Hello, you electric pheromone beasties. Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the first dating advice column to achieve an N7 rank in the Alliance. This week, we're going to be talking about two sides of the same issue: desire. How important is simple, sexual attraction in a relationship and what can it affect in the long run? Can you have a successful romantic relationship without it?
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Let's do this.
Dear Dr. NerdLove, I'm a man in my mid-twenties and I've been in a committed relationship for just over four years, my first intimate relationship. My primary reason for writing is I'm confused and concerned about my feelings of sexual dissatisfaction in my life more so than just the relationship. My girlfriend and I only get a chance to be intimate with each other once a week, which has persisted for duration of the relationship. We've taken several trips together where we get a week or so together and, other than a fight or two, generally get along well and have more opportunity for intimacy. But that experience tends to magnify the point where things get a little more complicated. When I'm alone I generally feel frustrated and interested in sex but when she is around I find it takes a little work to get fired up for a session or two. When she is gone the frustration pretty quickly returns. It's not that she doesn't do the things I'd like to do, it's just that my brain seems to switch gears and I get a little more anxious around her. I suffer from a major depressive disorder and a general anxiety disorder and take medicines that do suppress libido and cause anorgasmia but that only seems to be an issue when I'm with her. Could it be my attraction to her? Am I missing some spark or excitement that we used to have? TL:DR I'm less interested in sex when she is around and I don't know why. Our relationship has its troubles; we don't share as many interests as I'd like, we're both a bit too stubborn, and we have differing views and certainties about the future and the direction our lives are going. Where she sees children and marriage I spend more time wondering about when we'll break up. That's stressful, sometimes more than others, but it rarely impedes our daily intimacy because it isn't something we talk about often (if at all). It's not like I fantasize about being with other women or wish she was someone else. I do worry that I'll go through live without being satisfied with my sexual career and experiences overall, but I don't really know what to do about that. I'm not that experienced. I'm not sure where my life is going. And I don't understand why I'm sexually frustrated in a relationship where she is often willing to meet my sexual appetite. It feels like a lot to sort out. Regards, Frustrated and Conflicted
F&C: you sound a lot like me when I was dealing with one of my first serious relationships. So much so that I could've written this letter myself way back when.
So here's the advice that I wish someone had given me back in the day:
At your core, you know what the problem is F&C - you've just built up a lot of complicated cruft around it to keep yourself from admitting it. I can't say I'm surprised; I did the exact same thing in your circumstance. And, I suspect, for much the same reason. You're young and you're inexperienced. This is your first serious relationship and - I'm willing to bet - your first sexual relationship. I'm willing to bet that, at first you were kind of dick-struck; you were so amazed to be having sex that you were willing to overlook a lot of issues. But as the novelty of getting laid started to fade, the dissatisfaction started to creep in. But at the same time, there's nothing you can really point to to justify ending things.
And I'm willing to bet there's some part of you that also worries that this will be your last relationship; that you will never do better and so you cling to this with both hands because… well, it's better than being alone.
At the same time: you're miserable and don't want to be.
Am I wrong? I could very well be - after all, this is all what I went through when I was around your age. But I don't think I am.
So what do you do? Well, that's why I'm here: to cut away a lot of the crap and rationalization and get to the heart of the matter. So let's be blunt here.
You've got a healthy and functioning libido. When you're by yourself, you're horny, you get erections, you're watching porn and getting off by yourself. When your girlfriend's around… you're less interested. You're generally dissatisfied with the sex you're having. You have to work to get aroused and to get off. She leaves, and you're back to being horny and frustrated again.
Sure, depression and anxiety disorders - and their attendant medications - can affect your libido. SSRIs can kill your sex-life deader than the Duke Nukem series. But the fact that your sex drive comes back when your girlfriend isn't there is the big clue what's going on here.
You're not attracted to your girlfriend. You're definitely not sexually compatible and it doesn't seem like you are compatible in other ways. You're very clearly not happy with your relationship, but you can't quite bring yourself to admit it to yourself.
