how to explain to a flirty friend about being monogamish?
December 13, 2012 6:47 AM   Subscribe

I didn't cheat on my girlfriend but it might look like I did; I flirted with my friend but I don't want it to be emotional. What to do?

Dear AskMe,

I have a weird quandary here regarding cheating (but not really), and I'm not sure how to reslove it properly.

I'm (mid-20s) currently in a committed relationship with a wonderful, sweet, supportive, and very very attractive girlfriend (mid-20s). We're monogamish, as Dan Savage would put it -- we're open to each other sleeping with other people in a non-emotional manner. I'm okay with her sleeping with other girls, and she's also okay with me sleeping with other girls. (And this has worked out totally fine on her end)

She's brought up her okayness at me sleeping with other girls this multiple times, on her own and without any prompting from me. I even once kept on asking - 'are you sure?' and 'I don't know if I'd be interested', but she maintained that she would be okay with it. However, she insisted on one condition: That she would not know that I had slept with another girl.

Her explanation was that, as long as she didn't find out, she wouldn't be jealous. And as long as I kept the physical relationship purely physical and non-emotional, then no real harm would be done to our emotional relationship, and thus it would be okay. (Again, this is totally and absolutely coming from her -- I asked her, 'are you sure?' multiple times, and she was pretty firm. For what it's worth, my conditions are that she tell me with total transparency when she sleeps with other girls, and she's totally fine with that, and I trust her.)


So, last night I had a drink with a female friend who I hadn't seen in a few years. There was a lot of good tension, and a lot of great conversation, and while I definitely am not attracted to this person in an emotional way, I was interested in flirting and perhaps having something physical. However, I really wanted this friend to fully and completely understand the situation as well, and for her to be totally okay with it, before anything happened.

I walked her back to her place last night. At the last moment, I asked if I could come up. She said, after hesitating, "not tonight", because she had to work early tomorrow -- and then she said, "definitely some other time". I gave her a (chaste) hug, and then said goodbye. And then over text message, she reiterated that I should come over some other time by saying that 'she was happy I said what I said'.

The problem is - our conversation over drink was more abstract/professionalish conversation about our interests and our places within our lives. So I didn't really get a chance to talk about my currently relationship with my (wonderful) girlfriend. I know I could have, but the chance didn't appear. I had the idea that I'd go up to her place, after which the charade of flirting would have been a little bit dissipated by the clarity of "yes, come upstairs". Then, I'd explain my current relationship and the situation, and I'd see then if my friend would be comfortable with it at all.

But since I didn't get to go up, now I'm concerned that my friend has the wrong perception of things (and I'm pretty sure she does). She's been texting me once or twice through the day, with more quasi-emotional contents than flirty ones. And since I don't want this to be a romantic thing, I feel horrible and bad. Since I'd rather not have my girlfriend see these texts and misunderstand the whole situation as an emotional cheating situation, I feel like I have to hide my texts, which makes me feel even more horrible.

Above all, I want to be with my girlfriend and be friends with my friend, and if I could zip backwards in time and have not have walked her to her place, then I definitely would have.

Added complication - my friend is traveling for a while, so the soonest I'll see her is probably in mid-January. If she was around then I'd ask to go get coffee or lunch and explain the whole thing in person and apologize for leading her on / misconstruing things. But since she won't be, that's nearly impossible -- unless I see her tomorrow, during the day.

I guess the worst-case scenario would be to wait a long time, have my friend text/contact/email me in a flirty/emotional matter, to have my girlfriend accidentally find the text and to be surprised and hurt, and for me to explain to everyone way later, and to lose a friend and to have a hurt girlfriend.

So I could do a few things -
1) I could talk to my friend in person tomorrow (but I'm about 90% sure she won't be free)
2) I could wait until mid-January and talk to my friend in person.
3) I could send her an explanatory email explaining the whole thing and apologizing, but I don't like the fact that I wouldn't be able to talk back-and-forth with her
4) I could explain the whole situation to my girlfriend, making her slightly jealous, and also talk to my friend. But since my girlfriend had explicitly said not to tell her, I feel as if I should resolve this without involving my girlfriend --- especially since nothing has happened on my part, whether emotionally or physically. And so I feel like my desire to explain the situation is really my desire to relieve myself of feeling horrible, which feels selfish.

