DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a gay man in a relationship with long-term potential. I love my boyfriend so very much, for so many reasons. I want him to be a part of my life until death. I’ve been with my boyfriend for going on 2 years, but it seems as though some things in my mind have changed. At this point in time, I’m kind of lost with what to do and how to respond to those changes that have a direct affect on him.
Firstly, I’d like to let it be known that I am not a fan of homosexual sex, but I definitely am gay. I told him all this in the beginning, but I went that extra mile for him because I love him and wanted him to be happy. A couple months in I couldn’t bear it anymore and it needed to stop, so at that point we would only do so much, and not frequently because I don’t really enjoy it. A little bit further in time and now we don’t really do it at all, it stresses me out to much and makes me feel uncomfortable and anxious. This has led me to believe that I am somewhat asexual. I expressed this to him and he understood, now there is a clear line between what we can do and not do, but he is unhappy with the lack of sex mostly because he feels like he’s missing out on life.
I was fairly attracted to my boyfriend in the beginning, but we have both physically changed quite a bit and now, I am no longer sexually attracted to him and it might be the reason why I can’t do anything at all anymore. This may be why it stresses me out so much.
Lastly, I’ve discovered that although I love my boyfriend and will certainly always put him at the top of my priorities, I genuinely enjoy flirting with others and getting to know them. I don’t care to kiss and obviously sexual, but the process of getting to know somebody and that period of flirting feels so great. I’ve started to believe now that I might have a desire to be polyamorous, something he is totally not on board with.
I feel bad, I feel like I’m hurting him with these desires and lack of sexuality, it’s not fair to him. I’ve offered to bargain but he wants this idealistic stereotypical standard definition monogomous relationship and he loves me but not more than he loves what a monogomous relationship is.
We’ve discussed breaking up, a possible solution but we love each other and shouldn’t have to put our relationship down over it. I’ve also brought up an open relationship so he can hook up with others but he doesn’t want it.
I am at a loss for what to do, I dont want to hurt him or waste his time but I love him and don’t want to loose him. He wants what he wants without any changes and I’m afraid that if I commit to him that it would destroy us as well as our relationship.
I don’t want to burn this amazing bridge that we’ve built, but my desires have changed so much and he doesn’t share them.
DEAR MID-RELATIONSHIP CRISIS: There’s a trope in our culture that’s become somewhat universal, MRC, and I kind of hate it: the idea that love is the only thing you need to make a relationship work. It makes for memorable pop songs (and bad poetry) but poor relationships. Love is a cornerstone to a relationship’s long-term success, yes, but it’s not the ONLY factor. Nor, for that matter, is it the most crucial one. Mutual respect, compatible lifestyles, beliefs and goals, and of course, sexual compatibility are all vital for making a relationship work.
But there’s another factor that nobody ever really talks about: the fact that people change and grow and the way that affects the relationship. Humans are protean creatures; we’re never the same person from one minute to the next and sometimes those changes mean that what works for you now may not work in the future.
When we don’t acknowledge that those changes happen, we make it harder for the relationship to grow and change with us. Relationships are living things too, and the ones that last in the long term are the ones that are flexible enough to change as the people involved in them do too.
This is no small part about what’s happened with you and your boyfriend, MRC. The things that brought you together in the beginning are great… but you’re not the same person you were when this relationship started. And in fairness: you warned your boyfriend up front that you’re not a sexual person. You were willing to give it the old college try for his sake but at the end of the day, this was simply something you couldn’t do any more. And while it’s true any physical changes that come with both time and settling down may have affected your willingness to keep trying, it sounds more like you’ve just reached a point where you just couldn’t any more.
And that’s real. That’s valid. While it’s good to be what Dan Savage calls Good (in bed), Giving (of pleasure) and Game (to try things, within reason), there’s also a point where you have to be willing to admit to yourself that you just can’t do some things. And for you, that may well be sex.
The other issue at hand is the that while you may be asexual – and I suggest you check out the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network – you’re not necessarily aromantic. In fact you, like many people, thrive best with the thrill of what the poly community calls New Relationship Energy. You love the emotional excitement of flirting and the novelty of a new partner, even if you’re not necessarily getting a sexual charge out of it. And again: that’s valid. That’s part of who you are. If that’s the sort of dynamic you need in your relationships to be happy, then hey, you do you, my dude.
But the things that you need to be happy in a relationship aren’t the things that your boyfriend needs. He wants a sexual connection with the person he’s in love with. He’s a happy monogomist. These are also real, valid and good. The problem is that… well, these are things that you can’t give him. You’ve tried to find compromises that worked for both of you and that hasn’t worked out either. That doesn’t make you a bad guy any more than it makes him the bad guy for not being able to be happy with what you can give him. It just means that you two may well legitimately love one another… but you simply can’t give each other what you need to be happy. Which sucks.
It’s always sad when a relationship can be loving and committed but still not work in the long term.
However, this leads to another destructive relationship trope: that a relationship that doesn’t last a lifetime is somehow bad or inferior. We’re awash in stories about Happily Ever After and loves that last Until Death Do We Part, and treat the ones that end in break-ups as tragedies. This is actually both sad and incredibly unrealistic. In promoting the idea that the only love that counts is the one that ends with one of you dying in the saddle, we devalue relationships that are loving and rewarding and short. While it’s a shame that the two of you need different things in a relationship, that doesn’t mean that you’ve wasted two years of your life. I’d say it’s quite the opposite: you two had two great years together. To quote the sage: one year of love is better than a lifetime alone. If the two of you have to end things – and I’m going to be honest, that’s where this is going – then if you can look back on your time together with fondness and hold on to the affection and respect you had for one another? Then that relationship is a success in my book. The fact that you didn’t leave the relationship feet first doesn’t negate all the good that you two had together.