Small wonder you're uncomfortable when she's around. You're trying to pretend that you don't want out.
That's why you're writing to me. You want permission to do what needs to be done. So permission granted, F&C. It's time to break up with her. The sooner, the better, to be honest. I realise that it can be difficult to bring yourself to end things when there's not some concrete causus belli, something you can point to and say "that is why we broke up" but here's the thing: you don't need one. You don't have to justify yourself in Break Up Court to end things. You can end a relationship simply because you want out.
And in this case, ending things will be the kindest thing you can do, both for yourself and for your girlfriend. Staying in a relationship when you're not happy is cruel to her too. Imagine how she would feel to find out that you don't want to fuck her - that you have to basically force yourself into it. You're letting her believe a lie, and the discovery of that lie will hurt all the more the longer it goes on.
You both deserve to be happy. You both deserve to be in a relationship with a partner who satisfies you, who gets you and who wants to be with you. So break up with her. Don't lie about why you're doing it, but don't tell her an unnecessary and frankly needlessly painful truth either. All she needs to know is that while you like her and respect her, this relationship isn't working for you and it's better to end it.
Make it quick, make it clean; the clean break heals fastest, for both of you. You'll both find someone else in time, someone who's right for you.
Dear Dr. NerdLove, I've found your columns more relevant than any other dating or relationship advice websites I've come across so I'm coming to you for the question I've been hesitant to ask for a long time and can't trust myself to objectively answer. A little background info here - I'm turning 40 (hetero male) and have experienced the full dating spectrum- hook ups, kinda serious, and very serious. I've dated women who were more attractive than me, less attractive, more intelligent, less intelligent, emotionally abusive, exes of friends, the whole spectrum basically. I'm at a point where I feel like I know what I like, know what I dislike, and think of myself as a pretty flexible person with reasonable standards and boundaries. With the big 40 looming, we all seem to get a case of the 'I don't want to die alone syndrome' and whenever I get this feeling and think about my dating lessons and failures in the past, my mind always wanders to my (female) best friend. In short, my question for you is basically should I be asking out my best friend (It's complicated)? We have known each other since we were teenagers and we are best friends in the true sense, always there for each other, similar sense of humour, similar interests, any amount of time we don't talk or see each other doesn't damage the friendship, we really get each other on the most fundamental level and that seemed to be the key lacking in the ghosts of relationships past. So where is the problem you ask? I don't find her attractive. I can say objectively she is a very pretty woman, guys are all over her, but I just don't see it. I love this person and personality wise I could not dream of asking for more, but in all these years I've never stayed up late at night fantasizing about her or lusting after her. Now I know that no relationship will give you everything you want, and I was wondering your take on this high-stakes mission I am contemplating. Might the attraction grow, does it even matter, is there some other latent reason I'm not acknowledging her hotness that everyone else seems to see? Historically when one of us has the partner the other doesn't, we are each others' go-to people for relationship advice. The other is always there during the aftermath to help pick up the pieces again. Although there has always been light flirting and "jokes" that we were meant to be together, it just hasn't been something that I could ever get a clear read on from her and I have the attraction issue. I've certainly dated less attractive women, I don't know what the problem is here. This girl is literally perfect other than that, everyone we know thinks we are either dating or having a secret love affair and we have a connection that is really far more meaningful than I've had in the majority of my romantic relationships. The problem is I don't want to ruin things and mess up a friendship that is 20 years old, especially on something I'm kind of divided on myself. It's not just that she might not be feeling it, what if she is and then I'm not? What if we try and end up ruining the friendship? I'm confused as hell here and need some advice Doc - I don't want to die alone, don't want to be too stupid to see what's in front of me, and don't want to mess up the most meaningful friendship I've ever had. Not Feeling It
There are a couple angles to this, NFI. So let me start with the obvious:
Why does your relationship with your friend need to be romantic? You've been friends with her for decades now and have been satisfied with your relationship as it stood. Going by your letter, there's never been any frustrated sexual tension, nor have you suddenly gotten a bad case of feels for her… you just feel like you should be in love with her.
