America’s longest-running sex-advice column!

What Counts

Joe Newton

I’m involved with a guy who’s married and, yes, I’m a cliché and I know it. I don’t want him to leave his wife. I don’t even want to be involved with him physically and we aren’t doing anything physical. We’ve both been good about maintaining that boundary. But we are very involved emotionally. We like to tell ourselves that we’re not cheating but it’s definitely an emotional affair. I honestly do not want to have sex with him. I look at pictures of him and his wife and kids to remind myself that he has a family, and I don’t want to break up his family. Not that I could just by having sex with him, but you know what I mean. I don’t want to be “the other woman.” My question: Am I endangering his family just by talking to him so much, about absolutely everything...

Want to read the rest? Subscribe now to get every question, every week, the complete Savage Love archives, special events, and much more!

...n: Am I endangering his family just by talking to him so much, about absolutely everything (including sexual fantasies we will never act on), and treating each other as soulmates? Perhaps I’m just naïve, but I’ve convinced myself that so long as we abstain from anything physical, we’re OK. Can’t Have Unavailable Male Partner I’ve answered a lot of questions like CHUMP’s lately, I realize, but there’s a larger point I’ve been wanting to make, and CHUMP’s question tees things up nicely. But my apologies to regular readers who are annoyed to find another question in the column this week — one of many — from a woman who’s fucking or about to fuck a married man. Here’s the larger point I wanted to make: I believe couples should define sex as broadly as possible and cheating as narrowly as possible. Because when a couple defines sex broadly — when more things count (not just PIV/PIA) — the more sex that couple will have and the more varied, interesting, and satisfying their sex life will be. But the fewer things that same couple counts as cheating — the more narrowly that couple defines cheating — the less likely they are to cheat on each other and, consequently, the less likely they are to break up over an infidelity. Define sex broadly: more and better sex. Define cheating narrowly: more resilient relationships. Now, I realize these ideas are in conflict. I think sexting with a partner should count as sex but sexting with someone else — in the context of, say, an online flirtation that was never going to lead to anything physical — shouldn’t count as cheating. But the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and function isn’t just the sign of a first-rate intelligence, as F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, but also the sign of the kind of emotional intelligence required to have a successful relationship. (Please note: successful ≠ perfect.) I do have an agenda: I want imperfect-but-good relationships to survive — none are perfect, some are good — and the more sex the average couple has, the better the average couple’s relationship tends to be. And since the average couple defines cheating as unforgivable, the fewer things that count as cheating, the less likely the average couple is to break up over cheating. Which is why I’ve been on a lonely, one-man crusade against the people out there — the fucking idiots out there — pushing the “micro-cheating” concept. Instead of making relationships more resilient by encouraging people to define cheating narrowly, these fucking idiots are destroying relationships by urging people to add more things to the list. Staying in touch with an ex? Cheating! Confiding in a friend? Cheating! Following a few thotties and/or himbos on Instagram? Cheating! These idiots pushing “micro-cheating” and “micro-infidelities” on their socials — most claiming to be relationship experts (there’s no bar exam for “relationship expert”) — are not helping. Because instead of encouraging people to define cheating as narrowly as possible and thereby making relationships more resilient, they’re encouraging people to define cheating so broadly that no relationship could ever survive. Emotional affairs — very broadly defined — always appear on the “micro-cheating” lists pushed by these homewreckers. And while I hate to concede an inch to them, CHUMP, you leave me no choice: You are, indeed, having an emotional affair. If this man and his wife haven’t redefined their relationship as companionate and he isn’t allowed to seek this kind of attention from other women, the two of you are cheating his wife out of what’s rightfully hers. And since you’re investing time in this man that you could be investing in finding a guy who isn’t married and you feel good about fucking, CHUMP, you’re cheating yourself out of the kind of relationship you want and deserve. So, if you don’t want to blow up this man’s marriage — if you don’t want to graduate from emotional affair to affair affair — you need to stop talking to him, stop texting with him, and stop sharing sexual fantasies with him. Just because you haven’t fucked him yet doesn’t mean you won’t succumb to the temptation. The longer someone plays in traffic, the likelier that person is to get run over. Likewise, CHUMP, the longer you keep talking with this man, the likelier you are to get run through. If you don’t wanna get run over, don’t play in traffic. If you don’t wanna fuck this married man, CHUMP, stop flirting with him. I’m a straight cis male. When I’m having sex with my current or past monogamous partners, it will feel really good for a while, but then I’ll plateau. In order to come, I need to call up mental images of me fucking a specific past casual sex partner. (In no way is this past partner someone I’d rather be with.) It just works and works reliably. I’ve tried NOT to do this many times. I’ve tried the obvious — being in the moment and connecting with my partner — and on a few occasions I’ve been able to come without relying on my go-to, but those times are rare. Side note: I do watch porn, not excessively or compulsively, and I am able to come doing so. And sometimes I masturbate about other past experiences that don’t involve this former partner and I am able to come without calling up their mental image. I know there’s nothing wrong with this, but it does feel like a problematic fixation because it’s so specific — and because, at least for a few minutes, I’m disengaged and not present for my current partner. My shame about this issue has gotten better over the years, but it still haunts me. I’ve tried sharing this with a monogamous partner in the past when they could sense I was somewhere else, and this was DEFINITELY a bad idea. But the alternative is being stuck in this secret headspace. Please help me out! I surely am not the first listener with this issue. Can’t Understand My Situation Is this a problem, CUMS, or is it a superpower? Since you need to access these mental images in order climax — since you’re not completely in the thrall of whatever physical/emotional sensations you’re experiencing in the moment — that means you’re able to last exactly as long as your current partner would like you to. You never come too soon, CUMS, you never take too long. Since you’re in complete control of when you call up mental images of this particular past partner, you never hit the point of orgasmic inevitability before both you and your new/latest partner wants you to. So, maybe instead of feeling bad about this “problem” and trying to fix it on your own or — even worse — involving your current partner(s) in trying to fix this “problem,” you should 1. accept that this is how your dick works and 2. recognize how beneficial it is for current partner(s) — and they don’t need to know why and how they’re benefitting. I was supposed to see someone. I thought we had a date. We didn’t set a specific meeting place or time; it was more casual than that. I thought we had agreed to keep the evening free for each other, and I figured we’d sort out the specifics later. But he made other plans —dinner with someone else — and told me it was because he didn’t hear from me in time. Now, I thought I’d been clear that I would be in touch after I got home from work on the day we agreed to keep clear with each other. What’s the protocol? Shouldn’t he have said something like, “Hey, I haven’t heard from you, if I don’t hear from you by X time, I’m going to make other plans,” versus just him going and making other plans? Suddenly Unmade Plans Do you wanna fuck this guy, SUP? If so, give him the benefit of the doubt and make plans for another night. Because it’s possible — it’s even plausible — that he was waiting to hear from you and/or thought your plans were tentative and/or didn’t register that you said you’d call him when you got home from work that night. So, make firm, specific, and unambiguous plans for another night — the kind of plans you could describe to an advice columnist without using, “I thought,” or, “I figured,” or, “I supposed,” or all of the above. If he blows you off again, no third chance, no additional benefits of additional doubts. Got problems? Email your question to Dan here! Or record your question for the Lovecast here! Follow Dan on Instagram and Threads @DanSavage. Follow Dan on BlueSky @DanSavage. HUMP! Part One is playing in cities across North America and Europe! Go to HUMP! Film Fest to check out the new films and get your HUMP! 2024 tickets now!  

Comments on What Counts