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#216: I broke up with someone because she cheated on me. Was that sexist?

First, I love this: How do work up the courage to kiss the girl I like?

Second, a letter:

Hail to thee, O Captain,

Perhaps I’m taking a different approach than other letter writers, but I would like your thoughts and judgment on events that quickly transpired this weekend. I had little time to deliberate, and ultimately chose my course of action without advice from others, and now I would like to know whether I was justified in my actions, or whether I erred.

To briefly explain my circumstances, I’m a professional student in my mid-twenties, and was in a passionless long-term (three years) relationship until last year. Following that commitment ending, I’ve sought to expand my opportunities at meeting new partners in the adventures of the online world. I don’t think my experience there was atypical, and I met many nice people, but few who would commit to anything beyond one or two dates.

A few months ago, I met a professional student (hereon referred to as X) with a similar background to myself. We hit it off quite well, and began seeing each other. Unfortunately X has been having trouble with her family, and will be returning home soon until circumstances pan out and are resolved. Considering the circumstances, she was unwilling to commit to anything too official, and so we agreed to see each other exclusively yet nothing too serious. We agreed to be monogamous, and I specifically gave my position: As a casual partners in a relationship, there isn’t anything binding beyond the monogamy conversation, and so I just ask to be told if the agreement is broken. All I ask for is openness, and the chance to reevaluate if circumstances change.

Time passes, and things are going well. The two of us are getting closer, and I’m considering options to make things more “official”. Last I saw her was Tuesday night, when we had a work date and spent the evening together.

How prescient I was with my planning and openness conversation, it turns out. X calls me to ask to get together on Saturday (it’s Monday as I’m writing), but lets slip (with a bit of asking, not necessarily straightforward) that she slept with the neighbor after drinking too much the night before (when I was about ten minutes away with my friends). This neighbor has previously been hanging around (I’ve met him a few times), but has been playing both the “nice guy” and the “slut shaming” roles, more or less insulting X to her face and calling her a slut for sleeping with me. Needless to say, I was unhappy, but mostly with her choice of partners. She apologized profusely, claiming that she’s a “trainwreck” and feared all along of hurting me.

I have a history of depression, suicide attempts, mental illness, and partners cheating on me. X knew about this, although I’m relatively well composed now. I feel very much hurt by her actions, which I – in my own twisted mind – turn into an evaluation of myself. However hurt I am, I don’t want to project my own illness and difficulties, and least of all do I want to repeat the hurtful words of the neighbor. I gave myself the afternoon to think, but decided I couldn’t stay with X any longer.

Basically, I chose to separate from this relationship without inflicting unnecessary harm (it’s not place to “teach a lesson”) or reinforcing slum-shaming sexist norms. I’m a very progressive individual, and I really try to hold myself to high standards of equality. I feel I was wronged, which is justification for ending things, but nothing else. We agreed to monogamy, and when that was broken I decided I couldn’t trust her any longer and don’t want additional emotional pain or drama. I told X that she did nothing wrong, but had violated my trust. She asked if things couldn’t just go back to how they’d been before, but I felt they could not. I’m disgusted that the neighbor’s game effectively paid off, and I feel like he took advantage of her. Regardless, that’s her concern and not mine, and from my part in all of this I can only react. I told her I didn’t want to see her again despite how well everything had been going up until this point.

Last night (Sunday) she contacted me asking if I’d meet with her. I politely declined (“No thanks”). When she pressed, I politely declined again (“I’m in the middle of something” – the truth).

I’m unhappy about the circumstances, and I wish it had not panned out in such a manner. Did I do the right thing? How can one react to “cheating” without reinforcing sexism or slut shaming? What could I have done differently? What should I do if she contacts me again?

I’d appreciate to hear your thoughts on this situation and my actions.
- “Unhappy is He”

Ha, actually many people who write to advice columns are looking for justification that they’re already doing the right thing, so good for you for owning it! It’s just, most of them write to Dear Prudence.

You want to know if you “erred,” but I don’t understand what you mean. You asked for monogamy and a chance to re-evaluate the whole relationship if she didn’t want the same thing. She asked to not get too serious right now and slept with someone else and told you about it (as you agreed), and you dumped her (as you agreed you probably would). I mean, when someone self-describes as a “trainwreck,” maybe it’s a good idea to believe them instead of signing up for a long future of being cheated on or worrying that you will be cheated on every time she gets drunk? Early in a relationship, even if you were thinking of making things “more official,” is a good time to evaluate whether it’s working out for you and to bail if you find out that it’s not. You get to break up with people who don’t make you feel awesome, and you don’t need to follow an “Is this breakup justified?” checklist.

You are a bit judgy about the whole encounter with the neighbor when you frame it as him taking advantage of her vs. something she did. There is a thread of I AM NICE AND HE IS NOT NICE WHY DID SHE SLEEP WITH A SEXIST JERK WHEN I AM SO NICE AND PROGRESSIVE and I TOLD HER SHE DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG. ANGRY? I’M NOT ANGRY running through your letter. Hey, just admit it. You’re angry. A thing you thought was going well turned out to not be going well. You feel angry and like she let you down.

What you have here is information. What you have here is a glimpse into the future. If you get back together with this lady, you’ll be full of judgy judgment and wondering when the other shoe is going to drop (again), and you’re going to put her through some gross gauntlet of having to “prove” herself and second-guessing everything and keeping an eye out for cock-blocking neighbor and you’ll never be fully comfortable. If she’s getting drunk and sleeping with people she doesn’t want to be sleeping with and torpedoing her relationships, that’s a problem for a therapist. Just reiterate “I’m sorry things didn’t work out, but I need to end this.* Good luck with everything,” and break off contact.

*OWN it. No more excuses about being busy.

I think your boner is the one feeling the regrets here, which, again, understandable, but listen to your head. You seem like a pretty level-headed guy who used his words and asked for what you wanted. You didn’t get it this time. You are smart to disengage now before you got more involved. She’s moving back with her family anyway, yes? So pretty soon she’ll be out of sight if not quite out of mind. Lick your wounds and go out on some more dates.

And you may find this helpful: As you date more people? Do yourself a favor and DON’T tell all the stories about how you are Unhappy, The Guy Who Is Cheated On By Cheating Ladies, So Please Don’t Be a Cheating Lady? right off the bat. This sets up new dating partners to have to prove that they are Not That Lady, and since they are not that lady (literally – it’s a Brand New Lady!) it’s unfair to put them in the position of managing your feelings around past cheating. Way better than the “Please let’s be monogamous because of (cheating ladies of my past and I can’t handle it)” discussion is the “Hey, I like you, and I don’t want to see anyone else besides you. Do you feel the same? Can we DO this thing?” talk. Do you want to talk about rules and broken promises or do you want to talk about fidelity as the next step in a shared adventure?

That second kind of talk is pretty great, I have to say.

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42 comments
  1. Esti said:

    This letter just sounds a little… off. Like you, LW, are not being totally honest with yourself or with the Captain and are trying so hard not to be sexist that it’s making you sound… kind of sexist? I’m sorry, I’m trying not to get all judgy-pants, but this just dings bells for me.

    If you two agreed to be monogamous and then she slept with someone else, then she did “do something wrong” and you don’t need to pretend otherwise to avoid slut-shaming. You’re not telling her she’s a bad girl for having casual sex, you’re saying she screwed up by having sex with someone other than the person she agreed to be monogamous with. That’s a fairly straightforward, non-sexist standard to hold a person of any gender to.

