DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve been dating a particular woman (call her L) for over a month now. We’re pretty interested in each other, and if things continue like this, we’ll likely be in an official relationship soon. So far, so good, right?
With many other women, we’ve had sex by the 5th date. With L, we’ve been on 7 dates, made out multiple times on my bed, but no sex. That’s fine–I don’t want to rush her if she’s not ready. She also implied that she’s inexperienced with men, so maybe she’s a bit nervous sexually. I asked her briefly about this and she said she would be willing later in the relationship, and I didn’t press her to explain more.
I’m assuming L would eventually *want* to bang, just when she’s comfortable. But maybe not? Maybe her threshold is “1 year of dating”? I don’t want to wait a long time to find out I’m emotionally invested in someone who I’m not sexually compatible with (like, having the desire to have sex at least once a week).
How do I bring this topic up without sounding like I’m a dumb, horny dude?
Waiting To Begin
DEAR WAITING TO BEGIN: First of all, WTB, I want to say that you’re making the right choice to talk about this. In the early days of a relationship, especially one you see that might potentially go the distance, it’s important to prioritize sexual compatibility. While not every couple is going to have scorching hot sex right off the bat – sometimes you need to get in synch with one another, and that takes time – the fact is that the sexual connection on the whole isn’t going to change over time. If the two of you aren’t on the same sexual frequency, then all that’s going to happen is that the discord and feedback from that mismatch will build over time and make you both miserable. Better to figure that out now than after months or years down the line.
And that may mean leaving her to find someone who’s on the same timeline as you are, sexually. I know that breaking up with someone because she wanted to wait to have sex can seem like a jerk move. But the truth is that it’s better for her to be in a relationship with someone who wants the same things she does. If that’s not you, then letting her be free to find someone else is the kindest thing you could do.
So let’s talk about how to thread this particular needle.
First and foremost: don’t apologize for wanting to talk about the sexual side of your relationship. One of my rules for when it comes to relationships is that you need to be able to talk about your wants and needs with them. This is true about whether this relationship is one that you anticipate lasting for years, or one that you’re only expecting to last the night. After all: they’re not Jean Grey and you’re not Professor X. They can’t read your mind, you can’t read theirs and neither of you can project your thoughts into someone else’s brain… no matter how hard you try.
That means that if there’s something you need from this relationship or a boundary that you need them to be aware of, you should feel like you can bring it up without fear. If you can’t talk to somebody about what you want to do to them or what you want them to do to you… well, then you probably shouldn’t be sleeping with them and you definitely shouldn’t be dating them. The sooner you get in the habit of communicating openly and clearly, the better your relationships will be.
And if they get angry, get judgmental or otherwise react badly to trying to talk about what you need… well, that’s a pretty good indicator that maybe you should run like all of Hell and half of Hoboken are after you.
Now this doesn’t mean that you can just sit down and say “So, I really want to f
k and I want to know if that’s gonna happen or not.” That’s a great way to shut things down with a quickness.
What you want to do is have a defining-the-relationship variation on the Awkward Conversation. Start by scheduling a talk. You want to actually set time aside for this; you both want to make sure that you have the chance to speak and also to process what they have to say. Plus, scheduling a time to talk about things means that you’re not going to suddenly drop this on her right as the two of you are making out or a time that might imply that you’re expecting sex right now.
Next: explain that the reason you want to talk about this with her is that you want to make sure you and she are on the same page. Let her know that you are just looking to understand where she’s coming from and you want to ensure that what she’s saying and what you’re hearing are the same thing. Let her know that you’re a little hesitant to bring this up because you don’t want to make her feel pressured, but you feel it’s important to talk about. Share your thoughts about what sexual compatibility means to you and why it’s important to you. Do not mention how many dates you went on with other women before the relationship became sexual; that will just make her feel like you’re complaining about how long it’s taken.
Tell her that you understand that she wants to wait until she’s ready before she sleeps with you, that you respect that and that you are in no way asking her to make up her mind right now. All you want to know is what does that look like to her. What, in her ideal world, would come together that would let her feel ready and eager to have sex?
Then let her give her thoughts. Do your best to just listen, patiently. She may be nervous. She may never have put this into words before. This means that she might stumble over her words or have to pause to think of how to phrase things. Give her the verbal space to do so, without pushing or trying to fill in the gaps for her. The more that you can give her a safe, non-judgmental space to unpack her thoughts on the matter, the more comfortable she’ll be sharing them with you.
Wait until she’s finished, then ask clarifying questions, if you have any. Make sure that you understand where she’s coming from; rephrase it in your own words, if necessary.
