Making an Indecent Proposal Halfway Decent
July 30, 2009 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Best practices for proposing/having an affair?

A friend and I (she's F, I'm M) are both married. Based on our conversations, it's clear that we are 1) both in marriages that are stable and loving on certain levels, but that are devoid of affection, including sex and 2)very attracted to one another.

In the interest of brevity, I won't go into the details, but we're both at a point where it's clear that our efforts to improve our marriages are not working (we've done counseling, talked, read books, attended seminars, etc.). Both our spouses have acknowledged that yes, the deficiencies in the physical department are their fault; however, for various reasons (mostly involving kids), neither of us wants divorce at this point.

On my end, I feel that if I could get affection and sex from an outside party, I would be content with what my wife offers in other ways (she's a wonderful and brilliant person, a great "business partner," and a great mom). I'm pretty sure my friend is on the same boat, but I'd want to know for certain before making a potentially disastrous move.

I'd like to believe that if we could agree on some ground rules (we won't leave our spouses, nobody can know about us, improvements in our marriages might mean the end of the affair, etc.), we could have a mutually satisfying physical relationship.

Though I dated a lot before I met my wife-to-be, I've never cheated on anybody; I can't believe I'm admitting the desire to cheat now. I'd like nothing more than to be able to have an affectionate, sexy relationship with my wife. We both like each other's spouses too-- it's not about trying to steal my friend from her asshole husband or anything. But I'm desperate, and so is my friend, as evidenced by our conversations and some unmistakable flirting on both sides.

Can an affair ever work without ruining marriages? Is it possible to play my cards right and get a confidential, no-strings-attached physical relationship? If so, how do I broach this subject with my friend (she probably wouldn't bring it up to me)? How do we arrive at a set of ground rules for what is and isn't acceptable?

I don't expect too many people to reply with, "I'm in the middle of an affair right now, and it's great!" so here's my throwaway email:

And yes, I know I'm a dog who doesn't deserve the wife I have, etc. I still have a lot of soul-searching to do before I decide anything... I've just not been able to talk to anyone about this, so I need to hear from people outside my own head.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (60 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Can an affair ever work without ruining marriages? Is it possible to play my cards right and get a confidential, no-strings-attached physical relationship? If so, how do I broach this subject with my friend (she probably wouldn't bring it up to me)? How do we arrive at a set of ground rules for what is and isn't acceptable?

Have you considered asking your wife whether or not you could take a mistress? If she's all of those great things, but realizes that she's not fulfilling your needs, she may be amenable to the idea.

Plenty of people have "an arrangement" with their spouse.
posted by Netzapper at 4:04 PM on July 30, 2009 [13 favorites]

Can an affair ever work without ruining marriages? Is it possible to play my cards right and get a confidential, no-strings-attached physical relationship?

Is it possible? Anything is possible.

Is it likely to work? Doubtful.

If you want this, you'll have to divorce your wife. It's only fair to her, and your children. What sort of example will you set for your kids when your wife becomes aware of the affair? That it's okay to cheat as long as no one will find out?
posted by InsanePenguin at 4:12 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Are you sure your friend is really in to this? Because it could just end with your friend, aghast, running home to blab your proposal to her husband, and then to your wife.
Best practices, in this case, would probably involve not starting an affair with someone in your social circle. As the hunters say, "don't shit where you eat."
posted by Sara Anne at 4:14 PM on July 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

My friend was raised by progressive parents who were in an open marriage in the 1980s, and she said it was really unpleasant. However, she and her partner are now in a carefully-negotiated open relationship, and that seems to work well. I think it depends on the couple and the ground rules. This book is endorsed by several couples I know.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:17 PM on July 30, 2009

Also, I don't think it's fair to do this without your wife's blessing. But she may be OK with something on the polyamory continuum, and then you might get lucky. Literally.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:18 PM on July 30, 2009 [8 favorites]

If you only have strictly a physical desire to fill, why not look for a prostitute/escort? I mean really, it seems like it's most than just sex you're looking for. More like sex with this specific person in your life, which suggests a need for an emotional connection as well. I dunno, I personally feel uneasy for the future of your marriage reading that. I think you're fooling yourself.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:18 PM on July 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

Deciding to cheat doesn't just mean deciding to ask your intended whether she wants to bump uglies every once in awhile, it sets up a whole host of other mechanations that both of you are going to have to think about.

First of all, it involves lying, on a regular basis. Whatever your moral stance on that, it's going to require logistics. You both have kids and you both have spouses, so you'll have to work out times where the two of you can get together without any of the kids or either of the spouses finding out about it.

Since you describe the woman with whom you wish to cheat as a "friend," I'm assuming you have other friends in common, or work together. So that sets up other people, besides your spouses and children to lie to. People who may compare notes, should they suspect something, so you'll want to keep your stories straight.

Technology also has a way of tracking people passively, so you'll have to pay attention to your cell phone calls, your text messages, your e-mails, your Facebook pages, your Twitter updates, your voicemails, your ATM records, your credit card bills, and your GPS coordinates. If either spouse stumbles across a stray byte of information, that could lead to the two of you getting caught.

To make sure that you're both being as careful as possible, I'd strongly suggest the use of condoms, since the fact that you're both willing to cheat on someone means that both of you are engaging in sexual relations with multiple partners and both of you are engaging in sexual relations with multiple partners that one or more of your partners (possibly including you) don't know about. If you're not using condoms with your wife, you'll have to find a place to keep those, or remember to buy them before each encounter.

