Columns May 1, 2013 at 4:00 am

Move On


'When two people aren't good to each other, when they're not good for each other, they should get the fuck away from each other.' Perfect, Dan.

LW1 sounds like a complete and utter prick. He's only half aware of his past flaws (DUDE! You stalked and emotionally fucked with your ex!), and totally unaware of his present ones.

WIFE, good luck!

LW3, I'd love to hear how this turns out...
There are those answers, oh Savage one, that you give from the back of your throat in a certain tone; your best columns sometimes carry your spoken voice, this one does that particular tone a lot.

Well done!
WIFE's letter reinforces my belief that good ole fashioned discreet cheating in underrated and total honesty in an relationship is overblown.

WIFE is clearly uncomfortable at the thought of her husband fucking around overseas. So why not just keep up the illusion of being faithful while keeping your affairs discreet, mature, short-lived, safe-from-STDs and preferably out-of-town. On the off chance either of them get "caught" they should be mature enough to understand that forced celibacy is hard and forgiveness is a virtue.

DADT implies permission to sleep around. Clearly she doesn't feel comfortable granting that.

Chalk it up to one of those white lies that occurs over the course of a successful and hopefully long marriage. Take your affairs to your grave.
HIM. . . you scorched the ground. She's no longer attracted to you because your actions would have rendered you completely invisible to most people. You've "forgiven eachother?" I'm not reading anything here she should have to apologize for. It's all you, dude. The orgasm thing? REALLY small potatoes up against stalking and a couple years of emotional torture.

It's hard to tick me off this much with a single paragraph. Well done.
@4, re WIFE, I think she doesn't want to keep lifelong secrets from her beloved. And if she connects with someone cool, she wants to be able to keep it going after her husband returns, and she expects that to be possible.

I think she should have the conversation Dan recommends, but also ask her husband whether he gets any kind of sexual charge from hearing about her extramarital sex life, and if he'd like to hear about any adventures she has. Some men would appreciate that. It doesn't have to be fair & balanced -- he can ask for details without volunteering any if she doesn't care for that.

@ITHAMGS, you didn't ask, but I think you should encourage your lover to confess to his wife. If they're not having sex anyway, then she should be able to understand him having outside lovers. And she'd be free to take outside lovers of her own.
All you have to do is check his handle (Her Ideal Mate?) to know he's a utter narcissist douchebag. Reading the letter was just confirmation. Do HER a favor and get transcontinental, dude.
Never mind the liquor store. What do you all drink? I deliver.

(breathlessly grabbing jacket and car keys, forgetting to put on shoes..and pants)
Being 23 and in love is radically different from being 33 and in love. I recommend letting go of her WITH YOUR LESSONS NEWLY LEARNED, getting a life/job/healthy worldview under your belt for at least five years, and then thinking about a relationship.
I don't think I could handle having an affair myself if I were that jealous of my spouse having affairs. It would just seem wrong. I don't really get the DADT types. I'd rather either not have the affair at all, or be honest about it. But that may be just a failure of imagination on my part. (Full disclosure: I've never had an affair, never had a realistic opportunity to, never more than mildly wanted to. I've also never been aware of my spouse either having or wanting to have an affair, and am not sure how I'd react.)
HIM: You pronounced her unsuitable as a girlfriend, then proceeded to keep her around as your cum dumpster. (That rude term is a slur against you, not her. Seriously, "blocked out all my feelings for her" while you kept fucking her? Gross.) Now you are all surprised that she has pronounced you officially unfuckable, but she keeps you around as her emotional tampon.

Now, I'm not letting her off the hook either. She cuddles you and tells you when she thinks of growing old, it's with you, while also telling you she isn't attracted to you, because she prefers someone more manly? That's just mean.

On the one hand, we have an asshole, on the other we have a hot mess. For some reason, what keeps coming to mind is projectile diarrhea.
Holy shit, LW1 sounds like a letter to Dan from long ago (reprinted in his book, Savage Love) signed "Carrying a Torch"!

Dan is spot on: HIM, take the fucking hint!!! I know it hurts, but she's OVER you, already. And stalking is never a good move. You messed with her; now she's messing with you. Split up for keeps, no more head games, and move on.

Good luck, WIFE, and I hope your husband returns safely home from deployment.

LW3: I'm with Peri (@1). Good luck!
@11 avast2006: For the WIN!!!!!
WIFE: Between "I doubt I could tolerate the inevitable stress of this upcoming year if I were expected to abstain from sex for the duration" and "Suddenly, the thought of my husband with someone else is nearly intolerable," you don't sound nearly so much "monogamish" as you sound "hypocritical." Did you forget that while you are indulging your inability to tolerate the stress, HE will be nine time zones away, unable to fuck you himself?

Okay, okay, I get it. Monogamish is not nearly as straightforward as it sounds up front. The combination of natural jealousy and fear about the future is a potent cocktail.

I agree that both of you probably don't want to hear about what's going on on the far side of the world. Probably true for him way more than for you. Can you imagine being stuck in a fucking war zone, wondering if tomorrow's patrol is going to be the one where you meet an IED up close and personal, and then hearing that your wife is taking up with some hot bastard she met at a club? You, WIFE, don't have it nearly so bad. At least when his tour is up, by default he's coming home to you, because that's where home IS. He has no such default guarantee that you will be there waiting when he steps off the plane. You have unlimited options for getting your head on wrong and walking away. So, no, don't tell him about that shit! All he needs to hear while he is away is that you love him and can't wait for him to get home, and that you are going to use all that pent-up lust to fuck his brains out.
I'm not saying you two have to remain strictly faithful either. From the description of your approach so far, it sounds like that isn't awfully practical, and more likely to end badly if you try and fail to stick to an unreasonable standard, than if you make allowances for a difficult time.

I just would suggest that while he's away, the two of you reframe the whole "monogamish" thing as more like Stupid Shit Hypothetically Happens Under Stressful Situations, and we aren't going to let what happens on the far side of the world poison our relationship when we are back together. I suspect it will be easier to imagine him (when you can't otherwise deflect the morbid thoughts) as lonely and in need of comfort than as prowling for some action simply because he saw someone interesting and the new rules allow for it.

Don't come home with a new girlfriend, don't come home with a disease, and don't come home with a child support payment, and other than that, it may as well have never occurred.

