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#584: The Elephant In The Room is in the room.

Baby Elephant

It’s my blog, and I’ll lighten the mood of serious posts with photos of baby elephants if I want to.

Hi!

So here’s the setup; I’ve been in a long term relationship for a while now (going on a decade). We’ve lived together for most of this, we now own a house together, we aren’t married (and don’t plan on it) and don’t plan on kids. We also have a bit of an usual arrangement within our house, in that we don’t share a bedroom (or bathroom or office spaces) because I’m a very light sleeper and he snores.

So the problem: I find I’m desperately unattracted to him now. Sex was never fantastic with him, but I used to still enjoy it. I rarely got off with him, but I was ok with this (masturbation is there to save the day!). I’ve occasionally had stretches where I lost interest in sex for a while (say, 4-6 weeks at a time). I just shrugged my shoulders, asked him not to push me it on it because having him nag me about sex while I was in one of these phases just pissed me off, and I came out of the phase just fine. He’s not a neat person (and I’m uninterested in fixing this, part of the reasons separate bedrooms are great cause that mess is his problem to deal with), he’s very gassy (which, ok, I know, people fart, but it doesn’t really make me think sexy thoughts, and the separate bedrooms and offices are also great for keeping some distance for this stuff), and he has this attraction for old T-shirts he had in high school (which mostly just annoys me because SERIOUSLY you can still wear stuff from high school? But usually it’s not really a problem, he has to wear dress clothes to work so those are now only occasional lounging clothes). None of this stuff has changed at all during the course of our relationship; I pinpointed them before as possible problems, and have eliminated them as issues as much as I can.

But I’m not coming out of the phase this time. There’s nothing left for me to pinpoint as a problem. This time we are pushing 5 months of me being completely uninterested in sex (or anything involving us touching) with him. I can’t get myself to be attracted to him. I can’t. And I’m getting really tired of trying to force myself to be attracted to him. I’ve always had an …active imagination when it comes to imagining sex. This hasn’t ever impacted our sex life before; I’ve never had any issues placing him in fantasies before alongside all the other fun stuff. But I find lately that I’m almost repelled by picturing him in my fantasies or during masturbation. It completely kills it for me. Because there’s this lack of attraction, anytime he comes to touch me (whether its a hug, or a shoulder rub, or whatever) I completely stiffen up and just wait until he stops so I can relax.

He’s my best friend though. We still get along great for the most part besides. There’s just this giant elephant in the room of, “Hey, you know, we’re boyfriend/girlfriend, yet our relationship has been pretty much just roommates for months now.” What do I do? What can I do when I’m not attracted to him? I’m scared of moving on (I do still love him. I just don’t think sexy thoughts of him anymore), but I also know I’ll be dreadfully unhappy in the future if this is all there is in the future. I don’t even know how to begin talking to him about this. My biggest fear is that he’ll just sit there without saying anything once a conversation starts (this fear exists because it’s happened before in big conversations, where he’l just sit there without really adding any input and I’m left to say “well, so there it all is, it’d be cool if you had something to say about this” and it just never happens. Even during a therapy session we went to 4 or 5 years ago).

Baby elephant giving itself a bath

If there is a YouTube channel where one can watch Baby Elephants do stuff, never tell me, b/c I will watch it all day every day and never do anything else.

This sounds heartbreaking and hard, and I’m sorry. We already covered a lot of this territory here ( and some libido stuff specifically here and here) but I want to revisit this because I had another idea for how to frame it.

The elephant in the room is IN THE ROOM. You’re not talking about it, but you can both see it, smell it, and hear it. If it stepped on your feet or pooped on the floor or stole your dinner with its sassy little trunk, you’d notice. As in, your boyfriend has almost definitely noticed that you haven’t had sex or wanted to touch him in 5 months. Whatever hurt or rejection or questioning can happen is already happening both to him and to you on some scale. Yes?

The prospect of breaking up, having to re-figure out a living situation and finances, and of maybe losing the most stable and closest partership you’ve had is a HUGE disruption and decision.

Talking honestly about what’s really going on, maybe going to therapy, maybe trying some different sex stuff to try to improve the relationship also feels gigantic.

The big decisions have big consequences, but no decision also has consequences. (Yeah, I did that. I went there. What you find at that link won’t bring your libido back any time soon, sorry). You don’t want to have sex, or even a romantically-tinged relationship with this person, and you don’t feel like you can communicate effectively with him about it or get the necessary emotional feedback from him to feel hopeful about the outcome. That leaves him feeling constantly rejected in small ways and you feeling constantly guilty and looking for something to blame. Old t-shirts. Farts. Your inconstant self. It’s not like the status quo = happiness. It’s just a slow-motion apocalypse, global warming vs. an asteroid.

You could “open up” the relationship, which a lot of people do when they get to this place, but is that really a solution for keeping it going or just breaking up in stages? What happens to your partner when you meet a well-dressed, communicative hot dude with a clean house who is really, really sexually compatible with you, and he meets a heavy sleeper who loves his old Quidditch t-shirts and wants to jump his bones all day and all night? At least you’d probably have to drop the pretense that he’s your boyfriend vs. your best friend/roommate, but is that the correct order of operations?

I know this is scary to contemplate but I think some relationships just run their course. It sounds like you and your partner were incompatible in lots of ways when you first got together, but love and optimism and excellent boundaries made it work very well for a very long time. “Getting along great” is awesome, but it’s not everything. Maybe you’ve changed in the last ten years, and what you needed then is not what you need now. Is it a failure that it couldn’t hold together forever, or it a triumph that it did at all? One of the things that will help decide that is how you handle the hard things now. Staying friends with exes isn’t an obligation, but when it works out it is a delight to have the continued support and companionship of someone you love without all the angst.

Your script, if you choose to deploy it, is probably something like this.

“Partner, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been interested in sex for a while. And while we’ve had dry spells before, this one has lasted much longer than usual.”

A baby elephant with a huge soccer ball.

I would totally let this into my room.

He will say some stuff, possibly a variation of “Okay...”

“I am so sorry, but I don’t see that getting better. I’d like it to get better, because I love you so much, but I don’t know how to make that happen. And talking about this is very scary for me, because I do care about you and our life together so much. I don’t want to lose our friendship and partnership if the romantic parts of the relationship goes away.”

Own the feelings as your own. If there is something concrete he could do that could change how you feel, then tell him. If not, don’t blame shirts or farts or snores. If he threw away all his old shirts, would your desire change? I don’t think so, so it’s not fair to set him a series of “change yourself” tasks like a Princess in a fairy tale. Also, go with “my feelings of attraction have changed over time” over “I never was totally into sex with you, but it didn’t used to be actively difficult to contemplate.” There’s honesty, and then there is bludgeoning someone with honesty.

Say your thing. And then see what he says. He might ask “Are you breaking up with me?” and your answer might be “I don’t know” and that’s okay. You might ask him “Do you have any ideas about what we could do to fix this?” or “Do you think we could keep living together as friends but not as a couple? Because that would be my choice, I think,” and he might or might not have answers to that and those answers might change with time.

But don’t push him. Say the piece you are responsible for, which is your feelings and needs, and ask him sincerely to contribute, and then wind down the conversation until another time if it’s not going anywhere. When you have to have a serious talk with someone who is emotionally reticent, it’s very tempting to try to fill in all the gaps or do a lot of caretaking around helping them figure out their response. And a situation like this, where you desperately don’t want to be the bad guy, makes that all the more tempting. I think you need to talk to him, but also to resist trying to pull a certain response out of him. Otherwise you’re having both halves of the conversation. His honest response, even if it’s uncertain/unclear/needs time to develop/is unsatisfying to you, is still the best response because it gives him agency and you information about what you need to do next. Someone who can really talk about this with you and generate possible solutions is maybe someone you can dig in and go to therapy and try out new sex things with. Someone who can’t maybe isn’t that person, and that’s okay.

Baby elephant hiding under its mother.

I’m hiding you can’t see me la la la

If that still feels too hard and too scary, what are some baby steps you could take while you gear up to a big conversation?

