Hi Dr. NerdLove,
My partner (he/him) of five years violated the boundaries/understandings of our monogamous relationship by receiving a one-way sex act from a friend of his. While I’ve agreed to stay and try to move past it, I haven’t decided the long term and taken off the engagement ring. I’m having a having a really fucking hard time moving past the intrusive thoughts and the wanting to really understand why. Please help me?
Some context: my partner and I (she/they) are both queer, but ended up in a hetero relationship with each other. I am very sex positive but struggle with polyamory as a choice for myself because of certain past traumas. I actually see the benefits and could maybe come to an agreement after some targeted therapy and lots of communication. But for now, monogamy is what feels safe for me. My partner, at the beginning of our relationship and throughout, has said he feels the same. And consent-based relationships are incredibly important to me. My partner had a friendly acquaintance who is a professional barber who has cut his hair for about 7 years, the barber (he/him) is gay and very openly sexual with everyone. When we’ve run into out in public like at a restaurant, he’s treated me the same as he treats my partner (on the surface), which is to talk openly about his sex life and ask questions if they’re welcomed. I had no issues with their friendship until earlier this year but thought my partner respected my wish for him to not to put himself in situations that would be weird/inappropriate with the barber or accept his sexual advances (which came pretty frequently but I never felt much jealousy because I thought my partner wasn’t interested or at least wouldn’t agree to any of it).
The infidelity and messy aftermath: First the timeline that I know now, then how I found out. We moved from our apartment to a house in August last year, and some problems both old and new surfaced, but I thought we were working through them. Back in late September/October, the barber started asking about my partner’s plantar fasciitis that he mentioned during his last hair cut and saying that he had some sort of massage/reflexology training (the barber is just a barber, not a massage therapist) and thought he could help and offered a foot massage. My partner took him up on it, and they me. Sometime between that initial “let me help you” kind of offer and his next haircut in October, the barber offered him a happy ending along with the foot massage. My partner went over to his apartment after that haircut, stripped down to nothing (including underwear) and got in the barber’s bed. The barber then gave him a foot massage and then a hand job. My partner was supposed to be picking up groceries that time, and I called/texted asking where he was at some point (he’s not the type to stay somewhere longer than he has to). He said he got caught up at the store but was on his way home, and was home 45 minutes later. Didn’t think anything more until late March. We share a car, and he dropped me off to get a beer with a friend while he went to his hair cut appointment. He got his hair cut then, went to the barber’s apartment for a repeat of last time, stripped down and got on top of the covers, except this time it was a full body massage and a hand job. In between these two incidents, there was some flirtatious texting and an exchange of homemade porn (not featuring any of them, but some of the barber’s acquaintances) and a text discussion about the porn a month or two after the first incident.
He was supposed to meet me somewhere after his hair cut after the last incident in March, and we ended up fighting because he blew me off and didn’t answer his phone for an hour when I left where he was supposed to meet me and walked to the barber shop (I was taking up a whole table at the bar by myself and I didn’t know where else to go because he was my ride). He said at first that it took longer than he thought it would and that he had been looking for parking. I told him I walked past too many open parking spots for that to be true. He then admitted he went to the barber’s apartment after his hair cut but said it was just to fix his bike. He said he lied because he thought I wouldn’t have been comfortable with him going to the barber’s apartment alone. He said it was just to fix his bike and he was sorry for blowing me off. I told him the whole thing made me uncomfortable and I’d prefer if he found a different barber. He said he wouldn’t and that I needed to trust him to set boundaries.
After our fight, he turned down the barber’s next request for a naked happy ending massage and then later told him outright that he would just be getting hair cuts. But then I found out after seeing messages on our shared iPad that were incriminating that a massage had been involved and that the barber had seen my partner naked (I didn’t snoop. I was trying to add recipes to an app, the messages came up all at once when I turned the iPad on and I saw weird stuff on the display before reading the whole exchange to confirm I wasn’t crazy). Then, he told me it was just a massage, he was covered the whole time, only happened once, and he didn’t do it again. Then the barber sent me a DM that was apologetic to me but made it clear more had gone on. I told him to tell me everything, or that I would leave. Only then did I find out all of the above.
The lying is obviously an issue, and even if he’s done the “right things” since it all finally came out, I told him that’s the hardest part to get past and the part that is going to be the biggest obstacle for whatever decision I make in the long run. But that at least seems to make sense to me. He lied, I don’t necessarily trust him the way I did before. If he avoids lying to me in the future, I could learn to retrust.
But I’m still struggling to wrap my head around the why, even after several very open and honest conversations in the last couple weeks. He said he’s finally seeking therapy for self esteem issues and said he never initiated, but followed through because the attention made him feel good when things weren’t going well with us and the massages were genuinely fun, felt good and helped his feet (I asked him to be completely honest). Specifically what I’m having trouble getting past is the fact that he blew me off and took that risk of getting caught (why was it worth the risk, especially when he hates being late?), that he seemed proactive in enabling himself to do this by doing things like telling me he mixed up his appointment time so it would take longer (if you’re just passively accepting the attention, why be so proactive in deceiving me and setting things up so he could?), why he wanted to keep seeing the barber for hair cuts (if my partner says he’s just someone who pushes boundaries and cuts his hair, why can’t he just cut contact?) and that he knew on some level that it was wrong but let it go on for almost a year (started talking about the first massage in September, maintained sexual interactions a couple times in person and several times over text between October and the end of March, drunkenly called the barber at the beginning of June and then decided to cut it back to completely platonic.
I don’t know. I can acknowledge he’s genuinely been trying to fix it for the last few weeks, and it was honestly pretty seriously out of character for him. And if I haven’t reflected that in the paragraphs above, I am always deferential and want to believe people. And I want my partner to have meaningful, deep, affectionate connections with people that aren’t me. But that feels like a minefield of anxiety now. And how do I get past this deep wanting ache to really understand why, when he’s already answered for that for the most part?
Cuts Like A Knife