At the same time, I wonder if I'm over-reacting. However, I really don't want anyone's feelings to be hurt. What do you think?

TL;DR: I (didn't) cheat on my girlfriend by hitting on my friend, who seems interested in a relationship which I don't want, but I can't talk to her in person for a month and don't want to mislead her on, and don't want to have my girlfriend "find out" and be hurt
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wait till January and don't lead her on in the mean time.
posted by greta simone at 6:59 AM on December 13, 2012

If you absolutely positivitely must have a back-and-forth discussion with her (and it can't be done in person), text her and ask her when she'd have a few minutes free to talk on the phone...because phones still exist to talk on.

But honestly, I think you're overreacting. I think you should send a short email saying that you're very attracted to her and you'd love to be physical with her, but because you have an arrangement, you can't let it get emotional. Tell her you understand this means you might not get together and that makes you sad, but that you wanted to be clear and on the up and up before things got way too far before anyone got too invested in anything.

DO NOT TELL YOUR GIRLFRIEND. That's the one thing she told you NOT to do. It's not fair for you to violate those wishes just to alleviate some guilt on your part.

Next time...tell any prospective sex partners what's what before you leave the restaurant/bar.
posted by inturnaround at 7:00 AM on December 13, 2012 [20 favorites]

You have to try #1, and be as forceful as you can about getting together. If it doesn't work, do #3. Keep in mind, you have probably already damaged the friendship by not being up front about only wanting something physical. If she has become emotionally invested in your relationship moving to another level, she is going to be hurt to find out that is not possible, no way around that.

Do not do #4. If she doesn't want to hear about you doing the deed, she does not want to hear your trials and tribulations when it comes to sealing the deal.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:01 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Couldn't you just text back and say, "Hey, can we have a quick phone call?"

Then explain to the friend what your relationship setup and parameters are. Ask if she'd do you the favor of keeping things on a friendship level until January, when you can discuss it further.

Being honest is almost always the easiest and safest route.
posted by xingcat at 7:01 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Whoever started this thing about how the only diplomatic/gentlemanly/polite/reasonable way to have hard difficult conversations is to insist on meeting in person should MEET ME OUTSIDE. If you're going to potentially make someone very upset, just tell them whats up and then let them decide whether they want to get all blubbery or awkward or infuriated in public with you.

The new way better rule is this:
When you done wrong or need to communicate something painful, just put it in a short and to the point email. Then, at the end of this email, OFFER to meet in person if potentially injured party would like to discuss the issue further.

This is better than all of the following options:
a) Letting her keep texting you in a way that will make her feel stupid once she's around and in the know in January
b) Telling her you need to talk when she has time to meet, making her wonder what is up
c) Doing nothing until January
posted by skrozidile at 7:02 AM on December 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

1) I could talk to my friend in person tomorrow (but I'm about 90% sure she won't be free)

This. If not possible, #3 is second best. Definitely don't wait until Jan if she continues with the texts etc.

About hiding the texts, if your girlfriend explicitly doesn't want to know, she shouldn't be reading your texts at all and you shouldn't feel bad about "hiding" them, IMO. Do NOT tell your girlfriend, unless you intend to abort mission and you think she'd be okay knowing about a "might have been", and even then, it doesn't seem like a good idea.
posted by randomnity at 7:02 AM on December 13, 2012

Also, if your girlfriend doesn't want to know about the women you sleep with, how is her seeing your texts even an issue? She should steer clear of your phone if she doesn't want to know such things.
posted by inturnaround at 7:02 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you need to do some version of option 3. Or call your female friend on the phone and explain things. If she goes for a whole month thinking that there is relationship potential where there's not, it's going to hurt the friendship way more than if you tell her the truth now.
posted by SoftRain at 7:04 AM on December 13, 2012

Ooh. Ok. You want someone to sleep with, that is your friend but not get romantic or get emotionally involved.

