Four letters about The Guy Who Would Be Perfect If Not For That One Dealbreaker Thing. I didn’t publish the 5th of this ilk that came in this week, which was about a perpetually-unemployed-and-not-trying, bad-in-bed man who was also mean. That one was too easy (Bees! Run!). These are harder because people don’t have to be evil to be not quite right for you.
Help me Awkward People, you are my only hope with this two-part doom that has consumed my life.
I am in a long term relationship. We are pretty much solid except for two problems:
1) I am unhappy with our sex life.
2) He doesn’t have a job.
1) We have a fair amount of sex. I want it to be better. My partner, C tells me often that he wants me to get off, and that it is a thing that would make him happy. It would also make me happy. I think the foreplay part of sex needs to last like about fifteen minutes before there is genital touching, and for him to not ever scrape my parts with stubble ever again. Can I have a script for dealing with this? Possibly one for when things are getting heavy too quickly? I don’t want to stop things I just want to take more time. Help? Please?
2) C has chronic anxiety that he has only recently relieved help for. Four years ago C’s best friend died under extremely bizarre mysterious circumstances. C was devastated. He became extremely depressed, lost his job at the bank, stopped exercising, and started drinking way too much. His other best friend had to make sure he was eating and bathing.
In the last three years he has: received grief counselling, started taking medication, stopped drinking excessively, taken some courses at school so he would relearn having a regular schedule, and gained some hobbies (one of which occasionally generates some money). Just before he started taking courses at school, he and I moved into an apartment together. He has decided that he wants to work full time. But that was a year ago.
I am super thrilled with his progress back towards being functional. I am so proud of him for actually getting help. However, C needs a job. C has talked a lot about having a job, how he feels crappy “freeloading” off my student aid, how loserly/useless/fat/old/ugly he feels. It’s honestly really hard to listen to him talk like that. He has asked around a bit, but he hasn’t actually been sending resumes. It’s been about a year of this and I can’t afford it anymore. I don’t want to nag or be overly pressury but the time has come. How do I constructively discuss this with him?
How do I help him get over this last hurdle towards being himself again? Am I being unreasonable? How do I adult this? I knew it would take a while for the jobbing to happen but a year is an awfully long time.
Not A Life Coach
Dear Not A Life Coach:
Awesome commenter Sheelzebub hasn’t been seen around these parts in a while, but the flame of her memory burns bright in our hearts. I’m gonna invoke her right now, because she is the best at asking the right questions for these kinds of letters.
If things stayed exactly like they are, bad sex, no job, no action or progress toward getting a job, would you stay:
Another 6 months?
Another 5 years?
Because you have the scripts already. They are “C, I like having sex with you, but I really need foreplay to last longer, also, please shave if you’re gonna go down because otherwise it’s like sandpaper.” In the moment, it’s more like “Slow down, please!” and redirecting his hand/face where you’d like it and then saying “Yes! That’s good!” when he does. There’s no magic sugarcoated way to do this, just, say it. You have the longer talk when you’re not about to have sex or haven’t just had sex, deploy the in-the-moment scripts as necessary, and then wait and see if it gets better.
The job script is “C, I can’t afford to keep supporting both of us. I know you have a lot of anxiety about getting a job, but as of (date) I need you to contribute to the rent & bills & food costs, or I need to move somewhere cheaper where I can carry the load myself or with a roommate who can.” I think you need to also make the costs explicit if they’ve just been handled silently by you in the past, because he literally might not know how much it is. Make a spreadsheet that lays out exactly how much you pay for rent, bills, food and then divide that number in half. Maybe you should scale it up gradually – the first month he needs to cover 1/4, the next month 1/2, etc. until he can swing the full amount. Does he need to make his hobby really pay? Does he need to send two resumes/fill out two applications a week (this is my current deal with myself, FYI)? Does he need to look for part-time, short-term gigs? Does he need to register with a temp agency? (One thing holding him back might be the feeling that he “should” be able to get a job exactly like the one he had before, at the same pay and status. I think we have reached the “Start somewhere” stage.
If he really can’t work due to anxiety, can he talk to a social worker about occupational therapy or filing for some sort of disability? Hinting isn’t going to work. Hoping he will suddenly deal with this isn’t going to work. You’ve got to give him numbers and a time frame and then see what he does.
The question isn’t the scripts. You’ve got the scripts. The question is the date. What is your date past which you can’t hang with this stuff anymore? What would you do if the time limit passed and he’s still not working or trying to work, but he is making a noticeable effort? What would you do if nothing changed? You won’t be a bad person if you started thinking about where you’d live and what you’d do if it were just you a year from now.
Dear Captain Awkward,
My boyfriend and I met over 4 years ago and have been living together for almost 2 years. We met at work (though we don’t work together anymore), and for me it started out very slowly – I found him super attractive, and I was just getting over a really nasty break-up. But as I we started seeing each other more, I started to fall in love with him. He is one of the kindest, most loyal people I have ever met, and things with him felt easy and right in the way they never had with anyone else.