Most of all, come home safe.
My sense is that first serious relationships often end in this type of drama. Not knowing how to end things, being insecure, somehow still clinging to the notion of "the one" etc. - I don't see this as particularly dickish or unusual. So my first advice to HIM would be - get over the idea that the two of them are "special" - lot's of first-love couples - maybe even most? - feel that way after break-up.

Beyond that, Dan's advice is, of course, right - HIM needs to get out of that "relationship" and the sooner the better. But if it takes him another 6 months or so that's not going to be the end of the world, either.
@14 "Between "I doubt I could tolerate the inevitable stress of this upcoming year if I were expected to abstain from sex for the duration" and "Suddenly, the thought of my husband with someone else is nearly intolerable," you don't sound nearly so much "monogamish" as you sound "hypocritical."

@avast: It can be just as hard, or even harder, being the partner at home. Being the one who's safe and being helpless to help your partner survive can take as much mental toll as being in the danger zone, where at least (as one military person put it to me) you feel like you're being useful, you feel accomplished, well-trained, and proud of your work. Overseas, the danger can tear you down, or it can reinforce your self-worth. At home, all you can do is wait and go about your life and pretend like everything's all right, when you rarely have a clue if your beloved is safe, threatened, alive, or dead.

Also, avast, while some of that "of course he's coming home to you" stuff may have been true before they allowed women in the military... these days it's not so sure. He could easily find a partner in his battalion and decide not to come home to her. So yeah, it's not really cool to tell WIFE she has it easy...
@14: Kind of harsh, man. While I don't envy the soldier in hostile faraway corners of the world, I don't envy the left-behind spouse hoping their love gets home in one piece (if at all) either. WIFE said she was unsure how to bring up all these complicated feelings to her husband; she asked Dan what was the best way to approach this highly sensitive (for both parties) subject without coming across as callous or jealous. "Hypocritical"? She sounds thoughtful- not mention scared shitless. Save the contempt for LW #1.
Jesus, HIM sounds like a guy I was involved with ten (um... plus) years ago - down to the exact timeline of the ridiculous back and forth bullshit. It was fucking awful for BOTH of us until I cut the cord completely. The narcissism is strong with this one. Good advice, Dan - I've very little to add. Leave her alone. Stop. You are not friends. You are no good for each other. Leave. Her. The fuck. Alone.
@singing cynic I was going to say the same thing. Years of manipulation and codependent bullshit, salvaged only but a complete cutting of ties. How many of these monsters are out there?!
As much as I agree with Dan and the commenters that HIM is being a prick, I can't help feeling some sympathy for him. Don't ask me why. I'm sure it's some flaw in me that I so readily identify with the young, the stupid, and the confused. I remember so well wanting to hang on to some part of the relationship that was keeping me from moving on. I remember how hard it was to come to terms with good enough relationships when my adolescent dreams were of fantastic ones. With that in mind, while we all know Dan's advice to HIM to move on is good, I'd like to offer some details to make it easier-- or even possible.

Imagine, for the time being, that your efforts to find someone else are for the purpose of being able to tell your ex that you're seeing someone when you run into her casually. Pour yourself into being the best man you can be with everyone you date. Be every positive quality. Be exactly the right mix of attentive, caring, great in bed, warm, kind, sensitive, and do it all while having the backbone necessary to make it all work. Also do well in school, become self-supporting, move out of your parents' house or sphere of control. Do well in your chosen profession or become an adventurer. Do fun, interesting things. Think of how your ex will eat her heart out when she realizes what she gave up.

At the same time, don't run into her casually. Think of it as playing hard to get. If you feel compelled to keep her as a facebook friend, post happy birthday to her timeline on her birthday but direct no other comments her way. Wait until the Christmas after next, then send her a store bought Christmas card. Send those same cards to everyone you know.

If you do run into her casually, ask about what she's up to in the same tone of voice you'd ask a new acquaintance. Chat briefly, wish her well, and continue on your way.

Your 10th highschool reunion will be in 5 years. Look forward to going, then decide if you can make it based on your schedule or whether you still live in the same city where it's being held. (I can't tell you the satisfaction it gave me to be able to greet my highschool boyfriend as a warmly remembered friend when everyone else thought he was a jerk. It was a perfect fuck-you moment.)
@16 & 20--right on. Clinging to the idea of first and everlasting soul mates in spite of massive piles of dramatic bullshit equals misery. Cut ties, move on, clean break. Ten years ago I went through the same thing; it was an awful drama-filled game of back and forth that lasted over a year until I finally pulled the plug for good. Six miserable months later I had my head (mostly) straight again. It's worth the misery--cut the cord!
@22 while I wholeheartedly agree that HIM should use this as an opportunity to better himself, doing it in the context of showing up his ex seems to defeat the purpose. If it gets him over the hump of the first few months that's great but keeping it up is kinda creepy imho. But maybe I'm misreading the intention in your post. If I am, forgive me--I really do need more coffee.
"She's not into sensitive, fashionable, and artistic types—she may not be into entitled assholes, either—and it's time to take the hint that she's practically pegging you with."

Oh, Dan. I love you so.
@10 - it seems very natural (at least to me) to want to sleep with lots of other women but to feel jealousy if Mrs. Horton did the same. Hypocritical, yes, but still natural. I assume this double standard is fairly typical which is why there are so many affairs yet so few honest and open relationships.

Which brings me back to EricaP's @6 advice that ITHAMGS encourage her lover to confess his affair. With the caveat that we know nothing of her lover's situation: if we assume it's the typical long term married with children and relationship generally good but for the lack of sex - then a confession will do nothing but cause tremendous hurt to his wife, and potentially the end the marriage and break up his children's home. He has managed to keep his affair discreet, so why not keep it that way while he tries to resurrect his sex life with his wife? I see no reason to rip off the bandaid and rub her nose in it.
"No guy will ever clear your bar, because I set the bar!"

And what a high bar it was, what with the emotional and sexual insecurity.
"I know that during the time we dated, she faked orgasms with me. She didn't have one with me until she introduced a vibrator the year I was having emotionless sex with her after the breakup."

I find it hilarious that HIM felt this was something he needed to "forgive" his ex for. Chances are HIM sucks in bed because he's such a narcissist he's oblivious to his partner's needs. Or, perhaps his ex is just one of those women who needs a vibrator, in which case he's a double asshole by complaining about how she introduced a vibrator so she could get something out of their EMOTIONLESS SEX. Oh yes, she really betrayed you there, didn't she? I wouldn't be surprised if he's the sort to be taken with the idea of his own magic penis. He probably believes true "soulmates" have orgasms just by looking at each other.
Dudes like HIM are always looking for ways to feel victimized and betrayed. If it wasn't the orgasms, he would have manufactured another slight. It's a way to keep someone emotionally indebted to you, and to always be "in the right", no matter how abominable and hypocritical your behavior.

@24, Glad your encounter with someone like this only lasted a year. Mine dragged on and on - we started dating, like the LW and his girlfriend, when I was seventeen, I was dumped after my freshman year of college (during which he emotionally manipulated and controlled me). We kept having sex, which he insisted was casual, and which I hoped would turn into something more. Then he wanted to get back together whenever I had another boyfriend. The entire time we called each other "best friends" and were obsessively codependent and jealous.The whole thing lasted until the the beginning of my senior year of college when I got sick of the bullshit and cut him off. So much wasted time and energy.
HIM is an insufferable douche. Bets her "I picture growing old with you" came after a pseudo-sensitive declaration of his own?

Also, give WIFE a break, guys. Jealousy while wanting to fuck other people is pretty much the average condition in a relationship.
24-- I don't think you're misreading my post. We may disagree on what's creepy. The way I look at it, if the choice is:

1. Do the right thing for the right reasons
2. Do the right thing for the wrong reasons

Then definitely my preference is for 1, doing it for the right reasons.

But HIM doesn't sound like that's a real choice for him. For him, it sounds more like a choice between:

1. Do the right thing for the wrong reasons.
2. Do the wrong thing.

If that's it, if I'm right on that, then I rather like telling him to get his act together in whatever way possible for whatever reason will work.

I don't care for the pile-on session. That's not because I think HIM doesn't deserve it. It's because I've noticed that people are more likely to do what you advise them to do when they don't feel like you hate them.

None of that concerns me as much as this business about 7 continents. How on earth are Europe and Asia separate continents? Look at a map. And Australia hardly qualifies. It's not that much bigger than Greenland.
@26, Tim, I understand that you think affairs are fine as long as you don't get caught. As someone who was cheated on, I don't agree. A one-time mistake, sure. But an ongoing outside relationship, not to mention several -- that's not going to stay hidden.

Also, STIs happen. Even with condoms, people get HPV, gonnorhea and herpes, among others. And most of the time "sexless marriage" is code for "rare sex," not "absolutely no sex."

Honestly, if there's no sex left in the marriage, then it shouldn't devastate his wife to hear that he's getting some elsewhere. She knows he's human. Promising monogamy isn't the same as promising celibacy. If the news does devastate her, that's probably because they are still having sex.

And if they are still having sex, do you still think it's okay to lie to her? And potentially infect her without her knowledge?
@31 definitely agree and think your clarification shows I was misinterpreting somewhat. Thanks for the reply :)
@29, to clarify the breakup dance lasted a year, we were together for four...let's just say I hadn't yet realized that loving a person with severe mental health issues didn't mean I could help him overcome them. Lesson learned the hard way but that's how it goes sometimes. Glad we've both moved forward! :)
@EricaP: I don't disagree with much of what you say, except this: "Honestly, if there's no sex left in the marriage, then it shouldn't devastate his wife to hear that he's getting some elsewhere." Maybe it *shouldn't* devastate a spouse who is not having any sex at all with his/her spouse that said neglected spouse is getting sex somewhere outside the marriage, but it often does exactly that. Many couples end up in utterly sexless marriages or extremely rare-sex marriage (like sex once in three years) not after much thoughtful discussion which acknowledges the fact that the marriage is virtually sexless but that at least one of the partners has sexual needs and desires, but without any discussion at all. Often, the topic is somewhat taboo.

Plus, human beings aren't always so reasonable and logical. As several others here have pointed out, while it may be strictly hypocritical for someone to want sex outside the marriage for her/himself but be jealous and upset at the idea of his/her partner having extra-marital sex, it is hardly uncommon. Pointing out the inherent illogicality of a reaction like that makes one sound a bit like Mr. Spock, and does no real good, because people recognize the illogicality of the way they feel and react but don't feel any differently. Emotions are like that.
@31: Traditionally, Europe and Asia have been considered different continents because they'd just be too huge together; the split is at the Ural mountains.

Australia is considered its own continent, but also remember that there quite a few little island nations which are also in the Pacific that kind of go with it.
nocute@35, that's what counseling is for. Or do the rest of you think that a marriage where people go years without sex and without talking about their wants and needs is a happy, healthy environment in which to raise children? (The LW didn't mention children, but Tim did, to justify the lies...)
@37 - EricaP, for what it's worth, I am not saying cheating is ok; I don't pretend to be the arbiter or morality. I only raise the potential of ITHANGMS having kids because I can't fathom what other reason someone would stay in a sexless marriage, absent perhaps some extreme illness.

The above being noted, I think you, and many in this Savage echo chamber, vastly overestimate how well low libido or withholding spouses will react to the suggestion of opening up a marriage, becoming monogamish, etc. When all else fails, conducting a discreet and safe affair seems more virtuous that blowing up the family home, especially if the sexless phase is transient. But obviously, we will have to agree to disagree.
@29: So familiar with that behavior. My ex used to do this with things that weren't even about him ("you're a bad person because you quit the college newspaper staff!" "You're a bad person for not liking SUVs!") just to be "better" even when he was being a huge douche.
Wrong answer to WIFE, Dan. Big time.

I did 56 months in Afghanistan from 2007-12 so I have a little experience in this regard. See, there's this thing called integrity. It comes from character and requires a committment to honesty. There are two promises in the case of WIFE's story that these people have made:

One is to each other, for better or for worse, till death do they part. Something about "forsaking all others" rings a bell. Seems that this particular promise in modern American culture is about as disposable as toilet paper these days.

The other is that one of these people made a promise to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. This person has volunteered to put himself in harms way for the freedoms that his wife (and all of us) enjoy. His wife married him knowing this, it was part (a BIG part) of the bargain.