  • If you are feeling a bit isolated, like your partner/best friend is your only friend, could you nurture/develop some friendships outside of the relationship, and encourage him to do the same?
  • Could you take a solo trip or a trip with a close friend who is not your partner and see if being away for a bit gives you perspective?
  • Is it time for you to go to therapy yourself and talk this through at length with someone?
  • Is it time for a medical checkup? How’s your libido when you are alone and thinking about Not Him?
  • Is it time for you to pay lots of attention to saving money, in case you do have the talk and it turns out to be really disruptive? Knowing that you could rent your own place for a few months if you had to is a way to take care of yourself, and of him if it comes to that.

Put as much of a financial and emotional safety net in place as you can. But don’t delay too long. Five months is a long time to live with someone who shrinks from your touch. You’re not responsible for every single thing that he will feel or every single decision that gets made about the future. The elephant in the room, the can of worms is about to to pop open, the bandaid is hanging by a thread, the words are already on the tip of your tongue.

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96 comments
  1. Nicole said:

    LW, I hear so much of myself circa one year ago in you. I began dating someone around age 17, through college, and into the first years of adulthood. We were really good together, had mutual interests but enough separate space, and the sexytime was wonderful. I married this man thinking it would be strawberry fields forever. Over time, however, things started to devolve for me. I got a new job, which made me incredibly happy, but I wasn’t carrying that happiness home. I used to dread walking through that door at the end of the day, and had BIG sighs of relief when he told me he had plans with friends or was going to be out late for work. (GOOD THANKS BYE!!!!) We started fighting over the stupidest stuff, to the most extreme degree, even in front of our families. Things about him that I knew (he’s messier, wants to watch more TV, not as active) before we got married, suddenly seemed like personal affronts. Eventually this feeling spilled over into our sex life. I had routine thoughts of “Well, if we have sex tonight, he’ll probably let me off the hook for another week or so, so let’s just get this over with…” It was an understatement to say I didn’t want that, or to be holding his hand, or touching him, or anything in that realm.

    As I was figuring all this out, in that nexus of “do I really feel this way? is this permanent? is this temporary? is it fixable?” I met someone at work. Someone who gave me all the sexy feels back, who was tidy, ambitious, determined, and showed a genuine interest in me, my thoughts, my feelings (something that had definitely fallen by the wayside in my marriage). Long story short, this new dude was the nail in the coffin. I wish it hadn’t come to that — I wish I could have known myself better in those moments of weird feelings to get out before irreparable harm was done to my ex.

    I’m not proud of how this went down, and my advice to you, if you really DO care about your guy (I know I did, even with the fights and the lack of physical attraction), try to figure this out and make an exit strategy as smooth as possible. That’s not to say it’ll be easy, or that you’ll even end up as friends in the end (if that’s even what you want), but there are SO many more bad feelings on the path that I took and I’d hate to see anyone else be asn inadvertently destructive to someone they (used to) love as I was.

    The Captain’s advice, as always, is spot on.

  2. A Nonny Mouse said:

    I was having a bit of an “ugh, sex” phase with my long term partner until recently; and then I got a new “it’s complicated” (;-p) and suddenly I’m much more interested in sex (with both of them). My LTP and I have always been non-monogamous though, so this isn’t a new experiment for our relationship. Obviously the “try an open relationship” thing really really isn’t going to work for everyone, and as a stepping-stone to breaking-up and becoming monogamous with the new guy it is kinda sucky, but it can apparently be just the ticket for finding the REBOOT MY LIBIDO button.

  3. Anisoptera said:

    Baby Lelepants!!! <3

    Ahem. Working around an incompatible person is really draining. My past relationships have often been full of evil bees as well as incompatibility, but I'll say this for being single – it's really really relaxing compared to shuffling around a whole bunch of constant irritations and unspoken frustrations and disappointment. And when I think back on those bad relationships the bees don't always top the list of things I'm glad I no longer have to deal with.

    Also people who just won't engage with a conversation about serious issues make me want to scream and pull my hair. You can't fix a relationship on your own – it needs to be a joint effort, and if one person isn't lifting a finger to help you can go nuts trying to make it work and it will make no difference.

    You sound really annoyed and repulsed by this guy. It's really easy to get comfortable with your living situation and work around all the annoyances, large and small, but trust me when I say that if you do make a change you might be shocked to learn what all the compromises were costing you emotionally. A bad relationship can be like an old worn out washing machine – you know, it sort of works but you have to turn the knob just so, and only on this one setting, and sometimes you have to give it a kick and every so often it destroys your favourite shirt and actually the spin cycle doesn't work and watch out for the leak… Then one day you get a new one and suddenly you're overwhelmed by the awesomeness of an appliance that fully works without fuss. An appliance you can trust with your nice clothes. And look sometimes we have the dodgy old appliance because we haven't the money to get a better one, but sometimes we're just so used to working with its flaws that we forget that it might be a problem worth solving. Until we solve it, and then we don't understand why we put it off for so long.

    And partners are so much more important than washing machines, and having none at all is better than having a bad one.

    • Cactus said:

      “Also people who just won’t engage with a conversation about serious issues make me want to scream and pull my hair. You can’t fix a relationship on your own – it needs to be a joint effort, and if one person isn’t lifting a finger to help you can go nuts trying to make it work and it will make no difference.”

      I’ve been in relationships like that before. I kind of knew something was wrong when I was relating to this song so thoroughly:

      But there’s little to be done when someone thinks that the way things have been going, with one person doing all the emotional lifting, works perfectly fine.

      • Just went down the Marketa Irglova rabbit hole. I had never heard of this artist before, and she so perfectly hits my, “I had to leave because I couldn’t be where I wasn’t wanted anymore but damn it hurts like hell,” place where I’m dwelling these days. Thanks, Cactus, for posting it.

        Also, LW, get out before anyone else gets hurt. I was on the other end of the shudder and cold shoulder and pulling away. Those daily mini-rejections from a partner of 20 years were soul-crushing.

        • JenniferP said:

          She’s one of the stars of the movie Once, which is probably all the way up your alley.

  4. Obviously, the captain has offered great advice as usual. But I think the only thing I would add would be telling you to look 1, 5, 10 years in the future. And you’re still in this relationship. Are you happy? Or are you still settling for “getting along most of the time” with someone who seems to annoy you so much with his high school t-shirts, snoring and farting? Will you be happy spending the rest of your life like this? Because if not, you should RUN, not walk, but RUN out of this relationship.

    Not because you could be missing out on kids and marriage – much respect to you for knowing what you do and don’t want – but because you could be missing out on LIFE. Even if it means being alone. Even if you never find another another relationship, don’t you think you would be happier, sitting in your own place, that you control, drinking your favorite beverage without dealing with the farty contributions of someone you don’t like all that much?

    This is not a failure. Relationships run their course all of the time. The only real failure would be staying in a miserable situation because you’re afraid.

    • Sarah said:

      Thank you. I just…thank you.

      I have broken up with two good, marriage-quality guys because I just sat there one day and thought, “No. This is not what I want.” (These feelings were triggered by interest in a Cute New Guy each time, but everybody’s signals for “Oh shit, it’s time to rethink my plan” will vary.) They are perfectly lovely people and I’m still friends with one of them, but there came a day when I thought, “I would rather be single with cats in a cozy little apartment than married and dealing with you in my space forever.” And I was out within a week, because I am the most impatient person you will ever meet.

      But lately I’ve let that feel like failure – I’m 28, I have a cat, I have grad school debt, I have not even the slightest hint of a potential romantic liaison on the horizon. These are all things that I think are fine when I look at them logically (I’m young! I have a furry thing that loves me! I am in the program of my dreams! I get to focus on my own stuff and not compromise at a time when my career needs to come first!), but emotionally, dumping two marriage-worthy guys…well, it’s started to feel like there is something wrong with *me* and not that there was something wrong with the *relationships*. And I just really, really needed to hear that I haven’t failed.

      So thank you.

      • JenniferP said:

        The ultimate thing that makes someone “marriage-worthy” is that you really, really want to marry them. You met awesome guys who weren’t the husbands for you, and you ended the relationships when you knew that was so, which speaks well of you and well of them and is not a failure.

        • Sarah said:

          I guess I meant “marriage-worthy” in the sense that they are kind, respectful, have-their-shit-together kind of guys. I’d set up my friends with the ex I’m still friends with (awkward sentence, but hopefully you know what I mean). I just knew that neither of them was my guy.