All of this is assuming your friend says yes. If she says no, you're going to have to find a way of getting past the awkwardness of suggesting an affair with her, and assuming that she's interested in cheating on her husband. You should be prepared to lose the friendship, since she may be someone who feels uncomfortable with a Platonic friend who passes that boundary and/or someone who feels that she's the type of woman who would cheat on her husband. Factor that into your calculations before making any move.

If you and this woman have friends in common, make totally sure that she's someone who wouldn't tell mutual friends that you suggested this to her, should she reject you, and/or tell friends about you if she accepts your proposition and/or isn't going to get attached and want you to leave your wife/tell your wife/tell her husband/tell your mutual friends/stalk you if your affections wind up being unequal.

If all of that is acceptable to you, just go for it. Oh, but I'm assuming that you're 100% hunky-dory with your wife doing the same behind your back. If you're lucky, she's already doing so now!
posted by xingcat at 4:18 PM on July 30, 2009 [31 favorites]

I can simply state that, if this goes forward, there will be 6 miserable people. All this can be sketched out on paper, and seem reasonable, but it's not a business model.

One sex gets going, and it will be the most astounding sex you've ever had, stuff will start to go sideways, including one of the parties wishing to renegotiate any agreements made, or unilaterally changing agreements. Sex just has the kind of alchemy (a good thing usually) that it creates a situation in which all other bets are off.

If you really want sex, it might be better to do it online, NSA, but I can't recommend that either.

It's a hard spot to be in, I know.

Good luck.
posted by Danf at 4:19 PM on July 30, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh, my God. I'm going to try to empty my brain of the horror I'm feeling for you, and some of this is because I know what I'm talking about--but, Jesus, don't be an ass.

Frankly, you're probably going to do it because you want to and if you've gone this far thinking about it, it's probably a done deal. But I'll tell you a few truths, and you can blow them off.

1) The path your describing has no integrity and no potential for intimacy. Intimacy means trust. You'll never have it with either one. Which means there's no real love, it's just a rush.

2) What you need to work on is your cowardice. I can't think of another way to say that. Part of evolving as an adult requires a certain amount of bravery.

3) The first thing you need to do is tell your wife. The second thing you need to do is cut off contact with the other woman. The third thing you need to do is move out. The fourth thing you need to do is decide who you want to be with.

But you won't do any of these things, you'll meet the other woman in a bar, have four drinks and go have sex.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:20 PM on July 30, 2009 [27 favorites]

Is it possible to play my cards right and get a confidential, no-strings-attached physical relationship?
Sure. Talk to your wife about it, your potential paramour can talk to her husband, and you two can get what you need without sneaking around and lying. Other than that, no.
It will be disastrous. It will mess up your lives in ways that aren't apparent to you now, but, trust me, being a lying sneak to the mother of your children is no way to go through life, son.
posted by Floydd at 4:23 PM on July 30, 2009 [7 favorites]

My gut feeling is an arraignment like this not only will wreck both marriages, but also destroy your friendship with this woman.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 4:25 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd like to believe that if we could agree on some ground rules (we won't leave our spouses, nobody can know about us, improvements in our marriages might mean the end of the affair, etc.), we could have a mutually satisfying physical relationship.

You're perfectly right that the way to do this safely is by establishing ground rules, making sure that the other party is aware of what it's about (and mostly what it is not about), and generally setting boundaries. That way you're minimizing any possible shock, pain, misery, jealousy.

The problem is that you're leaving your wife out of the loop.

If all you say is true, you need to solve this by communicating with her and clarifying all of the boundary issues above. If she cares, she'll understand and support you.

Also decide in advance how you will feel if she wishes the same arrangement. If you're not okay with that, reevaluate the strength of your needs.
posted by rokusan at 4:28 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

If all four of you are friends, you are proposing a track that will end several friendships. Is it fair to the non-participants in this affair to lose friendships because of your physical needs? What is they say about animals? They don't crap where they sleep? This sounds a little too close to home. If you are intent, look for your needs satisfaction somewhere other than your family circle.
posted by netbros at 4:29 PM on July 30, 2009

I wrote a long response, but it comes down to this:

Dude, you are f'ing crazy. Step away from the burning explosives shed, immediately. Get a grip.

If you need to get laid more to be happy, and you've exhausted options at home, there are easier ways that will cause less pain in the long run. You're going to bring down Armageddon with this plan.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:32 PM on July 30, 2009 [14 favorites]

"No strings attached" is the exact reason men go to prostitutes. Your friend is very likely to become emotionally involved with you, with all the heartache and drama that comes with it. Also, don't you think your wife is entitled to some excitement and passion that you are obviously not giving her? Don't be selfish.
posted by Ariadne at 4:39 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd let the decision rest with your wife. She gets to decide if she is going to have regular, fulfilling sex with you or if someone else will be having regular, fulfilling sex with you. What is off the table is that you get to be kept like a dusty dildo, forgotten at the back of the nightstand drawer. That is not a choice she gets to make. Barring disease, accident, or other unfortunate unexpected events, sex is expected in a marriage. "Conjugal duties," and whatnot.

Do not tell her who you have in mind, nor offer veto power — those details are privy to those with whom you wish to share your sex life, and she has decided to exit it.

