Hello internet skulltroll freakscene, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that’s been remastered for the Switch.
This week, we’re here to address your relationship anxieties and help you find some calm in an ocean of sexual turmoil. What do you do when your partner is suddenly no longer interested in sex? Why would someone say “I love you” when they didn’t really mean it? And is it a good idea to flirt at church?
It’s time to get real up close and personal with the awkward. Let’s do this.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I come to you slightly embarrassed, but knowing that I need to get this out.
I’m a 35 year old man, and my wife is a 29 year old woman. We started dating in 2013 and were married in 2016. My wife is hilarious, caring, beautiful, and all around wonderful to me.
Obviously, we have a problem.
As of this writing, we haven’t had sex in a year and 3 months. Prior to that, we probably had sex 4-5 times that year. This has really been bothering me, but I don’t want to seem like an ass about it. Every once in a while, I’ll start the “Why haven’t we been having sex?” conversation, and I’m met with “Well, why haven’t we?” I usually say that I’m the one bringing this fact up, and not her, and that it makes me feel like she isn’t interested anymore. At this point, she will get upset and claim that I’m making her feel like shit about it.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect sex at a higher rate than what we’re having… we’re young, recently married. I just don’t get it. What really bothers me is that we had sex frequently in the beginning of the relationship, and all of a sudden it just...dropped off. Another issue that bothers me is that I know her sex life prior to meeting mine seemed rather exciting, when ours has been rather mundane. Now my wife is bringing up wanting to have kids and again, and I feel like I’m just a means to that end.
I’m young. I want the passion, and the crazy, and the fun. How can I articulate this without hurting feelings? I myself have felt hurt for a while now, but I’ve buried it out of respect for her feelings. I’ve considered bringing up seeing a sex counselor but I’m a little concerned as to how she will react.
I love my wife dearly. I know she loves me. But that physical....I hate feeling like a roommate.
What can I do, doc?
In love with a less than lusty lady
I get this question a lot, ILLTLL. Lots of folks — men and women — find themselves in relationships where the sex has either tapered off drastically or shut down entirely.
In fact, I get this question so often that I flirt with the idea of doing an entire column that’s nothing but those questions. Because to be frank, most of the time, the answer is the same.
You need to use your words. And you need to use them a lot more effectively than you have been so far.
Now before we get to just what to say, let’s talk about why the sex seems to vanish in relationships in general and in yours specifically.
One of the truths that we don’t like to talk about when it comes to long-term relationships is that, frankly, the passion is going to wind down. Humans are a novelty-seeking species and we’re very good at adapting to circumstances. We can get used to damn near anything, no matter how exotic. Once something becomes part of our expected day0to-day existence, it’s no longer exciting and new.
So it is with sex. When we’re with a new partner, everything is new and vibrant and thrilling. Our bodies are shooting off dopamine and oxytocin every time we get naked with them, and we’re busy banging out on every flat surface available to us because we want that hit of happy juice straight to the pleasure centers of our brains.
But that fades over time. This has nothing to do with your attraction to your partner, how much you care for them or the power of your connection. It doesn’t matter who it is. Like the man once said: you could be with the sexiest woman in the world, but after a while, it can be like fucking the couch.
(Granted, if my couch looked like Kat Dennings…)
This is known as The Coolidge Effect and it’s part of being a mammal with a sex drive. As we get used to being with that person, our brains start to produce less and less of those feel-good hormones, and we don’t get the same rush from them that we did at the start. But if we switch to a new partner, the process starts all over again with the massive surge of happy juice.
So the fact that the passion starts to fade after you’ve been together for a while is totally normal. In fact, that initial rush of passion tends to be replaced by greater emotional intimacy and a more profound sense of connection, even if you’re not burning up the sheets every day and twice on Sundays.
But while the passion may fade, that doesn’t mean the sex shuts down, nor does it mean that you can’t bring the passion back. If your sex life has died entirely, then you need to examine just what the cause was.
The most common libido killer, especially in women, is boredom. You’ve said it yourself: your wife had a wilder sex life before you two got together, but it’s been a little more mundane between the two of you. That right there may be part of the problem. If you’ve been having sex in the same positions, in the same place, at the same time, then the odds are that she’s gotten bored of it all.
That routine could well be the problem. If your wife is responding to “why aren’t we having sex” wtih “well why aren’t we,” it could be that you’ve gotten into the pattern of expecting her to always initiate. And if you aren’t making the effort to seduce your wife, then why should she keep making the first move? That shit gets tedious after a while.
