DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: My problem is pretty straightforward: I’ve lost interest in sex with my wife; really, with anyone. I still can get turned on by some porn and masturbate, so the problem isn’t the plumbing (though as I’ve gotten older — I’m 40 — my erection has become less reliable and I do worry about that). Mostly, the effort to connect, to perform, to make things happen, is just freaking exhausting and not at all pleasurable for me. And when she tries to get me interested, I just feel like I’m under assault.
I’ve always had a drop off in libido over long-term relationships — I found the early meetings exciting, but over time I got less and less responsive. It happened faster in each relationship, and in just a few months in this one. Yet we stayed together, which maybe tells you something about how well we fit in some ways.
It’s been eight years together now, five years married. But we’ve made zero progress in improving our sex lives. We tried couples counseling a handful of times, but it was too emotionally intense for her and we would up canceling. (She doesn’t much like talking about emotions or anything intimate.) I’ve also been in individual therapy several days a week for four years, but while that has helped in some broader areas of my life, it hasn’t shown many results in the bedroom.
I’m at a loss as to where to go from here. I feel like I want sex, I want connection, but in the abstract only. When it becomes flesh and blood, I retreat.
I hate talking about this stuff with her. And I hate the thought of letting her into my fantasy world. (I’m generally turned on by scenes of seduction and boundary-crossing; I’ve done some voyeuristic exploration at kink events; I also have recently started to wonder if I’m bi, just judging from the porn that I’ve started to gravitate toward.) But I love her, too. I worry that I am — or maybe she and I are both — too immature, even at this late date, to ever truly connect sexually with each other or with anyone else.
What do you recommend?
Lust has Gone Bust
DEAR LUST HAS GONE BUST: I’m kind of getting the impression that you already know what you want to do, LGB and you’re asking me for permission, not help.
But let’s run with the assumption that you want to fix things before we go to the next step.
To start with, LGB, I’d recommend getting used to your own arousal patterns and behavior. Everybody has drop-offs in passion in the course of a long-term relationship; that’s part of being a mammal. But the fact that it happens in just a few months tells me that the problem isn’t the Coolidge Effect, it’s that you get bored. It sounds to me like most of what you enjoy are the early days of courtship – the new relationship energy, as polyamorists call it – when everything is fresh and new and exciting and getting your new partner in bed is, not necessarily a challenge, but requires effort. When the novelty has worn off and the new has become the norm, you get bored. It becomes less about seduction – something you say you’re aroused by – and more just part of what happens in your relationship.
Now, there are things that you can do to bring back the excitement and novelty in your sex life; one of the easiest would be to change up where and when you two have sex. Even something as simple as acting like a couple teenagers and trying to find a place to park and make out can help reconnect with that feeling of excitement and newness that you had early on. But it’s other things you say that make me suspect you have other issues going on beyond just garden-variety boredom or not being cut out for monogamy.
The first thing that leaps out at me is the fact that your wife doesn’t like talking about emotions and intimate subjects. That… is not good for a long-term relationship. Being partners means that you’re going to have to handle some intense emotional issues. It’s pretty much inevitable. If the two of you can’t sit down and be able to handle unpleasant topics together, then you’re not going to last. Trying to avoid any topic that isn’t simple and pleasant means that you aren’t going to be able to fix things; as a result, you’re just going to be sitting there, both politely trying to ignore the rot that’s setting in the middle of your relationship.
Similarly, you should be able to talk about your sex life and your fantasies. This is someone you share your life with. You’ve been part of each other’s lives for eight years; by this point, there shouldn’t be anything the two of you can’t talk about. That’s what brings me to the other big, spinning red flag in your letter.
The fact that you hate the thought of letting her in is another thing that tells me that something’s rotten in the state of Denmark beyond a need for novelty. Either you’re ashamed of your fantasies or you believe your wife would be; either way, nobody’s talking and that means that nothing can improve. If it’s the former, then you need to change up what you’re talking to your therapist about. You need to do some work on how you can get more comfortable with what actually turns you on and how you can incorporate it into your sex life (not just your fantasy life) and develop some scripts about how you can talk to your wife about them. Now, maybe it’s possible that she can’t handle your (relatively mundane) fantasies; in that case, the two of you are fundamentally sexually incompatible and there’s not much that can be done short of calling it quits and trying to part as amicably as possible.
But – and someone call Sir Mix A Lot because this is a big ol’ but coming – you don’t know how she feels about them… because frankly, neither of you are talking to each other. Not about the important stuff. That’s what you need to try to sort out before you make any decisions about the future of your relationship together.
That is, of course, assuming that you want to fix things.
But unless you’re both willing to make some serious effort, then nothing’s going to get better. You need to figure out how to let your wife in and your wife needs to be willing to meet you half-way and put in her own effort. If the two of you can’t or won’t do that… then the best thing I can say is that it’s time to start making plans about how you’re going to end things.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I moved to to a new country and city three years ago. Before I moved here, I was in my last year of college, I had a girlfriend, lots of friends, and a kick ass body due to the amounts of free time I had in College. It was great, but a chance was presented to move from a third world country to better place, and I took it.
Fast forward three years, and everything has changed. I have an awful job that is only good for paying for the bills of four days a week with 11 hours shifts, I have no friends outside of work, no girlfriend, and my kick ass body has been replaced by a 224 pounds man that I don’t recognize in the mirror.
My question is how do I start over in this new place? I want friends, a girlfriend, I want to stop feeling like s--t. I know you have to grow up at some time, but man it’s been a rough three years.
A word of advice would be nice.
Stranger in a Strange Land
DEAR STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND: It sounds like you’ve let moving to a new country intimidate you, SiSL. It’s understandable; you’re in a completely new area, on your own for the first time likely in your entire life and you don’t have the support system or social circles you had back in your home town. That’s going to do a number on your head and it’s really easy to start sticking to the safe and known, even when it sucks. And when you add in the fact that you hate your life right now… well, I’m not surprised that things aren’t going well for you. So it’s time to start making some proactive changes.
The first thing I’d say is start saving up money wherever you can and looking for a better job. It doesn’t have to be the most amazing job in the world, but it should be something that at least doesn’t kill your soul a little bit more each day. Slinging coffee, waiting tables, barbacking… if it sucks less than your current job, then give it some serious consideration. And as long as you’re looking: start trying to find things outside of work that you enjoy. You’re in a fairly sizable city – there’s going to be a lot of opportunities to indulge in your passions in ways that bring you in contact with other people. Finding MeetUps for things you’re interested, joining a for-fun sports league, even signing up for some continuing education classes will help get you out of your rut and put you in position to make more connections with people. It’ll also give you something to enjoy and look forward to instead of collapsing into sweet oblivion until you have to get up again and repeat the same process.
My final suggestion is to simply move more. Yes, I realize that working 11 hour shifts sucks your life away and leaves you feeling like slithering home is the most you can do, but your body was built to move. If you’re spending most of your time being sedentary… well, I’m not surprised you feel like ass. Even something as simple as taking a 20 minute walk, three times a week, can help you feel better, physically and emotionally. Exercise helps spur endorphins that go straight to your brain, increases blood flow and oxygenation and helps you sleep better – all of which is going to improve your mood and sense of well-being. It’s a small, simple thing, but major improvements are made up of small, simple things. Taking care of yourself, even in this small way, will go a long way towards getting you back to being the person you know you can be.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org