All this in mind, I feel like what I’m writing about shouldn’t matter, but here it is anyway: he’s a bad kisser. When we met, he was bad, and I knew it, but I thought this was something that with some fun practice would get better. It hasn’t. I can’t believe I’m about to write a long story about kissing, but I am.
The big problem is that kissing really turns me on. I enjoy sex and everything that goes along with it, but I absolutely love kissing. For a while, when we first started seeing each other, I would gently try to give suggestions. Sometimes they would work, but he always seems to relapse after a while. I would try to tell him what made me feel good but when you’re in bed, you can only say so much before things get scientific and very un-sexy, which seems to be the only way to communicate because demonstrating and sexy hints don’t work. In the end he was finally getting confused and even annoyed and defensive. So I finally stopped and because of all of his other good qualities (and the rest of the sex was fine), I tried not to let it bother me.
I should also explain that he is very shy about talking about sex, even though he is in his mid 40s. Communication was a big problem for us when we first met, and we have worked together to make leaps and bounds in that area. He does seem willing to work with me in the bedroom as well, and I don’t even think all this is for lack of trying…somehow, I’m either not communicating what I want, or he’s not getting it…but I’m starting to worry that after 4 years, things pretty much are what they are, and I’m going to have to either be okay with it, or not.
I am getting to the point, too, at which I need to decide whether to take The Next Step. I want kids and I want to get married. I love my guy a lot, and this seems like a silly thing to be upset about in the scheme of things. But I also worry that marrying him will mean a lifetime of sex that is…well, fine, but lacking in the area that really makes me happy.
I would love some insight, if you could give it.
Kissing shouldn’t be brain surgery
Dear Brain Surgery:
After four years, this is the kind of kisser he is. You’ve done all the right stuff already: Demonstrating, working on communication, giving him feedback, telling him what you like. And he’s still cleaning your gumline with his tongue or trying to suck your whole face into his or giving you weird little pecks timed as if by a metronome (or whatever his unsexy deal is).
So let’s apply the Sheelzebub Principle. If you knew that this was as good as the kissing gets, would you want to stay with him?
For another year?
For five years?
For 10 years?
How do you handle this now? Do you lie back and think of England while he goes to town on your lower face? Do you avoid kissing him?
You say “The big problem is that kissing really turns me on. I enjoy sex and everything that goes along with it, but I absolutely love kissing.” It’s actually heartbreaking to see you suggest that something is wrong with you for liking kissing. You get to break up with even really sweet people if you are incompatible sexually. Or you get to decide that all of the good stuff he brings is a worthwhile trade-off for bad kissing. I dunno. I don’t have magic “kiss better” scripts, sorry. One night my boyfriend and I demonstrated on each other all the most horrific kissing techniques we’d encountered over the years (The Remora! The Drooler! The Corpse! The Cleaner! The Berserker! The Fishhook! The Count!), which led to us both crying with laughter and then having to do lots of good kissing to chase out the bad. Sometimes telling my film students to deliberately “shoot wrong” helps them understand composition and editing concepts. Maybe try something like that?
Dear Captain Awkward,
My partner and I have been together on and off for nearly six years. Last year he told me that he thought we’d made a mistake breaking up and that he didn’t want to lose me so we started thinking about dating again. Really, that meant that we acted like friends in public and a couple in private. About a month ago it started to bother me that our relationship wasn’t going anywhere and this made me think about why our relationship doesn’t seem to work. I realised that it’s just too stressful.
We both get so stressed with each other. He gets stressed because he feels he has to look after me, I get stressed because I feel like he’s patronising me. He gets stressed because I don’t talk enough, I get stressed because he wants me to talk more and I don’t have anything to talk about. He gets stressed because I “don’t want to do anything”, I get stressed because I feel like he looks down on my suggestions of what to do. You get the picture. We’ve tried talking it out but we both end up feeling like the other person wants us to be someone we’re not, and we’ve tried to change what the other person wants changing but it never seems to be enough.
I know all relationships are stressful at times, but this is stressful almost all of the time that we’re together. We do love each other and we really want to make this work, but it’s just so hard all the time. Are we incompatible, or do we just need to deal with our stress better? Is this what all relationships are like, and are we expecting too much from each other? I thought that I definitely wanted us to be together but now I’m not sure.
Just Want to Relax
Dear Just Want To Relax:
All relationships are not like this. There are relationships where the majority of time is spent laughing and being nice to each other. There are relationships where having different communication styles works fine because the more talkative partner isn’t demanding a performance from the quiet one. There relationships where no one patronizes anyone, ever! There are relationships where being a couple in public and in private don’t require extensive negotiation. Everyone has to deal with stressful things sometimes, there are relationships where having a partner to help you makes everything less stressful, not more.