Nobody gets to decide you don't get to have sex.
posted by adipocere at 4:45 PM on July 30, 2009 [20 favorites]

I think you do need an outlet to satisfy you need for physical intimacy. However, keeping an affair secret, especially an affair with someone from your social circle, will involve an elaborate deception that will force you to distance yourself from your wife, probably impacting the areas of the marriage that you like. If an affair is your solution, don't have one with someone you all know and be prepared for a negative shift in the way you see your marriage.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:02 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

adipocere is very right in a sense. as long as their viewing of this also includes, your wife has the right to tell you that you're not the guy for her and she leaves you. nobody gets to decide you don't get to have sex, but your wife gets to decide if she's ok being your wife if you have sex elsewhere. i would say if you are to have this conversation with your wife and you want to stay married, allow some negotiation on ground rules. you tell her that she doesn't get veto power because she exited your sex life is a one way ticket to divorce court, i'm betting. what you're offering will be incredibly hurtful to her ego and sense of self. don't be a jackass on top of it.

i've been the other woman a couple of times. it always gets messier once you start having sex. you could have had all the level headed talks and agreements all laid out beforehand. you could have thought of everything, but at the base of it, we're animals. we're going to react like animals once pheremones and hormones get involved. you can't dictate emotion, you can only try to stem the tide by realizing what obstacles might come. every relationship i've had with someone who is married or otherwise long term partnered did not follow logical patterns. every one of them ended in less than desireable ways. i don't regret them, but i won't ever do it again. in the end, the 2 or 3 weeks of incredible sex don't make up for the next 3-6 months of agony and tension and friendships lost forever.

and finally, as a child of parents who stayed together for the kids. don't do that. it sucks. it creates a lifetime of guilt based in "if only i wasn't around my parents could have been happier way earlier in their lives". it also makes the children question what honest expressions of love really are, since they saw 2 people playing at it for so long, but never really feeling it.
posted by nadawi at 5:12 PM on July 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

You're about to ruin your life.

I'm pretty sure that every man who's ever had an affair thought, "I can do this and I'll never get caught!"

And since, you know, they invariably do, ask yourself:

Am I okay with my wife sobbing uncontrollably and inconsolably at the violation, the betrayal?

Am I okay with exposing my wife to disease?

Am I okay with my childrens' perceptions of marriage, trust and intimacy obliterated, forever?

Am I okay with alienating my family and friends to the point where a good many of them will never speak to me again?

Am I okay with packing everything I own with my destroyed family looking on, dragging it down the hallway and loading it into a moving van... for a little strange? For another woman who, by your own admission is NOT interested in a relationship with you, who will NOT be there to support you when your life is ruined?

If you can answer yes to any of those questions, you need to see a therapist. Your problems are beyond the scope of Ask Metafilter.

Do you think you're the first man to ever have these feelings? To be in this situation? Get a grip, dude.

"On my end, I feel that if I could get affection and sex from an outside party, I would be content with what my wife offers in other ways..."

My God, you're so considerate! Does you wife know how lucky she is? Tell me, are you the governor of a coastal, southern state?

Here's a plan: BE A MAN. Sit down with your wife and explain that the romance is gone from your marriage. Tell her you want to enter couples counseling because she is the most important person in the world to you and you love her. Break off any and all contact with your star-crossed, would-be mistress.

I'm not sure why I bothered responding.

This will not end well. Start pricing apartments.
posted by dbgrady at 5:23 PM on July 30, 2009 [88 favorites]

Let me give you a wife's perspective. Modification; let me give you the perspective of a wife who had (key verb tense there...had) a husband who did something similar.

I got divorced in in the 90's. I'm still angry at him. Not "hunt him down, grind him into pâté, serve him at the girlfriend's dinner party" angry (anymore), but I'm still devastated that someone I loved and trusted could lie to me about something so intimate as a relationship.

I truly believe that if he'd had the balls to *tell* me he wanted to have an affair, that we could have discussed it. We were both raised in/around communes, I had seen many examples of good open relationships, and I wasn't possessive about his boy parts. I was possessive of his heart, and his mind, and the intertwining souls that I thought we shared.

He broke my heart by lying to me and by not trusting me enough to talk to me about needs he felt were unfulfilled. I'll never forget that moment of emptiness, that vast universal chasm of black, the utter and absolute betrayal I felt when I found out about the affair.

Please don't put someone through that. It's a horrible place, and it can be so hard to find a healthy path out.

I'm not going to presume to give you marriage advice, because I don't know either of you and so have no idea of your personal dynamic; but if you love her, or have ever loved her, you must talk about this with her. You owe her that. If you can't face her to have this conversation, how do you think you'll be able to face her (and your kids) when she finds out?

Because...she will find out. I guarantee you, she will find out. And she will probably find out from a friend. And if you have a social group that includes both women, you have embarrassed her in front of all of her friends...because people will talk about it for years. And if you divorce, she'll still hear the "oh, that's Marcy, she was married to Bob when he had the affair with Midge, who used to be married to Bill", as background clutter at social gatherings for as long as she stays in that social circle. And your kids will hear the talk if they stay in the same town. Think of everyone you could hurt, and weigh your needs against theirs.

I agree that affection and sex are important parts of a relationship, and I would feel starved too, without regular application of both. But there are honest ways to go about achieving sex and affection. Secret affair..not one of the honest options, I'm afraid.
posted by dejah420 at 5:30 PM on July 30, 2009 [55 favorites]

The sex may not destroy you and your marriage, but the lies will.

Lies are the foundation of misery.
posted by Avenger at 5:35 PM on July 30, 2009 [33 favorites]

Also consider that no matter what is agreed to initially by you and your partners, your reasonable proposal to keep a mistress will look much different later under the harsh glare of a divorce court.

I've just not been able to talk to anyone about this, so I need to hear from people outside my own head.

Kudos to you for getting this idea outside the internal fantasy land of self-justification. It sounds like you've been convincing yourself this is a great idea for a while.
posted by benzenedream at 5:37 PM on July 30, 2009

Talk to your wife. Please.

