I feel like I’ve cheated on my girlfriend

Hi,

I’m not sure just how unique my situation is, but somehow I imagine it’s quite unique due to the very unique ways of thinking each party involved has. So, advise if you can.

This is the issue.

My name is Jason, my girlfriend of 4 years is Nancy. My best friends name is Andy. (I’m sending this issue to many other online advice things so yes, my real name is technically given to you by receiving my email … so, don’t mind that please. Though the names may be false, the situations, genders, and such are all true.)

Now, I contend that I do genuinely love Nancy; i am IN love with her. Now, I love Andy too. He’s my best friend and knows virtually everything about me, things I would never tell anyone.

He has a very unique outlook on life that leads to many problems for him. He is a social constructivist by definition. He believes things such as sexuality, “the normal”, the “abnormal”, what’s natural, what’s not natural, what’s right and what is wrong, even GENDER is entirely and totally constructed by society.

A few months ago, Andy and I were drinking, and suddenly one thing led to another and we had a sexual experience. Soon after, Andy admitted to me that he was in fact a bisexual. This of course did not strike me as totally strange.

He never requests anything in return. He says that he gets enough pleasure from “knowing that I can make my friend feel that good.” which is staggering to be honest. We’ve had 3 other encounters. Each time, I was confused and torn because A) I’m sort of unsure about my sexuality (but I’ve dealt with that so don’t advise on this issue) and B) I feel like im cheating on my girlfriend.

I’ve also told Nancy about what happened. She is incredibly understanding and helped me deal with the sexuality issue. The problem is that I still wanted blow jobs from Andy. Nancy told me that its not the gender that constitutes cheating, it is the act in itself; which i agree with.

So, when I told Andy this, he became totally and utterly upset. I guess he feels that his lectures on how the realm of sexuality is separate from the realm of romance and love-relationships would make me not feel like im cheating.

Even if I didn’t feel like it was cheating, the fact remains that Nancy would. And I would be betraying her faith in me.

I’ve not told Andy that Nancy is aware of what happened. I feel like he doesn’t understand my position (he has never had a girlfriend or boyfriend, and maintains that he has zero romantic feelings for me, which i believe). I feel like I’ve lead him on and done something terrible. I don’t know how to fix his upsetness. He is a very sensitive and emotional guy. I feel like I’ve hurt my best friend just to spare myself from being a cheating bastard. I don’t know what to do. Help if you can.

Jason

[content edited for public view]

Dear Jason,

You’re being a little hard on yourself for ending a sexual relationship that would likely hurt Nancy, and almost certainly would erode the relationship you have with Nancy. “Sparing yourself from being a cheating bastard” isn’t a bad motivation for ending this sexual activity. Sparing your girlfriend from the heartaches of the same is an even better motivation. If you feel like it’s the wrong thing to do to be dating Nancy and have these sexual encounters with your best friend, then that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to end these encounters. One reason people don’t have casual sex with their friends is that feelings often intrude on the transitory pleasures, complicating a relationship that wasn’t complicated before. Despite attempts to tear down the barrier between human sex and human emotions, the “human” part frequently gets in the way.

It sounds like your friend assumes you have the same social constructivist ideas that he does. If Andy’s talked about his ideas passionately and at length in front of you over the years, then he probably feels that you understood his stance about things like uncommitted oral sex and probably had the same ideas. So when you tell him you feel as if you’re cheating, he’s feeling disappointed and betrayed that you would fall for the socially constructed idea that you can cheat on your girlfriend. In other words, he’s upset with you that, after all these years, you’ve shown you don’t entirely agree with his beliefs about how society is arranged (“belief” may sound like a strong word, but I think it’s highly arguable whether gender is totally a social construct or is a biological construct outside of what we call society). People of strongly held beliefs often have a hard time believing anyone else could feel different from them.

The fact is, it sounds like you do feel like you’re cheating on your girlfriend when you are receiving oral sex from Andy. While Andy might feel like he’s misread your attitudes, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise to him. While he’s remained outside of dating relationships all these years, you haven’t. The fact you’ve been with Nancy for four years should have clued Andy into the idea that you at least “buy into” the idea that a man and woman dating in a stable, committed relationship is desirable. So while your signals have got crossed, you shouldn’t feel entirely guilty for having led your friend on. He knew when he before the oral sex started that you were devoted to Nancy and it’s unreasonable for him, knowing about this relationship, to assume that you wouldn’t have mixed feelings about the oral sex. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if his anger (and the oral sex) isn’t an attempt to control your actions and cause a break-up with Nancy. From an outsider’s point-of-view, the possibility should at least be considered.

