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Friday, October 3, 2008

Savage Love Letter of the Day

posted by on October 3 at 11:31 AM

My advice for the author of today’s “Savage Love Letter of the Day”—and all my advice for SLLOTDs over the next two weeks, and all the advice I’ll be giving in the print edition of my column for the next two weeks—was bought and paid for. Details here. But all you need to know is this: If you’ve got a question and you want a guaranteed response, go to, make a donation of $25 or more, and send me your question along with your donation confirmation email.

I am a 27 year-old straight female. I have been in long term relationships since I was a teenager and decided some time last year that I would like to enjoy the single life for a while. It has been great, and I am loving my freedom. Last week, I was on vacation and had a great night of sex with a friend of a friend of a friend. He has a girlfriend, although he was not aware that I knew this when I slept with him. I didn’t feel guilty about it at the time because I rationalized: “I’m not going to see him again, I’m certainly not going to try to steal him from his girlfriend, we are using condoms, and who knows, maybe she’s cool with it!”

Now, I’m not sure if I did the wrong thing because I think it’s safe to assume that most girlfriends would not be “cool with it.” If a similar situation arises in the future, do I have a moral responsibility to leave the men with girlfriends alone, or should I do as I please and let grownup dudes worry about their own girlfriends?

Worried About Bad Karma

I’m of two minds here.

First mind: As you move through your long overdue slut phase, WABK, would it really be that hard to avoid guys with girlfriends? Judging form my own mail, WABK, I’d say there’s no shortage whatsoever of single straight guys up for a little NSA action. Wanna sleep better at night? Stick to single guys.

Second mind: Sometimes inertia keeps us in failing or failed relationships. And sometimes sleeping with someone else—a.k.a. “cheating,” or getting a glimpse of how much better things could be—provides us with the impetus to do what must be done, i.e. to get on with the messy, unpleasant, protracted business of getting out of a failing or failed relationship. In these instances, WABK, sleeping with someone who’s technically “involved” with someone else is a mission of mercy, the kind good works that pile up rewards in heaven, the kind of change we can believe in, etc. Unfortunately there’s no way to know in advance if the involved person you’re sleeping with is in a failed or failing relationship, so you’re still kind of a slut. But you may be retroactively exonerated.

Bonus third mind: The guy you slept with had a girlfriend, not a wife. Call me old-fashioned—and good luck with that—but “cheating” when you’re dating, even if you’re in a “committed” relationship, isn’t as serious an offense as cheating when you’re married. The seriousness of a commitment increases exponentially as a couple moves from dating to engaged to married. And our primary mission when we’re seriously dating someone—but while we’re merely that person’s boyfriend and/or girlfriend—is to determine if this person is the person with whom we want to spend the rest of our lives. And sometimes sleeping with another person can help us make that determination.

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There is something about sleeping with closeted married men that really turns me on. I know it's wrong, but I really don't care. I like being a worthless piece of shit.

Posted by Mr. Poe | October 3, 2008 11:42 AM

Re: the Third Mind comment, essentially that a girlfriend is owed less fidelity than a wife, please keep in mind Dan that while the Gehs are fighting for the right to marry, many of us straight folks are quietly choosing not to marry, for various social and political reasons, but to have full committed relationships nonetheless. Assuming a level of commitment based on labels is a huge assumption, and we know what you make when you assume (ref. Police Academy movies.)

Posted by Lucky | October 3, 2008 11:45 AM

why would you want to sleep with dudes who were willing to cheat on their girlfriends with you? i suppose if you were attracted to sleazy duchebags and found integrity to be a real turnoff....

Posted by douglas | October 3, 2008 11:47 AM

On the one hand I agree with you that cheating becomes a more serious offense as the relationship grows more serious, and I'll grant that pre-breakup cheating may be in it's own category (right next to pre-divorce cheating). On the other, in my admittedly limited experience most of the guys who cheat on their girlfriends (or girls that cheat on their boyfriends, and I assume it is the same for monogamous same sex couples) but tell themselves that it will be different when they're married are lying to themselves. Wedding rings don't fill them with the sudden burst of fidelity they expect, though they usually attribute this to some failure in their spouse. So while cheating on a gf may be itself a lesser offense, I think it's a good predictor of more offenses in the future.

Posted by Beguine | October 3, 2008 11:51 AM

Another thing to consider is that the "girlfriend" might also be a bit psycho and will try to cut you when she finds out about what happened.

Posted by boxofbirds | October 3, 2008 11:51 AM

Wow, way to shit on all the couples out there with long-term commitments but aren't married for whatever reasons, and to judge the seriousness of a relationship using *semantics.* The only thing a marriage would change about my current relationship is the paperwork I'd need to break it up.

