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Dear Captain:

I (she/her) have been with my partner (he/him) for a few years now, we live together, everything is fine and dandy, except for one thing. We’re both in our 30s, and recently the topic of engagement and marriage has come up. I’d really like to eventually, and he really doesn’t. Our relationship is good, and I know nothing would really change in the practical sense if marriage was a thing that would happen, but even so I can’t help feeling sad about marriage being off the table.

When there is marriage-related things on tv or I walk past a jewelry store I get weepy and sad now and feel like I’m not good enough for my partner, even though logically I know that’s not actually true. Sometimes friends or family ask when/if we’re getting married, and I don’t know how to respond since I don’t want to sound like I’m just throwing my partner under the bus by saying “I want to but he doesn’t so ask him about it”. My parents are getting on a bit in years so even if my partner would change his mind some years down the road, them not being there for it is a real possibility.

Obviously some of it is cultural/gender specific (old unmarried spinster=bad, etc), but on the other hand, being “chosen” by somebody, having that promise to stick with each other and having a ring to symbolize that is important to me, as well as doing the ceremony part (even if it is small) in front of other people to make it “official”, and I don’t know how to let go of that. We’ve talked about why it’s important to me and my partner knows that I’m not happy about it, but that’s all. If they ever did propose, I’d want it to be because they truly want to, not because I somehow sadded them into doing it out of guilt or pity, so I’ve been trying to keep my feelings to myself as much as possible. At this point he might think that wedding-related stuff gives me the runs since I always have to go to the bathroom if anything related to it comes up on tv or whatever (but surprise, I’m not actually doing a poop, I’m doing a cry).

I’m a bit stuck on how to deal with my own feelings about the whole thing without feelings-dumping on my partner, I guess? I’m on the autism spectrum, so I try to be as conscious as I can about not saying something out of line, but I really don’t want to mess a good thing up by making a hen out of a feather. Any advice about how to manage my feelings/clueless askers in a mature way would be great, but if not, permission to be sad about something that feels like a silly issue is fine too.

Regards, Hapless and Ringless

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Hi Captain,

My husband, at the ripe age of 35, is losing his hair. He has had luxuriant long locks since he was a young teenager, long before I knew him. He fought multiple administrative battles with his conservative Catholic high school’s dress code in order to keep it. He considers it an inextricable part of the identity he constructed that turned him from a sad, isolated kid into an adult with a social community. In his own words, he can no longer picture himself without long hair. Nevertheless, it’s visibly thinning on top–and he knows it.

His anxiety over this is really ramping up: he bought a second mirror so he can examine the top/back of his head, he’s exploring combover-like hair arrangements to hide the thin area, and the angst performance over every stray hair in the shower drain trap is… heartbreaking. Also more than a little annoying.

I’m a fat woman, Captain. I have never in my life looked the way I wanted to, much less the way society told me I ought to. After thirty years, I’m largely over it in most circumstances… but when my husband starts up this new routine about his hair, part of me wants nothing more than to roll my eyes and notify the whaaaambulance. As a bonus, my husband is quite thin, and has done the dance of fat-shaming in the guise of “concern for your health” at me in the past, so that resentment lingers a bit. (Even though I did break him of that habit and it hasn’t come up in years, I can’t avoid the basic truth that he’s thin and I’m fat and I have feelings about that.)

I want to be supportive, but at the same time I dread the day he actually asks my opinion of the effectiveness of his combover techniques (spoilers: they are super not effective). Right now all my buried bitterness about my own body wells up in my throat when he gets started about how many hairs fell out during his latest post-shower brushing, so I just kind of shrug and nod sympathetically to avoid choking on it. Do you have any scripts for soothing sounds I can make in response to his escalating sads-spirals?

Signed,
Some of Us Have Never Been Beautiful, Howl

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Dear Captain Awkward

I have been with my partner for over 5 years now, and I love him to pieces, I can’t imagine my life without him, but I am scared that if I propose to him he’s going to say no, from what I know we are very happy, and I know that he loves lots of ‘girly’ things as well as ‘male’ things, wearing dresses, cosplay, ribbons, romantic comedies, video games, and shoujo manga.