          Oh well. This is just a lonely month, it will pass and I will be one month closer to an awesome roommate and an apartment I’m really excited about. Thank you both for the Jedi hugs and the reminder that life does not have to fit the narrative I was taught as a kid. This is the right life for me, and it is a good one.

        • Courtney said:

          Exactly! Recognizing that the guy you are with will make someone else a wonderful husband (and setting him free to find the spouse that is right for him) is NOT a failure. Marrying them when you knew it was wrong would be a failure. Seriously, you do NOT want to wake up the day after your wedding and think, “What have I done?”

      • jdrives said:

        You haven’t failed, not by a long shot. Ditto what CA says – the only thing that makes a person marriage-worthy is that YOU want to marry them. Not that OTHERS want to marry them, or think that you “should” marry them. My Evil Beekeper ex is engaged. If we had gotten married (which I had so desperately wanted because if Smart, Gorgeous, Driven, Polite, Future Doctor He didn’t marry me then I would be alone forever because who would want me then?!), I would have been so so miserable. He was not marriage-worthy for me, but is for someone else. Those can both be true and not mean that I failed at anything. Take heart – your life sounds lovely and seems like some good life-stuff is on the horizon. Jedi hugs.

  5. The Captains gives a lot of excellent advice; there was one bit in particular that I want to underscore.

    “Say the piece you are responsible for, which is your feelings and needs, and ask him sincerely to contribute, and then wind down the conversation until another time”

    You have a script. You have a plan for the conversation. Your partner does not. Even a hyperverbal, emotionally intelligent person, can take a while to formulate a response to new information, big announcements.

    • espritdecorps said:

      This is a really good point

    • Anisoptera said:

      Yes indeed! Though you do need to circle back to it at some point – in some ways it’s a good test. A dude who come back to you of his own volition a few days later with serious thoughts and input of his own might be someone you can work with (though you might still just be incompatible). A dude who takes “let’s come back to this later” to mean “oh well thank god that’s over and I never have to think about it again” and who still doesn’t have anything to say when you ask him in a week’s time is not a dude who will work with you to fix things.

  6. Ginny said:

    Great response: my addition is to point out that people do, sometimes, manage to create and maintain a “this is my life partner/housemate but we don’t have sex, but we have sexy romantic relationships with other people” structure. I was just reading someone’s personal account of how they ended up in that very setup. It’s not easy, there’s no roadmap for it, and you take a lot of criticism from other people who assume your relationship therefore isn’t “real.” But it can happen, if both people have taken a long hard look at their situation and decided that’s what would make them happiest.

    As the Captain says, if what you really want, someday, is to share a home with somebody you love having sexytimes with, this isn’t a good solution, just a step in an unnecessarily drawn-out breakup. But if living together and sharing a life makes both of you happy, in a “this is my best life” kind of way not just a “well, this has worked ok so far and I don’t want to shake it up” kind of way, it’s worth having that option on the table for discussion.

    • gallantqueer said:

      I second Ginny. I dated someone who was married to his best friend who he loved deeply but he didn’t have sex or romance with. The way he explained his marriage was “we’re very good at going through life together and I expect we’ll do so indefinitely.” It was hard and awkward for them, but they eventually worked out an enviable set up.

      I gather from observation that many people want to get their romantic and sexual needs met with the same person that is closet to them in terms of logistical and social support. If you want that then you should go after it so hard. I hear a tiny bit of “there is this person, and I like him, but I don’t have a script for what we are together now that we don’t have sex and romance.” I just want to point out that people sometimes get their romance/sexual/logistical/social needs met by different people. Even in relationships where two partners are meeting most of one another’s needs in all those categories then they still probably get some needs in some categories met by other people.

      • wondering said:

        Co-signed

  7. Elephant Watcher said:

    Baby Elephant Walk

  8. Brassica said:

    I second the Captain’s advice, and elephants.
    The one thing I’d specify is that if you choose to take that distance and perspective gaining trip the Captain suggested, when you are deciding on a travel companion, think long and hard about whether that friend should be someone with whom you might be/might want to be sexual, if your sexual desires come back on this trip.
    I’m not saying you need to choose a solo trip (though solo travel can be amazing and empowering!), or that you should avoid hot, available, interested-in-you friend as a travel companion, but make the choice consciously.

    It can be useful to be reassured that yes, attractive people with whom you aren’t irritated can get you off! However, consciously choose the _possibility_ if you do– don’t set yourself up for the passive “it just happened to us! There was no way we could have predicted it!”, because five months worth of pent up libido + person who isn’t making you flinch away from contact + travel in new place can be pretty intense.
    Good luck!!

    • Legacy of quiet said:

      Unlurking just to say +1000 to this.

      While spontaneous stuff may sound like awesome after so much of just dealing with stuff, fallout from spontinaity is just an extra thing to deal with on top of an emotionally fraught situation.

      Much luck to you LW!

    • Agreed. It also strikes me that a trip away could save the friendship component of the relationship – it’s not guaranteed whatever happens, but the over-exposure that’s going on right now could easily turn to loathing, or erupt into words that sound very much like it. It’s not always possible to live happily with our friends, and it is certainly not always possible to live with a friend as if we were mutually in love when we’re not.

    • Lotta said:

      I just wanted to add that if you go on a trip with someone really, really sexy, you should have a clarifying talk with your boyfriend. I mean, maybe it’s so obvious that I’m the only one who wants to note it, but: Don’t cheat on your partner. Don’t wait until things get _really_ ugly. Whereby I totally not mean that I suppose you will cheat on your partner when going on a trip with somebody else.

      Now, dear LW, go and take a walk, get your head clear, make up your mind and then have that conversation with your boyfriend how you both see your relationship in the future. It’s not going to be easy but you will be alright and your boyfriend will be too. Good luck!

  9. Anonaconda said:

    I found this letter really interesting. I always pay attention when someone uses the word “nag” in reference to their partner, because I find it’s often used to dismiss someone else expressing their needs. You say that him “nagging” you about going without sex for 4-6 weeks at a time “just pisses you off,” and you always come out of these sexless phases “just fine,” but what about him? It’s not that you owe him sex or anything, but for a lot of people sex is a really important way to express intimacy and love and strengthen a bond. Maybe it’s revealing that his communicating a need pisses you off instead of making you concerned how to fix things. Maybe that reaction is why he doesn’t speak up when you’re having big conversations.

    Listen, for all I know, that’s not the dynamic even a little bit. But all we see is what’s in this letter, which is very much focused on your own needs. It might make it easier for you to make a decision if you consider whether it’s fair to HIM for you to stay in this relationship if you’re truly no longer attracted to him. Sometimes breaking up is a greater kindness than staying with someone with whom we know we can’t be the best version of ourselves. Then again, sometimes in a long-term relationship you can find your way back to the passion and connection that’s carried you through. I wish you the best of luck either way, it’s going to be okay.

    • Muffin said:

      It doesn’t sound to me like the LW is dismissing her partner’s needs at all. Male sexual desire is given so much weight and emphasis in our society that whether this partner is being polite and subtle or pushy and unsubtle–and we don’t know which it is–that expression of desire is still given a huge amount of added emphasis and unspoken entitlement. That says to me that this isn’t a place where the LW needs to focus extra special attention. I’m sure the LW already feels the weight of her partner’s needs, and I think the Captain expressed a very compassionate version of this consideration–that it can be hard and sad to feel your partner shrink from your touch.

      I was once in a long-term, heterosexual, abusive relationship where my partner nagged me for sex. That’s exactly what it was–constant, whiny, pushy nagging about his entitlement to my body until I relented, punctuated by occasional tirades about what a brat and a bitch I was. I wasn’t being dismissive of his needs in the least. Sometimes nagging is nagging.

    • Phospher said:

      but what about him? It’s not that you owe him sex or anything, but…

      What ABOUT him? If he wasn’t “just fine” with waiting for her to come through these hitherto-finite phases where she wasn’t so into sex (phases nearly everyone has, by the way), was he incapable of expressing that without making it into “you should have sex with me anyway”? He has had the option of saying “You know what, I love and care for you, but this isn’t working for me. I need something to change, whether via therapy, opening up the relationship or us breaking up” just as long as she has had, i.e, the whole time. Why is it on her to work out his needs for him? You seem to be framing irritation at being pressured into unwanted sex — anything other than “Oh dear, darling, how can I take care of your needs better!” as selfish and unkind, and I really don’t think that is okay. Is HE selfish for not breaking up with her so as to better fulfil HER need for no-sex-with-him-thanks?