No, deployment is no fun. It's a sacrifice that is made knowing full well it's going to happen when you sign on the dotted line and take the oath. Kinda like the one you made to each other in front of all those witnesses. No one twisted anyone else's arm to make these promises.

But what do you do, Dan? Sure! G'head! Feel free, fuck away! Just don't ask and don't tell! Know why some of these kids coming home blow their brains out after subjected to all the shit in a theater of war? Because they find out their spouse just couldn't go 12 months without emotional support and decided to go find someone (like a best friend, so it’s a doubled-barreled loss) which resulted in these brave people getting handed divorce papers at the airport. A so-called “agreement” that allows infidelity on either part creates a fertile ground for the possibility of a myriad of bad scenarios.

Here's the advice you should have given WIFE:

Suck it up, buttercup. Make the sacrifice that your husband is making as well and allow it to work in your favor. Stay in communication as much as you can (cell phones work just fine in Afghanistan, so do e-mails and Skype). Distance makes the heart grow fonder. Strengthen each other’s resolve by taking every opportunity to tell the other how much you miss and love them and make sure they know that you count the seconds until you can ravage them between the sheets. Send packages, card, pictures….get creative.

One of the many responsibilities a spouse has to their deployed significant other is to knock their socks off when they return home. Give your husband the answer as to why he’s over there in the first place in the first 48 hours after he walks through the front door by rocking their world and not allowing him (or her) to come up for air.

Send the kids off to Grandma and Grandpa, rip up some sheets and embrace the magic you’ve created through being apart. That kind of electricity is stronger than anything coming from City Light, kid. Believe me.
@38 By not telling her, you're living with an explosive device which will "blow up" your marriage whenever your affair partner or someone else sees fit to reveal the truth, or when a routine medical check reveals that your spouse has got HPV or gonorrhea. That's not "safe" and that's not "virtuous." And, no, I don't hope to convince you of that, but perhaps someone else who has not yet made up their mind.
@35,37 -- I'm the youngin' here. When my husband and I don't have sex for a week, one of us will inevitably ask the other "WTF?" or some variation of that. And that usually leads to a discussion of how other needs aren't being met or one of us is being unreasonable or mean, and how can we resolve that so we get get back to fucking/being happily married?

My question for you is, what happens so that this kind of communication breaks down? Do people have kids and stop talking about sex? Is it the mortgage? What goes wrong? What can a young, GGG couple do to try to keep the lines of communication open?
In his response to the last letter, is Dan approving of straight-up cheating? It sure sounds like it.

Tell that to my wife. She'd be more upset that she didn't get to watch her favourite gay porn starring yours truly than she would be over the fact that I'm having sex with another person.
@40: You do realize the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was for both the soldier and WIFE, right? The point being to keep them together if either one had a sexual encounter for comfort or maintenance during such an insanely stressful ordeal. This might not apply to every military marriage, but it might work for theirs. Both a soldier coming home to a full-blown emotional/sexual affair after war and a wife being faced with a battle-bonded tryst after waiting would indeed be gutting. That's what WIFE (and Dan) are trying to avoid. If you think that's weak, there are plenty of marriages where both parties can't suck it up and distance and mortal danger aren't even in the equation.
@22, 30: It's fine to feel jealous hypothetically, while also hypothetically wanting to fuck other people. (the old saying, "I'm married, not dead.") Lots of people feel exactly that. If the jealousy response is too much, the logical decision is to not be non-monogamous.

If you are going to actually go forward with nonmonogamy, you need to take a pretty hard-headed approach to dealing with a) getting control over your own jealousy, and b) maintaining fairness and reciprocity -- not only in action, but in mindset, lest you end up punishing your partner and creating drama over things that not only he has a right to do under your agreement, but that you do yourself. She sounded like she needed to be reminded that she hasn't got control of either concept yet. Maybe she isn't as ready for monogamish as she lets on.

I don't think people have clandestine affairs specifically in order to have extramarital sex in a way that prevents their partner from similarly enjoying their own. They just keep it secret because of the consequences of getting caught. And if someone was having an affair but then expressed severe jealousy when they found out their spouse was _also_ having one, yes, I would totally call that person a hypocrite. (Letter Writer is as yet only facing this hypothetically, and thus is only a potential hypocrite in that way.)
So how does someone like LW2 overcome her perfectly valid and normal jealous feelings of imagining her partner in the arms of someone else? It seems to me guys are more likely to enjoy some kind of hotwife fantasy that allows them to turn their fears and insecurities into a fetish. (Then after that, all they need is blind denial and the firm belief that their wife will never develop any strong feelings for her extracurricular partners.)

But I'm not aware of many women with a hothusband thing. What tactics does a wife use to overcome her fear/insecurity/desire to be The Only One? Anyone? Anyone? I'm asking for a friend.
I've been waiting for someone else to start the conversation about ITHMGS, but it looks like I'll have to do it. In my experience, men don't mind being passed around as sexual partners, but it makes sense, all the same, to ask. In my experience, women do mind being recommended as sexual partners, so ask. It's easy for ITHMGS to say that her female friend needs to get laid, but divorces are tricky things. This friend's needs may be changing by the minute. Also, consider that if the divorce becomes the least bit contentious, it won't help matters in court if it turns up that she's been sleeping around before the divorce is final.

I'd also consider the male friend's wife. It's obvious that ITHMGS doesn't mind having sex with him while he's married. It's obvious that he doesn't mind having sex outside of the marriage. That MAY be fine with the wife, but it's not mentioned.

Or how about this scenario? ITHMGS puts her friends together. They hit it off and now the male friend doesn't have time for her any more or wants to become exclusive with the new lady?

Bottom line is that any sort of matchmaking is a dangerous proposition, and the situation given seems particularly fraught with disastrous possibilities.
re #46: Well, that was unclear writing, wasn't it? Trying again...

What I meant was, it is perfectly ordinary to hold conflicting _feelings_ simultaneously. That's called being a human being, where "complex" and "confused" are part of the package.

The thing is, usually you can be introspective enough to look at both and realize that they are in conflict, and _act_ in a way that doesn't turn you into a hypocrite. Example: "God, I would be a raging ball of jealousy if my wife cheated on me. Guess that means I had better keep it in my pants, even though I find other women attractive, and might get presented with an opportunity." At that point the idea of wanting to fuck other people is relegated to idle fantasy.