The thing is: there's a lot of cultural bullshit surrounding male and female friendships - the ever classic "men and women can't be just friends because sex always gets in the way". It's not just insulting to men in general - implying that we are both emotionally stunted and at the mercy of our genitals - but devalues friendship in general. Friendship is amazing; a lifelong, intimate friendship like you and your BFF have is even more so. She is, in many ways, your family by choice. That's valuable in and of itself without having to add love and sex to it.
But let us assume, for a second, that you've decided to take a shot at dating her. Let's game it out a little, because there's going to be one critical issue in your relationship with her and that's going to make or break the two of you as a couple.
How do you feel about sex? Are you OK with not being sexually satisfied for as long as the two of you are together? Because if sex is important to you, then you're basically dooming your relationship with your BFF. As we've just seen with Frustrated and Confused above you, just going through the motions of erection-to-ejaculation doesn't mean that you're going to enjoy it. You may clear the pipes, but it's not going to be that same dopamine and oxytocin rush or that giddy feeling of intimacy and affection.
Then there's how she feels about sex - even if it's not important to you, it very well might be to her. How would she feel if she knew that your trying to keep her satisfied was the sexual equivalent of "taking your vitamins" - something unpleasant but necessary? That's going to hurt, on a deep and primal level, and that pain can damage the core of your relationship.
Now to be sure: not every romantic relationship needs to have a sexual component. There are asexual people who have romantic relationships. There are couples who have companionate marriages, or whose union is about love and affection and companionship and where sex isn't as important. Those are just as real and valid and happy than relationships where sex is important. But that doesn't seem like what you're looking for.
Ultimately, I think you're borrowing trouble when you don't need to, NFI. I think that you're letting your fear of being alone — an understandable, if not terribly logical one — get to you. The fact that you're in a relationship doesn't mean you won't still die alone. Relationships, after all, do end — either in a break-up or in death. Even if you and your best friend were to make it last for the next 40 years, there's no guarantee that you'll die in the saddle before she does.
And more importantly: the fact that your relationship with her isn't romantic doesn't mean that you're alone. You're both incredibly important people in each other's lives. You're family in all but blood. That's pretty damn rare and incredibly special. Don't devalue that love just because it's not the hearts-and-flowers-and-cartoon-birds kind.
TL;DR: I don't think pursuing a relationship with her just because you don't want to be alone is a good idea. Work more on that fear and let your friendship be what it's going to be, without trying to push it into something it's not. Trying to force it into a new and different shape is going to damage things more than a love that happens organically.
Hey Doc: So there's this girl that I've been working with for almost a year and a half, and I was starting to fall for her, I guess. On more than a few occasions during work everyone was talking about relationships and she said something along the lines of I'm not pretty enough for a relationship and other things of that nature, that got me thinking. So I started to try to hang out with her and get to know her better, until I could gather up my courage to ask her on a date. We hung out a few times when we were both free, flash forward a couple of months to Valentine's Day, when I got this incredibly stupid idea to get her flowers as like a present, needless to say she shut me down. Now it's September things are kinda weird between us. I don't really want to try to be in a relationship anymore, but I do want to be friends because she's a really cool person... So I ask how do I smooth things out if it's even possible. Took My Shot
This is simple: treat her like a friend, rather than like someone who wants to date her. Asking someone out doesn't mean you can't be friends afterwards, nor does being shot down mean that you can no longer ever talk to each other.
Don't act awkward around her and it won't be awkward. Nice Guys make it awkward because it's pretty damn clear that no matter what they say, they're still hoping to snag a date out of their "friendship." Show her through your behaviour that you're friends and - assuming she wants to be friends - she'll follow your lead.
Did you fall out of lust with your partner? Were you in a relationship with someone you weren't attracted to? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and we'll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.
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.