      Yes, breaking up may be better for him too, but I don’t think LW taking on a burden of guilt for needing a while to sort things through is a necessary part of the process.

      • JenniferP said:

        I’ve been the partner who wants sex and whose partner a) does not want sex and b) won’t talk about it at all, even to explain where they are coming from or what they are feeling, and it’s pretty crushing to experience. “I don’t want to do that with you anymore, ever, and I don’t think that it’s likely to change” would have meant breaking up way sooner, but I would have 1,000 times rather have known that than hung out waiting for it to change and slowly wondering what was wrong with me that this was happening, for reals. Where is the line between nagging/pressuring and asking for what you need/want, and if your partner can’t do what you want, some explanation for what’s happening? “We used to do it all the time, and then we stopped all of a sudden, and nothing changed for me, so what’s changed for you?” isn’t an unreasonable question and doesn’t necessarily carry uncool “pressuring” alongside it. Getting angry and sulking and pressuring and trying to get sex by any means necessary is pressuring, and that does often fall along gendered lines. Asking the question in a long-term sexual partnership isn’t the same thing.

        • Phospher said:

          Well, all we know is that LW experienced what she asked him not to do during 4-6 week lulls as “pushing” and “nagging”, not as simply asking a question.

          It’s very likely that what he’s experiencing now is painful. He doesn’t deserve to be stuck with a partner who doesn’t fancy him forever –There’s no indication that “nagging” for sex is something he even does any more. LW leaving would be better for him than the status quo. If he decides to leave himself, or ask her to talk more about how she feels in the meantime, good for him. I wasn’t saying he was obligated to put in more waiting, just that I don’t think LW’s done something wrong by having failed, thus far, to rescue him from waiting.

          But I haven’t stopped seeing the toxic “well of course he wasn’t ACTUALLY nagging you for sex, but how revealing about you that you think he was” stuff in the comment I was referring to.

      • Thank you. This guy may well have legitimate grievances, but it’s not her job to guess them.

        • J. Preposterice said:

          right? if he has legit grievances, he can use his words.

    • Jenna said:

      I have a problem with the idea of nagging someone to do something, but, I have a HUGE problem with nagging someone for sex. Asking someone to pick up their dirty clothes, wash dishes, or clean the bathroom, even if you reach the point of nagging and bothering is nothing like asking for access to someone’s body. Really. No.
      When I was married, I trusted my husband to stop if I decided that I wasn’t in the mood for sex after all. This gave us room for kissing and foreplay that MIGHT wind me up into being in the mood for more. If he had nagged me, acted entitled to my body, or made me feel even slightly unsafe, that freedom to start with touching, kissing, and foreplay would have VANISHED.
      In fact, I wonder if the nagging about sex is part of the reason that the OP is not enjoying his touch now.
      Other possible reasons include medical stuff that could be checked out with a competent, open minded doctor. Not all doctors are really interested in shoring up the female half of the sexual interest equation. Checking on this is something that the OP may or may not choose to do.

      • Alienor said:

        I’ve never had a relationship with a man who didn’t nag me for sex. I would love to know how to find men who won’t do that.

        • JenniferP said:

          They exist, I swear.

          • I had never dated a dude who didn’t nag me for sex (and I, like, DATED) until I met my now-husband. Dudes who don’t play out toxic masculinity and entitlement on their nearest and dearest are like needles in a (gross, boundary-pushing) haystack, but they are there.

        • MrsMorley said:

          I haven’t experienced this. So yes, non nagging men exist :)

        • Anyone interested in having a forum thread on the topic? I feel my own relationship is a little too young to count as an example (we’re still in the honeymoon phase and getting over initial shyness and haven’t settled into a rhythm or seen how our desires will compare long-term) but I would love to see other people’s examples and hear about experiences in general and tips on dealing with guys who, while maybe not intending to nag, are just WAY more enthusiastic about the physical side of the relationship than we are.

        • misspiggy said:

          What you want is a slightly repressed middle-class English guy who was taught that boys must never try to get girls to have sex with them, ‘cos all men are bad and filthy. I’ve got a lovely one you could borrow for a bit… gets a bit tiring when you just want someone to jump your bones, but still much better than the other extreme.

      • TO_Ont said:

        True. Pressure can be a pretty extreme turn-off. (this is true even if it’s self-imposed)

    • BookLady said:

      Breaking up with someone because it’s in THEIR best interest is… condescending, and also really not the break-up-er’s responsibility. I want to underscore Phospher’s point that LW’s partner is probably totally capable of determining what’s in his best interest and acting accordingly – and even if not, to be told “I am breaking up with you because it is better for you” is [always? almost always?] a really shitty thing to hear.

      Seriously, when a person wants to be done relationshipping with another person, they can generally use their words and make that happen, and if they didn’t want that to happen, it’s *extra* hard to be told that a break-up is going to happen “for your own good.”

      I don’t think the LW is planning to take this route, but I would like the “for your own good” script to go live in the very back of the dusty cupboard of cultural scripts.

      • JenniferP said:

        I’m with you on this 100%. You don’t have to spell out all the reasons to the other person, especially if they are hurtful ones, but owning those reasons – “My feelings changed, I don’t feel like we want the same things, I’m not in love with you that way anymore” is WAY better than “I’m hurting you FOR YOU!”

      • Laughing Giraffe said:

        Saying “I’m dumping you for your own good” is usually dishonest in addition to being patronizing as fuck, too. Unless it’s something like “my archnemesis will murder you if he finds out we’re involved”. It turns “Sorry, I don’t want to be with you any more” into “I don’t want to be with you any more because I think you’re too dumb to know your own needs and how to fulfill them.”
        (Yes, this happened to me once, and while it sucked plenty, it got even worse when the ex decided he had licence to continue telling me what was best for me after we’d broken up. It coincidentally involved such gems of advice as “you shouldn’t date that guy – or that one, or that one”, “leaving the country for work is a silly idea”, and “not getting closure will make you a twisted stunted wreck of a human being, so let’s make out one last time”. And I was the one who was confused about my needs and wants?)

        • fussbot said:

          oh man, did you date my ex? because he did that too :(

      • TO_Ont said:

        I see what you mean. I agree that it’s not honest or fair or respectful to ‘break up with someone for their own good’ or tell them that’s what you’re doing. I can see situations, though, where someone really actually very much wants to break up but feels like it would be ‘wrong’ or ‘unfair’ to the other person and feels guilty about it. In that case I do think it can be a good reminder that staying with someone out of pity or as charity, or pretending to love someone you don’t, isn’t necessarily really kind or honest either. But yeah, that’s a little different than ‘I’m doing this for you.’.

    • DMarie said:

      So I want to start this comment by saying that breaking up with someone “for their own good” is definitely the worst. I 100% agree with that sentiment, and definitely never say it…

      HOWEVER, it might be helpful for someone to hear that breaking up with a partner who doesn’t fulfill you and who you might actually be hurting is also in their best interest. When I was in my very worst relationship one of the things that kept me in it for so long was that I felt like I was abandoning my ex in his depression if I broke up with him. In some kind of warped way I felt like I had to take care of him even though we didn’t even like talking on the phone anymore! It really would have helped a lot if someone had just said – look, ex will be fine without you, in fact he will probably be better off.

      I guess what I’m saying is that even though citing that as a reason to break up or using that as the only reason to break up is not good, understanding at a concept might be helpful. And unbelievable as it is, sometimes it helps to see or hear that exactly.

  10. Muddie Mae said:

    My last relationship is so eerily similar to this letter that I started to wonder if I sleep-wrote this email at some point.

    LW, I was in your position but I was way less self-aware than you seem to be. My (now ex) partner and I met in college. We probably weren’t bonkers-compatible in the first place but we were at a small residential campus with not much of a dating scene. By the time either of us was in a larger market, we had built real affection and companionate love together.

    About 4 years into our 8 year relationship, I started losing interest in sex (I thought). It was a mess and we both handled it really badly. After some time, therapy (couples and individual), and a cute new guy in my office I wanted to bang, I started to understand that I just wasn’t sexually attracted to my partner anymore. But it still took me another year to end things with him because were such good friends and roommates and I felt so hopeless about not having that relationship in my life anymore. Ultimately, the last 3 years of our relationship were completely sexless. Don’t wait that long.