I thought it would be a great Idea to propose to him later this year by taking him to the largest convention we have in the UK for a romantic weekend away, wine-ing and dining him, I’ve booked the hotel room, saved up nearly all the money I need and bought a ring and a Tardis ring box to put it in.

But I keep second guessing myself now, thinking what if he wouldn’t want me to propose to him, or at the least having no idea what I would say, would he feel weird about his girlfriend proposing to him, I mean I’ve asked him in the past and he always said he hasn’t had a problem with it, but since I’ve started researching how to propose as a woman, I’ve found so many posts saying just not to do it, that it takes something away that is solely for the man to do, that I’d be robbing him basically of him being able to do it and that I would emasculate him by proposing to him, that he would become a laughing stock amongst other men. Despite reassurances from his and my male friends that if their own girlfriends proposed to them they’d be ecstatic, and they think he would be too, since he is not a traditional male.

I want to propose to him so much, but in doing so would I just humiliate him?

Yours sincerely

Dearly befuddled

Dear Befuddled,

How exciting for both of you! Two thoughts:

1) After happy five years with someone, surely a discussion of “do you want to keep doing this”/”should we formalize this thing we’ve got going on in one of the ways open to us under the law” is not a completely foreign one. The saying of the question in so many words, the presentation of symbolic gifts, etc. might have an element of surprise involved, but the prospect of the decision is surely not a surprise, right? If it is, then maybe a “Hey do you ever think about wanting to get married someday? How do you want us to go about making that decision” conversation before the whirlwind weekend is probably in order. If he has strong feelings about where and how and when this should all go down you’ll find out about them.

2) Someone who would not want to marry you or who would be humiliated because you were the one who asked the question, someone who would poop all over the awesome thing you’ve planned because: Traditional gender roles! is probably not right for you on a number of levels.

It sounds like the worst thing that could happen here is that he is like “Yes of course, let’s get married. Though I had this awesome surprise planned for you” and you say “we’ve got the rest of our lives to surprise and delight each other, you silly gorgeous man” and then you kiss a lot and get married some day.

Go live your awesome love story without fear or apology!

Edited To Add:

While we’re on the subject of lasting commitment, an Awkwardeer is seeking help with their wedding vows.

Hi Captain!

I love your blog, and the direct approach you have with words and creating good space for oneself in a relationship. My question is of the happy problem variety … I’m getting married at the end of May to a fantastic guy, and am looking for advice on building a strong marriage (and some inspiration as I start to write my vows).

We’re in our late thirties and have pretty similar romantic histories (very few relationships, none of which lasted very long), which means that we don’t have a lot of personal experience with the ins and outs of long term relationships. Our approach has been to “use our words” as much as possible, and while we don’t always agree, I can’t think of anything that has turned into an actual fight. (We’ve both wondered if this will create a problem at some point, but haven’t been able to imagine it.)

So. We’re getting married (hooray!). And I’m really interested in your (and the awkwardeers) thoughts on maintaining and keeping a strong partnership over the next (hopefully) 50+ years.

Thanks!

What makes love stay? Got any favorite poems or quotes or readings? LET’S CYRANO THE DE BERGERAC OUT OF THIS.

 

Dear Captain Awkward,

So, I’m having trouble with my mom and I’m not sure if it’s a me-problem or a her-problem or a “no one did anything wrong but it’s just uncomfortable” problem.

When I started college (and became an adult-ish) my mom has opened up to me about a lot of things that she didn’t want to talk to me about when I was younger. In general, this is fine. However, it’s changed the way we talk about my dad and it’s starting to make me very uncomfortable.

