SL Letter of the Day: Good Working Order

Comments

1
I have been a lemon. Dan is right, it was a terrible idea for me to be in a relationship and a terrible thing to do to the other person.
2
Your right. But are you always so stern in your public appearances?
3
Well, but, what if the people are 16 years old? One is allowed to start somewhere...
4
Don't forget that some people are backyard mechanics.
You know the kind that want to get in there and dick around until it turns over and revs up.
5
I can't quite make out all of Dan's answer. I'm gathering that the gist of it is that each person has a responsibility to make sure everything is in good working order before getting into a relationship? so, see a therapist, doctor, etc about issues?

what about stuff that happens after a relationship starts up? i guess that's a different sort of thing though.
6
@4: Nothing quite like hearing the moans of pleasure, oops, I mean roar of an engine that previously wouldn't start.

Still, a good mechanic knows what he/she can and cannot fix.
7
I don't know what the questioner's situation was, but I have some perspective on what it is like to be on the other end.

When I was in my late teens I started going through a raving breakdown as a result of being sexually abused by my father throughout my life. During the middle of this, a yearlong male friend of mine told me that he was in love with me and couldn't be my friend anymore; either we should date or not have anything to do with each other. I explicitly warned him that I was in the middle of a raving breakdown. He knew that I'd had to drop out of school the previous semester due to the issues I was grappling with. I told him straight out that I wasn't capable of physical intimacy now and might never be, and that there was nothing he could do about it. He still wanted to date me and I (regrettably) agreed. He pressed for physical intimacy and marriage (even though I said I didn't want to). Our relationship died as I continued to deteriorate.

To be clear, it is certainly evident to me NOW that I should have said no. This experience made it clear to me that I was in no shape to be dating and I thus took a many year long break from dating. But he was not blameless in this. I told him I was sick. He'd witnessed my illness. I told him he couldn't make it better and that it might not get better. If you ask a person you know to be mentally ill to date you and they are honest like I was, then being horrified that they are mentally ill is strange to me.

So when I hear this note, I wonder about what the boyfriend's side is.
8
Well... SOMETIMES it's worth sticking around to see what you can do. My college BF was terrified of sex for a number of reasons (some medical issues + some shitty childhood experiences left him with a lot of anxiety around physical intimacy). We didn't have P/V sex for almost the first YEAR of our relationship, and even some of the oral gave him the freakouts. However, once he realized that I wasn't going to judge him if he got anxious and had to stop, he relaxed a bunch. By year 2 of the relationship we were fucking like bunnies, and now? We've been married for almost a decade and the sex is amazing, better than ever. So IF you really, really like the guy, and IF you can get him to open up about what might be the root cause of his anxiety, you might be able to work it out. Of course, those are big "ifs."
9
@8 I've dated my share of ladies with fucked up family histories, and I have to agree with you.

One of my first gf's was sexually abused by her stepfather, and she couldn't bare her breasts as a result. I could have run away, but I stuck around and we worked through it and were eventually both able to enjoy them. Glad I did - I gained some wisdom (and breast play) out of the deal, and she was finally able to get over her trauma around her lovely tits.
10
Been there, done that, hated that. You know what a relationship without sex is? A friendship. Sex (or some form of physical intimacy) is kind of what differentiates a romantic relationship from a non-romantic relationship. And after a while, as repeated rejections take their toll, even the friendship evaporates.

@7: Your story sounds very different than the letter writer's take on his/her relationship. You made a good faith effort to warn this guy. That he chose not to heed this warning was on him, not you. Don't beat yourself up for how you handled that, because a) it sounds like you've been undeservedly beaten up for too long and b) you did the best you could given the circumstances. I'm so sorry you had to go through all that; my heart always breaks when I hear stories like yours.
11
Impossible to know the situation from the question, but this is one of the rare RARE instances where I don't agree with Dan's answer, because it entirely precluded even the possibility for there being legitimate reasons for not wanting to have sex, and not all of them require judging the partner of being a "lemon" unfit for a relationship or any kind of romantic entanglement.