When you start to act on those feelings, that is where hypocrisy lies. If you start fucking other people for the fun of it, but then get massively bent out of shape by even the idea that your partner might do the same, you are being a hypocrite. If the whole jealousy thing is too much for you to handle, then non-monogamy is not for you.

I concede that there can be relationships where the two parties agree to non-symmetric privileges. I.e., you get to fuck around because that doesn't make me jealous, but I don't get to because you can't handle it. That's fine, if both parties agree to it. But it would be fair to refuse to agree to such one-sided terms on grounds of fairness and reciprocity. Example: I know you are a jealous person while I am not. But hey, messing around on the side is fun. I would like to do it too. If you want it badly enough to ask me to put up with your nonmonogamy, I want the same privilege. If you aren't willing to grant it, you don't get it for yourself. I guess monogamy ends up being the least common denominator, because that's as much freedom as you can handle.
@42wxPDX -- They've been trying to answer those questions for centuries, no? Short answer, imo, is keep asking them and keep caring. Sounds like you've got the right approach.

But what goes wrong? Complacency, taking each other for granted, a growing sense of entitlement that things should be going your way more often, getting super busy, growing apart, stress, less time to talk. Physical exhaustion (that'll be the kids). Also, unique to mothers of young children: the feeling that your body is being used to meet the physical needs of everyone in your family, so you can add resentment to the list.

Not to be all gloomy, having a wicked awesome partner is what makes it all worthwhile. But no one claimed it would be easy. :) My two bits.

Three completely boring letters...yawn.
@37, 42: Erica, you are misunderstanding me, if you think I'm suggesting that a sexless marriage with no communication is a healthy and happy one. It's not how I would ever conduct my own life. But it nevertheless IS the case that many marriages run like this.
@50 LateBloomer you hit the nail on the head with "the feeling that your body is being used to meet the physical needs of everyone in your family." I am a high libido, touchy-feely person, but when I was working full time and breastfeeding I did not even have the energy or the inclination to pet the dog, because she was just one more mammal that was demanding my attention.
@47, brainstorming with her is probably wise. For me, what helped was:
- reading books about polyamory to help me see that plenty of normal people do this,
- cognitive behavior therapy to improve my ability to tell the difference between what's my business and what's not,
- trying some extramarital sex myself (and seeing my husband be cool about it), and
- exposure therapy (ie, him having sex with others and me finding out that it wasn't the end of the world)

The same issues of jealousy came up again when he started dating (ie, romance, not just sex), but more or less the same process worked there too.
nocute@52, I didn't mean to suggest that you think a sexless marriage with no communication is healthy and happy. Apologies.
@42 wxPDX. I think that open communication is the foundation of a strong marriage, and it sounds like you have that. However, it is easy for communication to break down when kids enter the picture. It is difficult to overestimate the sheer level of exhaustion that comes with the babies/toddlers/preschoolers phase. The opportunity to actually speak to your spouse, uninterrupted and for more than a few minutes, can be a luxury.If you try to have a conversation in bed after the kids are asleep it is likely that one or both of you will fall asleep. Stress about money typically increases when kids arrive, because either one parent has withdrawn from the workforce or the couple is spending a small fortune in childcare.

Kids are a joy, and they can strengthen a marriage because the couple now has the most intense, decades-long project to undertake together. But they also cause an incredible shift in priorities, and they don't really care whether you have slept more than four hours in a row for the past year. Unless you are pefectly matched sexually it can take a concerted effort to keep the romance alive.
@nocutename: because people recognize the illogicality of the way they feel and react but don't feel any differently.

I think it's rare that someone actually recognizes they're being illogical. More often, they find rationalizations for their feelings. For the sexually unavailable wife, there are a few old standards to fall back on:

* Sex isn't important.

* Husband's need for sex is pathological, immoral, unrealistic, results from too much porn consumption, reflects his sense of male privilege and entitlement, feels coercive, proves he's only interested in my body not my mind, ...

* Lack of sex is due to husband's failings.

And she'll find plenty of support for these rationalizations from her church, feminism, and marital therapists alike.

Personal aside: based on my wealth of experience, a common "therapeutic" approach to this problem is to suggest that the couple stop having sex altogether to give things a chance to start anew. (If your therapist ever suggests this to you, I recommend responding "No. Fucking. Way.") I have yet to hear a therapist say, "Well, since you don't want to fuck him, how about letting him have sex with other women?"
@Seandr: You may be right that people don't realize the inherent illogicality of their own emotional reactions. In my case, I often recognize that my feelings are illogical, but I feel them nevertheless. That doesn't mean I allow them to control my behavior, but I am aware that my feelings or emotions are irrational.

Your rationalizations for sexually unavailable wives are no doubt true, but I am getting tired of seeing the same old script reiterated: that a lack of fulfilling marital sex life is all the woman's fault or responsibility. Not to mention that your final bullet point misses the point. Sometimes the reason a wife is sexually unresponsive is directly linked to her husband's failings. If a husband treats his wife in such a way that she doesn't want to have sex with him are you saying that her reaction is just a self-rationalizing justification for her being what is in actuality a frigid bitch?
First, thanks to everyone who gave thoughtful responses to my @42. Second, @58, I would say that for sufficiently serious failings, a spouse might be totally turned off from having sex. An extreme example might be if someone engaged in some abhorrent, illegal activity -- surely you can't be expected to have sex with them then.

But for lesser failings, even if you're turned off (e.g. he gained weight and won't exercise; she has been unemployed for months and doesn't seem motivated), then you have to consider that your marriage is being threatened already, and you might just have to have sex just to keep the marriage going. It isn't exactly a romantic notion, to have sex because it is the right thing to do for your marriage. But sometimes that what you have to do, and often the original problem is just made worse if your intimacy breaks down. Of course you should never feel coerced into having sex you don't want. But sometimes you have sex not for yourself, but for your spouse, or if not for him, then for your marriage. (note to LW1, faking enthusiasm in these circumstances is absolutely the kindest thing to do.)

