By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a single guy who started a “friends with benefits” thing two months ago with an unhappily married female co-worker. We’ve since developed feelings for each other and started talking about a future. I’m worried because people always say, “If she cheated with you, she’ll cheat on you.” And because she’s unhappy with her husband, does that mean she’ll eventually be unhappy with me and see it as reason to cheat?—Hesitant
A: There are many people who cross ethical lines at work, but most of them just do it by taking home Post-its or a stapler.
OK, sure, have a FWB thing, but with a married co-worker? What happened—too overworked to swipe right on Tinder? And as for why your co-worker started outsourcing her sex life, there’s an assumption that people cheat because they’re in crappy marriages or relationships. And maybe her marriage is unhappy. But infidelity researcher Shirley Glass found that even people in happy, loving marriages can end up cheating. They do this for a variety of reasons: More sex, better sex, different sex (men especially go for variety), or sometimes just because “she isn’t bad-looking and there’s an empty office with a big couch two doors down.”
As for whether this woman would cheat on you, that depends on whether she’s the sort of person who cheats. And no, that isn’t as idiotic as it sounds. Evolutionary psychologists David Buss and Todd Shackelford found that there are personality traits common to people susceptible to cheating. One of the strongest predictors is “narcissism”—a personality trait marked by self-importance, self-absorption, a profound sense of entitlement and a lack of empathy.
Another big predictor is “low conscientiousness,” reflected in unreliability, disorganization, laziness and a lack of self-control. And finally, there’s the unfortunately Norman Batesy-sounding “high psychoticism”—researcher-ese for a mix of aggressiveness, impulsivity and an inability to delay gratification. Sound like anybody you’ve met in the janitor’s closet recently?
Even if this woman checks out personality-wise, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what’s possible after she gets divorced. That is, if she gets divorced—if this thing with you doesn’t turn out to be “affair-apy” (a little sexual tide-me-over until she can patch things up with her husband). Regardless, you should take the time—a year or more—to parse who she really is and whether she and her husband are simply two (irreconcilably) different people or whether he just watches a wee bit too much ESPN when he comes home. If you’re lucky, you’ll find these things out from her, and not in some awkward moment at the end of the workday when you finally get a chance to, uh, chat with her husband—through the windshield as you’re clinging to the hood of his moving car.
Q: I’m a woman, married for a year to a great guy. The problem is that he’s too gentle when he touches or kisses me, and I’m starting to get really frustrated in bed. I know I should have let him know what I really like a long time ago. How can I do this now without hurting his feelings?—Embarrassed
A: It’s hot to have a husband who’s kind of an animal in bed—except if that animal is Hello Kitty.
Words, who needs ’em? Maybe you figured he’d get the hint from your body language—maybe because you’re pretty sure that you would have if the tables were turned. Well, research by social psychologist Judith A. Hall finds that women are far better at spotting and decoding nonverbal messages (in facial expressions and body language). This makes evolutionary sense, considering a mother’s need to suss out what’s wrong with her 6-month-old (who is unable both to speak and to get on the internet at 3am to self-diagnose his diaper rash as a brain tumor).
Still, you don’t have to give him a poor performance evaluation (ouch!) or go into sex ed lecturer-like detail. Instead, take the Gene Hackman approach. Hackman reportedly informs movie directors that the only directions he’ll take are “louder, softer, faster, slower.” (You might want to supplement those with “harder” and “rougher.”)
To encourage greater openness, ask him what his sexual fantasies are (which should lead to the question, “Well, what are yours?”)—and do your best to deliver on any that don’t involve illegal acts with livestock.
You might also watch movies together with sex scenes that are more G.I. Jane than Jane Austen—like the 2005 movie Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Then, when you’re in bed, suggest Mr. & Mrs. Smith-style,” and he should get what you mean. Before long, when you tell your friends that sex with your husband is “dreamy,” it won’t be because you usually doze off during it.