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My Fianc?e Left Me Because Of My Past Porn Use

Question:

My fiancée just left me. She was everything to me. I loved her more than I knew was possible. I thought I was wholly and unreservedly devoted to her and our dreams. She left me because she found out I had lied about when I stopped looking at internet porn–I stopped when she came to live with me, but I had told her I had stopped long long before that. The combination of the shock of finding the evidence on my computer, and the realization that I had lied to her face, made her leave. She went back home, 2000 miles away, and I think we are really over, and I don’t know how to deal with it–deal with knowing that I threw destroyed both our dreams and wounded her, perhaps permanently. I never wanted to do anything wrong by her. I would have served her and honored her and shared myself with her completely. But apparently there is a division in myself that I don’t understand or I never would have lied to her to begin with. How do I make something right out of this? How can I live with this?

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Answer:

First of all, let me say simply that I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your relationship. It sounds like you were very devoted to your fiancée and attached to her, and it must feel very devastating to not have her around in your life anymore. Time tends to heal these sort of wounds, but some times a very long time must pass before this occurs. I hope that you will experience a speedy recovery from the emotionally painful place you find yourself in.

You are grieving right now. Something big and very important to you has died, and it will take time for you to adjust to your new reality. Allow yourself time to grieve, please. It is okay to grieve. You can view our Grief topic center for more information on the grief process.

Sometimes there are small silver linings present inside dark clouds. You have learned something about yourself that you were not aware of before. More or less what you have learned is that though you were indeed devoted to your fiancée, you also have a porn habit that you are devoted to. I’m not making light of you by saying this or trying to judge you. Simply taking inventory of the things you find yourself devoted to. You may not have wanted to admit this second devotion to yourself before now (or at least acknowledge it in the detail you are presently forced to), but I’m of the opinion that ultimately, self knowledge is a good thing. You can’t take seriously what you don’t acknowledge.

You are by no means alone in your porn habit. A great number of men have porn habits. Men don’t tend to talk about their porn habits for a variety of reasons which I will comment on in a moment, but they are there nevertheless. The anonymity of the Internet, and the ease with which porn can be accessed on the Internet have made porn habits more common and perhaps more involved than they used to be (pre-internet), but even in the old days, pornography was a multi-billion dollar part of the economy.

Despite its popularity, porn is not a respectable habit. Anonymity and porn are connected, because there is so much shame attached to porn use.

Many (most?) women don’t like it when men use porn because they interpret porn use by their partners as evidence of their own failings, and as a variety of adulterous behavior (along the lines of an actual sexual/emotional affair with another woman). They also tend to feel a strong betrayal of trust when they learn their men are using porn; they are offended that there is a part of their partner’s sexuality that they have not been invited to participate in, and offended that secrets have been kept.

For their part, men tend to not talk about their porn use with other men, or with their partners. One reason for this is because men are not generally socialized to become expressive talkers and self-disclosers. Another is because porn use is generally about masturbation, and masturbation is not the type of sexual behavior that earns a man bragging rights among his peers. Those men who are inclined to brag about sex will brag about seducing women (or other men – depending on their preferences); There is nothing particularly studly about "making the scene with a magazine" as the singer Tom Waits once put it.

Porn/masturbation also seems to be associated with a different sort of sexual need than regular partnered sex. Partnered sex, even with a very understanding laid-back partner, is a performance, or at least it is a social event. Consequently, there are typically various social anxieties associated with the act. Masturbation, on the other hand, is a solo event done in private (most of the time). It is not associated with any of the anxieties or performance pressures that come with partnered sex. It can simply be about release, pleasure and the freedom to indulge in private sexual fantasies. The men I have talked with about these things typically report they are interested in both partnered and solo forms of sexuality. They don’t, however, typically feel comfortable discussing their solo sexuality desires with their partners (in part for reasons described above).

From these motives and fears comes the disconnect between how men regard porn differently in private and public contexts. Your own experience would appear to be typical. At times in your life, you have found porn to be compelling, I’m guessing, because it has met particular needs for you that you are not keen on sharing with others. I’m guessing you were not honest with your fiancée about your porn use because you were ashamed of it even as you desired it, and because you feared that she would react negatively to you if she knew you had used it. If your assessment of why she has left you is accurate, you weren’t wrong.

While it was dishonest of you to lie about your porn use, we have to place that lie in context, I think. Many people are not entirely honest about their pasts (or even presents), even with their most intimate partners. A certain amount of so-called "white lies" are told so as to keep the peace, and because people are not typically brave or blunt enough to make full, unvarnished self-disclosures. It is also the case that relationships can bear different amounts of truth at different stages of their maturity. It is almost never a good idea to be completely and absolutely vulnerable and honest with a partner when in a newly formed relationship. To do so is almost certain to frighten the partner away. A more mature relationship, with more mutual investment, can bear more weight, but sometimes even when partners appreciate that this is the case, they are still frightened of "rocking the boat", sharing too much, and frightening their partners away from them. And some partners cannot easily face (or perhaps more generously, are prone to misinterpret) the naked truth, unfortunately (forgive the pun). It would have been very brave and very confident and very blunt of you to have told your partner about your porn use. It might have also been the end of your relationship. In my experience, many people are not entirely brave, at least not when the alternative of a white lie seems like it will keep the peace better.

You have no control over what your fiancée does next. You can invite her to come back to you, and you can promise (quite sincerely) to make changes in how you relate to her that she will appreciate. You can actually make those changes. The one thing you can’t do is force her to return to you. You do have control over how you choose to use porn in the present, and in the future, and (perhaps more importantly) what you choose to tell future partners about your porn use. You also have a choice in the future as to whether you will choose to seek out (or stay with) a partner who cannot tolerate the idea that you use (or have used) porn. Not all women find porn offensive, and not all women find porn offensive based on its sexual content. Some women seem to find the idea that their partners were not truthful with them to be the most painful part of coping with porn. Your present predicament seems to have been caused by a number of factors, primary among them the particular attitudes held by your fiancée, and your decision to not be entirely honest with her. In the future, you can choose to be more honest than you were in this recent instance, and you can decide to not stick around to invest in a relationship with a woman who is uncomfortable with your actual sexual desires and behaviors.

In closing, I want to point out that porn use does seem to have quasi-addictive potentials (it can easily become a difficult to dislodge habit) and that some men (and women too, I suppose) end up using it "responsibly" while others don’t or can’t. If your porn use becomes compulsive and/or threatens to disrupt your life and important relationships, the best course of action you could take would be to hire a professional therapist (I believe a behaviorist or cognitive-behaviorist therapist would be the best choice) to help you get yourself under better control.

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