Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that provides the FAQ to the dating sim of life.
Speaking of love and games, before I get down to this week's questions, a quick plug: if you're going to be at PAX East in Boston this weekend and like overthinking the stories behind video games, come to my panel: Video Game Romance - The Stories We Love and the Lessons they Teach, Friday at 8PM in the Arachnid theatre. We're going to talk about relationship mechanics in games, how they affect us and whether or not they can teach us anything in real life.
With that out of the way, it's time to talk about what happens when relationships get complicated. Sometimes, seemingly minor issues can have major implications for the future of your relationship, and trying to navigate your way around them can be what makes the difference between a long, happy life together and an unpleasant break-up.
So let's get down to it, shall we?
Dear Dr NerdLove,
I am a college aged student at a Christian liberal arts college in my junior year and have been dating a girl for 2 years. Everything is great, we love each other, want to get married when we graduate etc etc... However, she has outright expressed that she would not marry me if I wasn't a Christian (I'm agnostic). We have had some tough talks and we both aren't willing to compromise on the issue. She wants to wait it out and see if God will talk to me or if I will change my outlook. I tell her it is probably not going to happen as I have wrestled with religion growing up and have come to my terms with it. Like I said, everything else is fantastic in our relationship, but I have been feeling like it will all be for naught. We truly believe that we want to marry each other but I don't want to squander the last years of my college lifetime. I try to explain to her that I think it could work with us not believing in the same thing but she does not. What should I do in this situation?
TL;DR Christian girl wants me to be a Christian before marriage, I probably won't be. We both love each other dearly. Should we continue on?
Thanks, Wrestling with religion
This is actually a thornier issue than you realise, WWR.
Every relationship is a matter of compromise. No matter how amazing a person is, you aren't going to be a 100% match for one another. Settling down means that you're going to have to accept that there are things that you aren't going to get in that relationship and that there are things that you don't like that you're going to be asked to do. Sometimes these are fairly minor issues and you can just write them off as the price of entry for the relationship because your partner's just that awesome. Other times, they're bigger issues and you and your partner are going to have to find a compromise that works for you both.
And then there are times that you run into areas where there can't be a compromise, where the ask is just too big to overcome and the only answer is for one person or the other to give in. Those issues tend to be dealbreakers, and they can sink a relationship.
And religion can be a major dealbreaker. This is going to be a major issue in your relationship, WWR, and in ways that I don't think you realise.
When you're not religious yourself, it seems fairly simple; you do your thing and she does hers, no muss no fuss no interference. Maybe you bend a little and attend services at Christmas and Easter and all is well.
But for someone whose religion is that important to them, dating someone who isn't part of it can be difficult in the long run. To someone who is religious and for whom their religion is an important part of their lives, it's more than just a question of where to go on Sundays or playing the game of "Nah, buttstuff's cool with Jesus because everyone knows God's totally known for letting people skate on technicalities." It's a core part of their identity, their community and their life. You can't treat it like something you can compartmentalise or put aside because it informs everything about them. Having a long-term, serious relationship with somebody who doesn't necessarily fit into their lives like that can be incredibly difficult.
For example, there's the question of just how you're going to fit into her community. If your values clash with theirs, that means there's always going to be tension there. Obviously, you're able to go along with things, seeing as you're an agnostic at a Christian college. But there's a difference between being at an academic institution, where a certain amount of debate and questioning is built in, and another when it's her day to day life and community. How long are you going to be able to bite your tongue and not say anything when a topic comes up that you seriously disagree with?
Are you going to be OK with the feeling that you don't belong? Are you going to be able to put up with the feeling of being judged — whether that's happening or not — when you're with her friends, her family, her community? Or with the pressure to convert?
And while you may be able to put up with any differences, what about your family? Will they be able to get along with her family? Is every visit with her parents going to end up being a debate about religion? Are family get-togethers going to be full of uncomfortable silences?
Then there's the pressure this puts on your girlfriend. Much depends on which branch of Christianity she's part of, but while some are chill and live-and-let-live, others can be very much "us-or-them". Can you understand the pressure that she's going to be under when it feels like all the important people in her life think you're a bad influence on her? It's very easy to say that if she loves you she should be able to handle it… right up until there comes a point where the most important people in her life are avoiding her because of you.
Setting those aside, you also have questions about your future together. How are the two of you going to raise your children together? What faith will you raise them in? Will you be going with them to church on Sundays? How will you handle holidays? Can you set your scepticism aside while they're growing up so that you don't create conflicts between you, them and your wife?
And then there's just the question of how she's going to feel about you two in the long term. If your girlfriend is a true believer — and it certainly sounds like she is — your being agnostic cuts you off from Heaven. As silly as it may seem to someone who doesn't share her faith, believing that you won't be spending eternity with someone you love can be incredibly painful. You can do your best to convince her, but the nature and method of salvation is something that's been debated since the Council of Nicea in the 600s; unless you're another Thomas Aquinas or C.S. Lewis, odds are you aren't going to budge her or her church's theology.
The other thing to keep in mind: to you, her religion is a small part of her. To her, it may well be everything. It's one thing when she believes there's a chance that you may come around. But the longer you're together, the more your rejection of her faith can feel like a rejection of her as a person. That's the sort of issue that can end up being a time-bomb in a relationship, building slowly until it reaches a critical mass and explodes messily and all over the place.
