DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Long story short: we’ve been married 17 years, dated for about ten before that. Sex and kissing and everything else was, frankly, amazing in the first decade or so and, if I’m being honest, it was a strong motivator – but not exclusively – for getting married (I kind of think it always helps if you can make your partner come and they seem to enjoy being with you in bed).
Now, we hit a rough patch – mostly down to me being an a
hole with money – but we fixed things up, we had kids (and yes, I did my bit with through the night feeds and looking after them so my wife could rest), we got on with life and over time, sex dried up and became, at best, a monthly thing. Now, for a while, that didn’t bother me – we were busy, I always assumed we’d get back to where we were – but for the last few years it has really started to bother me.
I’ve brought it up and I’ve been told that she’s just not feeling that much into sex over the last number of years, which while annoying as hell, I can appreciate. I don’t want someone having sex just for the sake of shutting up their partner or for a quiet life. I’ve offered to try and do different things, all rebuffed.
Equally, when I’ve suggested things like we have a night for sex once a week, I’m told that removes the spontaneity of it, tried your tips for date nights and getting the heart racing and it was pretty much scorned as daft, I’ve tried romantic trips away, we have a good supply of babysitters, I’ve suggested that we go to counseling (that was rejected).
(Even when we do have sex, it’s me doing all the work, which again makes me think it’s only being done to shut me up.)
Now, we do do stuff together – though the wife’s preference is for going out with pals, workmates or to the gym (one thing that really annoyed me is when I suggested early morning sex, was told she would be too tired and then she started going to early morning gym classes) – and when she’s with her pals she’s more relaxed than with me (which can often feel more like a night with me, her and her phone, which you can rarely ask what she’s looking at as that bugs her though she has always maintained that she isn’t and hasn’t had any affairs).
So, as we have kids and as we aren’t screaming at each other (though we do often have very different points of view and this is something I’ve noticed more of later) and, to be honest, she is someone I like having in my life, there’s an impasse. It’s a relationship with no sex, no kissing (I could be standing in between the children and she will kiss them and not me) but I can’t see she’s done anything wrong (if anything, I feel like the a
hole here), so it very much feels like a friendship – or housemates – in many ways, which I’m not mad about but it is what it is.
So, the question is this: how do I friend-zone someone that I live with and find incredibly sexy and attractive because that may be the main way to save this relationship. I also need to work out a way of framing this relationship so that I’m not spending hours per day thinking about it and getting frustrated by it, because that – if nothing else – isn’t doing me any favours mentally, so friend-zoning may help and partially stop this marriage feeling so lonely.
Sexless in Shoreditch
DEAR SEXLESS IN SHOREDITCH: Whenever someone asks me about why their partner is no longer interested in sex, my first question is almost always “Do they see this as a problem?”
This is an important question to answer because ultimately, it’ll tell you what’s going on. After all, a lot of things can crater a person’s sex-drive: self-esteem issues surrounding age or weight, stress at work or at home, a lack of sleep, depression, certain medications… the list goes on. When you’re talking about a long term relationship, however, there tend to be two primary culprits. The first is boredom and familiarity; humans are novelty-seeking creatures, and even the most passionate relationship will cool over time when the sex is by rote – at the same time, in the same positions, etc.
The second is they’re not interested in sex with you.
And as much as I hate to say it, it sounds like the latter is your problem. It’s one thing if your wife was being an equal partner in trying to get your sex-life back on track. It’s another entirely when it seems like she’s just plain not interested in trying to fix things. And that’s a problem.
Part of what make relationships work are the offers we make to our partners – what Dr. John Gottman calls “emotional bids”. That is, when we suggest something like a date night, we’re making an offer or bid; we’re saying “I would like to do something fun and romantic with you”. The way our partners respond is to either turn towards it or to turn away from it. Agreeing and planning a date night – or suggesting another idea – turns towards the bid and, by extension, us. Ignoring the bid or refusing it, on the other hand, is turning away from it.
That’s what it sounds like your wife’s been doing, SiS. She’s turning away from your repeated emotional bids to work on both your sex life and your relationship. That…. isn’t good. Wanting to go out with friends is one thing; having a life outside of the relationship is actually good for a relationship’s longevity. The rest, however, is incredibly concerning. That lack of affection and the disregard she’s offering for both your feelings and your attempts to work on the relationship are danger signs, indicators that this relationship has deeper problems than just mismatched libidos. The fact that she’s actively disinterested in even going for counseling is even more troubling; that sounds like someone who’s checked out of the relationship entirely and is either coasting along or waiting for it to fall apart on it’s own.
