight. He shares stories about his late-in-life coming out and the ensuing struggles he had with himself, his family, and his partner so that others feel they are not alone. His life’s mission has been to help people find ways to prevent life’s pains from becoming needless suffering. For more info, visit https://www.lorenaolson.com.