    But your letter makes it sound less like you’re upset about her not meeting that reasonable standard and more like you’re upset about the guy she chose to sleep with. Which… no. It can be extra insulting when someone cheats on you with someone you think is less attractive/smart/awesome/whatever than you are, but it’s not your job to decide that this guy was slut-shaming her or that it’s not fair that his “game” played off or that he took advantage of her. (Sidenote: I assume you were not present when he was telling her she was a slut for sleeping with you, in which case, bear in mind that those things were being filtered through her explaining to the person she was in a relationship with what a guy that she may have had some attraction to was saying about her relationship, and thus may not be a perfectly accurate representation of what was actually going on between them?) Those things make it sound like you are falling back on some gendered expectations about the dude being the responsible party for your female partner’s cheating, and also like you’re primarily upset that she boned that terrible dude when she had a Nice Guy right over here, in the form of you.

    Going forward, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting a woman you’re in a relationship with to not sleep with other dudes, so long as you’re up front about it (as you were here). Use your words. Don’t stay with people who don’t want what you want, or who violate the arrangement you’d mutually agreed to. And I agree with the Captain that you should keep past bad relationships in the past without putting them on the new people you meet.

    • "Unhappy is He" said:

      LW here.

      Good points for sure. I don’t mean to come across as “off,” but I really just feel unsettled by the circumstances. I’m upset about the situation, and certainly bothered about her choice of partners. I admit this fully. Maybe I’m being a “Nice Guy,” and maybe I’m reinforcing gendered stereotypes. I don’t want to be either of those things, and so I’m reaching out to ask how I can be better about it.

      As the Captain says, I’m angry and upset. I have a reputation as a hothead, and I’m trying to manage this. I also have problems with myself, and so I’m also attempting to keep myself free of great duress from this. I know it’s not entirely possible to completely extract myself from all the messy feelings, but I’m trying to deal with a bad situation in a rational and compassionate way.

      I guess at the end of the day I can rephrase my feelings of the situation: X can sleep with whomever she wishes, and I don’t begrudge her that. However, I feel I’m justified in not wanting to be with her anymore, and this stems not from her being a “bad person,” but from not meeting my needs and expectations. That is all. (Perhaps I’m needlessly complicating the situation?)

      Ok, so after typing that up, I realize I just feel unhappy.

      • Esti said:

        It does sound like you’re trying to do the right thing here, LW, but I think you’re right that you’re needlessly complicating things. She cheated, you broke up with her. It’s okay to be both sad and angry about those facts, regardless of your partner’s gender or the person they slept with or anything else.

        As for whether you’re “justified” in breaking up with her: you don’t need anyone else’s approval to not want to be with this girl anymore. You had a dealbreaker, you communicated it, she did it anyway. It’s 100% okay to call things off based on that.

      • staranise said:

        Unhappy sucks. You may feel the urge to logic a train of thought that gives you a reason not to be unhappy (either she’s a bad person, or you’re sexist and ought not be upset). But really here, the grown-up thing is just to let yourself be down a bit, maybe tell people you broke up with someone and even though it was for the best you feel bad, and do whatever your equivalent of a pint of ice cream and sappy movies is. In trying not to be a hothead, you don’t have to purge all negative emotion, you just have to find ways to let it out that aren’t destructive, and maybe make you feel better.

  2. “How can one react to “cheating” without reinforcing sexism or slut shaming? ”

    This question is a little confusing to me, mostly because IMHO the reason cheating is bad is not because the other person is a slut. It has nothing to do with sexism unless you make it about sexism. Cheating is wrong because it violates an agreement between two partners.

    I’m just sortof confused about how sexism gets involved. I (a lady) have in fact done the exact same thing to a male partner, it wasn’t sexist, it was about honesty and trust.

  3. Ensign Perception said:

    LW, this question doesn’t really have much to do with feminism. Well, except for one thing: women are human beings who get to make agreements, choices and mistakes, and deal with the consequences too. Your ex said she would be monogamous, she cheated on you, and you can’t just brush that off. So she’s your ex. That’s not sexist at all, that’s two adults dealing with an adult problem.

    Now if you would expect her to forgive you for hooking up with your neighbor, that would be a sexist double standard. If you break up with her by telling her she is a slutty slut slut who falls for men’s shallow games, that would be slut-shaming her and insulting her intelligence.

    But as it is, this ain’t a sexism problem.

  4. RodeoBob said:

    How can one react to “cheating” without reinforcing sexism or slut shaming?

    Taken at face-value, this is a non-sequitor.

    Cheating isn’t sexism because the issue is a violation of trust. That’s gender neutral.
    It isn’t “slut shaming” because it’s not about expressing sexuality, it’s about honoring an agreement between two people.

    Like others, I’m getting a little bit of a “nice guy ™” vibe from the LW, like you’re more bothered by who she decided to cheat with than the cheating itself.

    It almost sounds like the sexism and slut-shaming the LW seems to be worried about is front-loaded. The LW is reacting to this situation perhaps by trying to generalize:
    “She cheated on me, because that’s what the wimmenz do!”
    or
    “She cheated on me, and that makes her a slut!”

    Here’s the problem, LW: you’re giving these women a script to follow. You’re very clearly communicating something to your romantic partners. Consider this last go-round: your love-interest got drunk, but didn’t call you and instead slept with a neighbor. Why, I wonder, didn’t she call you? Somehow, she got the message that calling you wouldn’t have been an OK choice.

    Or how about this:
    there isn’t anything binding beyond the monogamy conversation, and so I just ask to be told if the agreement is broken
    LW, you “just ask to be told” if the one and only binding part of a relationship is violated? Because you want “the chance to reevaluate if circumstances change”? This is a bit like saying “I’m going to leave my car door locked, and I’d like to know if someone breaks my window and steals my stereo, so that I have the opportunity to consider a response”. Sure, sure, you’re not saying it’s OK to break into your car, but it doesn’t sound like you’d be that upset if it happened. Again, you’re giving your partners a script, communicating with them what you expect of them.

    If I get in a monogomous relationship, I’ll say something like “If you cheat, we’re through”. Maybe I don’t want to be threatening, so I might say “for this relationship to go anywhere, we have to be monogomous, or we’re done”. the LW is saying “monogomy is what we’ve agreed on, but if something happens, just let me know, OK?” THey may not be giving their partners permission to cheat, but they’re clearly communicating that cheating is “not a big deal”.

    There’s definitely something else going on with the LW, and even they know it. “I asked for monogomy, she cheated, we broke up. Why do I still feel bad? Why am I worried about sexism and slut-shaming?” Here’s why: it wasn’t the cheating that upset you, (you were expecting that!) it was the way you set up your partner to cheat, the mixed signals you sent about the importance of communication versus the importance of monogmy, the way you telegraphed this entire thing almost from the start that’s bothering you.

    • "Unhappy is He" said:

      LW here.

      Ok, so it seems like I need to be more straightforward in the future. I guess I phrased things like I did because I don’t want to be controlling or domineering. I like your suggestions and those of the Captain’s, and I will try to keep them in mind in the future.