My parents are happily married but they’re in a tough situation–they have five kids (I’m the oldest) and my dad works about 5 hours away from where we live. He commutes Monday and comes back Friday, which leaves my mom shouldering a lot of the day to day burden of running the family. I totally understand that my dad isn’t perfect and that she might want to vent about him sometimes. However, I’m really uncomfortable with her venting about it to me. I can’t commiserate, as I’m not around to experience things the way she does, and I really don’t like hearing negative things about my dad.

Some of the stuff she says is true (he can’t do as much with a lot of problems because he’s just not accessible) but I feel really defensive whenever the conversation turns that way.

Basically, is there a script or something that can help me deal with this? Should I deal with this?

Growing Up is Hard

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Dear Captain Awkward,

I am a 15 year old male and I’m engaged to someone that I met online. I have been dating him for about a year now and he has cheated on me once. Sometimes I get paranoid and ask him if he’s seeing anyone right now.

I know that I may be too young/ “not know what love is,” but rest assured, I do. My love for him is unconditional and he is definitely the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I am making him come out to his friends because I don’t want to be just a little secret. He is too scared to tell his parents because they will disown him. He is bisexual, just like me. Talking about liking the same sex in his family is forbidden.

My parents know that I am bisexual so it really isn’t too much of a problem for me. They don’t know I am engaged though. Like I said before, I’m scared he will like someone else too someday.

What should I do Captain Awkward?

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Dobby

Is this what you are looking for in a spouse? If so, rethink your entire personality.

Things you should know going in:

This is a two-for.

I am not calm, collected, or unbiased about this topic.

#506

Dear Captain Awkward,

Been married 14 years, I think happily. We are affectionate, and sympathetic to each other’s problems, and want to help each other out. No kids.

My problem is that I’m unhappy with our household division of labor and I can’t make Spouse understand. Somehow, over the course of our relationship, I became responsible for 100% of our at-home meals – planning, shopping, cooking. I try to mitigate this burden by preparing larger portions on weekends so that we can have leftovers for dinner during the week, but it doesn’t always work; maybe the recipe doesn’t yield as much as expected, or maybe it turns out to be awful and I have to throw away what’s left – plus, cooking with an eye for leftovers really limits the available recipes. So inevitably I’m left scrambling and stressed a couple of weekdays per week, not to mention all the time I put in on my supposed days off. And on top of that, Spouse often (once or twice a week) has off-site gatherings in the evenings, meaning that I have to come home from full-time work and immediately get their dinner ready so they can eat and run.

This wouldn’t be a such a problem except for two things. One is that I’m not sure that Spouse offers an equal household contribution elsewhere. It’s true that they deal with most things related to the outside world: vet appointments, travel arrangements, calling contractors/repairpersons, things like that. I’m introverted and really don’t want to do those things, so I’m grateful that Spouse does them. But does it balance out the day-to-day grind of shopping and cooking?

The second is that Spouse flatly refuses to make any changes to this arrangement for any reason. “Can you maybe be responsible for dinner one set day a week?” No. “Can I just have an official day off once a week and we can fend for ourselves?” No. “I’m feeling a little fat – can I have two weeks off from doing the cooking for both of us so I can try out a diet?” No. (The worst is when they pull out the “but I like it when you cook for me, it makes me feel loved” argument. That drives me BONKERS.) Every so often I just can’t take it anymore and I break down and talk about how the arrangement is ruining my life, and all I get is “You poor thing, I’m sorry this is hard for you” and then everything is the same the next day.

What do I do here? Are there some magic words I can say to get Spouse to get them to realize that this arrangement is unreasonable? It is unreasonable, isn’t it?

betty draper with a gun

Does Mad Men make you feel nostalgia for the Good Old Days? OK POSSIBLY YOU MIGHT BE AN ASSHOLE

Dear Letter Writer #495:

I am sad to say that I do not think that there are any magic words that will make this division of labor more reasonable. You have asked, straight up, to make a different division of labor. You have tried, respectfully and straightforwardly to renegotiate the terms of your marriage. You have used your words like a boss and been flat out refused.

Your spouse understands. They have just decided that it would be easier and more successful to manipulate you than to make a sandwich once in a while.

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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.