I don’t want to cheat on my boyfriend, but I fantasise about other men
Ask Roe: The idea of excitement, being wanted, has me thinking what it’d be like to kiss someone else
‘He’s initiated once since Valentine’s Day, when I was in bed practically asleep.’ Photograph: File/iStock
Lately I’ve been thinking about what it’d be like to cheat. I’ve been with my partner for two years but we have barely touched each other in months from stress on both our parts. When I initiate, he’s too tired or not in the mood. He says we can tomorrow if it’s before dinner as he won’t be tired, but then he’s always busy and won’t accept help. He’s initiated once since Valentine’s Day, when I was in bed practically asleep! I told him “tomorrow”. The next day he was tired again.
I hate my life. I hate my job and routine, and he’s the only great thing left. I think it’s the idea of excitement, being wanted, that has me thinking of what it’d be like to kiss someone else. I’m not too worried that I’ll act on this, but every few months he worries I’m not committed to him (he has self-esteem issues). I reassure him that I am committed, but now those thoughts of other men flit through my mind when I say so.
I feel so guilty. I’m afraid of what this means for us. I don’t want to do anything to hurt him. I really do love him. Help!
You are not the worst for occasionally fantasising about people other than your partner. Far from it. You’re just human. One of the pervasive and damaging lies about monogamy is that it’s always easy and effortless; that you will never be bored or frustrated with your partner; that you should never and will never find anyone else attractive.
But guess what? At some point – maybe even some points – during a long-term monogamous relationship, you will get bored, and frustrated, and your eyes may well linger on one of the literally billions of attractive people wandering around on this gorgeous, neglected, ever-heating planet of ours. And you may, for a moment (or even several), savour imagining what it would be like to be with someone other than the person who you see drooling over their pillow every morning, who never takes the bins out without being asked 20 times, who always tells the same, too-loud jokes after a glass of wine.
This is fine. This is normal. This is human. This, in fact, is the byproduct of another lie we tell about monogamy; that romance and seduction is the peak of any relationship. Think of all the rom-coms, the television shows, the Shakespearian plays that deal only with courtship and the beginning of a relationship. Think of the amount of first kisses we see onscreen, only to be met with the words: “And they lived happily ever after”.
The majority of lessons we learn about monogamous relationships are only about the joyful beginning, and not the work that comes after. They’re about romance, and not the daily reality of love.
If you’re being honest when you say that you would never actually act on these thoughts, stop beating yourself up
And, sometimes, the daily reality of love will occasionally lead you to imagine being with someone else. That sounds blasphemous to some people; disrespectful of your commitment to your partner. But do you know what that imagining does? It gives you an opportunity to make a choice – to stay or to go. And by allowing yourself to imagine a different reality, to acknowledge the possibility that you could conceivably be with someone else, and to still choose your partner? That’s commitment. Not idealised, not ignorant, not naive defaulting; but conscious, chosen, ongoing commitment. I think that’s pretty beautiful.
So if you’re being honest when you say that you would never actually act on these thoughts, stop beating yourself up about them. But don’t ignore them, either. Noticing what is appealing about these fantasies can illuminate feelings or desires that are currently unfulfilled. These thoughts have already been enlightening for you – you’ve identified that you enjoy the idea of feeling excited and wanted; two feelings that are in short supply in your life and relationship right now. You and your partner are both stressed, and haven’t been maintaining a work/life balance, leaving you both feeling underappreciated, undesired and insecure.
It’s time to start talking, very openly and very honestly about your life and relationship, and expressing what you need. This may be a very welcome conversation – it’s clear your partner is also suffering, so approach this as a problem that both of you are experiencing, and both of you need to commit to addressing, together.
One major issue is that you’re not carving out time to spend quality, fun time together, or to be intimate. Tell your partner how neglected you feel, how the lack of physical intimacy and excitement in your relationship is creating an emotional distance, and leaving you frustrated. Be clear that you aren’t sharing your feelings to blame or attack him, but rather to foster understanding of how you are both feeling, and how you can address these issues, together.
Talk about what you both want out of life
As covered in this column before, scheduling regular sex can be a way for couples to get out of a rut, as it gives you permission to prioritise your time together. How about committing to going to bed together 40 minutes earlier for a couple of weeks, so you can have some time to either chat and cuddle in bed, or have sex?
Or reserve a few hours a week specifically for a date night. Either go out and do something fun, or just have a nice dinner together at home – but be sure to really invest in this time together. Get dressed up, turn the phones off, and treat it like a chance to reconnect and remember what you find attractive and interesting about each other.
Talk about what you both want out of life, and if there could be different career paths, lifestyle decisions that could help you get there. Talk about how you could both feel more loved and supported by the other. And start this date night early enough that you’re both still awake enough and engaged enough to have sex, if you want to. (Pro tip: sex before dinner is always better. A bowl full of pasta is more likely to improve snoozing than stamina.)
These are simple steps that will hopefully get you and boyfriend on the path back to reconnecting – but you both have to be willing to try. If one or both of you aren’t interested in making the effort, that’s the point where imagining leaving this relationship may have to transform into planning.
Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford
If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe