Hello, all you horrormonkeys of Internet love, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only advice column that’s the hidden blade of love to all of your relationship woes and foes.
This week, we’re getting weird. What do you do when your flesh-and-blood partner doesn’t get your motor humming… but animated characters do? How do you get your partner of five years to propose, when you can’t make the move yourself? And what do you do when the women in your country don’t seem to dig you… at all?
Activate your eagle vision and get ready to dive into some hay carts. Let’s do this.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’m a cis straight woman who really enjoys anime/manga and it’s always been a central part of my “identity.” I’m a big enough fan that I actively consume not only official media (reading the source material, watching the shows, etc.) but also fan-made content like fanfiction and even create my own as well. When I started dating my boyfriend almost 5 years ago after being introduced by mutual friends, we quickly bonded over both being huge weebs and I’m very much in love with him.
However, our sex life has always weighed down heavily on my consciousness. We have mismatched libidos, with mine much lower, and I feel horrible when rejecting sexual advances. My sex drive has slightly improved after stopping my anti-depressants and finding a new job, yet I’m only comfortable with sex 2-3 times a week while I can tell my partner would prefer almost daily instead. My mind and body have a hard time turning “on” from foreplay and this means a lot of lube use. I become physically horny maybe once a week if we haven’t been intimate for a few days and sex feels great when we’re both so into it! But then the horniness subsides and I feel guilty about saying no again.
I’m not sure whether my low sex drive is due to my mental illness, stress, or being asexual… I bring up possibly being asexual because I’ve never found myself thinking that someone is so physically attractive that I’d like to have sex/relationship with them. I initially became attracted to my boyfriend due to his personality and my crushes in the past (which I can count on one hand) have been due to the men’s personalities and actions rather than physical attributes. It’s been the same with women as well – I literally cannot think of any male or female celebrities that are so attractive that I’d want to sleep with them.
So why did I bring up being a huge weeb in the beginning? Because I’ve realized that I become a lot hornier when consuming media about… 2D characters. Yes, I am physically cringing from writing this. But please hear me out! What gets me going is reading R18 fanfiction or seeing fanart of fictional characters who are in a relationship (aka a “ship”). I love seeing the intimacy between two favorite characters and the idea of them being so in love and whatnot. Consuming non-explicit media about my favorite ships tugs at my heart strings; explicit material gets both my heart and sex drive going. The gender of the characters don’t really matter though I do have a preference for male/female and female/female pairings. I sometimes watch real-life porn and that does help me get a bit horny but I have a huge preference to 2D material instead.
I think my boyfriend is conventionally attractive but again, my biggest attraction is towards his loving personality. Am I a messed-up person trapping my partner in a relationship if I’m not getting horny from seeing him shirtless or don’t always want to have sex with him? I’ve never fantasized about sleeping with another person and I’d rather have intimate cuddling with some foreplay than straight-up sex. I’ve brought up our mismatched sex drive to my partner and whether he wanted to end the relationship if he didn’t feel sexually satisfied. But my boyfriend has consistently told me that he is fine with having sex less often and doesn’t want to open up the relationship.
Can you please help me understand what’s wrong with me? Is there anything I can do to rewire myself to be a normal person?
- Yes To Cuddles
I think part of your problem is that you’re pathologizing things, YTC, things that aren’t actually wrong. I think you’ve got an overactive sense of guilt—possibly brought on by feeling like you’re doing something wrong by not wanting to have sex at the same schedule as your boyfriend.
I mean, the first thing that leaps out at me is that you claim that you have a “much lower” libido than your partner… wanting it a mere 2 to 3 times a week instead of every single day. That is not what I would consider to be a low libido, or even a severe mismatch. The average number of times a long-term couple has sex ranges from once a week to once a month.
And considering that the two of you have been together for five years, two to three times a week is pretty goddamn good. I’m just saying.
