Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve become really close to a co-worker, who’s expressed interest in me romantically. He’s exactly like my boyfriend in college and I have a crush on him, though I haven’t acted on it. We’re traveling to a conference next month, and I’m worried I’m going to cheat on my husband. What should I do?
Three weeks ago I moved into a new house, in a new state, and started a new job. The new car my husband and I just bought last week broke down, my husband spent the 4th of July sick in bed, and I spent the weekend taking care of our toddler during the day and painting my son’s bedroom at night because I had to cover up the incredibly inept flower stencils that were left on the walls by the previous owners. And I know this maybe wasn’t the best weekend to take on a painting project, but these stencil flowers were so incredibly bad, so poorly done, that I think they were the result of either someone losing a bet or revenge for some terrible crime and I couldn’t live with them for another day.
I’m telling you all of this because before I begin to answer your question, I really, really, really want you to understand one guiding principle that will resonate throughout this column: I do not have time for your foolishness.
You have a crush on a co-worker. You’re going to go away with your co-worker on a business trip and you’re worried that you’re going to cheat. But you’re not actually worried, because worry is an emotion you have about something you can’t control. You worry that your plane is going to crash. You worry that your home won’t sell. You worry that your husband needs to go to the doctor.
But you don’t worry about cheating. You plan on cheating.
You want to cheat on your husband, but you also still want to be able to think of yourself as a moral and upright person, so you’re using a lens of anxiety to give yourself permission to spend a lot of time thinking about all of the sex you plan on having with your co-worker without your husband’s knowledge.
You’re enjoying this. You’re enjoying wondering if you’re going to have sex with this person on your trip. You enjoy it because it’s fun to think about. Thinking about it makes your heart pump faster and your pupils dilate. What if he takes your hand? Brushes his fingers across the skin of your neck? What if you’re in the elevator and he hits the “stop” button and grabs you and pushes his mouth against yours? What if he gently kisses the inside of your wrist? What if he slides his hand down your back? Thinking about these possibilities makes your stomach flip as though you’re in free fall on a roller coaster. You get a rush of adrenaline and endorphins. You’re aware of your body in a way you haven’t been in years, not since your last major crush, not since you met your husband.
Marriage does not generally cause stomach flip flop fun times. Monogamy equates to stability, and stability feels like the exact opposite of a roller coaster. Marriage is painting a bedroom by yourself on the 4th of July because your husband is in bed sick and you just moved to a new place and no one knows you so you put on the Chrissie Hyde episode of Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, bust open the paint can, and try to make the best of it. Marriage is, really, mostly, not sexy. Because marriage is your life, your normal day-to-day life, and your normal day-to-day life isn’t that hot.
You know what is hot? Having a crush. Going on a trip with your crush. Not knowing if you and your crush are going to kiss, make out, and give each other, like, the best orgasms. Wonder, anticipation, hope, and fear all mixed together are sexy as hell. Thinking about maybe possibly wanting to have sex with someone and then being given the perfect opportunity in which to bone him is hot with four t’s. HOTTTT.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have sex with this dude, but I am saying COME ON. You are a grown ass woman and, “I’m afraid I’m going to cheat on my husband,” is such bullshit. You gotta decide if you want to cheat on your husband or not. If you don’t want to cheat on your husband, then it’s pretty easy: Don’t. And you have the power to make sure that you don’t cheat on your husband. If you’re not sure how to do that, here’s a quick five-step guide:
1) Don’t interact with your co-worker’s genitals.
2) Don’t kiss him on the mouth with tongues.
3) Don’t kiss him on the cheek.
4) Don’t hold his hand.
5) Don’t stare deeply into his eyes or ask him to go for a walk after dinner or give him a back massage or go back to his room to watch a movie or engage in any other behavior that could lead to a pants-off dance-off.
If you don’t want to cheat on your husband then you won’t cheat on your husband. Sex is a choice, not an accident. Consent is a requirement of sex and, therefore, sex should always be a completely active decision.
But, is there any way for you to have sex with this dude but also not cheat on your husband? Yep.
You could go to your husband and tell him of your interest in this other person, your fascination with him, your urge to be with him, and see if he will agree to introduce polyamory into your relationship. I believe that monogamy is not for all individuals, or all couples, and that being honest about your desire to explore another relationship within your marriage could improve your relationship with your husband.
But I also believe that having a long heartfelt discussion with your spouse about your true feelings is the opposite of having an affair, which is to say the opposite of hot sexy fantasy fun. Talking to your husband about your feelings will take a bit of the excitement out of the prospect of hooking up with your coworker. It’ll take your crush out of the realm of teenage daydream fantasy and throw it into the sharp, cold light of adult reality where your crush is fallible and you’re fallible and sleeping with your crush won’t dramatically change or, really, even improve your life. You’ll likely find that once you’ve had sex with him the attraction will be gone. Wanting something you can’t have is so, so hot. Wanting something you can have in a completely ethical and morally upstanding way is so, so adult.
If you really want to sleep with this man, then you need talk to your husband. If you really want to sleep with this man without talking to your husband first, then I am not the person to ask because my answer is no, you are not allowed to do that. Cheating on your husband is selfish. Cheating on him and then telling him, shattering his world, and asking him to forgive you is selfish times two.
I believe that you can be married, and be attracted to another man, and find a way through that attraction without destroying the trust in your marriage. But doing so isn’t the stuff of sexy daydreams that will occupy you during boring morning meetings. You’re an adult now, and it’s time to figure out both what you actually want and how to get it without shredding those you love.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.