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,
My husband recently found out I’ve been having an affair with my boss. Well, sort of. He walked into my office and saw me kiss my boss goodbye. My husband didn’t really discuss it at the time. But now a few weeks have gone by, and we’re not talking to each other. He wants me to shower when I get home—presumably because he thinks I’ve been having sex at work—but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, my boss and I have an attraction: We’ve made out a few times, we go out to lunch, we enjoy the same things. But there is not sex. He has health issues that would prevent it anyway, and as a woman on the cusp of 45, I’m not very interested in sex anymore, either. I don’t even like to be touched. (I know I could see a doctor about that, but I haven’t.) This, frankly, makes the situation with my boss perfect for me: We can hang out and have a good time, and I don’t have to worry about having sex.
I haven’t told this to my husband, because at this point, I’m afraid he won’t believe me. I’m like, does it matter now? He already has thought the worst in his head. But I don’t think this situation is tenable, and no, I do not want to divorce my husband. We’ve been married for 22 years, we have teenage and adult kids, and I’m not unhappy with him overall. At the same time, I know that if we deal with this directly, he will want me to quit my job, which I won’t do—I love my job, it’s very fulfilling, and it’s the only thing I have in my life that’s all mine. I would like to just keep going as we have been. I wouldn’t even mind if he had a girlfriend to fulfill all the needs that I don’t. I just don’t know how to say all this to him. What should I do? Could we even get past this?
Stoya: So, do you think our writer thinks she’s done anything wrong?
Rich: It sure doesn’t seem like it. She seems to think “making out” is no big deal, and that the lack of sex excuses it all, but any violation of a couple’s agreement—no matter how major or minor you can rationalize it to be in the scheme of things—can be considered cheating.
Stoya: If there had been discussions before, it’d be a different story, but there clearly hasn’t.
Rich: “I haven’t told this to my husband, because at this point, I’m afraid he won’t believe me. I’m like, does it matter now?” That’s … one way to look at it. Another is he won’t believe you because he’s already been betrayed. The rationale here reminds me of my thinking when a cheat meal becomes a cheat day: “Well, since I had pizza for lunch, I might as well get a burger and fries for dinner!”
The writer really could have used the husband’s discovery as an opportunity to assess her behavior, be honest, and do better. But that doesn’t look to be happening just yet.
Stoya: It seems pretty obvious to me that the husband and wife both don’t want to be in their marriage anymore in any significant, connected way. And if I’m correct, then no, they can’t work through this.
Rich: It certainly can happen that cheating leads to a conversation about non-monogamy and an arrangement can be struck, but I think it’s a fairly dicey prospect in this particular case. When trust has been violated so carelessly, it’s really hard to build it back, especially against the backdrop in which she seems very disinclined to pause the non-monogamy and focus on the marriage.
Stoya: I’m also having difficulty understanding the writer’s actions with her statement that she doesn’t even like to be touched. And I imagine that’s a hard one for the husband, too.
Rich: Yes, it seems like quite a bit has gone unsaid, and at a certain point, you have to wonder why. Why isn’t your partner privy to your interior life? Why aren’t you inclined to bring him along with you in your ongoing understanding of yourself?
Stoya: Figuring that out might give her a chance of changing the trajectory.
Rich: Yes. Maybe talk it out with a trusted friend or invest in a few sessions with a counselor to start. But I’m afraid a real discussion with a husband of 22 years will be part of that process at some point.
Dear How to Do It
I’m a 24-year-old woman with a 27-year-old guy. We’ve been together for almost a year, and he’s one of the most amazing, inspiring people I’ve ever met. I see myself becoming family with him. But I’m struggling with how to tell him about my secret sexual past.