Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the one dating advice column run by newest designated Green Lantern for Sector 2814. This week, we're talking about self-care. It's easy to get caught up in relationship drama and not realise how much of a toll it's taking on you. Sometimes you need to be willing to push back and do what's necessary for your self-interest… even if it means breaking up with someone you care about. Sometimes pain is a necessary part of healing, after all.
I have been with my girlfriend for three and a half years now and the majority of it has been amazing, but lately, it hasn't felt this way.
About a year in we started having sex problems, and by problems I mean it started to slow down, till it eventually ended up where we are now in which I get very unwanted birthday sex (unwanted because I know she's only doing it because it's my birthday, not because she wants to) and an occasional one to stop me complaining about not getting any...
I've had sex twice in the past six months, and only twice because my birthday rolled around. I never could understand why? When we first got together it was great, we had sex all the time, she was flirty, did things in unexpected places, but now, won't do anything.
We recently moved interstate to our own place with nobody else to bother us, and I've been hoping things might pick up a bit, but still nothing. I've asked her about things maybe getting a bit better for us, I tried to get things started the other night but she took the condom from my hand and threw it into the next room.
I haven't had sex now in two months, and the longest I've gone without it is eight months.
We had a huge fight one night where we sat in bed and after two years of trying to get her to talk to me she finally broke down and let me in, said she faked all the sex, said I was bad, and now I'm just afraid she's given up and that will be the end of it.
The intimacy is just gone. I never get more than a peck on the lips and literally have to force anything more out of her cause she assumes anything more than a peck will leave me wanting sex… which maybe it will, but why does it matter, we both know I'm not going to get any anyway!
I don't get to see her naked, she won't get changed in front of me, I get in trouble if I try to cop a feel.
She promised she'd try and make things easier but it's just not there, we have little fights here and there and lately our lifestyles are beginning to differ.
I just don't see it working itself out. I love her but lately, honestly, i just can't be bothered.
I'm sexually frustrated.
I feel unloved & unwanted.
I just want somebody who will appreciate me. But I am in love with her still.
Sexless In Seattle
You know what you have to do here, SiS. You need to break up with her. I wish I had happier advice for you, but your relationship is deader than the dodo and the only thing keeping you together is inertia. The sooner you ditch your girlfriend, the sooner you'll be able to start the healing process because you've got some pretty deep cuts to recover from.
What happened is that you and your girlfriend simply aren't sexually compatible. That confusion you feel is understandable; you two were hot and heavy in the early days, so what the hell happened to change her mind?
Well… chemistry, basically.
When you're in the honeymoon period of the relationship, those incompatibilities are easier to ignore or work around. When you're feeling those initial surges of dopamine and s serotonin heading straight to the pleasure centres of your brain, things that might drive you insane seem minor and you're willing to do more for your lover just because it makes them happy and that makes you happy. But eventually hedonic adaptation kicks in and that rush of dopamine doesn't affect you the same way…. and now those seemingly minor inconveniences that were easy to ignore before have become massive stumbling blocks. That lack of sexual compatibility suddenly makes it almost impossible to achieve any sort of mutual satisfaction.
Without more details, I can't tell you the exact nature of your incompatibility - it could be that your girlfriend has hang-ups about sex that means that she doesn't or can't enjoy it. It could be that she's not attracted to you, sexually. She could be gay and closeted, she could be asexual, or she may simply have decided that she's done having sex, period.
Regardless of the cause, the end-result is the same: you're miserable. And to add insult to injury, you're left feeling like you're the bad guy for wanting to simply have sex with the woman you love. She'll toss you the occasional lay to shut you up, but makes it clear that this is a huge imposition on her, making you feel like shit for wanting what is a critical part of any romantic relationship.
Unfortunately, we live in a very sex-negative culture where sex is supposed to be incredibly unimportant… right up until it is. Culturally, when there's a mismatch of libidos in a relationship, we tend to side with the person with the lower sex drive - the one with the higher one is inconveniencing his or her partner with his desire for sexual satisfaction and it's their fault that there's this mismatch so they need to put in more work.
Of course, if the higher-libido partner were to sleep with someone else in order to stay sane and keep the relationship together, then they're the arsehole who should be able to go without if they really loved their significant other. And if the higher-libido partner were to initiate the break up because they weren't getting enough sex, then they're just another sex-obsessed troglodyte.
Sometimes you can't win for losing.
Now if circumstances were different, I would tell you that there were ways you could try to make this relationship work. Ideally, you would use your words and actually talk this out - try to determine if it's a libido mismatch, if your girlfriend is simply not having her needs met or there were some other way of finding a compromise that worked for the two of you.
