Hello, you evil bone machines, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column to help you remaster your love life.
This week, we’re tackling the hard questions about relationships: What do you do when you think your marriage may have been a mistake… four days after the wedding? How do you deal with incompatible needs in the bedroom? And what do you do when your boyfriend is closeted to protect himself from his conservative parents?
It’s time to overwrite those old save files and start a New Game + for your relationships. Let’s do this.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I got married to my partner a few days ago, and already think we’re in trouble.
While we were planning our wedding, his uncle passed away and his cousins he is very close with were left with the house. It was a massive fixer upper—his uncle was an alcoholic hoarder and it took months and even several dumpsters to even get the house to a point that it could begin renovations. However, my husband used to work in home improvement and the price on the home was so low it was a hard offer to pass on. We planned on taking out a home improvement loan that would cover the cost of the repairs comfortably and then remortgage through a VA loan once we were married.
However, apparently all the banks in the area would not give out a home improvement loan until 6 months after the house has been purchased. This meant that all the money we planned on using for the wedding would have to be split on renovations also. On top of that, we were planning on moving into the house from our cheap apartment by the time the wedding came around, but we still do not have a finished bathroom. There is one working toilet. While we plan on moving in next month, we still lost one month’s rent we weren’t expecting to pay.
There is so much equity to be had in this house, and the family is really happy that we’re keeping it in the family. We have considered selling it once it’s in good enough shape, even if people want us to keep it.
My husband also recently changed jobs too and took a small pay cut in exchange for stability and overall a more pleasant experience. He’s a pharmacist and his previous job would have him working every other weekend, some 12-14 hour days, never given any lunch breaks or even little breaks. It was retail and he was expected to hit unreal numbers with too few hours, so he worked a lot of unpaid hours just trying to keep afloat.
We just wrapped up the wedding a few days ago, but with the new job and issues with the house we are beginning to slip into debt. My view on it is that with the wedding behind us, we can focus on getting into the house and begin paying off the accumulated debt. He makes a good amount of money and while we are in a bad spot now, it would be hard for a lot of other couples to even make it through these past few months without much more debt.
His view on it is that I forced him to have an expensive wedding and now he has to constantly work and has to pick up shifts in his old retail job in order to pay. I understand this, however, when we got engaged he asked if I had wanted a wedding. I said I’d like one if we could swing it, but I’d like it cheap and small and I wouldn’t be mad if we didn’t do it. He repeatedly told me that I wouldn’t be happy if we didn’t have a wedding and that he didn’t want me to be mad about it 10 years later. He even initiated wedding planning—found a venue, set up a time to meet with them, started looking for DJs and caterers. He hadn’t booked anything, but I was thinking maybe it was a sort of excuse—he wanted me to have a wedding and it felt like no wasn’t an answer.
I’m frustrated because we could have handled the wedding without all of our unforeseen circumstances (and with hindsight, bad decisions.) On top of this, him and I have an age gap—he is 39 and I am 27. I was in the Marines until I was 26, so I am going back to school now but I have a very meager income and I’ve just been going to school full time on the GI Bill. Even if I was to pick up a job and work full time, it wouldn’t be as much as I would make just using the GI Bill and going to school, and I appreciate being able to focus 100% on my schooling because some of the semesters I have had would have had much worse grades if I didn’t have the time to devote to them.
Literally 3 days after our wedding, I got home from dropping off the last of my visiting friends at the airport and I began to count the money we received from the wedding. It was about 20-25% the cost of the wedding, and my husband told me he was expecting about one-third at the least to one-half. Obviously we didn’t throw the wedding for the money, but with how rough things have gotten and how tight things have been he was disappointed we didn’t receive more.
He always complains about how his ex-girlfriend did nothing—had no job, didn’t go to school, was a burden—and he has a lot of baggage regarding that. He hasn’t directly said that about me, but the fact is I put out all the money I had (and then some) in order to help out, but last night he was just so angry about where we are financially and he becomes incredibly severe, hostile, and negative when he’s angry. He holds onto his anger for a long time and it takes a lot to get him out of those moods.
