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Dear How to Do It,
My wife and I are in our 40s, and since 2020 she gained 31 pounds. She looked so different from how she was when we married that I lost the attraction. I explained to her about the weight and how unhealthy it was, and she agreed to make changes. I was patient, even though she started making mealtime more complicated for me and our kids by insisting on making two separate meals, and her time at the gym meant more work for me at home.
It worked though and she’s much healthier now. I’m incredibly attracted to her. I notice other guys in public checking her out, and I’m ready to turbocharge our sex life. But she complains she’s “too tired” all the time, and when we do have sex there’s no energy or creativity. She used to plan stuff, dress up, etc., but now she’s so picky. She only wants missionary with the lights off, sometimes under a blanket, and only if she can be on one specific side of the bed.
In fact, I rarely even get to see her naked. Instead of showing off her new body, she’s always wrapped in big sweatshirts or fleece leggings. When I encouraged her to dress better, she made excuses about being cold (in July?). She falls asleep instantly after sex and often acts as if she’d rather be asleep than fucking. It feels like my wife has been replaced by a hot, unavailable robot. How do I get us back to our 2019 sex life?
—Ready to Go
Dear Ready to Go,
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “be careful what you wish for”; well, now you get to live it in stunning 4D. Despite having gained not very much weight at all, your wife took your guidance, going out of her way to plan a workout and separate diet for herself. Instead of intuiting that Newton’s Third Law applies (that’s the “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” one) and understanding that your wife simply couldn’t pause time to meet your demands, you decided this behavior called for patience. You suggest that you could have been put out, but chose to rise above it. Your wife lost weight at your urging and you still found something to be unsatisfied by.
Get real, man. You say your wife is a robot, but that’s exactly what it sounds like you want—just one at your beck and call, like Rosie from The Jetsons. I am going to assume that her self-consciousness about her body and her lack of interest in sex is also at least partly, in reaction to you—you told her she wasn’t attractive to you. If she’s a robot, you’re experiencing a rise of the machine. The kind of feedback you gave makes people feel bad. She may have lost the weight that you took exception to, but she didn’t necessarily shake the self-consciousness that your criticism may have incited. Or she may be holding your brusqueness against you. Couldn’t blame her.
If you want your 2019-era connection back, try being nice. Give as she has given. You made her body all about you, and it’s reasonable to assume that there’s only so much that she can bear. Your selfishness outside of the bedroom makes me wonder how much it presents in bed, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not a small amount. Start a new path with a conversation in which you consider how all of this affects her. Approach with humility. Be willing to accept you caused your own disappointment. Consider that your wife isn’t the problem—you are.
Dear How to Do It,
My fiancée “Isla” and I have been together for four years and engaged for almost a year. Our wedding date is set for July 2023. We’re both highly strange, sensitive, particular people who seemed to have found our perfect counterparts in each other. We have the same political opinions, food preferences, and tastes in media—we even share the same uncommon kink. We never went into great detail about our past relationships, which is how we both seemed to prefer it. Recently however Isla got on my computer and found the (non-pornographic) pictures I’ve kept of my previous girlfriends. She became upset because all three of them were natural redheads, as is she.
The truth is, I’ve always been extremely attracted to red-haired women, for reasons I honestly don’t know—and, being a socially awkward introvert, I’ve only been able to get up the courage to approach women I’m extremely attracted to. It just happens that all three who then agreed to go out with me were redheads. But when I tried to explain this, Isla accused me of having a fetish and not really loving her because I’m only attracted to her appearance, which is completely untrue—I initially asked her out because I was physically attracted to her, but would not have stayed with her for four years, let alone asked her to marry me, if I didn’t love her personality, spirit, and intellect even more.
We had the first serious, voice-raising, name-calling fight of our entire relationship, and I ended up leaving our shared apartment and staying with a male friend. But I’ve also been talking to a mutual female friend, who told me Isla has been acting unlike herself lately, although she doesn’t know why. She also told me that all four of Isla’s previous boyfriends have been at least 6 foot 2 inches, even though Isla herself is barely 5 foot 1 inch. I myself am 6 foot 4 inches. When I finally got Isla on the phone and brought this fact up, she said it wasn’t the same thing because women have traditionally been powerless and thus made to feel the need for taller, more powerful partners, as well as being societally conditioned to see tall people as superior and want taller men in order to have tall or at least average-height children. Whereas I have no excuse for what she still calls my “ginger fetish.”
The call ended on a bad note. I’m completely distraught. The only thing I can think of is that she’s having cold feet about marriage and is trying to force a breakup with me, and just seized upon the first reason she could find. Could this be true, or is there any merit to what she’s saying? Is there any hope that we can make it through this, possibly with counseling? If so, what can I say or do to convince her to try?
