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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am so scared. I keep messing things up financially. I just don’t know how to do it. How to DO MONEY. But it’s a paradox, because I am earning a decent amount.

It’s a paradox about which I feel rather ashamed, because I am aware of my privilege. I come from a middle-class family of financial flailers–always earning a comfortably middle-class salary, yet always lurching, always in debt, always bouncing checks, always living paycheck to paycheck, always STRESSED AS FUCK about money, yet never really changing (or seeming to know how to change) spending habits, or debt, or livingsituation, or whatever the fuck it is you do to live with lower financial stress. I am just like my parents in this regard.

I am so scared. I am always living paycheck to paycheck, and even that isn’t enough. To illustrate what I mean, I often have to stop eating for 3 days before paychecks, I tend to bounce checks once every month or two, and I’ve had to postpone my student loan payments 3 times in 4 months. It is not so easy to just move, either–my rent is pretty decent for the location, especially considering that now I don’t have a car (a crash last summer, another financial fuckeroo), it is important to live near my workplace.

I just don’t know where to start. Whenever I google stuff about getting financial advice online for free, it’s always some advice that comes in the form of happy go lucky blank slates. Like, these super-duper positive people writing how-to’s as though they are teaching the teenage children of rich and stable folks how to save their allowance. Fuck that shit! I don’t want advice that is starting from some elusive, unrealistic (at least for me, but probably for most) baseline of financial stability and emotional okayness.

I want some advice that respects my baseline of terrible credit, shitty habits, major upcoming expenses, MAJOR student loan debt, major shame and self-loathing, and total overwhelm and fear.

I feel so fucked. I am scared.

I know that here, Captain, you tend to respond to stories. However, I also know that you love advice blogs in general, that you’re an aficionado of the genre. Therefore my question is a request for help in finding some other advice blogs: do you know of any places on the internet I can go to find the kind of help, the kind of realistic, open, detailed, respectful advice I’m looking for?

And frankly if you have thoughts on my situation, I will definitely take your advice, too.

Thanks a lot,

Financially Flailing

Dear Flailing,

I hear you that you feel scared—and that you feel especially ashamed because you recognize your relative good fortune to date. Would it help to know that you are not alone, that you are now among the majority in the US? Living paycheck to paycheck—or well behind one—is common, including in folks who’ve had sound opportunity. So kudos to you for actively seeking to set straight what so far feels to you like an impossible situation.

As you’ve found, the advice common in financial guides does not apply to everyone, or at least not to everyone’s starting point. Many such resources assume a near-magical combination of higher-income, plus a naturally frugal bent, plus a supportive family, plus a state of emotional zen, plus a cognitive capacity to navigate institutions ranging from banks to universities, plus plus plus. Not everyone has all of these. Folks with barriers such as stress, grief, cognitive limitations, a difficult family history, an experience of abuse, or a disability are often left to their own devices and, like you, feel embarrassment and shame that they aren’t “succeeding.”

Many mainstream resources don’t help. In fact, they exacerbate the issue by making it difficult for folks to come out of their financial closets. I know it didn’t help me one iota when all the advice seemed to scream, “Be an entirely different person! Become an extrovert! Don’t have Asperger’s or depression! Have more physical stamina!”  Ack. Our financial path must—at its most basic level—honor who we are at our heart, not to mention at our physical capacity.

You’re smart, articulate, and educated but, as you’ve discovered, these qualities alone do not lead to financial success. But other ones do.

As a volunteer, I serve some of my region’s lowest-income people. Interestingly, some had extremely high income (think executive directors and an NHL player) before needing help to secure and then live on $510 per month. As is usually the case, their financial flailing was not about a lack of drive, commitment, hard work, or intelligence. These folks’ careers relied on these characteristics. So what else is at play?

You seem to be painfully aware that you have sufficient income and status, and that there is some self-sabotage going on. This means that while you feel like a failure you’re actually already two steps ahead of the game!

I propose five strategies to help you fulfill your dream of financial well-being:

1. Prepare. Interestingly, preparing for financial recovery involves no file folders, specialized software, or fee-based advisers. Getting ready will involve just the simple step of writing down five free things you can do when you start to feel overwhelmed. What soothes you? A bubble bath? A run? Knitting? Texting with a dear friend? Meditation? A pitch black room? The Pogues on maximum volume? Post your list to at least five key places: your bathroom mirror, your car dashboard, the top of your shoe, your wrist, wherever you will see this prompt to self-soothe rather than spend. When the judgement or panic begins to arise, implement one of your personal self-soothing options. (And if you spend instead? No big deal, because you’re going to put in place the next steps too.)

