This is a really hard thing to write. I recently went through my partner’s phone. (Yikes I know. I wanted to know what he got for my birthday). While scrolling in the web history I found he’s been watching gay porn and Googling personal ads on Craigslist. He’s in his fifties and I’m about two decades younger than him so I’m a little bit more open about my sexuality.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the porn he’s watching. I’m hurt he would keep this from me. I’m a bisexual, proud lady and have expressed that I couldn’t care less about his sexual preference and have even hinted about him exploring it.
What does concern me, is him being interested in personals. Since they’ve been taken down off of Craigslist [after the passing of SESTA/FOSTA (see “Taking to the Streets: Local sex workers speaking out on how new anti sex trafficking law endangers them,” May 10 – 23, 2018)] I cannot be certain what kind of personal ad he was looking at. But I assume that any personal ad meetup would’ve been done behind my back.
I’ve approached my partner about both of these things. While we agree the he wasn’t doing anything wrong in the porn aspect, I just wish he would be open and honest with me and himself. He completely denies even Googling the ads.
How do I move forward from this? If he’s curious about exploring his sexuality, how do I let him know I’m here for him? Since he comes from a different generation than me, I’m afraid he’s in denial about what he really wants.
How do I keep my relationship happy and healthy like it was before and help my boyfriend (and me) figure things out?
Duped by My Snoop
Something that’s really cool about porn is that it allows us to explore fantasy from the safety of our phone screens, minds, and perhaps a carefully-selected sex toy or two. If your partner is indeed exploring his potential attraction to other men, it might be the case that browsing Craigslist personal ads (R.I.P.) is an extension of that fantasy — a fantasy that may or may not have come to fruition in reality had they not been yanked from the internet.
Exploration via fantasy that never becomes reality is a common form of sexual expression. Fantasy can also be a safe way to test out one’s theory that “Hmm, maybe I’m into this.” Whether he was indeed planning to meet up with Craigslist dudes or not, my strongest piece of advice for you, Duped, is to take care of your side of the street here, and not his.
While it’s wonderful that you want to make space for his sexual explorations, these things need to happen on his terms and not yours. Rarely ever does a satisfying, empowering, fully-realized coming out story start with “So then I pointed at my boyfriend and was like look you’re obviously bisexual so just come out already and explore it!”
Sexuality is a spectrum and sometimes that spectrum looks like just lookin’ on the internet. Let that be okay.
Kick back about his sexuality and instead, clarify the boundaries that are about you. If the boundaries of your relationship include “Hey, don’t secretly hook up with strangers from the internet,” then you’re right to address this (potential, unconfirmed) deception. Clarify the boundaries moving forward, whether that looks like “We are 100 percent monogamous” or “It’s fine with me if you want to hook up with other people just let me know first.”
Part of the price of admission to this relationship, Duped, is your generational difference which, you’re consenting to navigate by being in a relationship with him. Perhaps you’re right that he has more generational barriers to contend with than you do when it comes to sexual self-awareness. But, this is also something you can’t navigate for him or even necessarily better than he can.
For now, work on building a culture of honesty, trust, and self-determined self growth in your relationship all around (which, it bears mentioning, a snoop through a phone no matter the motivation does not contribute to positively).
Give your partner permission, yes, but don’t give him a push. There’s a difference between letting someone know that the door is open and yanking them through it. Focus on this difference in your next moves.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.