How to Do It

An Intense Fight With My Husband Has Me Convinced Our Entire Life Is a Lie

I haven’t seen him this upset in years.

A worried looking woman next to two neon male symbols.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by nicolesy/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Dear How to Do It,

Please help. I’m pretty sure my husband of more than 20 years is gay.

Some background: I have anxiety, and anxiety can come with paranoia at times. He’s been my only sexual partner, and we were married when I was in my early 20s. We are of similar ages, but he had been in other sexual relationships, which was fine with me. I just hadn’t. Now, 20-plus years and multiple kids later, half our marriage has been him not wanting to have much to do with physical stuff like kissing, cuddling, or sex—unless I perform on him, usually. I am lonely as hell. We sleep in the same bed, but I feel like we are just roommates. He’s not super mean, and I’ve brought this conversation up so many times up over the last 15 or so years, but every time there’s another reason: He has bad breath; he’s tired; he just wants to be with his friends (I’m not invited). He says every time I bring it up, I make it harder for him. On the rare occasion (two times a year tops) we do have intercourse, he can’t finish unless I perform orally on him.

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For a while, I thought he may have a girlfriend on the side and that frustrated me, but the more I thought about it, I realized he really is out with two specific male friends—one single, one married—and he’s often out with them three-to-four nights and days a week. He works from home, and I do understand he needs a break from the home atmosphere, but I’m suspicious now. Like I said, I’ve tried to have this conversation, but he always gets very angry and blames my mental health. We’ve even been to marriage counseling, and he is adamant he will never go again. He says he wouldn’t care if I was out with female friends three or four nights a week, but he also knows I don’t have female friends to hang out with.

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Finally, a month ago, I asked him straight up in as supportive of a way as I thought possible if he was gay. I had actually started a month before that by asking if his one friend was gay, and he said no—he just is happy alone. This time when I said, “Ya know, if you were, we could make life work. I love you, I support you, we could make things work.” I was thinking he could be with this guy, maybe give me some child support for a short time but an amicable split, and he could be happy and we would be friendly. I could in time perhaps find a new relationship, but I’m not sure about that at this point. Mostly I’m already on my own besides him bringing in the income, so if he could be happier with someone else, I do want that for him.

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Well, he was enraged. More than I’ve seen him in many years. He is liberal and not hateful of the LGBTQ+ community, but it seemed even more like he didn’t want to admit he could be gay. If he had laughed it off, I would have believed him more. What should I do now? I am in therapy. I’ve done work on myself for many years. I’ve read marriage books and articles and have an arsenal of self-help coping skills. I am at a loss. I love him, but I’m also lonely in my own home.

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—Straight and Alone

Dear S.A.,

It’s worth thinking through your suspicions a little more. You have not provided proof or even compelling evidence that your husband is gay. He could be asexual. He could be heterosexual but confused and frustrated about waning desire within his long-term relationship, which is extremely common (see: innumerable past and, without a doubt, future questions sent in to this column). He could have low testosterone that is contributing to low desire. He could be having sex with women when he claims to be out with his friends. He could very well be gay, as you suspect, but you just don’t know. I think the “he’s gay” narrative may be attractive because it provides a coherent explanation for the state of things while casting you as an innocent who has seen the love of her life disintegrate without having so much as a shot at controlling the outcome.

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People cling to narratives because, even at their bleakest, there is something comforting about drawing a line from A to B and making sense of the journey. What you describe, though, is fraught with such uncertainty, it’s its own kind of quiet chaos. And I think the primary injustice being inflicted by your husband is his refusal to give you that appealing throughline so that you can wrap your head around how you ended up here. His blaming your warranted curiosity on your mental health or whining about your perfectly justified questions “making it hard for him” is unfair. It could reasonably be described as mistreatment. You know that something is up, and his refusal to engage with your perception is cruel. He’s trying to make you believe that this is all in your head, and that you can only do harm by attempting to ameliorate your own confusion. This is not compassionate, and it’s a failure on his part. It’s his job as a partner to at least attempt to put whatever shame he has about what he’s going through aside and give it to you straight. Or give it to you gay, whatever his situation may be.