Similarly, the fact that you don’t look at a guy and are immediately turned on doesn’t mean that you’re asexual or dysfunctional or otherwise broken. There’s a difference between how men and women are aroused, sexually. Men tend to have a spontaneous arousal pattern—that “boner out of nowhere” type of arousal, where they’re horny and decide to have sex. Women, on the other hand, frequently have what’s known as a “responsive” arousal pattern; that is, instead of “I’m horny, so let’s have sex,” sensual and sexual contact causes the arousal. So for a lot of women—and some men—sexual arousal is triggered by making out, foreplay, etc.
This disconnect, I suspect, is one of the reasons why you and your boyfriend are having compatibility issues. Your boyfriend gets horny and wants to have sex. You, on the other hand, feel pressured to put out and so you aren’t really in the right mindset for sex. He wants it, you feel bad about saying no and, surprise surprise, you don’t get turned on. It’s hard to get turned on when you feel like you’re being pushed into something.
I think that if you didn’t feel like physical intimacy was an automatic prelude to penetrative sex, you’d be more likely to be aroused more often. If you knew the two of you could, for example, just make out for a while without the expectation that this was going to lead to more, then I would be willing to bet that the pressure to perform would lessen and you’d have an easier time getting turned on.
Note very carefully that I didn’t say that this translates to “every day.” The couple whose libidos are perfectly in sync—especially after five years—are so rare that you’d have better chances of winning the Powerball than finding them. Compromise is part of every relationship, and that includes compromising on how often you have sex. And while I don’t automatically believe that the couple needs to default to the preference of the partner with the lower sex drive, two to three times a week instead of every day is not that big of a sacrifice.
If it were a “once a month vs. once a week” sort of situation, then I would recommend giving a helpful assist—a hand job, letting him play with your breasts while he masturbated, and so on. But two to three times a week is still above average for a long-term committed couple. I think he’d be ok with a little solo play in between.
Now as for your interest in fictional characters… I think that, once again, you’re pathologizing things that aren’t actually wrong with you because of a misplaced sense of guilt. You’re not visually aroused; what gets your motor humming are relationships and personalities. You even say it yourself: what attracts you to your boyfriend is his personality.
Literally none of this is an indicator that you’re broken or unusual. In fact, all of this is a sign that you’re shockingly normal. The romance novel has been a publishing mainstay for generations. Hell, the romance genre dominates ebook sales on the Kindle at over 40% of all book sales.
And then there are things like An Archive Of Our Own, with more than 700,000 works tagged with “sexual content,” 500,000 tagged with “relationship,” 350,000 tagged with “romance” and 300,000 tagged with “smut.”
Even if you were not normal (you are), then you’re hardly alone in your interest in smutty stories about fictional characters. The fact that your favorite stories tend to involve characters from Your Lie In April instead of a shirtless cowboy with a tribal bicep tattoo is just a difference in taste, not a sign that you’re fucked in the head.
Your problem isn’t that your sex drive is broken, that you’re not sexual or that you don’t want to fuck as often as your boyfriend. Your problem is that you think that your perfectly normal and utterly mundane sexuality is wrong because you don’t fuck like people in porn do.
What should you do about all of this? Well, to start with, talk to your boyfriend about dialing things back a bit and putting more emphasis on cuddling and making out, instead of treating penetration as the end-all/be-all of intimacy. He’s already told you he’s fine with this, so maybe take “yes” for an answer.
Next: read more smut. Not because you need the extra assist to get turned on, but because you enjoy it. It’s fun for you, it makes you happy and turns you on. So hit up AO3 and find yourself some hurt/comfort fic and have yourself a time.
And stop seeing yourself as being broken or otherwise “weird” because of how your sexuality works. It’s perfectly normal, and the sooner you stop trying to force yourself into somebody else’s arousal pattern, the happier (and hornier) you’ll be. There’s absolutely nothing wrong or weird about you.
You’re ok. I promise.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
Love your columns, I am glad they are still coming in lockdown as well. Hope you and your family are safe.