If I was your wife, in the situation you describe, I probably would not put my blessing on your having an affair with that particular woman, who is, after all, my friend too. But I might be up for putting my blessing on some arrangement that is, as pseudostrabismus put it, somewhere on the polyamory continuum.
posted by kestrel251 at 5:44 PM on July 30, 2009

"Can an affair ever work without ruining marriages?"

there are a lot of long and convoluted answers to this question, but, simply.. no.
posted by HuronBob at 5:44 PM on July 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

What makes you think you will manage to set and keep boundaries and agreements with your friend, when you're already failing to do so with your wife?

Unless of course you never did sit down with your wife and talk about the rules of your marriage, the way you plan to do with your potential lover. Something tells me you didn't.
posted by slow graffiti at 5:51 PM on July 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

This situation pops up periodically in Dan Savage's advice column, and he's a lot more sympathetic than most of the responses here.

Basically, his philosophy is that sometimes cheating can save a marriage, and that seems like what you're going for here. Particularly in situations where one partner's needs aren't being met but, for one reason or another, divorce isn't an option, and counseling options have been exhausted.

Of course, there's a very real risk that you'll be discovered and everything will go to hell, but is that risk worse than the certainty of living in a marriage devoid of physical intimacy? That's the question you have to ask.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:02 PM on July 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm with those who say your next step is to talk to your wife about whether she could live with you having a mistress. Don't, for God's sake, begin by telling her you have someone specific in mind. Begin by stressing that you haven't cheated on her or anyone in your life and don't want to now, that you'd rather just be with her, but say you're finding it so, so hard to live without sex and physical affection and ask her what options she might be open to.

If she's willing to live with it, then you may broach the topic with the woman you've been eyeing, and insist that she also arrange something with her husband. If she won't, or if her husband won't agree to it, find someone else to be your mistress.

I am sympathetic to your plight. It must be so difficult to be married to someone who can't or won't sleep with you. But you really must make sure you don't make the situation worse, not only for yourself, but for your wife and kids and for this other woman and her husband.
posted by orange swan at 6:18 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you haven't considered the fact that if she finds out, you not only will not have a relationship without sex, but you will also lose the relationship with the woman who you describe as, "a wonderful and brilliant person, a great "business partner," and a great mom."

She will feel that she must not be wonderful or worthy if she has lost your respect and consideration. She will probably think she was stupid to have missed the signs of your infidelity. She will wonder, as any great "business partner" why her efforts to help keep your family stable and happy weren't enough and also whether or not you were showering your lover with money as well as affection. And she will wonder what to tell your children as a mother, she will wonder if she now has to experience being a single mother, and she will wonder what example she and you have set for your children in their future relationships.

If you are prepared to cheat, understanding that she will find out, you must understand what it will do to her, this person you seem to admire outside of the bedroom. Can you have an affair without ruining your marriage- I doubt it. And even if your marriage survived it, you shouldn't expect your wife to be the same person she is now.
posted by Mouse Army at 6:26 PM on July 30, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - please leave the judgeme stuff out of here -- there are a lot of different ways to be married and if you can't imagine this one, feel free not to answer, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:31 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

If your schemes are perfect, and your lies seamless, and your attention to every last detail impeccable, that's pretty impressive, but she'll slip up and blow it for you.
You would not be taking your life into your own hands here, you'd be putting it into hers, and she is her own sovereign person with her own reactions to things, and everything you hold dear is at the mercy of that.

Your options are
1) Get consent from your wife to go outside the marriage.
2) Remain unhappily true to the marriage.
3) Divorce (and ruin)
4) Ruin. Complete wreckage of every aspect of your life.

Naturally, the goal is (1), but even then, perhaps not with the woman you have in mind, unless she can also obtain (1) from her partner. (And even then, you're on thin ice)

I think it's possible to keep an affair secret forever, especially if it is brief, but in the situation you describe, I think your chances are pretty much zero. There is almost no way that you would not be found out. And your stakes against that risk are very high.

Push hard for (1), and while doing so, bear in mind that if you would not be happy with just a prostitute, then you are seeking more than just physical company, and your wife will pick up on that instantly. You can't go into that conversation with any self-delusions.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:35 PM on July 30, 2009

Both our spouses have acknowledged that yes, the deficiencies in the physical department are their fault

Very rarely is anything in marriage one partner's fault. Just because someone admits to something it doesn't necessarily make it true. Really think about that.

With that aside, don't be a cheater. They are the worst. The absolute worst. Yes, the one's that don't get caught, too. Not only will you become the worst, but you will also regret it.

But if you really want to go through with it, the easy way to suggest it is like this. The next time you are talking to your friend about how horribly frigid your spouses are, you innocently ask, "Have you ever considered an affair?" You don't suggest you have one togther! Just an innocent question, you see. You'll be able to test the waters like this.

If she says yes, then maybe you can move forward a bit. Don't just blurt everything out about all your rules and regulations stuff that day. Just leave it for the day, the week, the month as an innocent question and a short conversation. See if develops on its own.

If she says no, she'll almost undoubtedly ask you if you have considered it. You say, "Honestly? Sometimes, yes, I consider it, but I don't know." You say this because there is a 50/50 chance she doesn't want to be the first one to admit it. Just say this and leave it at that. Plant the idea in her head that you consider it and leave it alone. If she's interested, she'll come back to it.
posted by milarepa at 6:54 PM on July 30, 2009

I'll leave the ethical judgment to others and simply state that, as proposed, you'd probably make it work for a month or so. Maybe two. Then you'd get caught. All the parties know each other, and it's clear you have no idea how one slip-up can cause your carefully constucted pile of lies to crumble - bam, just like that.

If you were well-trained in subterfuge, maybe you could get away with it. But a master strategist would never agree to your plan in the first place.