That's going to be really, really difficult. How, exactly, are you supposed to go from totally platonic, friendly chat to being naked?

Talk to the girl straight up so you don't lead her on, then the ball is in her court.
posted by Blisterlips at 7:06 AM on December 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Yup, text her and ask her if you can give her a call when she has a minute. Do it asap so it doesn't drag on.
posted by kellybird at 7:06 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think meeting in person is overkill. A phone call is fine.
posted by kellybird at 7:07 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I know that fewer and fewer people are making phone calls these days, but a phone call seems like the obvious solution, and one that you left out of your list of possibilities. This doesn't need to be a big deal, and you don't need to feel horrible about it. Just tell her that you think there was a miscommunication and you want to clarify things.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:18 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your friend just sent you a flirty text. A good reply text:
"Things are actually a bit complicated, sorry I didn't take the chance to explain last night. I'm happy to talk if you want to give me a call, or wait till you're home in January."
posted by aimedwander at 7:36 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like you got the bad end of this arrangement with your girlfriend, since any time you're about to sleep with a girl and start explaining to her that you have a girlfriend who's OK with you sleeping around, the first thing she'll suspect is that you're lying and actually cheating on your girlfriend. Maybe she'll give you the benefit of the doubt and say "OK, I'll think about it - but can I at least check with your G/F to make sure?" Then you say "No! Um, my girlfriend is totally OK with me sleeping with other people, but she said it's very important that she not find out!"... at which point, you look even more like a cheating douchebag. In other words, this arrangement feels like it is set up to maximize your girlfriend's external sexual activity while minimizing your own. I see this lack of equality a lot in poly relationships, generally because people don't think through the full ramifications of the rules that they agreed to beforehand. I think you need to renegotiate the rules with your girlfriend in such a way that you both have an equal chance to score.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:39 AM on December 13, 2012 [14 favorites]

To answer your question, the right thing to do is tell her post-haste that you are in a relationship. "But we can still hook up because my girlfriend is okay with it, as long as she NEVER KNOWS" is apparently the truth, but don't be surprised if she doesn't believe it, because frankly I'd probably have a hard time if I were in her shoes, because it sounds EXACTLY like a line that someone would hand her who wanted to cheat.

Regardless, you're in a bit of a jam because despite your intentions, it's clear that SHE didn't just want a one-night stand. Make sure you realize that - the woman in question doesn't want committment-free sex. Just taking the primary relationship out of the picture and let's say you're straight-up single - sending all these texts based on one near-miss is a bit concerning.

I will admit a bias, which may make me sound like your Dad, but hopefully a relatively cool, non-judgy Dad. I'm married and happily committed to a wife who would cut my balls off if I slept with another woman. In other words, I'm in an ANSI standard marriage.

I can conceive (no pun intended) of an open relationship where the partners agree that anything goes, and I can understand about a relationship where the partners agree that a lot of stuff may go as long as one asks or at least checks in with the other. My feelings about how well this works practically and morally are mixed, ambivalent, and can be checked at the door for the purpose of this discussion, but here's the thing:

A relationship where anything goes as long as you keep her in the dark is either just going to have to be "straight" (i..e you have this weird intellectual idea that you can go outside the relationship, but practically you really can't) or it's going to wind up being built on lies.

When people go out and do stuff with other people, it leaves tracks. texts on the phone, the proverbial lipstick on the collar or perfume smells. What's the fire drill plan if she catches you pulling out of the Motel 6 on the bypass? She was okay with you putting your penis in someone else's vagina, but you've violated the condition that she wasn't supposed to know about it, and all because she decided to catch that sale at Publix... seems like a recipe to become part of a post-modern sit-com kind of life.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:51 AM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

"...this arrangement feels like it is set up to maximize your girlfriend's external sexual activity while minimizing your own."

