The XX Factor

How Do You Maintain Desire in a Long-Term Relationship? Date Outside the Marriage.


Earlier this week we asked you, readers, to write in telling us how you maintain desire in a long-term relationship. We wanted solutions you may have found to the problem of monogamy, experiments that have failed, and perhaps a defense of sexual fidelity itself. Many of you responded. We’re publishing some of these responses today and tomorrow.

From: Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins

“Most of us aren’t about to give up on monogamy as the governing principle of our romantic lives. So what to do?”

I’m one of those that have. My husband and I both date other partners, and we’ve been doing so since before we were married. It was our first choice of approach for the relationship (not a fallback position). Initially we both dated relatively casually outside of our marriage, although I started seeing someone about a year ago with whom I unexpectedly fell in love. These days I am only seeing my two lovers, while my husband continues to date other people causally.

None of the above is a secret; I hold hands with both partners in public, and list both on my Facebook page. (Although only one can be put in the “relationship” box, which is a shame, I am able to list more than one “partner” under “family”.) My husband is a professional philosopher, like me, and my other partner is a poet and other things. They are both incredibly lovely, exciting, intelligent, kind, sexy people. I often quite literally cannot believe my luck.

So there is no question of my being bored. But I won’t deny I have other problems. My life is probably more interesting than would be to everyone’s taste, including occasionally mine. Navigating and negotiating my relationship situation is complicated; it takes time and emotional labor on behalf of all the parties involved. I am very aware of how strange I feel when people I know (but with whom I don’t discuss my personal life) see me with a partner who is not my husband. I guess they assume I’m cheating, and I hate the idea of people thinking that about me, although I think I would feel even less comfortable going over to explain myself to someone who isn’t asking any questions. 

More generally, my marriage has all the normal social recognitions while my other relationship has more or less none. But conversely, it’s easy for people who don’t know much about my personal life to make a lot of assumptions about my marriage, which are not true, whereas people who know about my other relationship are more likely to ask questions rather than assume. Neither relationship style has many role models I can draw on, so both are to a large extent being invented as we go along. But then, all my previous monogamous relationships were like that too. I was just less aware of the fact.

Previously in this series:

How Do You Maintain Desire in a Long-Term Relationship? Group Sex.