Advice: Her Cheatin’ Heart

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I have a friend named “Mary”. Mary and I have known each other for ten years now; we met as freshmen in college and have seen each other through a lot of things.

In my case, I have mostly seen her through breakups. And new hookups. And breakups again.

Mary is not one to be single for very long, and every time she starts a new relationship it’s with the most fabulous guy she’s ever met. Of course, she’s sure that this time around, she’s finally met The One, at long last. At least, that’s how it is for the first month, and then she starts having random hookups.

It’s never cheating. It’s just exploring. She says she’s getting this wild stuff out of her system before she settles down. Or sometimes, “something” just happens with a friend while they’re hanging out and she said she couldn’t help it. But it’s not cheating, ever, as far as she’s concerned. It makes me feel really bad for the men in her life when she tells me about her latest rando. And somehow, the boyfriends are seemingly oblivious, so I end up feeling even worse, because they’re being played.

Recently, Mary has gotten engaged, again, and she’s asked me to be her maid of honor. Again. As a person, I feel like I can be friends with her because she’s never done anything to me. Still. I do feel kind of like a dirty accomplice, and I’m a little put off at the thought of standing at her side on her wedding day, knowing what I know. She swears that once he’s put a ring on it she’ll be faithful to her future husband, but I don’t really think I believe her. What should I do? Should I tell her fiancé what’s going on? Do I cut and run out on a ten-year friendship? Or do I keep quiet and accept her at her word, that she’ll cut the cheating out when she’s finally a Mrs.?

Signed,

I See It, But I Don’t Like It

Dear Don’t Like It,

BnP: Well. Wow. It’s hard to know where to start on this one. But we’re going to start with… Yeahhhhh…we don’t like it either.

P: There’s the cheating. There’s the lying. There’s the demanding you be an accessory. There’s the whole “I’m just a girl who can’t say no,” or is it “the devil made me do it.” And then there’s the what in tarnation kinda friend is this?

I might start with the lying and asking you to lie. Which she does, every time she introduces you to a new BF and then proceeds to cheat on him and tells you and expects you to “wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”

Why would you choose that option? How is she your friend? Granted, your letter’s all about her cheating, but I don’t see one way you’re anything more than an accessory, or maybe a walking dispenser of absolution. Check your resume to see if the title “Mother Confessor” has been slipped in on your job description. Once she involves you, you start lying to the boyfriend. Granted she was your friend first, but if you like them at all, you’re helping her hurt him. And them. You’re lying too. Is that what you want?

B: I can’t help but feel that she’s coming to you to be absolved. Like, if you nod and metaphorically pat her on the head and tell her it’s OK, then it’s…you know. OK. Is that what you want to say? Is that the message you want to send? I agree with Ann, even though you’ve not said a word what you’re doing is lying right alongside Mary. Inaction is an action, people.

P: Now, for the cheating thing. Actually, none of us are perfect. Too many of us have done things of which we’re ashamed, especially when we were younger. We don’t know what we want. We don’t know how to ask for what we want if we do know. And all too often, we don’t know how to be honest about our misdeeds. These are the lessons we spend our 20s learning. You do lots of silly things early in life that you don’t do later in life because you learn they’re not good for us and they’re not good for people we know and love.

Cheating is one of those things. She’s a serial cheater. I don’t know whether it is an addiction. But I do know she’s not going to stop doing it until she admits that she’s a cheater and gets help figuring out what she’s looking for and why she’s destroying other people’s lives. Because that’s what she’s doing. And ding, ding, ding… if “things just happen” can we trust that she made sure that her surprise partner wrapped that rascal, or is she risking passing some dread disease on to her so called beloved? She’s not just risking giving her partner a broken heart in that case.

B: What I hate about “it just happened” is…well, yes, she’s not admitting to her behavior, but more explicitly, she’s not owning her sexual autonomy. You don’t “whoops” into bed with someone, it’s not like she slips on a banana peel and falls naked onto her paramour du jour. Engaging in sexual activity with another person requires a decision-making process, and unless she’s being forced into bed (which is another, far more dire letter) then she is an integral part of that process. She CAN keep her clothes on and prioritize her relationship with her fiancé. She CHOOSES to cheat on him.

