Ask Augusten Burroughs: Love After Infidelity--Plus Advice on Growing Up Gay
Memoirist turned self-help strategist Augusten Burroughs continues his guest advice columnist stint here on Omnivoracious--to kick off the release of his latest book, This Is How--with answers to two perplexing questions sent in by his readers: Can love outlast infidelity? And how can a gay guy find his way to the life he wants? Read on...
Can a relationship really survive an infidelity? Or will someone in the relationship always be a pumpkin eater? —Anonymous
The question really isn’t can a relationship survive infidelity, but rather, should it survive, and do both parties want it to?
From a theological perspective at least, monogamy is both desired and expected. But for couples who define their relationships in terms broader than those offered by conventional religions, monogamy may be neither expected nor desired.
Assuming, though, that this infidelity you speak of is within the context of a marriage or partnership where monogamy has been the assumption, here’s the important question: why did the affair occur?
Why was there a breakdown in communication? What need was not being met within the relationship? This can be complicated. Sometimes, an unmet need has nothing to do with more colorful sex but rather, the illicitness of an affair itself, the danger, the threat of being caught. Some people are attracted to the forbidden, and you don’t always know this about another person when you become involved with them—because they may not even know it themselves.
Understand just what happened and why it happened. If an affair occurs and is concealed, it can be the deception, more than the sex, that stings the hardest. This makes people guarded and mistrustful, wondering what else is being hidden. But these trust-based anxieties could possibly be alleviated with communication. If your partner is able to open up completely and share their own thinking, the sort of path-of-bricks-made-from-thoughts-and-feelings that led them to this other person; in other words, if you sense genuine transparency from your partner, the rip in your trust may be reparable.
An affair can also be a passive, pass-the-buck approach to ending a relationship that is unhappy for one partner. “The affair” can be the reason “it didn’t work.” An affair is like a huge set piece on a stage that sucks up all the lighting and attention, so that one’s true motivation for the affair (unhappiness in the marriage, for example) can remain concealed.
There’s no easy answer for this question because there are as many variables as there are people. But there is always one action that can be taken right away to help determine the underlying health of your relationship, and this action is to talk. But this takes two people, and both of them need to be willing to be flawed in front of the other.
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself if the total value of what you and your partner share together is—for both of you—of greater value than the compromise of physical intimacy and trust. --Augusten
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How do I find my way being gay? I want to be a million things. I work out, take my vitamins and still can't find the balance. How do I go to college for what I want to do? How do I know when to have kids? When to seriously date? When do I have a career and do I not get to go to circuit parties anymore? When do I know that I'm done with Bacardi? Where is the rule book? How do I find my way?
I love you and your books.
You’ve asked several huge questions and wouldn’t you know it, every single question you asked can only be answered by you.
How do you find your way being gay? Well, that’s a start. You find your way being gay by knowing that’s what you are and not trying to talk yourself into being another way.
It’s good to want or want to be a million things. Some of the things you want, you’ll probably get. But it’s not within the realm of possibility that you’ll have all the things you want, all when you want them. Wanting a lot in life is a lot like writing a book; it seems impossible at first because there are so many words, so many pages. But ultimately, even the longest book in the world was written just one letter at a time. One thing at a time.
How do you go to college for what you want? That’s a simple one. On the form where it asks you to check the box next to your desired major, check that box. It may be the case that your parents are very firm in what they want for you. But your parents were absolute fools if they thought they could get away with having children and never experience any disappointment or lack of control. This is your life. This is your education. It has to be your choice and your choice alone. Period. But individuality is expensive and do not think you’ll be able to make this choice for free in life. You may have to pay in the form of managing the downfall that results when the expectations around you collapse and shatter onto the floor.
As for knowing when to seriously date? No date should ever be weighted with the expectation or assumption of being, The Date. Go on dates as your actual self, be as nervous as you are or are not and focus not on whether your hair looks OK as you sip your drink but rather on the other person. Dates should be wonderful opportunities to get outside your own mind and world and crawl into somebody else’s.
How will you know if you’re in love? You will know. And until you know, you won’t know.
The time to stop going to circuit parties typically coincides with the point at which a person asks himself, “How much longer should I be doing this?”
When will you have a career? That depends. If you know what you want to do and are equipped now to do it, your career can begin when you reach the period at the end of this sentence; otherwise you might have to learn stuff first.
All of which is to say, this is your life. It belongs entirely to you. You may do with it as you wish. Others may influence or inspire you, but they cannot control you. You are the only author of your present and future.
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See more brutally honest, compassionate advice from Augusten in last week's column and in This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. It's one of our Amazon Editors' top 10 picks for the Best Books of May.