The Humanist Dilemma: Friend with Benefits—And Wedding Ring

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A Complicated Arrangement: I recently discovered that a man I’ve had a “friends with benefits” arrangement with is married. I did not expect this to be a long-term relationship and neither did he (obviously). Is it immoral of me to continue to see him?

I didn’t take any vows of marriage here. Though my involvement will obviously have a negative effect on an already not-so-great marriage, must I break it off? I’ve been told it would be immoral of me to continue to see him, but I, unlike him, have not made any commitments to another person.

I Never Made Any Promises


Dear Promises,

Short answer: No, you’re not obligated to break it off. You took no vows and made no promises, and it would not be immoral on your part to continue—unless you feel it is.

Longer answer: Your question suggests you do think it’s immoral of him to have this relationship with you, which muddies the waters you’re wading in. This man has not been honest with you, nor with his wife—and maybe not even with himself. He was looking for some extramarital action, and if it wasn’t with you, it very likely would have been with someone else, so no, you’re not to blame for his infidelity. But it also seems as though you don’t have a full picture of his side of the situation. Maybe he and his wife have an open marriage. Maybe his dalliance with you actually strengthens his bond with his wife (i.e. why leave your wife if you can have her plus friendly benefits?). Or maybe his marriage is about to self-destruct, and the dynamic between you and him may shift. Maybe he’ll want to become more involved with you. Maybe you’ll want to become more involved with him. Maybe you won’t.

Please ask yourself: If you had known up front he was married, would you have embarked on the relationship? Now that you do know, does that affect how you feel about him and what you two are doing?

If you enjoy this bond for whatever it is, perhaps there’s no reason for you to step back. But if you wouldn’t have embarked on this had you known he was married, or if you feel uncomfortable now that you do know (which your letter suggests), you may want to put on the brakes. Be careful that you aren’t settling for or denying yourself things you may want that this relationship can’t provide—whether it’s more commitment and openness, or a person who is trustworthy and honest with you. Make sure you tell yourself the whole truth, even if he doesn’t.