Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Welcome back to me, hello again to all of you, and let’s chat!
Q. Boyfriend believes he’s 6 feet tall: I met my boyfriend David on Tinder five months ago, and it was a match made in heaven. He’s compassionate, attractive, and a bombshell in bed. Recently, at our physical, I learned something. David is 5 feet, 8 inches tall. On his Tinder profile, he lists himself as 6 feet. On our first date, I asked him [if he is] really 6 feet. He got agitated and said yes.
I feel lied to and betrayed—why is he so insecure about his height? He takes so much pride in being tall. Always bragging to our friends and acquaintances, commenting how he won’t fit in that car, asking if I need help getting something off the top shelf. When the doctor read off his height I thought I saw his eyes start to swell up. Now he’s attempting to stick his height into every conversation. I have been afraid to bring it up, but this is really bugging me. I see marriage in our future, as we’re both almost 40—but this needs to be settled first.
A: This is not a situation where you need much of a strategy beyond “acknowledging reality.” Talk to your boyfriend. “Hey, it’s clear that this hits a really deep nerve for you, but I’m not sure why you keep bringing up your height and insisting that you’re 6 feet tall. It was obvious at the doctor’s office that you felt very strongly about hearing your height spoken aloud. What’s going on?” If he wants to talk about his feelings about his height with you, that’s going to be a lot more useful to him than pretending he’s 4 inches taller for the rest of his life.
Q. Sexless marriage: My significant other, “Augie,” is only interested in having sex once every few months, and my requests for other forms of intimacy (think high school–level fooling around) are met with a curt “No” and a change of topic. It has been months since we had sex. I’ve brought up my dissatisfaction multiple times and asked that we meet somewhere near a middle ground and have been told, “If I’m not in the mood to do those things, it’s gross that you would want me to do them anyway.” I’ve tried making our rare sexual encounters all about Augie in hopes of sparking something. I did that for a calendar year to see if there were any changes—there were not. I purchased the least threatening “intro-level” toys and games I could find to see if that would pique any interest. I was mocked when trying to incorporate them.
Our libidos were never perfectly synced, but it has gotten much worse. For years it was once or twice a month—not ideal for me, but doable. I won’t cheat or end the relationship, but I am feeling increasingly resentful and lonely. I feel like Augie is not holding up his end of the monogamy bargain. I also feel like a jerk for feeling that way. I understand his right to sexual autonomy, but having a sex life that is limited by him to three to five sexual encounters a year feels so extreme. It’s not a medical issue, an issue of past trauma, or his discomfort with the nature of my requests. It’s plain old disinterest. If I only participated in Augie’s interests three to five times a year and curtly declined every other invitation, I’d feel like a jerk. Sex is different, but the principle isn’t that far off, is it? Is there some point where the right to demand monogamy is forfeited?
A: Monogamy isn’t a demand you extract from a partner on the basis of good behavior, and it’s not something you should withhold when you don’t get what you want, either. This sounds like a truly painful dynamic, and I’m sorry that Augie has been dismissive and less than communicative over your near-nonexistent sex life. Your frustration is understandable, as is your desire to have sex more than three to five times a year, but I don’t think you’re going to get the results you want by trying to appeal to a universal sense of “fairness” or bargaining, as if there were an acceptable, agreed-upon number of times per year every couple ought to be having sex. What’s important is not that your partner’s ideal number would be unreasonable to the average person but that your sex life as it stands now is one where you feel baffled, ignored, mocked, lonely, and dismissed, and that this has been going on for years without change, despite your best efforts to talk.
I think you should at least reconsider whether you’d be willing to end the relationship over this. If, however, you decide that you want to seek sexual intimacy elsewhere, I think you should be willing to state that claim and defend your choices without claiming that your partner has lost the right to something he might have otherwise kept if only he’d slept with you a few more times a year. Think, “I’m unhappy, unsatisfied, and untouched in this relationship. I want to have sex with someone, and if it can’t be my partner I’m willing to look elsewhere. I’m also willing to experience conflict as a couple if my partner objects.” Rather than, “You’ve lost the rights to sexual exclusivity, so now I have to sleep with five or so people, until the scales are balanced once again.”
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Q. My partner’s friend keeps confessing his love to her: A few months ago, my partner told me that our mutual friend “John” has been confessing his love to her. At first, it didn’t bother me—but then he kept doing it, and it’s gotten under my skin. I used to consider John a friend, but he’s much closer to my partner. It feels humiliating that he’s constantly pursuing her while acting like my friend, and I can’t call him on it. He even does it when I’m in the room! My partner and I are queer women, and a nagging part of me is convinced that this wouldn’t be happening if we were a straight couple. Once, at a party at my house, he loudly told our mutual friends that he loved her but “couldn’t date her because she’s queer.” I have a problem with men who keep going after a woman who’ve repeatedly made their disinterest clear. My partner doesn’t like it either, but she’s much more conflict-averse than me, and John is a very close friend of hers. I really don’t want to be the jealous girlfriend who stops someone from hanging with their friends! But I am really uncomfortable, and that’s compounded by worrying that I’m being unfair and immature. I wish that I could just talk to him—if he would just stop, I’d be fine putting this behind us—but I know she wouldn’t want that, so I won’t do it. Am I being way too jealous here?
A: This is absolutely outrageous, and of course it’s gotten under your skin. You say your girlfriend is “conflict-averse,” but the situation you’re in right now is full of conflict. It’s just that all the discomfort, stress, and anxiety are falling on the two of you, while John remains free to deliver his daily dose of unasked-for romantic attention. You’re not being a stereotypical jealous girlfriend or asking your partner to stop spending time with her friends to soothe your unfounded anxieties. John’s no friend of your girlfriend’s if he’s continuing to tell her, “By the way, I’m still in love with you, even though I know you’re in a happy relationship with a woman. So if you’ve changed your mind since the last time I reminded you 24 hours ago, I’m still available, no pressure.”