This. Not to mention that in 'not wanting to know', there seems like a lot of wilful blindness that seems designed to fail.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:52 AM on December 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't think a former friend is someone with whom to have no strings attached sex. The chances are already way too high that there will be some sort of emotional attachment--as you're seeing already. I'd stop pursuing things with this girl, because you're only going to end up hurting her and your relationship with your girlfriend.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:05 AM on December 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

3) I could send her an explanatory email explaining the whole thing and apologizing, but I don't like the fact that I wouldn't be able to talk back-and-forth with her

We have a winner in #3. Your primary goal is to protect the relationship you have. That means stating clear boundaries to your friend even at the risk of upsetting her because clear boundaries are what you agreed with the girlfriend.

Email your friend, be clear, be apologetic. Learn from this and manage your sideshow hookups, even the potential ones, better in the future.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:07 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't Ask Don't Tell works for some people, especially people who are generally private and independent. It might not work for you, but people here are being very doom and gloom about it in a way that isn't realistic. You see a number you don't know on the phone, you don't ask about it, problem solved. It's not a web of lies, it's a mutually recognized desire for privacy. Also, I'm not sure how people are taking this as a manipulative fault on your girlfriend's part or as her somehow having her cake and eating it too, especially since she can't sleep with guys.

Anyway. I suggest that you talk to your girlfriend about it right away. "Hey, this girl and I had professional drinks and she got the wrong idea and she keeps sending me these texts. WTF should I do? I have no desire to be in a relationship with her but she seems to be into me."

You don't have to volunteer the fact you were going to sleep with her, but if your girlfriend asks, you should be honest.

It sounds like you personally do not enjoy this Don't Ask/Don't Tell version of an open relationship, and that's something to discuss with her as well.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:09 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you talk with the friend and say that you asked to be invited in because you were enjoying her company -- you have a girlfriend and don't want to give the impression that you're single and persuing her? Her disappointment might lead her to feel pissed off, but she'll get over it.
posted by wryly at 10:42 AM on December 13, 2012

Opening Up by Tristan Taormino.

"Don't ask, don't tell" relationships can work, but you folks don't seem to have made an actual workable plan for yours. The Taormino book will help you come up with more workable guidelines.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:55 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with the consensus. Nthing skrozidile.
posted by 3491again at 5:31 PM on December 13, 2012

She's been texting me once or twice through the day, with more quasi-emotional contents than flirty ones.

You may not be emotionally attached/attracted (and I'm not sure that an old friend you don't want to date but want to bang is quite what your "ground rules" allow), but it sounds like she might be, or at least potentially could. Does she know you are attached to someone? If not, I think you might have to be prepared for your friendship to take a hit, because there's no good way to explain your situation from scratch that won't confuse and hurt. If she knows about your gf, I think you should just let her down/back off/cease pursuit. Don't wait on this. Doing it in person IMO isnt necessary.
posted by sm1tten at 8:21 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I was your friend, I'd think we were about to date. But as you've only walked me home and exchanged some texts with me, if you were to just make it clear NOW that you're sorry if I've got the wrong end of the stick, but that you're not after any romantic relationship, then that'd be fine and dandy. If you were to string it out and I got my hopes up and texted you over Christmas and imagined us doing romantic festive things together, and then you let me down some time in January, I'd feel really stupid and angry and our friendship would likely suffer.

I'd prefer you did this in an e-mail, so I could mop up the instant (but probably short-lived) tears of embarrassment in private and send you a "oh, no, that's totally fine" email. If I was particularly hurt, I might say something like "haha, oh bless, were you worried, seriously, don't flatter yourself, I am SO not interested in you like that!". The more you could refrain from over-apologising and generally making out like you are breaking my heart with this news, the less shamed and patronised and embarrassed I'd feel.

I definitely wouldn't need to know about your uber-complex relationship drams, I'd just need to know that we're not going to date. Maybe in the future, if we do continue to be friends, and I wonder whether you were going to cheat on your long-term gf with me that one time we went out, it would be helpful to understand that you have some sort of arrangement.

Y/H MMV. This is my new approach to breaking bad news and it seems, generally, to work well and allow people their dignity in the moment, and to remain friendly with me!
posted by f3l1x at 4:56 AM on December 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

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