P: I don’t care about her promiscuity. I care that she seems to have the need to do it within what she would call monogamy. Have (safe) sex all you want. But don’t rope some poor suspecting other into your life. People get to say whether they want to be in a threesome. And you are agreeing to hang out and be the voyeur. How’s that feel? Don’t you have better things to do? Do you have a partner? What does she or he think about your tacit approval of your friend’s cheating. It would make me nervous.

B: Yup, I also don’t care about whether or not she’s promiscuous, in that there are all sorts of sexual agreements that couples make that work for them, and they can certainly include other people in their beds. But the key word here is that it’s an agreement, mutually reached by both partners. Everyone has to be on board for an open relationship to work. Her fiancé is anything but. Mary can tell you all of her details, all she wants, and it doesn’t change the fact that she’s not telling the one person she should.

Which isn’t you.

P: We probably haven’t seemed really supportive yet, have we?

I think you need to decide what you think friendship is and what you want it to be. And then you get to be that friend. Being her friend may mean not being in relationship with her — because she’s not a good friend. I don’t want to hear the “she’s a good person.” She’s hurting people. Again and again and again. As the Wedding Priestess, I made my couples state their intentions to love one another for the rest of their lives and then I made their community sign up to love and support the couple and their intentions. I once did a series of three couples’ weddings. By the time Couple Number Three was getting married, Couple Number One was getting unmarried. Couples Two and Three came to me and said, “we went to talk to Couple Number One and asked them what they were doing. We reminded them what they had promised. We pointed out that it made mockery of the promises we had made to them and the promises we were all making to one another.” I was so proud of them. It took great courage. Nothing changed, but they were good friends. And the husband leaned on their love as the wife went on to the new life she’d already created.

But their actions were honest friendship in accordance with what they believed about loving coupledom and loving friendship. What kind of friend do you want to be? And what kind of friend do you think you deserve?

B: I think you need to spend some time deciding who you are. You wrote a letter asking us what steps you should take in managing your relationship with Mary, who exhibits behavior you no longer think is justifiable or can condone. And—I can’t believe how often I have to remind people about this—the only behavior you can ultimately control is your own. So who do you want to be? How do you want your behavior to be perceived? Your reactions help tell your story, and in your letter, in your own words, you say this situation makes you feel like a “dirty accomplice”, you’re “put off” by the idea of being in her wedding, and you “don’t really think you believe” she can be faithful after her wedding day.

Side note: “don’t really think you believe” is a wishy-washy way of calling her a liar. Can we please just say the words?

P: And she wants you to be her Maid of Honor? Um… whose Honor? How can you have honor if you’re not being truthful with the bride or the groom? Marriage isn’t just about having a great wedding. Marriage actually matters. What if she does this once she starts having babies? And let’s be clear, why would we think she wouldn’t keep cheating? Because, trust me, babies add stress to a marriage. And what does she do when there’s stress? Mess around. That’ll be great for the kids. Wanna be the aunt who tells the five-year-old that Mommy found someone better to do? Want to testify at that custody trial? Who better than you?

B: Should you tell her fiancé about her activities? No, I don’t think so. He’s in an unenviable position but it’s not your job to manage their relationship. Or, essentially, tattle on her. But good friends find the courage to have difficult conversations when they’re necessary. Good friends make room to care about the legitimate well-being of a friend. They don’t take the option to look the other way when they know their friend is making serious, potentially dangerous, mistakes. Can this lead to a friend-breakup? Maybe. Mary hasn’t been a good friend to you, as Ann has pointed out already, but you’re not being a good friend to her by holding your nose when her behavior stinks. And you’re not beholden to the acceptance of behavior that at one point you were kind of OK with, but now don’t think is quite so cute or funny. People grow, and change. It’s what we do. She might not like hearing what you have to say, but really…too bad. So again, I ask you: who do you want to be? The dirty accomplice? Or the good friend? It’s up to you.

Hey, Old Pal. Looking a little rough around the edges, there.

Hey, Old Pal. Looking a little rough around the edges, there.

