Cheater, Cheater: Why am I only attracted to married people?

Q:

Having traveled the marriage route, done the domestic partner thing and been down the breakup and divorce roads, I am finally realizing that the single life is for me. Too many times, I was hurt so deeply, two-timed so frequently and played so thoroughly that keeping relationships casual feels just right for me.

My trouble is that, despite their assurances of the opposite, most single people deep down want that one magical date that turns into their ever-after. It physically turns me off of being romantic or sexual with them, but I found a work-around, albeit one that bothers me: Dating married people.

Online ads for people looking to cheat on their partners guarantee my desire to remain uncommitted. Just the thought of helping them cheat through clandestine liaisons and hit-em-and-quit-em encounters turns me on.

On one hand, the cheating is their problem and not mine. On the other, having been the cheated-upon partner — the one sitting at home wondering, the one on the receiving end of all that toxicity — I feel guilty as hell. What is wrong with me? Why am I attracted almost exclusively to married people?

Dear Cheater:

Avoiding commitment to protect yourself is only the foundation of your fortress against vulnerability. That alone would not be simple to dismantle, but you’ve got multiple layers of emotional walls on top of it.

It seems you internalized the pain of risking emotional intimacy to the point that it releases the adrenaline of revenge. Over time, you taught yourself to release it as sexual energy. You felt powerless in your past relationships, but the power in that scenario didn’t lie with your ex either — it lies with the "other" person with no strings attached.

From your fortress, you finally have the power. At least until reality sets in.

These other people got the best parts of your exes — the sex, intimacy and romance. You got the dregs — lies, coverups and gaslighting. On top of that, there’s built-in intrigue and drama. Now you get to be the tempter, the forbidden one. You are the mysterious and alluring sexual fantasy, and that feels pretty good in the moment. 

After the moment passes, though, you feel guilty, and that’s good news: It means buried under your own baggage, you’re thoughtful and caring. You feel bad because you are participating in hurting someone else, and that’s not who you want to be.

Your work to protect yourself almost worked too well. Years on, you may be ready to start disassembling the fortress. You don’t have to date for permanence, and you may never want to, but you can address your feelings around vulnerability, emotional safety and attraction.

Consider professional help to become more open with others, including potential dates who are available to you without the baggage. Fantasy roleplay could spark the sexual excitement without the real-life fallout. Experiment with your concept of yourself and what you deserve.

Illustration by Brad Gibson

The Q is intended for entertainment, not professional help. Send your burning Qs to [email protected].

This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Find past editions of The Q advice colum here, and read the latest issue online here:

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