Subscriber OnlyHealth

‘I'm dating a guy I really like but am tempted to sleep with someone else’

‘Even though I’m not in an exclusive relationship, I think I’d feel like it was cheating’

Dear Roe,

I’m a 33-year-old gay man, and I’ve been dating a man for three months. It started off casually, but now I really like him. He’s funny and passionate and kind, and we have a very close connection. We chat every day, spend a couple of nights a week together, the sex is great, and I feel like we’re getting close to officially being a couple. We haven’t yet talked about being exclusive, but I haven’t been sleeping with anyone else since the first month, and I don’t think he is sleeping with anyone else.

But an old flame of mine has recently become single, and has indicated that he wants some friends-with-benefits sex. I no longer have emotional feelings for this man, but the sex was always fun. I'm tempted to sleep with him, but part of me feels guilty for wanting to. Even though I'm not in an exclusive relationship, I think I'd feel like it was cheating. I don't know if that's naive though, and a sign that I'm too attached to someone who hasn't made a commitment to me – or if it's a terrible idea that could screw things up with the man I'm dating.

In the interests of clarity, I'm going to give the men in this vague sexual triangle aliases. So let's call the man you're dating Mark Darcy, and your old sexy flame Daniel Cleaver – and if you watched any rom-coms during the early aughties, then you know where my allegiances lie already.


Are you allowed to have some no-strings-attached sex with Daniel Cleaver? Yes. You’re a grown man who is officially single; you’re allowed to have consensual sex with whoever you like.

Should you? No.

You have hit the dating holy grail with Mark Darcy. You have found a kind, funny, passionate man who you share a connection with; a connection that is palpable and stable and shared mutually. You are intimate, you spend a lot of time together, you’re both emotionally invested in each other, and even though you’re not yet official, your relationship-with-a-lowercase-r is meaningful and worthwhile.

What else tells me that what you have with Mark Darcy is meaningful and worthwhile? That you’re writing to me questioning the wisdom of sleeping with Daniel Cleaver. That you feel like you’d be cheating on Mark Darcy.

And sometimes that feeling, that sense of loyalty and empathy and connection to someone may not perfectly align with the official status about your relationship. That doesn’t mean you ignore it. It means you examine the feeling and explore what it’s telling you about your relationship, and how it’s evolving.

Official status

Because if we were to just look at the official status of your relationship with Mark Darcy, which is that you’re not together and not exclusive, then sure – go have sex with Daniel Cleaver. You don’t owe Mark monogamy yet, and even if he found out about Daniel and was hurt, he wouldn’t really have any right to be angry with you.

But you still shouldn’t really have sex with Daniel Cleaver. Because this isn’t about rules. This isn’t about being allowed to do something. Because this isn’t an intellectual exercise in who has the right to emotions. This is your life. This is about building a relationship with someone you really like, and someone with and to whom you already share a sense of loyalty.

You feel this because this man has become important to you, and you want to have a relationship with him. And part of liking someone and building a relationship with them is giving yourself the space to let those feelings grow.

That can’t happen if you clutter that space with other emotional distractions – such as Daniel Cleaver. And you may tell me that your sex with Daniel Cleaver is emotion-free – but that’s not true anymore. You might not feel any emotions about Daniel Cleaver himself, but you do already feel emotions about sex with Daniel Cleaver, and what sex with Daniel Cleaver means for you and Mark Darcy.

The rules

And while, according to “the rules”, Mark Darcy wouldn’t have a right to be hurt or angry if you slept with Daniel Cleaver, he still might. People’s emotions rarely adhere to rules, and life doesn’t play out like a debate. You could lose Mark Darcy. Being “right” about the rules of this scenario won’t matter an iota if he just leaves.

There will always be men available for commitment-free sex, be they Daniel Cleaver or other people. Men who are kind and smart and passionate, and with whom you share a connection that is heading somewhere? They’re rarer, and I think you know that. So focus on keeping the road clear to see just how far you can go. That’s not naive. It’s hope. And that’s beautiful.

By the way? This might be a great conversation to have with Mark Darcy himself. Tell him how you’re feeling, how you feel good about your connection and want to focus on it, and are wondering if he feels the same. Hope is beautiful. Finding out that your hopes are shared is magic.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford.

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at