For advice on dealing with the humans in your life

For advice on dealing with the humans in your life. What if you sent in a question to

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Does not being into makeup sex make me a jerk?

Unnamed querent: My partner and I sometimes have long, uncomfortable, late-night talks about whether or not I'm still sexually attracted to her. (I am.) 

And while SHE can articulately talk out her frustration and feel listened to, and while I can (successfully) explain that while I absolutely AM attracted to her, my sex drive isn't realistically going to be the same as it was when everything was fresh and new and we were just learning each others' bodies, etc... and while we BOTH do get to a stable point where everything feels (calmly, lovingly, comfortably) resolved, there is one short-term problem. She usually wants to have sex directly afterward as a form of physical catharsis. 

And while I am absolutely still attracted to HER, I am in no way turned on by any aspect of this particular conversation, particularly the subtle (perhaps imagined?) insinuation that if it isn't immediately punctuated by "proof" on my part that it calls into question all the progress made by the talk itself. Also, given that they often take place between midnight and 3am, I'm often both mentally and physically exhausted.

Can you think of any other ways I could help her to physically relax so she can literally just calm down and go to sleep, and/or for me to tactfully ask for a little time to separate the (uncomfortable) talk from our (otherwise enjoyable) sex so that her fears (that I'm sometimes doing it out of a feeling of obligation rather than true desire) aren't ironically realized? Or some other solution I haven't thought of yet?

[Note: Re-reading this email, it sounds like I'm asking to treat the symptom and not the cause, but I really do feel that our communication is strong, and that this issue, while it DOES come up with an infrequent but unfortunately predictable regularity, often related to outside stress and other factors, IS under control in the medium and long-term, but if you'd like to comment on the larger issue itself, I'd welcome your thoughts.]

RPM: First rule of sex, of course, is to say ‘no’ when you don’t want it. This is harder for men in this culture, because men are supposed to always want sex, and harder for women to accept that it really is just a low-libido moment and not disinterest. You’re not alone here. You probably already know, but just in case, I’m going to lead with the most important thing, the title of your email to me and of this post: not wanting sex at any particular moment doesn’t make you a jerk, and you have no obligation to engage in any sexual act that you don’t wish to. Duh. That’s true for everyone in every situation, just bears repeating occasionally.

You asked for alternate ways to help her relax after an intense conversation, so here’s a brainstorm list, some of which might be incompatible with you being exhausted: give her a massage. Ask to snuggle her while she masturbates, and murmur how hot she is into her ear while she does. Capitulate to the late wakeful night, open a bottle of wine and play some quiet music. Lie on top of her and relax your own body, slowly and consciously, muscle by muscle. Ask her to do that for you. Take a very warm shower with her. Read her a story out loud. Ask her to read you a story out loud. Make tea. Time her while she runs as fast as she can around the block six times and welcome her home with a big hug, a glass of water and a fuzzy robe. Find a good guided meditation/relaxation recording to put on. I bet you could make a list six times this long with a pen, some paper and fifteen minutes. Go.

Tact, shmact. You could try this: “I’m tired, and I love you and you’re super hot, and I can’t wait to have sex with you when I’m done feeling slightly insecure about not having more sex with you. Will you cuddle me tonight?”

A couple thoughts about the ‘larger issue,’ as you put it. You may already be addressing these.

A. Be sure you’re giving her lots of data points, at non-crisis moments, about how attractive and alluring you think she is. There are absolutely moments when you look at her and realize how attractive she is. I bet sometimes you don’t think to communicate that to her. Even if you don’t intend to initiate sex, don’t stifle an impulse to brush your hand across her thigh or kiss the back of her neck in that soft way or make bedroom eyes at her when it’s totally not appropriate or whatever it is that you do to flirt with her. I think this is important: don’t let a disinclination to engage in sex discourage you from the small sexy affections that you might otherwise deliver. We can all be sexy and communicate attraction without committing to delivering orgasms. Flirting shouldn’t go out the door when commitment comes in—it makes us feel special and wanted and, heck, doing it raises our libidos anyway.