2. Connect. The primary difference I see in people who transition from struggling to stable is emotional back-up. Many of us rely on spending to alleviate intolerable levels of loneliness, isolation, fear, anger, guilt, and more. Ironically, when we then spiral into shame about our spending, we often spend even more to cope! For this reason, I recommend your second step be putting support in place. For a sociable introvert or a person with a wild schedule, an online forum such as that offered by the Simple Living Network might be the best bet. For a person who thrives in live groups, the twelve-step program Debtors Anonymous can be a boon. If you have access to affordable one-on-one therapy, I encourage you to take that opportunity, too.

Even when these resources use financial floundering as a focus or anchor topic, much more will happen. This is because for most of us, money is attached to loss, hope, grief, attachment, and shame. When we focus on our finances, our money issues begin to resolve but so do layers of psychological struggle. When we act on one, we are inherently acting on both. So in healing financially, it is critical to have support not just to spend more judiciously, but to live through the emotional layers that arise when we shift the very way we’re interacting with our world. Your support person or group provides practical support while simultaneously (and more importantly) caring for your heart—walking you through your shame and out the other side while you implement change.

3. Envision. Take up to an hour to consider your personal goals. What are your dreams? When you see yourself in twenty years, what is your life full of? What does that look like, smell like, sound like, taste like? Pull related photos out of magazines, jot down key words, or chat about it into your phone or video camera. The sky’s the limit. Record everything you truly desire materially or environmentally. Silence? A turntable? An English country garden? The opportunity to raise a child?

4. Assess. Does your current lifestyle match this vision? If your heart tells you that in the future you want a peaceful cottage to write in, does spending $4 on ice cream today align with that? Don’t judge or kick yourself. Just notice. Watch yourself as though you are a scientist—a neutral third party curious about the patterns.

5. Record. On any given day, write down every penny that comes in to your life and every penny that goes out. This includes the dollar to the busker and the auto-debit for the internet bill. This activity can seem intimidating, because we anticipate seeing evidence of unmitigated disaster: pen hitting paper minute by minute, volumes of scrawled notes. It needn’t be overwhelming, though, and in fact can be strangely soothing. When we record in a notebook every penny as it goes out or in, we begin to see the power we have—the choice we get to make from moment to moment. We give ourselves a glimpse of our healthy decision-making capacity. Record nothing from before this moment, and nothing from beyond now. Just this moment’s transaction. As you record, accept your feelings. (Rely on your list for self-soothing.) Don’t try to modify your spending; no one else need see the information. Just record. Do this in as many moments, on as many days, as you feel up to it. Your consciousness will take it from there.

Once we have these five elements or practices in place, we naturally take steps to increase our income—asking for a raise, babysitting for a neighbour, snagging that grant—and decreasing our expenses—applying for a halt in student loan interest, canceling the gym membership we never use, inviting friends to a potluck in place of our usual Friday night restaurant outing. We do these one at a time, as our support team helps us to.

When we’ve connected more deeply with ourselves—and recognized our right to honor our truest self—we begin spending on that which aligns with our own deepest values, and declining to spend on that which others told us we should want: marriage, a magazine subscription, the university degree. Of course, the actual details of what we spend or save on are unique to each person, which is why our financial journey is often one of achieving physical, psychological, and relational freedom as well.

When we align our finances with who we really are at heart—ditching other people’s priorities in favor of honoring our own values and dreams—the perplexing paradoxes resolve. In the end, it seems that near-magic is involved after all, but it’s you who creates it.

Joon Madriga was marginalized by a severe yet undiagnosed brain-based disability, which left her on the streets. She subsequently found her way to help herself, then thousands of others. Her recently released book, Rising: Strategies for the Broke, the At-Risk, and Those Who Love Them, is available on Amazon.com. She blogs at financialtipsforthebroke.com and welcomes your questions and struggles there.

Moderator Note: Readers, feel free to recommend other resources & techniques in the comments. I’d prefer to see recommendations in the form of “X site/forum/tool worked really well for me, here’s how and why” over “You should try X.”

Hello! Let’s ease back into things with some short answers to some questions that people didn’t ask so much as typed into their friendly neighborhood search engines.

1. “My foot feels like it is slipping but it isn’t.”

