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Dear Captain Awkward:

About two weeks ago, I was broken up with by my then-boyfriend of nearly two years, P. I did not see it coming, at all. A week before, he had invited me to his family’s reunion in the summer, and he had spent the previous weekend with me.

P and I met on a dating website, after I had been single for a couple of years. We seemed to click right away, he was very attractive and intelligent, and was fun to converse with. The only major problem in our relationship, that I could tell, was that he was bad at emotional intimacy. Like, way bad.

When he broke up with me, he sent a bunch of mixed signals. The few times we saw each other or talked during the first week after, he was way physically (& not platonically) affectionate, and was telling me all about how his day was going. Needless to say, it was confusing.

I spoke with a friend who is mutual friends with P, and she confirmed that nobody knew that P was going to break up with me, and that P was being a sad panda about it. He said (to my best friend) that I should get in touch with him when I was ready.

I ended up talking to my therapist about it, and she suggested that I figure out why he had broken up with me. Initially he said it was because he didn’t feel the way for me the way he thought he should, but all of his actions pointed away from that. So, I texted him to see if he was open to talking, and off we went to our favorite diner.

That talk, to say the least, ended badly. He hemmed and hawed and gave weird reasons (didn’t want to move in together, which was odd because I was nowhere near ready for that either), only to change his mind the next second. Then he said, “I just never saw myself with somebody like you.”

When I asked what that meant, he mumbled something about my “eclectic” fashion sense. Then, he blurted out, “I guess I always saw myself with somebody more conventionally attractive.”

This obviously hurt. In the beginning, I often wondered how somebody like me could land a guy so freaking hot. And now, cool! All my fears and insecurities came true! Awesome!

I got angry, and told him that there was no way, none what so ever, that we could be friends after this. He got sad, and was practically pleading with me. He apologized a bunch, promised he’d be a better person in the future, all that. When I left his car, I told him that he could consider himself free from me, and I went and ugly-cried all over the place. I deleted and blocked him from everything, disabled a lot of my social media accounts to avoid lashing out at him.

In the process of that, I came across a post he made on Reddit, asking how to forgive himself after he had hurt somebody, mentioning how he was never proud to be seen in public with me, and how he knew from the beginning that he was settling for way less than what he wanted in a partner, namely in the looks department.

It’s less than a full day later, so I know it’s too soon to make huge declarative statements but: This has utterly messed me up. Like, I’ve always been aware that I was less than cute by society’s standards but I’ve never had a hard time getting dates/hook ups/relationships, so I figured I was doing okay enough. Now, I have to deal with the knowledge that a man I was in love with for nearly two years, who introduced me to his family and friends, who seemed to have no problem having sex with me, secretly wished I looked like somebody else. From the get-go.

I guess my question is: How to I survive this? I can’t look in the mirror without bawling. I’m so nauseated that I can barely stomach food. I am hating my body and my face a lot right now. And I know I shouldn’t feel that way, that this anger should instead be directed at him for being such a jerkface, but it’s easier to point it at myself.

For right now, I am so turned off to the idea of finding somebody else, even in the distant future, because now I’ll always be wondering at the back of my head: What if this hypothetical person will also lie to myself about loving me and having sex with me while actually being embarrassed by me?

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[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.

______

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.

It’s day 3 of the Captain Awkward Pledge Drive. Get weird, pretty little short film for a dollar!  Try to spot Intern Paul in the back of the crowd scene at the end!

Everyone who has contributed so far should have received a Vimeo link to stream and download the movie. I hope you guys enjoy it.

Onto today’s letter:

Ahoy Captain!

Add this to the never ending stack of e-mails you get from the shy, awkward, nerdy guys who don’t know how to deal with women. I started reading your column after seeing it linked on another website, and I found your advice in the number of posts I’ve read to be quite good. The comments seem to be good to, so hurray for community! On to the problem.

I’m 23 and I have never had a girlfriend. In fact, I’ve never been on a date. This isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to ask girls out, they just always say no. In fact, I’ve been rejected about 100 times without any woman ever even viewing me as good enough for a first date. To say I have a problem with rejection would be like saying the Mariana Trench is kind of deep. I really want to date and experience that part of life, but I don’t know how to go about it. Each time I get rejected it makes me remember all the other rejections, and I feel absolutely crushed.

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still frame from Disney's Beauty and the Beast

This is a sweet story about a man who had both self-loathing and wealth who coerced a young woman into living with him until such time she could develop Stockholm Syndrome and consent to marriage.

Hello Captain Awkward,

I have an issue that you probably don’t get every day. I have a problem with wealth and dating. I’m in my late 20’s, and I have had the good fortune of becoming quite wealthy. Unfortunately, I am having trouble finding women who like me for me and not my wealth. Back when I was a poor student, I never thought this would be an issue, but it is. I believed that money would solve all my problems with being awkward and feeling inferior and not being able to get laid, and it did help with a lot of those things. It has made finding actual love and good relationships much more difficult. I don’t fit in with the dynastic wealth crowd, and I know there are tons of great women who grew up with money and are not in any way impressed by mine, but I just don’t fit in with that group of people. I have been trying to figure out how to navigate this issue, and it just blew up in my face.