I don't recommend conducting your sex life in this way for any length of time. That's miserable. But in response to your question, I don't think either spouse withholding intimacy, without a really good reason, is good for the marriage.
@59 (wxPDX): I actually wasn't asking a question about how to conduct a marital sex life (and the "failings" I was thinking about were not along the lines of "he gained weight and won't exercise"). I was married for 22 years and understand having sex because it's the right thing to do for the marriage. Ultimately, I left the marriage because I had stopped being attracted to my husband about 5-6 years in (and was never all that attracted to begin with), and by year 17 or so, the thought of having sex with him was intolerable. I'd been having "good for the marriage" sex for over a decade at that point, without once enjoying it. For what it's worth, I was the one to voice dissatisfaction; my ex-husband was not happy, but content to live with a woman who was clearly and explicitly not sexually attracted to him. The last 10 months of our marriage was completely sexless, yet I still was the one to pull the plug. But I digress.

My comment was in response to Seandr at #57, who gave a list of rationalizations he thinks would be used by a "sexually unavailable wife." I would like him to have given a list of justifications used by a sexually unavailable husband as well, or acknowledge that some of those rationalizations are real and that the husband shares some burden of the blame.
@59 you addressed the spouse who wants less or no sex. But one can similarly address the spouse who wants more sex:

"Your marriage is being threatened already, and you might just have to be honest about your needs even if that means risking the marriage."

Having an affair is not a way to save the marriage, though it may keep the household together under false premises. For a while.
@40, people have all kinds of different marriage vows. Not everybody mouths the standard " ... keep unto you forsaking all others .." thing. Your military brainwashing tells you that right and wrong are absolute and things are simple. They are not.

Different couples might elect to have different arrangements for sex during their separations for deployments. Is that OK with you, Sir? Or is it your way or the highway?

Sir! People server for all different reasons. Not everyone actually thinks that killing brown people people who live 9 timezones away, "protects our freedom". How can you possibly spout such blatent stupidity? Sir!!

Sir! Tell me, how does blowing up a group of Waziristan dirtfarmers with a drone-launched hellfire "protect our freedom"? Sir!!?

Sir! How does codifying into law, the notion that the executive has the right to declare anyone at all an "enemy combatant" and asassinate them with no judicial recourse "protect our freedom"? You dumbass American Taliban military meathead! Tell me! Sir!!!
@63: She does coldly exploit him now, just as he did her in the past i.e. "We continued to have sex, but I blocked out all my feelings for her, while she was open about still wanting to be with me." Doesn't make her right, but it does make the current situation pretty karmic.
Everyone is assuming that the man in the sexless marriage is being honest with the other woman. How do we know he doesn't just say that to get laid? I mean c'mon, he wouldn't be the first guy to lie about how bad it all was at home and she wouldn't be the first woman to be all kind and sensitive about wanting to take care of his needs. Sheesh.
@62 - maybe I am in an unforgiving mood because the Leafs lost....but Jesus H. Christ, you need to loosen up the Che fedora and take a breath. Accusing a single soldier of enacting the enemy combatant statute and operating the drone program seems a little dramatic.
@nocutename: My point is simply that the woman who a) doesn't want to fuck her husband, b) doesn't want to leave him, c) doesn't want to fuck anyone else, and d) doesn't want him fucking anyone else has numerous narratives at her disposal to rationalize and sustain her relationship model.

Of course, the husband can be the root of the problem, although typically in those cases a sexless marriage isn't the final goal but rather a step towards separation.
@nocutename: I would like him to have given a list of justifications used by a sexually unavailable husband

Sorry, I have no insight or wisdom to share about sexually unavailable husbands. If not for Savage Love, I wouldn't have assumed they existed.

Maybe the dynamics are the same as with genders reversed? Probably not quite.
69 and the rest of the WIFE discussion-- Go back to the original letter. "Not long ago we decided that a monogamish arrangement appealed to us both." This is not a letter about a woman at home wanting to cheat on her husband. If it were, the direction this whole discussion is taking would make sense. For that matter, I'd be in the strange position of agreeing with 40-kalakala.

This is a letter about a confused woman who says one thing at the beginning of her letter and something else at the end of it. She starts with how strong their marriage is and how they both like the idea of monogamish. She ends with how she wants to have sex with other people but is jealous of her husband doing the same. She's wants to figure out a way to answer to both, but I don't think either I, nor anyone here, nor Dan can give her that answer. She's asking for the impossible.
@2 agreed! This is one of Dan's masterpieces. Wisdom-that-applies-to-many + kind-yet-sharp takedown of the entitlement of the 1st LW, insight and understanding on second LW with smart how-to-relationship stuff, and pithy "go do it" on 3rd.

Fantastic job, Dan!
@40 A salute to your service, though I disagree with the endless wars and the motivations of the politicians who started / continue them, I have met many young vets and their motivations are usually honorable and good. BUT on relationship advice -- what worked in your relationship doesn't mean it will work for every soldier or is best for everyone. Dan never says his way for everyone.

As for military integrity -- I'm guessing you haven't read about the origins of the swingers movement in the USA. Apparently they began with US pilots in WW2, they and their wives pioneered the modern coupled swingers movement as a way of making sure (1) flyers could have some fun since many were going to their deaths, (2) wives if widowed would have someone(s) to help them. Can't find the title but there's a "real" (serious) book about this in addition to several online sites. (I know the modern swingers movement is not so sexist -- males getting off / females getting support -- today it's about both couples getting off, but the origins were quite different.)
@70, I think Dan is right that WIFE is displacing her very real fear of him dying onto the much more manageable fear of him fucking other people. And Dan's advice for her is solid, though I'll reiterate that WIFE should not assume her husband prefers DADT to getting the juicy details.
@70: I also think that moving from monogamy to monogamy-lite (which I am going to use because saying "monogamishny" is weird and ugly and no longer clever as "mongamish" used in place of "monogamous"), is very different from "You move across the world into a very stressful, scary situation for a year and we can't see each other and you may be injured or killed and we both might want to fuck other people while you're gone and I'm afraid I'll never see you again and you might fall in love with someone who is there for/with you during this stressful, intense time, but I also think that I want to have a sexual outlet and feel alive and not simply consumed with worry for the coming year."

The monogamish agreement they had come to no doubt assumed they'd still be having sex with each other. It may have been limited to very infrequent extra-marital outings or it may have strictly specified what acts were and were not permissible. It may have included telling the other about the details of trysts. It may have included including the spouse in the extra-marital tryst (swapping, threesomes, play parties, etc.) Monogamy lite (or the "ish" in monogamish) suggests that this outside sexual activity is not the main way the couple behaves sexually. This scenario is quite different.