Whoa, that is a terrible recurring dream I have, and I hope you solve this mystery for yourself because it is the worst. I can’t even imagine this being a daytime, awake sort of phenomenon. Or, I can. In chilling detail.

[Edited to Add: It’s doctor time, as this may be the sign of a neurological condition. Hopefully a treatable one.]

2. “Boyfriend doesn’t let me masturbate.” and 3. “My husband wont let me dye my hair.”

These aren’t really things where you need permission from another person to do them.Your body belongs to you!

Let’s all back away from dudes who think they get a say in these things.

4. “Does it mean she done when she cut off all ties?”

She is done. As always, I am incredibly confused by what possible other interpretation of “I am cutting all ties with you!” exists.

5. “How to cope with contact from a needy ex who wants to keep a friendship.”

Be honest with yourself about whether you really want a friendship, and think about taking a break of several months with no contact before you even attempt being friends.

6. “How to make crush jealous at school.”

Don’t? It’s a lot of work, with no guarantee that the audience will even notice.

7. “How to deal with silent treatment from mother.”

The silent treatment is cruel and abusive. My first suggestion is to find a counselor or other safe, trusted person to help support you so that you are not depending on your mom for anything.

8. “How to tell your date they have bad teeth.”

Don’t?

Your date probably knows and feels really self-conscious about it.

9. “I told him I love him and messaged him am I a stalker.”

Stalker is a strong word, though, if “I love you” was your opening line, and if “he’s” not answering and/or seems to be avoiding you, maybe, back off and cool off? Your watchword in future interactions with crushes is going to be “reciprocity,” where, it’s okay to ask someone out or tell someone you like them, but then you gotta give them some room to react and show whether they feel the same way.

10. “I want to fuck my old friend but he won’t talk to me.”

So, that’s a no-go, right?

11. “When your spouse makes jokes about your shameful past.”

YIKES. “Sweetheart, those jokes aren’t funny and they really hurt my feelings. Please stop joking about that time in my life. That whole subject is not really up for discussion unless I bring it up.

A good person who stepped over the line will recognize what they did, be very sorry for hurting you, and most importantly, they will stop doing it. A no-good-very-bad partner will explain to you at length why it was objectively funny and make you feel like there is something wrong with you for being upset.

I hope with all my heart that you have the good kind.

12. “My platonic friend said he dreamt about me.” 

This is not necessarily deeply meaningful, but if the context of the dream or the fact of him bringing it up makes you suddenly think, “OH LOOK AT THOSE INTERESTING PATTERNS IN THE CARPET. AND THE CEILING, HOW HAVE I NEVER LOOKED AT THE CEILING BEFORE?” then decide if you want to learn more about the dream or if you want to ADMIRE THIS BEAUTIFUL SOFA AND ITS INTRICATE UPHOLSTERY.

HEY, IS THE WOODWORK ORIGINAL TO THE HOUSE?

13. “What to do if I fall in love with my cousin sister and she hates me.”

I’ve read this a few times and there are a few scenarios where your cousin’s sister is not also your cousin but HOW NICE, A CHARMING BUILT-IN BOOKSHELF AND A WINDOW SEAT. WHO CHOSE THIS WALLPAPER?

Maybe this cousin sister isn’t the girl for you, if she hates you, or if your cousin will hate you as a result?

[Edited to Add: Thanks for fighting ignorance and helping me understand the translation, nice commenters! Person who searched for this, if you are out there, falling in love should be a mutual, participatory act. If the person you love is not in love with you, grieve for what might have been and give yourself some time to move on and find love with someone who doesn’t hate you.]

14. “How to tactfully tell people to clean up urine.” 

What tact there is to be found in this task is found in directness and brevity. “Please clean up the floor/toilet seat/_______, etc., there is still some urine there. Thanks.”

15. “Why would a man break up with me through a mutual friend?”

He’s really lazy? He’s terrified of confrontation? The person I am honestly the most curious about here is the mutual friend and why they decided to be the messenger. We (and more importantly, you) will most likely never know. I hope time moves quickly to the future, when this will be a funny story you tell.

16. “Is it possible to see a person’s faults and still like them?”

It’s possible to see someone’s faults and love them, even.

Hi Captain!

This isn’t anything serious but I thought you would have some great advice or direction.