B. Investigate your own feelings of sexual obligation. Your partner is reacting to her own insecurity, but she may also be legitimately reacting to a sexual inhibition that you are actually exhibiting. Obligation around sex is not sexy, and getting trapped into the mindset of owing someone physical favors is a downward spiral of not wanting sex, feeling bad about that, wanting it less as a consequence, feeling worse about that, and so on until you conclude that you’re just not a very sexual being when you’re in a long-term relationship.

This is a cycle I’ve been prone to in the past myself, so here are some of my own stumbled-upon tricks for breaking it and nurturing my sexuality back to health. I’d be delighted if anyone else found them useful.

1.     Be more selfish in bed for a while. If you feel like it’s your job in bed to always be giving pleasure, and you feel guilty relaxing and receiving, sex can become a burden to both partners. Relax and lie back in bed, and when you feel like you should be doing something, don’t. Try saying no to your urge to work hard three times, before you say yes once. Remind yourself that exhibiting sheer pleasure in response to someone else’s ministrations is also a huge gift, often a better one than your tongue on her clit, and it takes practice to be able to give that freely.
2.     Ask your partner for support in breaking the cycle. Ask her for reassurance that not wanting sex is okay. Ask her for reassurance that she enjoys giving you pleasure and that it’s ok for you to simply receive. Ask her for periods of time (a week? several weeks? a month?) when you both agree that you won’t have sex, so you can express yourself sexually and affectionately in a safe space that won’t be followed by a feeling that you need to ‘follow through.’ Asking for her support can have the bonus side effect of communicating to her in another way that your disinclination to have sex isn’t all about her and how attractive (or not) she is.
3.     Pay attention to the fantasies you have when you masturbate. Have any new ones cropped up lately? Any old ones faded? My own internal fantasy world will substantially shift and redefine itself several times a year. Sometimes I get into habits in bed based on what used to turn me on, and I am surprised to find they no longer work. Make new habits based on what turns you on now, whether that means you take different actions or say different things out loud or ask your partner to push different buttons. Anything that re-invigorates that feeling of sex as an exploration, and not a thing you go through the motions of. We do not plumb the depths and be done, here. It's a bottomless well.

That’s what I got. The way you wrote your question makes it pretty clear that nothing is really wrong, everything is fine and dealt with, totally handled and positive, only this minor awkward moment keeps coming up. I talk about my life that way a lot too. So, you know, you probably don’t need most of this advice and it probably doesn’t really apply to you.  But thank you for giving me the chance to chew on sexual obligation for a little bit. It’s a pet puzzle of mine.

Anyone have other thoughts or suggestions for this questioner? Put ‘em in the comments! And write in your own questions too, to

Love to you all!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

He's so great...but so is he...

D writes: Hello What If.

Here's my problem. I have been in a relationship with a really nice guy for 4 years now. We are good friends, we have lots in common and get along really well. He is super sweet, the ice to my fire. He's just fine, nothing at all wrong with him. I'd describe our relationship as vanilla pudding.


Recently I came into contact with someone I've known since 4th grade. We were friends, but then he had to go do his bad boy thing and we fell out of contact.

Now I'd just like to take this opportunity to say that I had a kiddie crush on him in elementary, and then a huge crush on him when I got older, but as things never worked out I just kind of gave up hope. Also, I'd like to say that I have never ever stopped thinking about him the whole time we were out of touch (7 years). In fact, I have had dreams about him over the years, and from talking to him recently, found out they were true dreams!

Anyway, I was ok with my relationship with my boyfriend until I came into contact with my old friend. Now I have the opportunity to see if we could work out. But should I?

I've spent so much time with my current boyfriend. We have so many threads of our lives entangled. All my family and all my friends just love him. We have cats together. And we do get along pretty darn well, and in case you're thinking I'm not attracted to him, that's not true, I am.

But I know that I don't love him as much as he loves me. I actually told him that once, and he's such a sweet man he just thought it was nonsense. But even though I feel affection for him, I know that I'd be just fine and dandy without him around.

This other guy, my long lost friend...I just adore him. I know a lot of the mistakes he's made in his life (and he's made some big ones) but I love love love him. I don't love him for who he may be someday, I love him as he is now. I don't care about his past, it's what makes him who he is. The problem is, we're not really as compatible as me and my boyfriend are!