      Obviously there is insecurity backing up everything here, and I admit to it. I’ve had a bad string of relationships, and I suspect this is largely due to my own issues. I don’t want to be a “Nice Guy,” but someone who is nice and not angry. I want to be able to be in an exclusive relationship without feeling it crumbling with every step. Now that this has happened, I’m trying to learn something from it, and see what I did right and wrong. I want to be happy with someone, and I haven’t had much success. I also want to do the right thing, and hence my writing.

      I just ask that everyone not read too much malice behind my letter. The thread that’s running through it is that I’m a sad person, and I don’t want to be. That is all.

      • Esti said:

        LW, I think maybe there are two helpful lessons you can draw from this:

        1) If you want to be in an exclusive relationship, look for someone who does not put on the brakes in advance with things like “I am leaving to go home in a few months and don’t want anything serious or intense.” Even if that person then says “but yes, let’s be exclusive,” they’ve given you a sign that this is not a relationship they see lasting and that you will end up hurt if that’s what you’re looking for.

        2) If you are sad and angry, it is probably a good idea to tackle those things before/while going on the hunt for your person, because a good relationship does not fix other things that you may be upset about or dealing with. That doesn’t mean you need to fix yourself and be perfect before you can find love, but just that there is no need to wait for a relationship to work on being happier, and that a relationship is more likely to work out if you come to it feeling like you are already whole.

        • Totally second what Esti said; even reading your letter, with all the points boiled down, I was confused about your expectations of your ex. Casual but exclusive. Monogamous but please just tell me if you have sex with someone else. So I can re-evaluate. Re-evaluate does not, to me, say, ‘if you have sex with someone else we’re through.’ I mean, sure, it would have been better if she had used her words and clarified things, or if she had not entered an agreement she didn’t want to be in. But there was some real fuzziness around the edges.

          Avoiding being domineering is an excellent goal; as Captain says, the way to do that is say what you want and ask what she wants. Do you want the same things? If yes, yay! If no, is there a middle ground that you’re both happy with? Being vague and creating false impressions of an issue that is super important to you is a form of domineering – passive aggressive control, that lets you call the shots with secret rules. Which, if you’re worried about the patriarchy – we have enough of the secret rules, I promise.

      • RodeoBob said:

        Hey LW, that’s for dropping by!

        I guess I phrased things like I did because I don’t want to be controlling or domineering….Obviously there is insecurity backing up everything here, and I admit to it. I’ve had a bad string of relationships, and I suspect this is largely due to my own issues.

        This is a really good starting place for you to work from, because there’s a conflict sitting almost in plain sight that might have been a factor in how this played out.

        You don’t want to be “controlling”, but at the same time, you feel insecure. You know what helps insecurity? Feeling like you’re in control! That sounds like a fun little stew, doesn’t it?

        Somewhere along the way, you got the idea that being “controlling” is always bad. It isn’t always bad, and in some situations, it’s normal and accepted.

        If you want to ride in my car, I will demand you wear a seat belt.
        If I want a sexual relationship with a woman, she may demand monogomy.

        Controlling? Yes. But it’s a conditional control, and I have the option of not consenting and just walking away. These are reasonable controls. If you want to hang out, watch a movie, and eat pizza, I might ask you to chip in money for delivery and make you leave before my date shows up. Am I controlling the terms of you hanging out? Yes, yes I am. And that’s not at all unreasonable.

        What I’m describing as “giving these women a script to follow” is an attempt at maintaining control without having to admit you’re trying to control things. The LW doesn’t want to be cheated on, but as outcomes go, it’s familiar, and that familiarity is soothing against anxiety. Yes, you’re ” feeling it crumbling with every step”, and that’s awful, but it’s a familiar kind of awful because you know what comes next. Letting go of that control is often anxiety-inducing.

        Now, I might just be engaging in world-class projection here, as I have a long history of being a grade-A manipulator, control freak, and grandmaster of head-games. (currently serving penance) In my experience, “once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a tactical action”. Or, to put it another way, “one thing all your ex’s have in common… is you.”

        Lest I get slammed for victim-blaming:
        1.) the girlfriend was wrong to cheat on the LW
        2.) the LW was right to dump the girlfriend
        3.) even if the LW was unintentionally manipulating the girlfriend, cheating is still wrong. Just because I have a $20 bill hanging out of my back pocket doesn’t mean it isn’t stealing
        4.) The LW feels sad and conflicted, but oddly it’s not about being cheated on as much as it is the feeling of inevitability and the manner in which it was done. So I’m trying to get at what is bugging the LW, and I’m guessing there’s a cycle of self-sabotage occurring at some level.

        • Copcher said:

          I think there’s a pretty big difference between having certain things you aren’t willing to compromise on and being controlling. Being controlling, at least to me, implies an ongoing and unreasonable need to have control over things. That’s not the same as having a dealbreaker or two.

          LW, I think that maybe your attempts to not be controlling kind of backfired. Using your words to tell someone directly what you want or what you expect is not controlling if that person has the option to say, “Actually, I don’t want the thing you want, so this won’t work out.” If you don’t clearly communicate your wants and needs, you don’t give them that option.

  5. Case-in-Point said:

    Hmmm… I think maybe you should sit down with your feelings for a while. It’s ok to have them, and being angry because someone hurt and disappointed you doesn’t make you “angry guy.” Because, you know what, you dated a girl, liked her a lot and she cheated on you. You should be angry, hurt, and disappointed. And it is perfectly acceptable to feel like someone cheating in a monogamous relationship does reveal a character flaw in the person doing the cheating. IT doesn’t make them a bad person, but it does reveal a flaw or set of flaws that you may or may not want to live with. That’s not about gender or promiscuity or making people feel bad– that’s about something shitty that a person did that revealed their willingness or ability to do a shitty thing. And it is perfectly acceptable to decide that their reasons for doing said shitty thing weren’t sufficient or that it doesn’t matter why, the shitty thing in itself is enough reason to not want to be with someone any more. That’s called a “dealbreaker” and everyone has them. Yours may be cheating, mine may be failure to throw socks in the hamper, someone else’s may be liking Madonna songs. You have a dealbreaker, you communicated this with your partner, your partner violated your expressed boundary. Hurt, angry, and disappointed are natural reactions to this happenstance. But this is all gender neutral.

    Now, it would be wrong of you to break up with this girl by saying, “You’re a cheating, lying whore. Get thee to a nunnery, Jezebel.” It would also be wrong to have a double standard, as in, she has to be monogamous and you do not. But telling someone, “Cheating is one fault I can’t live with. I’m sorry.” is neither slut shaming nor sexist. It is an expression of disappointment over an action your partner committed that you can not, in fact, live with. It’s perfectly acceptable to feel that way.

    Ok, glad I got that out of my system. I do worry about you a little bit, LW. You sound very logical, which is great until it’s not. You don’t have to try so hard not to be sexist or judgmental or irrational. Feelings aren’t by definition rational or non-judgmental. You don’t have to communicate every judgmental thought, but you don’t have to feel guilty for having them either. The fact that you aren’t sexist and that you try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt (i.e. non-judgmental) will come across in how you treat and interact with people without you going so far out of your way to be that way.