By the by, isn't shifting the onus of ethical responsibility to the man who can't not cheat like saying you can't be blamed for stealing an unlocked car?

Posted by Gloria | October 3, 2008 11:56 AM

I'm sort of in agreement with Lucky @2. Yes, in the traditional conception of dating and engagement and marriage (i.e., for probably 95% of people), what Dan said in the "Third Mind" is true.

But, for some of us, “marriage” is just a political/social construct. My husband and I aren’t any more or less committed than we were before we were married. We were together for a long time before finally decided to get married, and honestly, I think it was more about defining our relationship for other people than for ourselves.

So, tread carefully. "Girlfriend" could mean they've been together a few months and aren't that committed, or it could mean a 10 year relationship where they don't feel the need to get the "piece of paper."

That being said, I wouldn't judge WABK poorly at all. The guy she slept with is an adult who's capable of making his own decisions about monogamy and his relationship.

Posted by Julie in Chicago | October 3, 2008 11:57 AM

Excellent advice; she totally got her money's worth. In my previous, pre-in-love-with-w7ngman life, I was the "other woman" a number of times (mostly the failing-relationship variety), but unless I knew the girlfriend, not knew of but knew, I never felt bad. He was the one who made a commitment, not me. But I also made the marriage distinction: that's a horse of a different color, and not worth meddling with.

Posted by Aislinn | October 3, 2008 11:58 AM

She's got nothing to feel guilty about. The guy she slept with might, or might not, depending on a bunch of circumstances we and she know nothing about. She's not taking up with this guy; it was a one-night thing. And she has cheated on nobody. She's not responsible for the dude.

Posted by Fnarf | October 3, 2008 12:00 PM

If they don't have kids...

Posted by Who cares? | October 3, 2008 12:02 PM

I'm with 2, 6, & 7. With the third mind, you're cutting this too black and white. Don't you call Terry your "boyfriend," Dan?

Posted by EmilyP | October 3, 2008 12:04 PM

Speak for yourself, Dan. I dump guys who cheat on me. Its too late to still be making determinations on whether you want to be committed to someone. Thats what break ups are for, you cut someone loose if you simply must experiment, its unethical to try to keep them in your back pocket while you figure this stuff out. If you figure out as a result that you did actually love someone, and they moved on, tough. Thats the risk you take.

Posted by Karey | October 3, 2008 12:47 PM

Yes, GF should probably dump BF. But what does that have to do with the letter writer?

Posted by Fnarf | October 3, 2008 12:59 PM

Sleeping with spoken-for guys and girls is being accomplice to a crime. Sure, maybe it's not a big thing in that person's relationship, but seriously, you can guess the fucking odds, right? Unless you have serious evidence that no one will get hurt from this, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, DO NOT.

Posted by MBI | October 3, 2008 1:03 PM

She is a slut. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Also, Poe rules.

Posted by Mike in MO | October 3, 2008 1:07 PM

By sleeping with a taken guy, she's helping cheaters get laid. Maybe the harm is small, but there's still harm. She should feel bad for it.

Posted by Greg | October 3, 2008 1:20 PM

An accomplice to a crime? Are you kidding me? That is ridiculous. I just don’t understand how the “other woman” or “other man” is ever, ever to blame (barring some crazy circumstance where they lie or are deceptive to try to “steal” the partner away). If you are in a monogamous relationship, you make the choice whether or not to cheat on your partner. It has nothing to do with the “other” person. I will never understand people who get mad at the “other” person when their partner has cheated.

Posted by Julie in Chicago | October 3, 2008 1:21 PM

Before I got married, before we got serious, when it looked like we were gonna get serious I got that horrible doubting itch. And yes. I slept with someone else. I had never cheated on anybody before. I needed to know. It was pretty awesome sexually but overall... meh. It helped me realize how much loved my now wife of 14 years and frankly how much better in bed she was. I owned up to it at the time taking the risk that she might dump me. And she didn't. So. Bonus. Now we have strong bond that can possibly transcends that bullshit.

In rare instances fucking someones boyfriend/girlfriend is the "right" thing to do. Though I wouldn't make it a habit.

Posted by Mr. Smartypants | October 3, 2008 1:29 PM

You can only be responsible for yourself, not anybody else. Someone else's commitments or lack thereof are not yours. You are not the police of anyone else's life.

That being said, I would never be involved with anybody who was involved with anybody I knew. Because that's crossing my line that I've set for myself. I wouldn't want my friends to do that to me, either, because that's a real -- and real awful --complication.