My ex and I are seeing each other again. We dated for 4 years, 2 of which were living together. We were in our early twenties and the living together was much less a mutual choice and more so charity/kindness on his part as my student loans made it impossible to live on my own and living with family was not a healthy option. I think between us both being young, in a stressful almost depressing point in our lives (job issues), not having the best communication skills, and my moving into his (not our) place waaay too soon were all reasons for the breakup rather than a we’re not good for each other sort of way. After breaking up, we took about 6 weeks off but then started talking again. This time around, we’re going slowly (we’re doing things casually, not being exclusive, going at our own pace), being clear about our expectations with regular check-ins to make sure we’re both on the same page, and communicating like professionals; we’ve both grown and matured astronomically. Overall everything is exactly where I want it to be. I’ve never been happier with him or in my life and all past issues seem like a bad dream. If things continue as they are, I can see us eventually trying again with potential for it becoming really serious.

However, in the back of my head I’m worried about getting hurt. My friends, who are more like siblings, were around for the most of the relationship are skeptical and concerned. They want me to be happy and wish only the best for me. When I give them updates on my romantic life, I sometimes get comments like “make sure he’s not using you” and “I don’t think you guys are right for each other, but I hope I’m wrong.” I know that my friends have an outside view of my situation so they might see flags that I’m blind to, but also that they come with their own expectations for relationships and separate past experiences that don’t apply. My gut rarely fails me, but I am also scared that my gut may be too optimistic and might ignore sage, heart saving advice. How do I know when to trust their input to guide some choices, when to take it as an idea to mull over, or just thank them and ignore it?

Thank you much!

Read More

Now and then it’s interesting to see the search terms that bring people here, and, since they are in the form of a question, give some short answers. I’ve added punctuation but otherwise left the texts unaltered.

“Pushing someone to accept something they aren’t ready to.”

Is doomed. You can maybe get someone to say they accept whatever it is in order to end the argument and get you to go away, but you better believe they’re still stewing inside and now have some extra angst that’s directed at you for pushing them.

What if your boyfriend’s parents want you to call them mom and dad?

It sounds like you don’t want to call them Mom and Dad, so, don’t. Say, “That is a very sweet suggestion and I am glad you want us to be close, but I only want to call my own parents that. Can we come up with something else, like, Mr./Mrs. ______ or first names? Thank you.

This is not a normal thing, especially if you guys are unmarried, so stand your ground.

“Speed-friending London.”

GO! And tell us all about it.

Seducing my friend’s girlfriend advice.

Don’t seduce your friend’s girlfriend. That’s my advice.

“How to tell if my best friend’s girlfriend want to have sex with me?”

Assume she doesn’t until you hear the words “Let’s have sex!” come out of her mouth.

“If I send a face book message and they read it and its marked read then why does the read status disappear when they block themselves from me?

Ok, to answer the question you didn’t ask, stop reading over those messages looking for signs of this person’s attention to what you had to say. To answer the one you asked, blocking you severs that relationship on the interface level. Suggestion: Delete the messages. Block them right back. Anything so you aren’t spending one more precious day of your life pouring over communications from someone who clearly doesn’t want to talk to you.

“Making your girlfriend do what you want although she might be busy.”

Ask her to spend time with you. If she’s busy, do something else with your day. If she’s consistently too busy, ask her to talk about how you guys spend time together and tell her how it makes you feel. If she’s still consistently too busy, break up. There is no “making” here – she’s either enthusiastically spending time with you or she isn’t. You can make requests and make decisions about whether that works for you, but that’s where your making powers end.

Girlfriend willing but doesn’t want to have sex.”

Then you don’t have sex with her, and you let that be a thing she initiates.

“I want my nude pictures on the internet.”

From all reports, the Internet is ok with that.

“10shart fuck only vidios opan ok

It’s out there, somewhere. 10 sharts! Be steadfast in your quest.

“Will a guy test you by being a jerk?”

The guys who do this are probably failing your personal “That guy’s a jerk” test. Rather than seeing it as some test that someone eventually passes (um, yay?), maybe see it as a guy acting like a jerk and make decisions accordingly.

How to write a letter to my boyfriend’s jealous ex.

Do not write  a letter to your boyfriend’s jealous ex. It will not make her go away, it will just show that whatever she’s doing is getting to you. The only thing that will make her go away, eventually,  is if both of you starve her of attention.

“Boyfriend not interested my life.”

Let me correct that for you. “My ex-boyfriend was not interested in my life.” Roll that around on the tongue a few times. How does it sound?

“Only depressed before and during work.”

No guarantees, obviously, but a new and different job might clear that right up.

“Should I breakup with my boyfriend if I don’t love him any more?”

Do what you want, but this is literally THE most airtight reason to break up with someone.