    Since you say you’ve been cheated on in the past, it may be worth exploring both your interactions with the women in your life and how and why you choose certain partners. Perhaps you’ll do this with a therapist, but definitely with a journal first. The common denominator in this equation is you, and it may be that your interactions set you up for this, or that you have a tendency to choose poorly. Don’t feel badly about that, for a long while there, if there was a drug addict within a half mile radius of me I was instantly and hopelessly attracted to him. But it was worth exploring that pattern for me to learn why I chose the partners I did so that I could learn to choose more wisely.

    • ensignperception said:

      This is very well-said! Some real wisdom here.

  6. commanderlogic said:

    Hey there, LW. Let’s forget about the sexism red herring for a bit (well done, Esti and Ensign and others!) and talk about feelings. I know, right? UGH. FEELINGS.

    I’m a Logic Person. You seem to be a Logic Person, too. And as such, we like there to be rules and for people to follow the rules, because when we follow rules then we know that whatever we’re feeling is “correct” even if it kind of sucks.

    You’ve got a rules jam going on here that is messing with your ability to feel the “correct” emotions.
    Rule #1 – I am a good person who tries not to get the patriarchy all over people
    Rule #2 – Good people who follow Rule #1 have relationships with amazing people who are kind and thoughtful and also follow Rule #1
    Rule #3 – If someone cheats on me, they are not a good person and I don’t want to have a relationship with them

    X broke Rule #3, so she is “not a good person” and you feel bad about that, but because you’re a Rule #1 follower, you can’t get the patriarchy all over her business. BUT you also experienced a break in Rule #2 because if Rule #2 was true, then you would never have dated X in the first place because she’s a “not good person” per Rule #3.

    EXHAUSTING AND CIRCULAR AND ANNOYING, RIGHT? Your system is telling you there’s an error.

    So let’s chuck all those rules for a minute and sit with the emotions for a bit.

    You are allowed to be sad that your prospective maybe girlfriend will not be your girlfriend. That’s normal.

    You are allowed to be angry that things didn’t work out like you had hoped. That’s normal.

    X is a good person and you are a good person. You are not good people for each other. That’s okay. And it’s okay to not be okay with it for a while. Emotions are not the enemy, bad actions are the enemy. Stop trying to control your emotions because you can’t. What you can control is what you DO with those emotions.

    You say a lot about what you DON’T want to be in this situation (jealous, Nice Guy(tm), angry), and about the feelings you wish you had (cool with it, calm, not jealous). I’m saying HAVE the feelings, but act generously. You are not cool with it, and you don’t have to pretend to be, but you also are in control of what you do and say. So I ask you in a rhetorical fashion: how does dream-you ACT in this situation? Follow that script for your actions, but feel however you want to feel, okay?

    Tangent: I feel like Yoda was kind of a dick to not allow for fear and anger and suffering. Jedi aren’t robots, and we aren’t Jedi. Experiencing suffering doesn’t make you a shitty Jedi, Yoda. Get bent.

    • drst said:

      This. LW, you cannot control your feelings, but you can control your actions, especially what you say and do. I think you were smart to not go see X again, especially not right now. You get to draw that boundary and hold it. You also get to feel however you’re feeling, as long as you don’t use those feelings as an excuse to do something harmful.

      My personal belief is we all have feelings and moments that are significantly less-than-honorable, but the real measure of us is how we treat others (and ourselves) – how we actually take actions. Nobody’s heart or mind is 100% pure at all times. But we can choose how we act toward other people, and it sounds like you’ve been honest and respectful to X so far, regardless of your internal feelings.

  7. Mary said:

    RodeoBob’s reply clarified a concern I had, let me see if I can explain. First, to the LW, when I say manipulative here, I don’t view that as malicious. Malicious is doing things with intent to hurt people, manipulative is doing things with intent to control them, and often one does that to try and protect oneself.

    Let’s make this about an imaginary third party, Bow. Bow likes monogamous relationships and does not want to be cheated on. Also in the event of cheating, Bow would like to avoid one or both of these:

    1. Bow gets cheated on for a long time. Everyone in Bow’s social circle knows except hir. When Bow finds out, zie feels like everyone lied to hir, and that they were either making fun of hir for months or pitying hir or both. Ugh.

    2. Bow gets cheated on for a long time. Once zie finds out, zie reviews the last few months of the relationship and reevaluates all those sweet loving dreams zie had in light of the cheating, and they all are now Horrible Lying Feelings that should not have been felt, because zie was unknowingly living a lie. Ugh.

    Neither 1 or 2 are bad to feel! I myself have a major major major case of #2 and I own it. If I find out I was feeling great feelings on a horribly false premise (that my relationship was going great, or that I was going to for sure get that job, or whatever) I tend to wish in retrospect that I had never felt the great feelings at all. (Please don’t tell me how wrong I am: this is how my brain works. It’s a thing.)

    So anyway, Bow wants to find out about cheating right away so that zie can dump hir partner before 1 and 2 happen. But zie phrases this as “if you cheat on me I want to know right away because I value honesty highly and will consider my options and our future!” Zie intends (at some level) for hir partner to hear this as “if you cheat on me I want to know right away because there’s a reasonable chance I will forgive you!”, because that false lure of forgiveness makes it more likely (Bow thinks) that hir partner will ‘fess up right away for the optimal dumping to take place.

    Anyway, so. That was my concern about the softer “All I ask for is openness, and the chance to reevaluate if circumstances change.” setup here.

    What’s the alternative? The Captain got it: “As you date more people? Do yourself a favor and DON’T tell all the stories about how you are Unhappy, The Guy Who Is Cheated On By Cheating Ladies, So Please Don’t Be a Cheating Lady? right off the bat.”

    To put it another way: don’t specify your preferred options for a relationship’s failure and give them a whole decision tree (especially not with a misleading guide to “if you do this, perhaps it might not be over after all!”). If it fails due to the other party’s actions as in this case it is out of your control and it sucks because 1 and 2 and other modes of relationship failure suck, but it is out of your control.

    (Note the contrast with the whole “if you have a new partner I want to be one of the first people to know, not one of the last” in a poly context: in that case, it’s about the relationship’s ongoing success, and in that case it’s more OK, and I think fairly usual in poly circles, often taken as read.)

  8. boots mcgee said:

    Agree, agree, agree, with all here saying that it’s totally cool to break up with someone who cheated on you if you had an agreement about monogamy. LW, y’all set up the rules of the relationship together, she broke them, you dumped her. Super simple. Totally reasonable.

    (But another thing that is reasonable is breaking up with someone because you want to break up with someone. She could have brought you delicious casseroles and written you lovely little sonnets and whatever else wonderful partners do and you are STILL in no way obligated to go out with her if you don’t want to. Just to be clear.)

    The am-I-a-terrible-sexist question is a red flag to me, and also your very polite and articulate tone is a red flag, because it reads like you’re walking a tightrope between SAYING SOME REALLY MEAN AND POSSIBLY SEXIST STUFF ABOUT THIS LADY WHO HURT MY FEELINGS and Oh God, I Do Not Want To Be THAT GUY, I Need To Reel This In. When I read your letter, what I imagine you to be is someone who wants to talk about how he thinks he may have some really problematic, possibly sexist, beliefs but doesn’t just want to come out and say, “Here are the ways in which my problematic, possibly sexist, beliefs manifest themselves in my mind” so he made the problem be about a girl who cheated on him instead.