I thought when he switched jobs, he’d be a lot happier and wouldn’t be so angry so often. While he doesn’t directly say I’m a burden or I’m useless, he complains a lot about how unclean the apartment is and just gets so negative and angry about money. I’m beginning to think he has an anger problem, and I don’t handle being around angry people well. With my husband especially, he gets so angry and negative I cry and break down. He doesn’t say anything directly about me, but it’s just the way he says things. I say that I have Fridays-Sundays off and I could pick up a part time job and work every day I’m not at school; he says I won’t make enough to make a difference. Anything I say he has a negative response about.
I get that we’re not in a good situation, but he’s SO negative about it. Even this morning when he got up to go to work, I got up too and walked to the door to say goodbye and he had to say he’s getting up to go work the fields again and was rude to me for just standing there. He asked me why I was following him, and I said I was getting up to say bye. He snipped at me for that.
I’m beginning to think this was all a mistake. I’ve thought about leaving before because of his anger. We met through mutual gaming friends, and the only game he plays anymore is Overwatch. This is fine, but not even halfway through the first game of the night he is slamming his keyboard, slamming his mouse, yelling, asking me why he died on Pharah when I was Mercy, etc. etc. I’m a huge gamer and I don’t enjoy playing games with him at all because all of them piss him off instantly. He started saying gaming is pointless, useless, a waste of time, and that he never wants to play them again. He was really excited for classic WoW, but last night after playing for a few minutes he said it was boring. After we finished counting our money, he turned off WoW and bitterly said he couldn’t afford the subscription and how useless it was. He’s told me before that he regrets that we met through gaming because now he wants them out of his life completely, and yet they are my favorite past-time so it’s hard to spend any time with each other.
I’m sorry this has been all over the place, but I think we have so many problems and they all interconnect in different ways. My main question is that I am not someone who leaves easily and I know marriage is hard work. However, I find myself thinking about if I’d be able to leave once our debt was paid down a bit more. Once it wasn’t so crippling. I wouldn’t want to leave right after the wedding also, and my parents helped us out so much for the wedding. I don’t want to waste their money.
I also think about how stressed he is and how when he isn’t angry, he’s the best partner I’ve ever had. I just feel like I’m beginning to plan my escape in case I need it, in case he gets angrier and angrier. In case he never gets out of his foul mood. My biggest fear is that he will only get worse, that he will be emotionally abusive and I’ll be trapped.
We talked about wanting to start trying for kids right after we get married because of his age, but even that part of me is thinking “Don’t get off birth control, say it’s the money holding you back.” Because the money is a problem, but I just know it’ll be even more of a mess if I have to leave with a kid.
I just feel like leaving is constantly on the back of my mind, and I’m afraid I’m setting myself up to fail. What if we would work out and have a long and happy marriage, that this is just a rough spot and because I have, in my mind, one foot almost out the door going to cause this to fail? I just feel like I need to have this considered through and through in case things don’t get better.
We’ve been married 4 days and I’m already thinking I’ll need to leave. Is it wrong to plan out a worst case scenario?
Already Time To Go?
Alright ATTG, I’m going to level with you: do NOT go off your birth control. Right now would be the worst possible time for you to decide to scramble your DNA with your husband. You’ve got far too much going on here to work through to risk tying yourself to him any more tightly than you already have.
Now with that having been said: your letter’s got more red flags than the last lap at NASCAR. Frankly I’m thinking that the two of you should never have gotten engaged, much less married. Your husband has serious anger and control issues. Like, future Lifetime Original Movie levels of issues. The way that your husband steamrolled over your wishes about your wedding—without so much as consulting you—was a pretty big goddamn indicator that this was something the two of you needed to discuss. In detail. The fact that you felt like this wasn’t something you could reasonably say no to was another bad sign. Relationships are partnerships, and while no relationship is perfectly equitable and balanced, the fact that you were dragged along in his wake isn’t a good sign.
But there’s “things to discuss, possibly with a couple sessions with a couples therapist” and then there’s “explosive, screaming anger.” That’s the more pressing issue, and I’m a little worried that you’re mistaking the symptoms for the disease. Yes, issues like suddenly getting hit with debts you weren’t expecting or hadn’t budgeted for is incredibly stressful; money is probably the most common issue of strife in relationships. But it’s one thing to be having to deal with sudden budget crises and another entirely for him to be getting in your face and screaming that it’s your fault.