You clearly want to try to save things, which is good. But I’m not sure your wife feels the same way. The best thing you can do is get ready to have an awkward conversation with her about what exactly is going on. You need to be willing to explain not just that you’re sexually frustrated, but how this makes you feel – like you’re alienated from your wife while she’s not interested in you or your relationship. You need to tell her why you feel this way, what you think will change (for the better) if you two work things out and what you’re willing to do. But then you also have to listen to what she has to say and why she feels the way she does. She might still be harboring resentments from that rough patch you mentioned that were never properly treated. There may be other issues from your marriage that’ve been bubbling under the surface that have never come up.
Or she may just be done. Done with sex, done with sex with you, or done with the relationship entirely.
The only way to know is to ask her. And then you have a choice to make: do you continue this as a companionate marriage or do you end things? Do you transition to an open relationship in order to make it possible to stay married? Do you have enough mutual respect and affection for one another that you can continue to live together as co-parents, if not lovers, or is it better for everyone involved – including your children – to start looking into a divorce?
Unfortunately, I don’t have answers for you; you’re going to have to make those decisions yourself. But it all has to start with that conversation. Otherwise, the only place left for this to go is downhill.
Good luck, man.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Since overcoming my social anxiety I’ve been going to Meetups for millennials, festivals, volunteering activities, bars and clubs looking to meet new people and new connections, and it’s been great so far in building platonic relationships with women as well as other men.
However, I’ve noticed that in the sexual/romantic department, I can’t seem to attract women my own age. However, I do seem to draw in women over 45. I’ve had women as old as 65 in bars approach me and ask me dance, and tell how adorable I am. One night in a club woman in her late 40s to early 50s asked me to dance while her husband was asleep in their hotel room above the club. Another time woman in her 50s asked if she could sit on my lap. I’ve NEVER had women my own age approach me in this way. My friends think it’s hilarious because it brings out the inevitable ”cougar” jokes. And in casual conversation older women compliment my looks and tell me how women my own age should be lining up for me. While I find it flattering and somewhat amusing, it frustrates me and hurts my self-esteem that I don’t get same attention from my preferred age group. It’s like I’m sexually invisible to women my own age. I NEVER notice millennial women showing interest in me, they never approach me, ask me to dance or even give off any body language that you frequently write about that invites me to approach them. No eye contact, nothing. It’s like I’m sexually invisible or undesirable to women my own age. I dress to impress, I have a great sense of style, wear clothes that fit, I take care of my body, and I have good hygiene, so I’m not sure what’s going wrong. I just feel like I have more in common with women my own age. If it was my body language then wouldn’t that stop the older women from approaching me as well?
Full disclosure: I’m a millennial, and I’ll be 31 next month, and my preferred dating age range consists of women between ages 24 and 36, and I’ve never had a relationship. I’ve met a lot of women my own age from these new social activities and I’ve had great conversations with them, and they always express interest in things I’m passionate about, and they say I’m a fun and interesting person to talk to but they never show any interest in taking things to that other ”step.” I’ve known exactly TWO women over the past four years who’ve made offers, but later they admitted the offers were tongue in cheek.
I don’t ask them out because I’m worried that I’m over-perceiving their interest me, or mistaking friendliness for romantic or sexual interest. I read a recent study from UT Austin that looked at single straight millennial women’s comfort when interacting with single straight men vs gay men. The study involved 153 women and all of them showed anxiety when meeting these men for the first time until the men revealed their sexual orientations. The women who were paired with gay men opened up immediately after the men revealed they were gay, whereas the women with straight men showed a lot of discomfort after those men revealed their orientation. One of the authors said that ”single straight women keep their friendliness in check when meeting single straight men for the first because they’re wary of men wanting more than a platonic relationship them.” So that just added to my reluctance to ask out millennial women in my social circle because I’m concerned that will put them off. Or am I just overthinking this?
Then there’s the approaching thing. My feminist lady friends have told me NOT to approach women at parties or bars with dating on my mind because that means I’m sexualizing them and only going by their looks. They tell me to wait until women approach me first. Like I said, that NEVER happens and has never happened. (Except for the older women.)