But if my partner "cheated" with a stranger, that would have nothing to do with the stranger and everything to do with my partner and me. And if you can't keep your partner from wandering, that's not my fault, either. Or my responsiblity.

Posted by whatevernevermind | October 3, 2008 1:35 PM

I don't get it either when people get mad *exclusively* at the "other" person. But while I wouldn't hate or blame them, I'd resent them at least a bit if they knew what was going on and didn't give a damn.

Sleeping with someone else's SO is like watching somebody steal from the cookie jar. Hey, YOU didn't take the cookie. But you sure let it happen, and somebody's going to give you a dirty look because now there are no cookies left. (Mmm. Cookies.)

Posted by Gloria | October 3, 2008 1:36 PM

Dan, I usually agree with, or at least see your side of the argument. Having said that, I guess my take on this is pretty clear.

Wrong, wrong, wrong! If she didn't know the guy was in a relationship, then fill your boots. But she know he was with someone(and she says he didn't know she knew, so he clearly thought he was getting away with something), and she knows it was wrong. And we know she feels that way because she's basically coming to you for a Get Out of Jail Free card.

It is a karma thing. Put yourself in the other person's shoes. Have a little respect for the person who is unknowingly being screwed over. Maybe he is trying to find out if he belongs with that person, but it's not like he was getting to know this girl as a person, explore her thoughts and feelings. This was a booty call. If you are uncertain about your relationship, clear it with the other person BEFORE you start screwing around on her.

A friend once asked me if it was okay for him to sleep with girls if he had no intention of being their boyfriend. I said it was, as long as he was clear up front BEFORE he got them into bed. I added they might think they could change his mind, and they may cry later, but as long as he was up front, then he was in the clear.

Posted by Charm | October 3, 2008 1:40 PM

The deal breaker is the wedding ring. If there's no ring he assumes the reponsibilty.
You go girl.

Posted by Vince | October 3, 2008 1:45 PM

Being an open-minded, liberal, straight guy, I appreciated how unfair it is to forbid gays from marrying on an intellectual level. But until you commented that a relationship is less meaningful if there's no contract, Dan, I didn't know what it felt like on an emotional level.

Yeah, sometimes "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" just means "trying out a relationship but not yet ready to marry." And sometimes it means "a relationship in which both parties have promised each other everything they would if they were married, but for whatever reason haven't gotten that certificate yet."

I'm not going to go into the details of why my girlfriend is just my girlfriend and not my wife. But being told my relationship doesn't mean anything kind of hurts, I have to say.

And your other mind is bullshit, too. If the relationship sucks, the cheater can be forgiven for the motive to cheat (if not the action). But the one who enables the cheater is still an enabler, and lacks the excuse of being stuck in a bad relationship.

Posted by Dan | October 3, 2008 1:59 PM

Hey Dan,

Can I get you to open up the criteria to include Prop 102 in Arizona?

After all, we were the first to defeat one of these amendments in 2006. Unfortunately, it's not such a done deal for 2008.

Posted by Jim Burroway | October 3, 2008 2:03 PM

Sleeping with taken dudes doesn't make the writer a slut, it makes her a bitch. Obviously the responsibility of the relationship isn't in her hands, but unless she confirms that what she's participating in is sanctioned by the GF she's knowingly doing something that would be hurtful to another. I think that makes her a bad person - putting a moment of her own pleasure above some serious hurt that could come to someone else.

I say "do unto others" and all that.

Posted by anagram | October 3, 2008 2:03 PM

I'm sorry, but you've really made me mad, and no, I've never been cheated on, but this really irks me.

How can you suggest that a committed relationship doesn't hold the same value as a marriage? What is marriage but an overpriced commitment ceremony. As someone else pointed out, you are not married to your "boyfriend", and maybe you have an open relationship, I don't know, but if you do, that's a mutual choice.

And as for not being responsible for someone else's actions, that's just such a stupid rationalization. I pushed the guy into the street, but I wasn't driving the car that ran into him. At the very least, she's an enabler.

I've never uderstood women who were so insecure that they had to sleep with someone else's boyfriend. I've had the opportunity. I've always walked away. I put myself in the other person's shoes.

I realize it's Friday, and you say that you're usually drunk when you give the advice out on Friday, so I'm gonna chalk this up to the margaritas, or whatever.

I hope WABK feels she got her money's worth. She got her Get Out of Jail Free card from you, but Karma will bite her in the ass. Karma doesn't rationalize.

Posted by Charm | October 3, 2008 2:05 PM

I guess the thing to consider is, was it worth it? Did it amount to a fabulous experience you just had to have in order to enjoy all this NSA freedom? Don't cheapen it with really lame shameful encounters. You're allowed to still have standards even though you're doing the single casual thing.