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I don’t think his fury at your accusation is necessarily good evidence either—there are straight guys who are queer allies in the abstract, so long as queerness doesn’t get anywhere near them and certainly doesn’t reflect back on them. If he absolutely refuses to work with you, you’re going to have to give up on this relationship. That sucks, but look at it this way: You’re already lonely. You could sit around and get lonelier or attempt to create a new path for yourself that may result in the relief of your loneliness. If your husband won’t give you closure, you’re going to have to carve out your own.

Dear How to Do It,

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My wife and I have been casual swingers since fairly early on in our relationship, so we’ve enjoyed playing with other people in front of each other, and we’ve had some really amazing experiences. We often find that after we play with others, it increases the sexual desire between the two of us, and we have really hot sex in the weeks that follow. Our sex life in general is good, although like many others, it can run hot and cold at times. My wife often says she misses the feeling from when we were dating when everything was so exciting, and you’d get butterflies just being around the other person, but it’s almost impossible to recreate that with someone you know so much more intimately many years later.

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I want to suggest opening up our marriage so that each of us could date other people, but I’m not sure how my wife would react to that. I’m married to the love of my life, and I’m not looking for someone else to spend my life with or replace my wife. However, I do think it would actually be good for each of us to experience those exciting feelings again with other people, including sex. I enjoy watching my wife have sex with other men, and it would be exciting to have her come home and tell me all of the details about her night out with another guy. I think seeing each other having fun again and being desired by other people would create a much-needed spark in our own relationship at home. Are there any good ways to suggest an open marriage in our situation without potentially upsetting my spouse?

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—Open Minded

Dear Open Minded,

You’ve come this far, and had fun along the way—why do you suspect that this conversation will upset her? If you aren’t just being overly cautious and understand this will be a sensitive topic, then you undoubtedly know what triggers to avoid. If you worry that she’s going to feel abandoned, preface the conversation by saying, “There’s no way I’m going to abandon you, and this is just me thinking out loud, but …” You have a sound case for wanting to rev up your lives with some good old NRE (that’s “new relationship energy” in poly-speak). That you have found yourself wanting an even greater sense of openness makes sense. Things progress. We get a taste, we want more. It doesn’t make you a terrible person who is throwing away a good thing; it just makes you someone whose experience with consensual nonmonogamy has led up to the point of wanting to give polyamory (or however you want to label it) a try.

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There are many complications to navigate should you go forward. As always, I’m recommending Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up, the most comprehensive and sensible book I’ve ever read about ethical nonmonogamy and its many permutations. You can read it together and talk about it. Take things as slow as the most sensitive person (presumably your wife) needs—clear, continual communication will prove invaluable. You can dip your toe into this way of living by attending a local poly meetup. It doesn’t have to be this scary plunge into a fast lifestyle that will make the two of you (and your relationship) unrecognizable. Pace yourselves, and you’ll be able to steer with precision.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a 25-year-old woman who lives with my parents and pays heavily discounted rent and utilities because I haven’t been able to find a “white collar” job since I finished my M.S. degree. I work in a coffee shop. My 26-year-old boyfriend got laid off a few months ago and had to move back in with his parents. Prior to that he had his own place but had four roommates. Rent in our city is insane, and the upfront cost is huge. It’s going to be at least another six months until he has enough saved to move out.

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Since our parents literally never leave the house, we’re barely having sex, save for a few random one-off nights in hotel rooms paid for with gift cards (with our parents texting us every hour asking where we are and if we’ll be home for dinner). We’re going out of our minds, but our parents are prudish, and they’re giving us such a good deal on rent that we can’t exactly ask them to get out of their own house.

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After complaining about this to our friend group, it seems like a good number of us are in the same boat. Everyone is so miserable due to our collective sexless existence in our childhood bedrooms. What are the best places to have sex, outside of the house, that are preferably not going to put us on the sex offender registry?