I was seeing a woman for 3 months, but I was lying about my wealth. I have a small apartment in the same building as my real apartment, so I can try to get to know women without getting entangled with the ones who are just with me for my money. It is the sort of apartment that says, “I’m doing well, but I’m no rich guy.” Last week, I decided to come clean, and it did not end well. It was the first time where we went out and I was living life as I live it when I’m not worried about what people are going to think about my money. She thought it was this special occasion because everything was stepped up considerably from our usual dates. I tried explaining that really, I was maybe not being so honest about my income, which she didn’t believe until we came back to my actual apartment. She was furious, and I can understand it. She went on at length about my deception, not trusting her, and treating her like a potential gold digger.

It is true, but I don’t know what else to do. She won’t talk to me, and I think our relationship is probably over. How can I find people who like me for me while living a lifestyle that clearly shows how wealthy I am? I have been burned before both with friends and girlfriends who I thought liked me for who I am but turned out to be interested in being close to someone who is doing well. I have reined in my conspicuous consumption a lot in the past year and a half, but I like having a very nice apartment, I like dressing well, and I like having a nice car. I feel terrible about feeling sorry for myself because this is a problem almost everyone would be envious to have, but I am very lonely.

Sincerely,

A Good Problem Is Still a Problem

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PurposePost

"Man, wish someone would tell me what my destiny wa- what's this?"

Humblest apologies from your friend Commander Logic as I figured out exactly what the eff WordPress was up to and could not locate the “preview” button. Away we go!

Dear Captain Awkward,

I need your help. It is three months till I graduate and I hate my degree and I hate the course I am doing and I have done for the last few years. I am the first person in my family who had the potential to go to university and to do a hard Science degree, I was always interested in Science and Biology and I thought it would transition well, but it hasn’t. I can’t tell my family how much I hate it because they are so proud of me and I really don’t want to disappoint them, I can’t tell my friends because there is a pervasive sense of elitism and I am afraid they will think I am worthless. My grades are not brilliant and I have only been passing by accident and I am afraid that my life will be ruined because my degree grade will not be high enough – people will know I am a fake and a phoney.

All this would be bearable if I knew what the hell I wanted to do with my life after – but I have not the faintest idea. I am currently making efforts into arranging some sort of treatment certain mental health issues (depression that runs in the family) and other family issues, but I feel I can’t admit this to anyone and I can’t let anyone know how badly this shakes me because they will consider me a failure.

How does one figure out what to do with one’s life? Is there a plan or some sort of code that helps you realise your ultimate purpose? Stupid question, but any advice would be worth hearing.

Yours sincerely,

Lost and Confused

Let’s start with this: YES IT IS GOOD THAT YOU ARE ARRANGING THERAPY.  Arrange the fuck out of that therapy and go to it. Going to therapy is not a failure. Say it out loud for me, okay? Going to therapy is not a failure.  You say yourself that you feel you have no one to talk to who won’t judge you, and a therapist (well, decent human ones) will not judge you.  You need someone like that because everyone needs someone like that, not because you’re a failure.  Got it?

Now, your questions, I’m going to answer your second one first:

“Is there a plan or code that helps you realize your ultimate purpose?”

Nope.

Next questio- Oh, fine.

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I’m happy to say that this is my most pressing question about sex ‘n’
relationships ‘n’ stuff right now.  The short version is that a lot of
people who don’t know me that well aren’t sure whether I’m lesbian,
straight, or somewhere in between.  I’m sure where I am (straight) but
I also like the protective shield that uncertainty gives me against
unwanted (male) advances. (The unwanted female advances are rare and
flattering.) But now I’m wondering if this is kind of a shitty thing
to do, knowingly allowing people to draw the wrong conclusion instead
of being honest about who I am, just so I can avoid a few passes.  I
also worry that I am missing out on all the guys who don’t want to be
so gauche as to hit on someone who might be a lesbian.

 

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WhiteWillow

It's hard not to crush on the cute girl who saves the day.

Dear Captain Awkward,

Okay.  I am worried at the lack of emotional intimacy in my life, I think?

On Thursday, I ignored my flu, got gussied up, and attended a two-author required reading for my fiction class.  The first author read an entertaining chapter of his book on taxidermy (yes, it was really good!)  Then the second stood up.  She would be reading about a young girl’s first lesbian experience, she said.  Fine with me, sounds lovely.  She would also, if we had time, be reading about the girl’s road trip, with her conservative aunt, to a degaying camp.  I knew immediately that I would start crying soon.

Why would I start crying?  I’d never been to a degaying camp.  I did have the flu.  My mother had been fairly awful about my coming-out.

I wanted to leave, but kept coming up with reasons why I couldn’t:  this being a required reading, having to step across all the people in my row, the writer on stage thinking that I left to make a statement of homophobia (I really don’t look queer).  Now I have a script in my head that I could have used.  I should have left when I knew it would get awful, apologized and explained to the teacher later, and asked him to pass on the message to the writer.

Instead I sat through what should have been an enjoyable reading–it was a really good book!–dreading the words that would make me spill, looking up at the ceiling when my eyes got too full, and sniffling a little too much even for the flu.

I actually managed to get through the reading and make it to the building’s kitchen for a cup of tea without crying.

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