Not simply issues of readiness or sexual trauma or abuse, but what about being a closeted gay? Or what about having an STD? Or what if this was just a very young person who wasn't ready?

I agree with what he's saying, but it left out any other possibilities, and seemed to blame the guy entirely for the inhibition, when that isn't clearly the case based on what little is known from the question and the possible facts actually behind the question.

I was really pretty surprised, actually, by such a narrow response.
12
@11: If you're gay and entering into a hetero relationship, then you are, for the purposes of a hetero relationship, a lemon. It's one thing to be direct about one's trauma history, STI status, etc. and ask a partner to be considerate of that; it's quite another to implicitly hold out the promise of sex and instead just dish out rejection, never deigning to explain why the sex never happens. Dan's right: it's emotional abuse, it's cruel, and it has no place in a relationship.
13
Geez, Dan. Just today I was thinking I should email you to say how I've been a devout worshipper at the Church of Dan Savage for years now, and to keep up the good work blah blah, and you have to go and ruin it with this piece of insensitive bullshit.

Lots of people are sexually fucked up and/or too anxious to perform just like this girl's BF. I used to be one of them. And you know what, Dan, you're consigning them all to eternal virgindom. Because if I hadn't had the luck to find a woman with the patience to wait until we had enough trust going that my dick could shake off whatever its mysterious anxieties were, I'd still be a virgin. You think a therapist can get your dick hard? No, a sensitive partner who you love and trust can get your dick hard. I'm just glad she hadn't heard how I was a lemon and should therefore stay that way because it was emotionally abusive of me to try to work on my intimacy issues by actually getting intimate with someone, when I couldn't provide the immediate orgasms that are the only reason for human intimacy in the first place.
14
Dan's even more fun to watch than he is to read! :D
15
Dan's basically correct about the 'good working order' thing.

However, someone with anxiety, hang-ups, or past trauma that's interfering with intimacy will likely only be partially repaired by therapy and/or meds. Therapy may be essential but is usually insufficient.

Such a person has to start somewhere--talk therapy might help them to the starting line, but real world dating might cause some backsliding, and finding a compassionate partner is probably essential for completing a major repair.
16
I'm with Dan. If you misrepresent yourself as a sane/possibly sexually willing person and manipulate your partner into continuing to believe you may put out at some stage of the relationship, possibly tonight (or not). Then you are perpetuating emotional abuse. The situation is different if the crazy person states up front: "I have issues." It's when the issues are hidden that's when it becomes abuse.
17
@11,13 If you listened what he said was that if someone enters into a relationship where there is the expectation of intimacy, and repeatedly fails to provide it, that they are a lemon. Obviously if you enter a relationship saying you have troubles with intimacy, or you are not ready for sex, then that is a different kettle of fish.

I've been in a relationship where the other person had severe anxieties about sex and I wanted it. Apparently I put too much pressure on him and he felt coerced into fucking me. We had a 3 year relationship (filled with lots of mutually enjoyable sex) and at the end of it, the big thing he brought up as we severed ties was that he still had not forgiven me for fucking him that first time. If you are not ready to be sexually active, don't date someone who is. It ends badly for both people.
18
@11

You have to understand that with Dan, everything boils down to the sex (surprise, surprise). It's EVERYTHING in a relationship. Quite narrow, yes, but quite revealing about what it says about his own relationship and what kinds of relationships he deems "successful." Your examples are great ones but unfortunately they don't fit into his simplistic FUCKING (success) vs. NO FUCKING (failure) paradigm.
19
So what if someone enters into a relationship and can get erect with his partner but can't come for anxiety reasons? A friend of mine is in that situation and it is really taking a toll on his relationship. His boyfriend thinks he must be getting some on the side; my friend thinks he can't feel fully sexual around someone he really loves, only around strangers... but he didn't know he had this issue until he started dating his current partner -- he'd never had this issue before.
20
And, he saws a therapist for several months, who basically told him, "you just need to relax." That didn't help him at all...
21
@ 18: #1, Dan is a sex advice columnist. So sure everything boils down to sex, it's what people write to him for advice about.