Of course, there is no hard and fast definition of what being monogamish is; there are probably degrees of monogamy-lite, and we don't have consensus as to what WIFE and her husband had meant by their decision to be monogamish. But it likely didn't include the total inability to be with the other for a difficult year when they made it. Or if it did, they hadn't thought through the consequences of the decision, and WIFE is now doing so.
@69 i didn't see femmenism referenced anywhere in 68's post ?
@75, check seandr's original post @57 "And she'll find plenty of support for these rationalizations from her church, feminism, and marital therapists alike."
@77 Here's what I don't get: why do we feel the need to point out that people are immature when they're really hurting and facing real problems? I'm not talking about calling jerks on their jerkiness, as in the case of HIM, whom I think Crinoline was too kind to, I'm talking about WIFE and others like her.

Yes, they may be immature (she says they're in their 20s), but how does our mentioning that help her?

Additionally, what standard of "maturity" do you hold everyone to and could you pass it yourself, always, no matter what issues come up down the road later?
@4 I think one of the more hurtful aspects of cheating is the lies and deception that often come with it. Being cheated on can suck but realizing that you've been made of fool can make it so much worse.

And by being honest she ensures that her husband doesn't find out at the worst time in the worst way possible.
seandr wrote: "Personal aside: based on my wealth of experience, a common "therapeutic" approach to this problem is to suggest that the couple stop having sex altogether to give things a chance to start anew."

That doesn't sound quite like the advice I've heard. What I have occasionally heard of for couples who are having sexual difficulties is to take all-out sex off the table for a short time and just cuddle, make out, and generally act in love with each other. The idea is that pretty soon you will both want each other in more the way you used to, rather than just wanting to get your rocks off. I think a lot of people get out of the habit of physically meeting each others' affectionate needs, and that gets in the way of fully expressing more sexual needs.

Now, that obviously wouldn't work in the case of people who are truly no longer compatible, or never were, but nothing would, really. In the case of people who have just gotten out of touch with each other (literally) over the years, I think it makes way more sense.
@40 you sound like a self righteous ass. "Suck it up, buttercup?" It's always about you isn't it? Fuck off.
In the HIM letter, the guy is getting exactly what he deserves. You can't use her for sex, stalk her and expect to get away with it. Payback is a bitch.
"you should go to the liquor store". WTF? Dan, I love you-but, are you asleep at the wheel? nonsensical...
Seandr: Who the hell are these women you are talking about? Are they in a 1950's sitcom? Because women today like sex. If they aren't having it with you it's because of you, not them.
@tito: Because women today like sex. If they aren't having it with you it's because of you, not them.

Wait, are you saying that lesbian bed death is my fault?
@Eirene: You make it sound so, so, so reasonable.

The last time I heard the suggestion, I think I actually said something like "If that's where things are at, I'm done." Which was honest - if we've become that disconnected, the relationship no longer has a pulse as far as I'm concerned. And by the end of the session, everyone agreed we should be having more sex, not less.

Which has me wondering, do you suppose that for some women, couples therapy can function as an expensive form of sexual foreplay?
"Which has me wondering, do you suppose that for some women, couples therapy can function as an expensive form of sexual foreplay?"

I just read an interview with a German psychologist/ sex therapist who said that sex is the most basic communication.

Unfortunately, the interview is in German so I'll try to summarise:
According to him, for a lot of men sex is the main way to express their love to their gf/ wife. If she doesn't want to have sex, he feels rejected on a very personal level.
However, for a lot of women it feels like he only uses them as human fleshlight, esp. if he has problems expressing his love and appreciation verbally.
In a case like this, sex therapy does work like foreplay if it helps him to express his appreciation verbally as well, and if it helps her toto realise that sex helps to strengthen the bond between them.
I need a friend like letter writer no. 3. Unfortunately my body isn't what it once was (I do have pictures) and I have sex so infrequently I don't even know if I'm any good or not anymore (I would make up with boundless enthusiasm what I lack in technique).
Every time I hear or read a man stating that his girlfriend's use of a vibrator to achieve orgasm makes him "feel inadequate," it sets off the douche-bag alarm. Look, HIM, most women require some stimulation in addition to penetration to get off. MOST. Logically, then you should only feel inadequate if (a) the other males on your planet have an innate vibrator in their pelvic bones but you do not or (b) you're a whiny self-centered douche-bag.

I'm gonna guess it's(b).
Every time I hear or read a man stating that his girlfriend's use of a vibrator to achieve orgasm makes him "feel inadequate," it sets off the douche-bag alarm. Look, HIM, most women require some stimulation in addition to penetration to get off. MOST. Logically, then you should only feel inadequate if (a) the other males on your planet have an innate vibrator in their pelvic bones but you do not or (b) you're a whiny self-centered douche-bag.

I'm gonna guess it's(b).
The problem with the military and a monogamish situation is that the military does not believe that that arrangement is a valid one, period, full stop. If the wife gives her hubby permission to play with others, and he gets caught, he can be brought up for punishment under the UCMJ. If she plays with someone else that is in the military, even if that someone else is single, they can be punished for adultery, due to the fact that she is married (whether she is married to a service member is irrelevant). I did 4.5 years, and that is a fire I NEVER wanted to play with, even though now that I am out of the service my wife and I play with a third every once in a while. Even THAT is considered adultery, if you get caught, even though all parties gave full consent. Just the act of sex with someone other than your spouse, if one of them is a service member, is adultery. We were told about a retired officer who was brought BACK into the military, after his wife divorced him because he cheated on her, prosecuted under UCMJ, then dishonorably discharged.
if we've become that disconnected, the relationship no longer has a pulse as far as I'm concerned.

seandr, I'm guessing this is a temperamental difference. Clearly the advice didn't work for you and you were probably very sensible to protest on your own behalf. But a lot of people, a lot, do simply fall out of the habit of affectionate, nurturing touch, without ever properly realizing what's going wrong, and if they can get back into a relationship where touch is important all the way around, not just in sex, it helps immensely. Indeed, that kind of disconnect can happen between parents and children as well, where sex is, one hopes, not an issue, and it's unlikely the relationship will ever be broken off.

