I love my boyfriend, but something's missing. Should I call off the wedding?
Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters may be edited for length, content, and clarity.
Dear Miss Information,
I'm a twenty-one-year-old straight female and have been seeing a guy for almost six months now. I'd recently broken up with his best friend, so we were kind of "off-limits" to each other, but we always had amazing chemistry and were incredibly attracted to each other. We started hooking up — but stopped at sex. Mainly because we both knew that it would be too hurtful to my ex/his friend, who did not take it well when he found out we had been hooking up.
A couple of times we did get close, but when it came time for penetration, he just couldn't stay hard. He has no problem getting hard/staying hard for other activities, so I assume it's because of the guilt over the way this situation has unfolded, in addition to some performance pressure since we've had so much sexual tension and anticipation.
We recently decided we have strong enough feelings for each other to throw caution to the wind and become "official," although he's still keeping it from certain people since our friendship/relationship caused so much drama between him and his friend. Not unexpectedly, his problem staying hard persists.
We always each get off when we fool around and are otherwise very sexually compatible, but it's a bit unsatisfying. I've been understanding and reassuring, and haven't pressured him to go any further when it's obvious it's not going to work, but I don't know how long I can go without sex.
I don't know how to talk to him about this or help us overcome this issue. I'm starting to get desperate. I feel like we handled the situation wrong, and now that guilt has doomed us before we've even gotten a fair chance. Even if we both agreed that I could go out and get laid elsewhere, I still want that experience and intimacy with the man I love too. I know we're both young and could (or maybe should) give up and find other people, but that thought is breaking my heart since we seem so perfect for each other and care about each other so much.
— Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Dear Hard Place,
In the big picture, he's probably feeling a combination of guilt (over his friend), embarrassment in social circles (because of his guilt over his friend), and possibly a seed of mistrust for himself and for you (given that you both screwed over someone you cared about). That's enough to put a damper on things, for sure. He'll have to rebuild trust in himself and in you before this can get better. I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but there you have it in print.
Start by talking to him about the social issues, without drawing any link to his sexual performance. Sex is far too fraught an issue right now: address the root cause without touching the fringe effects yet.
Take it slowly: "Hey, you know how things are awkward with Vlad and Arturo?" (I assume his friends are characters in a fourth-grade math textbook.) "How are you feeling about that?" And go from there. Maybe he'll have insight, maybe he won't, but something has got to change — whether you guys come clean, spend less time with his old friends, start hanging out in new circles, or decide to elope to Epcot. (Please don't elope to Epcot.)
If you want to work on it, work on it, but opening the relationship in circumstances like this is a terrible idea. You being allowed to fuck other people would mean he would have to shoulder the "blame" for not being able to please you, and no one should have to put up that kind of white flag of inadequacy.
Sex has likely already become a huge stressor for him, so you're in the delicate position of having to get what you want without compounding his anxieties. Keep doing just that. In the interim, invest in some toys, experiment, and show him novel new ways to get you off. This issue is probably doing a number on his confidence, so if you can guide him toward pleasing you, you'll both enjoy the payoff. And, of course, be generous with him. That should go without saying.
Part of what makes this so difficult is the "have your cake and eat it too" factor: a relationship shouldn't ruin one's social life, just as one's friend groups shouldn't ruin a relationship. That is going to have to take some re-negotiating, and you and your boyfriend are the only ones who can figure out those nuances. And how do you fit in to his group of friends? How do they regard you? Can you hang out with them one-on-one, so they get to know you as a person, rather than an abstract? You and he will have to figure out the details, but don't stay closeted: secrets fester and build shame, and the longer you tiptoe around, the more you'll undermine your own (physical and emotional) relationship.
Dear Miss Information,
I recently moved in with a great guy who I've been in a relationship with for over two years. He loves me and I have feelings for him, too. Our relationship is good. We have lots of fun together, share similar interests, and "get" each other effortlessly. He's a great guy. I can see myself marrying him and having babies with him, but I feel something is missing. Sometimes I find myself fantasizing about a more exciting love life. I feel selfish and guilty for having these thoughts. He's perfect for me and I'm fairly certain I'm not going to find anyone who loves me more or treats me better.
I'm in my late twenties. I fell in love a long time ago but it didn't work out, partly because I blew it. I haven't been in love since and I accept that I may not experience those kinds of feelings — feelings of intense love, lust, and infatuation — again. I haven't felt that way in any of my other relationships. I feel like if I knew what was good for me, I'd marry my boyfriend, but I'm afraid if I marry him, I'll still miss that "something" down the line. And if I let him go, I'll be throwing away something really valuable. I'm generally happy in the relationship and am constantly nagged by the feeling that I should just be thankful for what I have.
Here's the thing. The concept of "should" will screw you over almost every time, because it imposes an external value system as opposed to you listening to your own compass. So: "I should just marry him." All right, but do you want to? Because trudging into a marriage out of a sense of duty will almost certainly end with you in a bathrobe, fifteen years from now, barking orders to your four-year-old to "make Mama another martini, and damnit, make it dry this time."
Comparing this relationship to a past one is problematic, too — but hard for me to speak on, since I have no idea what it was like. Was it wartime and he was Ryan Gosling and you faithfully wrote letters every day? (The romantic ideal — am I right, ladies?) Or was it a summer fling that never had a chance to get stale? Either way, this relationship exists in a time and place entirely separate from that one. Take stock of your feelings here, in this relationship, in bed and out, without drawing comparisons. See where that goes.
I'm not going to tell you to stay with him or break up with him. That's up to you. But certainly don't commit further out of a sense of "should." At the same time, don't spend your time looking back and pining. Shift the focus away from "what would be good for me?" and focus more on "am I happy?" As a tip, look at the language you used in your letter. Listening to your gut won't lead you astray.