If the two of you are at an impasse, then yes, this relationship is going to end. No way around that. But I do want to take issue with the idea that staying together is somehow "wasting" your college years. One common mistake people make is believing that unless one or both of you die in the saddle, the relationship was a failure or a waste of time. Just because you aren't going to get married doesn't mean that you're squandering time spent with your girlfriend. There's nothing wrong with savouring the time you have with someone you love, even if you know that it's not going to be forever. You can enjoy what you have together, even knowing that it's going to come to an end. In many ways, it's actually better for you. Having an expiration date means that you can end things on your terms, rather than finding out that you've outgrown the relationship or in bitterness and acrimony. And believe me: if your relationship ends and the two of you can still look back on the happy times and still have fond feelings for one another? That's a successful relationship by my standards.
If you do decide to stay together, then go into it with open eyes and realistic expectations. Don't see it as a last-ditch attempt to change the other person's mind; that's going to just leave you both frustrated and upset. Appreciate what you have and then part on good terms. And if you decide to end it: do it quickly and cleanly. The clean break does the least damage and heals the quickest.
My SO and I have been together five years. We have sex really frequently - on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day. But recently he shared that he masturbates 3+ times a day, in addition to whatever we do together.
He had a lot of shame relating this, which I feel is sad. I told him that masturbation is a healthy part of any relationship.
My SO then went on to say that he uses masturbation to relieve anxiety/insomnia (thus he's masturbating multiple times in the middle of the night), and he also told me he thinks he's maybe addicted to masturbation or quite possibly doesn't understand how it's not an addiction for everyone as the release of endorphin is so massive for him.
Is my SO really addicted to masturbation? I know exercise addiction is a real thing - some people do get endorphin highs which leave drive their brains much higher than the average person, but in the hours after exercise, their brain will also dip lower, leaving them prone to seek out more of the endorphin producing exercise, so I feel as though similar things could happen with masturbation. Is there any research on addiction to masturbation and if it leaves similar peaks and troughs in the brain?
The other thing is that, I will say I can tell when my husband's penis is well rested. When I'm the 4th orgasm of the day, the quality of our sex is simply not as good. I'm willing to try to work through this but I don't know how. This is a behaviour that he has had for years (6+ times a day before, even when he was in relationships), which decreased when we got together, but lately I feel it is the point that it is affecting our relationship negatively. I don't want to label either one of us abnormal - I'm sure sexuality and desire have a spectrum. But I just don't know where the compromise is in this case either or why my husband insists on labelling himself deviant. He says that he wishes he could talk to friends about this but he just feels alone on needing to masturbate what he considers a lot, on top of a pretty active sex life with me.
Thanks for all you do Dr. Nerdlove!! Frustrated Spouse
I don't know if I'd label him an addict, FS, because that's a fairly loaded term that gets thrown around freely without really thinking about it. A lot of addictive behaviour has less to do with the behaviour itself and tends to be a form of self-medication instead.
So I'd have a lot of questions before I'd label this a problem, never mind an addiction. The first being: is he doing active harm to himself? Is he masturbating to the point of chafing or damaging the skin of his penis? Does his desire to masturbate get him into trouble - that is, does he do it at times when he shouldn't? Does he get anxious or uncomfortable if he doesn't masturbate several times a day? Is it possible for him to skip a day or two days without getting distressed?
And another important question: is he forgoing sex with you to gratify himself instead? Is he invested in your sex life together, or is he only up for quickies with you instead of something more involved and mutual?
I'd want to have answers to those questions before I'd even feel comfortable labelling this as a problem, never mind an addiction. Is it unusual? Yeah, I'd say so. Don't get me wrong, sex drives fall on a spectrum from the asexual to the satyrs but maintaining a level of activity that most people can only achieve in the early years of puberty is impressive. But unusual doesn't mean bad, especially if it's not interfering with his life or his relationship with you.
One thing that I think is a problem is the way he labels himself a deviant. We still live in a profoundly sex-negative culture and one that teaches men and women conflicting "rules" and insists that if we don't have sex in the "proper" manner, we're bad people. It's shockingly easy, especially if he grew up in a religious household, to view any non-standard (for suitably arbitrary definitions of "standard") mode of sexual expression as being proof that he's a bad, diseased or otherwise broken person. I suspect that he has a lot of shame surrounding his sexuality… especially when damn near everyone masturbates.
Now, if his masturbatory habits aren't interfering negatively in his life, then it's not necessarily a problem. It doesn't sound like he's neglecting you sexually, although if it's affecting his performance, he really should commit to giving himself a break and being with you instead of a couple rounds of wham-bam-thank-you-glans. That's being selfish on his part but not necessarily a relationship-threatening behaviour. It'd be another story entirely if he would rather just get himself off than have sex or if he treats you like a human fleshlight instead of his partner.
That being said: some of the behaviour makes me cock an eyebrow. Six times a day every day? He jerks it several times an evening in order to get some sleep?! This makes me suspect that it has less to do with any addiction or any endorphin rush than it does dealing with having high levels of anxiety that he's trying to relieve. If that's the case, then he'd be better off talking with a therapist than just pounding it out every 20 minutes.
To be perfectly honest, I think it'd be good for him to talk to a therapist, regardless — not because of how often he masturbates, but the way he feels about it. If he really feels isolated and carries a lot of shame and guilt over his masturbation habits, then working with a therapist can go a long way towards easing his mind overall. You can find a sex-positive therapist via the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists referral system. Hopefully that can bring him some peace and make sure his habits are healthy instead of harmful.
Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku's bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you'd like answered? Write [email protected] and put "Kotaku" in the subject line.
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. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek's Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.
Have you had an interfaith relationship? Have your sexual habits interfered with your relationship? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments and we'll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.