How to Do It

I Told My Girlfriend a Fundamental Lie Early On. It’s Finally Caught Up to Me.

It was all fine until last summer.

Woman in a hoodie and cap thinking.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by VKfoto22/Getty Images Plus. 

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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 met my girlfriend four years ago when I identified as bi to myself. I wasn’t really out to anyone but a couple of friends I’d confided in and had just gotten out of a pretty unhealthy relationship with a man. I was so angry and turned off by my years with him that once I’d been with my girlfriend for a few months and confirmed that I really did enjoy sex with a woman, I told her it had been a mistake for me to ever date men and began identifying as a lesbian.

Except I’m not, which is part of the problem. In my defense, I thought, or at least hoped it was true. Not in my defense, I had a niggling sense I was lying and admit to getting a kick out of hearing through the grapevine about my ex’s reaction when he learned I was done with men because of him. My girlfriend was delighted, to say the least, and made lots of mostly but not entirely joking comments about bringing me over to the light side and so forth. It was all fine until last summer when life kind of started returning to normal post-COVID.

I had a couple of flirtatious conversations with men and then one very hot sex dream and realized I really, really missed dick, and not just dick because I thought about asking my girlfriend if she’d be open to a threesome with a trans woman—but men themselves with all the hair and general manliness. My girlfriend probably wouldn’t have been open to a threesome because she’s pretty monogamous, but she definitely wouldn’t have taken it well if I’d talked to her about my rekindled interest in guys. I made a not-great choice after that to do some flirting with men on a dating app thinking it might quench my desires. And stumbled into a genuine unicorn situation after chatting with a cool, good-looking guy whose bi-wife wanted a woman to join them. I should have flaked at that point or broken up with my girlfriend, but instead, I made the very not great choice to meet up with them. One thing led to another and now I’ve slept with them several times and it has been awesome. I’m getting fucked. The wife and I have a really warm connection. The husband seems like a genuinely good guy and my co-workers and others have commented on how much happier I seem. The word glowing was used.

I obviously need to break up with my girlfriend, but how do I explain to her that I’m actually bi after all? I’m not planning to tell her about my new friends. I wouldn’t want to be told, but there’s a pretty good chance I will date a man again at some point and I’m afraid she’s going to think I lied to her on purpose. It also feels strange because I needed some dick just seems like the worst reason to break up with somebody. Things aren’t perfect, but I do care about her. I just also have been fantasizing about getting fucked by a man literally for months, dildos were not cutting it. And now that it’s happened, I can confirm I really did want it that badly. That feels like way too much information to hit her with though. What do I say instead?

—I Dicked Around and Found Out

Rich: I like that. I think that this writer is a little bit wrapped up in drama.

Stoya: I think that is the tip of the iceberg.

Rich: It’s very useful when people show us their hand. I don’t quite know why they do it sometimes, but the admission early on that she broke up with this guy, gets with a woman, and “I admit to getting a kick out of hearing through the grapevine about my ex’s reaction when he learned I was done with men because of him.” That’s an admission of worldview. The easiest path would be to just live your life and do your thing and let your sexuality evolve. People might have something to say about it, but that’s the price you pay for living your life. But the writer is really wrapped up in the continuing story of what people are going to say, what people are going to do, and I think it is creating this kind of perpetual motion of drama, which is why we’re in the situation that we are now.

Stoya: So there are a couple of things that I want to pick up on. But first, I think you are correct and there’s some sense of she thinks she can control things. She thinks if she explains to her girlfriend, “But my identity is that I’m bisexual,” then the girlfriend isn’t going to be upset with her. She thinks she’s going to lie about the new friends by hiding that information on purpose because she wouldn’t want to be told. So that justification allows her to feel OK about not being upfront and saying, “I had an affair.” Instead, what she wants to do is explain that she’s actually bisexual. But actually, Dicked Around and Found Out, by saying “Actually I’m bi” to your girlfriend, when she finds out about the new friends, when she finds out that you cheated on her to have sex with someone who has a dick, you’re perpetuating the reason we hear from so many bisexual people who get treated like philanders who can’t commit. So please don’t blame this on your bisexuality, own the fact that you had an affair because you had an itch that you wanted to scratch more than you cared about your girlfriend.

Rich: And an itch that she didn’t even bother to run by the girlfriend. Sure, the girlfriend may not have been permissive, and admitting a hankering for dick may have started fights, which then could have signaled the end of the relationship. But you got there anyway and now you have a mess to clean up as you walk out the door. So that’s why you would want to get in front of things, have these conversations.

