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).
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.”
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.
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.