I would love to hear from Isla on this in order to be completely confident in my response, but you lay out your case reasonably. A lot of people have a type and, right or wrong, find that they can do little to change that. It makes sense that you’d reserve your small capacity for outgoingness for those to whom you’re most attracted. Also, as you’ve pointed out, you’ve been with Isla for four years, which is a really long time to stay committed to a head of hair—you clearly are invested in her personhood, at least on some level. It is a good thing that you are sexually attracted to your fiancée, at any rate.
In the interest of fairness to her, I wonder if she’s felt fetishized or objectified by you in the past and somehow the news of your type confirmed her worst suspicions? People can be very sensitive about these things, but personally speaking, I love to be both objectified and have my humanity respected by the same person. Different occasions call for different sensibilities and a long-term relationship has a lot of room for a lot of different feels.
I agree with you on the height comparison, and I understand why you brought it up, though the risk of a counter-example such as that is that it won’t illuminate but instead create more distance if the other party becomes defensive. Sounds like that’s what happened. You’re being so reasonable, I’m not sure what else you can do and I fear you’re right about her jumping on a reason to break off your engagement. You have a strong bond with this person, and you’ve been in a long relationship with her. Let’s say you’ve been a great partner the whole time. What else can you do? That effort alone is enough proof that your bond goes well beyond pigmentation. You could remind her of this. Even in the worst faith reading of the situation, what gets someone in the door isn’t enough to keep them there. You also might want to take a step back to examine her suspicions and determine if she has any justifiable reason to believe you haven’t been as devoted/connected as you believe.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’ve been separated from my abusive husband for about a year, and am at the tail end of a very difficult divorce after over 10 years of marriage. I have sole custody of our two children who do not see their father, so the past year has been full of a number of struggles and adjustments. Dating had been the last thing on my mind, but I met Peter in September through friends and there was an immediate connection. We were a perfect match sexually and had a great time trying new things and getting to know each other’s bodies. I felt comfortable and safe with him in a way that I had never felt with my husband. However, things moved very very quickly (he told me he loved me a number of weeks in), and about two months in I realized that while I was still going through my divorce and other struggles I didn’t have the emotional capacity to work on the triggers and issues that were popping up in a serious relationship.
After a heated and emotional conversation, I ended things with Peter, and while it was my decision I felt absolutely heartbroken. After a few days, he reached out when he heard that I’d had a death in the family and we started texting again occasionally. This led to a conversation where we talked about remaining friends, having sex occasionally, and just taking a serious relationship off the table (being non-exclusive was specifically discussed). There was a period where it felt like the relationship hadn’t actually ended, we had drunken sex one night and I slept over, but since that evening we started communicating less and it feels much more casual now.
During my relationship with Peter, I met Mark. He knew I was in a relationship, Peter knew we chatted occasionally, and no lines were ever crossed. After the breakup, he asked if he could take me to dinner and I’ve been out with him a handful of times in a very casual capacity. We have a lot of fun, and it’s been incredibly slow and casual. I know he is seeing other women, and he is well aware that I am not looking for anything remotely serious. I don’t think I have romantic feelings for him I just really enjoy hanging out with him. A couple of weeks ago we had sex after a date, and it definitely wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t the mind-blowing sex that I had with Peter. It just felt like Peter really knew my body, and was more attentive and responsive to the things I enjoyed.
I’ve been out twice more with Mark, had sex, and haven’t seen Peter since I started sleeping with Mark. Peter recently reached out asking about getting together for sex. If I’m honest, I miss more than the sex with him, we also had fun in a much more relaxed capacity. Spending time with him just felt more natural and comfortable and he has his own kids half-time and is a great dad. I know I am nowhere near ready to be in a relationship but I would like to keep seeing him—I just don’t really know how to tell him that I’d like to do more than have sex, how to react if he isn’t interested in that, and I also feel like I should probably tell him that I’ve had sex (am having sex) with Mark. I am, of course, using protection and have had honest conversations with both about testing and exceptions of protection while we are having sex. I just don’t really know how to have these conversations or how to just casually date more than one person. Do you have any advice, not just for this specific situation but even just starting life over as a 30-something single person with a fuck ton of baggage and no experience with any of this?