    We broke up last August. The first few months weren’t exactly a party, but they also weren’t a disaster, and life is much better for both of us these days. And, we’re still pretty good friends.

  11. TO_Ont said:

    It kind of sounds like you have a nice friend and roommate and feel like you need to pretend to each other and other people that he’s your boyfriend… But it’s hard for me to see in what way that’s really the truth – it just doesn’t seem very accurate. I’m not sure this is even a question about breaking up, so much as putting words on what’s already the case.

    If he doesn’t feel the same way and has still been hoping this was a temporary phase and that someday you’ll have a completely different relationship, it will hurt at first, but it seems far more tragic and damaging, for him as much as for you, to live for months or years in this environment.

  12. The Captain covers it a little, but you wrap up with this and I think it deserves special attention.

    My biggest fear is that he’ll just sit there without saying anything once a conversation starts (this fear exists because it’s happened before in big conversations, where he’l just sit there without really adding any input and I’m left to say “well, so there it all is, it’d be cool if you had something to say about this” and it just never happens.

    The thing here is – so what? Not everything needs to be or should be a dialog. Your outlook on this relationship – up to and including what exactly you want this relationship to be – has significantly changed. Asking someone to weigh in on how they feel about something that someone else has decided can be cruel in certain circumstances. Asking them to weigh in as a way to avoid deciding or explicitly saying what you have decided is often cruel.

    If you are in a place with this relationship where it’s just not romantic for you and there is nothing that can or is likely to change that then the best thing to do is to simply state that. Not only is it the ethical thing to do but it’s the healthiest thing to do for both of you. “X, I love and value you but I have realized that our relationship is not a romantic one for me anymore.” The only thing you really need to talk about is how you handle the transition, and you should have in mind what you want your life to look like when that transition is done.

    Part of that is not under your control, like whether this person continues to be a part of your life as a friend. Part of it is, like how you handle pursuing new romantic love. A lot of stuff you can at best try to steer and head in a certain direction, but you need to be prepared for him not wanting to be in this changed role. Enter your conversation with him with a clear idea of where you want to head and don’t let a desire to avoid short-term pain steer divert you from moving towards that. If he’s going to shut down and not participate beyond agreeing to your changes… you can’t help that. Dragging it out or trying to make him be an active participant in this change isn’t going to make it better.

    • Mary said:

      Yes, I think this is a really good point. Ideally, of course, you wouldn’t make this decision unilaterally – but you *can* make it unilaterally, and your partner choosing not to participate in the conversation or the decision is also a response.

      As the Captain has said, he might not be able to respond immediately and need some time to think and process, and it’s fair to let him have that. But if days go past and his response is still “…” – you may need to move forward in your decision-making anyway.

    • Anisoptera said:

      I think I agree with the practical point here – that you have to move on even if your partner’s answer is silence. But I do understand why it’s a problem people complain about. There are two facets I see – the first is that we want our loved ones to care about our well being and take an interest when we express a problem we’re having. Someone who just sullenly sits through a conversation like that isn’t expressing much concern for how you feel or any inclination to work out how to fix it (or if it can be fixed). Secondly, in my experience with some fairly terrible relationships it can mean your partner is actually perfectly fine with how things are working with the exception that you keep complaining about it… As in, the only problem they have with how their behaviour is hurting you is that you keep annoying them with complaints…

      I entirely agree that it’s pointless to try to drag out an opinion on what is essentially a unilateral decision, and that it’s potentially cruel to try to force an agreement to do something you’re going to do anyway as a way to deflect blame from yourself for doing something difficult and painful. But the dynamic where your partner sits and stares like an inanimate lump while you try to discuss and solve a serious problem is excruciating.

      • TO_Ont said:

        There are many possible things that can be going on, though. One is just that people have different ways of processing stuff, and sometimes two people’s styles aren’t meshing very well. Personally, I often need to think things through for a few hours or even days before I know what I think and can express it. To be expected to just respond on the spot to something deeply emotional — that would be excruciating, and possibly impossible. I might very well just sit shell-shocked and wordless if I was bombarded with something and it would be much worse if felt like there was a lot of pressure to ‘SAY WHAT YOU THINK AND FEEL IMMEDIATELY’. The thought of it reminds me of oral exams in school, where there’s no time to think yet everything you say matters.

        And sometimes people get in weird feedback loops where each of you react in a way that it triggers a reaction in the other person that’s unhelpful to you and makes you react more in a way that’s unhelpful to them and so on ad infinitum.

        I don’t know that any of that really changes the situation here anyway, though. It’s not clear that there’s even a ‘problem’ that can be solved?

        • Anisoptera said:

          Ah – I think I was a bit unclear. I have no problem at all with circling back to discuss something later, even after a few days or a week. In the circumstances I’m talking about there’s no willingness to communicate full stop – either right away or at a later time after thinking it through.

          I do think a complete unwillingness to engage in discussion of issues raised by ones partner is objectively bad, regardless of communication styles or other weird doom spiral traps we can get into. Because it means no problem can ever be addressed.

          I don’t think further discussion will necessarily help the LW anymore, I just have empathy for the bit where her partner has previously not responded to concerns, because that can really suck. :-/

  13. espritdecorps said:

    Our cultural narratives around relationships equate strong emotion with good relationships and subtle emotions with bad ones. But emotions are just another kind of information. Strong emotions are a way of bringing attention to something urgent, whether that is ”OMG make sexytime with this person ASAP!! ” or “My potential new boss reminds me of Uncle Creepy. DO NOT WORK HERE!!”

    When Spouse and I were dating, and in our early married years there were lots of big emotions keeping us focused on each other, but after some time and therapy we made the compromises necessary to be together. We became each other’s status quo. Instead of big heart-breaking emotions I get frequent warm bursts of satisfaction and small irritations.

    If after a decade together you are feeling so repulsed by your partner that you cringe at casual touch, that’s a big deal. Your body is saying something urgent to you about that relationship.

    • Ethyl said:

      “If after a decade together you are feeling so repulsed by your partner that you cringe at casual touch, that’s a big deal. Your body is saying something urgent to you about that relationship.”

      YES. This is another time to recommend reading The Gift of Fear and learning to understand what our senses are telling us? Because A LOT of people, and this can be really gendered, will talk themselves out of their feelings, but a lot of times, those feelings are there for reasons. Not saying LW’s partner is unsafe, mind, just that some parts of her maybe have a very definite answer to “what do I want to do about this.”

      I’ve been with my partner 16 years, since we were 19, and I still find him attractive and sexy even though he farts and leaves the cheese out. Stop making excuses and hoping things will get better and listen to your body. It’s trying to tell your brain something really useful.

      • THIS. I just drafted a long comment which I’ve decided probably goes better in the forum because telling my own long and complicated story here feels like hijacking the discussion, but suffice it to say, it is REALLY EASY to ignore, downplay, or rationalize away what your body and emotions are actually telling you and try to convince both yourself and others that you feel attraction where you don’t … and then wonder why your libido seems so low these days. My first relationship was horrible but I was convinced I could make it work right until I got out of it, then suddenly I noticed that merely noticing someone on the street whose face reminded me a bit of my ex’s was enough to give me an immediate visceral feeling of disgust. So those feelings of reluctance to touch? They may be only the tip of a huge iceberg of NOPE. I’m sorry, I know that’s not encouraging, but I guess the silver lining is that when in the future LW finds someone to whom her body gives an unequivocal YES, the sexytimes (and cuddling/kissing/hand-holdingtimes!) may be far more amazing than she expects.

        (Sorry if this posts twice. I get an error message when I click the button.)

  14. Megan M. said:

    In some of my past relationships, I would be deeply unhappy. I would no longer be interested in sex with my partner. I would think that I was just going through a phase of depression. But really (for me) I just really needed to break up with my partner, but I felt like I didn’t have a good enough reason. My partners were basically good guys. They weren’t abusive. They didn’t cheat on me. There was no glaringly obvious reason to break up with them, except that I just didn’t want to be with them anymore.

