Thoughts about love, commitment, monogamy and cheating

Is phone sex cheating? 

This is actually a sort of a Rorschach test. If you think it’s cheating, then it’s cheating. If you think it’s not, then it’s not. However, your partner should also agree. And this brings me to my first point: 

Commitment and marriage are a game. And by this, I don’t mean that they’re frivolous, but I mean that there is an objective and that there are rules, and most disagreements occur when people haven’t agreed on their objective and haven’t made explicit and agreed on the rules. 

A lot of people say you should get married for love. I disagree. As the philosophers would say, love is necessary but not sufficient. Love is never enough to make anything work; I love plenty of people who have been extremely poor matches for me. And, likewise, I have been with people who would make excellent partners in many ways, but I do not love them. Being partnered takes a high standard of love, commitment, shared values, shared life goals, similar outlooks on life, strong physical attraction, and a slew of other things that need to match up for a successful partnership. 

Even if all these things line up, without the glue of understanding what your objective and rules are, it’s still not going to work. 

What I’m trying to say: be 100% clear about what you want. And be 100% clear on your standards for getting there.

You might get married just to have children and have a stable co-parent. Nothing wrong with that if you’re both on board. You might get married because you need a source of income and he/she makes a significant amount of money more than you. Nothing wrong with that if you’re both on board. You might get married to feel secure about life because you’re refugees and you’ve both survived a war together. You might get married because you have an extremely strong physical attraction and you want to fuck all the time. Maybe you’re more high-minded and you want to push each other to be the best version of yourselves that you can. Maybe you’re trying to build a successful business partnership and that’s the goal of your commitment. Nothing wrong with any of these things as long as you realize, talk about and make explicit what you’re trying to get out of the relationship and what needs it fills for you. 

Here are a few questions you might ask each other before you decide to be committed or get married: 

  • What do you want from this relationship? 
  • What do you expect out of this relationship? 
  • What do you expect from me? 
  • What are the things that make you feel loved? 

Ideally, you’d ask each other these questions periodically, and not just at the start of your committed life to each other. And when I say talk about it and be explicit, I don’t mean sexually explicit, I mean in words specific. Regardless of the gender mix of your partnership, no human is a mind reader, and a level of detail explicitly stated (“I want you to hug me for a full 60 seconds when I walk in the door”) can be immensely helpful. 

Now, onto the rules, aka standards. She might have the standard that you bring you flowers on mother’s day because though you were the egg donor, she was the one who carried the baby. He might have the standard that you always wear a dress to your business meetings with your colleagues. He might object to you calling him your boyfriend instead of your fiance or husband. And then there are the heavier ones about each of your roles, about sex, about cheating. You need to have an explicit conversation about the rules. But first, I need to talk about:  

The illusion of monogamy

Even if you are actually explicit about both the objective of your partnership and the rules by which you will reach your objective, it still might not work. I believe that long-term monogamy longer than seven years at a stretch is unrealistic for most people. One person cannot provide the sexual variety that so many people seek, even if they’re a highly sexual person with lots of skill. And I think a lot of people are ashamed to look elsewhere for the sexual satisfaction that they’re socially sanctioned to want from their partner, even when their partner cannot satisfy their needs either in terms of frequency, variety or skill.

We have set up a social system in which we idealize decades-long monogamy as the standard, while not realizing that the number of people who make it past 20 years of marriage or commitment to the same person without a cheating incident is vanishingly small. It is a lot like certain beauty standards: held up as the ideal, nearly impossible to reach. 

I know that I cannot be sexually monogamous. Believe me, I have tried, and I have failed. And I think a lot of personal unhappiness results from people trying to fit themselves into the monogamy box while slowly dying inside because they cannot express their desire for sexual adventure and sexual variety. 

Let’s talk about it

The fact that most heterosexual relationships default to monogamy amuses me at best and dismays me at worst. Because, like anything that just gets assumed, the rules aren’t explicit and so it can lead to a lot of misunderstanding about what should and should not happen. So many couples who have assumed monogamy would do well to discuss it. And by discuss it I mean, asking all kinds of questions about what is allowed and what’s not allowed. 

Ask your partner questions like : 

  • Should we be monogamous?
  • If we are monogamous, what constitutes cheating?
    • Is phone sex cheating?
    • Is flirting with a work colleague cheating?
    • Is flirting with one of our friends cheating?
  • If we’re not monogamous, what relationship structure do we want?
    • Do we just want to have sex with other people (i.e. swing)? If so, how often do we want to do this?
    • Do you want to only do this while I’m in the room or do you want to play by yourself with other sexual partners? 
    • >Do we want to have outside romantic relationships (i.e. be polyamorous)? 
    • >What are the rules for whom we can engage with? (i.e. who is off limits?)
    • How much do you want me to tell you about my other relationships or other sexual partners? 

All this said, I urge you to talk with your partner. In my work, I talk over and over with men who have not told their wives (it’s typically men married to women) how they want to have their dick sucked or how much they want to be fucked in the ass or how much they want to watch their wives get fucked by another man. Have these conversations. Risk a little bit of discomfort. You might be surprised with the results. 


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