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Hello, you burning sexbeasts, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the dating advice column that body slams your relationship problems from the top of Hell in the Cell.
This week, it’s all about threading the needle of the most perplexing relationship problems. What do you do when you’ve gone from your horny period to a life of celibacy that Franciscan monks would be proud of? What about when your wife tells you she was abused by a child, but her family insists it never happened? At what point does a coping fantasy become more trouble than it’s worth?
It’s time make like the Undertaker and piledrive the obstacles of your life through the table. Let’s do this.
Hiya Dr. Nerdlove,
So background information, I’m a 31-year old musician living in a city that rhymes with “Man-Brand Disco” and I’ll be honest: I’ve never had a tougher time of life than moving here and trying to get my life set up, but things are going relatively smoothly now in my career and I’m actually on the up-and-up, my troubles with depression notwithstanding.
In my college and grad school years I was quite a Lothario without attempting to be. I never once had much game but in my teens through my late twenties I acquired many partners (the number now approaches 30) through almost no effort of my own. I know I used little effort because I never once knew what I was doing so I tended to be passive and let them “do the work,” so to speak. I was also more attractive and hopeful then, I guess.
Flash forward to now, when I’ve spent about 5 or so years in the city. In the first few years I had some physical relationships that never turned into anything more (not for lack of wanting on my part) but never any actual relationships. Now I’m in kind of a dry spell, having not had sex in 2 years and not having had an actual girlfriend since I was 25 but I just can’t find the will to care. My male friends are constantly gawking at women on the street while I try to pretend that yes, I totally noticed that hottie and yes oh-so-totally want to bang her I guess.
One asked me the other night how long had it’d been since I had sex and I said “Two years.” He flipped out incredulously, asking me how that’s possible and how I could stand it, etc. etc. I didn’t know how to react, because deep down I feel like there must be something wrong with me on some basic or mental level. I don’t really look for relationships or physical intimacy. Hell, if I’m even out-and-about I don’t even notice beautiful people like I used to, and even if I do, I’m not at all motivated to pursue them. I tend to avert my eyes or pretend I was looking at something else if they catch my eyes with theirs.
I just want to know: Is this a problem? I mean, I’m not really thirsty for sex but I’m 31 and have already spent the latter half of my twenties single. My friends keep on getting married, and even they still have sexy thoughts about strangers to me that I don’t have with myself. Is this normal? Am I throwing away years “at my prime” that I’ll never get back? Should I be trying to have sex or game or whatever more? And why doesn’t sex or the prospect of it even excite me anymore?
Not As Horny As Everyone Says I Should Be
OK NAHAESISB, let’s dispute one thing right from the top: there’s no such thing as “your prime;” everyone hits their stride at different years. Folks get married at a wide, wide range of ages, and frankly, getting married later in life tends to correlate with a longer marriage and greater sense of happiness and well-being.
Now there are advantages to dating in your 20s and 30s… but those are more circumstantial than inherent to age. You tend to have more free time to devote to dating and fewer responsibilities to get in your way. It’s also nice when you still have a youthful metabolism that lets you eat with greater abandon and get by on less sleep without feeling like a zombie.
But at the same time, people in their 30s and 40s usually have their shit together in ways that twenty-somethings don’t, and not dealing with unnecessary angst, drama and bullshit is a blessing that you don’t appreciate until you don’t have to face it anymore.
Also, women in their 30s and 40s are more likely to be more in tune with their sexuality and have far fewer fucks to give—and a sexually confident woman with no fucks left is a thing of terrible beauty and awesome splendor.
So take the “I’M LOSING MY PRIME DATING YEARS” off the table. Love, marriage and all the rest will be waiting for you when you’re ready.
Instead let’s focus on the important question: is this actually a problem? And that comes down to one thing: how do you feel about it? Are you ok with the fact that you seem to be sliding through the far side of the asexuality spectrum at the moment? Is your concern more because other people are telling you that you should be concerned? Are you trying to avoid making eye contact with the sexy singles in your area because you don’t want to end up doing the awkward “hey, sorry I’m not actually interested, that was strictly platonic eye contact” dance?
If you’re satisfied with your life otherwise and sexual attraction is something that you don’t feel is missing, then there really isn’t an issue. It’s just where you happen to be in this stage of life. Spend your time doing the things that make you happy and bring you economic stability and security and let everyone else worry about the state of their own junk. Go live your best life, even if it means that you’re rolling solo for now.
If you are legitimately concerned about your lack of libido, then the best thing to do is start by trying to zero in on potential causes. Even if you’re cool with the state of things, it may well be worth talking to your doctor and getting some tests run—not just checking your testosterone (which has less to do with sex drive than those ads for dodgy supplements would have you believe) but for other potential problems like cancer or cardiovascular trouble.
Absent a physical issue, then you might want to consider talking to a sex-positive therapist or counselor who can help run the source of these issues to ground. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory that can help you find someone in your area who can talk you through some of this.