    Which kind of indicates to me that you’re not out of line to wonder if you have some sexist beliefs in your secret mind. This:

    “I’m disgusted that the neighbor’s game effectively paid off, and I feel like he took advantage of her.”

    As I think your logical mind knows, and wants your secret mind to believe even though it doesn’t really, ladies are whole people with wants and thoughts and agency, and while true, some people do get taken advantage of in life, your lady is not a delicate flower incapable of deciding who to sleep with. You don’t seem to think he raped her, and she hasn’t told you that she was raped, so let’s all assume she got wasted and fucked the guy of her own free will as many normal drunk people do.

    It’s not your job to protect your supposedly monogamous girlfriend from guys who want to “game” her. It is her job to be monogamous, if that is your agreement.

    I know you don’t come out and straight up say it, but it feels like you may have some ideas about how Ladies Should Behave, and this girl, like many women from your past, did not Behave Like A Lady. Please disabuse yourself of this if it seems true to you. Sounds to me like you are a big fan of monogamy (me too! represent) and may believe that women are naturally inclined toward monogamy so why do they keep screwing you over like this? More so than men? I’m sure we can get some kind of Fox News Endorsed Evo Psych blowhard in here to argue that, but for real, people are all just people and products of their environment. Some ladies are gonna screw around, and that’s just the way it is.

    Sexual double standards are huge piles of bullshit (tell your logical mind to repeatedly chant this to your secret mind) and acting like a shit head is not something particular to the ladies you’ve dated, because it is a universal behavior of All People, Who Are Occasionally Shitheads.

    But here’s the great thing: you don’t want to be a terrible sexist dude! You realize that you have problematic thoughts. We ALL have to deal with these things, because we are all products of a fucked up society that, despite our best efforts, tells us that some people (who are occasionally us!) are Less Than.

    Keep working on yourself, and trying to be the man you want to be, and visualizing who that man is and work toward that. Maybe you need to do that while being alone or not in a committed relationship.

    • Christen said:

      One thing I noticed that doesn’t qualify as a “red flag” for me so much as a “thing that is totally OK to feel weird about or think mean thoughts about, but not OK to be a douche about”: the neighbor dude is described as a little Nice Guy-ish and the LW says he called this lady a slut because of her relationship. Now, the LW does not say that he was present for any of those interactions, and presumably neither the lady nor her neighbor are privvy to this thread (if they are, though, uh hey guys good to see you there’s beer in the fridge?), so who knows what this dude has actually been saying. However, assuming this is true, I can just imagine:

      1) sometimes entertaining petty or entitled or slut-shamey thoughts because you are a human being and feel petty and entitled and judgmental sometime, and live in a culture that reinforces those attitudes as they relate to women,

      2) knowing those thoughts are unfair and jerky and trying not to let them interfere with one’s relationships,

      3) also having a history of being a Nice Guy and also getting cheated on/taken advantage of in relationships,

      4) your girlfriend is friends with someone who gives off a strong Nice Guy whiff, acts jealous and calls her a slut and then…

      5) BAM! She nails him.

      Not just awkward: META-AWKWARD. The usual Nice Guy scenario is having unspoken feelings for a lady and then noticing that she’s slept with a guy who isn’t all that nice to her, then being kind of not all that nice about it, right? But in this case, she’s slept with someone who had unspoken feelings for her and wasn’t all that nice about them, but still ended up sleeping with her. So all the LW’s struggle not to be the petty, resentful, jealous Nice Guy is all tangled together with feelings of jealousy directed at an (apparently) petty, resentful, jealous Nice Guy. That is some Tyler Durden, calls-are-coming-from-inside-the-house shit right there!

      (ASSUMING, of course, that the LW is telling the truth and not projecting his weird insecurities all over this neighbor guy. ALSO in the category of “Shit happens, just be aware your jerkbrain is doing this weird thing to you and move on.”)

      EXCEPT: a Nice Guy feels entitled to the affection of someone he is not dating and gets butthurt when she makes a different decision. The LW WAS dating this woman and she violated the terms of their agreement. Maybe my theory is completely off, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if that’s part of the reason the LW is questioning whether he is out of line here: his history, combined with the presence and behavior of this Neighbor Guy, are reminding him of situations where his feelings stemmed from a sense of entitlement rather than being based on the terms of a real relationship.

  9. Phira said:

    I’m not getting a Nice Guy vibe so much as I’m getting the overly logical vibe (although these are not mutually exclusive vibes). Here’s my take on this sitch, my dear LW:

    - You and your partner agreed to have a monogamous relationship.
    - Your partner had sexy fun time activities with someone else.
    - You broke up with your partner because of that.

    That doesn’t sound sexist or judgey or wrong or “too mean” or anything like that. So, did you make the right decision? Well, there’s no wrong or right in that way, but I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of people who think you’re being unreasonable. Cheating is a pretty darn common dealbreaker.

    But your overly logical vibe tells me that you really just need to take a lot of feelingstime for yourself. I mean, I’d be really angry and hurt and crying over this mess, even if I knew that breaking up was the right decision. I know what it’s like to feel unable to be angry and sad; a lot of people, and a lot of women, often feel like being overtly emotional for more than a few days will get you judged for being “oversensitive” and “too emotional omg stop crying already.”

    So, be mad. You can begrudge her happiness if you want! It doesn’t make you petty or evil, and it certainly doesn’t make you sexist.

    One last piece of advice: My first serious partner was very, “My last girlfriend cheated on me, if you cheat on me I will never forgive you, you monster” about monogamy. It really bothered me for a million reasons, and about half a million of those reasons consisted of, “I wasn’t the one who cheated on you, so let it go already!” repeated over and over again in my brain. It made me very resentful, even though I had no intention of cheating, because it made me feel as if I was somehow responsible for what had happened in that previous relationship.

    Plus? It’s so common for people to ask for monogamy that you don’t actually have to even justify it by saying, “Well, it’s happened before, and I’m just not a fan.” So in your next relationship, just ask for it, and that’s that.

  10. Ldubs said:

    You sound so academic and detached… Like there is this geiser of anger and hurt and resentment just bubbling under the surface and you are trying So. Hard. to keep it all in. Its not “slut-shaming” or “sexist” to feel those feelings. Women can sleep with whoever they want (with another consenting adult, of course), but it doesn’t mean that it is always the Right Thing To Do. It isn’t the sex, its the deception. For a (however brief) amount of time she let you think you were in a mutually monogamous relationship and you weren’t. She hurt you. She probably is a generally good person, but she did something sucky to you. Not by having sex, exactly (BTW, I’m uneasy with the “She was manipulated” thought. She’s a grownup who can make her own decisions, no? She CHOSE to cheat on you) but by being deceitful.

    Also. I’m concerned by the “She had the right to sleep with creepy neighbor dude” idea. Legal right? Sure, of course. But if you were to have drafted a Relationship Bill of Rights, “Freedom to sleep with other people” would not have been on it. You had an explicit relationship law against it, in fact. Class A relationship felony, punishment up to and including deportation from the relationship.

    I hate the simplistic idea that “feminism is about supporting every woman’s choices”. No. You should support the RIGHT to make those choices, but sometimes people make choices that are pretty unsupportable regardless of gender. She made a choice that hurt you and if you find yourself unable to be supportive of her choice to sleep with other dudes, no one is taking away your feminism card.

    TL;DR – Nah man, you’re good.

