Stale mate

Dear Sasha, My partner of five and a half years and I haven’t had sex for almost six months. Before that, it was sporadic: it went from several times a week to once a week to once a month to… you get the picture. Believe me, this is not my choice. I have done everything […]

Dear Sasha,
My partner of five and a half years and I haven’t had sex for almost six months. Before that, it was sporadic: it went from several times a week to once a week to once a month to… you get the picture.

Believe me, this is not my choice. I have done everything to entice my girlfriend into an intimate connection: being visibly aroused, being the strong, silent type, being available, being unavailable, strutting around in crotchless panties, strutting around in a snowsuit—you name it, I’ve done it. I’ve suggested threesomes, orgies, anal, sex clubs, porn, workshops, massages, mutual masturbation….

The point we keep getting to is this: I tell her I feel like I’m not allowed to have any expectations of her, and she tells me she feels the opposite, that she wants me to have expectations of her. The conversation goes a little like this:

Me: “I just feel like I’m not allowed to ask you for anything.”
Her: “I want you to ask me for things. I want you to feel comfortable being able to do that.”

It deteriorates from there, with me, of course, pointing out all the ways in which I do ask her for things that remain unfulfilled. She then points out that it’s difficult to get turned on when I’m pushing these things. I have two questions for you:

1. What the fuck should I do?
2. Have I gone to hell and I just don’t know it?

– Help Seems Like the Wrong Word. More Like Hell.

Dear Help,
Ah, yes, the old “I want you to have expectations of me — I just don’t plan on meeting them.”

Your partner’s unwillingness to connect with you sexually comes to define you. Suddenly, you are a person possessed, constantly wondering how and when you’re going to have some sex, and facing the obstacle of being committed to someone who is loath to engage in it with you. You invest all your energy into figuring out how you can indulge in this simple and meaningful function. You begin contemplating possibilities that once would have seemed ludicrous to you. Like snowsuit orgies.

As addiction and recovery author Melody Beattie says, “Few things can make us feel crazier than expecting something from someone who has nothing to give. Few things can frustrate us more than trying to make a person someone he or she isn’t; we feel crazy when we try to pretend that person is someone he or she is not.”

What is additionally revealing about this quote is that the “expected” person is also often trying to be someone he or she is not. Your partner isn’t being deliberately cruel. Again, you are welcome to have expectations, and you are welcome to ask her for things. She wants you to feel comfortable doing this because she is trying to persuade herself that she is the type of person who can conjure intimacy that is now elusive. Expanding on Beattie’s idea, few things can make us crazier than trying to be someone we are not.

Here’s one way this situation goes:
You shut down because you can no longer continue to feel the shame of being the one always giving and always asking. You begin placing value in your ability not to feel hurt anymore. Example: “I used to get upset at not having sex with my partner, but now I don’t. I’ve come to accept this as the reality of my relationship. I’m relieved that this doesn’t hurt me anymore.”

Your standard for living is measured by how you can be a happy and productive person despite not having certain basic needs and desires fulfilled. Your life, to a great extent, revolves around denying the fact that you’re sexually frustrated. You spend a great deal of time wondering if wanting intimacy from your partner makes you insensitive and pathetic. You wonder what you did to lose your attractiveness.

Here’s the other thing that happens: despite knowing how petty and unattractive this is, you actually begin counting the times you’ve seen your partner naked. You then carefully transcribe these occasions into a mental ledger (or even a real one — I’ve come across these wretched little lists in journals myself), pulling out the ledger when the “expectations” conversation comes up. So not only are you not having sex, but you are becoming an expert investigative reporter on the topic. Hot.

As for the question of whether or not you’ve gone to hell: if you have, well, then, you are in fine company. At this very moment, thousands of people are stumbling around in the very same position, locked in the terrible conundrum of “If only you hadn’t gotten upset about my not wanting to have sex with you, I’d want to have sex with you.”

Many people remain in sexless relationships for years, all the while trying to convince themselves that they don’t need or deserve intimacy. Some people find intimacy quietly outside the impasse. Therapy is often a good start when you’re clenched in this awful embrace.

Sex matters. Pleasure matters. Being able to acknowledge these facts without shame is important. A good couples therapist will kindly help you get answers to the questions you’ve been asking. Often, the person who does not want to have sex simply doesn’t have the courage to leave a partner or face the fact that the seemingly indelible attraction he or she once felt is gone, horribly and inexplicably replaced with contempt.That person, too, feels shame about being unable to rise to the occasion, so to speak. We have a hard time admitting these things, paradoxically, because we don’t want to hurt our partners. ■

Got any questions for Sasha? E-MAIL: POULEDELUXE@YAHOO.COM

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