Long story short: you gonna get caught. Talk to your wife honestly and candidly, because you are not cut out for this sort of thing.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:01 PM on July 30, 2009

Is it possible to play my cards right and get a confidential, no-strings-attached physical relationship?

Probably, but since you describe your wife as brilliant, she'll probably figure it out and then what? I'm not trying to judge you, but just thinking that if you're as miserable as you sound, the sudden infusion of sex will noticeably change your outlook and mood and you wife will probably notice.

Also, think of your own feelings and well being here. You're trying to have a no-strings attached affair, but since you've been so sexually unhappy, any sort of regular good sex might bring out your emotional attachments on the person you're having sex with. Things could get messy in an unpredictable way.

I kinda cheated on a girl when I was around 20 (it was an awkward situation, hence the kinda), but the lying and keeping that shit secret can require a lot of emotional wheeling and dealing with yourself. Are you up to doing that? Can you handle the wife saying "I love you," while inside you know you've been cheating? If you can, fine, but I'm just throwing it out there, 'cause right now you're probably thinking with your groin and you know how that can end up. Think carefully about whether you want to go down this road and if so, what price are you willing to pay.

Finally, staying together for the kids doesn't work out in the end. Kids aren't stupid, they'll figure out the marriage isn't a happy one and that sets up a terrible role model for them. Divorce and be happy, kids can live through a divorce, but a living a lie can seriously mess them up.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:09 PM on July 30, 2009

Even if you can justify this morally/etc., it's a serious mistake if you're potentially getting divorced. This could easily work against you on a legal level with very serious repercussions. Don't do it.
posted by glider at 7:31 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm with those who say your next step is to talk to your wife about whether she could live with you having a mistress. Don't, for God's sake, begin by telling her you have someone specific in mind. Begin by stressing that you haven't cheated on her or anyone in your life and don't want to now, that you'd rather just be with her, but say you're finding it so, so hard to live without sex and physical affection and ask her what options she might be open to.

This is an important addition to my suggestion of talking to your wife about an arrangement.

The fact that you've got somebody all picked out, and actually have emotional ties to her, and are her friend are all really bad signs. Next thing you know, you'll want to take your mistress to Niagara Falls for the weekend. I really am a fan of honest, open relationships as well as lifelong polyamory. But, I also think there's something inherently dangerous in getting that emotionally involved with a secondary partner. This shouldn't be about a romance... it should be about fucking.

It's one thing to have a deal with your wife wherein you get a little pussy on the side on occasion. It's another completely different thing to ask your (presumably conventional) wife to look that woman in the eyes at the PTA meeting. Now, if all four of you wanted to play, it'd be one thing. But by inplication, your wife is asexual these days and her husband's unavailable... so, that's probably not going to work out.

Have you fixated on this friend chick because she's convenient? Or because she's something special? I really think you'd be better off getting permission from your wife to get some on the side, and then looking for it on craigslist.

[My advice would be completely different if ya'll were swingers or poly. But, you sound like a relatively "normal" couple... it's unlikely she's going to enjoy the thought of you with somebody else (which is sort of the litmus test for swinging).]

Also, people are right: infidelity doesn't always destroy marriages. Years of lies and deceit, however, always do.
posted by Netzapper at 7:32 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Netzapper is right. I think you can and should ask you wife for an open arrangement - but I don't think you can have sex with a friend.

You should have the "open" talk with her, and then sit back and think long and hard about what you want to do and how to manage it before you make a move on anyone.

And if you have the talk with your wife, and she offers to seek help or try to improve, then I think you owe it to your marriage to make an honest effort and hope she matches it.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:40 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

My parents are going through a divorce right now, because my dad was in the same position as you and went ahead with the affair.

You will both be lying to your spouses. Are you prepared to trust a lying, cheating woman with being able to keep a intimate secret?

When it is discovered, you will doubtless crush your wife's and your children's hearts, her husband and her children. Are you prepared to bear resentment and repulsion from your family (at the very least initially) and to quite probably forever scar the relationship you have with your children? And are you prepared to (whether justified or not) accept the resentment and repulsion she will feel for you when your affair destroys her family's relationships?

If this is about the sex, seek a sex counselor with your wife.

I would have much preferred my parents to get a divorce first and THEN start seeing other people, not the other way around.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 8:45 PM on July 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Talk to your wife!
posted by Miko at 8:54 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would have much preferred my parents to get a divorce first and THEN start seeing other people, not the other way around.

This. Me, too.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:34 PM on July 30, 2009

One thing nobody has said is that where you're at is already pretty hooked and, depending on your willpower, pretty close to the point of no return. It's addictive like crack, the brain chemicals you get at this stage of interest in somebody, all that sexual tension, the excitement of secrecy, the untapped potential. Next to that, nothing normal and boring and wholesome will really compare. I'm not trying to add to the dogpile here (though I do think you should tell your wife before taking whatever path you take); I'm just saying that if you do decide to take space away from your other person, it's going to be really hard to do, for reasons that are as much chemical as emotional.

The particularly unproductive part about what you're doing by fantasizing about this friend is that it's seemingly creating an escape hatch, one filled with pleasure, that could keep you from having to face the difficult and potentially painful tasks you'd have to do otherwise. It's like you're in a room filled with garbage, and you don't want to take out the garbage, and you don't want to smell the stink, but "aha, here's a scuba tank!"

Where you're at, basically, is that you're surrounded by pain or at least numbness or frustration (the things that are missing, the difficult efforts it would take to fix things, the frightful thought of ending the marriage); you've closed off different avenues either through avoidance of pain, having tried it fruitlessly, "this won't work," "that wouldn't be right," "ouch, that would hurt," and now what you're left with is this crazy fantasy escape hatch that's so foreign to your normal way of being that it's attractiveness is telling you a lot about the landscape of options you find yourself in, and which in fact, along with your wife, you have created for yourself.

