Dear How to Do It,
I have been married to a woman for years. Recently, she revealed that what she told me about her first marriage had been a complete lie. Worse, to me, she refused to have a rational conversation about it—either together or in therapy.
It turns out that rather than one affair with a married man at the end of a nine-year marriage, she had four affairs with different men across the nine years. I have been shaken to the core. I have no clear evidence she’s cheated on me, but there have been specific incidences that have caused me jealousy, including a “Happy New Year” text on midnight this year while we were naked in bed from a colleague. (When I asked about him, she flatly refused to explain, and said that whomever it was made a mistake. When I asked that she answer, she said it would embarrass the man.)
All that I believed we were has been challenged by her admission. I should say, this is more the communication than the acts. She has always been a person who lives expediently rather than authentically. I know many people like this; they believe any white lie is better than the truth if it keeps homeostasis and avoids conflict. That is the real cause of my angst. Much of the nuance is lost, of course, but I am curious for your candid reaction. Where am I standing on solid ground, and where has my own fear overtaken a reasonable mind?
—Hot Sex Partner, Dubious Wife
Even without her specific past, you’d have plenty reason to be wary. You’d been lied to for some time and then denied a straightforward explanation. She was shady about that NYE text and she exhibits little empathy. You say your wife doesn’t live authentically, so how do you expect to have an authentic relationship with her? You can’t trust anything she says. This is how you’re describing your wife. Even if the picture isn’t complete (how could it be in just a paragraph?), this is how you lead your letter. Why are you with her? You’ve given us a lot of cons. How populated is the pros column on your worksheet? Do you even have one?
And about that past, there is data to support the cliche “once a cheater always a cheater.” I kind of hate that because I believe people can change. Nonetheless, an oft-cited study published in 2017 out of the University of Denver with 484 participants found that someone is three times more likely to cheat if they have cheated in the past. Given your wife’s pattern, her overall attitude, and her continuing game of peek-a-boo with the truth, I have to wonder if transgressing isn’t part of the fun.
Your angst is, in a word, warranted. I don’t see how you regain faith without a pledge of transparency on her end, at minimum. Things have to change. If she won’t go to therapy with you, it might be time to tell her your marriage is at a breaking point.
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a bi woman in a relationship with a bi man. I’m starting to realize I feel very uncomfortable with the way he talks about men’s bodies. He’s super cut and has very little body fat, as a guy who works a physical job and eats carefully. I’m not: I’m 5’9 and a U.S. size 12/14. I’m definitely active, but I’m also fat in a region of America known for “wellness,” and I definitely wish I weren’t. He’s always said he loves my curves and can’t get enough of my ass, my tits, and my exaggerated hourglass body shape in and out of the bedroom.
But he acts like fat men are an affront and occasionally comments about men who are acquaintances or strangers who need to “work harder on the body,” or even harsher comments about how no one will fuck them. This is really upsetting and feels like a massive double standard—a lot of those guys are roughly equal to my degree of overweight, and it’s hurtful for reasons I can’t really explain. It makes me feel really self-conscious about sex with him. Every time I bring it up, he says he’s “allowed to have preferences,” but it feels like more than that. What can I do?
—Thick and Thin
Dear Thick and Thin,
It is true, there is often a double standard applied to the way people evaluate the attractiveness of men versus women, though historically, the inverse has been far more prevalent. Entertainment alone has paired larger sized men (some certified schlubs, if you will) opposite of rather svelte, often younger women. This goes back to the stone age, at least of Hollywood—think Fred and Wilma Flintstone. So at least your guy is helping to rebalance the scale of impossible expectations. That’s the coldest of comforts, I realize.
He is indeed “allowed” to have “preferences,” sure, though that kind of language can be slippery. That doesn’t mean he has to talk about them. You clearly find them crass and, indeed, his words are ugly. (And wrong! Fat dudes fuck!) It is understandable that you’d be sensitive about this given the way women who aren’t Size 0 are treated in our culture. If your compassion makes his judgements unsightly, just ask him to refrain from sharing with you. It might help to explain why your personal experience makes his judgements so hard to stomach, but if he’s compassionate, he will respect your wishes without qualification. At the very least, you’ll get to see what he’s made of by what he makes of your feedback.
Dear How to Do It,
Is there such a thing as withdrawal from oxytocin, the “love hormone”? Or addiction? Last night I had a one-night stand with someone—we did not have sex, but we kissed and cuddled—and this morning I’m very physically and mentally uncomfortable. All I want is to seek out my roommates and hold them (we do not have this relationship!). The rare times I receive cuddling, I desperately don’t want it to end and cling to the person, even when they’re suggesting it’s time to end the night or pulling away. I can’t seem to help it and I’ve been like this as long as I can remember.
