Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Too Horny for Hubby: All my feelings of self-worth hinge on how often I can get my husband to have sex with me. How can I get past this? I’ve always, and I really do mean always, had a raging libido. During my first marriage, I had sex with several other people because my husband couldn’t keep up with me. When I married my second husband eight years ago, I promised myself that I’d be faithful, and I have been, but I fantasize constantly about having sex with others. My husband and I have sex three or four times a week, and I masturbate at least twice a week, but that’s not enough to keep me happy. Whenever my husband needs a day off, I feel unattractive and rejected, and I start feeling sorry for myself. Rationally, I know he loves me, and I know he thinks I’m sexy. He takes great care of me emotionally and, other than the sexual-needs incompatibility, we have a stress-free marriage and a wonderful life together, so why does it hurt so deeply when he doesn’t have sex with me? And why do I need so much sex to feel good about myself? (If you’re wondering, I’m female, 38, and was never sexually abused.)
A: There have been so many times over the years when I’ve wished I could have a libido-based couples matching service. “You, sir, the one who thinks your wife should have sex with you every morning and night, have I got a gal for you!” “Ma’am, you’re satisfied if your sexual encounters are limited to the summer and winter solstice, and I’ve got an equally celibate guy I want to introduce you to.”
There’s nothing wrong with being powered by a raging libido, as long as you can channel this explosive energy productively. You apparently do not. You must recognize this physical engine is actually in service of what sounds like a shriveled and needy ego. Unless a man is constantly at full attention, you feel unadmired and unloved. I think you should get a complete physical and mental checkup because more than your libido is out of whack. You need to address the yawning hole in your self-esteem while letting your husband have a well-deserved refractory period.
Dear Prudence: Ex-Wife Facebook Stalker
Q. Leaving This Life Behind: I’m an 18-year-old, low-income high school senior. About two years ago I went through a depression that nearly stripped me of my will to live, but made it out alive and am still getting better. However my poor grades from that time period has had a detrimental effect on my cumulative GPA. At a 3.78, I’m barely holding on to memberships in honor societies and stakes in merit-based scholarships. I’ve started hearing less from schools that had previously shown me interest. I’ve been subject to harsh criticisms from family members and former friends. I feel ashamed and embarrassed. I feel as if the future that was once a possibility is no longer within reach. Most of all, I feel myself slipping back into that place where I fantasize about driving into oncoming traffic on my way to school, or feeling the coolness of a pistol’s barrel against my temple. I don’t like being in that place. I want to run away. Not now, and not in any real hurry. After I graduate I want to completely disconnect from my family, friends, and community. I want to leave the shame that will inevitably plague me for the rest of my senior year. I have the money part of my departure secured, but other than that I’m at a bit of a loss for how to execute this thing. A big part of me just doesn’t know what to do about anything anymore. Should I , or how do I, leave this life without ending my life?
A: If you have a therapist who helped you two years ago, please, please call that person now and explain you are having suicidal thoughts. If you don’t have a therapist, please go today to your school counseling office and explain that you need an immediate referral to one because of your mental state. I wish I could give you a big hug and convince you how extraordinary your accomplishments are. A 3.78 is a terrific GPA, one that should help propel you to acceptances at any number of excellent schools. I hope you are in a program designed to help low-income students get into college, such as College Summit or College Track. If you aren’t, ask your school counseling office if they can put you in touch with such a program immediately. I also wish I could help you understand that while there may be some good reasons for you to run from your current circumstances, running away is a bad life strategy. You have so many wonderful things ahead you should be running toward. Actually, walking step by step is better way to get there. I don’t discount that your family might have a punitive attitude, but I’m worried you are catastrophizing your situation and that you probably have more support around you than you are realizing. Once you get some help, it will be easier for you to stay the course. Keep in mind that in only a few months you will be accepted to a college that will challenge and nurture you. So talk to someone who can help you see your life as what it is: one that’s only just starting and full of exciting prospects.
Q. Herpes! Yes, that fun thing. I think I made the mistake of telling someone too soon, instead of saying we should slow things down and get to know each other better first before hopping into bed, because he definitely ran away. But I felt like we were extremely well-matched and I’m trying to restrain the urge to reach out to him again, even though he said “my feelings have changed and I think of you as a friend.” It’s only been a week, so I know it’s way too soon. But would it be worth the effort after a few months, if he never comes around before that?
A: If you contact him about resuming your romance, he’ll probably start running, so you really don’t want to contemplate sending up a flare that says, “Come on, it’s only herpes!” There are lots of possible reactions and it would have been great if he’d said, “OK, I need to find out more about this and what my risks would be. I appreciate your telling me. Actually, it’s a good idea to slow things down before getting into bed.” But he didn’t. Instead he broke a world record in the 100-meter dash. Yes, he dashed your hopes, but you both found out something important about each other, so now you each can find someone better for you.
Q. Re: Too horny: I suggest a book by Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., titled Because It Feels Good. It helped me feel good about my sexuality and I stopped feeling “rejected” if my partner turned down an advance. It helped a lot!
A: Thanks. I’ve recommended this book many times. Horny might also want to look into some of the books by sex therapist Gina Ogden as well, particularly, Women Who Love Sex.
Q. Greedy for Inheritance?: My grandma passed away earlier this year after suffering with Alzheimer’s for the past 10 years. She left a sizable estate, but did not include her grandchildren in her will, only her children. My dad (one of her kids) has always said that he would give my brother and me some of the money he received from her estate. He has received a portion of it, more than enough to gift us what he said he would. However, he has yet to gift it but continues to talk to us about all the money he has now and not knowing what to do with all of it. Recently, my brother told me that I upset my dad with a comment I made about the money. I admit to asking about it more than necessary this spring; however, I have said nothing about it since. Meanwhile, my brother and I could really use the promised amount, but I realize we’re just going to have to wait. How can I shut him down when he starts talking about it without making myself look greedy or mean? We’re a close family otherwise but this topic seems to bring out the worst in us.
