How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m not sure if this is a sex problem per se, but here goes. I’ve been with my boyfriend for four years now. We have a generally good relationship and a great sex life. However, over the last couple of months, things have taken a turn as I’ve become increasingly withdrawn. What I haven’t told him is the reason. Namely, I’ve been having recurring dreams where he is intimate with other men (I’m also a man). Some of these dreams are quite graphic, while others just involve him being romantic with others (kidding, cuddling, PDA). Whenever I have one of these dreams, I wake up with a rush of angry emotions. The emotions are so intense that I can’t speak to him or even look at him for hours afterward without feeling anger and betrayal. Often, I’ll look myself in the bedroom and cry. Needless to say, this leaves him very confused.
With both of us now quarantined together, this issue has become impossible to ignore. He doesn’t understand why I’m so upset all the time, and I don’t know how I can tell him without him laughing in my face. I know on a rational level that I have no reason to feel angry at him and that dreams are nothing more than random firings of neurons. However, that doesn’t help mitigate the emotions. I’ve lived with clinical depression and anxiety for years but have never had this problem before. What can I do to stop my dreams from becoming reality?
Stoya: There’s this cognitive behavioral therapy skill of reminding oneself who they are that I feel might be useful here. I’m imagining our writer waking up in the morning and saying “I’m [name], and sometimes I have dreams that disturb me. I live with my loving boyfriend [name], who adheres to the relationship boundaries we’ve agreed on faithfully.” And whatever other specifics seem like they might soothe and provide grounding.
Rich: A reality check.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, I get it—dreams really affect people. My boyfriend has woken up really, really upset after a nightmare and the mood will linger for hours. But at the same time, you can’t hold against other people what your mind creates. You have to exercise some logic here.
Stoya: I’m wondering if our writer is giving himself enough time to feel his feelings, or if he’s squashing them because of their lack of reason.
Rich: Right, there’s clear anxiety about infidelity, which is not unreasonable in any scenario. People fear betrayal and abandonment pretty consistently across the board.
Stoya: I think talking it through with his partner might help a lot.
Rich: Totally. I thought a key piece that was missing here was whether there is any behavioral foundation for this fear, in terms of actual cheating (however he defines that) or differing attitudes about monogamy. I suspect not; it likely would have been stated. It’s time to have one of those discussions and reaffirm terms.
Stoya: For sure. And even though vulnerability is scary, letting your partner in on the dream aspect seems useful.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, not letting him in on it is borderline cruel. I know it’s tough, but I think you owe it to your partner to explain disturbances that might cause you to change your behavior, especially if it means you’re treating him differently.
Stoya: Exactly. This doesn’t have to be super detailed or complicated: “Hey, I have these unsettling dreams sometimes where you’re hooking up with other people.” And then how they affect the writer.
Rich: Recently, I had a similar experience. My friend’s 7-year-old daughter had a dream that I posted a picture of her that she didn’t like on my Instagram, and she woke up mad and stayed mad for days. This is all from quarantine, so my friend is informing me about it. I’m totally helpless in the (social-distanced) face of this child’s wrath. She finally dropped it when she found out I had COVID-19 symptoms. She got really nervous that I wasn’t going to be OK. Nothing like a novel virus to put things into perspective.
Stoya: Yeah. Eep. Aww. So many feelings.
More How to Do It
I’m a woman in kind of a classic millennial sex pickle: I’m really repelled by heterosexuality politically and personally, but I’m also really into dick. I’ve been thinking maybe I should look for bi dudes/ bicurious gay dudes, but I am not sure how best to do that. Rich, what would you think of a woman being on Grindr or Scruff? I do want to be respectful of gay men’s spaces and not horn in where I’m not welcome, but I really would love to find a guy with queer politics who would be up for casually dating a woman. What do you think? If you were me, where would you look?