#2, if BOTH parties in a relationship don't want sex, then the fucking=success formula does not apply. But sex (any kind) is a huge part of romance, & most people I know looking for a relationship want sex to be a part of that relationship. 'cause otherwise you are friends or roommates, not romantic partners.

@ 19, 20 - if your friend's boyfriend trusts him, & stops badgering him, eventually it can happen. But as long as the S.O. equates his boyfriend's inability to climax with cheating, it's gonna be a huge source of anxiety for both. Try to remind them that you won't always get to the goal..& that's frustrating..but to take the time to enjoy the journey. Eventually persistence can pay off, but only when there is trust. There's plenty of ways that one can play "stranger" w/ one's partner. & the therapist sounds about as useful as burnt toast.
22
@21. Not sure why stupid, trollish, homophobic bitches even read Dan.
23
I recently left a longterm relationship where my partner was so anxious around sex that we were only able to have sex their way on their terms - as soon as it became about what I wanted, they would freeze up and be unable to continue. I stuck it out for a while hoping we could work through it somehow, but the anxiety was so intense that even the implication that they had an issue that needed to be dealt with would cause them to get angry and defensive - and we *had* a therapist, but after a few years it was clear that we weren't going to be able to talk about it much less fix it. Wish I'd figured it out sooner. It's not fair to expect a partner to sacrifice their sexual happiness because you're not willing to address your own problems.
24
In 90 seconds the clip crystallizes what is so toxic and destructive about Dan's take on relationships.

As @18 notes, with Dan it starts and ends with sex.
"Relationships", including marriage, in Dan's world are merely means to a steady supply of sex.
NOTHING MORE.......

That is staggeringly sad and shallow and empty and soul less....

"Someone who isn't ready for sex shouldn't be intiating romantic entanglements with anyone"

Dan equates 'romance' with sex.
Dan has no idea what 'romance' is.
Dan equates 'relationship' with sex.
Dan has no idea what what human relationships are capable of being.

Emotionally Dan is like an 8 year old who insists on cake at every meal. And only eats the icing off the cake. And that is his entire diet.

Dan insists that anyone who won't (or emotionally can't) Put Out needs to see a shrink.
That is the most calloused brutal cruel assertion one can imagine.
During the Michael Vick dogfighting case reference was made to a 'rape stand'; a device in which female dogs were strapped to be impregnated.
In Dan's world 'relationships' are emotional rape stands- rigid confining prisons in which sex is required and to be extracted, regardless of cost...

Sex, appropriately engaged in, can enrich and deepen a healthy relationship and take it to a higher level. A level that far transcends the mere physical gratification sex delivers.
On the other hand, Dan's casual, shallow and automatic attitude toward sex robs it of it's emotional richness and soon renders it nothing more than a physical outlet.
The drug Ecstacy prompts the body to produce serotonin, the 'happiness hormone', that creates a sense of well-being (ecstacy,...). Over time the drug interferes with the bodies ability to normally produce and process serotonin. Abusers eventually lose the ability to experience natural 'highs'. Similarly, abuse of the emotionally intensifying effects of sexual intimacy leads to the loss of the power of sexual intimacy to enhance emotional relationships.
It leaves people much less able to find emotional satisfaction from 'romantic entanglements'....

It also is a component in depression. And can be part of the background chaos and noise the suicidal experience. Sound familiar?....

Medically Dan's advice is dangerous and irresponsible and contrary to what public health care professionals recommend.
Dan sees no harm in One Night Hookups involving sex with someone you just met.
And insists that ALL relationships feature sex.

The CDC states that abstinence until in a longterm relationship and monogamy thereafter are the best ways to avoid STDs.

For a 'sex advice' guru whose audience is particularly credulous and undiscerning and naive to preach such dangerous behavior is criminally irresponsible.
It is a prominent piece of the scenery in a society where 20% of practicing homosexuals have HIV and STD rates of all types among all demographics are high.

Congratulations, Dan.

really.
25
There's no way to know the other side of the story here. So I guess Dan's just taking the most probable situation and ex-pounding on that.