I wouldn't characterize therapy as foreplay any more than I would characterize eating breakfast or taking a walk as foreplay. It's all self-care. (And of course bad therapy from a clueless therapist is not good for you, but then neither is burned oatmeal a good breakfast. I wouldn't count either of those.)
Crinoline@31: Australia is more than three times the size of Greenland (2,900,000 square miles to Greenland's 822,706). You have probably been misled by Mercator-projection maps. See…
@Eirene: I'm guessing this is a temperamental difference.

I guess I'd just say it wasn't a good fit for what we were struggling with, which was more about hitting middle age with different libidos and different priorities around sex, and both of us realizing that if things didn't change, I was going seek the kind of relationship I wanted with someone else.

As for therapy as foreplay, perhaps the sudden emotional transition from being angry and hurt by your partner to feeling a sense of connection and understanding can be arousing.
@Seandr: I'm curious. When you said, back at #87, that "by the end of the session, everyone agreed we should be having more sex, not less," I assumed that this conversation resolved incompatibility issues you and your wife were having, and that the marriage became more sexually vibrant.

But then in post #95, you suggested that that wasn't the outcome.

I remember you said you're married but on what you called a "long leash." Are you married to the same woman you are referring to in your discussion of couples' therapy?
@Eirene: Thank you for correcting the Greenland/Australia misconception well after the original comment. I was going to do it myself but felt like I might have missed my chance. Glad you went ahead and dropped some geography knowledge - kinda hot, actually!
"I broke up with her the summer after our freshman year in college because things felt too serious. We continued to have sex, but I blocked out all my feelings for her, while she was open about still wanting to be with me. [...]
during the time we dated, she faked orgasms with me. She didn't have one with me until she introduced a vibrator the year I was having emotionless sex with her [...] Since then, we have forgiven each other and tried several times to rekindle our romantic relationship. Unfortunately, while for me there is a sexual attraction, she says she is no longer attracted to me."

So, let me be sure I understand this correctly:
First he dumped her because he didn't want to be in a serious relationship.
Then he had emotionless sex with her, even though he knew she was still in love with him, and he didn't even do that competently enough to make her come.
Now he feels attracted to her once again, and wants to be in a relationship once again, and is terribly upset that she's no longer attracted to him?

Dude, her taste in men might not run to your type, but she's not unattracted to you because you're a metrosexual, she's unattracted to you because you were a selfish user who was shitty in bed. You don't get to tell somebody (especially not somebody who you know is in love with you) that it's no strings when *you* want no strings, and then complain when *they* want no strings.

The only things you've "set the bar" for are being a jackass and a hypocrite.

@98: Tessiee, I completely agree that HIM is s jackass and a hypocrite. The fact that he says he has "forgiven" her for needing a vibrator to come really illuminates his asshattedness, but I think that while it's fun to pile on the criticism of HIM, your description of him as being too incompetent in bed to make her come is a somewhat unfair attack. No doubt he's selfish in bed (and not in the "good selfish" way we were talking about a few weeks or so ago, but in the entitled, dickish way), but some of us just need a vibrator, no matter how competent, giving, generous, talented, diligent our lovers are. Until the human penis, finger, or tongue can vibrate at 120 rpm, I'm going to need a vibrator to get me off. If a man is threatened by that, or so insecure that he views that as a "problem," or something he needs to "forgive" me for, then he's an asshat, but his inability to make me come isn't what made him an asshat.
@99: I think maybe he meant "forgive" her for faking it. That's an unfortunate choice of word, particularly in this case where he has so much more to answer for, and of a more serious nature than faking orgasm. But it is true on principles that discovering that your partner has been faking orgasm does indeed reveal a breach in both the trust and communication within the relationship; that the faking itself constitutes that breach and the faker is at fault for lying; and repairing it takes some work.

Suddenly that person has no idea whatsoever what was working and what wasn't, no idea what to do differently, and going forward will have no idea whether their partner's future demonstrations of pleasure are also just a lie. The overall results are feelings of distrust of the faking partner, and feelings of inadequacy about oneself. While this guy expresses that in a way that comes across as selfish and narcissistic, the basic principles are not surprising.

The other thing is that she has things to answer for too, and he says "we have forgiven each other" which I take to mean they both were attempting to work through more than just the faking.

Bottom line: at this point they are just tearing at each other. Couples counseling or go home. My impression is, go home.
Nobody dresses down an entitled douchebag like Dan Savage. Great column.
@timhorton There's no way to keep "safe" from STDs, not even with consistent and correct condom use.

@kalakala Wedding vows do not have to include those types of promises. Just sayin'
@ last letter
bow chicka wow wow.
Tying together Dr Sean and Mr Kalakala, while feminist consensus doesn't go much farther when unilaterally cutting off one's spouse is involved than recognizing the lack of either obligation or entitlement to sexual activity on any particular occasion (some maintain that long-term unilaterally imposed droughts cannot expect to meet with cheerful compliance for the duration), it is interesting to see how But... They Took VOWS! Of FIDELITY!! Before GOD!!! is as readily invoked without particular knowledge by individual feminists supporting an indefinite cutoff and pinning the MF label on a spouse who eventually has problems about it as it is by a presumptive oppressor.
I have trouble believing that the tactic to explicitly take sex off the table -- presumably to reduce pressure to perform on the sex-resistant partner -- actually works. The problem I see with that is that once you take the option, the clock starts ticking, and it is difficult to ignore that fact.

In addition, the clock almost certainly has been ticking for quite a while before that tactic is officially introduced. The usual dynamic is, "Every damned time we touch, it seems like you want it to be followed by sex!" "Well, that's because every damned time we touch for the last year it hasn't been!" You have to start having sex sometime -- or else admit you aren't ever going to -- which means that one of these times is by definition the one that is followed by sex. After a long period of none, _every_ encounter is _potentially_ the one which might be followed by sex. It's a vicious cycle where the longer you go without sex, the more the partner who wants it wonders if this will finally be the time, and the more this gets wondered, the higher the perceived pressure, and the greater the resistance. Ironically, the less sex you are having, the more you feel like you are being forced to have sex.

Bottom line for me, though, I'm with seandr. If you simply wanted sex with me, we would be having it. Clearly you don't actually want it. If that isn't relationship-ending in itself, now the only way I can get it is to pretend I don't want it either. It becomes effectively a relationship in which two people don't want sex with each other. Time to hang it up and call each other roommates.

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