In fact, that boredom tends to be a symptom of, well, marriage. A lot of folks tend to see marriage as the end of sexual adventure. The things you could do while you were swinging and single — or a scorching hot couple who were shacking up and living in sin — are things you’re not supposed to do with your wife. Time to settle down and put the ball gags, violet wands and restraints away, cancel your membership to the swingers clubs and stop banging out in the bushes at the park. You’re married and respectable now!
That’s a mistake. Part of what keeps a marriage alive and vital is that you keep the thrills alive and let your inner perverts out to play. If you’re more of a vanilla guy, then it may be time to start discovering your kinky side. This may mean chips, dips, chains and whips or it may be taking some risks like hooking up in places where you may get caught.
The other common problem? You let things go. This is a common problem when we get into relationships; we’re no longer young, scrappy and hungry so we aren’t working as hard. We quit doing the little things to let our partners know we care just because it makes them smile, we start letting our standards slip and the only place we take our partners is for granted. We don’t put as much effort in, whether it’s with our appearance, our physical fitness or simply making the relationship exciting and vibrant. Part of having an amazing relationship is always asking yourself: is this something Gomez Adams would do?
This, incidentally, includes the common cliche of “not doing enough work around the house.”
And then there’re times when the problem isn’t that your partner isn’t interested in sex… it’s that they’re not interested in sex with you.
So which is it? No goddamn clue. The only person who knows what’s going on in your wife’s head is your wife. So you’re gonna have to sit down and have an Awkward Conversation with her about this.
Here’s how it’s going to go. You’re going to schedule a time for the two of you to talk about things so that you aren’t going to be distracted or interrupted. Then you’re going to bring up that you two haven’t had sex in quite some time and that you miss the intimacy and passion that the two of you have had. You’re going to explain that you have been hesitant to talk about this with her becuase you don’t want to make her feel like this is her fault. You’ll tell her that you want to try to recapture that spark the two of you had when you first got together and that you want to know how she feels about all of this.
And then you’re going to sit back and listen. You’re going to listen without interrupting, without “yes but…” or explaining why she’s wrong or mistaken. And then when she’s done, you’re going to take the new information you have and start applying it to your sex life together.
You also aren’t going to make this just about you. “I feel like I’m the only one bringing this up” is the wrong approach here. That’s a great way to make the whole conversation sound like a referendum on her failures as a woman and a wife, and that will shut the whole thing down. You’re not just two individuals, you’re a gestalt entity, people who’ve come together to form a new connection like a fleshy Voltron. Your relationship isn’t “me and her,” it’s “we,” and you need to come to it with “we” in mind.
And yeah, you may have to talk about going to a sex-positive marriage counselor. They’re there to help couples like you facilitate difficult conversations and rebuild the connection and intimacy that they used to have. You may feel weird about bringing it up, but nothing is going to change unless you do. So grit your teeth and get ready to white knuckle your way through the awkward so that you can break through to the other side and have that happy, sexually fulfilling relationship again.
Hey Doc, I’m a bi man with a problem.
I got to church but I know I’m not the most religious one there. Every Friday, the church has a gathering of people under the age of 18 so they can learn about their religion. One of the instructors is M. He is about 4 years older than me and very attractive. I really like him. The problem is, I don’t know if he’s gay. Also, our church is very against homosexuality.
I’m pretty sure he likes me by the way he behaves around me and looks at me, but it’s hard for me to tell. He told me one day I could ask for his number but I locked up and stopped talking while casually walking away. I’m nervous around people because I have BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and am afraid they see my self-harm scars and marks. I think he saw them and felt as if he had go be nice.
I’m not sure what to do. Do I confront him about it? Do I stop everything and change churches?
Hot For Pastor
So there’re a couple of issues here, HFP. The first is the question of just whether or not M is cool with LGBTQ people or not. If he’s not just a member of a homophobic church but works for it in some official capacity, the odds are higher that he’s going to share their views about same-sex relationships. That makes things tricky, because it can be hard to gauge how he might react, not just to your being bi, but to your being bi and into him.
Is he the sort of person who can take being flirted with by a guy and not have a freakout? If he’s not cool with your being bisexual, is he going to make trouble for you? Will he rat you out to the various church higher-ups? Will he inform the entire congregation? Or, worse, will he actually hurt you?
Now it’s certainly possible that he’s some form of less-than-hetero. I mean, you’re bi and going to a homophobic church, so clearly it’s not unheard of. But then there’s the fact that he offered you his number. While this could well be a way of his signalling interest, this is by no means indicative of sexual or romantic attraction. It could just as easily be that he did indeed see your scars from self-harm and is doing the actual Christian act of reaching out to someone he sees as needing support and care.
