Another reader sends in a relationship query.
Q: I cheated on my partner a couple of months ago. It was with a former colleague who was leaving to go travelling, and we hooked up after his leaving party. It feels bad to say, but I don’t really regret it.
We had flirted for a few months, and it almost felt inevitable that we would get together. I didn’t tell my partner, but now this guy is back in town after he came home from travelling early.
We aren’t working together this time, but I am tempted to see if we can get together again as I enjoyed the last time.
I do worry that this has the potential to turn into an affair, and while I don’t want to hurt my partner, I feel like I can’t resist this opportunity. The thought of it makes me feel excited, something I haven’t felt in a while, and I find this man just so attractive.
Should I go for it?
Dr West replies: To be blunt, you can resist. It’s not as if it is mandatory to have sex with this person, and it will be your choice to meet up with them and take it further. This reads as if you are not taking any responsibility for your actions and are going to use the excuse of ‘it just happened’.
Affairs do not ‘just happen’ — people make a choice in wanting to engage in sexual behaviour with others outside of their relationship. The fact that you wrote to me shows that you do have some qualms about cheating on your partner, but describing this as an ‘opportunity’ is quite a telling word choice. What kind of opportunity is this? For illicit sex, or to hurt your partner?
If you make the conscious choice to have an affair with this person, you also make the choice to open up your partner to hurt, not to mention potentially exposing them to physical harm if you pass on an STI. Your partner consented to monogamous sex, so an affair violates that consent.
Do you want to stay with your partner? It is unethical to stay with him if you would rather be with other people. If you want to see this other guy, then perhaps it is better to break up with your partner. You will then be free to do what you like without the risk of causing harm to an innocent partner at home.
Some people have affairs not just because they like sex, but because they get a thrill from having a secret, or a distraction from an unhappy relationship, or perhaps even a sense of enjoyment of the thought of hurting their partner.
Whatever the reason is, an affair is more likely to result in hurt rather than happiness, even for you.
What do you like about the idea of an affair? Maybe you feel that it is a response to a relationship that you are not happy in, but if that is the case, an affair won’t change that issue.
Relationships do go through rough patches as we navigate life’s challenges, and they won’t be happy all the time. They do take work to sustain, and that work isn’t always easy.
Have you hit a point in the relationship where it’s time to reflect on how well you work together, and what kind of a future you both see? It could be that your current relationship has just run its course, but it hasn’t been addressed by either of you.
If you feel like it is over and would prefer to date this new man or to be single, it is essential to talk to your partner. He may be happy and planning a future with you, so it would be cruel to stay in a relationship that you don’t want to be in.
You said that you didn’t feel remorse for cheating on him previously, which leads me to suspect that you are not too emotionally invested in your current relationship. If you know that your actions would cause your partner harm, and still go ahead, it is glaringly obvious that you don’t care about them the way that your partner deserves.
It’s not just remorse for a previous event, it’s planning a future event with excitement instead of concern for hurting someone you are meant to protect from harm. What some people say hurts them about affairs is not just the sex aspect, but it is the lying, the sneaking around, and the decisions made to carry out the affair.
It shows planning on a continual basis to cheat, and, for many people, it is a step too far for forgiveness.
If you are finding that monogamy is fundamentally not for you, you can talk to him about having an open or polyamorous relationship — but these kinds of relationships are not just a code word for cheating and getting away with it.
They take work, and honest and open conversations about boundaries, consent, and the type of relationship that works for all parties. They work really well for some people and are a disaster for others, the same way monogamy isn’t for everyone.
Would the excitement still be there if you were single and free to engage in all the wild sex that your body can take? Or is it more of the idea of the forbidden nature that gets you excited?
Some people engage in affairs because they have commitment issues, are not ready to be in a monogamous relationship, or a myriad of other reasons that could be influenced by childhood role models, trauma, emotional immaturity, or something else.
Whatever the reason, it is your responsibility to address it and not leave a trail of heartbreak in your wake. Think carefully about the kind of person you want to be, and what you truly want from your sexual experiences and romantic relationships. You deserve to have the kind of sex you want, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of hurting those we are meant to care about.
Dr West is a sex educator and host of the Glow West podcast, which focuses on sex. Send your questions to email@example.com. Dr West regrets she cannot answer questions privately