Posted by Karey | October 3, 2008 2:10 PM

Object relations theory might posit one possible reason that people get mad at the "other person", rather than the SO, is that the cheated on person is "protecting the object". Which is to say that the cheated upon person has invested so much of themselves into their own mental conception of the cheater and the relationship with the cheater (the object) that to get angry with the cheater would be tantamount to getting angry with a part of oneself. This would especially be the case if the choice of partner (the object choice) was modeled after a cheated upon persons parent.

It is so much easier to imagine that the cheater is weak in the face of a malevolent seducer than to imagine that they are selfish and just don't care about the cheated upon persons' feelings.

That being said I agree with Dans comments here. In line with the second mind, cheating can be an empowering choice if it leads to ending a bad relationship or realizing you have a good one(in which case stfu about it to the cheated upon person).

However, I would add that while we don't control the lives of the people we sleep with, we do have control of our own intentions. It's not about Karma or respect for some third party, so much as deciding what role one wants to play, what consequences does one want to contribute to and whether one has respect for ones' own particular defined sense of self. As another has pointed out, WABK obviously feels guilty so her sense of self is in conflict with her choices. No get out of jail free card, just a lesson in self exploration learned. (NB:There are some people who seek out only cheaters for their own complicated reasons.)

Besides it's messy to screw with people in relationships. Better to find an ethical slut and avoid the drama.

Posted by LMSW | October 3, 2008 2:32 PM

"What is marriage but an overpriced commitment ceremony." It's a public declaration of a promise of fidelity and mutual support and the public giving its own witness and support. If your commitment ceremony sans the permit contains the above then we might as well call it a marriage. But even if we call it something else then everything that Dan wrote above applies. In other words, if the couple has asked us, the public, to keep our noses and genitals out from between them then we ought to comply. But if they haven't...

But on the other hand and as has been observed with Dan's correspondence, heterosexual, married men have a tendency to find their sexual needs unmet. A little secret adultery might just be what it takes to keep the marriage happy and humming along.

Posted by youth minister | October 3, 2008 2:53 PM

@29 - Oh, yes, Dan does say one can get their needs met elsewhere, but not without first trying to work things out with your partner.

But this guy isn't married. And if you don't give a committed relationship the same weight as a marriage, then he's not "trapped in a sexless marriage" and he can break up with his girlfriend and find someone else, instead of screwing around behind her back.

Posted by Charm | October 3, 2008 3:03 PM

a man with a girlfriend (versus a single guy) is essentially 'certified pre-owned'. a single guy is typically single for a reason.

monogamy is an unnatural state for homo sapiens. if we had 1 week a year when we could all fuck someone else without repurcussions of any kind, then go back to our comfort & routine & no-blowjob-sex, it would be the most popular holiday ever.

Posted by failed monogamist | October 3, 2008 3:10 PM

i'm with julie @17. your contract/understanding is with the person you call a bf/gf, husband/wife, NOT with the person he/she screws on the side. THAT person has no obligation to you. leave that person out of the guilt.

Posted by ellarosa | October 3, 2008 3:21 PM

Dan's way of thinking really exonerates anyone who ever cheats thanks to mind #2. There's no such thing as a non-failing relationship if someone cheats, so there you go, it was the right thing to do all along!

Sorry but there's a difference between amicable breakups and betrayal. If you don't love me anymore and want to end things, then break up with me but I can't respect anyone who cheats. All that means is you just continued to use me until you found a replacement, and didn't care that you were using me because your lack of love for me absolved you of any responsibility to not treat me like shit. Those are the kinds of breakups that make me regret ever having had the relationship with someone so low. Where as if it comes to a mutually respectful end, its fine.

Posted by Karey | October 3, 2008 3:28 PM

Look, I generally avoided men who I knew were in relationships because men in relationships are not relationship material, but my stand always is that the monogamy of a relationship is the responsibility of the people in the relationship. Its not my job to "protect" someone else's relationship by turning them down. Obviously, there are complicated situations, and I would never knowingly make a pass at a person in a committed relationship, but in my opinion, only a person in a relationship can "cheat".

Posted by sue | October 3, 2008 3:39 PM


Sue, of course the relationship is the responsibility of the people in it. You and many other commentors (especially LMSW, if you can stand to read all his psycho-babble) seem to think that the only way that WABK is in the wrong is if she must take responsibility for the cheating.

Not so. The boyfriend who cheated is obviously guilty of what is, I would say, a much more despicable act.

That said, WABK is, as I said before, the enabler. Regardless of what morality demands, I know that in myself, I would rather be the guy who puts his libido aside and tells a friend (or stranger) to think through the implications of her actions, rather than encouraging her to do something wrong because of the pleasure it would bring me.

