How to Do It

My Wife and I Had No-Strings Threesomes With Our Close Friend. The Aftermath Wasn’t What I Expected.

Three women embrace each other.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by digitalskillet/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, 

I have a complicated situation, but I’ll try to be brief. My wife and I (both women) began having regular threesomes with a close friend (also female) about a year ago. It was fun, uncomplicated, and spiced our lives up during COVID, when there was really nothing else to do. But recently, we’ve realized things are actually quite complicated. My wife and I both fell in love with our friend, and she with us. We’re not in a place to explore a poly relationship—we’re already in the fringe being a same-sex couple in our small Midwestern town—but we can’t continue as a closeted triad because the feelings are real. We know we need to break up, and that at least one of us will get hurt. Our friend has said the marriage should be protected, but I’d rather be with her than my wife. I think she might agree, but I know she would tell my wife if I asked, so I’m afraid to until I’m certain of her answer. Unfortunately, I suspect my wife is thinking the same thing. We do all love each other and want to maintain a friendship if we can. How do we figure out how to minimize the hurt one of us will feel and decide who gets to keep our new love?

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—Three’s a Crowd

Dear Three’s,

It sounds like you’re afraid of ending up alone, which is reasonable—it might happen, and losing our emotional connections can be soul-crushing. But it also sounds like you’re stringing your wife along as a backup plan if things don’t work out with your mutual friend and threesome partner. When you say “decide who gets to keep our new love,” I’m left wondering if you see her as an object to be won and had or even owned, and I can’t stop thinking about the story of King Solomon.

So, as the Biblical tale goes, two mothers—sex workers, which is probably why the story stuck in my head—walk into King Solomon’s court with one baby. Each insists that the baby is theirs, and that a (not present) baby who died belonged to the other. Solomon asks for a sword and says he’ll cut the baby in half, and that’ll be fair. One goes “OMG no, she can have it, just let it live” while the other says “half a dead baby is better than her getting the whole baby.” Solomon rules that the live infant should be given to the woman who was willing to give up her claim to preserve the baby’s life.

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Your friend already told you that she thinks the marriage should be preserved. She wants the marriage to live. If you leave your wife for her, there’s a good chance she’s going to be reluctant to enter a two-partner relationship with you. If you say to her “I want to leave my wife for you, but only if you’ll have me,” there’s an even greater chance that she’ll be reluctant to pair off. And if you say “I want to leave my wife for you and have threesomes together,” she will probably wonder how you think the same thing won’t happen again with her in the role of less-valued wife this time.

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Think long and hard about whether you’re actually invested in your marriage, and if you aren’t, the kindest thing is to leave. If you do leave, take some serious time to heal and get right with yourself before you jump into another relationship. No matter how this works out—including the three of you staying together—there’s going to be a risk of suffering for everyone. There’s no way to pitch this as less hurtful than it is.

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I just found out the man I’ve been dating for a year is seeing another woman. I didn’t know, but he says he thought I did. Was I unreasonable to assume we were exclusive, or was I duped?

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Dear How to Do It, 

I think I’m mainly looking for input on whether this is something I should be concerned about. I’m a 38-year-old woman who is single and happy that way. I’ve never been someone who fantasized much, whatever my relationship status. But for the past few weeks, I’ve had this long-running, rather involved fantasy/daydream/whatever about someone I’ve never met, almost assuredly will never meet, and before now had not thought about in this way except in a general “Yeah, he’s good looking” sense. In this random dream, I was at some charity event where I met my state’s governor, and flirted with him. He responded in kind, and when I had to say goodbye, I hugged him, bit his earlobe, and whispered my number to him, to which he told me I’d hear from him the next day. I woke up that morning thinking, “Where the hell did that come from?” but brushed it off as just my brain doing the weird shit it does when we sleep.

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That was almost a month ago, and I’ve spent time every day since playing out these various scenarios in my head as though it had actually happened. Like, he calls me, we go on a clandestine date, we go to his house and sleep together, we keep dating, we go public with it, and so on. I’ve had scenes of me telling my family and coworkers, of him answering reporters’ questions, of us going to various political functions. (The concept of being a politician’s girlfriend sounds horrible to me, a misanthropic far-left introvert who can barely keep herself from cursing in every sentence and changes her hair color to various Crayola shades every month, but in this version of me, I’m a very different person.) It takes up quite a lot of my brainspace. I find it very enjoyable, but I admit I’m also starting to wonder if it’s … weird. Like, bad weird.

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To be clear: I am under no delusions. I do not think he and I actually have any kind of connection, nor do I think we would if we ever happened to meet. I know this is all fantasy. It’s not interfering with my life in any way—I do my job, I read, I run with my dog, I visit with my family and friends, I garden, etc. I’m not going to show up at the governor’s office holding up a boombox or something. It’s just for fun, in my head. But it keeps going, and I’m a worrier at heart, so … should I be worried?

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(Feel free to speculate about who it is. If you look over the headshots of our male Democratic governors, you can probably guess.)