  11. I agree that the sexism thing is a bit of a red herring here. LW, you can be angry, really angry, at somebody hurting you, and not want to hang out with them, and yet they can still be a perfectly fine person who didn’t do giant terrible things. Both things can be true.

    But I also want to mention that “I’m not sexist, right?” is never the right question. The right question is usually “I live in a sexist society, so of course I am sexist sometimes. I will try to be aware of when that happens and continually improve.”

    Except – since this is about LogicPerson dealing with Feelings, talking about the sexism question is a bit of a derail.

  12. Chay said:

    Hey LW, do you think maybe that somewhere in your mind you equate cheating as a slut act? So by wanting to say “cheating is wrong” you feel you are saying “being a slut is wrong”, hence slut-shaming? I may be way off the mark but that may be why there seems to be a disconnect between you not wanting to slut-shame, but still feeling generally not-ok about the situation.

    So just to confirm, sluts don’t necessarily cheat, and cheaters aren’t necessarily sluts, and its totally OK to tell someone that sleeping around is a dealbreaker to you regardless of their gender.

  13. Yan said:

    LW, I have done that whole “I like you, but this is casual, therefore I’m not asking you for a commitment, but instead just honesty about whether you’re sleeping with other people so that I can make my own informed decisions about all of this.”

    What I was actually attempting to say is “I like you and want to have sex with you and only you but I feel either uncool saying so or scared that this is too much pressure.”

    Turns out, no matter what I want to think of myself, I am a serial monogamist and can’t wrap my head around anything else. I had to learn to be honest with myself before I could be honest with new partners. You might be somewhere near there, or that’s what I’m projecting between the lines of your letter.

    One other thing — yes, you are a common factor in all your past relationships, but you can only assess your behavior within that relationship with any sort of accuracy. My therapist called the survey of exes an “insufficient sample size.”

    • Just to build off this – “I like you, but this is casual, therefore I’m not asking you for a commitment, but instead just honesty about whether you’re sleeping with other people so that I can make my own informed decisions about all of this.” – LW, I’ve been the person to whom this has been said who then proceeded to sleep with someone else, because I didn’t get the “I want monogamy” hint, I heard “well if you see anyone else just let me know,” and it was confusing to get dumped for that.

      The corollary to using your words is saying what you mean and meaning what you say, instead of hoping that other people will hear your subtext.

  14. Jenna said:

    Monogamy is something you can ask for. If that’s a deal breaker it is best to have it upfront and obvious. However, when you ask for it, just ask. In our society it is pretty much the default setting, still, when one becomes serious with someone. No one looks at you funny when you want it.

    There is REALLY no reason to go into the whole “my ex cheated on me, so I need this” explanation. In fact, someone who starts off any relationship with a “my ex did THIS THING and I need to make sure you won’t” sends tremendous red flags whirling through my mind. Especially? Don’t do that on a first date ever.

    Sometimes I run into someone who is still all wound up in his last relationship that broke for whatever reason. They are projecting their ex all over me to the point where I wonder if they see me at all, so I throw them back into the dating pool. They are not ready yet.

    • xenu01 said:

      There is REALLY no reason to go into the whole “my ex cheated on me, so I need this” explanation. In fact, someone who starts off any relationship with a “my ex did THIS THING and I need to make sure you won’t” sends tremendous red flags whirling through my mind. Especially? Don’t do that on a first date ever.

      Yes, EXACTLY. This is just like telling someone you’re doing sexy things with where you do and don’t like to be touched, except you’re talking about your brain instead of your feet or neck or whatever.

      “Hey, person! I am really having a great time seeing you and I hope that you are, too! Would you like to start seeing each other exclusively?”
      “Ummm….I’m not looking for more than a casual relationship right now.”
      “Hmm. Well, to be honest, it turns out I am more of a serially monogamous person and really need to be with someone who is only seeing me and no one else, so I think maybe we should cool it. I’m really glad we were honest with one another!”

      And SCENE.

      Don’t explain, don’t justify, and don’t talk about the past. Brand new person, brand new day.

  15. AwkwardNoho said:

    I think what throws up red flags for me is the ambiguous way you describe your Monogamizing conversation with the Lady. Did you make it clear that cheating was most likely a dealbreaker? Because it doesn’t sound like you really hesitated to break up with her – it sounds like it was a foregone conclusion. Yet your words in the Monogamizing converstion (let me know, reevaluate) make it sound like she had a 50/50 shot, at least, of you two getting beyond a cheating incident.

    I get that this is tricky – in my current relationship, I had a similarly vague conversation – “Just tell me if you sleep with someone!” then realized I didn’t want her to sleep with anyone else. I had to have another, awkward conversation with her – “I actually don’t want you to sleep with anyone else. If you do, I will try to see if I can get past it, but I don’t know if I can.” (In my case, this was the truth – in your case, I’m guessing cheating would be closer to a 100% DB). It was an awkward thing to do because a) it is hard if you want to Monogamize and the other person doesn’t and b) I didn’t want to force her into Monogamization and c) “just tell me” can seem like a good alternative that hopefully gets you a reasonable facsimile of monogamy when you know you can’t get what you really want. But if cheating is a DB, you have to tell the lady. So I think next time, LW, you don’t want to go all “Don’t cheat on me like those Other Ladies!” but do be really honest if cheating is definitely or very likely a DB.

  16. Jiggs said:

    I have so much side-eye for the phrase “professional student”, and the rest of the letter didn’t do much to counter that initial impression. I get the feeling the LW just wants to be told he’s been terribly wronged. Which? Sure, she cheated on you. It’s okay to be mad about that! It’s okay to dump her over it (or for any other reason)! And it’s okay when she says “Can’t we just go back to before?” for you to be like “EFF NO, LADY.”

    The super sexist part of this letter isn’t your reaction to her cheating, it’s your characterization of her as some sort of babybrain who was seduced by the dastardly neighbour (played by a pirate king in a Regency romance.) So if you’re really all about equality you need to rewrite that story in your head. Your girlfriend was not lead astray by a swashbuckling-yet-sensitive Blackbeard who overpowered her feminine senses. She had some consensual sex with a weird neighbour outside the agreed-upon bounds of the relationship, so you broke up. The end. Also you have now learned an important lesson about listening when someone tells you they’re a trainwreck.

    • xenu01 said:

      There is so much freaking win in this comment!

  17. Grant said:

    I find it interesting, as this seems to mirror a situation that I had found myself involved in years ago.

    I met someone. Let’s call him Q (after James Bond or Star Trek, you choose). I really liked Q. Q is an amazingly fun charismatic person. I want to have dirty naked times with Q. I’m working toward this situation happening. Q and I are early on in the meeting process, so if Q sleeps with other people, I don’t care. It’s not like there’s anything going on between the two of us (yet). So when he’s away on Spring Break and tells me that he has hooked up with someone, I’m cool with that.

    On what I thought was a date (and it may have been at the time, but because of the situation, this may have been the only one), Q got called by Y and Z. I’ve met Y and Z, and they’re also fun people, so I agree with Q that it would be fun to meet up with them for drinks. We’re all hanging out and having a good time. Y and Q go to get us more drinks. I’m left with Z. She looks me square in the face and says, “You know I’m sleeping with him, don’t you?” I respond, “Who?” She answers “Q”.