Keep in mind: this may take time. This may have to be more than one conversation. She may need to take a break from talking about it, especially if she gets flustered or embarrassed. The more that you can be accepting and patient, the easier it’ll be for the both of you.
After that… well, that’s going to be up to the two of you. If what she needs to be ready to say yes to sex are things that you feel comfortable giving – or that you can give – then by all means, do so. If what she needs is more than you can give or more that you’re willing to give, then the best thing you can do is to say “I respect that and I don’t think I’m the right person for you,” and let her go. She may be an amazing person and you two have a great time together, but that incompatibility means that you two won’t work out as a couple. Better to leave early and part as friends than to try to force two incompatible needs together.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I wonder if my partner and I should see a therapist together. We’ve been together for a little over two years, and while we love each other and have been exclusive since the beginning, we keep facing these difficult challenges:
My mom doesn’t approve of our relationship because I am a Christian and he is not (though he is not antagonistic towards my faith and even comes to church with me sometimes). He is nothing but nice to her, so it pains both of us that we don’t have her approval.
That being said, I could do with a little more connection on the spiritual level. He knows my faith is important to me but I do wish he’d take more initiative to talk to me about it (I’m not trying to convert him, but showing more interest in this big part of my life would be a reassurance).
When we met, I was (mostly) a “virgin” and he was definitely not, and while that was never really an issue it has created some resentment on my part because I never got to explore and develop my sexuality the way he did. We’ve talked about opening up the relationship but we keep putting it on the back burner.
We both lost a close family member last year, within a few months of each other. It’s created a lot of stress and deep pain for both of us, which hasn’t completely healed (and we’re realistic, we know it will probably take a long time).
We are planning on moving in together in a few months. I am concerned because he is very driven and committed to his career, and I am still figuring out what I want to do career-wise. I worry that what I want won’t matter as we continue to solidify our relationship, and that I will get dragged along with him wherever his career takes him because I’m not solid in my own career yet.
That being said, the good parts: he is the kindest, most compassionate man I’ve ever met, and he loves me better than anyone on earth. He completely trusts me, he’s considerate of my feelings, and he’s super communicative and funny, to the point that makes me feel foolish for worrying so much.
Is therapy too big of a first step? I feel like we have a lot of things to talk about and I am concerned about presenting my feelings on all of this to him on my own in case it feels like an attack/coming out of nowhere. Still, I think my worry is justified. It’s a lot for a couple to deal with all at once, and if we’re going to take a step as big as moving in together, I think these things should be addressed thoroughly and with an outside, unbiased perspective.
I would greatly appreciate your input, and the input of your readers.
DEAR THERAPY, OR: I picked your letter, TO, because one of the things I want to drive home to folks is that couples counseling isn’t just for couples in crisis. A lot of people see talking to a counselor as something you only do when things have gone horribly horribly wrong and you can’t fix it on your own. Of course, once they get to that point, there are often many issues to deal with – issues that may never have gotten to that point if you’d addressed them earlier.
Think of your relationship like a car. Occasionally you’ll get a knocking sound, the engine will feel like it’s off or the check engine light comes on. Many times it’s nothing; other times, that’s the first indicator that something needs to be tweaked. If you leave it, it might go away on its own or it might just stay as a quirk of the car. But other times, that minor problem is the precursor to a larger, much more significant problem… something that could even do serious damage to vital systems. That’s why it’s generally a good idea to take the car in and make sure everything’s fine.
So it is with relationships. Often the best time to deal with an issue is early on, before it grows into something more significant that may affect the other aspects of your relationship.
Right now you and your sweetie have some minor concerns – the relationship version of a weird knocking sound. Are these issues that will definitely affect your relationship? Maybe yes, maybe no. Going to talk to a counselor – even if it’s just to reassure yourself that everything is fine – can make a huge difference.
Plus: part of what a good relationship counselor does is facilitate conversations, especially difficult ones. They help you figure out just what it is you need to say and help you say it in a place where you can feel free to express yourself. Having someone guide you through those conversations may help make things proceed much more smoothly than they might otherwise. Plus, it can help give you the tools you both need to address your needs in the future… a way of dealing with that check-engine light if you will.
I don’t think that what you’re asking for is too much, TO. It seems pretty sensible and reasonable to me from where I sit. All I would suggest is that you make sure you choose a good, sex-positive counselor, especially if you’re going to want to talk about your feelings about your different levels of sexual experience. Fortunately, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT.org)has a referral directory on their site to help you find a certified professional in your area.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)