“I can’t break up with my boyfriend because he was my first.”

You can break up with someone for any reason. “I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore” is a good reason.

The connection with a first love and/or first sex partner is very intense and lovely and wonderful, but having that connection with someone & making a long-term happy life with someone are not necessarily congruent. Breakups are hard, even when they are for the right reasons, but with time you will bounce back and so will he.

If your high school sex-ed was all about previously chewed gum, plucked daisies, used Kleenex, etc. I am here to tell you those people were sadistic lying assholes. Get thee to Scarleteen.

“Should I pretend to drunk text him?”

What is it that you want to say to him? What if you said it completely sober and completely sincerely?

“How to text a drunk girl.”

What would you say to this girl if she were sober? Try that.

“How to apologize after drunk text.”

Text/Call/Say in person: “Sorry, I was not my best self the other night and am feeling pretty embarrassed.”

Go forth and text, and drink, responsibly. An occasional drunk text can be funny/flirtatious. A cycle of oversharing & apology? Gets annoying really fast.

“Drunk texts to let guy know you like him.”

Okay, okay, I get it. It’s awkward to make yourself vulnerable, and being drunk lowers inhibitions and also gives the illusion of an excuse if the person doesn’t respond the way you want – “Ha ha, no, I was kidding, I was drunk.” I too have made out on the Couch of Plausible Deniability Where We Are Going To Watch A Movie, I Swear.

Drunk texts are not wrong, and if you’re having fun with it, text away! Get your flirt on, people! But if you’re strategizing about this? Maybe it’s time for a “I think you are handsome and cool and would love to go on a date sometime. Have you ever thought about it?

“We made out drunk and he texted me next day.”

Unless he’s sending you insults, it sounds like he’s nice, actually, and making an effort to reach out while sober. There’s no obligation, but if you wanted to hang out again, it sounds like he’s at least open to the idea. Biggest question right now is what do you want to happen now?

“How does being an introvert affect communication?”

Not that much, in my opinion. Introverts need a fair amount of alone time to recharge their batteries and may prefer hanging in smaller groups/quieter spaces. But they CAN and DO communicate just the same as anyone else, including doing very people-centered jobs very well and having an active social life. Introversion vs. extroversion is about preference/style/feeling energized by social contact vs. depleted, not ability, and knowing someone is an introvert is not a predictor or prescriptor of anything. Individuals have differing communications styles, so take your cues from your own preferences or from how a specific person responds to you.

“Do professors like their students to thank them?”

Who wouldn’t like to know that their work affected someone for the better? It’s not necessary or expected that students thank us (the best thanks is you doing your best work and going on to do well), but “I really enjoyed your class” is a very nice thing to hear, especially after grades are in, and especially when it contains some info about what you are currently working on/doing next.

“I fell in love with my professor.”

I’m not going to tell you those feelings aren’t real, but I am going to tell you there’s too much yucky power differential stuff for this to be a good idea to pursue while you are a student at that school. I have a massive side-eye for any professor who would respond positively to romantic or sexual advances from a student. Holy abuse of power and trust, Batman!

“I want to have sex with my therapist.”

This is a REALLY bad idea. Illegal in some cases, the stuff of license-revoking in others, for a good reason. A therapist who has sex with patients is a NO GOOD VERY BAD THERAPIST who is abusing trust and power. Being able to trust and open up to someone compassionate can bring up all kinds of feelings, especially if your therapist is also foxy. But not all feelings need to be acted on, and a good therapist is going to set an ironclad boundary here.

“My mom doesn’t want me to masturbate.”

Good thing it’s not up to her. It’s completely none of her business, in fact, and is strictly between you and you. Masturbation is awesome. Rock on with your sexy self. Also, get thee to Scarleteen.

“What if a guy says it’s awkward and might want to break up.”

When people say stuff like this, believe them. He’s giving you advance warning and telling you that breaking up is on his mind. Start to make your peace with ending the relationship.

“How can I tell my daughter I found a partner for her.”

If you’re from an Arranged Marriages Are A-Okay culture, how did your parents tell you this stuff? I feel like there will be some rituals and scripts around this that are widely-known and your daughter will be expecting some conversation like this to take place.

If you’re not from that kind of culture (and honestly, probably even if you are), I would not talk in terms of “partner” or “husband” or “wife.” At all. That’s putting the cart waaaaaaaaaay before the horse about something that is ultimately not your decision.