After six years, you have all the information you need about how this is going to go. It sounds like a lot of work. So, if nothing changed about how you spend time together and relate to each other, how long would you want to maintain this stress level?
Another 6 years?
It also sounds like you never really actually broke up, so you don’t know what the sweet, sweet relief of aloneness and quiet is. What if you broke up again and actually cut off contact so you could really heal and not grow back together like a badly set limb?
You asked me how do you know when it’s too much work…
- When one of you always feels like they need to apologize to the other
- When one person always wants something that the other doesn’t want to give
- When you feel uneasy and insecure rather than happy and supported
- When all your time is spent working out the parameters of the relationship rather than enjoying the relationship
It sounds like he really likes sleeping with you but isn’t so down for the rest. And it sounds like you are not actually cool with that. How long would you be willing to give this a try if you knew nothing would fundamentally change?
Dear Captain Awkward:
I have been with my boyfriend Dan for 6 years and have always told him that I am someone who wanted to marry. Initially he said that that was not his thing. As we got more serious, he agreed that yes, someday we would marry.
In listening to what he says and does over the years, it’s become clear that while he said we would, Dan really DOESN’T want to get married. We discussed this recently, and he admitted that while he’d always said that he wasn’t into the idea because
* he didn’t see the point
* he didn’t want to stand up in front of people
* marriage is just a piece of paper
* we’re already committed,
In reality it was because he saw it as a really big deal and he was afraid his marriage would fail. So ok, very clear: he’s not going to marry me.
He doesn’t want the relationship to end though. It seems a bit drama-queeny to break up with him because he doesn’t want to marry me. But yeah, it makes me very sad, because to me, it’s an important commitment step. To me dating is auditioning the relationship and marriage is making a decision about that relationship. He says he’s already made a decision to be with me.
Because we’re older (he’s 50), people call him my husband, but he’s not. I feel (childishly?) that he gets the social approval of commitment, without actually committing. There is no real social pressure; I live in Europe where many people don’t bother marrying. It’s really just me — I want a form of commitment that is different from his, and I’m disappointed. Am I letting myself down by not sticking to something I value? Am I just going to have to get over it for the sake of a very good relationship with someone I love?
The subject line of your email was “eternal bachelor: commitment-phobe or modern man?” which made me laugh; it’s such a classic Women’s Magazine sort of headline. But it’s not funny when you feel like you’re living it, complete with nagging woman/aloof man cliches, and I’m really sorry.
I want to turn Dan’s question around on him, on your behalf. If he’s already committed to you in a lifelong kinda way, and getting married isn’t such a big deal to him, then why not go down to the registry office and knock it out one day soon? It requires no changes on his part, and is actually meaningful to you, so why NOT do it?
If he’s already committed for life, then let’s talk about the ways that marriage as a legal institution acts as a safety net in worst case scenarios, especially as people age:
- Who makes decisions for the other if one of you gets sick or is incapacitated?
- How does money get handled in the case of death or debilitating injury?
- Do you know where all each other’s money (and debts) live? Do you manage money together?
- Do you each have a will? What’s your insurance situation?
- Can you talk about all of the above calmly and constructively, in a way that makes you both feel cared for and heard?
Someone who says “I’m worried the marriage will fail” is actually saying (sorry!) “I don’t think I would stay married to you, even if we got married.” After six years, I think you know everything you need to know about Dan and what he wants and what you want. It sounds like you want different stuff. And that’s daunting, because starting over is daunting. Giving up something that’s pretty great for the unknown is pretty scary. I don’t know what you should do, so let’s apply the Sheelzebub Principle. If things stayed exactly as they are for another six years, would you be happy?
One thing that guts me about all of your letters is your questioning of your right to want good kissing, good sex, a partner who can help with the bills, marriage, someone who makes you feel relaxed instead of stressed all the time. You’re using words like “drama queen” to describe yourself for being a human who wants things. You’re all asking “Is it even okay to want what I want?“
Whoever injected our collective brain with the idea that love is something we earn by making ourselves want only smaller, appropriate, manageable things needs to come here and fight me, with fists. Because I want EVERYTHING. I want love, I want great sex, I want great kissing, I want to be able to relax and laugh with my love, I want us to both contribute financially to the household as well as we are able, and when the time comes I want to stand up in front of the people I care about and say “You bet I do” and sign that “meaningless” piece of paper. I want those things without apology. Without limit. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with any of you for wanting those things, too. I can’t promise you that someone is out there who wants those things and wants them with you (I don’t control that, just like I can’t make people kiss better or clean the toilet when it’s their turn) but my own life has given me lots of reasons to be optimistic on your behalf.
You guys knew what I was going to say when you wrote, most likely. I’m good at “break up, duh” and I wish I had something better to offer you. Probably what would be most useful here are stories from the community:
Recognize yourself in any of these tales?
Were you and your partner able to talk your way through to a better place?