I had a long-term, live-in partner who I lived apart from for a few months before he broke up with me, and I remember the craving for touch and for love was unbearable. I was just in a panicked, distressed state for weeks, calling, calling, calling him to get a little “hit,” even though we were hours apart. When we were living together, my whole day revolved around waiting for when he was going to come be with me. It was absolutely incredible and at the same time I’m not sure it was any kind of a way to live.
I’m so lonely and so touch-starved, but sometimes I feel like it’s worse when I get a little bit of touch periodically because then I have to go through these hours/days with this desperate, uncomfortable feeling. Sometimes I even feel this way after if I get to have a normal, nonphysical, hang out with a platonic friend for a few hours!
Is this something I just have to live with? Will it lessen when I get pets? I’m worried about my life.
—Just One More Hit
Dear One More Hit,
It’s not likely that your issue is being caused by oxytocin withdrawal or addiction—oxytocin is actually used to treat addiction. It would also be hard to isolate oxytocin as the sole culprit. Why, for example, blame oxytocin when dopamine, which is produced in response to sexual stimulation, has been observed to set in motion a hamster wheel of feeling good and wanting more? As Anna Lembke writes in Dopamine Nation:
By raising our neural set point with repeated pleasures, we become endless strivers, never satisfied with what we have, always looking for more. But herein lies the problem: Human beings, the ultimate seekers, have responded too well to pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. As a result we’ve transformed the world from a place of scarcity to a place of overwhelming abundance. Our brains are not evolved for this world of plenty.
But that doesn’t seem to exactly apply either, as the neuroadaptation Lembke writes about is the result of “repeated exposure to the same pleasure stimulus” to the point we need more and more. It sounds like you want more touch, irrespective of how much you get and for how long it occurs. There is a condition referred to as “touch starvation,” which describes craving for touch in the absence of it—this became something people talked about during quarantine. Various reputable health sites online recommend boosting oxytocin through exercise, singing, dancing, and spending time with pets, along with pampering (like getting your nails or hair done), massage (which truly seems like the move to me), and trying out a “cuddle party.”
What you do with these feelings of starvation may be its own matter—calling, calling, calling may be overwhelming and counterproductive, pushing away someone you wish to draw closer. Pets might help, yes, but I think you’re gonna need a bigger boat (or fishbowl, as it were). I would talk to a therapist, maybe someone whose specialty is OCD. That might not be the diagnosis you end up with, but it’s definitely something to explore given what you’re presenting.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a man in my 60s. I don’t know if I am good-looking, but I don’t think I’m bad-looking. I keep myself fit. I have a degree in journalism and work as a magazine editor. I am articulate and said to be witty. Many years ago, I started a relationship with a co-worker that lasted about 10 months. Then I was unceremoniously, unexpectedly, and rather rudely dumped. I then had to see this person every weekday until finally three years later my former partner left for another job. I was quite traumatized by these events, and to (finally) get to the point of my letter, I haven’t had sex since the Reagan administration.
I have had opportunities for sex since then, but I am not interested in having casual sex. It has to “mean something.” (I am not a religious person, in case anyone reading this thinks I am.) However, I have “adapted,” and for some time “not having sex” has been what’s normal for me, which does not mean I like it. I now feel ready to start looking for a relationship, and my question is, what is the appropriate time to reveal my situation to a potential partner? I don’t want to lie, and I do not want potential significant others to assume that I must not be a very sexual person, because I am one, very much so. Thank you.
—Lost My Virginity and Then Got It Back
You can be vague to start. Don’t lie, but if someone asks you a question about your dating history, you can hedge with, “It’s been a while.” Full transparency is ideal, but your negative experience and ensuing romantic inertia should not be held against you, nor should it distort the reality of your sexuality. If you’re moving so slowly that you’re going to avoid having sex until you’re in an exclusive relationship, your sample may self-select for people who are less hung up on the notches on your bedpost and more interested in an actual connection. I suspect there is a market for a fit 60-year-old dude with a good job who is witty, or at least so goes the word on the street. You presented yourself as a catch to me and I’m not even your target demographic. Lead with that confidence, and not the nitty-gritty of your experience, and you may do very well for yourself. Good luck and you’re welcome.
More How to Do It
am a straight female in my late 20s. In previous relationships, after I become comfortable with a guy and where we are sexually, I ask that he finish all over me. I love the act and love how it feels. I am currently in a relationship with a wonderful man. We are compatible in almost every way, but he absolutely refuses to do this because “it’s demeaning.”