    For me, that’s what I get from your letter. You’re not happy. You’re not attracted to your partner anymore. I don’t think you want to BE with your partner anymore – but he’s still a good guy that you care about, so you feel like you don’t have a “good enough” reason to break up.

    For me, because I didn’t give myself permission to acknowledge what I really needed, and because I was so scared of hurting them by initiating a break-up, I ended up staying in those relationships until I met new guys that gave me pantsfeelings, and then it would be like, “Well, I’ve cheated, NOW we have to break up.” I don’t recommend this, it’s terrible, and I wish that I’d known about Captain Awkward back then because I think I would have had the courage to say, “This isn’t working for me, we need to end this” before I just blew my relationships up because I felt like I had no other choice.

    I hope you can get through this and find what you really need, whether it’s a slightly different relationship with your partner, a new relationship with someone else who’s more compatible for you, or being on your own while you figure things out. Good luck!

  15. hopplepopple said:

    Re: baby elephants

    I don’t know of a YouTube Channel, but I do have a subreddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/babyelephantgifs

    If this is too much of a derail, I apologize!

    • Jane said:

      TOO LATE, I WILL NEVER DO WORK AGAIN

      • roramich said:

        hilarious!

  16. MrsMorley said:

    Dear LW:

    You probably know this: when you flinch at his touch you’re telling yourself something. Please listen!

    I think you’re telling yourself that the sexual part of your relationship is over.

    For many people, and you may be one, no sex means no romance. Even if you aren’t one of these people, your boyfriend might be. So parsing this a little: I think you’re telling yourself that the romance, and probably the whole relationship is over.

    I might be wrong! Your lack of desire might be a medication thing, and if it is you can change that. If you want to.

    But you see, I believe you are telling yourself one more thing: I believe you want this relationship to end.

    And that’s ok. It’s legitimate to end a relationship even with a wonderful person.

    The problem is that it’s very difficult to break up with out hurting someone’s feelings.

    Maybe you could try a thought experiment.

    Imagine what the future is like in your house in 5 years, or 10 with the two of you as friendly roommates with other partners.

    Imagine a future without him at all. Maybe with a partner, maybe without. In a clean house where both bathrooms are accessible and no one farts.

    Which makes you relax more? Are both good? Are other futures better? Imagine those.

    Now, realize these are all good futures. All of them. You can have a wonderful successful happy life with him and without him.

    But if life without him really makes you sigh with happiness, try to work out a clean way to separate.

    In the mean time, kind thoughts and baby elephants

  17. goldenpeanut said:

    Hey, now. Why the Rush hate? ;P

    • JenniferP said:

      I don’t haaaaaaaate Rush, but they aren’t exactly baby-making music, at least for me.

      • Mercy said:

        OMG, I once had a FWB who thought that Rush was the perfect sexytimes music. I was all ….really?

        • JenniferP said:

          “There is unrest in the forest, there is trouble with the trees…” PEEPAS OUT.

    • The second I read the thing about non-decisions also having consequences, “Freewill” started playing in my head. So it was handy to have a link to something actually playing “Freewill.”

  18. ThtreLady said:

    You have my deepest sympathy LW as it is so very hard to end a relationship with someone who is good, but just no longer right for you. I would know, it happened to me last November. We tried for 6 months to be a better relationship, but in the end all we really had was a good friendship and loads of affection for each other. And that wasn’t enough anymore for him or me. It wasn’t fair to either of us.

    I’m not going to lie to you, I miss the hell out of him. Even with all the little things that drove me nuts and even the bigger things that showed that sometimes he wasn’t all that good for me. We’re lucky in that we managed to salvage enough of our friendship to still be able to talk to each other sometimes and support each other moving forward. It’s funny, I don’t think I could have gotten through the breakup without him still there.

    He bought me out of our house, it was hard. He’s made some changes to the house, it was hard. I have the cat, and he finds her toys sometimes and it makes him cry. It’s lonely without him, I miss watching TV with him. But I can tell we’re both going to be happier in the long run. He was dreading coming home sometimes. I was getting fed up with me working out to be more attractive to him, but him staying fat and expecting me to still be turned on. We went months and months without sex and honestly it was crap sex when we did finally get around to it.

    He said something incredibly hurtful to a friend of his that I found out about by accident. He was horrified and apologized and we almost broke up but didn’t. We gave it another shot and tried fixing things, but our habits were already ingrained. I’m glad we tried though because if we’d broken up right after that, we wouldn’t be able to be friends because we wouldn’t have worked through his careless thoughtlessness. I don’t know how much longer we’ll stay friends, we’re not in contact as often anymore. But I know if I need him, he’ll be there for me.

    I will always love him. But I’m not in love with him and he’s not in love with me. We’ll always want the best for each other – we aren’t it. I hope I can find someone new – I’m deeply afraid of remaining alone all my days. But in the end, we’re better off apart than we were together. Even now, even when it still stings.

  19. Nicole said:

    +1 to MrsMorley’s comment: it is nearly impossible to break up with someone without hurting their feelings.

    I’m currently sorting out some feelings about my last two breakups that maybe relate to the LW’s post. You see, I am coming from the other side of this situation. Twice in a row now I’ve been the dumpee and my partner has been the one to realize that he was not attracted to me.

    In the first case, Dude #1 and I began dating our senior year of undergrad, then we both moved across the country to go to two separate graduate programs. We decided to keep a long-distance relationship. Over time, we grew apart and he started to pull away in some of the same ways the LW describes. Gradually over the next five years, he stopped wanting sex, and eventually didn’t want any kind of physical interaction at all with me. If I tried to initiate any kind of physical affection, he would push me away by, for example, telling me I had halitosis (having just gotten a clean bill of oral health at the dentist, this sounded to me more like a way to tell me to stop by being mean to me). IOW, this was a slow-fade of the “chip away at my self-confidence” variety. (not saying LW is doing anything to be mean deliberately, only that in my case it stung all the more because of Dude #1’s method of pulling away).

    In the second, more recent case, I was dumped out of left field. For three months, Dude #2 acted as though he liked me very much. I was under the impression that we were both mutually attracted to one another. Captain Awkward’s “a person who likes you will act like they like you” applied. Dude #2 ENTHUSIASTICALLY acted like he liked me. I was especially excited because it is rare for me to meet someone I feel attracted to. My libido is exceptionally picky. I started to become emotionally invested in the relationship. Then a few weeks ago, we had a talk in which I found out that Dude #2 had begun to think of me more “like a sibling.” Moreover, he told me it seemed “logical” that we should begin to date because we got along and had similar tastes in many subjects. Also, somehow I made him “feel more human.” So now I am left with the impression that he was never attracted to me in the first place, but that he was just lonely and wanted the self-affirmation of being in a relationship. I feel like I was used in some sort of self-therapy experiment without my consent. Seriously, dumpees: NEVER ASK WHY!!!

    My point is that Dude #1 took his time, a -long- time, to come to the realization that the relationship wasn’t working, and Dude #2 realized he had made a mistake and ended things right away. Both situations hurt me badly, but I understand that both partners were still right to initiate a breakup. And in the case of Dude #1, I felt relief at the end of a long relationship that had stopped working.

    TL;DR: It’s possible your boyfriend might feel similarly to how I did with Dude #1. I hope you won’t be afraid to break up if that ends up being the best solution for you. It’s even possible your boyfriend may feel a sense of relief.

  20. LW, you’re describing the last two years of my marriage, besides the separate bedrooms part. When the Captain asks whether there’s anything concrete he could do to change the way you feel, PAY ATTENTION to the answer. For me it was no, and understanding that changed everything about how I was handling that period of my life.

    I know moving on is scary. I know all about the what-ifs: What if this is my only chance at meaningful partnership? What if I’m just being selfish and ungrateful? What if I’m never happy again? Maybe it seems easier to stay where you are because at least you know with some certainty what next week looks like. But next week looks just as bleak as this week, doesn’t it? What would you do if you could make next week, or next month, or next year, look like whatever you wanted?

    If you do break up with him, from my personal experience I would suggest you not continue to live with him. It’s all well and good to want to remain friends, and I believe you when you say you still love him, but especially after such a long relationship you might need time to reset yourself a little. You may go back to being close friends later–you may even go back to being roommates later, but if the only thing you change right now is the title of your relationship, you might find it more difficult to really move on.