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—Guv Luv

Dear GL,

I’m not particularly interested in looking at headshots of politicians, especially male politicians, so I’ll accept that your dashing dreamland Democratic governor is extremely attractive to you and we can move on.

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I think you’re fine, and that there’s no need to worry based on what you’ve told me. If the situation changes—if your daydreaming does start interfering with your work, social activities, recreation, and pet responsibilities—then a therapist would be in order. Until then, you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that I spend somewhere between one and four hours on a given day thinking about press-on fingernails, and it hasn’t caused me a problem yet.

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Dear How to Do It, 

When I met my wife, in my late 20s, I was fairly sexually inexperienced. Despite that, I have always been the one in our relationship to take the lead in the bedroom. Whenever we have sex, I am the one who initiates, and our activities usually consist of an extended massage, foreplay, and orgasm for her, followed by five or so minutes of sex in a position I choose. Over the years, I have tried to mix up our routine, suggesting different sexy activities, shorter sessions, or the recommendations from the relationship book of the moment. But my wife is solidly not interested in any of that. For a long time, I was generally OK with this—I loved pleasuring her, and she enjoys the attention. Lately, however, I am getting tired of being responsible for our entire sex life, and I find myself asking for sex less. My wife does not mind the reduced frequency—she could easily go months without sex. Having less frequent sex is lowering my desire, which I’m worried is starting a vicious cycle. I have stated my concerns to her, and she is initially always sympathetic (and feels guilty, unnecessarily—it’s not like this is her fault). But at best I get an evening or two where she tries to focus on me a little bit more but fails to hide her lack of interest. And then we fall back to the same routine.

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I have broached the subject of opening up our marriage somewhat, but I don’t think either of us is really interested in doing that—she has no desire to meet someone else and is pretty confident she’d get jealous if I did, and I’m not convinced the time and effort (from what I’ve heard, dating apps are not crawling with women looking for no-strings-attached sex with average-looking married men in their early 40s) is worth it for some short-term hookups that will make my wife even more cool toward me. Our marriage is great otherwise, and it’s not like my wife is completely cold—she gives foot rubs on the couch and compliments me when I dress nicely. But I find myself jealous every time I see a man (on TV or in real life) who has a woman actually attracted to him. I’m constantly wondering if any woman will ever physically desire me ever again in my life. Is it unreasonable for me to want a stronger sexual connection after almost 14 years together? What can I do about it?

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—Hot but No Longer Bothering

Dear No Longer Bothering,

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It is not unreasonable to want a stronger sexual connection, but given your 14 years of experience with your wife, it is unreasonable to expect to get that from her. This is how your relationship has always been, including before you were married, and it sounds like your wife has accommodated you pretty generously in the past.

You’re correct that your changing needs and desires aren’t her fault. You’re also correct that there isn’t a large market of women interested in no-strings sex with average-looking married men in their 40s. I think you have to accept your wife as she is, or start weighing your options. Good luck.

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Dear How to Do It,

My girlfriend and I (both in our late 30s, both women) have been together for over three years, and we’re non-monogamous. Over the last year and a half sex has become very infrequent, about once every six weeks. Her sex drive tanked during COVID—she got laid off and has since been trying to start her own business. She’s incredibly stressed about her financial and professional situation, and she blames that for her low libido. I have a much higher sex drive and desperately wish we were having more sex. That said, I am very understanding and would never want her to feel pressured to have sex.

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After an extended break due to the pandemic, we’ve both started dating other people again, and she connected with a woman with whom she now has regular sex dates. They don’t actually go on dates. They just meet up to have sex. This is completely within our relationship ground rules, but it really hurts me that she is so gung-ho to have sex with others and not me. We’ve talked about it, and she tells me how much she loves me and how gorgeous she thinks I am. We’ve talked about how we can try to increase the frequency of sex. But every time I try to initiate, she is clearly not into it, and I really can’t deal with the idea of being flat-out rejected.

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She has always been so sincere and honest with me, but I can’t figure out what this is about. I’m worried that she is no longer attracted to me and just doesn’t want to say so. And I don’t want to be in a sexless relationship. What do I do?

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—Other Woman

Dear Other Woman,

There could be any number of things going on, and the only way you get to find out is if you have a direct conversation with your girlfriend. Further complicating the matter, she may not understand herself right now. Pick your time to talk wisely. I understand this won’t be an easy task, with everything that’s going on taking up time and emotional energy. You might tell her you want to have a serious talk soon and ask her to set aside time in her schedule. Whether she does or not will be one indication of whether this relationship is worth continuing.

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Tell her what you’ve told me–that while what she’s doing is completely within the agreements you’ve made, your feelings are deeply hurt. Tell her how you feel. Keep an eye on her body language and general demeanor to avoid heaping on more than she can handle at once, and leave space for her to respond.

Sunken cost fallacies are real, and something to keep in mind. You can love each other, have been a great fit in the past, and not be a great fit now. No matter what, you can take some time to think through what your stop-loss is. At what point is a relationship not functional for you? What’s the minimum amount of physical intimacy with a given partner you can be OK with? How long can you stay in a relationship that isn’t giving you what you want out of it? Good luck.

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