—Horny 25-Year-Olds

Dear H.25.,

Ah yes, the old “hosting” dilemma—look on many hookup apps and you’ll see that while a lot of people want sex, it seems like few can offer space in which to have it. I think you just have to be creative with your scheduling. You can look into hotels and motels that rent rooms by the hour, but many such establishments have “seedy” reputations, which may be warranted. (As someone who once had bed bugs, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that high-traffic beds have a greater probability of infestation. I think about this all the time, at every hotel, whether the bed is high traffic or not. The bed bugs really changed me, and though they were exterminated, they reside in the nooks and crannies of my mind, perhaps indefinitely.) You could look into public sex venues, such as a swinger’s club or a sex party, but that of course changes the dynamic and perhaps nature of the sex you’d be having. If you’re not looking to be looked at, such a site might not work for you. Obviously, people have sex in places like bar bathrooms and parked cars, but these are exactly the options that you seek to avoid, as they could end up in criminal prosecution. I think you should schedule around your parents. I don’t quite believe that they “literally” never leave, and if they don’t, well, you’re an adult and can perhaps negotiate some privacy. Otherwise, do sleepovers and learn the art of silence.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a gay man with an incest kink, mainly centered on father/son role playing. I’ve explored this kink mainly on Reddit subs, and while I mostly meet other users with similar fantasies, I sometimes come across people whose kink seems rooted in past trauma (who I’m concerned about) and, most disturbingly, those who want to push the boundaries of the kink outside fantasy. Most recently, I started talking to a guy who admitted to having his two sons sleep naked with him in bed. Aside from reporting and blocking him, which feels inadequate, what is my responsibility here? And how should I handle other users who share my kink but whom I otherwise consider shady? It’s making me question whether I should indulge my kink at all, given who I’m potentially rubbing shoulders with.

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—Game Over?

Dear G.O.,

I think your responsibility is bound to the standards of the forum in which you have become acquainted, so reporting any violation of community guidelines is about the best you can do, unless you happen to have this person’s full name and location and can report to higher authorities. Of course, this guy’s admission about his children could just be more play—you have no real way of ferreting out what’s real and what’s part of the running fantasy when you meet someone in a venue that is powered by fantasizing. I’m not suggesting that optimism or the benefit of the doubt is due when someone seemingly reveals molestation (or something in that vicinity), just that proving an internet stranger is inflicting actual abuse is going to be difficult without hard proof (and, since such hard proof would probably be illegal to possess in itself, you don’t want that anyway).

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It does seem like if you’re chatting with strangers about incest, you’re going to be faced with something distasteful sooner or later—you have to determine whether your disgust response is up to it and if you can live with yourself after. I think it’s important to point out that we rub shoulders with all kinds of people all the time. I once connected with someone online whose identity I uncovered via his email address and promptly found a link to his page on the sex offender registry. There is so much we don’t know about the strangers that we’re sharing (or potentially sharing) such intimate moments with. But in your specific case, I can’t imagine this being an isolated incident. Tone is a hard thing to suss out online, harder still in places where illegal, life-destroying acts are discussed. If this is feeling like it’s going too far for your taste, it’s probably time to reevaluate and make different choices.

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—Rich

More How to Do It

I’m in a bit of a quandary. I’m a middle-aged professional man who’s been divorced over a year and a half now after a 20-year marriage. I live in a small town, my extended family lives far away, and there’s not much opportunity to make friends. My support network is very limited. I’ve tried online dating and that’s gotten me nowhere. So, because of loneliness and boredom, I sought out the services of a sex worker. I have now seen her many times, and she is amazing! When I’m with her, we seem to connect not just sexually, but emotionally as well. I do realize it is her job to make me feel good, but I have now developed feelings for her. I’m starting to get jealous, thinking of other people she sleeps with. I’m trying to stanch these feelings, because I know that in the end this relationship is going nowhere. Can you give me suggestions on how to think of her as a Friend With Lovely Benefits, and not as a Fiancée in Waiting?

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