Just wondering if you had any suggestions on how to encourage your partner to propose. My boyfriend and I are both 29, and cohabitating, and been together almost 5 years. And I personally feel like it’s about time to level up our relationship.
I have had previous discussions with my partner about proposing, and he said he wants to be the one to propose and would prefer to wait till we were living overseas (which was planned for the end of this year), he noted that wanting to delay wasn’t anything to do about me, however just getting his head right. He noted that he saw marriage and kids after a stint of a couple of years overseas. However now with all this covid 19 stuff happening, we are likely not to be moving overseas, and potentially looking at buying a house together instead (assuming we keep our jobs which is likely).
I would like to bring up engagement again. I personally don’t want to buy a house with somebody I’m not at least engaged to, and I would appreciate the additional certainty about his commitment to me and our shared future. To be clear I do trust his intentions and our commitment to a shared life path, he has been here for me through numerous difficulties. However, I have been strung along in a previous relationship (7 years) without a proposal in the past with a previous partner unable to commit, and a little part of me is nervous that I will just wait around for another 2-3 years just for him not to commit in the end. I realise that this is an issue on my part that I am adding to the relationship, but I also don’t want to wait forever. I would prefer my future to be in my hands instead of just “waiting for him to propose.”
Any suggestions about how to approach this with my partner?
As with Yes To Cuddles, I wonder if part of the problem here is definitional. I mean, your previous relationship was for seven years... that’s kind of the opposite of a partner who is afraid to commit.
(And that’s before we get into the fact that, if I have my math right, evidently y’all started dating when you were 17 and were 24 when you broke up. First: people very rarely marry the person they started dating when they were in their teens. Second: Call me Old-y McDecrepit, but 24 is too damn young to get married.)
But let’s deal with you and your partner now. You want to get married. He, presumably, wants to get married as well. Your plans got disrupted because, oh, hey, world-wide pandemic that’s shut down the planet.
Now, maybe there are reasons why he can’t marry you until you both live overseas. Maybe he had some crazy, rich uncle who left his entire estate to your boyfriend under the condition that the two of you got married after emigrating to a foreign country. Maybe he has some weird genetic condition that would cause his testicles to explode if he got married in your home country.
But barring all of that, I think that it’s not unreasonable to adjust your plans, because **gestures at everything**.
Here’s the thing: you’re in a relationship that’s been serious enough that you’re both talking about marriage in more than the general abstract. You should be able to talk with him about all of this—your feelings about getting married, the fact that COVID-19 blew up your plans, the desire to level up the relationship—without worrying that this is going to damage things somehow.
You say that it’s important to him that he be the one to propose. Ok, fine; gender roles are more important to some folks than to others. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t bring up the topic at all.
If things are so fragile that your saying “hey, can we revisit the whole ‘not getting married until…’ thing?” is a dealbreaker, then honestly, that’s a relationship that probably needs to end. A relationship where a partner is afraid to talk about how they feel for fear of the whole thing falling apart isn’t a relationship as much as it is a hostage situation.
And it doesn’t sound to me like you’re in a hostage situation. It sounds to me like you’ve got some anxiety weasels nibbling around the edges of your brain and you’d like your boyfriend’s help in shooing them off. So don’t tell me that, tell, him.
Schedule a time with him to have an Awkward Conversation about the future of your relationship together. Tell him that, seeing as COVID-19 has changed literally everything, that you’d like to discuss where things are going and what the new, adjusted timeline looks like. That doesn’t mean that he needs to drop to one knee and propose right now, but having an idea of where his head is at and letting him know where you are with this will go a long way towards reassuring you that he’s not just eyeing the clock and counting down the minutes until he can bail.
He may want to be the one to do the proposing, but taking some time to talk things out will help give you that sense of control you’re looking for. And hopefully, either it’ll prompt him to rethink his timeline, or it’ll chase away those brain weasels for you.