    At this point it’s getting awkward. She’s clearly trying to stake her claim. I respond, “Oh are you dating?” to which she responds, “No, it’s just a friends with benefits situation”. So I respond, “Oh okay, so you’re not being monogamous then?” thinking to myself, okay he’s sleeping with her, I can get some of that action myself. The response is “No, we talked about it, we’re both being monogamous.”

    At this point I’m pretty drunk and confused. If I hadn’t been drinking (or just annoyed that she was trying to make a claim to Q), I may have responded differently. I said, “Oh, then why did Q tell me he hooked up with someone over Spring Break?”

    Wham. What a way to shut her down. To be fair, she was honestly hurt at this point, and I felt incredibly bad about it. However, it’s really not my fault. We all get ready to leave a bit later, and she says she wants to talk to him later, he grudgingly agrees to go over after he drops me off at my place, as she basically told him about four times to come over and he kept saying no.

    We end up back at mine, and I tell him what happened. I knew what she was going to talk to him about, and I felt a bit to blame for the conversation he was about to have. It turns out he basically lied to her about hooking up. He had also been trying to end it for awhile, but she was really hoping that this monogamous, casual sex situation would turn into a relationship, so she kept telling him that it was fine, and she was okay with how things were. Clearly she wasn’t. Needless to say, Q and Z were finished, and after he did that to her, any chance Q and I had was pretty much gone as well, not for a lack of trying on my part (although Q and I are still great friends, so I still turn out a winner in this situation). He basically told me that things between us weren’t going to happen because he was moving in about six months, and he didn’t want to start something that might turn into something long term. Of course, that didn’t stop him from inviting me to passover last minute with his family, spending nights in bed with him (nothing dirty), and other amazing things that made my crush on him grow even more. But I got over it eventually.

    Be aware when people tell you things. It sounds like X in your situation really didn’t want anything monogamous or serious. Maybe she had even tried to tell you in subtle ways, that you missed. It’s a really awful way to get dumped, but it sounds like she did to you what my friend did to Y. She used getting drunk and cheating as an excuse to get dumped and end things at that level. Of course, maybe she didn’t. Either way, she did break your agreement, so you should feel justified with your response. Next time, just try to be aware that when they say things like, “I don’t want anything serious.” or “I’m leaving, I’m not ready to get involved.” or anything else like that, that they’re being completely honest with you. Asking someone to be monogamous when they tell you that can put them in an awkward situation. Maybe she didn’t want to hurt you, or maybe she did really like you, and she wanted to see if something serious COULD happen, but didn’t know how to tell you without agreeing to the situation. Especially if she knew you’d been hurt in the past. We all do silly things because we think we’re not hurting the other person, even if eventually it does hurt them.

    Find someone who really agrees with what you’re looking for. Don’t give up! I didn’t find my guy until I was 32.

  18. Sheelzebub said:

    LW, I get the “I want something casual but monogamous” thing. So use your words. “I like you, I like hanging out with you, I like the sexy times with you, and I get that we’re just getting to know each other and aren’t sure where this is going. I would rather be monogamous while we’re together. Are you okay with being monogamous? Also, if you decide you want to see other people, let me know–that way, we can end the romance part of this and eventually get over the awkwardness and be friends.”

    I mean, there’s nothing wrong with being upfront with what you want and need from a relationship, even a casual one.

    Also–and I may be stretching here–but if you have a “history” of women cheating on you and this latest GF/FWB situation was a lot like the others, figure out why that is. Do you go for women who cheat? Do you tend to not use your words clearly and directly? Do you go for women who call themselves “trainwrecks?” I only ask because there was a specific personality type I used to date a lot–that personality type is what I was familiar with, but what I was familiar with didn’t ultimately make me happy. So explore that.

    Also–the side-eye towards your ex GF? FWB? “falling” for her neighbor’s “game” made me kind of twitchy. It smacks of “she is so naive and needs protection and she doesn’t know what she’s doing” and “men lie and women must protect their honor.” Maybe she is a trainwreck, as she said. Maybe she feels like one because she was confused by your original words (“I want monogamy but if you sleep with someone else, just let me know and we’ll reevaluate, ‘kay?” kinda comes off to me as “I don’t really mind if you have extracurricular sexytimes”), because the dude she nailed is a dick, or because of her own insecurities.

    It doesn’t matter. Even if you originally thought you’d be okay with her being with other people and said so, you’re perfectly within your rights to say, “Wow, this bothers me more than I thought it would and I’m not sure I can deal with this.”

    You are allowed to feel what you feel–but know what those feelings are. Maybe you’re hurt and disappointed. Maybe you’re angry? Maybe you’re very sad. Maybe this feels familiar (it’s an evaluation of me as a person/this always happens/I am a person this happens to). Or a combination of all three. But figure out what they are–if you don’t take the time to figure out and and name what you’re feeling, you won’t be able to deal with these feelings, pick yourself up and dust yourself off and move on.

  19. "Unhappy is He" said:

    LW again.

    Thanks for all the advice everyone. Just a comment in my defense, but I write like an academic because I am one, and not just because I’m a seething cauldron of deathly rage.

    So with the monogamy conversation I feel like I should clarify. She more or less said she wanted (nay, insisted: “If you want to be with someone else, you can be with them and get away from me!”) to be monogamous early on, and I brought it up for discussion. I phrased things as I did, because honestly, I didn’t know where I would consider it a deal breaker in the sleeping around. Maybe I’m deceiving myself saying that there is a way I could be fine with it, but I honestly believe that some circumstances are better than others. Considering the way in which the events transpired, and how I was told (“I shouldn’t have told you, and everything would have been fine!”), I felt like I couldn’t continue with X. Chances are I couldn’t have regardless of who she decided to sleep with, but I don’t know for certain.

    I guess I just didn’t like the neighbor dude, who just came across (all related to me second hand through X) as desperate, whiny, and nasty. Maybe I see part of myself in him, and that’s why I’m so afraid of doing the wrong thing. I don’t want to be that person, and I don’t want anyone to think of me as such. Yet it seems like it’s just none of my business to pass judgment, and so I phrased things poorly. I got a bad sense from this fellow, and am sorely projecting my hurt in a misguided attempt to feel vindicated.

    Again, lots of good advice from everyone. I’m being a logicbot, and trying to manage my own hurt feelings. All of this is wrapped up in a long history of depression, and other difficulties, so I’m doing what I can to manage.

    Thanks all.

    • Awkward Niece said:

      I know this is a bit of a side issue, LW, but I have to take a bit of issue with “I write like an academic because I am one”. No you don’t. You write the way you write cause you write the way you write. There is no such thing as writing like an academic, and even if there were, it wouldn’t be an obligation for every academic to write that way.
      Captain Awkward is an academic, and the way she writes is very different to the way you write. See where I’m going with this?

      • Jiggs said:

        Yes, not all academics write like their every conversation is a term paper.

    • Maybe I’m deceiving myself saying that there is a way I could be fine with it, but I honestly believe that some circumstances are better than others.

      Speaking as somebody who’s prone to logicking things to death myself — it’s really important to figure out what your own feelings are, and accept them as okay. A lot of stuff follows from other stuff by logic, but there are probably some first principles that you have to accept as emotional givens, even if they seem hard to justify through other means. And yours might not be the same as other people’s.