—30 Going on 13
Dear 30 Going on 13,
I know that all of this is scary and uncertain, but it sounds like you’re doing great so far. Just keep going. When you put the situation in such big terms—“starting life over as a 30-something single person with a fuck ton of baggage and no experience with any of this”—of course it’s going to seem overwhelming. But look at you, on the ground. You’ve survived abuse, you’re managing your trauma enough to get close to people, you’re getting good dick and another that’s at least half-decent. You’re doing this with two kids. You’re killing it! You just take it as you have been—step by step, day by day. There’s no map here, you must chart your own territory, which is exactly what you’ve been doing.
I think with Peter, you can show him you want more than just sex. Block out a good chunk of time in which you’ll hang as well as bang. Get dinner, watch TV, talk. Take it slowly and let it progress. The guy is crazy about you, and there’s a good chance he’ll take what you give him. You don’t have to set what-this-all-means terms right away, nor do I think you should—the mistake you made last time with him was defining things too early so that the outline of the relationship was much bigger than what you could fill it with. Just take it easy with him, let him ask questions about the nature of your connection (don’t be afraid to respond with uncertainty), and let him know that you’re fond of him. If you haven’t told him how much you enjoy having sex with him, you should. It’s a way of letting people know that you’d like to continue doing so, and it’s nice to show your appreciation for people in no uncertain terms. Because things are casual with Peter, you don’t have to let him know about Mark—not right away. See where things go. If you build to the point where you feel like you want to be exclusive and/or want that from Peter, let him know. That said, if he asks you about Mark, be honest. Make clear that the issue last time wasn’t Peter or your sex, but how quickly your relationship progressed. Resetting your pace could be all you need to form a perfect connection. Good luck!
Dear How to Do It,
My partner and I are both in our early 20s and started living together full-time about eight months ago. We were initially friends with benefits for over two years but realized we had feelings for each other and started dating seriously. Our sex during the friends period was great—intense, vigorous, and super hot. I found him super sexy and my attraction grew through our sexual relationship. However, now that we are living together we barely have sex and when we do he very much seems to be going through the motions, and when we’ve talked about it he’s admitted he doesn’t have the same desire for sex as before.
He has typically taken a more dominant role in the bedroom, so while I have tried my best to initiate and look good, he’s just not that interested. He suggested trying tantric sex, which I enjoyed, but when I suggest it now he was not interested. I think it’s related to spending too much time together at home, and worry that I don’t have a generally sexual vibe on a day-to-day basis, due to mental health issues, even though I’m thinking about it a lot. I didn’t become sexually active until I moved to university at 18, and while I had some experience before I met him, it was cut short by lockdowns and then entering a committed relationship.
I always thought my 20s would be a very sexually active and orgasmic time in my life, something I looked forward to in my teens, and now feel like I’ve preemptively entered middle age with my dead bedroom. I also never thought I would end up in a long-term relationship, so while I enjoy it, it was never my dream. I’ve suggested an open relationship but he’s not enthused and I wouldn’t want to ruin things with us just to sleep around, but I find myself fantasizing about others a lot, especially women and the different dynamic I have with them (we’re both bi). I worry that my sexual desire will ruin an otherwise great relationship (we have many similar niche interests and I genuinely love him very much), but also worry that I’ll wake up in 20 years regretting my lack of exploration in my 20s. Should I keep trying to see if things change, especially if we both spend less time together, or is this a big deal?
—In Love But Not Lust
Dear In Love,
Your suspicion that the interest in sex has dried up as a result of “spending too much time together at home,” may be correct—at least, that’s the thesis of Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, which you should read if you haven’t as it provides an inquiry into this phenomenon and some tips for overcoming it. (They involve putting a sense of distance back between you and your partner so as to reenergize the erotic mystery.)
That said, it’s very early for this to be happening to the two of you—both in terms of the relationship and in your life. Getting the spark back may be possible, or you may have stumbled into the discovery that you and this guy have just run out of road. Some connections aren’t worth the energy a defibrillator requires. It could be a big deal. What I recommend is hanging in there for a bit longer with the kind of space-giving alterations you have suggested for yourself—say six months to a year. If you aren’t seeing movement by then, get out of there. In the meantime, don’t blame yourself. You did that a few times in your letter. You’ve already put plenty of effort into this, and you’ve come to How to Do It for an endorsement for yet more effort. Your dynamic is a product of chemistry to which both of you contribute and then feed off. It’s not you—it’s the two of you and this really could be just not a great match.
More Advice From Slate
I am a 34-year-old woman and I’ve been with my boyfriend for 13 years. We don’t have kids (yet), we have a great relationship, the sex is always good, and we hardly fight. I honestly cannot complain: He’s the type of man every woman would want. He’s caring, very thoughtful, funny—I could keep going, but you get the point. Anyway, I feel bad for even thinking this way, but I am and never have really been physically attracted to him.