I wish I had better advice for you, but the fact is, you’re right, MRC: trying to commit to what he needs will break the two of you. You’re trying to make the proverbial square peg fit into a round hole. Trying to make the relationship work out of some desire to prove that it can work, even when your basic needs are different, is a great way to foster bitterness and resentment. It’s better to part now, when you still have those positive feelings for one another, than trying to ride the relationship into the ground in an attempt to defy gravity.
But again: the fact that it seems like a break-up is in your future doesn’t mean that the relationship failed, or that your time was wasted. Not every relationship needs to be for a lifetime to be valid; not every commitment needs to be unto death in order to be sincere and real. As I’m always fond of saying: not every love story needs to be an epic poem. Some of them are only ever meant to be short stories. Some are just meant to be a dirty limerick. And that’s fine.
What’s not fine is trying to force yourself to be happy with something that, ultimately, you can’t be happy with. If you want to hold on to your love for your boyfriend… you’re going to have to let go of your relationship with him.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I never thought I’d say this, but I think I’m getting too comfortable being single. And that is not code for “I’m having all the casual sex” – since breaking up with my ex about eight months ago, I haven’t had any sex at all, and while I would like to I’ve mostly just been thinking of other things. I’ve been working on my life and enjoying experiences I wasn’t able to enjoy during my previous relationship; I have hobbies, take classes, got a new job, lost about 30 kg/66 pounds, and am really enjoying life.
For context: I’m 27, and my last partner (~2 year relationship) had serious jealousy issues after one of her exes cheated on her. She was very insecure and very, very controlling of me, to the point where I lost touch with all the friends I had had before because soothing her anxiety that I was cheating on her when I was just hanging out with friends was exhausting, and I ended up living in fear of her exploding at me if I glanced the wrong way at a woman on a billboard. She always wanted me paying attention to her, so my ability to pursue any of my hobbies collapsed, and she looked down on the hobbies I tried to maintain anyway. And she didn’t like my dietary habits, and guilted me into eat things I wasn’t comfortable eating in quantities I knew weren’t good for me, sometimes because she thought I “needed” it (I don’t need giant buttered potatoes on the regular, thanks) and sometimes because she wanted to eat something she knew wasn’t healthy but didn’t want to feel like I was judging her by not partaking. Those 30 kg I’ve lost? They weren’t there before the relationship.
So now I’m single and I don’t need to make any compromises any more. I have all the autonomy I never had in my last relationship, I can pursue any hobbies or interests I want, I can take classes and volunteer and go to community events, I can eat what makes me feel healthy and happy, and I can interact normally with other human beings without feeling like I’m being evaluated for signs of betrayal. It’s great!
It’s so great that when I recently started looking into the dating pool again, when I meet women who seem nice, I start to get really really hesitant. I do want to have someone I can share an intimate emotional bond with, and I do miss having a sexual partner, but I feel like I would end up having to close up shop in the rest of my life and submit myself to constant scrutiny if I started another relationship.
I know not everybody is my ex, but damned if it isn’t hard to feel like any relationship I get into will inevitably end up making me cut off some piece or another of my life that helps me feel fulfilled and happy now. And to some extent that’s okay – I imagine you’re trading some autonomy and space for the security and joy of a happy partnership. But I’m at a place now where I’m concerned the price is going to be too steep no matter who I end up with, and I know this isn’t a healthy place for my mind to be sitting. How can I be more thoughtful in pursuing relationships that won’t screw up my entire life, while also managing my expectations for how much compromise I’m going to need to make if I want a partner again?
Slap some sense into me with your nicely framed diploma, Doc.
-Too Happily Single
DEAR TOO HAPPILY SINGLE: There’s nothing wrong with enjoying being single for a while, THS. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with wanting strictly casual relationships if that’s your thing. If you just want to go live your own life and not have to worry about trying to fit another person into it, then by all means, you do you. That’s totally fair.
However, I would caution you against cutting yourself off from relationships out of fear of every woman being like your ex. Don’t get me wrong, I totally get why you feel the way you do. I’ve been in toxic relationships before that left me gun-shy for quite a while. It can take some time to undo the whammy your ex put on you and recognize that not everyone is like her. But you can get past it, if you’re willing to try.
So here’s what I’d suggest for you: take some time to just live your life. Date casually, with no expectation of commitment. Have no-strings sex if that’s what you want, or dates that are about going out and doing things together rather than looking to sharing your life with someone. But while you’re enjoying your life, just… pay attention. Notice how different these women are from your ex and how they’re not making demands of you. That’s all.
It’s true that there’s no settling down without settling for – if you’re going to share your life with someone, that means sharing their life too and making compromises. But by the same token, that doesn’t mean that you’re giving up your autonomy; it just means that you’re making different choices with your time because you care about your partner. That’s all. Yeah, it can take work, but it’s also not hard labor either.
But it’s totally ok if you’re not ready to date like that again. And hey, if you’re happy never doing that again, then you do you; that’s valid. Take some “me” time, let yourself recover and just live your life. You’ll know when – and if – you’re ready to date again.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)