However, it’s entirely possible that you’re just in an asexual period and it may pass with time, just as your horny period did. And if you’re comfortable with it, then hey, you do you. You can check out the Asexuality Visibility Education Network at asexuality.org for more about the asexuality spectrum and other people’s experiences with it.
Meanwhile, tell your well-meaning-if-a-tad-obnoxious friends to get off your dick, you’re fine, thanks. Sometimes even the best of intentions just end up making problems where there aren’t any.
I’m in a difficult situation with my wife. We have been married for almost ten years, dated for a few years before marriage, and while our relationship has not been perfect, we have both stuck to each other through a number of things. I have done my best to be a stable emotional keel for her in our relationship after her bipolar diagnosis not long after we got married to today.
We have had a rough year. Her last sibling, her sister and best friend, moved out of state, so she’s been forced to forge new friendships. An ongoing dispute about my family almost left me with having to cut ties with my family to save our relationship, because my sister asked for our son to be in her wedding. I decided that I need to get some perspective and scheduled time with a therapist. Upon letting my wife know this, she blurted out that she was abused as a child, and that’s why she has outbursts and can’t control herself.
In all our time together, this has never been mentioned or hinted at. I was completely taken aback by this. I called her sister today to ask her for details or what they’ve done as a family to work on this with her, and maybe learn how I can help, and her sister surprised me by saying she has no idea what my wife is speaking about, going so far as to deny the stories I had been told ever happened.
I’m now wondering where to go. Do I believe my wife? Do I believe the sister? Do I approach her parents? Do I stay quiet and hope she follows through on finally seeing her therapist again? I’m scared for what this may mean for our relationship and for our son.
I Want To Believe
Hoo boy. This is a thorny one, IWTB.
Since this inevitably comes up, let’s talk about what it means when people say “believe women,” especially victims of abuse, assault or rape. It doesn’t mean—as so many wags on Twitter, Reddit and YouTube are wont to claim—that no woman has ever lied or claimed abuse that didn’t actually happen. What it means is that, far too often, we tend to knee-jerk assume that women aren’t lying per se, but that it didn’t go down exactly like they said. Maybe there was some miscommunication; maybe it wasn’t as bad as they were saying and are they sure it happened exactly the way they said?
Believing women and believing victims doesn’t mean taking everything at face value and never looking any further. It means not letting the default assumption be “they’re not telling the truth,” even if it’s framed in the paternalistic and patronizing “poor thing, she has no idea what she’s saying.”
Hence, my default position is to tell you to believe your wife. Abuse, especially childhood abuse, often goes unnoticed or undetected, even by close family members. It’s possible for the abuse to have happened and her sister to have no idea.
A hallmark of many abusers is to intimidate their victims into silence, either through overt threats (“tell anyone and I’ll hurt them/ your friend/ your pet”) or convincing their victims that nobody will ever believe them. In fact, one of the reasons survivors of abuse often have a difficult time coming forward or opening up about what happened to them is how frequently the people they’ve tried to tell either don’t listen or don’t believe them.
Even after the fact, survivors can have a hard time being heard or believed. It’s much easier to believe that nothing happened, that they would have noticed if it had or that $ABUSER just isn’t the sort of person who would do that.
Now with all that having been said, you leave out a few key details in your letter. You say that her sister denies that the things that your wife told you ever happened. But were these stories that her sister would have been in a position to know about? Were these things she might have witnessed? Was your wife abused by someone that her family knew—a family friend, a relative, a teacher, a neighbor—or was this a stranger? Is there any way to verify at least some of the information without necessarily going through her sister or her family?
You also don’t say if it’s a topic that’s ever come up since. Was it just the one outburst, or has she been more forthcoming about it, now that the initial silence has been broken?
Is your wife prone to outbursts like this: just blurting things out at times of stress or conflict? Does she have a tendency to dodge responsibility or is this out of character for her?
I know a lot of people will zero in on the fact that your wife was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Lying is not a symptom of bipolar disorder and isn’t part of the clinical pathology of the disorder. However, when someone is in a manic state, they can be more prone to overreact or say hurtful things because it seemed appropriate at the time. It’s not impossible that your wife blurted this out because, well, it seemed like something she needed to say in the moment. It may not even have been malicious; if it isn’t true, then it’s possible that your wife said this in a way to take your mind away from your problems.
But to be honest, I’m less inclined to attribute this to her disorder, especially if this isn’t how her mania manifests or if she was even in a manic state in the first place. I’m still inclined to suggest that you listen to your wife, absent compelling evidence otherwise. But as I’m frequently saying: Dr. NerdLove is NOT a real doctor.
That’s why what I would suggest for now is to strongly encourage your wife to go back to therapy, and that you do so as well. The two of you are both going through an incredibly stressful time, and both of you need the support and help that therapy can bring. And whether she’s telling the truth or not, therapy is the best way for her to get the help she needs.