In your shoes once (dating, not married) I broke up with someone for someone else, so I don't judge you or have a knee-jerk opinion here. I can relate to your situation. The funny thing was how it didn't remove from me the obligation to deal with what wasn't working in that first relationship; I thought I was jumping ship, but later, after things fell apart with the other person, I had to go back and do all the real processing and understanding of what was going on. So, in your shoes now, I would take things step by step. I'd cut off the escapist avenues as non-options. I would probably go to my wife and basically tell her that things are really not working for you right now, and you're realizing that you really do need more, and that you guys have to figure out how to fix all of what you've got and redevelop an emotionally and physically passionate thing, or end it, or shift into another type of relationship where it's okay for you to be developing another real relationship outside of it as well. Then, you go through the bad stuff and deal with it, and then ideally you get to the other side where you're emotionally free to enter into a real connection with someone new. Best wishes.
posted by salvia at 11:13 PM on July 30, 2009 [16 favorites]

oh - and a lot of people are sticking to the "you will get caught" mind frame. i don't actually agree. you might not get caught. it's still a terrible idea. my partners weren't always caught, but it did always make them feel like they were living two lives, neither of which they liked very much.
posted by nadawi at 12:02 AM on July 31, 2009

I think this could work out. Monogamy and "you must always stick with your family" are largely invented concepts. They have helped the human race over the years, sure, but if you don't agree with them, you don't need to follow them. Think for yourself.

Sticking your nether regions into someone else's nether regions is not going to suddenly erase all the shared experiences you've had with your wife; love is about more than fucking. Many people have relationships where this sort of thing can work out.

With that in mind, I would make sure all affected parties agree to this. Don't have a meeting with everyone involved, but at least float the idea (and make sure your expected partner does the same), and see if it's OK. If it is, you should still be discrete. But realize that you aren't ruining lives, you're just having sex. If it turns out to make your wife uncomfortable, you can just stop doing it. (Or, you can get a divorce, and marry your fuck-buddy instead. It could work.)

Remember, people like to throw around words like "ruining your life". You don't die from this sort of thing, so no lives are ruined. You will still see your kids, your wife can still be happy, etc. Don't worry about it. (My parents got divorced. Everyone was much happier after that. No lives ruined, many lives improved!)
posted by jrockway at 12:27 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

You don't die from this sort of thing, so no lives are ruined.

That's not, in fact, true, you know. To grab one example:
Rankin married her current husband 71 days after his previous wife committed suicide, following some years of depression.

The previous wife's family believe that Rankin and her husband were having an affair while he was still with his previous wife. Ranking utterly denies this, but the previous wife also had her suspicions: she left suicide notes both for her husband and Rankin. Whatever was going on between Rankin and the man she is now married to, it seems his previous wife knew there was some affection towards them, and was unhappy with this. source
So yes, poster, the consequences can be more than a little serious when this sort of thing goes badly wrong, and that's worth bearing in mind. I'd echo those people who caution that if you think that having sex with someone you think is wonderful and fun and already have an emotional bond with is going to be "no strings attached", you're almost certianly deluding youself. All the usual hazards apply - what are you going to do if your paramour gets pregnant, wants to keep the child, and demands you acknowledge it as yours?

If you want to ensure NSA, hire some good quality pros. If you want to stay married, you need to negotiate what you want to do.
posted by rodgerd at 1:22 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Talk to your wife....and her husband. I have a rule to never do something that I would be ashamed to admit to.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:36 AM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some really terrible advice going on here. I'm amazed that people would seriously recommend prostitutes or casual one-night stands as a sensible alternative.

I don't think it's inevitable you will be found out, or that things will turn out badly. It could be so, or it could turn out to work perfectly. All sorts of strange arrangements seem to keep different people happy, some far less conventional than what you're talking about.

I would like to say a word in favour of secrecy. Some may believe that human relations are best conducted on a basis of complete openness and honesty: personally I'd say experience unequivocally shows that discretion beats honesty in the great majority of cases. It's entirely possible that your wife might be secretly relieved by you taking your sex-drive elsewhere, or at least not too bothered; whereas having you dramatically dump your problems on her and start issuing ultimatums and demands may well be unpleasant, unwelcome and unhelpful. She might feel you were putting her under pressure to have unwanted amounts of sex; she might wish you'd kept the whole thing to yourself. I think that kind of confrontation is more likely to destroy your marriage than adultery.
posted by Phanx at 7:36 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mod note: comment removed - question is not "should I do this?" - you can go to MetaTalk if you're having an emotional response to this that doesn't answer or address the question.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:02 AM on July 31, 2009

If you try and solve personal problems as if they were engineering problems (e.g. what are best practices) you come up with the kind of solutions you did. They appear reasonable on the surface because engineering problems are easier to model than relationship problems.

Here are just some of the shortcomings of the model you are using:

1) You want to remedy the "no sex" as if that were the whole problem.
It's not. It's in the context of a relationship and just one easily describable part of something larger. You probably feel angry about being denied sex on some level, perhaps not consciously, which entitles you to (since the blame is clear) guilt-free revenge. (I don't expect you to admit to those feelings.)

Similarly, you don't say why your wife won't have sex with you. She may not give you all the reasons and she may not even know all the reasons. She may not want to know the reasons and neither may you. (E.g. she may not find you attractive or good in bed. Or maybe she's angry about seeing how you prefer your friend to her.) Furthermore, does she think you're OK with this? Why would she think such a thing? Just how well do the two of you communicate anyway? Communication is unlikely to be improved by adding an new secrets to the mix.