Like many others here I’ve been reading your site and column for a while and I thank you for all the great advice you’ve given the world. I finally decided to write in with a Burning Question™.
Here’s some background. I’m a third-culture kid (straight, male, mid-30's) living in my “home country” in Asia. I hold this country’s passport and am conversationally fluent but was born and raised in another country. I identify with western culture though I have an Asian-ish upbringing. It’s hard for me to make friends with locals, but easy with westerners. I tend to have more close female friends than close male friends. I am generous and free to give love and affection.
Now on to my problem.
The country I live in is a melting pot of cultures. English is not a national language but it is widely used as tourism is an important industry. Non-locals that come here are usually here for 2-5 years before moving on, with exceptions. I’ve been in this country for almost 13 years. In that time I’ve dated 2 local women (ended in disaster; stereotypes are real) and 2 western women, neither of which made it past year 1 for reasons. I’ve tried various dating apps to no avail and I’m convinced that I’m in the uncanny valley of attractiveness. I look Asian, but my thinking is decidedly not. My theory is:
- local women are initially interested with me but in the end I’m too western
- non-local women aren’t initially interested in me because I look too Asian
I’m appealing to neither locals nor non-locals because I subvert both their expectations due to how I look or how I think/behave.
Is this a real thing? Swipe-based dating apps don’t work for me because, let’s be honest, how many people get to the profile info before making a decision? Match-based dating apps don’t work for me because... well I still haven’t figured that one out yet. Dating IRL is hard because there are always people more conventionally attractive than me, and the people I want to date don’t tend to date Asians. Seeing a local man with a non-local woman is exceedingly rare. The reverse is exceedingly common.
How can I get out of this valley? Help!
I think the problem you’re having doesn’t have nearly as much to do with your looks as you think, TCC.
The thing that people rarely understand about being attractive is how little of it is physical. Outside of symmetry, a lot of what we consider “attractive” is based far less around, say, your bone structure, and far more around presentation, attitude and confidence. The easiest example of this is to Google “Instagram models without makeup.” Genetics and facial symmetry certainly have their perks, but even nature tends to get an assist from some base and a little eye-shadow.
The hot men and women at the club or bar didn’t roll out of bed looking like that; they put lots of effort into their presentation, from their haircut to the way their clothes fit to their individual sense of style.
But attitude and confidence count for more than cheekbones and jawlines. Vincent Cassel, for example, is a weird looking dude, but he exudes charisma like nobody’s business. Serge Gainsbourg has a face like a bulldog licking piss off a thistle, but the man got more strange ass than somebody at a mutant donkey auction with a stolen platinum card.
(You have to had it to the French. They frequently churn out folks who look like their parents spent too much time in Innsmouth, but are functionally sex on legs.)
The other thing to keep in mind is that people — ok, people who aren’t borderline sociopaths, anyway — don’t date folks on a point system. You aren’t being evaluated on a spreadsheet where abs get 12 points, cheekbones get 6 and an emotional connection gets 2. They aren’t looking at someone and thinking “hey, I get along great with this guy, we have so much in common and I love every moment I spend with him… but the guy over there who bores me senseless has teeth like chicklets and the Audemars Piguet watch so I gotta go with that.”
Considering you have women who’re interested in you, at least at first, I’m willing to say that your looks aren’t your problem. And while I’m certainly not going to dismiss the fact that Western culture, and America in particular, has spent years sending the message that Southeast Asian and Indian men as less sexually attractive, I don’t think being “too Asian” is the issue here. As you said: the non-locals may not be as into you initially but they apparently do start to find you attractive over time. Put a pin in that, we’re going to come back to it.
Nor do I think it’s that you’re too Western; the women who seem to be interested in dating Western tourists don’t seem to have a problem with the whole “dude from another culture” issue.
(And please note that I’m very pointedly not going to be getting into the “...are they dating him for money/ a means of getting out of the country” bullshit, which is a different ball of stereotype wax.)