HOWEVER: it may well be that the author of the question was misreading the signals ... wanting something so badly that no matter what the other person did, s/he was never going to understand.

A relationship is all about honest communication, not guessing games and fantasies. "Do you want to..." "Would you like to..." type questions are a helluva lot more useful in deciding what's really going on than playing guessing games. Life's too short: if you can't read the signs, move on.
26
re: 7, I agree with 10. I started out in my current relationship without being 100% in good working order - though I'd never compare my situation with yours, which must be scarring in ways I could never imagine.

Anyway, I too told my boyfriend that I was in the process of healing from a bad experience and that he would need to be willing to take it slow and be very mindful of my boundaries. Clear communication and empathy went a long way, and ta-da! It's worked out, at least up until now! However, if he'd acted the way your boyfriend did, I doubt I would have had the strength to keep saying no to someone who insisted on trying to wear down my resistance, was manipulative about something as serious as MARRIAGE during a delicate time for me, etc. And it would've ended badly.

It really sounds like that guy was trying to "save" you from your breakdown, which is just so inappropriate and self-centered. I'm so sorry he was putting that kind of added stress on you, because you didn't deserve it and it wasn't your fault. You were honest and forthright. You expected honesty and forthrightness from him in return. That's not asking too much, it's asking him to meet the basic standard of human decency in a relationship. Once again, it's not your fault that he was a douche.
27
Hey @24, I feel sorry for whomever is in a relationship with you.
28
Don't try to change anybody else. If you do, you will always be disappointed and wasting your time. If they are not what you're looking for, get out.
29
@24 Could use a shrink, too! Sounds like you have some seriously negative attitudes toward the idea that sex is a part of a healthy relationship. You're reading way too much into Dan's advice and spinning it into out of control fear.

Dan's advice is *exactly* what helped me and my husband get past anxiety and performance issues. His kind, patient, and loving ideas about communication and intimacy and advice for reducing stress over a lack of sexual activity are the reason we have a such a happy, fulfilling, easy, and intimate sexual relationship today. I owe him big time.

We even dedicated a podcast episode to our experience, crediting Dan: http://livingafterfaith.blogspot.com/201…

I think the only difference in the LW's situation and mine is that my guy was in therapy, and acknowledged that he was having issues, but was willing to work them out. His willingness to be honest with himself and with me about his issues, and to do the work to take care of them was so impressive and successful is the reason I married him.
30
Jesus, what's with the trolls on this one? Dan could just as easily have said, "don't lie about your religion to get into a relationship with someone" or "don't lie about your STD status" or "don't lie about whether you want to have kids someday". Don't lie and say you want to/are able to have sex when you don't/aren't. That's all he's saying, and if you disagree with that, then I'm fucking glad I'm not on the market to potentially get entangled with you.
31
I'm curious to know the gender ratio of the people claiming that sex isn't at or near the top of the list of 'Important Things' in a relationship.

Anyone care to volunteer that information?
32
People with disabilities like Aspergers just shouldn't bother then huh, Dan? Joy~
33
@24 Thank you. I feel perfectly normal now. lol What planet do you live on? Seriously. Do you even pay attention to what Dan says in his writing & talks? He's the exact opposite of everything you've written. This is coming from someone who's done without for a very, very, very long time due to my own personal issues. I applaud his common sense attitude regarding personal responsibility... not just towards ourselves but towards other people.
34
29
Sex IS part of a healthy relationship.
"Part" of a "healthy" "relationship".
In Dan's world sex takes precedence over everything else and the "relationship" is hostage to the sex.

31
Sex is very important in a relationship.
The Dirty Little Secret is that good sex is very easy within a healthy relationship.
Which is the part Dan misses totally.
The leaves on the plant are brown, dried up, wilting?
Water and fertilize the roots and the leaves will perk up and thrive.
Nourish the relationship and the sex will be fine.
Dan sees wilted leaves and picks at them until there are none left then rips the plant out of the pot and goes shopping.