2) Changing the nature of your relationship with your "friend" changes the nature of the relationship. It's not just the "addition of sex," any more than your marriage is just as it always was, only with the subtraction of sex. You don't know what these changes will be. However, you talk about it as if you know what you'd be getting. (i.e. laid.)

3) Both of the above apply to your "friend"'s situation as well.

4) The presence of kids further makes the engineering model useless. Why this is so is an exercise for the student.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:14 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'll just agree with the posters above who said that the fact that you want to initiate an affair with your friend who is wonderful/neat/pretty/whatever rather than a complete stranger means that you are obviously interested in more than no-strings-attached sex. An affair with an erstwhile friend necessarily involves emotional involvement. Be honest with yourself about this.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:21 AM on July 31, 2009

Both our spouses have acknowledged that yes, the deficiencies in the physical department are their fault.

I keep coming back to this, because I think it's pivotal. When you say your wife agrees that the lack of sex is "her fault" and she has admitted as much--well, then what is she doing about it? Is she really content with the way things are and just saying, "Oh, well, my fault, too bad for you"? Or has she given reasons or excuses that neither of you have followed up on?

If it's a possibly a physical problem, has she seen her doctor? Hormonal changes can cause sexual dysfunction in women, and there's a lot of research on this. Her doctor may be able to help.

If it's a problem between the two of you, have you tried couples counseling? You really need someone you can talk to (as you admit in your question).

If she is too exhausted from watching the kids, are you sharing the responsibilities more so that she can get some rest and rejuvenate? Hire a housekeeper if you have to, or get her some part-time help.

If she is thoroughly in Mom mode, are you both making an effort (hiring babysitters, setting up date nights and couple-only time) to bring back that focus on just the two of you as a couple? I've seen this before, and it's really insidious, the Mommy Trap. Sometimes just breaking a routine can make a world of difference in a relationship that has become all about the kids.

If your wife is not willing to work on the problem at all, then you might consider sitting down with her and stressing how important your sexuality is to you and that you really need to know that things are going to get better, that she is going to work on this and commit to it. Do not give an ultimatum ("or else I'll find someone else!"). Instead, stress that a sexless marriage is not something you can live with and you want to fix it.

I just think you are skipping some steps here because you want immediate gratification.

You are seeing this bright, shiny thing and thinking, "Hey I want that!" instead of polishing up the bright shiny thing you already have that is a little tarnished now.

Focusing your efforts inward, on your wife and family and making the situation you have better, is far more productive than looking outward in the long run.

Only after you have exhausted all the efforts above can you move on with a clear conscience. And if your wife will not work on this problem at all, I think divorce, rather than an affair, is something you will have to seriously consider if you want to be happy again.
posted by misha at 10:11 AM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

As someone who is also married and has a job and has children I am wondering about logistics. Your life must be pretty busy right now so one of those things are going to be neglected. Which one of them do you think you should devote less time too - less one-on-one time with your wife, less time at work, less time doing housewoork, less time for the children? Adults have busy lives and we have to prioritise our time as our responsiblities grow. Which one of your responsibilies are you going expect your wife to pick up your slack?
posted by saucysault at 10:21 AM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd like to note that, since one of your concerns is your kids, a mutual decision to get a divorce will not influence them as negatively as a divorce out of hurt or anger. Which, considering your circumstances (familiarity between your families), has a pretty large chance of happening.

Others have pointed out that there are hundreds of little details you'd have to worry about, more than "usual" for an affair because of who you are considering it with. I think it could get incredibly stressful for you - you'd have a second life, with its own meticulously careful schedule and consistent lies. Your partner would have to be immune to such stress as well, for this whole thing would be in her hands just as much. A single slip-up could lead your spouses on a suspicion hunt, or if their intuition tells them something is up. You'd have to be on your toes, constantly.

I worry that you might be imagining it as a very neat compartmentalizing of day-to-day married life and secret sex outside of it. It would be taxing, and messy, and the consequences of being found out could haunt you during the very moments of physical bliss you risk things for. It might be very bittersweet, if not outright bitter.

There is a lot to lose here, and I think most people would choose the honest option, even if it's the harder of the two initially. Ultimately it would let you sleep at night with the thought, "Even if I no longer have a marriage, at least I didn't betray my family's trust."

There's a lot to admire about a person who chooses the higher ground in such dilemmas.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 1:34 PM on July 31, 2009

As a child of a man that cheated on my mother and produced a son with his mistress, I'm telling you that your kids will find out and they will think poorly of you. Is your affair worth that to you?
posted by FunkyHelix at 1:50 PM on July 31, 2009

To misha's point. I would really stress that even if your wife doesn't what sex with you for whatever reason (Have known women with jacked up ideas about sex with their husbands now that they've caught them, and yes, they use the term "caugh."), and she does go along with the idea that you have an open relationship, you really need to keep your catting around from being obvious to anyone or causing problems for her.

For instance, if you decided to get all into whatever-gage trains, that would be all fine and dandy so long as you were still avaiable around the house and on weekends pretty much as usual.

And you never know, maybe she's not having sex with you because she's got something on the side. Once you have the open agreement, she'll have less stress about cheating on you, and then maybe you two would get back in action.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:06 PM on July 31, 2009

The key thing to remember here is this: if you want your marriage to work, you and your partner have to agree on the terms of your marriage. I do actually know a married couple whose marriage lasted longer than many of us will live (and ended with the death of one), and who had an agreement for extramarital sex that worked for them for a very long time -- and they were still desperately in love through the end. However, that very same couple almost broke up very early on because of an extramarital event that was not agreed upon beforehand -- which is the point I'm trying to make here. Any marriage can survive -- and thrive -- under whatever conditions the people in that marriage believe are appropriate. If this is something you can discuss with here beforehand, then it might survive. If this is something you'd do on the sly because you know she'd reject it, or that if you brought it up your marriage would collapse just because you mentioned the possibility, then it might already be doomed (because you and she have very different views on something you both care about, not because of adultery per se.)