I think the first problem you have is that you’re pursuing the wrong people. Let’s start with the fact that the women you want to date don’t want to date Asian men—presumably tourists— and you don’t seem to care for the women who do live there.
That’s going to put you in a bind for a number of reasons. If you’re only interested in dating ex-pats and tourists, your relationships are, by their very nature, short term. If people are only sticking around for 2 - 5 years, then very few are going to be looking for anything serious or lasting. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, then you’ve winnowed your potential pool down to the very few exceptions who stay longer, before you start getting into questions about whether they’re open to dating Asian men.
On the other hand, the fact that you don’t seem to be attracted to the women who live where you do, or even like them very much, is going to cut that dating pool down significantly as well. Your attitude is destiny, especially when it comes to dating. When you’re looking down on folks, they can tell. It’s going to bleed into everything that you do, down to your body language and tone of voice. People aren’t going to want to spend time around someone who doesn’t like them, nevermind date them.
Under the best of circumstances, you’ve narrowed your potential pool of partners significantly, and your outlook tends to push most of the remainder away.
But I want to dial in on something else that you said: “I tend to have more close female friends than close male friends.” I hear this a lot from guys who have a hard time getting dates. Now I’m not going to get into the topic of why you don’t get closer with guys—that’s a topic in and of itself—because the issue here isn’t having closer friendships with women per se.
It’s that almost every time, the reason why they have so many female friends is because they’ve spent too much time trying to get close with them and too little time actually asking them out on dates. More often than not, these are guys who didn’t want to risk getting rejected and so they kept waiting for the perfect time to ask out their crush. And waiting. And waiting…
And then they’re surprised to discover that their crush only sees them as a friend. Not hard to figure out why; act like a friend and people are going to see you that way.
The irony is: this is actually a potential advantage for them, if they ever actually used it. Those women may not want to date them… but they have friends who might. Their female friends are potentially their best advocates; their friendship means that the men come pre-vetted. These attractive women enjoy hanging out and spending time with them, which means that these are guys who are worth getting to know.
But the guys in those situations rarely ask their friends for help. And if you don’t ask for something, you’re really not likely to get it.
So here are my suggestions.
First, it’ll do you some good to interrogate who you’re attracted to, what you’re looking for and why. The more you can wrap your head around why you aren’t as into the local women and why you pursue women who don’t seem to like you, the more you’ll be able to start focusing your attention on women who might actually be a good match. Trying to pursue people who don’t want what you have to offer, or simply aren’t right for you, is a waste of your time and energy. So, for that matter, is trying to date people you just don’t seem to like.
Second, talk to your female friends. Let them know that hey, you’re single and you’re looking and you’re interested in meeting folks—do they know someone they think you’d be into? Having them help you out by facilitating introductions as well as being a form of social proof will make it easier to find people who you’d actually get along with and want to date.
Third, stop getting hung up on instant results. You spend a lot of time talking about immediate interest, which honestly isn’t how people date. People may be impressed by someone’s looks, but folks very, very rarely date someone they only just met. Lasting attraction, the kind that leads to long-term relationships, is built over time. You even say it yourself: the non-locals don’t seem interested initially. But here’s the thing: how people perceive you changes as they get to know you. In fact, studies have found that the more people interact in a face-to-face setting, the more attractive they find one another.
Taking time to get to know people works to your advantage. Spending time with them lets you win them over with your warmth and your charm. That, in turn, makes you far more appealing than someone who’s good looking but ultimately an asshole.
But don’t forget: you have to actually make your move. If you want lovers rather than more friends, then you have to actually act like it.
Finally: if you want to be more attractive, then work on the things that actually make you more attractive: presentation, confidence and most of all: attitude. Warmth and charm are what help make someone charismatic.
Work on that, and you’ll have far more success in the future.
Did you convince your partner to pop the question? Have you had an international romance? 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.