Possible script: “Daughter, I met someone who I think you’d really get along with and would like to put you in touch. Can I give you his/her contact information?”

Then you drop the subject. Forever. And you do NOT give your daughter’s contact info to this person, or try to sell them on your daughter. No hinting. No pushing. No inviting the person over for a “Surprise! You two should probably mate!” dinner.

“What does it mean when someone says you have a heart of a bullet and a mind of a boss?”

Take it as a compliment, because if it’s not, your bullet-heart and boss-mind don’t have time for that anyway. Maybe write a song about it.

“Am I a bitch for leaving my boyfriend to take care of myself?”

From where I sit, you are a person who made a hard decision and I wish you all the best. Get on with the job of taking care of yourself, part of which is forgiving yourself and being gentle and kind to yourself and not calling yourself mean names.

Love,

Captain Awkward

[Content note: purity culture]

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am married. My husband is a very lovely, supportive man, very devoted and considerate, and a great father to our small child. We’ve been together nearly a decade, and married for most of that time. We are a good partnership. He was the first person I ever slept with – the first person who liked me that way that I wasn’t either freaked out or repulsed by. Before him, I was a total wreck every time I liked-liked someone and, thanks to my religious upbringing and eating disorder, severely neurotic about the importance of sex and being naked and all that crap. After him, I’m a lot more relaxed about it, thankfully, and I’m not sorry he was my first (though I am sorry he was my ONLY), because he made it really easy. 

But our sex life is…problematic.

I have very little in the way of pants or OMG!CRUSH feelings for him any more. I’m not sure I ever did, really. I liked him enough to want to try it, and not so much that I was freaked out by it, and I enjoyed his company and being in a relationship, and I came to love him very much. I still do, even if I don’t particularly feel “in love” with him. But I also don’t particularly want to fuck him. Or rather, I can’t really be bothered to do the work of doing it the way we normally do it, because I’m tired and it’s not going to do much for me.

He was my first sexual partner, so I hadn’t ever had a chance to explore what I liked sexually except in the confines of my own head (more on that in a minute) or what it was like to have sex with someone I was burning with lust for. He, on the other hand, explored A LOT, so he came into the relationship knowing pretty well what he liked and what he didn’t, and what he likes is pretty vanilla. Admittedly, I haven’t been totally forthcoming on the things that might work for me, though when I’ve tentatively put out feelers for a bit more kink, he’s not really been keen. So I got shy and backed off, and we always default back to the same thing. I’m still really inhibited about talking about sex. And I hate to admit it, but I’ve faked orgasms for the whole of our relationship. I know, this is a bad, bad thing, but he was trying so hard, and at the beginning, it was all new and I just didn’t want to say “this is not going to happen” every single time. Or, you know, ever. So it’s become kind of self-perpetuating.

Additionally, my fantasy life has been fucked up in the extreme since I was an early teen. It was one of those “masturbation is bad, thinking about sex is bad, ergo the worse the fantasy is, the sexier it is”. I don’t put any moral judgement on the content of fantasies, so I don’t feel GUILTY about it, but I’ve found a lot of it incredibly disturbing when considered when not horny. I don’t actually want to play out any of my actual fantasies with him, because they’re more extreme than I think I would actually enjoy in real life. But I don’t get turned on with the stuff that we do, I don’t get turned on by him (though at least I’m not turned OFF by him), and I don’t know how to get that way.

And…I don’t want to spend the rest of my life never having pants feelings and never, ever really having great sex. But I don’t know what we would actually have to do that would result in mindblowing sex for ME, that could be a happy medium between what he’s comfortable with (and he’s NOT really comfortable with kink) and what actually turns me on, and I don’t know how to communicate that to him after all this time without completely destroying his trust and hurting his feelings. I don’t know how to talk frankly and comfortably about what turns me on without getting embarrassed because I’m freaky or how to deal with his reactions if he DOES think I’m freaky and doesn’t want to try anything else.

Captain Awkward, I really want to have pants feelings for him. I want to want to have awesome sex with him. I want to HAVE awesome sex with him. I want to stay married to him, I just want the sex part to be better. How do I move this forward so that I’m sexually satisfied without destroying our relationship as it stands? 

Help!

Liar Liar Pants Sadly Not On Fire

Hi Pants! This is Corporal Dianna here. The Captain asked me to write a response to this question in her stead, as I write frequently about this area. I’m going to answer this as I would if it came through my email, as I do get these kind of questions from time to time.