However, this seems to be his modus operandi in general, and that’s something to be concerned about. This is why I worry that you’re focusing too much on the wrong thing. Because the truth is that right now, you’re taking a lot of the blame for things that aren’t actually your fault. Worse, you’re taking on blame for things that you can’t avoid. Because it doesn’t matter whether things went perfectly with the loan, the wedding came in under budget, you had a full-time job and you were cleaning the house like Martha Stewart on a meth binge. There would always be a new reason why he’d be pissed at you.
The fact is, he was always going to blow up at you. Even if you two had done a better job planning, crossed every t and dotted every lower-case j and didn’t get blindsided by loan restrictions, then something would have set him off. It might have been breakfast, it might have been shit at work, it might have been impossibly long server queues on WoW (recreating the classic WoW experience for those of us who were there from the jump…) but something would have made him Hulk out, because he’s an explosive rage monster looking for any reason to blow up, messily and all over the place.
Now you’re walking on eggshells around him in hopes that you’re going to avoid triggering Mt. Assholeus and feeling like you can’t enjoy anything that you used to love, and that is a huge, huge warning sign about where this relationship is headed. This sort of behavior is really high on the abusive relationship checklist, and that’s a very good reason to be concerned.
And frankly, I’m here from the future to tell you this is only going to get worse, not better.
In an ideal world, you would’ve pumped the brakes on things before they got to this point. In a less ideal world, the best choice would’ve been putting off the wedding until things were more settled and you were less concerned about the way your husband acts. But hindsight is 20/20, and the only thing we can do is work with the facts as they currently stand.
Which brings us to the question of “what do you do now?” My advice is going to be contingent on something you don’t mention in your letter: Does he ever blow up like this at other people—especially at people who might negatively affect his life—or is he able to hold shit together when he’s around other people and coincidentally only Hulks out at you?
If you’re the only person he ever rages at, or if he only does so at people who are weaker than him, then that’s a sign to split so fast that you leave a human-shaped cloud behind. And if his anger isn’t reserved exclusively for you… well, that’s still not great.
I’m not gonna lie: I’m more than a little concerned that there isn’t going to be a good outcome here. I get that you don’t want to give up on this relationship. It’s admirable that you are committed to making this relationship work and putting in the effort to fix it. However, it’s not your responsibility to fix things; it’s your husband’s responsibility to handle his shit. If you’re going to stay in this relationship—and that’s a mighty big fucking if—then he needs to be getting his ass to therapy and anger management classes. But even then, these are not a guarantee that things will get fixed, especially if his behavior is trending far more to the abuse side of the spectrum than “undirected anger issues.”
Were I you, I’d be putting some serious consideration into how you can leave this relationship as smoothly and safely as possible. Having an exit plan in place can make things much easier and more efficient for you if you do decide to pull the ripcord on this. Yes, I understand that your parents invested a significant amount of money in your wedding. That doesn’t obligate you to stay. That’s just an example of the Sunk Cost Fallacy fucking with your head. Your safety and well-being are more valuable than the cost of the wedding. Hell, you would’ve been perfectly within your rights to bail on the marriage during the ceremony if you felt like it was the best option. You can pay your parents back; you can’t get the time back from a horrible relationship.
If you do decide that the best option for you is to leave, then it may not be a bad idea to see a couples counselor as a way of smoothing the end of the relationship. Having a third party involved may make it easier and safer for you if you are legitimately worried for your health and safety.
If you are worried, then making a contingency plan is a smart move. Make sure you have copies of all of your important information such as your driver’s license, passport, banking information and insurance in a secure place that he doesn’t have access to, along with cash and a cellphone.
I wish I had better advice for you. Hopefully I’m reading more into your letter than is actually there and your husband will be willing to work on his issues and put in the effort to be the lover and partner you deserve. But it’s a good idea to be prepared, just in case.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I always look forward to reading your insight into people’s relationships. Even if the cases are disparate and diverse, there’s always plenty to learn from others’ experiences.
Now to give you some background, I’m a gender non-conforming trans woman. I’ve been parsing through my identity for a good four years with plenty of stumbles and also lots of successes as well.
