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Dear Miss Information,
I am a thirty-two-year-old man and very much in love with my girlfriend. We met twelve years ago — possibly too young, in retrospect. We dated off and on, then moved in together eight years ago. We've been living together and doing blissfully well, until six months ago, when everything changed.
This last summer was outrageously stressful for a multiple of reasons that I won't go into here, but while the strain wasn't coming from us, it was affecting us. The first thing I noticed was that I was no longer giving her orgasms during sex. She said her mind was on other things or she was stressed, but this struck me as odd, as sex had always been a good way to blow off steam for her.
I figured so long as we were talking about it, I shouldn't worry. I then noticed that she really began throwing herself into her work, even though she hates her job. She became more withdrawn from me and everyone around her, and yet she started to become far more outgoing to people she didn't know and spending more time with people I would call acquaintances.
About four months ago we really stopped having sex. She said that she was feeling depressed. I became incredibly worried as major depression runs in her family. I learned everything I could about what I could do to be supportive, but things weren't adding up and still don't seem to be. She isn't quite acting like someone who's depressed — the depression only seems to manifest around me. (I completely understand that I still may be wrong about that observation and that depression can manifest in many different ways.)
A couple of weeks ago she said she thought we should take a break. Again, I asked her what exactly that meant, and she couldn't really answer. But I'm starting to think that I'm simply being naive and I'm mistaking depression for the fact that she's simply fallen out of love with me. I feel like I'm living with a roommate now.
I can't eat, I can't sleep, and I don't know what to do. Yesterday when I woke up on the couch again, I broke down. I'm not sure if I should press her to make a decision, if I should make it for her, or if I should just stay supportive. How you would read this situation? Am I being a dick and making this about me when it's really depression, or is this simply what happens when someone falls out of love?
— What the Hell Happened?
Dear What the Hell Happened?,
Oh, honey: you're not "being a dick by making this all about you." If anything, it seems like you're perpetually following her around with a tray of cookies and milk saying, "What can I do? Will this help?" The confusion and pain is certainly understandable, but as a quick aside: how are you doing? Do you have support networks and sources of joy outside of this relationship, just to keep yourself strong?
As far as the relationship, these are the two major scenarios you're considering:
1. She no longer loves you.
2. She's depressed.
If it's #1, then she owes it to you to sack up, tell you, move out, and move on. If it's #2, she owes it to herself and to you to seek help. Both of these scenarios end with her needing to take some sort of action for herself: anything else turns you into her caretaker, which won't work. So she's either some wishy-washy siren stringing you along, or she's in a place where she's incapable of making any big declarations. Which, from your letter, sounds like the more likely possibility.
And while my position as email-reader hardly qualifies me to pass out meds (can you imagine if it did? I'd be so fun at parties), I see plenty of potential symptoms of depression here. She's losing interest in things; she's becoming withdrawn from close relationships while seeming sunny and ebullient around acquaintances. Depression doesn't always "look" like a terrycloth robe and Haagen-Dazs; when you say she only seems depressed around you, it makes total sense. Don't most of us try to keep up appearances to strangers when we feel like shit, then come home and grumble to the people closest to us? The biggest tip-off, though: She told you she's depressed. Case closed here, ladies and gentlemen. Now that House is off the air, do you think I could get my own medical-detective spinoff? (I'd guess "staph infection" about 60% of the time.)
The short story: encourage her to get help. Maybe it's clinical depression, or maybe it's just a rough patch, but it sounds like she needs something more than you can provide right now. And, while we're at it, put some thought into your own mental health. You deserve not to have this relationship consume you.
Dear Miss Information,
I recently left a religion I had been practicing since birth, one that taught me "no sex before marriage." Now, I'm not against people who believe this, but I'm opening myself up to the idea that it isn't wrong to lose my virginity.
However, changing how my conscience reacts to the subject is going to take far longer than the rational side of me. I've been told "no" for twenty-two years, and adjustment takes time. With that said, I have no idea how to enter a dating world that includes a side order of "sex."
My past relationships have always been with guys of the same faith, who also were living by the same rules, so it was never an issue. Now, it is. I don't know how to approach the dating world of "normal" guys who see sex as a "normal" part of a relationship. I'm just not there yet. Eventually, sure. And I know I shouldn't feel rushed or pressured, but I'm not in high school anymore; I just finished college. The guys I'm interested in are men, not boys. But I feel like I can't go there because they don't want to date a "girl" (so to speak). I mean, why should they date someone they can't sleep with? And the guys I find who are okay with this setup aren't necessarily guys who have a lot of options to begin with.
Basically, I feel like if I don't tell a guy I'm a virgin, I'm leading him on, and if I do, then I'm setting myself up for failure. As much as one can preach "If he likes you, he'll wait," I see it as, "If he's a viable catch, then he can find someone who's willing to give him everything he wants," no matter how much of a catch I may be.
— Unknown Territory
Dear Unknown Territory,
When you've had decades of "true love waits!" messaging, it's undoubtedly tough to switch into the mainstream without feeling like you're at a disadvantage. But being sexually inexperienced doesn't make you a leper. You may also be giving guys too little credit. Sure, some of them will want sex to be mixed in with their relationships from the beginning; but many of them are also thoughtful, emotional creatures who'll want to get to know you before they jump into bed with you.
And why wouldn't a guy be willing to wait while you get comfortable? Many couples date for a while before sleeping together — this is a cultural norm that should in no way set off alarm bells for a potential suitor. If it does, move on. You'll find a more patient guy around the corner. There's a whole range of sexual activity between "kissing" and "penetration," and you and whomever you date can baby-step your way through that range.
Pick up The Guide to Getting it On to familiarize yourself with some of the basics so you're not caught totally unprepared. And know that, when you're fooling around, you have the right to push pause on the action if it starts going too far for you. Boundary-setting is something everyone does, virgin or no. Sex is all about comfort and connection, and the minute you're no longer comfortable, it should stop. The biggest disadvantage you're facing now is your belief that you're at some huge disadvantage. Stop thinking of yourself as a "girl" chasing these "men" — you're a fully-formed, competent adult for many reasons, and sexual experience is just one facet.