I think the issue here has less to do with identity shifting. You changed your mind, whatever, that’s fine. The issue is what comes with that. It’s the betrayal and it can feel like a referendum on a person when somebody is literally like, “You’re not satisfying me, so I’m going to take the most unethical route to satisfy myself.” I think that’s the bigger problem. It’s the shittiness that manifests as you’re trying to obfuscate and figure yourself out incognito that creates the problem.

Stoya: And it’s also, “I realized I really, really missed dick and not just dick because I thought about asking the girlfriend about a trans woman, a threesome.” You’re objectifying people with a penis. You’re objectifying trans women who may or may not identify their genitalia as dicks and also may or may not have anything that even resembles a dick. You’re being a dick. It’s not that you dicked around and found out. It’s that you’re dicking everyone over with your dickish behavior and have learned nothing.

Rich: But in any event they write, “It also feels strange because I needed some dick just seems like the worst reason to break up with somebody.” I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s not the only factor here. If that were the only issue, this would be a much more difficult decision to go forward with. So what are the other issues in the relationship? What else is there for you to talk about? If this were an absolutely perfect situation, but for the fact that you are missing the dick that you so crave, I think it stands to reason that you’d have that conversation before you’d eject yourself from this relationship.

So I think what this writer should do is look very long and hard at the relationship and really give her girlfriend the full explanation that she deserves. I think hanging it all on dick is kind of taking the easy way out, albeit chaotically, and you really have to reckon with the bones of this relationship and what’s actually going on. But again, I don’t think that the issue is identity. As difficult as it may be for your partner to hear it, I think it is totally fine to say I’m a lesbian today and next week say, you know what? I’m not. I think life is only here for us to evolve in it. And if other people can’t take that, then they’re showing you that they’re not proper partners. They don’t have the neuroplasticity that you require. That’s fine. That’s cool. The issue is everything else but the identity.

Stoya: Yeah. So I think as far as the writer’s actual question, “What do I say instead?” She can go with what you suggested or she can say, “Hey, I have so little regard for you that I wanted to blame the affair I had that I wasn’t going to tell you about on the fact that I’m bisexual and need dick, any dick. Don’t give a shit whose dick it is.” I don’t know. If you feel like a shitty person considering saying that. I’d go with Rich’s advice.

Rich: I think to your point, really typing it out, really typing out what this person thinks is the actual cause, could be useful. The exercise is to imagine that you have carte blanche to say whatever, write that down, and then read it back to yourself and understand what you’re perpetuating, what you’ve done, and where you’re at. People behave selfishly. That is just what they do and you have to look out for yourself. If that’s the conclusion, OK. At least own it. What drives me crazy about this letter is the wishy-washiness. It’s the kind of blaming this on that and whatever. You made very calculated choices where every step of the way could have said, yeah, you know what? I went too far. I’m going to hold back. I’m not going to do that. But you did it. You did it and you did it and you loved it and you love it still, and it’s giving you a new lease on life. So embrace it.

Stoya: I am a chaos magnet and I am impulsive and often completely obtuse, you know the scattered professor syndrome that we kind of adore and coddle in men. If I had a penis, that would be me. So I’m not entirely convinced that anything this woman did was calculated, but I’m 100 percent certain that every step of the way, it was shitty. And so she can own her shittiness or she can knock it off right now and do as you suggested and do the introspection. Or there’s a third option, say, “Hey, turns out I’m bi, which means I can’t be with you. Sorry.” And then when her girlfriend finds out inevitably that she had an affair, then she can deal with all that drama. But I got to tell you, if she writes back in and I get to sign that letter, I’m saying no.

Rich: I would love if the girlfriend wrote in.

Stoya: Oh my God, I would love to hear from the girlfriend. Please, if you are this woman’s girlfriend, please write in.

Rich: And just to bring it full circle, stop caring about what your exes think about you. You make decisions. They view them through a certain lens that’s potentially highly emotional. You’re not going to make everybody happy when you’re breaking up with them. At best it will be a sad mutual decision, otherwise it fucking sucks in some way. And so you’re just kind of perpetuating this drama by saying, oh, well, he heard about this and I’m so happy about that, and now moving forward, what is she going to think of me? Blah, blah, blah. She’s going to think of you as somebody who left her. So that’s what you have to deal with. That’s the decision that you make and that’s what it is.

Stoya: Yeah. You have no control except of your own actions. You should probably use that control to do the introspection Rich suggests.

More Advice From Slate

My wife and I have been in a relationship for 25 years and recently decided to “open” our relationship. I have never cheated but, possibly like most people, often wanted to. I don’t know if I have engaged in self-sabotage to avoid it or am just terrible at seduction, or a little of both, but I haven’t. I have long wanted to open our relationship but never brought it up because I thought she wouldn’t go for it, or even want to have the conversation.