A: First, let go of the idea of the money. Your grandmother did not specifically provide for you. Your father talked about giving you some portion of his mother’s estate, but it’s not clear to me if he meant when he got his check you’d get yours. Or whether he meant you’ll get yours in due time the way he got his—that is, after his will is read. Your brother seems to have handled this better than you. (I guess that means he didn’t repeatedly ask, “So Dad, when am I getting the check?”) So talk to him about being the point man here. Say you understand you’ve blown this, but since he still has open lines of communication with your father about this, ask whether he’d be comfortable clarifying if your father intends to give you both a gift soon, or whether that’s sometime for the future. If your brother doesn’t want to do this, drop it. It’s a given that almost everyone could use money, but put yourself in the frame of mind that you’re not getting any. Then if you get handed a check one day, it will be a particularly sweet bequest.
Q. Re: leaving this life behind: IT. GETS. BETTER. In the foggy, irrational midst of my first bout of depression and anxiety my sister told me to defer my judgment to her and to trust her in blind faith that everything would be fine. I clung to that, and it still gives me strength if I falter.
A: Thanks for the jog, because I think watching the “It Gets Better” videos would be a great idea. They’re not just about the pain of feeling alienated as a teen because of sexual orientation. They are powerful testimony to how common such adolescent despair is, and how glad people are that they persevered through that and found their place in the world.
Q. Bad: My wife’s sister recently called my wife and asked her if she remembered any childhood sexual abuse by their father. My wife had no recollection and her sister only had one, in which she saw her father naked and aroused in the shower, but no physical contact. I am a bit torn on what to do here and I am not the type to bite my tongue, and I have children to think of. My gut feeling is that nothing actually happened since this is the first time it has been mentioned and it was just the one incident so far. I have a great relationship with my father-in-law and I don’t want this to wreck it, but like I said, I have kids to think about. Do I speak to him about it or do I keep quiet and let my wife and her sister talk back and forth until they figure out what to do?
A: Based on the evidence here, there is nothing to do because nothing happened. I wish you’d given more details of what your sister-in-law said. It doesn’t sound as if she was asserting she was lured into the shower by her father. Maybe she has a fuzzy, steamy memory of walking in on him and seeing him naked—who knows if her memory is even correct about him being aroused. But if it was an accidental encounter, then so what? A single distant memory of a naked father in the shower hardly seems like actionable information. Your wife grew up with him and to date has had absolutely no reason to have any concern about having her own children around him. Sure, let the sisters talk. But until something more concerning emerges, don’t destroy your relationship with your father-in-law over something that might be a figment.
Q. Dating a Divorcee: I met a couple a few years ago. They were a very cute couple and seemed to be well matched. Last year they divorced. It seems to have been acrimonious but they share a child and are getting along for her sake. He has expressed interest in dating me but, since I know her, I’m rather hesitant. She and I aren’t close. We’re Facebook friends who have chatted a few times. Is it a betrayal to date her ex-husband?
A: Not at all. But only do it if you’re interested in him!
Q. Re: Too horny for hubby: “Horny” should tread very carefully here. While we were dating and early in our marriage, my wife and I enjoyed an active sex life. We dated for seven years before we got married and had great sex the whole time, which naturally continued into our marriage. About three years into our marriage, though, my wife began expressing anxiety about the frequency of our lovemaking, and equated that frequency with my love for her. I did my best, but soon she began making sarcastic remarks along these lines, and these often morphed into arguments. I got so pissed about it that I began actively refusing to have sex with her, even when I was interested in having sex. Long story short: She killed our sex life in this manner, because she turned a joyous thing into a chore and I couldn’t get past my resentment. We got counseling, and she got treatment (bipolar, but didn’t know it at the time), and we’re still together 20 years later, but our sex life is a shadow of its former self, even though my interest level remains high. If we have sex 10 times in a year that’s a pretty good year.
A: Your story is why I suggested the wife get a complete checkup. I’m sorry the therapy didn’t help you two enough. How sad that you couldn’t get past these issues and your marriage is a kind of detente.
Q. Moving Out Without Warning: After returning from a five-day work trip, I was blindsided by my boyfriend (of over a year) saying that he no longer wants to live together. He still wants to date and have an exclusive relationship, but wants us to have our own places. We’ve been living together since May and I never once thought he was having second thoughts. I want to believe him when he says that there is nobody else and just his own issues that he needs to work out. I can’t help feeling that there must be something else going on. I know right now I’m angry and hurt but I do want to try to make it work. Any ideas on how to move forward?
A: Either he’s been unhappy and keeping it to himself or during your absence he had a revelation that life was just so much better with you gone. Whatever the case, he has dropped a bomb on you and he can’t just expect that you’d think this was a good way for you two to move forward. Yours is another example of why I suggest people don’t move in together unless there have been conversations that make clear what both parties hope to get from this—and saving a lot of rent money should not be the No. 1 reason. Nonetheless, what your boyfriend discovered is that he doesn’t want to move to something more committed and intimate. It’s natural you’re suspicious, which tells you a lot about the state of your relationship. I understand you don’t want to break up. But since he’s giving you a short timeline for finding your own place after only a few months of living together, you need to reconsider why you want to keep trying to make this work.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.
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