This is…a big question. But you’re not alone, so take heart. You are not somehow freakish or weird for discovering that your husband and you have some incompatibility after the wedding, especially if you were raised in a culture that forbid exploration until then, and you’re certainly not alone in questioning it and wanting to be satisfied.

You mention a religious upbringing, and some negative sexual messages during your formative teenage years, but don’t say what your religious beliefs are now, so forgive me if I make an assumption that’s incorrect. What you were raised in sounds like sex-negative evangelical purity culture – no sex before marriage (especially for women), and then promises of mindblowing sex after (which often results in a lot of disappointment). Additionally, purity culture has the trappings of no masturbation or sexual exploration by yourself, which forces many people into sexual repression.

Through my research of interviewing women like yourself, I’ve discovered a trend – one which atheist blogger Libby Anne documents here – in which women who experienced purity culture growing up develop extreme kinks or “disturbing (to them)” nonconsensual fantasies that scare them a little when they consider them outside of the fantasy world. I want to assure you, first and foremost, that this is surprisingly normal for someone raised in purity culture, and there are all sorts of longwinded reasons as to why.

Purity culture isn’t one that lends itself well to women speaking openly about their sexual kinks, fantasies or even basic desires, and you’re probably remembering some ingrained parts of that when you try to speak about it with your husband. That’s okay. That happens. I decided to throw off the shackles of purity culture years ago, and I still have latent embarrassment about a lot of those related things (the other day, I spent twenty minutes waffling over whether to mention menstrual cups in a conversation on Twitter. Menstrual cups!). But, using your words is pretty much the only way to solve this particular dilemma.

You can’t predict or control how someone else will feel about information you give them or discussions you bring up. Since this is not a workable situation for you, it is important that you say what you need to say. It is better, in the long run, to work with your husband to get to a point where you can both be sexually satisfied and figure out ways to increase compatibility, than it is to protect his feelings and fake orgasms for the rest of your life. Honesty, as they say, is the best policy.

So how do you communicate this? First, determine what needs to be communicated. There’s a lot of stuff in this letter that needs to be discussed, and it’s all wrapped up and intertwined. But I’ve teased it out into four main points that might help you boil things down:

  1. Dissatisfaction with the current way your sex life operates, which leads you not having pantsfeelings for him.
  2. A fantasy life that gets you off but scares you a little at the same time, making you embarrassed and afraid to suggest new things – leading back to #1.
  3. A history with your husband which suggests that he may not be comfortable with the things that you think might turn you on, leading you to back off, and returning you back to #1.
  4. A personal history/religious upbringing that further complicates what you see as “normal” in the sexual world, making you scared of your own predilections, which makes you embarrassed to talk about them, which leads us straight back up to #1.

See how all these different levels ultimately result in dissatisfaction, and there are various reasons for it? So there isn’t going to be one simple solution or script that will magically solve all these issues.

If you have the resources, seeing a couples’ sex therapist (one who is not religious in nature) may be useful for the both of you. This places the conversation in a safe, guided environment that will allow you to become more comfortable with the discussion and for your husband to understand your side of things better.

If that’s too much right now, or isn’t financially feasible (therapy is expensive), try to start with a conversation, away from and outside a hot and heavy situation. There’s no easy, set script for a situation like this, but doing it in a way that doesn’t spring it on him mid-coitus is probably a good strategy. In the interest of guidance, here are some do’s and don’t’s:

  • Don’t make it about how he “doesn’t satisfy you.” He needs to not see this as you blaming him for dysfunction, because you’re not doing that.
  • Do: Be clear you love him, want to stay with him, and want to work on this to make an already good marriage better by bringing the sex up to a standard that matches the partnership you feel you have in other areas of life.
  • Don’t feelingsdump. You hinted toward this in your letter that you try little bits here and there without success, so I think you’ll avoid this, but just as a reminder – don’t dump everything out all at once because that might be overwhelming and read like you’re asking him to solve all your sexual issues in a night.
  • Do be honest and approach this as a problem that can be broken down into chunks and worked on, together. Start small. Ask if you can do a little something different – nothing big, nothing too out of the ordinary for him, just different – and ask if he would be willing to try and see if that works. As always, mutual consent is paramount, so if he decides halfway through that it doesn’t work, make sure that’s a decision he feels safe making.
  • Don’t frame it as something where he needs to become comfortable with all your kinks or you’ll leave him. That’s coercive and makes for some very unhappy sexytimes.
  • Do frame it as an exploration, a journey you guys are taking together to make this work for the both of you. Since you, yourself, say that you’re not sure what actually works for you or not (just that you know you want something more than what you’ve been doing), framing it as an exploration of your sexuality as it functions together. This is his sex life too and you are two separate people who are developing this together.