Every relationship is different. I’m assuming that Andy believes you and he had such a close relationship that you could enjoy sexual stimulation and it would be your guilt-free secret. But you know what? Even if Andy is right that “conventional sexuality” is an artificial construct, it doesn’t follow that it’s an artificial construct to be dismissed as meaningless. If you feel like you’re cheating on Nancy and it makes you feel bad to “cheat” on Nancy, then it’s perfectly reasonable for you to avoid situations that make you feel like you’re cheating. That might hurt Andy’s feelings and he might think you are choosing Nancy over him, but his theories are no more valid than your emotions. It sounds like Andy’s ideas on social constructivism are to reject the traditional social constructs, but I’m not sure if that’s the only outcome of social constructivism. Certainly enlighten yourself about how we are conditioned into how we think and perhaps how our immediate social interactions affect our attitudes, but I blieve social constructivism means to use that analysis to inform our decisions – not limit them. We can reject all social constructs or reject some and keep the ones we find useful. Or, in the second case, we can accept those conventions on our own terms.

cheat-girlfriend-with-friend

The fact is, for millennia, humans have found the value in fidelity, trust and coupling. Sure, many of our attitudes about sex have to do with pre-modern ways to determine lineage and inheritance, but that doesn’t mean a monogamous relationship is entirely without validity. I would argue that, besides the need for a man to know his child was actually his heir, there’s another level of social interaction in sexual relationships that exists separate from the social constructs. Humans bond with other humans not just because society tells us we should, but because it fulfills and rewards us.

Humans are social creatures. It’s hard to deny that we aren’t. Most of us enjoy being in the presence of other people. More specifically, we enjoy being in the presence of specific people. A particular man or woman brings joy and contentment into our lives. We want to keep that joy in our life and it may be worth whatever compromise you make to have a commitment to that special person in our life. That kind of commitment is like making a promise, and breaking a promise to a person we love, cherish and enjoy being around can be hurtful to everyone involved – including the person who breaks the promise. Is that an artificial social construct? Maybe. But most people crave social interactions, because we are naturally social beings. For those of us who do crave social interactions beyond mere acquaintances and occasional sexual encounters, it would be unnatural to deny those feelings. Frankly, the same goes when considering how to arrange your relationships involving committed girlfriends/boyfriends and cherished friends.

The fact is, if Andy has never been in a committed relationship with another person, I’m not sure if he’s qualified to know if you and Nancy should keep secrets from one another. He only knows the theoretical advantages and disadvantages of a committed relationship. If his particular life choices work for him, then he’s a very lucky man. That doesn’t necessarily mean his way will work best for you.

It’s common for a person to assume that what works for him or her should work for everyone else: to take a specific truth and turn it into a universal truth. But you aren’t Andy. If Andy prefers to live free of social constructs like sexual commitment and “normal” romantic interactions, he shouldn’t assume you are going to do the same. You are different people with different emotional needs. Maybe Andy thinks you’re “giving in” to society’s expectations or that you’re weak-minded for giving up sexual freedom for the love of a woman, but frankly, Andy hasn’t been in your place. His anger and emotions are no doubt real, but they are also an attempt to control your behavior through guilt. In other words, Andy’s using a social construct to get his way – which may be to break up your relationship with Nancy. Andy took the initiative to give you oral sex and I can guarantee you he thought about doing so a long time before he did, so whatever was in his mind had a certain amount of calculation to it.

The Choice Before You

In the end, Jason, it sounds like you have a choice. One, you can tell Andy that you feel oral sex is a betrayal of Nancy and try to put things back where they were. Two, you can break up with Nancy and try Andy’s lifestyle of unattached sex and living outside the normal bounds of society. Three, you can continue to receive oral sex from Andy, while dating Nancy.

Frankly, if you can pull any of those off and find contentment and joy, I’m not going to castigate you for them. The choice is yours and not mine and not Andy’s. But I would forget about all the arguments about social constructs and abnormality and answer for myself what it is that’s really going to make you the happiest and most fulfilled.

There’s no crime in living your life according to Andy’s conception of what’s natural, but it sounds like you have made your decision and it’s that you prefer not to cheat on Nancy. Even if life with Nancy isn’t your ultimate decision, it sounds like you find value in committed relationships with women and that’s likely to be the path that brings you the most joy. So I would suggest that, if you want to tell Andy you want to remain friends without the oral sex and not cheat on Nancy, you need to explain to him just how important your relationship with Nancy is. Focus not on social theory, but on how your relationship with Nancy rewards you. Don’t feel guilty about feeling contentment and joy in a woman’s arms, because it’s not much fun to live according to a pure belief system that doesn’t allow such things.

Best Wishes,