Another disclosure: I’m completely bald, so I wonder if that factors in. Maybe young women my age think I look too old for them?? Or is it because they have more inhibitions than older women?
I’m not going to use online dating, especially not Tinder or Bumble because, like I said, I’m bald, and I’m only 5’9. Online dating will just hurt my self esteem even further.
So is there a way to make women my own age approach me, and is my preferred age bracket ageist?
Younger Than I Look
DEAR YOUNGER THAN I LOOK: A couple things, YTIL.
First of all, the fact that you’re getting that much attention from women is a good thing, regardless of their age. The fact that women are approaching you is a sign that you’ve made quite a bit of progress.
But the reason why these older women are approaching you is because society still tells women that men are supposed to be the aggressors while women are supposed to be the passive recipients. Even today, women who shuck off gender roles tend to be viewed with suspicion (at best) by guys. Those more mature women you’re running into? They’ve reached an age where they have realized that they’re out of f
ks to give and they’re ready to toss social convention out the window. Part of why women reach their sexual peak in their 30s and 40s has far less to do with biology and far more to do with sociology. By the time women reach their 30s, they tend to be more in tune with themselves, more sexually confident and less willing to put up with the BS song and dance routine that still often defines modern dating.
So don’t take their interest as something unusual or unfortunate; it’s a positive sign of your progress.
But let’s talk about the women you’re interested in. I suspect the issue is less that you’re invisible and more that you don’t believe in your own attractiveness. You drop a lot of indicators about how you feel about your looks in your letter – especially your concerns about being 5’9″ and bald. You don’t believe that women are interested in you and so you round those indicators down. Case in point: you talk about the fact that you’re worried that you’re overestimating their interest and that you assume that you’re mistaking friendliness for interest.
That right there is the problem: you’re talking yourself out of believing that they might be interested in you because, well, you don’t believe it’s possible that they might like you. You’re ignoring potential signs because they they didn’t hop into your lap and start to wiggle. Which, honestly, most women aren’t gonna do, regardless of age.
The thing is, you’re falling victim to a lot of confirmation bias here, all based around the idea that you’re inherently unattractive and that your interest in someone is an unwanted burden that you’re dropping on them like a cat presenting them with a dead mouse. This means that you’re taking the wrong lessons from a lot of places, including your friends. Take the advice about not approaching women at bars and parties: this is bad advice. Bars and parties are explicitly social spaces, places where people go to see and be seen, to meet, mix and mingle. It’s understood that at parties and bars (assuming we’re not talking about things like professional networking events) that people are going to be social, to talk to strangers and possibly even strike up a relationship with them. That doesn’t mean EVERYONE is going to be interested in talking to strangers, but it’s part of the context of the scene. And the fact is that humans are visual creatures. Men and women both size people up by a multitude of factors, including their looks. Appearance counts towards initial attraction (though, critically, it becomes less important over time as you get to know them). You can’t tell that somebody’s a Rhodes Scholar by the way they dress, after all. Treating them as a sexual object is something to avoid – they’re a person – but the fact that you find them sexually attractive based on how they look? That’s fine and normal.
But like I said: this is confirmation bias. You’re taking the wrong lessons (and worse advice) from things, misinterpreting conclusions and ultimately cutting yourself off from potential dates and relationships. You don’t want to approach people and you also don’t want to do online dating. So… what’s left? Because sitting around and doing nothing clearly isn’t working for you either.
So you’re average height for a guy and bald. That’s fine. Neither of these is a dealbreaker, nor does it mean that you’re cursed by the universe. Some women may not date you because you’re bald, sure, but there will always be women who won’t date you for any number of reasons. Nobody out there – not Ryan Gosling, not Michael B. Jordan, not Lewis Tan – is going to appeal to everyone. Being bald is a polarizing look… and that’s a good thing. It means that the people who are into you are going to be really into you. As I’ve said before: you don’t want to be everybody’s cup of tea, you want to be a few people’s shot of whiskey. You’re better to find the people who crave you, not multitudes who think you’re ok.
You have to be willing to accept and believe in your own value and to put yourself out there. Stop talking yourself out of success, stop overthinking things and start being an active participant in your own love life.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)