I would describe my relationship with my boyfriend as the most excellent arranged relationship in the world. If for some reason I was being forced to be with him it would be ok. If we got married, we'd be fine. Moderately happy. I'd resent him sometimes because I'd feel like I sold out for convenience, but overall we'd have a happy enough life.

On the other hand, I can try with my long lost friend, see how it goes, and possibly get my heart broken or have it all lead nowhere and lose my good, safe relationship in the meantime.

What do you think?? Stay with my sure shot, who I do care for? Or go out on a limb, see what could happen in the scenario I know already will be rocky?
~D for Dichotomy

Hello, D.

This is a question with more than one right answer. In no particular order, here are some scattered thoughts about it; see if anything strikes a chord. No matter what you choose to do, you will learn something.

Something to consider: the potential relationship you have with your old friend is pure fantasy. And the most compelling thing about fantasy is that it is perfect, perfect, perfect. Chances are, if you dump your boyfriend and pursue the old crush, even if it turns out the crush reciprocates, you’ll find yourself in another relationship with fading excitement. 4 years of anyone is enough time to settle into a routine. Keep that in mind when you’re evaluating potential futures.

One thing to do at this point is take this opportunity to check in with your current relationship for its own sake.  You sound bored. Try talking to your partner about it. If you let him know you’re feeling restless and mundane in your relationship, the two of you might be able to stoke the fire you’re craving.  If you’re feeling brave, let him know about your crush. While it might hurt him, it might also provoke the kinds of conversations that unearth whatever is subtly dissatisfying about your relationship. The way a relationship handles stress can either strengthen it or bust it apart—and it sounds like you need one or the other right now, and it doesn’t really matter which.

If you leave your boyfriend, you may or may not end up with the new guy. It’ll be hard and complicated and painful and difficult to explain, and then everyone will eventually heal. Something you will certainly gain is some freedom. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for.

Consider being with your current boyfriend for the rest of your life. Does that make you feel peaceful and happy, or filled with slight dread?

An option to consider, if you’re willing to be a little unconventional: some couples choose to maintain a committed relationship with each other while permitting other romantic relationships on the outside. It’s called polyamory, and it works very well for some people and absolutely horribly for others. If you and your boyfriend are open to it, it’s definitely something to enter into slowly, with much conversation and communication and patience, and a commitment to taking care of all parties involved and stopping if it gets too painful. It’s not an easy road, but if navigated successfully, then you get to have both your perfect relationship at home, and the thrill of satisfying your curiosity about the man you know isn’t right for you but you’ve dreamed about for years. If you choose to try, google it and spend some time together learning about ways to do it and common mistakes.

So…there are three right answers:
A) Stay and work on putting raisins and cinnamon into your current vanilla pudding relationship. (Yum!)
B) Leave, chase the delicious-looking molten chocolate cake that might give you food poisoning, fling yourself on the winds of fate, brace yourself for tears and see what happens.
C) Try to have your pudding and eat cake too, in an open, honest, consensual way.

There are two wrong answers, which I didn’t cover but may as well mention:
D) Pine silently and grow bitter.
F) Cheat.

As long as you stick with one of the first three, you’ll be fine. Really. Let us know how it goes.

As always, leave me comments! And write your questions to!


Friday, November 19, 2010

Whose job is that?

Tangled writes: Let's say, hypothetically, that I was in a relationship with someone who was also in a relationship with someone else.  Let's call my partner Brook and Brook's partner Chris.  And let's say that I knew Chris but we weren't close.  I think it would likely be in my best interest to support Brook and Chris' relationship and accommodate it as much as possible while still maintaining my happiness with my relationship.  

This question is about morality though.  What level of responsibility do I have to Chris and their relationship?  Is it immoral if I don't actively engage with Chris so I know what Chris wants and needs?  Is it immoral to ask for things from Brook that I want but know will hurt the other relationship?  What if I don't need them but they would be nice?  Most importantly, is it wrong to consider my feelings more important than Chris' feelings?  