The truth is that "sex" advice outside the context of relationship advice is meaningless at best and usually harmful. Most people know how to have sex. (well, maybe not Dan's target audience of credulous frat boys....) The problem is that they are having sex in the context of a toxic relationship.
And jumping into sex right out of the gate is a very reliable way to ensure that relationships will go toxic pretty quick.

Build a healthy relationship.
Then have great sex.
35
@ 24 - who sounds like @18 as well - sex IS a part of romance. If someone were to start batting his or her eyes at me, & asking for dates, I'd be deciding whether I want to sleep with them (amongst other factors I'd weigh).

Romance of a sort can EXIST without sex; & if folks who don't want to have sex only dated each other, that'd be swell. There's nothing saying that an attachment between a couple of folks for whom sex isn't the end-all, be-all isn't as deep & important as a relationship with a lot of sex in it.

What Dan was addressing, specifically here, was the phenomenon of someone who really wanted a sexual connection with her boyfriend of some months, & trying to figure out relationship post-mortem, why it didn't gel.

Condemning a sex columnist for focusing on sexual problems, & sex in relationships, is dumb. & every now & then Dan will mention that not all marriages/companion situations are sexual. But the average human has sexual needs, & it's a reasonable expectation that when they go lookin' for a relationship, sex is part of that package.

Judging from all the folks who write to Dan for advice, most folks here agree.

There Dan, there's my penance for the last time I said you were bi-phobic. ;)
36
You can't change the other person. You can't make them more comfortable with their body, you can't make them stop drinking, you can't make them come out of the closet, you can't etc etc. The idea that you can is one of the great delusions of relationships. All you can do is resolve to live with the other person's faults, or not.
37
@7 - I'm sure you won't see this because it's so far down the comments, but I just want to say that YOU DID NOTHING WRONG in your situation. You laid it out: you were Going Through Some Shit and were not going to be able to be physically intimate, at least in part due to the particular variety of Shit you were going through. For him to hear that and claim to respect it and then pressure you for physical intimacy is awful, abusive, and fucking scummy behavior. The onus is not on YOU to say no to him; the onus is on HIM, once he knows what you are and are not capable of, once he knows how fragile you were at that time, to RESPECT YOUR FUCKING BOUNDARIES. That goes double if he claims to love you so much. He sounds like a selfish prick and you're well shot of him.
38
@19, the advice at 21 is good -- your friend might also consider the possibility that he's just not sexually attracted to this guy, that his love for his boyfriend is more friend-love, and not so much hot-sexy-love.

I say that mostly because of this: "my friend thinks he can't feel fully sexual around someone he really loves, only around strangers... but he didn't know he had this issue until he started dating his current partner -- he'd never had this issue before."

39
@34: Well, Period Troll I guess Dan and Tery must be having FANTASTIC sex since they are in an healthy relationship and have been for 16 years now.
PS: How's that locker shrine to Dan going? Excited that all this added press he's getting will mean more pics of him for you to cut out?
40
Oh please.

You don't invite someone to your home for dinner and then inform them that you can't cook and can't afford to order in.

You can invite someone over to watch TV and tell them that you don't plan to feed them - "come on over after dinner."

This is no different. If you get into a romantic relationship as an adult, the reasonable expectation is that it will include sex or lead to it in pretty short order. The responsibility lies with someone who doesn't plan to include sex to make that clear. If the other person then enters it knowing the score, there it is.

It's also, for what it's worth, the flip side of being friends, or "just friends" - which carries with it the assumption that someone is NOT going to make the moves on you on a regular basis, and if they plan to do so, they need to say so up front.

Dan isn't saying that there are no relationships that don't include sex, nor is he saying that sex is the single most important thing in a relationship. But don't pretend to be in a sexual relationship when you have no intention of doing so.
41
If the person you're dating is compassionate enough to help you through your issues, then you owe that person some honesty about them. And if they aren't, well you owe it to them to let them go because IT ISN'T THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO FIX YOU!