    • Nicole said:

      So much agree. That was one of the big wake-up moments for me. I nagged him toward the end about picking up more / doing more chores, and then I realized that even if he DID those things, my feelings about wanting to be with him weren’t going to change. I think that’s one of the hardest parts of being the breaker-upper in these situations is the other person undoubtedly wants to know WHY??? and you can’t give them a concrete answer. “My feelings faded/devolved over time… I’ve had a change of heart…” doesn’t seem quite satisfactory.

  21. purps said:

    Hey, I would add a caveat, which is that right now? Finding yourself headed towards a potential breakup is kind of like finding yourself partway up the ladder to a diving board, and I feel like we usually realize that that’s where we’re heading when we’re just far enough up that it feels like a huge height and we kind of just want to go back down to the ground. And it does get scarier, it does, right up until the end of the diving board, but once you step off the end into the pool everything gets much easier much faster. (I will extend the metaphor and say that the way that you choose to do it impacts how much the water stings on the way down, and that some breakups are a messy cannonball/bellyflop combo while some are a graceful swan dive, but with crying).

    But here’s the other thing: when you’re halfway up the ladder, it’s really easy to convince yourself that there are things that won’t be as scary as jumping off into that pool. You could just kind of chill on the board, right? You could just stay there for a while! Never mind that it’s the heights you don’t like and the wind is making the board wobble and you’re more miserable right there than anywhere. And I think sometimes we start to throw out things that would work in theory, like “we’ll stay super close friends! every day!” or “let’s be platonic roommates directly after breaking up!” or “stay in bad relationship, add more people!” that for a lot of us turn out to be dangling from the diving board from your fingertips because it seems less scary then jumping. It hurts to hang on like that. And you get tired.

    Now, I’m not saying LW should break up with this fellow, but I am saying that if LW starts to head up the ladder, don’t make yourself miserable because you’re scared of the drop. A lot of us are in the Broken Up pool, and it’s fine in here.

    • CatAss said:

      Best extended metaphor ever.

    • dsbs42 said:

      I love this comment, and want to add it to my favourites and remember it forever.

    • jdrives said:

      This is so many kinds of excellent. Thank you for this – tucking into my pocket if I ever need to hear it, or share with others who need it.

  22. “If you do break up with him, from my personal experience I would suggest you not continue to live with him”

    There’s also the possible need to set some dating rules. A couple of friends of mine broke up and decided to still live together since they were such great friends. They both started seeing other people. While she went to her new BF:s place, he brought people home with him and she had to either vacate the premises or listen to them go at it in the comfort of her own home.

    While the guy in the couple had the okay to bring dates home, it maybe wasn’t the
    most discreet or polite way of handling it.

    LW: I’m so sorry. FWIW, I think sometimes there’s nothing as liberating as starting with nothing.

  23. Nicole said:

    Dangit, my comment got eaten by the ether…

    In any event, LW, you sound exactly like me circa 18 months ago. I met my husband when I was 17. We dated through college and into the early years of my figuring myself out, grad school, career, home location, etc etc. We had what began as a “perfect” relationship, or at least as good a one as I knew at 17. I was happy! He was happy! We got married!

    Then, the wheels started falling off. It began with a general unrest at home that I thought initially was related to my job. When I got a new (better!) job, it didn’t carry over into my home life. I remember dreading opening that door at the end of my commute home, sighing big sighs of relief whenever he said he had independent plans or had to stay late at work, and I was DEFINITELY in the same camp of “please don’t touch me/how long do I have to let him do this to not be a horrid b-tch/let’s just never have sex again thanks.”

    Ultimately, I met someone at work who brought back all the sexy feels, all the stars and bells and whistles, all the spark my marriage had been missing.

    I do think it’s natural for relationships sometimes to run their course, and The Captain’s advice here, as always, is spot on. I would echo concerns about whether if nothing changed would you still be happy doing this? Being with someone you’re no longer attracted to? These are things about your current partner that are not likely to change, at least in the long-term, and if you love your guy like I loved mine, you don’t necessarily WANT him to change, you just want him to go do his thing somewhere else.

    I offer mine as a cautionary tale to say, if you care about this dude, please do try to figure it out and break it off before someone new and shiny comes along. In hindsight, it was much more painful for him (and for me) to watch our marriage dissolve “because” of this other guy (my cop-out) than to be completely honest with him from the get-go that my feelings had changed. I don’t think I gave it an honest effort until a last-ditch at the end. I wish it had gone differently, and I think there would be fewer hurt feelings if it had. I know part of my problem was not recognizing in myself what these feelings were, but I hope that you can pinpoint it and make the easiest/healthiest exit strategy (if that’s what you ultimately decide) for both you and your guy.

  24. Nicole said:

    Oh, crap. My comment did get posted. CA, if you see this, you may delete the other one!! Sorry, I’m an idiot!

  25. Dear, dear LW:

    First, go you for having the courage to ask somebody about this. These kinds of things are often really difficult to expose to friends in an intentional way because if you’ve been together that long, most friends are going to be “our” friends and not “my” friends anymore. I think it’s easy in that situation to just kind of grit your teeth and soldier on. (Maybe I’m generalizing from my experience.)

    I’ve been in the situation where I could no longer tolerate the habits of my partner, but felt stuck for other reasons. Speaking from that experience, that elephant is not going to get any smaller or less obstreperous. If your partner is in good health and there aren’t powerful social protocols keeping you in the relationship, save up and get out. I think you will be surprised by how much better you feel. It’s like the colour floods back into the world.

    But whatever you decide, I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re all with you and we want you to be happy. Good luck.

  26. duck-billed placelot said:

    Does he know you didn’t orgasm with him? Girl, 10 years feels like a long time for a guy to be like, ‘you’ll finish up here, right? cool.’

    • ceanothus said:

      Seriously.

      In my last relationship (7 y), more often than not I’d be finishing myself off, and I didn’t feel like I could demand he learn how, because Demanding Things Of Your Partner is Bad.

      Once I started seeing other people, I found that I actually liked sex quite a bit and orgasms were a lot easier. And my body still didn’t really want me to touch him.

      • Ethyl said:

        Ooof. Been there. I was all like “wait, I can do this with ANOTHER PERSON??”

    • tawg said:

      In my last relationship I did a lot of not-orgasming. Not faking it, but my partner figured that since it was hard for me to orgasm with him, then me enjoying myself still counted as a win (which it did, until I stopped enjoying myself). I think there can be a lot of stuff going on when one person is orgasming and another isn’t – sometimes there’s a sense of “this must be acceptable because this is how we’re doing it.” Sometimes one partner is a bit clueless to what is going on with the other, physically, can’t doesn’t differentiate between an “ouch” face and an “oh yeahhh” face. Sometimes there’s a mindset of “Well, it’s your orgasms that aren’t happening so it’s your business to fix that.”

      So, yeah. I agree that ten years is a long for that to be going on, but I can also totally see how that kind of thing might never get resolved.

      • ceanothus said:

        I can see it (btdt), but damn, I hate that this happens so much and that it’s usually the woman who’s not orgasming. That idea where it’s only “sex” once the dude comes and that sex is over once he does is so common and so fucked up and oh look, it’s usually on the woman to “fix that”. Because female genitalia are so complicated, you know.

    • Twitchy said:

      For my two cents, I don’t really get off on coitus. Or hands, or mouth, or toys, really. I get off on fetishy stuff, and masturbating to it/right after engaging in it. So my partner and I do all that fun stuff together, take five and cuddle while I get myself off, and jump back into the action. That doesn’t sound like what’s going on for LW, but I’d like to put in that the other guy doesn’t always have to get you off for the sex to be good.

      • Ethyl said:

        That is still a mutually-satisfying sexual experience though, because your partner is doing what works for you. I think what we were talking about above isn’t strictly “one person makes the other person orgasm” but rather “this sex does nothing for me because I’m not attracted to this person and also they have made no effort to do what I like/want/need,” with a moldy congealed side of “and asking for what I want is dirty/shameful/bad/slutty.” It can be such a revelation to suddenly find yourself with a partner who you are attracted to and who actually cares about doing what works for you.