      I spent 2-3 years struggling with this about polyamory. I could justify to myself forever that it ought to be okay for me and my partner to consistently see other people, and at the end of the day, no matter how logical it seemed, no matter how fair, it was not a thing my brain could actually deal with. It hit all kinds of serious visceral reactions in me I didn’t even know I had, and didn’t want to have. It is okay to have that kind of triggers. But be as honest as you can with yourself , and use that to be honest with other people about what your constraints are. As you figure things out, be as upfront as you can.

  20. alphakitty said:

    What came through most strongly to me was that LW doesn’t trust himself. He wants to be a good guy, but he’s afraid he’s got some wrong instincts lurking inside. On the one hand, he probably does have SOME — we all do. On the other hand, he sounds like a decent guy. He just needs to believe that.

    Lack of self-trust means wanting monogamy but worrying that it is old-fashioned or sexist or nerdy or uptight or possessive or controlling or judgy or slut-shamy to want his lady-friend to reserve her sexytimes for him… like he’d be saying he owns her and it should be up to him who she shares her body with. Which I think led him to ambiguous communication about wanting monogamy but just needing her to tell him if something changed on her part so he could re-evaluate, when he really meant “nooo, I don’t share well!”

    Just because monogamy is no longer THE socially acceptable option does not mean it is no longer AN acceptable option. It’s ok to say, “Monogamy is really important to me. I find the vulnerability inherent in intimate relationships really hard, and I just can’t open myself up that way unless I know the other person is only with me. I’m not going to be a controlling, jealous jerk about your other friendships, even friendships with guys. And it’s not that the relationship has to be forever to be worth having at all. But I do need to know that while it’s on, it is exclusive. If that feels rigid or stifling to you, I understand, and I don’t judge you — in fact, I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world. I just can’t to be in an intimate relationship with you.”

    Lack of self-trust also means finding out that your girlfriend, with whom you thought you had an agreement to be monogamous, has slept with some other guy, and questioning your right be disappointed in her… because you’re afraid you’re being judgy and slut-shaming. You’re hurt that she had sex with someone else (especially when you weren’t so far away, and the guy is icky). You’re disappointed in her, because you think she shouldn’t have done it when she was seeing you, given your understanding. (Which is why you tried to paint her as a victim of a manipulator, when really your brain knows she made a choice). You’ve lost respect for her, because you know SHE thinks she shouldn’t have done it, either, and yet she did. No matter how sorry she is afterward, she did it, so you no longer quite trust that her actions will conform to even her own expectations of herself, much less yours.

    So now you’re trying to dissect those feelings to figure out if it is ALL because she broke the deal, or whether your feelings are subconsciously tainted by primitive, sexist notions that she shouldn’t have slept with another guy while she was sleeping with you even if had not had an understanding that we would be monogamous. Cut yourself some slack! You don’t have to answer that hypothetical question! Frankly, I don’t think you would be judgy and disappointed in her if you had agreed that side-action was ok; your highly rational, fairness-obsessed brain would not let you. It’s just that on an instinctive level, you know that side-action will never be ok FOR YOU, not because you think it’s inherently slutty for a woman to sleep with more than one guy at a time, but because you don’t wanna share.

    And then there’s your question of whether it was wrong to break up with her. Again, there is no one correct answer. Could you have had some serious conversations in which you were clearer about why monogamy matters to you and that henceforth it will be a dealbreaker, but you won’t hold this against her and you’re willing to give it another whirl? Sure. Some people would have handled that way. It might have worked out. It might not. (The only reason it would have been wrong to try this route would be if you knew you WOULD hold it against her). But you had no obligation to. She DID know your expectation was monogamy, and I suspect her self-description as a ‘trainwreck’ means she knew she was screwing up what she had with you… and did it anyway, in the horny of the moment. And that means that maybe she is not a good risk for a guy who needs monogamy to feel safe in his relationships.

    • "Unhappy is He" said:

      Can you people see into my brain? Your revelations astound me.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • Scott said:

      This comment is what I wanted to say after reading the letter and CA’s confusion. All of us progressive guys harbour some sexism. We don’t like it, but we’re swimming in it with this society and it’s impossible to be internally perfect. We CAN strive to keep it from influencing out thoughts and actions. Importantly, it’s easier to do that when we’re not guilting all over ourselves about this stuff wedged inside our psyches.

      The distinction between behaviour and feelings is useful here. Sexist feelings ALL BY THEMSELVES? Shitty to experience but not blame-worthy. Sexist behaviour? Blame-worthy, regardless of how the sexist-behaving person is feeling! So don’t beat yourself up about feelings you don’t act on. Do keep chipping away at them (as it sounds like you strive to), but don’t let unwanted feelings terrorise you.

  21. T.J. said:

    I’m not… really seeing a lot of sexism here, in this inherently limited medium, tbh? Trust issues, baggage, etc.? Sure! Sexism? Less so.

    But the thing that kind of got me is that there’s already plenty of problematic things going on around this that I think it’s sort of beside the point. You have instincts for a reason, and if your instinct is “I just can’t handle this as a starting point,” then… go with that. Might it be a bit judgmental or even sexist? Maybe. But why suffer through a relationship, gritting your teeth to prove that you CAN handle this?

    The one thing I’m a little weirded out, or maybe just need a bit of info about is: how did you know she was only 10 minutes away from you and your friends? Like, friendly text kind of thing (which is what I’m hoping/assuming)? Nevertheless, “I had too much to drink and we slept together” is in fact different than “we slept together.” “I shouldn’t have told you, and everything would have been fine!”? RED FLAG! “I’m a trainwreck”? RED FLAG! Like, it’s totally fine if those things are true, but that doesn’t bode well for a relationship that hasn’t even really started yet.

    And, as someone who’s been cheated on before, it’s totally reasonable to say, “hey, that’s cool that we need some time off, but I have ISSUES, and so if we’re going to actually do this, I need monogamy.” You didn’t say “well, do whatever and we’ll see how it goes;” she knew what was going on, it triggered your issues, and there isn’t anything wrong with this being a dealbreaker… because it was a dealbreaker in the first place.

    • "Unhappy is He" said:

      For reference, I was at my friend’s apartment playing nerdgames, and she was at her apartment not particularly far away. She sent me a text earlier in the evening when she got home wishing me well.

  22. Sarah N. said:

    This is significantly after the fact, but I’m going to give a little advice on the matter of the Other Man and his actions in this situation, since others have covered everything else very well. Basically, the LW should have said something in regards to Other Man’s slut-shaming and manipulation since it seems like he was aware of it beforehand.

    If you are uncomfortable with how a person is treating someone around you, it is not merely their concern. You shouldn’t be an overbearing prick about it, but say something! Be a support system. Help them avoid a possible abusive friendship or future relationship (though obviously you don’t want to think about that happening). Make sure that you’re clear it isn’t about jealousy; say something along the lines of “I feel scared when you are around blank because of blank.” Even if the relationship is casual, you can look out for them; it’s a nice thing to do. Accept if they don’t want to respond to advice, but don’t be afraid to give it.

    If you were aware of Other Man being a dick ahead of time, there were likely actions you could have done to try and help her or at least make the concerns you had clear. If you actually weren’t aware, you can’t beat yourself up about it, but on the other hand, yes, it is possible you were being sexist, because offering judgment on a woman’s other partners can get very patriarchal very quick.

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