Reader: Hi Athol, Long time reader and fan. I’m in my mid-30s, married, very happy and very committed. I’m a strong alpha with my wife, and she loves it.
I have a secret addiction: flirting with girls online. I do it all the time. It makes me feel good and strong, and helps me keep up my game, at least verbally. I have many girls online with whom I flirt constantly, and even engage in explicit sex chats with sometimes. None of these girls know my real name, and I’ve never met any in person – and I don’t think I would. To me, it’s something akin to Interactive Porn. So it’s not physical cheating (I’ve never met any) and it’s not emotional cheating (I don’t actually have a real emotional relationship with any of them).
My wife and I don’t have sex too often. But I get seriously turned on by the excitement I get from flirting with these other girls.
I’m not worried about getting “caught” because I’m good with the privacy and technology and boundaries. But I feel like I’m doing something wrong, and I feel like I should stop; but I can’t help myself. The problem is not practical but moral, in my mind. And it’s not obvious to me if I’m doing something severely wrong and I should stop, or if I’m not causing any harm to anyone so it’s okay to continue.
I’m not quite sure what to do. I’d love to hear your suggestion; I value your opinion a lot, Athol. Thank you.
Athol: Ironically you’re writing to me unworried by the practicalities and worried about the moral issues. I pretty much approach things from the other direction. People get themselves all sorts of tripped up trying to create and maintain a moral framework that often simply isn’t workable in reality. It’s often far easier to find out what works in practical reality as the greater good, and then say it’s the moral thing to do.
Most things that are really fun are potentially addictive or in some way damaging if done to excess. Rather than being the all purpose Fun Police and stamping out all enjoyment except for 1950’s chaperoned formal dances, my general rule of thumb is that “It’s not a problem until it’s a problem.” Flirting itself isn’t a problem, I mean I flirt quite a lot in real life and generally run the “Goofy” part of my “Goofy and Groping” game on everyone. But you’re basically emailing me to tell me there’s a problem with your flirting routines… so whether you want to say it’s a moral issue or not… you know there’s a problem of some sort here.
So rather than getting mired into this activity as a moral issue at the start of the process, let’s look at things from a purely practical point of view and ask the key question…
Is this activity helping you get what you really want from your marriage?
My hunch is that all the excitement (dopamine) you get from this activity means you don’t actually really engage with your wife all that much. Which means she isn’t really responding to you sexually because you’re basically not tripping her wires all that much. Thus not that much sex. Which is probably what you really want and is the need you’re trying to meet by going online and doing this activity in the first place.
Which makes the whole thing a vicious cycle of wasted effort getting you what you don’t want. Bingo! We found the problem.
I suppose you’re going to want a solution now…
My basic solution would be for you to stop this activity that isn’t working to get you what you want, and start trying to engage with your wife, the same way you engage with these women. It’s not going to be an instant fix and will take a solid month of stopping the old behavior and starting the new one to rewrite your way of thinking.
It could also be helpful to have a discussion with your wife about you feeling under-stimulated and needing to do something more fun and engaging. I wouldn’t blurt out exactly what you’ve been doing up until now, but it’s certainly not a bad idea to state what you actually need from her.