When I came out, dating was basically out of the question, I was too distraught about the fallout to want to focus my attention on anyone beside myself. So when I got on OKC I didn’t really have an agenda as to what I was looking for. I ended up meeting my future wife on there.
We lived in opposite parts of the country and we both had come out relatively recently out of borderline abusive and toxic relationships. Neither of us had much intention on rushing things.
For a good few months, much of our relationship was purely talking and texting. She decided to come and visit the following year after maybe 4-5 months of talking pretty much non-stop.
We both agreed that she should move with me fairly quickly. We ended up getting married less than a year later, originally for practical reasons, but also because it felt ‘right.’ We sort of fell into it and haven’t looked back since.
The relationship with her has felt easy, for lack of a better term. We communicate fairly openly, when issues arise we talk about it immediately and try and find common ground (which we often have).
Now the only real point of contention is that our sex life is inconsistent.
When we first started talking, I was devoid of any sex drive (part driven by hormone replacement therapy). I told her this right off the bat, I was identifying asexual because I hadn’t really put much thought on what the reasoning was behind it. She accepted me for who I was, though it’s one thing to understand that intellectually and a whole other one emotionally.
She recently told me she has put up walls and from what I can glean, those walls are meant to protect my boundaries while putting her needs on the back burner.
Within our relationship, I’ve felt increasingly safer to explore my own identity including in a sexual context. I’ve identified that my low sex drive stems from severe genital dysphoria.
So when asked to perform as ‘male’ including being top, I shut down. Neither of us is very dominant when it comes to sex so it usually ends up being an impasse unless one of us gets the courage to do something neither of us is comfortable doing: initiating.
Our intimacy when it happens is great. We both spend quite a bit of time with each other and when there’s release it has been largely satisfying.
I feel all kinds of guilt and shame for being such an inconsistent partner.
Is there any such way to alter my sub tendencies?
Submissive but Wanting to be Different
It’s time to let go of your shame and guilt, SBWTBD. First of all, you’ve been making a lot of adjustments to your life. You’ve been transitioning, adapting to your new hormones and learning more about yourself and your sexuality. As you’ve become more comfortable with yourself, more confident in your identity and more aware of your needs, desires and sexual expression, you’ve started to understand how much of what you understood about your sexuality might have been the product of your situation. That’s not being inconsistent, that’s dealing with the pains of becoming the person you are today.
However, it also sounds like you and your partner may have incompatible sexual needs. Sexual compatibility goes beyond issues like matching sex drives. It also encompasses things like sexual roles and the kind of sex that you both would like to have.
If you and your partner are both subs, that’s going to be a problem. You’re going to end up with what Dr. Liz Powell calls “lesbian sheep syndrome,” where both partners are standing around waiting for the other to make the first move. And if topping your partner is going to cause you dysphoria, then all that’s going to do is lead to miserable sex at best and shutting down the sexual side of your relationship entirely at worst.
While yes, couples should be what Official NerdLove Celebrity Patronus Dan Savage calls Good, Giving and Game—good in bed, giving of pleasure and game for most things within reason—doing things that leave you curled up and crying in the shower (metaphorically or literally) is well outside the call of duty for you as a partner.
In order to make this relationship work, the two of you will need to find ways to bridge this particular incompatibility, and that can be hard. While some folks can switch—top on occasion while mostly being a bottom—subs and tops really don’t change their orientation. If it’s an issue of having confidence or becoming comfortable with taking charge, that’s something you can work on. But if you’re trying to go from being a sub to a switch or a top… well, that’s a much bigger ask, and it’s less likely to be something you can change. More often than not, it’s just part of people’s personalities.
What I would suggest is that the two of you find a sex-positive couples therapist in your area; the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory that can help you find a therapist near you. A couples counselor or sex therapist would be able to help the two of you find options that would work for you, whether it’s getting comfortable with taking charge or finding other ways to bridge this gap.
It’ll take work, but with luck, this will just be a road bump on the path to a happy and fulfilling relationship.
So I’m pretty independent and normally wouldn’t consider asking for help like this but I’m so out of my depth with this problem that I kind of need an outside perspective from someone completely unbiased so, here goes.