If she was abused, then working with a therapist can help her heal and find peace. If she wasn’t, then her therapist can help her work on why she claimed it. If it was a result of her disorder, then her therapist can help her learn to control herself when her mania is trying to blow up her life.
And you would benefit from talking with someone who can help give you the tools to help yourself and support your wife, no matter what she’s going through.
You’re in a really rough situation, IWTB, and one that doesn’t have a lot of good options. Hopefully this is something you both can work through and find a resolution.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how you’re doing.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
Just want to start out by saying I’m in therapy already and also on medication. I’ve always wanted to be a superhero. But for most of my life, going back to my childhood, I’ve imagined a superhero in my head and created complex plots for her to live through. I know I’m not her. I know it’s not real. I also know that there are apparently other people that do this, and they have termed it maladaptive daydreaming. I haven’t really explored this on the internet because I haven’t seen any solutions, mostly just people sharing their experiences.
The thing is, my superhero persona has basically the same problems I have. She doesn’t have a lot of experience with dating. She can’t figure out how to eat right and doesn’t really like her own appearance, but people praise her because her body looks the way our society thinks women’s bodies are supposed to look. She is constantly upset about how injustice manifests itself in the world. She has serious problems with addiction and has, up until recently, been really in denial about it. She had a really violent childhood and, well, her solution for dealing with her dad was more extreme than mine. She has a lot of trauma and trust issues.
Is it weird to create a superhero persona in your mind who has the fighting skills of some kind of Selene/Buffy/Black Widow/Sara Lance hybrid and then send her to rehab multiple times?
The key differences between me and her are that she saves the world a lot and has really close friendships. I realize the close friendship thing is actually achievable, and I’m actually going back to school right now to be in the medical field, so saving people is also something that I could potentially be doing. Even if it’s just one person at a time.
The problem is that I think this coping mechanism, or whatever it is, is really fucking weird. I feel like there are already so many negatives, or things that would turn someone off dating me—I don’t want to add this. I could say, logically, yeah, you grew up in a scary situation and you wanted to escape and this is what your brain decided to do! But it’s not working for me anymore. I want to experience real relationships. I think this is one of the reasons I’ve held myself back in the past.
I don’t need to go out into the real world and experience rejection when I have this person in my head who has most of the same problems as me, and people love her anyways. People in this world that’s in my head actually celebrate it when she’s vulnerable, instead of turning away because she seems pathetic or crazy.
I feel like I know what I want: I want to stop doing this. Mostly because I feel like no one could ever accept this in someone they would want as a long-term partner. But I also feel like life is so shitty sometimes. Why do I need to take away something that helps me?
My Secret Identity
I’m not sure this is a problem, MSI… certainly not in the way you think it is. I mean, your internal superhero is someone who has the same problems you have but has the strength and the agency to rise above them, the courage to love and be loved and the heart to care about the people around her. You’ve decided that since nobody’s going to save you, you’re going to save yourself and the people around you.
That doesn’t sound like a bad thing at all. That sounds like life goals to me. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with dreaming about being loved and accepted by the people around you, any more than having a power fantasy that comes down to “EVERYBODY LIVES!”
And while you may not be able to develop super powers, there’s literally no reason why you can’t be her, in your own way. Hell, you’ve already started taking steps in that direction with going back to school. That doesn’t strike me as being maladaptive; that strikes me as admirable and inspiring. That’s not crazy or weird at all. All she is doing is revealing to you the strength of heart and soul and will that you’ve always had inside of you and giving you the courage to make it real. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing. And anyone who thinks that’s bad or too weird clearly doesn’t get you and isn’t right for you.
I don’t see why you need to take that away or stop doing it, especially if it’s been a help to you. Hell, I think the fact that it’s helping you and driving you forward is the most important part. And if it’s motivating you to make your life better then why the fuck should you give it up?
Instead, I think you should take Super You as your inspiration and find ways that you can learn to incorporate her in your life. Maybe it would help you to write out her adventures. Maybe you can bring them to life, as a blog, as a book or as a comic.
Or you can use that inspiration to unlock the courage you have within.
Give yourself permission to be her—brave enough to reach out, strong enough to let herself be loved, resilient enough to bounce back from all the trials and tribulations that you and she have faced. Hell, lean into the superhero idea and give yourself a secret word that you can say lets you become her when you need that extra strength and valor. Let her give you the courage to connect with people and build those relationships you’re looking for. Let her motivate you to make the world a better place, even if it’s in small ways.
You may have noticed that the world’s a fucked up place right now, MSI. The planet’s on fire, Nazis are marching in the streets and the world could use a little hope. It could use someone who wants to make things better in any way they can.
It could use a hero like you.
And if the first life that you and she save together is your own? So much the better.
Hero time starts now.
Are you on the asexual spectrum? Have you been a survivor of abuse? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr. NerdLove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove YouTube channel. His new dating guide New Game : The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.