Q: When my boyfriend and I moved in together last year, he only did it on the condition that I promise to be monogamous with him. At first we argued about it because I’ve never understood why he’s so hung up on being sexually exclusive with one man.. For me, one of the best things about being gay is that it’s easy to have no strings sex with lots of different hot guys. I make a distinction between sex and love, but for him sex is only for somebody you’re in love with. Also, my sex drive is a lot higher than his. I finally did promise to be monogamous, because he wouldn’t have lived with me otherwise. But the truth is, I haven’t really been monogamous a single week that we’ve lived together. I get together regularly with a sex buddy I knew before I met him, and I sometimes have sex in a bookstore near where I work. All I ever do is get blow jobs, so it’s not like I’m putting either of us in danger of getting a serious disease. I’d never do anything to hurt him. I really do love him with all my heart and want to spend my life with him. I just don’t see why I should restrict myself from having sex with other men when it’s just for fun and doesn’t mean anything. I’m really careful and I don’t think he’ll ever find out. I think that what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. I’ll admit I do feel a little guilty for lying, but basically I don’t think I’m doing anything all that wrong. The way things are now I’m at least able to live with him without feeling like I’m in a strait jacket. My question is, in situations like this, is honesty always the best policy?
A: If you’re having this much sex outside your relationship, it’s hard to believe your partner doesn’t suspect something, or that he’s never going to figure out what you’re doing. But let’s assume for a moment that your belief that he doesn’t know is correct, and further assume that he’ll never find out. The psychological question you seem to be asking is, does that mean you aren’t hurting him – or yourself? I believe that the idea that what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him is one of those popular rationalizations which is dangerously naïve.
One reason is that when you lie to your boyfriend, you create an atmosphere of deceit in your relationship which is inevitably toxic and damaging in all kinds of subtle ways that you may never be able to identify. You’re always going to have to be a little on guard to make sure you keep your stories straight and cover your trail carefully. Do you think that has no effect on the quality of the intimacy between the two of you? Intimacy involves open-heartedness, and it’s a little difficult to be on guard and open-hearted at the same time. When you habitually lie to your partner, your lies begin to form a barrier to the kind of deep intimacy that you want to have with him.
And you can only believe that you aren’t doing harm to yourself if you also believe that sacrificing your personal integrity for short-term gain has no long-term consequences for you. Your guilt feelings are your moral conscience speaking to you, and every time you violate your sense of right and wrong by making up stories about where you’ve been or where you’re going you are subtly undermining your own self-respect. In the short run, you may be having fun, but in the long run, what he doesn’t know is going to be very hurtful to both of you. I’ve seen many people thrive in monogamous relationships and many people thrive in open relationships, but I never see couples thrive in dishonest relationships.
I suggest a major course correction. If you find a monogamous commitment too confining, you’re hardly the lone ranger, and you do have the right to live the kind of sexual life which is best suited to you. But you do have an obligation to both of you to sit down with him and tell him. Maybe he can negotiate an open arrangement with you, but if he can’t, then you may both have to accept that you have some fundamental differences and can’t live as partners with each other. I realize that this may be very painful and disappointing for both of you, but in the long run it will be a lot less hurtful than continuing in a relationship characterized by lies, broken promises, and betrayal. You’ll be more likely to deserve, and to have, his respect, and to have more self respect as well, if you tell him the truth.