Guess what? According to Salon, some kooky, oh-so-modern couples are now in monogamous relationships where “they have agreed to only have sex with each other in real life -- but online is another story.”
Yup, on the Internet, these lucky (?) souls are free to run wild -- and flirt, IM, Skype, and sext with strangers to their heart’s content. Huh. Maybe that’s what the way-liberated (and way-vile) Anthony Weiner and his lovely wife Huma Abedin have going on...? It kind of looks like it.
Anyway, per an MSNBC.com/iVillage survey, 57 percent of men and 77 percent of women think flirty online chatting and webcam action qualify as cheating. But that doesn’t mean they don’t do it -- and, as writer Tracy Clark Flory learns, some people do it with their partner’s approval, thereby making it, you know, NOT cheating. To me it seems like a tricky arrangement, but some couples are successfully navigating these kinds of LTRs.
So what does "monogamous except online" mean, exactly? Are they polyamorous? Kinky? Bored? Not in love with their partners? Just really, REALLY into Skype?
One couple Flory spoke with, John and Samantha, explained that their extramarital fun times were "limited to online/phone/Skype-based interactions." John also said that one of their rules was that the outside person they were “playing with” had to be aware of their committed-relationship status, and the fact that they weren’t seeking a love connection -- just “a way to build tension and flirt and have fun.”
Sounds pretty harmless, and it very well might be (though the couple does confess to attending regular marriage therapy to help them navigate these murky waters). But how far does all this "flirting" actually go? Doesn’t it make them more likely to want to take it offline, into real time? To me, that seems inevitable, but hey, maybe I’m just old-fashioned. (Or lame. Or something.)
Another couple in the Salon story, Pat (bisexual) and Pam (lesbian) of Pennsylvania, recall Pat’s online affair with a man as “devastating.” Apparently, “Pam had left for the airport but discovered her flight was delayed. She returned home to find Pat in front of her laptop with her pants around her knees. The man on the other end was one of two that she had met in chat rooms and then begun ‘playing’ with via webcam.”
Pat says with the help of therapy, the couple has managed to stay together. They now permit each other to have “online encounters” (ahem), but only with very firm boundaries, like that they absolutely can’t meet their pseudo-lovers in real life, or talk on the phone, or exchange personal information.
Still, Pam doesn’t sound altogether thrilled with this brave new relationship frontier. “What I still am struggling with is that there are unlimited possibilities online and I don’t know if I’ll ever fully trust that she will not stray outside of our boundaries,” she notes. For Pam's part, she says she’s dabbled in a little online flirting, but hasn’t gone any further than that.
“We’re at the point where we need to get real about our expectations of our partners,” she says. “I think it’s better to just put it all out there and figure out what works for both of you, rather than create a situation where lying and hiding becomes the norm.”
I agree with Pam that everybody could use a heaping dose of Real Talk when it comes to our inflated expectations of our partners (and potential partners). I also agree that being uber-honest and laying everything out on the table might generally the way to go in a romantic relationship, because avoiding secrecy helps avoid shame.
But I’m slightly dubious about otherwise-monogamous relationships in which extraneous online sexytimes are happening on the regular -- to me, it hints at an addiction to fantasy, the need to escape one’s present reality (and relationship). Of course, you could argue that porn’s the same thing, or dirty books/magazines -- and you'd have a good point. But for me, a boyfriend engaging in actual Interweb action with a speaking, breathing woman would feel a lot more ... REAL (and a lot more threatening to my fragile ego) than just watching some smut.
So yeah, I don’t think I’ll be dabbling with this kind of experiment anytime soon. I’m a bit too jealous for it; I know it would trigger me. Maybe underneath it all I’m addicted to my own fantasy, too (a fantasy I suspect is shared by most of us with a jealous bent): that there’s a primo partner out there who will truly, finally, ONLY have eyes for me ... No matter what sort of luscious sirens beckon from the other end of the webcam.
Would you ever be able to have a relationship like this -- and would you want to?