Friday, July 17, 2015

Why can't bisexual married men be monogamous?

A straight wife says:
My husband recently told me he's bisexual. Now he wants an open marriage.  I'm pretty open minded so it doesn't really matter to me that he's bisexual. 
What I don't understand is why he can't be monogamous.  Why should being bi be any different when it comes to marriage than being straight (or even gay)? 
I understand that sexual orientation is not a choice, but monogamy definitely is.
How does a bi-married man make the case to his wife that he shouldn't be expected to be monogamous?

A guy who's had experience with both genders might explain that intimacy with a woman and sex with a man are completely different, and as such, shouldn't be confused with one another.  With women, you tap into your passionate side and connect intimately through sex.  With men, the experience is not emotional, it's physical.  If a connection is made, it's raw and primitive.  Affection is irrelevant.

A monogamously married bisexual man can't explain the difference between sex with men and sex with women because he's only been with women.  Instead he can describe how his unmet need to connect with men has been festering within him for too long and is making him miserable.  He can explain that, after many years of fighting it, he can't fight any longer, and he NEEDS to act on it.  This argument, of course, isn't an argument at all.  It's a plea: "Allow me some latitude - or I'll implode."

Many wives are unconvinced.  Why does he have this need all of a sudden?  If he'll "implode" without sex with a man, doesn't that mean he's gay?  Why can't he control his attraction to men the same way he controls his attraction to other women?  Straight married men look at porn, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and any hot woman who walks by, but that doesn't mean they all cheat.  Being attracted to other women is normal, but looking isn't the same as acting.  Why should being bisexual be any different?

There are a whole host of psychological, evolutionary and religious reasons that explain why women, especially, value monogamy.  But valuing monogamy isn't the same as sublimating part of your sexuality.  To understand sublimation, you have to experience it yourself, and the way that most women experience it, monogamy is clearly, obviously and unquestionably a choice.

When confronted by the "monogamy is a choice" argument, I think most bi-married men who ask for an open marriage simply give up.  In their own experience, they KNOW they're totally capable of looking and not acting, both with women and men.  They've done it for years!  How can they effectively argue against their own behavior??  They can't.  Which means the only reasonable solution is to "keep on keeping on" - until they really do implode.

The way out of this paradox, I believe, is to reframe what sexual sublimation feels like.  It *IS* a choice but it's not the same kind of choice for bisexuals as it is for monosexuals.

For years I've been trying to think of a way to explain the difference in a relatable way.  Until recently, my best idea was to compare sexual sublimation to dietary restrictions.  Specifically, that a monosexual is like a vegetarian and a bisexual is like an omnivore.  If you can understand what it would feel like to see, smell and ogle over meat every day, but NEVER be allowed to eat it, then you can understand being bisexual.  You can eat vegetables, and your immediate hunger can be sated, but you're still tortured by thoughts of all the delicious meat you're missing.  And even if your hunger is quenched in the short run, in the long run you're still ravenous, only in a very different way.

Although the dietary restriction metaphor sometimes makes the point, I've never been satisfied with it.  I think it vastly understates the difficulty of permanently burying a fundamental part of one's self.  I actually don't think it's that hard to be a vegetarian.  Plenty of people do it without much angst. Being bi and living 100% straight, on the other hand, is far, far more difficult.

At long last, I think I've found a better way to explain what it feels like to live as a straight, monogamous married man, yet actually be a deeply frustrated bisexual:

We never think of it this way, but every day we make the choice to speak.  Speaking is not required to live or to be happy.  At any given time, any of us has the option to stop speaking entirely.  Doing so doesn't mean we can't communicate.  We can easily do that by writing, typing, signing or gesturing.

What's the longest you've ever gone without speaking?  Could you do it for a full day?  A week?  A month?  Until the day you die?  As with staying monogamous, not speaking is something that can easily be done on a minute-to-minute basis, but it becomes increasingly difficult the longer you keep at it.

So, to all the monosexuals out there who say monogamy is a choice and being bi and married is no different than being straight and married, I ask you to imagine living the rest of your life only speaking to your spouse.  Could you do it?

Certainly you could, if you chose to.

Monogamy IS a choice, but if you're a frustrated bisexual, it's far from an easy one.  I often think that if straight wives truly understood how difficult bisexual monogamy can be, many more of them would agree to an open marriage.

I also think many more of them would want to leave their marriages.

I say this because "monogamy is a choice" provides false comfort to many straight wives.  If they genuinely understood the struggle that many married bisexual men face, they'd realize that non-monogamy is inevitable, and that wouldn't be acceptable to them.

This means that, ironically, any woman who is married to a bisexual man and believes "monogamy is a choice" is not standing on the moral high ground.  Rather, she's creating her own future nightmare.  By not understanding how bisexual sublimation differs from monosexual monogamy, she's setting herself up for a very painful lesson one day.

And just to be clear, I'm not saying bisexual married men can't be happily monogamous.  They can.   I just see a very distinct difference between those who are happy being monogamous and those who are not.  The happy ones, overwhelmingly, never come out of the closet.  Why would they?  Only for the sake of being honest.  This means, with a handful of exceptions, that any man who outs himself to his wife as bisexual is doing so because he no longer wants to be monogamous.  It's these men who are frustrated, struggling and\or at risk of imploding.   Demanding that they stay monogamous isn't a workable solution.  Either accept an open marriage or accept that the marriage is over.  As heart-breaking as it might be, there is no middle option that works in the long run.