  27. DaFunk said:

    Ooh! So, I have been there. So there. Soooo there. Terrified to mention the no-sex elephant for all the reasons. But a crazy thing happens whenever I say “About that elephant …” It turns out that the elephant was sitting on my libido. Even if the original factors feeding in to lost libido or no sexy time aren’t immediately resolved, just getting the damn elephant out of the way means my libido – and our connection – have room to breathe. Not talking about something puts up a wall, which means no intimacy. Then any attempt at intimacy feels like a danger, an imposition, an impossiblility. It’s a classic vicious cycle.
    So I’m optimistic for the LW. They might Fi d that just booting the elephant out goes a long way towards breaking the dry spell.

  28. tawg said:

    So, this letter reminded me a LOT of how things were with my ex. And I had the “I think I’m breaking up with you talk” and, LW, be prepared for some GINORMOUS but completely unspoken feelings to happen at you. My ex just kind of sat there and didn’t look at me and there was practically a little rain cloud over his head, and I asked “What do you need to happen now?” and he said “I don’t know.” I suggested that I get out of the house and give him some space, and he was all for that. We discussed me moving into the spare room (he said he couldn’t afford to live there on his own), and we tried it for three days while I moved my stuff out of the main bedroom and generally tried to figure out how I felt. But, it was just so shitty. It was a massively painful environment, and I could feel all of this hurt pouring off him and he couldn’t look at me and it was AGONY.

    And I was still in that place of “I love him, I just don’t love the relationship”, so we got back together, with a big discussion of needs and changes to be made and signs that those changes were happening, but I still moved back home to my mum’s house (which was a solid decision and I fully recommend it for people who are not in a great place relationship-wise. Get some long-term, secure space of your own). And we limped along in a relationship for about another six months, but no changes were being made (in fact, maybe all of the things that led to that first little break-up got worse) and I was enjoying my time Not With Him more and more, and eventually I moved the last of my stuff out and broke up for good.

    So while I think the Captain’s advice of giving him time to respond is great, and accurate, I think it’s in your interests to try and estimate what that time is going to look like and prepare for it. Will there be passive-aggressiveness? If you ‘might’ be breaking up with him and it’s his turn to speak, do you think it’s possible that he’ll just… not engage with that bombshell for days and days in the hopes that it’ll turn back into an elephant and you can both ignore that time you tried to break up. If the emotional environment of your home becomes unbearable, where are you going to go? Are you going to feel comfortable asking him to get out and give you some space? You don’t necessarily have to have another home lined up and fully furnished, etc. But having a game plan for how to exit on feelings if you do have this kind of talk will probably be in your best interest.

    Anyway. Jedi hugs.

  29. jneen said:

    Thanks captain, I came here to say this. I was in the same boat as LW’s partner for far too long. And it was one of those things I thought I “should” just be able to “get over”, so it took me way too long to be able to say “I’m unhappy” and take myself seriously. (and I should note that’s entirely possible to do
    without the implied “you should have sex with me” creepiness – more “we should see other people because this isn’t working”)

  30. atma said:

    I’m reading and rereading this post, and I don’t find any signs of happiness. LW, you’re writing that you get along, and that you’ve made arrangement to minimize annoyances and that not only do you not feel physically sexually attracted, but you actually feel repulsed. He won’t talk to you, not even in the setting of therapy and he’s been nagging you for sex. You say he’s your best friend, but how is he your best friend? Maybe there is something good in this relationship, but it’s not in your letter.

    Sometimes there is the ambivalence of wanting a thing and not wanting it at the same time. But from what I can see in your letter, there is nothing there that you want.

  31. 30ish said:

    Dear LW, it’s OK for you to leave this relationship. You don’t have to jump through any hoops or try to work on things before you get to break up with your boyfriend. I would advise you to go straight to “This is very difficult, but I’m breaking up with you”. Then if he wants to know why, go with the Captain’s scripts (my feelings have changed, etc.). I know I’ve had trouble breaking up with someone before just because I couldn’t really see how I could pull off the actual conversation. Now I know that you can usually just jump right into that conversation. It’s always going to hurt and be awkward, but once you say the words, the rest will follow. There doesn’t even have to be a long conversation, in case you’re held back by the prospect of that. If your boyfriend doesn’t say much in response to you breaking up with him, you can have a very short conversation in which you inform him of your decision, he takes it in without saying much, and then you leave.
    If you still have doubts if it’s the right decision, maybe it helps to consider this: You don’t need to be 100% sure that it’s the right decision. You don’t need to try everything to save the relationship before you let it go. It only needs to feel right on balance – you can make an educated guess, or act on the hunch that things won’t get better. There’s a lot to be said for NOT trying everything, because the attempts to save a relationship usually take a lot of energy and if you put your partner through the “try everything” wringer before eventually breaking up with him anyway, additional damage can be caused. Nothing that you and him wouldn’t be able to recover from, but still possibly a lot worse than a clean break right now.
    I’m also 100% on team “don’t continue living with him”. If you’re unsure, move out temporarily, for at least a few months (or he might move out), and then consider if you still want to move in with him again. Do not go from boyfriend/girlfriend to roommates directly, I think that’s a recipe for disaster.

  32. Oh, LW, I’m sorry. This whole situation sucks.

    I’m going to make use of the good Captain’s paraphrase of Commander Logic’s ill-fitting pants philosophy, because it sounds like your boyfriend is a pair of pants that just don’t fit. There’s nothing objectively wrong with those pants! You like them! You’ve had some great times with them!

    But they don’t fit right anymore. Not because there’s something wrong with them, or something wrong with you. But those are no longer the right pants for you. Trying to wear them is uncomfortable, and keeping them around is making you sad.

    Return the pants. Somewhere out there are pants that you will be excited about, that are comfortable and look good on you, and somewhere out there someone is looking for a pair of pants just like the ones that are making you sad.

    Metaphor disclaimer: people aren’t things and I don’t mean to imply that breaking up is as easy as returning pants, because the pants don’t get really sad and upset, and also I’m 100% with everyone who’s said not to tell your boyfriend that breaking up will be better for him. I really hope that staying friends works out for you.

  33. curiously86 said:

    At this point, it seems like you are beyond being distressed about the list of things that bug you somewhat about him, but I wanted to add (to all of the excellent advice) that one thing I have noticed in a lot of relationships (both my past ones and other people’s) is that when the little things that always bugged you a little bit about about your partner become BIG HUGE THINGS, that is a big sign that something isn’t right for you in the relationship anymore. Sounds like that happened for you a bit LW, but you were looking for it it be a cause (I hate those ratty old t-shirts and THAT’S why I don’t want him) instead of an effect (I don’t want him anymore and that makes those t-shirts seem disgusting to me), if that makes sense. Maybe the little things seem more irksome, more frustrating, more uncomfortable, grosser… because you’re no longer interested, instead of the other way around. And you feel like you “shouldn’t” break up over something that seems small and simple like t-shirts or gassiness or whatever but it’s not really about that little habit. It’s what the reaction to the habit is telling you: that something has changed about the way you feel about this person. And that can be sad and hard and heartbreaking and a lot of things. But just wanted to toss in my 2 cents that you should pay attention to those feelings that the “little things” are no longer little.

  34. This happened to me. After four years with someone, we agreed that to be honest we were now just good friends. We cried. Partly we cried for the end of an era, partly we cried that neither of us was fighting to save it, which was a Very Sad Thing. But we stayed friends, carried on living together til we each moved in with new partners a few years later. He came to my wedding. And we supported each other and went for a drink together regularly, until many years later our new lives and routines had taken shape and our friendship had naturally ebbed away, tho we still share news on facebook.

    OP, if youre no longer romantic partners but are best friends, there is no shame in that. Do discuss it. You dont need to give up what you have, which is a good friend and flatmate – a valuable thing indeed – and neither of you need to look for new relationships until or unless you are ready.

    Good luck.

  35. TO_Ont said:

    I see a lot of comments (including my own) pointing out that it’s OK to decide to leave. I feel like maybe reiterating that it’s also OK if you choose to stay! Even with the negatives you point out, it’s not like this situation seems dangerous to either of you. And you may balance out all the pros and cons and decide that in the end, staying is what you actually really want. And things may even change and the negatives may get better some day; or they may not but you may decide you can live with the negatives and they’re worth it for the positives.

    Or you may decide that what you truely want is to leave. Neither decision is right or wrong. In the end, it’s up to you (and him) what you choose.

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