Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.
Today the Sugars hear from two people with different questions. In the first, a woman writes wondering whether it's a good idea to pursue a short-term relationship with a man while she is in Italy for a few weeks. Is the fun worth the cost — both in money and in potential heartbreak?
Second, they think about what causes the desire to cheat on a significant other. A man writes that he is in a great relationship, yet still finds himself wanting to sleep with other people. Can he be helped?
While traveling for six months, I met a guy. When we met, my heart melted and I instantly developed a hardcore crush on him. He's a tall, dark, handsome, motorcycle-riding musician with a nice accent. We had a great fling. I became emotionally attached to him, but since we were only in the same place for a month and there is no long-term potential for the relationship, I did my best to keep it light and emotion-free.
We have been messaging, sending pictures and sexting ever since I left, and I have been fantasizing about meeting up with him again in some foreign place. And now, the opportunity has arisen for that to actually happen. He will be housesitting in Sicily for a few months and working on his music. I am waitressing stateside as I wait for graduate school to start. He hasn't actually asked me to join him, but I think he might say yes if I propose the idea.
Here is my question: Do I go and spend a few fun-filled weeks with him even though it will leave me broke, jobless, and possibly heartbroken? Or do I continue down my logical, responsible path and be grateful for the fun we had? Steve said that crushes leave you crushed, and I know how painfully true that is. But Cheryl says to put yourself in the way of beauty — and what's more beautiful than a hot boy on a Sicilian beach?
I would be deeply grateful for your perspective, and maybe even your blessing.
Cheryl Strayed: I have only one thing to say, and that is, there is nothing more beautiful than a hot boy on a Sicilian beach. Wanderluster, go. Don't look back, just go. Have fun. You said you signed up for this, you're going to be broke, you're going to possibly be heartbroken. As long as you know those things, go. Absolutely. This is fun. This is the moment of your life to do these things. Go to that beach, go to that boy, have a blast and lick your wounds later.
Steve Almond: The only caveat I would add is, try to do a little bit of a self-inventory.
Cheryl: Ugh! Do the inventory later, with the hot memories of this fabulous guy on a beach in Italy. What inventory could possibly be taken in this situation?
Steve: But what if she goes over there and he's recording music, and he's got another woman on the side, and she's not really the person he's going to spend time with?
Cheryl: Steve, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called life, in the great words of our beloved, recently departed Prince. This is what life is. What if she shows up and he's screwing the neighbor? So be it! This is the beauty of life.
Steve: That's the beauty of life? I show up in Sicily to have this ecstatic experience and he's screwing the neighbor?
Cheryl: Well, she's going to ask him! She says, I think he's going to say yes. Of course if he says, "No, don't come," don't go. But if he says yes? Go! She's saying she likes him more than she probably should. But she's also saying, this moment isn't about protecting my heart. This moment is about leaping into the fire.
Steve: I agree with you. But she has to make sure that she's going to be staying with him and that he is going to spend time with her so that she doesn't spend $4,000 and a significant outlay of her heart and then wind up in a situation where she gets the rug pulled out from under her.
Cheryl: If she were saying, "I'm madly in love and I'm not sure if it's reciprocal," I would say, stay home and invest in yourself. But that's not what she's saying.
Steve: She wants to run into the burning building. I get you.
Cheryl: Get into that Corvette, baby, and ride to Italy.
I am writing you because I am not the person or lover that I want to be.
I am a 29-year-old man in love with an amazing woman, S, who is 28. We met a year ago while casually dating. I have been a serial monogamist for most of my adult life, which included a six-year relationship. I wasn't looking for love when I met S. But from the very first date, I was completely taken with her. She is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. Everything about our relationship is wonderful. We support each other, we have shared interests, the sex is amazing, and we're moving in together.
Despite this, I have not been able to dampen my desire to sleep with other women. This desire manifests itself only when S is not around, which wouldn't be an issue, except that she travels regularly for work. A couple of times, I have initiated contact with other women in order to hook up, but I haven't followed through because I don't want to cheat on S. I'm excited by the idea of sleeping with other women and being desired. While I haven't had physical contact with another woman while I've been with S, I believe I have cheated on a psychological level.
S has been cheated on in the past, and I don't want to cause her that pain again. We are so good for each other, and I don't know why I would be jeopardizing our relationship by these desires.
Sugars, do you have any insight on why I have become this person?
Steve: Bad Partner, I think that your cold feet are taking the form of hot loins. The fact that you have escalated this relationship by moving in together has consciously or unconsciously triggered a kind of panic, and it is taking the form of doing the one thing that is guaranteed to break her heart and send her in the other direction.
Cheryl: I agree, and I want to address the biological answer to this question. The reason that you desire other women, Bad Partner, is that it's biologically natural, especially at this point in your life. You're a 29-year-old man. Many of us value being in monogamous partnerships, but physically, that doesn't shut off our desire for other people. The way that most people make monogamy work is they do what you've done so far — they see desire and they don't act on it. I think that you get better at doing that over time.
You're not a bad partner because you sometimes think about having sex with other people. You're a bad partner if you act on it and lie to yourself and your partner. You haven't done that. But there are red flags when you say that you've initiated contact with other women to hook up. So you are at least thinking about acting against your better judgment, and then you stop yourself from doing it. I think that this might be something worth exploring in a deeper way, either with a therapist or with S, really openly. The way to get rid of stuff that's rooted in shame is to bring it into the light and explore some of the reasons that you're at odds with yourself.
Steve: Most men and women feel that when they start to move toward a happy, successful relationship, there's a kind of panic because what's happening psychologically and biologically is you're essentially saying, "I'm going to be just with this one person from now on." And the idea of sleeping with other women and being desired by other women is now forbidden.
Cheryl: I will say, I am not a polyamorous person myself, but another solution is to open the relationship up. Talk honestly with S and decide the terms, and maybe those terms will include having other lovers. That is another path.
You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear more from people doubting their relationships.
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