Or he could be telling you “dude, I’m warm for your form.”
The key to telling the difference between whether someone is flirting with you or just being friendly is whether they act like this with anyone else. Does he spend time with other folks? Is he the sort of person who encourages people to come to him with problems and gives out his number so they can reach him in times of need? Does he make a point of being approachable and reachable to his students?
If this is something he’s only done with you, then it’s more likely that he’s low-key flirting. Not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly a greater-than-zero chance.
ALL THAT HAVING BEEN SAID: even if he is a) into guys and b) into you, there’s the age issue. You don’t mention your age, but you imply pretty heavily that you’re part of this youth group for under-18 congregants. If that’s the case… well, that makes this a no-go. The combination of your being under age and his position as both instructor and authority in the church and the fact that the church’s position is “gay people are going to hell” is a whole lotta badness wrapped up like a bad-idea burrito.
To be frank, I think “under 18” and “anti-gay church” trumps pretty much everything else. Were I you, I’d suggest letting this one go. There will be other hot bi, gay and heteroflexible guys in your future. But if you are over 18 (or are turning 18 soon) and you’re feeling pretty secure about your personal safety, my suggestion would be quit this church, find another that’s more LGBTQ friendly and then ask for this dude’s number as a way of burning the bridges behind you and pissing in the ashes.
Hey Doc, long time reader, first time caller, blah blah blah.
So, the relationship in question recently ended, and I’m trying to get some perspective on one aspect of the relationship that doesn’t really add up.
We met over a dating app, but then he said he wanted to be friends. I was romantically interested, but accepted the situation for what it was and genuinely enjoyed being his friend and didn’t push for anything more. After a year or so, he told me his feelings turned romantic, and we happily started a relationship.
About 4-6 months later, he said ‘I love you’ for the first time. It was over the phone and he hung up quickly afterwards, so I didn’t press him on it. But then the next time we talked on the phone, he said it again, and hung up before I could respond. Then, the next time we hung out in person, at the end of the night, he says he loves me in person, to my face, with our clothes on. And I said it back, because that was how I felt. Seems like things are good, right?
But then, every time after that, when I said ‘I love you’ in a casual fashion, he would clam up and hesitate to say it back to me. When I asked him what was wrong, he would deny that anything was wrong and just promise to ‘do better.’ After a while I stopped telling him I loved him because I hated seeing him be so visibly uncomfortable.
So after a year total of dating, we break up because I am moving across the country. A few days later, I ask him why he felt so uncomfortable about telling me he loved me. He said he felt pressured because he didn’t want to let me down. He said he doesn’t even know why he said it in the first place.
So now I’m messed up because he lied about a major part of the relationship without provocation for months on end. I held back on sharing my emotions and tiptoed around him for so long specifically because I didn’t want to scare or pressure him. When we were friends, I let him know I was seeing other guys. I purposefully let him set the pace of the relationship, and he still felt pressured somehow into saying things he didn’t mean.
Now, I’m honestly having a difficult time taking anyone’s word at face value. For example, is my friend actually my friend or are they playing nice so that I don’t kill myself or something?
I’m writing because I’m trying to figure out what lesson I can take from this. Was I still too pushy, despite my attempt not to be? How do I tell when people are lying to me about their feelings? Why would someone even do something like this when sex wasn’t even involved? How do I move past this and trust someone’s word?
Don’t Mean It Don’t Say It
There’re a lot of reasons why he dropped the L-bomb on you before he meant it. He might have been rounding that honeymoon period euphoria up to “love” out of a lack of experience. He might have been saying it because he thought it’s what he was expected to say at that point in the relationship. He might have convinced himself that he was supposed to say it because you were waiting to hear it from him.
It could also be that he blurted it out in what felt like sincerity at the time, realized he was wrong but didn’t feel like there was any way to take it back. It’s a little hard to walk back an “I love you” without making things incredibly awkward.
But ultimately, this is a “him” problem, not a “you” problem, DMIDSI. I think you can safely chalk this up to youth, inexperience and over-excitement, not an attempt to manipulate you or a reaction to you somehow pushing him past his limits.
This was, in all likelihood, a one-off. Dating guys who’re more experienced — or less impulsive — in the future will help solve this problem. And if you’re ever unsure, then remember the words of Ace Hunter: deeds, not words.
Did you have a crush on an inappropriate partner? Did you reignite the spark in your relationship? 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 email@example.com 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.
He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.