How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to firstname.lastname@example.org. Nothing’s too small (or big).
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
Here’s a problem I’ve not had before. After a long, tense marriage, my wife and I are splitting up. That’s going OK, I think, and I am making moves to move on. Right now, that includes a dating app that has put me in contact with a lot of women. Sometimes, we exchange smiles, sometimes, brief conversations. I’m not especially bummed out when these fizzle, or when (occasionally) I get blocked by someone the program tagged as a match. But there are quite a few—a half-dozen or dozen, depending on who’s counting—who’ve lasted longer than that. Some of them I may never meet. They are in a different country, or otherwise not going to be easy to hang out with for a while. Some of them, however, I have met. Coffee, dinner, a show— whatever. I’m not yet hurting for money and am happy to have an excuse to get out into the big city. The question is—now what? Some were just pleasant uses of an hour. Could be friends, or friendly acquaintances, or whatever. There are another one or two who really have the hots for me, and while I don’t object to their company, I don’t pine for it. So being kind and friendly and not sending out misleading signals isn’t too much of a problem. And if it leads to a short-term bit of stimulation with no commitment, I don’t suppose they would mind.
I worry about some of the others, however. There are a more select handful who have now become potentially good friends through various kinds of conversation—online and IRL—whom I’m not sure I am really capable of lusting after. My worry is whether it is psychological because of me (with my baggage from the marriage), something irretrievably true about them (some people just never ring my bells), or just the timing of the current situation. I’ve never been a real player, and I don’t see the need to sleep with more than one at a time. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t, in the right circumstances. But this group of women is bourgeois enough that they’re probably not hoping to be one of three or four in a rotation. And I don’t wish to do any harm to people I respect. At least one of this smaller group is angling for a less platonic relationship, and a couple of others are probably smart enough to be wondering what is up. Not that they’re giving vibes of being impatient.
Am I shrinking from starting a relationship with a woman just because I could easily see her as a spouse? By that, I mean nice, smart, accomplished, shares some interests, is housebroken in most of the right ways? Looked at in a way less damning to me, is there just going to be a category of really great, smart women whom I can be friends with but not much more, even if I were in my best form? I have always had female friendships at work that never involved crushes. Will any of this change, with these women or a later group somewhat removed from the current situation? It feels a little weird to me. Some of them are people who would be fabulous to have in the lifeboat if I really needed a partner. But they’re not quite people who’d make me fantasize about sneaking off to the lifeboat for some sexual fun yet. We’ve never quite made it to the making-out stage yet, and only one of them has spoken up about that. I am having unexpected bouts of empathy for young women who have to decide whom to date, if anyone. Normally, my choice of whom to date or mess around with has been “Yes” or “No.” “A, B, C, and/or D, with choice of appetizer” has never really been my experience. So, my question is how much to disclose now, and how much to put on hold while I see what evolves? I don’t want to talk too much and screw up what might be good relationships—however defined—by putting too much of this on any of them.
—Very Eligible Bachelor
Stoya: I get this feeling that our letter writer is a little more concerned about his, er, value on the dating market than he really needs to be.
Rich: He is assuming that he is, in fact, quite valuable, no?
Stoya: It seemed like that! I wasn’t sure if it was the PMS goggles.
Rich: He’s “water water everywhere and not a drop to drink”–ing.
Stoya: And, like, if you don’t want to drink, that’s totally fine. You don’t have to. Regardless of friends and family encouraging you to get back out there, you really don’t have to.
Rich: Also, it’s OK to be selective? Here is what I think is going on: He’s a bit shocked at himself and his own body for not being responsive. I bet whenever he was last single, it was at a time when he was young and down to bang anything that moved. And now it’s like: “Wait … what? My body is … changing?” Many libidos relax over time. It just happens.
Stoya: One of the perks of adulthood is becoming more selective of mates and therefore boosting quality (yes, usually at the expense of quantity).
Rich: Dating apps can really speed up the meeting process, but they don’t and can’t convey key features that make people sexy like their smell or mannerisms. So it’s totally logical that you might meet a bunch of people whom you thought you were interested in via their digital profiles but you just aren’t that attracted to IRL. Not my experience, but conceivable!
Stoya: During my brief foray into online dating, I ran into a lot of people who were either not quite as I expected, or whom I simply had no vibe with.
Rich: I’ve never used apps to date, only to hook up, and it’s made for a lot of underwhelming experiences that I decided weren’t really worth the time after I’d already spent (and lost) it.
Stoya: I think our writer might want to figure out what he wants first. Right now, he’s doing a lot of “see what happens,” and it can be easy to get lost in the options and develop decision fatigue.
Rich: Choice has a way of clouding minds. I think, in a profound way, he’s wrestling with his past self. He’s surprising himself with a lack of sexual interest for his dates, but also with the fact that potential partners who look good on paper aren’t enough of an incentive to start a relationship, which makes me wonder how he and his wife connected and if, in fact, he’s sort of fighting himself on a lesson he’s internalized. Perhaps settling for something he felt obligated to go through with was one of the problems of his marriage, I mean.
Stoya: Along those lines, I’m wondering why he’s getting blocked on the apps.
Stoya: I love blocking people, and I blocked a mere handful during my online dating phase.
Rich: It’s a nice temporary power to have, I agree.
Stoya: Maybe other women are more block-happy, but, really, I enjoy it so much that I don’t think that’s the case.
Rich: I only have blocked occasionally, usually when someone is so persistent it’s disruptive. Just to get my phone to stop vibrating, see. Also, it seems like there are a lot of women who AREN’T blocking him. He seems awfully busy.
Stoya: Mmm … I’m not so sure. His later paragraphs seem to indicate less interest on their end than he seems to be concerned about: “Not that they’re giving vibes of being impatient,” and “We’ve never quite made it to the making-out stage yet, and only one of them has spoken up about that.” OK, that line of thinking is definitely the PMS talking.
Rich: I love it.
Stoya: I treasure people who appreciate my grouch. Should we answer his actual question?
Stoya: How Much to Disclose. Would you like to make the unilateral statement?
Rich: Well, I’m not even sure what he’s unsure about disclosing. His general uncertainty? Mostly, it just seems like he’s still searching.
Stoya: Disclosing is kind of under the communication umbrella. So I think he should disclose—whatever it might be—in stages, as it feels right. I’m sure he’ll make mistakes, and he will almost certainly encounter rejection. But that’s all part of the process.
Rich: Yes. So the baggage stuff? It can be overwhelming to put that all on someone you just met as mere exposition without a demonstrable reason to do so. Don’t saddle someone with your baggage just because. If he’s worried about stringing people along whom he’s not exactly jazzed about, I’d wait until they ask for something more substantial to explain what he’s thinking.
Stoya: And be totally prepared for some people to only want a friendly acquaintanceship from him.
Rich: Yes. This is the kind of space wherein it is easy to be distracted, but regardless, at least in my experience, when you know, you know.
Stoya: And as much as I’m currently bristling at it, I think he ought to try to enjoy feeling like the belle of the ball.
Rich: Options can make your mind whirl, or you can sit back and let them wash over you. And that’s fun.
Stoya: Not everybody gets to have a moment in their life like this.
More How to Do It
My husband and I have been together for 12 years, married for approximately the last three. He recently confessed to being unfaithful and also to contracting genital herpes from his adulterous encounter(s?). I was completely devastated when I learned the truth, only to be completely disappointed on top of the devastation when he admitted that he was diagnosed with his affliction approximately six months ago. I get hung up on the fact that he knowingly put my health at risk by initiating intimacy even after his HSV-2 diagnosis. Any advice on how I can proceed to piece my life and my broken marriage back together again?