Why won't my new boyfriend sleep with me? Do I have to draw him a map?
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Dear Miss Information,
I am a twenty-two-year-old woman and have been with my boyfriend, twenty-five, for a little over two years. I love him very much. We have a great relationship in so many ways: we love spending time together, we have great communication, and have plenty of affection and emotional intimacy between us. But for the last six months, maybe more, the physical chemistry just hasn't been there — for both of us somewhat, but mostly for me.
We've talked about it, we've tried a whole mess of things, and nothing seems to be working. About four months ago we decided to open our relationship with the hope that it would generate more excitement between us. While there have been none of the issues one would normally associate with open relationships (jealousy, etc.), it hasn't really generated the excitement that I hoped it would. It's definitely not my libido — honestly, I want sex all the freaking time. I'm just not at all excited to have it with him, much as it pains me to admit that. And I wouldn't be happy with just having a companionate relationship and getting my kicks elsewhere.
Lately I have been feeling that we just can't fix this and I need to end this relationship. But every time I think about it, it feels unbearable: I can hardly breathe and I just start crying. He is a wonderful person and I love him so, so much. I have a great group of friends that I'm very close with, but he really is dearest to me. I know I'm not fulfilled in this relationship, and I've put everything that I have into it and am still not getting what I need from it. I know staying in it when we can't make it better is not fair to either of us. But the thought of letting him go is just unbearable, as is the thought of hurting him. I feel heartsick all the time and I feel so selfish for thinking this way. What can I do?
— At a Loss
Dear At a Loss,
In every wedding toast in every rom-com ever, the groom hoists his glass and says some variation of "She's not just my wife — she's my best friend." Cue violins! Our friend Ryan Reynolds and the monkeys who script him are on to something: the difference between "best friend" and "boyfriend" is the addition or subtraction of a sexual component. If that's lacking for you two, you need to reevaluate.
From your letter, it sounds like you are on the way out of this relationship. And that's okay. Don't assume that a breakup will equal permanent estrangement. Just because you stop dating doesn't mean he'll be out of your life forever. Breakups suck, always. It will be rough going for awhile, but if you both conduct yourselves with maturity and compassion for each other, you can minimize the scars while giving yourselves the space to establish yourselves independently of each other. Once you're each on solid footing, you can begin to negotiate the boundaries of your new, slightly modified relationship.
Love exists in many forms, and the (widespread) assumption that romantic love trumps all others discredits the validity — and importance! — of other relationships. It will take work, but you can absolutely maintain your emotional intimacy while physically heading in other directions. There are so many ways to be in love. Don't kill it by clinging to the one form that isn't working for you.
Dear Miss Information,
I'm twenty-four and he's twenty-three. We were acquaintances for two years before we reconnected at a friend's party in November and started going on dates immediately after. We went out about two times a week last month. When I got sick, he gave me his favorite sweater so I could stay warm and texted often to see how I was feeling.
Here's what's weird: although we've had two sleepovers, we only kiss or make out (although I try to make it clear I'm definitely willing to do more). He has no problem initiating making out, but anytime I've tried to turn the makeout session into something heavier, he kisses me even softer or pauses altogether. When I ask if he is all right, he says he's fine.
I'm afraid to try for anything below the belt yet until I get more signs from him. I can tell that he's turned on, but neither of us takes action.
He's pretty shy and I don't want to make him feel bad by bringing it up in conversation. As a girl, I also feel uncomfortable bringing out the "define the relationship" talk. I really like him and do not want to scare him away, but I'm looking for a boyfriend and not casual dates. I don't need it to be all "serious" and "marriage-y", just someone to go out with more often and everything that comes with that in bed. How do I let him know I want to move this forward?
You have let him know you want to move this forward. And he gets it — that's why he pulls away. He's not dumb, but he clearly doesn't know what to do here. Rather than explain or articuate how he's feeling, he turns off. And that puts the responsibility and burden of communication on you. The answer isn't "try harder;" the answer is closer to "check in."
That insidious "ladybrain = babies/marriage/flirtinis/
A conversation like this also doesn't have to be a stressful affair. You can keep it light and and abstract without stepping on anyone's sexual-anxiety toes. Maybe start like this: "You're really hot and I love spending time with you." (Flattery! It will get you everywhere.) Then: "I feel like there's a weird boundary here, and I want to check in with you to make sure you're still comfortable with what's going on." Stay clear of anything that could be taken as accusation (i.e. "Why do you pull away when all I want is some sweet lovin'?") and you should be fine. But also, stay firm: if you're going to be involved with him, you deserve to have your needs acknowledged, too. "I'm fine" doesn't cut it as a response.
Once you discuss the make-out issue, then you can figure out whether you want to expand it into a broader State of the Union talk. (That's where you spring the marriage offer! Ha ha ha!) But honestly, if he can't explain his hesitation at this point, he's probably going to make a crappy boyfriend.