I’m a young gay man and I am best friends with another gay man who’s also a fairly religious Muslim. We’ve known each other for a few years now and we have a connection that I don’t think I’ve ever had with anyone else before; he and I are so similar but just different enough to be complementary. We get into these arguments/discussions that’ll go for hours about religion, spirituality, society, literally everything and anything. I don’t think there’s anyone I respect more who’s not family, and he’s a genuinely good, moral person who isn’t just unquestionably good but really considers what that means and tries his best. I really love him.
Now the crux of the issue is that he is religiously and culturally a Muslim and he feels he can never be with me because of his family. He’s very close to his mom in particular and he is convinced (rightly so) that if they should ever find out he’ll either be shunned completely or they’ll try to bring him to “therapy.”
Despite his connection to his family he’s constantly fighting with them (his mother for the most part) because they want him living with them (he’s a PhD student and travels the province looking for positions) and looking for a wife. He’s always avoiding them and only visits just enough to see them and not fight. His plan is to never tell them until they die of old age (too many years to come) and until then to be “married to his work.”
We really do feel strongly for each other and he’s told me many times how much he’d want us to be together but that he can’t. He even went so far as to say that in another life he’d marry me in a heartbeat. I don’t want to lose him; he’s convinced we can just stay friends but I’m not so sure, we can barely be alone together when he visits.
What can he or I do? He’s too afraid of facing his family and being banished but I’m worried he’s just ruining his life for bigots. What’s the point of family if they can’t ever accept you for who you are and you’re forced to live a lie?
Let me know what you think,
Since I’m presuming that your friend would say if it were the case otherwise, I’m guessing that the consequences for his coming out to his parents would be emotional and social, rather than something that would put him in actual physical danger or would leave him in dire financial straits.
While I agree with you that it’s a tragedy that he’s choosing to live a lie in order to appeal to bigots, it is understandable why he’s afraid to come out to his folks. It’s entirely likely that he’s got good reason to believe that his coming out would end with his being kicked out of the family, without hope of an eventual reconciliation. Losing that relationship can be legitimately traumatic and I can completely understand why he might want to try to avoid that… even if it meant that he wouldn’t have to be living a lie.
At the same time, however, the idea that he’s just going to stay closeted until his parents die is… well, not exactly practical. The stress of hiding this significant and important part of his life from his parents is the sort of thing that tends to cause issues, both in the short term and the long term.
But at the end of the day, that’s his choice. As much as you may disagree with it, as much as you may think that it’s a bad decision, he’s the only person who can make that call.
The problem for the two of you is that his decision also affects you. His staying closeted means that he’s going to be dragging you into that closet with him. If you two were to make things official and actually date, then as long as he stays closeted, then it means that neither of you can be honest about your relationship. That means constantly having to monitor what you say on social media and never having cute photos of your vacations together on Instagram. It means never being able to celebrate the holidays together openly, having to avoid anything that smacks of intimacy or affection whenever you visit his family with him and lying constantly about the nature of your relationship. And even if you can manage this, it would mena dragging your family and your friends and his friends in with you, lest they accidentally spill the beans and trigger that blow up that he’s desperately trying to avoid.
It’d be less of a relationship and more like trying to be an undercover agent in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. How long could you and your social circle keep the charade up before someone cracked? How long do you think you could live like this? A year? 5 years? 20 years? 40?
Ultimately, you’re at an impasse here. If he’s unwilling or unable to come out, then I don’t see any way this relationship could possibly work. All of the baggage that comes with dating someone who’s closeted, even if it’s for a good reason, is going to be a level of stress that most relationships just can’t survive.
Now you could call the question. You could make his coming out of the closet a condition of being in a romantic relationship with you… but then you have to live with the possibility that his fear of blowing up his relationship with his family is greater than his attraction to you.
You think he’s ruining his life for no good reason. I agree with you. But at the end of the day, he’s the only one who can make this call. You can’t make it for him. So until he’s willing to take that chance, I think the best thing you can do is try to be friends. And if you can’t manage to just be friends? Then I think the best thing to do is give each other space until things change.
But keep in mind: I’m a straight, cis guy. I don’t have the same perspective that someone who has been closeted or dated someone who was closeted may have, so I strongly encourage the LGBTQ readers who have to share their experiences in the comments.
Did you leave an abusive relationship? Did you and your partner have sexual incompatibilities? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr. NerdLove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove YouTube channel. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.