Is sex the most important part of a relationship? Of course not. But I'd say for most people it's in the top 5. Would it be fair to get into a relationship if you aren't willing to provide emotional support, conversation, snuggling, or one on one time? No, it wouldn't, unless you were completely up front from the start and said 'This is just about sex. I will not cuddle you ever, and don't expect me to be there for you when you're having a bad time.'

It goes both ways. If you want a relationship with friendship and cuddling and interesting conversation that doesn't include sex, say so up front. Make sure it's all out on the table. If you have issues that you're honestly working on, then say so. If you have issues that you never intend to work on, then at least confess them. And if you're 16 and not sure when you'll be ready for sex then saying 'I'm not sure when I'll be ready for sex' isn't THAT hard, is it?
42
@ 18 - You're the one who consistently talks exclusively about relationships being equal to sex, not Dan.

I'd say YOU have a little problem with the way you view the world and relationships, not Dan.
43
@ 18 - And on a related note: if you already know what Dan's going to answer, why do you keep reading his column? Wouldn't your life be better if you stopped?
44
Well, we can see who enjoys sex, and who makes excuses to their partners in this thread.
45
@31, I'm female, and while I'm quite a bit less sex-obsessed than Dan is, I actually taught my (male) partner about how enjoyable sex can be. If he hadn't been willing to go along for the ride, so to speak, I wouldn't have stayed with him.
46
@34 I've always considered it tragic the number of people who think that a great relationship equals great sex. One of my first relationships was a really great one-- we were great friends and confidants, loved to cuddle, always held hands, talked about everything, and really adored each other, but the sex was miserable for us both because of my sexual hang-ups which I didn't acknowledge or work on. He was supportive and kind and went without sex for four years because I really wasn't capable of having sex.

Eventually, he broke up with me because he was tired of waiting for my problem to magically solve itself. It was painful for me, but in the aftermath of losing the relationship that had meant so much to me, I decided to do whatever it took to fix my sexual issues. He should have done it sooner, honestly, because it was good for both of us.
47
Agreed with @ 44, and everyone who responded to @ 24 and @ 18...I couldn't bring myself to bother.
48
I think in the end, the differences between a "workable" and "non-workable" lack of sex in a relationship are (a) honesty and openness about the issue (b) an up-front understanding that the problem will take patience and time and both parties are really, truly ok with that and (c) an understanding, on the part of both parties, that the lack of sex is NOT due to there being something wrong with the non-limited party.

It's perfectly acceptable to say that you don't want to embark on a relationship with those kinds of intimacy challenges. What isn't okay is when people do embark but don't have the maturity to treat the issue like a problem to be overcome and handle it with maturity, but instead get into a cycle of pressure, rejection and abuse. What I see so often is a combination of a partner with limitations who refuses to work on his/her issues and gets angry when sex is expected and/or blames the partner for their internal issues, coupled with the other partner responding with anger, pressure, emotional coercion, hurt, etc. This is a recipe for disaster and both parties are commonly blamed, but frankly, both parties *should* be blamed if they handle it like that.

But I also see a lot of situations like @8 and @9 where the limited party understands that it's their issue, not their partner's, and where the partner responds with patience and understanding and they work through it to eventually have awesome sex. This is to be encouraged, I think; I don't honestly know that you *can* work through those kinds issues with a therapist alone; at some point, you have to take the "road test" and start untying your negative conditioning with your partner. For that reason, I don't think it's nearly as cut-and-dry as Dan makes it to be in this video.
49
@10, 26, and 37:

Thank you all very much for your kind words. I do have trouble with feeling guilty about how sick I was at the time, and it’s really nice to hear that I didn’t act terribly from some people who are more objective than I am. It’s made me feel better. So thank you again.
50
@21, yeah, maybe I should suggest they try tantric sex or something :)... But I think my friend has other scenarios in mind
@38, I was thinking that too... that would be sad, since he does love his bf and doesn't want to have to break up
51
Why are you wearing a IU shirt but the youtube title says you're at U of Montana? Also as an IU alumn I'm pretty sure that you're standing in front of an red curtain at IU. :P
52
@35: Well put, and now I don't have to act on my own temptation to feed the trolls. :-)