If the two of you had a strong and loving relationship otherwise, then you might be able to arrange an open relationship, allowing you to get your needs met elsewhere without threatening the emotional integrity of your relationship.
But frankly, your relationship is over. She's cut off all intimacy, lest you start thinking about sex. She's not willing to work at fixing things and when you fight, it's pretty clear she's fighting to wound, not to resolve things.
You need to break up with her, and the sooner the better. All you're doing by hanging on is shredding your heart a little more until she finally puts a bullet in brain of the shambling corpse that is your relationship… and that will destroy you. Dump her, let yourself heal, then find someone who you are compatible with, who loves and desires you, too. She's out there.
Listen to the wise words of Cowboy Mouth: "I might love you, yeah, but I love me more."
Good luck, SiS. It's going to suck, but it will get better.
Doc, I'll try to keep this one short, but it's a multilayered bundle of suck, so bear with me.
A few months ago, I broke up with a young woman. We'd been together 4 years, and that was probably about 2 years longer than it should have been. There were a whole bunch of issues: her family was abusive, we were different religions and I wouldn't convert, having to keep our relationship on the down-low for fear of "scandal", emotional mood-swings…
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all misery. We had a lot of common interests, gamed together quite a bit, bounced ideas off each other for creative projects, and for a while we just felt good together. But it reached the point where I couldn't stand waiting for her to get off the dime about us. She needed to either get out of her folks' place and damn the consequences, or she needed to cut me loose, and since she wouldn't do either of those things, I ended it with her. I made it clear at the time that we were done, that as much as I loved her, I could not be with her anymore.
Problem is this: she still thinks she can get back with me. That it won't be like it was before. That she's finally figured out what it was I've been saying this whole time (she went through every email I ever sent her and she finally groks it now). I don't mind helping her with creative projects. I don't mind helping her look for a job (she got canned about a couple weeks before the split). I don't mind playing with her in an MMO. But the slightest suggestion of me getting back together with her makes me go from zero to grumpy bastard at the speed of light. Even my folks (who really like her) ask me if it's happening and then get upset when I tell them it's not.
What makes it worse that I'm probably the last friend she's got, so when all the drama and the bullshit surrounding her overwhelms her again, the only person she feels she can talk to is me. I don't know whether to shoot myself or go join Ringling Brothers.
What do I do?
Stuck In the Middle
You did the right thing breaking up with her, SitM, and you're doing the right thing standing your ground and not getting back with her.
It can be tempting to get back together with an ex-lover - that feeling of familiarity and slipping back into old habits is as comfortable as sliding into a warm bath. However, the problem is that just because time has passed it doesn't mean anything has actually changed. The flip-side of that familiarity that's so appealing is that it's incredibly easy to fall into the same patterns and relationship dynamics you were in before… you know, the ones that caused your break-up in the first place. So while you may get a second chance at the honeymoon period, as soon as it ends, you're about to hit Break-Up 2: Electric Boogaloo - This time it's really personal!
Here's what's happening with your ex, SitM: She's looking for the comfort of the familiar. From the sounds of things, her life is pretty chaotic right now. If she has been trying to fix things, it's probably in a state of upheaval. And with you being the only rock in her life… well, it's not surprising that she's longing for the comfort of the familiar.
The problem of course, is that what you want is rarely what you need… and when it comes to relationships, you have to also consider what your prospective partner needs too.
And what you need is to set up some boundaries. Being her friend is great, but right now it seems like she's using you for all of her emotional intimacy needs as well as someone to vent to. It's a shame that she doesn't have many friends to vent to; that still doesn't mean that you're obligated to be her emotional dumping ground. Yes, you may have been together before, but that doesn't mean that you're automatically going to be at the same level of closeness and intimacy after the break-up. You are allowed to decide just how involved you want to be in your friend's lives and it sounds like you're being dragged back into "boyfriend" levels of involvement. Small wonder she's trying to make it official.
Everything you said to me about what you're ok with and what you're not ok with? You need to say it to her. If the two of you are going to continue to be friends, then you need to lay down the law: you are not getting back together. There is no chance of your getting back together. You are not interested in even entertaining the vague suggestion that you might get back together and frankly, you're getting tired of her bringing it up. You're willing to be her friend, you're willing to help her out, but you're not going to be her boyfriend. And honestly - you should probably let her know that you're reaching your limits on being her sole emotional outlet when her life gets too insane.
And then you might want to consider telling your parents, too.
Did you escape from a toxic relationship? Do you have a patented break-up recovery strategy? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments and we'll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.
Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.
Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor. Illustration: Tara Jacoby