Good luck to all of you.
posted by davejay at 8:04 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

anonymous: Can an affair ever work without ruining marriages?

While you are treading into very murky waters here, the short answer is yes, it is possible. At the risk of branding myself the happy harlot of MetaFilter, I had an affair with a married man for going on a decade. His wife never found out, and he is still married. Neither of us have any regrets, although my feelings about it have changed a bit now that I'm married myself.

I point this out because the normal response is to warn you that these things never end well. The reality is that sometimes they end just fine; you just don't hear about those.

Is it possible to play my cards right and get a confidential, no-strings-attached physical relationship?

If you want no-strings, no commitment, no obligation and nothing but a physical outlet with someone you find attractive, than please do not have an affair. Hire a GFE sex worker. I say that with no prejudice; I like sex workers. Provided they are paid well, do not work under duress and the career is one that is chosen, they provide a discreet and very valuable service to a diverse group of clients.

But the lines are clear: it is a business transaction, money for sex and companionship. An affair is generally not the same thing. The lines are much, much more murky and no matter how clearly you mutually draw them at the start, they are subject to the whims of circumstance, and of the heart.

Having an affair is engaging in an illicit relationship with another human. And given how starved and needy you are, you need to be aware of the danger that you will bond with your affair partner and the lines you drew so clearly at the start may very well begin to dissolve. There is vastly less risk of this with someone you are paying, not least of all because if your boundaries start to dissolve, hers likely won't.

If so, how do I broach this subject with my friend (she probably wouldn't bring it up to me)? How do we arrive at a set of ground rules for what is and isn't acceptable?

I have no idea how you'd broach this. "Have you ever thought about the two of us having an affair?" would be where I'd start.

To establish the rules, you have an open conversation before anything serious happens and you make sure everyone is clear on the realities of the situation. Your rules seem like the good and normal ones. You will also need to establish the rules for contact (no calls or texts after 6 PM, etc) so you don't get busted.

Anyway, feel free to MeMail me. I so rarely get to put "specialist expertise in extramarital affairs" on my resume.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:40 PM on August 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

We've got some married friends. It's his second marriage. His kids from his first marriage don't talk to him. Ever. It has been years. I have no idea what happened during the first marriage, but I'm pretty sure that if you get divorced because you cheated you might face something similar.
posted by mecran01 at 9:29 PM on August 1, 2009

"No strings attached" is the exact reason men go to prostitutes.

I'm very skeptical of the suggestion that you go to a prostitute. Prostitutes, as a class, are very unappealing people, with all kinds of problems --- drug abuse being the main one. If you want to stick your dick into a drug addict whose body is a bubbling cauldron of drugs, disease, and other men's jizz, go ahead ... but I think sleeping with your flirtatious friend is an infinitely better idea.

Your intentions are laudable --- to get some subsistence sex so that you can stay in a marriage that you value very highly otherwise. I'm surprised to hear myself saying this, but I don't see this proposal as meriting all the gloom and doom that people have been throwing at you. Only you know your friend, but from what you have described of her, the arrangement could work. She needs to be sane and circumspect --- those are the main two criteria you need to be screening for in an extramarital affair. I really do not see the risk to your marriage and your kids as weighing heavily against this plan. Your marriage will not survive in its current condition, anyway. Getting some jiggy may help make the marriage work.

I don't get the moralizing tone of the other answers. Seriously, it's your life. Go for it.
posted by jayder at 12:39 AM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

jayder: I'm very skeptical of the suggestion that you go to a prostitute. Prostitutes, as a class, are very unappealing people, with all kinds of problems --- drug abuse being the main one.

This is not universally true. The women (and men) you're talking about are what is politely called street walkers and they are, yes, generally women who are hooking to support a drug habit or because they're being forced to by an abusive pimp or other equally dire circumstances.

There are entire worlds of sex workers outside of this stereotype, however. While retired professionals like Belle de Jour etc may have glamourized the industry, there are plenty of healthy, well educated, safer-sex having women providing outcall services that are a happy experience.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:22 AM on August 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't get the moralizing tone of the other answers.

Um, jaydar, you just characterized prostitutes as unappealing unclean diseased junkies.

That said, I think that the advice to go to a pro is a bit odd, since the cornerstone of the temptation seems to be the mutual attraction. Anonymous, don't kid yourself, this is more than just sex, it's validation, too, and that's an emotional relationship.

I think that you and your prospective lover should broach the subject of outside affairs with your respective spouses without bringing up each other specifically. Maybe you'll both be pleasantly surprised. Unlike a lot of repliers here, I don't think it's odd to do this within a circle of friends at all. There are a lot of ways to do this regarding disclosure; doing some reading on polyamory and open relationships should give you some examples of different models.

But think about what you'd be willing to give up, and be REALLY honest, and don't assume you're going to "figure something out" if you and your spouse disagree. The stopping point for a lot of people is that when it comes down to it, they wouldn't pick being alone over a sexless but loving marriage. You play this wrong, and you may wind up sexless and alone anyway.
posted by desuetude at 10:30 PM on August 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Anatomy of an Affair: See especially posts 8, 14, 23.
posted by eritain at 10:05 PM on August 15, 2009

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