Call Us to Find a Therapist
Hello. I am a successful, 33-year-old man, and I have been married for about 12 years. Not entirely happily, though—for the past five years or so, I have developed an attraction for other men. I don't really understand where these feelings are coming from or why they came on well after I thought my sexuality was established. I am still attracted to women, including my wife, but I am drawn to men in a way that makes me question whether I am at the very least bisexual. My wife is a strong conservative southern woman and would not accept this about me, so I have tucked this part of me away somewhere deep inside. If these feelings don't subside, is it reason enough for me to consider leaving my wife? I love her, and I'd want to stay if she could accept this about me, but I don't want to feel like I can't be myself when I am with her. I don't want to cheat on her, but I don't want to forever wonder what it's like to be with a man, either. There are also family ramifications here, as I would lose a lot of close relationships if word got out that I may be anything other than a straight-laced family man. What to do? —Conflicted
Thanks for your question. It sounds like there are a tangle of conflicts here and I empathize with what I think I hear in your question, which is that you are having feelings which are somehow “wrong” to have, which I imagine is very uncomfortable, even painful. Holding a secret you feel you can’t share with your spouse is often a tough place to be.
In fact, I almost wonder what might happen to your curiosity about men if your spouse heard and accepted this about yourself—or if somehow these feelings became less dangerous and more human. How do you feel about this attraction? You say, “I don’t want to feel like I can’t be myself when I am with her.” What about yourself, aside from the literal idea of sex with a man, feels “not OK” when you’re with her? Is there some ideal sense of manhood you’re trying to fulfill? Does this attraction for men symbolize something that is unsafe in the marriage or your social/cultural circle? Of course as a society in general, we are given horrifically limited identity choices for manhood. Any whiff of “sensitivity” can bring out the gay jokes, as if anything other than James Bond were unacceptable. (Of course, if you’ve seen the latest Bond, you know even he has some interesting inclinations!)
The fact is, our sexuality falls on a spectrum and some of us develop attractions for people of both genders. It’s normal to have fantasies of what sex with the same gender is like, at least occasionally, and some have them more consciously than others—and the very idea is more accepted in some cultures than others. (In ancient Greece, there was no eros more “noble” than love between men.) I’m not saying it’s always a “choice,” but for some of us it is; some folks are clearly attracted to a particular gender, while 3%-5% of us are more in the middle of the spectrum and attracted to both. In the latter case, it’s important to note that we find ourselves attracted to people rather than “men” (or women). For instance, is there a particular man you’ve found “hot” or fantasized about? (Our bodies are pretty clear about attraction.) Perhaps your curiosity about men carries some kind of psychological symbolism—i.e., that you’re hoping for greater emotional freedom and acceptance of “unmanly” aspects of you, especially if you feel pressured to be “strong” or “tough” (like your wife, it sounds like) in a conservative environment. If your desire for men were accepted, you might have wider emotional latitude. Or perhaps the idea of surrendering that strength in order to feel protected is part of the appeal; sometimes it’s nice for us guys to take off the Superman cape and let someone else drive, especially if we’ve lacked close male relationships.
Because us guys are so often prohibited from being vulnerable or “emotional”—which we are; in spite of what culture says about Mars vs. Venus, we’re just emotional in different ways—we can sometimes long for more intimate but not necessarily physical relationships with men, though sometimes that longing is physical; or we have sexual desires that contain emotional longings for connection. These are chicken-and-egg questions that are worthy of further reflection, I think, with the understanding that this might be frightening in the cultural context (and I live in liberal Los Angeles, so it’s easy for me to say) but which are nothing but human at the end of the day. Have you considered discussing this with a therapist?
As awkward and shameful as it might feel, each of us is unique in who or what we find desirable, and while sexual desire is often mysterious or even frightening, when you boil it down it’s related to longings for love, affection, and safety. In a way, all the sturm and drang about sexuality is a red herring and reflect our neurotic cultural bias; imagine if you substituted “other women” for “men” in your question. I find it admirable that you’re not willing to ignore something so vital in your psyche and are searching for answers, which to me indicates courage and integrity. Something tells me there’s a conversation that needs to happen between you and your wife (perhaps with the help of a couples counselor), when the time is right. My sense is that you have a longing to feel safer and less guarded where you live, in a psychological, emotional, and possibly sexual sense. There’s certainly no shame in any of that. You might want to do some research on bisexuality. There are some excellent online resources for people experiencing what you are.
After some sifting, it might become clearer what it is you’re needing from your wife, whether that’s a more emotionally flexible relationship, or even the opportunity to explore this topic in an open, mutually respectful way. Sometimes deciding between commitment and sexual freedom/ experimentation, regardless of gender, is a difficult choice, especially for men who marry young, as you have. And like it or not, our psyches, sexuality, and selfhood continue to evolve over time; thanks for writing, and bravo for having the courage of emotional self-assertion.