Of course, there's also the possibility that the cheater would cheat, even if reminded of the commitment of his prior relationship. But even in that situation--he's going to cheat with someone, so why not me?--the moral choice is to walk away. He may find the opportunity to commit a wrong without WABK, but at least WABK won't be aiding in that.

(To use a more vulgar analogy, do gun store salesmen bear any responsibility for enabling crimes committed with their wares?)

I think we should ask The Ethicist this. This is an ethical question, not a relationship one.

Posted by Dan | October 3, 2008 4:37 PM

@35 Why thank you for reading through my entire post, even when you didn't like or agree with it. I think you missed a part of my point where we are pretty close. When I wrote this:

"so much as deciding what role one wants to play, what consequences does one want to contribute to and whether one has respect for ones' own particular defined sense of self. "

it was pretty much in line with your statements regarding

"the implications of her actions"


"--the moral choice is to walk away. He may find the opportunity to commit a wrong without WABK, but at least WABK won't be aiding in that."

The difference between the two is that I am not defining a specific morality for enabler (it's a shrink thing not to judge but instead to lay out consequences and let the client decide), whereas you are defining what morality means for yourself and and should mean for WABK. Which is fine. really. no sarcasm. Cheers.

Posted by LMSW | October 3, 2008 5:26 PM

sometimes dan pulls reverse psychology and I like to think (hope) that's what he's doing about the word "marriage."

I drove past a truck on the bay bridge today that had a "support prop 8" sticker on it. I'm off to donate...

Posted by Jessie | October 3, 2008 6:05 PM

Sorry folks-if his own sense of commitment isn't enough to keep him from sleeping around, it isn't WABK's fault. If you aren't willing to grant him the agency of deciding to have extra-couple sex, you're making her into this evil sex object, who pulls men into a trap of some type and forces him to have sex he didn't "really" want.
He was out looking and would have found someone to hump, if not WABK, then some person who didn't necessarily know about his relationship status.
If this guy was serious about his relationship then he wouldn't have been out looking. And to that extent it doesn't matter if his relationship was solemnized or not. It's not that the marriage is the important part, it's that not all relationships are equally serious. Marriage is one way we use to show that a relationship is serious.

Posted by pastrychef | October 3, 2008 9:05 PM

Uh Dan, it's him who cheated not her! Why should she feel guilty at all? Married or dating really doesn't matter here. He's the one who broke a commitment not her. And for all we know they have an open relationsip. The only reason I see for avoiding married or taken people is that you might get attached and get your heart broken. But worry about some stranger's feelings or how they conduct their relationship? That's what their partner should worry about, not me.

Posted by clarity | October 4, 2008 1:08 AM

@31 comfort & routine & no-blowjob-sex? Maybe that's where the problem lies. Sounds dull as hell. Find yourself a partner who loves to give head and change it up on occasion.

I was pissed at the other woman who fucked my fiancee because she knew that he was engaged. I was even more pissed at him and ended that as a result relationship. I don't regret ending it now but I don't think that absolves her of being a slutty bitch who fucked an almost-married man. Knowing what that felt like, I don't think I could be the other woman without feeling like a slutty bitch myself.

Posted by clementine | October 4, 2008 10:26 AM

oops. I meant... ended that relationship as a result

Posted by clementine | October 4, 2008 10:27 AM

People, you don't have a right to O.P.P. I'm not saying you would be solely responsible for someone else's cheating or the hurt it causes, or even equally responsible. But regardless, it's still a mighty shitty thing to do to a person, whether they're a stranger to you or not. Seriously, ladies and gentlemen, this is not fucking cool.

Posted by MBI | October 4, 2008 5:52 PM

Wow Dan, kind of giving cheaters a free pass here. While the majority of the blame falls on the BF, why does the lady get an exemption card? And now it is only cheating if you have a legal ceremony declaring you wed? I have two wonderful gay friends who aren't allowed to get legally married in our state, but they held an amazing commitment ceremony. I guess I now get to tell them it means nothing.

I usually agree with you Dan. And even when I don't, I understand your logic. But this seems left field. So the Republicans have it right now, and marriage is the only commitment that matters? And we are under no obligaion to respect anybodies partner status but our own? Don;t we have an obligation to at least talk to our partners if we are no longer satisfied with our sexual relationships, before seeking more orgasmic pastures?

Isn't this kind of thinking only going to confirm that only marriage, that 'holy sacremant' keeps partners safe. Yack. to the chapel so your unions stay monogamous!!!!!

Posted by Sarah | October 4, 2008 10:48 PM

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