Now, you have understandable fear that he’s going to be disappointed/sad/angry/upset that you’ve been faking all this time. And it is okay for him to feel those things, and the initial reaction may need some time for him to get over, depending on what reaction he has. But you also shouldn’t beat yourself up about it – what you did then was what worked for you, and now it’s not working anymore and you want to change things in order to make your relationship better. Apologize, affirm that his feelings are valid, and make it clear that you are being honest so that you can move forward in this as a couple. This sort of discussion is going to happen over several conversations, not just one.

This is, at heart, a communication issue that has a lot of emotional/religious baggage attached to it. Evangelical purity culture makes discussing sex openly and honestly –especially talking about compatibility issues – hard. But remember that you are not alone in having these issues, and this is something that you two can work on, together, to work toward the awesome sex life purity culture probably promised you.

I’ve just scratched the surface, but a helpful book for further reading might be What You Really Really Want, by Jaclyn Friedman. It’s an exploration of how to figure out your own sexual proclivities and explorations aside from what various different cultural influences are saying. As the great prophets say, know thyself.

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Dianna Anderson is an author and blogger from South Dakota. Her first book – DAMAGED GOODS – is an exploration of feminist theology and sex-negative American evangelical purity culture. It is due out from JerichoBooks in early 2015. She blogs at diannaeanderson.net and tweets @diannaeanderson.

Dear Captain and co.

This is a not-quite problem that’s separated into two parts.

I’m not interested in sex or dating/relationships. I’m not comfortable at the moment categorising myself as asexual/aromantic, although maybe at some point in the future if I find it’s convenient. Essentially I’m happy with the ‘’it happens if it happens’’ mentality, but would also be happy if it never happened. I’ve been left cold by the few encounters I’ve had in the past, and would rather focus my social attention on platonic friendships.

Basically, I suppose I’d like some reassurance that this is ok. I feel like I’m so used to hearing about being single in terms of a problem that needs fixing, a personal failure or just a transitory period, without so much of the ‘’relationships aren’t for everyone, and that’s cool too.’’ (Possibly doesn’t help that I’m female and like cats, which is another stereotype that annoys the hell out of me.) Also, any advice on how I could convince people that it’s not a problem would be appreciated.

I think partly because of this, I have trouble comforting/offering advice to single friends who want relationships. I don’t want to sound dismissive and say something like ‘’but really, you don’t need to be with someone’’, but also don’t want to fall back on determinist cliches of the ‘’it’ll happen for you eventually if you want it to!’’ sort, and because I have no first-hand experience of seeking relationships, I can’t offer up anything in that score.

Thanks,

Cool cat lady.

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Jolly’s great comment to Monday’s post is going to be very relevant to these seemingly very different questions:

“You also don’t necessarily have to bring some of these things up in one big confrontation about The Whole Pattern Of Her Sucking. You could just make a point of standing up for yourself when she does the trampling behavior in the future. Next time she interrupts you, interrupt her back with a big, assertive, “EXCUSE ME, N, YOU ACCIDENTALLY INTERRUPTED ME WHEN I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF A STORY. ANYWAY, BOYFRIEND AND I…” She physically nudges you out of a circle? Cut her off with a tap on the shoulder and a big, “EXCUSE ME, N, BUT YOU JUST PUSHED ME COMPLETELY OUT OF THE CONVERSATION. I AM MOVING HERE, HOW ABOUT YOU SIT HERE.” Don’t sound angry, just be very direct and assertive. You see what she is doing, everyone else sees what she is doing, good chance she also sees what she is doing, and just thinks she is being sneaky. Or maybe she has no idea. But either way, there is nothing wrong with a strong verbal reminder every time she attempts to trample completely over you, to let her know that she is “accidentally” being completely obnoxious. 50/50 whether she will embarrass herself in a huffy rage, or quietly correct her behavior. Either way, it will probably go some way to keeping her from continuing this kind of garbage.”

Yes. It is hard for more reserved people to get into the habit of speaking up in the moment – we’d mostly prefer to observe quietly, analyze later, and plan our next social interaction as if it’s a military campaign. But learning to speak up in the moment is a great, great habit to develop, and it is above all a habit – developed over time, requires practice, doesn’t have to be perfectly executed to be effective. Let’s dive in.

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