The Old Pal

  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 3/4 ounce dry vermouth
  • 3/4 ounce Campari
  • Garnish: lemon twist

Fill a mixing glass 2/3 full with ice. Add whiskey, dry vermouth, and Campari. Stir until well chilled, about 20 seconds, and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist a piece of lemon peel over the drink and use as garnish.

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Advice: Threesome: One Too Many?

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

My boyfriend, “Bob”, and I, are in a committed relationship. We’ve been together for the past nine months, living together for six. Yes, we moved fast. For the most part we are super-compatible. We’re good at dividing household chores and bills, we are supportive of one another, and our sex life is great. I can picture us spending the rest of our lives together.

However. Bob has a sexual bucket list, and at the top of that list is having a threesome. He almost nags me about it, because it mentions having a threesome every week, more than once a week. He’ll even make a point of showing me which of my friends and co-workers he’d like to invite in as the third person at the party. Bob says he can only picture having a threesome before we get married, because having one after we’re legal would be “weird”. Before we get married, after we get married, the fact is I’m not really comfortable with having a threesome, and I don’t expect that to change. What do I do? Should I give in and have one with him, because it seems like it’s so important? Do I let him find two other girls to have one with, even though I know I won’t be OK with it?

–Just Me In The Bed

~~~~The Bartender and The Priestess Respond~~~~

P: Here Terri, hold my shawl and my drink, will you? Because I’m going to need both my hands to pull my hair out, k?

I barely know where to start on this all kinds of bad…

See the thing about coupleness, as I see it, is that sexual bucket lists become a couple’s sexual bucket list. And a bucket list is sorta wow, that might have been really interesting to do, but damn, life interfered.

Presumably no one in Mr. Threesome’s life has ever thought it was their job to satisfy this fantasy… which is to say, so far he’s failed, but he thought maybe you could pimp his dream for him? Nice guy.

B: I want to echo Ann and emphasize that as far as couples go, a “sexual bucket list” is one that should be mutually shared by the couple. It’s not that all sexual exploration has to stop once you commit to another person. It’s that the exploration should meet both partners needs OR, at the very least, doesn’t jangle one partner’s “Ick” reflex. When that happens, the other partner needs to be willing to let that “Ick” thing fall off the table. So if you were interested in having a threesome, by all means, you should, as a couple, go for it. But you’re not.

Because the thing about sex, despite the idea that clothes can be thrown off with reckless abandon and it’s just skin, is that you are, at that time, vulnerable. You are, literally, naked. You are—especially as a woman—literally opening yourself up to someone else. You are as physically close as two people can be. If you’re not going into the bedroom joyfully (or at the very least, with open-hearted acceptance), then you shouldn’t go.

P: And actually, this is really the first thing, which makes all the other discussions sort of moot? You’re not interested. No means no. Anything else is coercion. Coercion/Persuasion to do something you don’t want to do doesn’t really fall in the partnership model, it falls in the sexual assault or maybe just harassment model.

B: Yeah, Ann, I agree. I’m more than a little alarmed by Bob’s war of attrition. Mentioning his desire to have a threesome, repeatedly, and pointing out desired partners…do you find the ground getting a little uneven beneath your feet? Does it knock you off balance a little? It should, because trying to wear you down that way is manipulative and unsettling. He’s hoping you’ll finally snap; All right! Enough already! Let’s go bang Susie from accounting!

P: For real? WORK??? He’d like you to waltz into your work place, where presumably you have a career that’s important to you, and not to him, btw or he wouldn’t be asking you to screw it up, and solicit someone for sex? Someone, who would then have all sorts of private information to hold over you. This looks like a great idea if you’re working on a program how to derail your career in a couple easy steps. There are reasons we don’t have sex at work. Almost all of them are valid.

The cards say: don't bring your co-workers into your personal kink.

The cards say: don’t bring your co-workers into your personal kink.

