How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m writing you two for advice on “how to do it” since I already know how not to do it from past mistakes. My husband and best friend recently sat me down to share his desire to open up our relationship. We dabbled with the idea of opening the relationship 10 years ago when I discovered he was in the midst of an intense affair with a college student (not his own) from another university he met while teaching abroad. He’s a professor still; she’s no longer a student. These last four months, they’ve reignited what seems to be a pretty hot and heavy flame, so far just virtually. It started with an email from her out of the blue. He said it seemed innocent at first, just catching up on where life had taken them but soon grew to be more than “hey, how are you?” and more like “let’s pick up where we left off 10 years ago!” It’s been going on for four months. I was clued in on the details seven days ago. Now they want to hook up in the flesh. I’m feeling all the feels. It’s intense for me to navigate the ups and downs, but I care deeply for him and have no bad feelings for her. I admit feeling insecure. I am older, and no amount of wisdom changes that fact. I think we’re being open and honest. Sex between us has been steamy since the big reveal. I am grateful for this opportunity and want to live authentically. I really do hope this rendez-vous rocks his world. I find myself breathless, turned on, and tangled up all at once. I know there’s enough love to go around, but I’ve never followed through with anything like this. Any suggestions on how to make this work?
Stoya: I don’t love that there was an initial affair and a rekindling that our writer wasn’t clued in on for a few months. But I feel like they’re still pretty well set up for success otherwise.
Rich: Yes. There were ethical breaches here, but our writer is looking forward, so I will follow her lead. I admire people who are so committed that they don’t dissolve the relationship when it’s revealed that one or both partners can’t live by the standard of monogamy. And they got here through communication (eventually).
Stoya: Exactly. And our writer got that poly feeling. She hopes it rocks his world. She’s breathless and turned on. Experiencing positive feelings when our partners engage in sex with other people doesn’t prevent jealousy, but it can provide something positive to distract or motivate us to work through it.
Rich: Definitely. Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up is now my go-to recommendation for a practical guide to nonmonogamy (even above The Ethical Slut). I think reading it could help the writer—I found it to have a very where-everybody-knows-your-name kind of vibe for really conveying so much of my thinking about sex and nonomongamy. There’s a particularly relevant quote here from one of Taoromino’s interview subjects: “I think of jealousy as the warning light on your dashboard. It tells you something is wrong, but doesn’t tell you what to do about it.” Taormino lists insecurity as one of the facets of jealousy, which she considers to be an umbrella term.
Stoya: I can see that, and I am super pro getting more specific about jealousy. A friend of mine, who has written for the 18+ magazine I co-founded, has been poly for a very long time. And she wrote a few thoughts here that I find useful.
Rich: This is super practical.
Stoya: Stability and trust are mentioned as key to navigating jealousy, and in my experience are helpful for avoiding it in the first place.
Rich: I think it’s hopeful (and helpful) is that in the build up to this tryst, the sex our writer has experienced with her husband has gotten hotter. The net positive is tangible. Here’s another useful tip, again from Taormino: “Sometimes our insecurity is fueled by our imagination: we imagine a partner’s new partner to be the most perfect human being in the world. This kind of thinking—based not on facts, but on our worst fears—can often be corrected with a simple reality check: meet the partner. When you meet her in the flesh, it’s harder to irrationally suspect, dislike, or demonize her or to put her on a pedestal.”
Stoya: Very wise. For more than half an hour, so there’s time to really interact. Maybe dinner.
Rich: As far as steps beyond that, just keep talking. Our maxim that the most sensitive person’s feelings must be honored holds—this is somewhat up for negotiation, but if our writer sees her husband neglecting her feelings or otherwise discarding them and doing things she isn’t OK with, that’s a red flag and requires a more serious conversation.
Stoya: Absolutely. And she should continue to nurture other relationships, and ideally have at least one person who they can share her thoughts and feelings about this with—someone who isn’t her husband.
Rich: Yes! My question for the writer is: Where are you with your own extracurricular interests? Is this something only the husband is pursuing or is the writer, too, interested in outside play?
Stoya: That’s a wonderful question.
Rich: This is an opportunity. It has not disrupted the bedrock of the relationship thus far, so continue to take advantage of it carefully and with compassion!
Stoya: Enjoy it! And understand that negative or uncomfortable feelings are probably going to be part of the experience. They don’t have to define it. But if they outweigh the positives they can always renegotiate.
Rich: All we have is time to figure this stuff out.
More How to Do It
I am a 52-year-old heterosexual man. I was a computer nerd as a teenager and into my 20s. I was always awkward with girls. I once stopped dating women entirely because it seemed all they brought to me was pain and confusion—until I met my wife around age 25, whom I’ve been with ever since.
Three years ago, my hair turned a certain shade of silver, and from that point forward, about 1 in every 20 women I work with, especially those in their early 20s, started making passes at me. Our group of eight college interns decided to have lunch with me on Thursdays, which I agreed to for mentorship purposes, but they seemed to be in competition to get my attention, doing stuff like lifting up a shirt to show me tattoos, texting me vacation pictures in bathing suits or bikinis, or trying to give me a back rub. In one lunch with four of them, they told me I was a “low-key Daddy” and went through this list of what was attractive about me to a 22-year-old—I had never heard this term before then. One called me “woke Mitt Romney.”