You do not have to remain silent about this. Talk to your girlfriend first, since she’s previously asked you to pretend this isn’t going on or at least given you that impression. It may be that she feels intimidated or pressured into pretending to be comfortable with John’s behavior and needs support in drawing boundaries with him. If nothing else, you can certainly decide that you’re no longer comfortable having him in your home or spending time with him yourself. You have, if anything, underreacted thus far and have plenty of room to discuss your totally understandable feelings of jealousy and frustration.
Q. Birthday or wedding?: My in-laws live 10 hours away, and we will be driving to visit them in October, again at Thanksgiving, and also Christmas. I would like to skip a second trip in November for my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday so that we can attend a friend’s wedding. I am proposing that we celebrate her birthday a month early, in October, and that we send a nice gift on her actual birthday. This is causing waves with my husband. My relationship with my mother-in-law is stereotypically strained, so that adds to the mix. Am I proposing an unrealistic compromise?
A: I don’t think it’s unreasonable, but it’s your husband you have to convince, not just me. You’re not proposing to ignore her birthday, and you’re trying to plan this out several months in advance so everyone involved has time to adjust, so I think you have a fairly strong case—I hope your husband can see the virtue in not making three 20-hour drives in three months.
Q. Funerals: I have a co-worker whose husband died. She works in another nearby office. While I talk to her often, I don’t talk to or see her on a daily basis. I am sad for her loss, and I know that attending a funeral for someone is a sign of respect, but I don’t want to attend the funeral. Is it wrong for me not to go? I plan on leaving a nice card with a handwritten note on her desk for her in lieu of attending the funeral.
A: If she’s not someone you see often or know very well, I don’t think it’s necessarily disrespectful not to attend. If she doesn’t expect to see you there, she may not notice your absence, and a handwritten note is a thoughtful idea. That said, if you don’t have conflicting plans on that day, consider putting in an appearance and offering your condolences. It would likely mean a lot to your co-worker and wouldn’t take more than an hour or two out of a single day.
Q. Re: Sexless marriage: I have been on the other end of this scenario. I was not interested in having sex with my spouse for a little less than a year, and they kept talking to me about the no-sex. After we started having conversations about our relationship and what we both needed, it got so much better. My partner was not contributing to the household and was putting me second to everything else for years. Lives, kids, work—everything got in the way of us. I am not saying this is what is going on in your relationship, but my guess would be that you are neglecting your partner in some way and you need to get on the same page about how to fix it, if you are still able. It can get better. We are in a much better place and have been for years now. Good luck!
A: I’m glad to hear that there was a workable solution for you in your marriage and that having repeated conversations about sex and intimacy eventually led somewhere, instead of simply stopping short at all the same points. If there’s something else the letter writer’s partner is reluctant to talk about that’s causing this issue, I hope they’re able to find words for it instead of pulling away and rolling their eyes.
Q. Love my boyfriend but can’t shake the advances of a work friend: I have been dating my boyfriend for four years, and we have lived together for two. Almost a month after we started dating, I started a new job and made friends with another new hire, “Paul.” Right away I felt a connection to him. Paul came on to me within the first few months of work, but I told him I had a boyfriend. I told my boyfriend about the encounter, and he was accusatory and angry even though I didn’t do anything wrong. My boyfriend is very bad at communication, and the conversation didn’t proceed much. Ever since then, when I had an encounter or conversation with Paul, I didn’t mention it to my boyfriend. Flash forward to 2018. Within the past few months, things went further with Paul. We started texting and we have kissed a couple times. I have now cut off contact, but it hasn’t been easy. I do love my boyfriend and the life we have created together. But for some reason I can’t shake this work friend. I guess I don’t see a future with him, but I wish I could’ve at least given it a shot. What should I do?
A: Either break up with your boyfriend and give things with Paul a shot, or maintain no contact with Paul and be honest with your boyfriend. Your worst option, as I see it, would be to waffle back-and-forth, periodically allowing yourself to lapse, accidentally, back into contact with Paul and eventually find yourself in half a relationship with both of them. If your boyfriend is bad at communicating, then you should either try to see if he’s capable of improving or decide it’s worth finding someone else who’s better at it. His poor communication is not an excuse to keep secrets from him.
Q. Trans friend: Growing up I went to a very conservative church. There was another teenager there named “Martin,” and we were friends. Martin came from an even more conservative family than mine and was always hypermasculine. Eventually he joined the army and we fell out of contact. Recently a friend from those years told me that Martin is now “Mary.” I found Mary on Facebook and it looks like she’s living a wonderful life.
I myself am queer and didn’t come out until after I left home. It was a hard road for me and I imagine it was even harder for Mary. I sent her a friend request hoping we could reconnect, but she never responded. Would it be intrusive to send her a private message explaining that I’m queer, that I’m thrilled she is living as her truest self, and that I’m not just another church member hoping to gawk at her new life? What would I even say?
A: If she hasn’t responded to your friend request, then the odds that any message you send her will get lost in her filtered folder are fairly high. Your intentions are sweet, but you only heard about Mary’s transition secondhand, and she’s given no intimation that she wants to reconnect with anyone from her old church, and she’s already declined to respond to your last overture. I think you should let this one go and wish her well from afar.
Q. Re: Funerals: Leaving a card is entirely appropriate for recognizing the death of a work acquaintance’s loved one. However, may I recommend you have the card mailed to her home instead? That way, if she has any emotional reaction to the card, she has the space to process it privately instead of dealing with it in the office.
A: That’s a thoughtful idea, thanks for suggesting it!
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