B: Absolutely. Repeat after me, dearest: BOUNDARIES, please! I’m concerned about Bob’s willingness to point out his desired partners from your pool of friends and co-workers. Work is not the place to look for kink playmates. That’s what Craig’s List is for. Are you supposed to view everyone in your life as a possible sex partner? Or more than that, as a sexual threat? Are you supposed to feel jealous or possessive or “maybe this is the one?” every time you’re around another attractive woman? That doesn’t lead to sexual autonomy or healthy decision-making. That’s a constant stressor, and will find its way out in overreactions, or a poor work environment. Stress will out. If you did agree to a threesome, insist that he stop pointing out which members of your social circle he’d like to sleep with and engage in finding third partner as a couple, and insist that it’s someone who’s independent from the rest of your lives.

P: Yes, it was early to move in, and that’s a problem because you need to know someone a while to know whether or not he’s going to start lobbying for you to do something you really don’t want to do “for him.” Because what’s going to happen when you say no, I’m not interested?

What will happen when you say, no, in fact, I’m not interested in a man who puts his fantasy above his real relationship?

B: I’m not sure if you’re actually engaged, or if you’re projecting into your future engagement. Regardless, you speak as though you’re looking at a lifetime together. Here’s the thing: if you’re going to function within the parameters of a committed relationship, then you need to behave as though you’re in a committed relationship. That means respectfully attending to your partner’s feelings, and reaching a mutual consensus. That does not mean filling your own desires by the grinding emotional erosion of attrition. Bob says a post-marriage threesome would be “weird”. But you’re committed to one another right now, right? This is supposed to be the testing ground before marriage. This isn’t supposed to be, “You are my one and only, baby and I know a threesome isn’t your thing, but…what about her?” Question that “but”. What if “but” never happens? Will there be resentment? Will there be cheating? Will there be more coercion, even if it’s “weird”? You need to find out just how important this is to Bob. Or, on the flip side, if you do agree to a threesome, you need to ask yourself if you’ll feel OK, or resentful, or betrayed. Depending on your perspective, a threesome can be an opportunity for you both to explore a sexual avenue, safely, together. Or, you can feel like you agreed to let your boyfriend sleep with someone else while you had to watch. (Would he be OK with if your threesome was with another man?) Or, since you already said you don’t think you would feel OK if he went forward with a threesome without you, you can feel like you undermined your own set of principles by letting him do what he wanted.

P: Oh, and this… those people who are really anxious to be part of a threesome, it does double their sexcapades and partners. I’d be wanting some good info on a person I was going to do a bunch a things to that I didn’t want to do… cause probably boyfriend wants to watch… because there’s nothing hotter than two chicks who so aren’t into each other pretending to get off for a guy…

What if he likes it and wants to do it again? Do you say no then? ‘cause now you’ve done something you had no interest in doing with someone you work with who now knows everything about you and you have to leave your apartment AND your job.

B: You know, I see people all the time, at the bar, drowning out the aftermath of bad decision-making. Ask yourself how your relationship with Bob is, overall. Yes, you said you’re both good with chores and responsibilities and have a good sex life, and those are all important, but does he make you feel respected? Cherished? Secure? Free to be who you are? And the same goes for him. Perhaps he’s just a different person with a different set of values. The question is whether or not you can make your values mesh. If the answer to that is no, I’d recommend taking some time to strongly consider whether or not he’s the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. It can be hard to extract yourself from a relationship, and we often put up with more than we want because the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. And it’s hard to accept that you can love someone but not be able to make things “work”. Adding one more person into your bed won’t ease this sort of contemplation.

P: Feeling beleaguered or harried or resentful or compromised or unfulfilled is no way to start a life together. This question bothers you enough to write in about it. Is this, potentially, a deal-breaker? If it is, then let it be your dealbreaker, and make peace with it. It’s your body, and it should be your decision how to use it.

B: If you feel that engaging in your boyfriend’s bucket list threesome would empower you in some way, then go for it. But if you feel like this would be damaging or compromising, then stand behind your beliefs. If he can’t accept your sexual boundaries as part of the marriage package, then maybe it’s time to take a different path.

Sex Rx?

Sex Rx?

Thanks to Deb Slade for Phabulous Photos!

Thanks to Dale and the good people of the Lewisburg Hotel for the swanky location!

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