As a pragmatist, this is what I’ve observed: when people start taking unbidden responsibility for other peoples’ relationships, good things rarely happen. I’m inclined to believe that the impulse to do so is misplaced and shows a lack of respect for the people whose relationship it actually is, while breeding resentment in the heart of the responsibility-taker who probably has enough to deal with in his or her own relationships.
However, you do have a relationship with Brook, and Brook does have a relationship with Chris, and there is a certain kind of emotional transitive property operating there that puts you on the hook for taking care of Chris. But it has to come through Brook.
Since polyamorous relationships aren’t as common as monogamous ones, there isn’t a standard cultural contract that can be assumed to be in place. In a monogamous relationship, certain things are taken for granted (no sleeping with other people) that don’t even need to be explicitly addressed; they are the default and everyone in this culture more or less understands that, whether or not they uphold them. A poly relationship has fewer default settings in that regard, so the burden is on the participants to carefully delineate what, exactly, they expect from each other with regard to other partners.
How much moral responsibility you have for Brook and Chris’s relationship depends very much on two things: the contract that exists between Brook and Chris, and the contract that exists between you and Brook. You are only responsible for upholding the latter, but Brook needs to insist on drawing up your contract such that it honors the former. (Or, if that isn’t possible, Brook needs to alter the former such that it honors the latter. This isn’t a simple process; it involves time and back-and-forths; it is worth everybody’s patience to find agreement, or one of the relationships will give.)
So: What level of responsibility do you have to C&B’s relationship? You have exactly as much responsibility to Chris as your contract with Brook states. There is no absolute, objective moral requirement for what goes into that contract except that you and Brook agree on it; and I would say the moral burden is on Brook for ensuring that the two contracts are not mutually exclusive. Of course, you can and should help with that, and engaging with Chris directly is a great idea that will probably make everyone's lives easier, but it isn’t your job (unless your contract with Brook asks for that.)
Is it immoral to ask for what you want, knowing it may hurt the other party? No. It is never, never immoral to ask for what you want. It is Brook’s responsibility to behave in a manner consistent with both contracts (which may involve saying ‘no’ to you), or, if that is impossible, to attempt to change the contracts. It’s your job to be patient and understanding with that process, which may be full of missteps and take a while to figure out; this shit is complicated and emotional and there’s no handy cultural blueprint for how to do it.
This is important: the worst thing you can do, ever, is say that you approve of some aspect of your contract that you are not okay with. If it feels unbalanced or bad or is something that doesn’t feel right to you, you have not just the right, but the obligation to say no. It’s very tempting to say okay when it isn’t, for a variety of reasons; to seem strong & cool, or because of feeling bad for having caused pain, or having pushed too far on another point, or… I’m here to say that signing up for things that don’t feel good is cruelty to both yourself & your partner, and it’ll getcha in the end if you do.
This is also important: If you break the previous rule, which is sometimes hard to keep, you need to forgive yourself and try again. Not everyone knows what they want right away, and being in a poly relationship can involve occasionally finding out what you don’t want in somewhat painful ways. That’s ok. Take a deep breath, shed some tears, try to figure out what you learned and communicate it. If you can do this together in a positive way, you’ll be stronger for the mistakes.
Your last question: is it wrong to consider your feelings more important than Chris’s? That’s one that I would try to rephrase. Objectively, your feelings are not any more important than Chris’s, and Chris’s feelings are not any more important than yours. But because you are stuck inside your brain, with your heart and your perceptions and your knowledge of your relationship, you are only ABLE to deal with yours. Trying to take Chris’s feelings on is a disastrous idea, because you have NO IDEA what’s going on in there. It would be rude of you to try. It’s like being the general manager of QFC and making decisions for the neighboring Safeway. What are you doing in there? You don’t know shit about Safeway. Take your pricing gun and your spreadsheets back home and talk to your own damn employees.
Right? Good luck, Tangled.


How’d I do? Leave your additions, complaints, and/or expletives in the comments. And please, for the love of God, write me a question! So far I have answered 100% of the questions I have received!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Besotted Instructor

Unnamed Querent: Ok, so my yoga teacher here is awesome. He's kicked my ass three days a week for the last two years, is inspiring and full of all sorts of sound life advice, and I generally adore him and love taking his class. His wife teaches in the studio next door, they've been married for 25 years or so, and they are both high up on the list of Oklahoma's redeeming qualities. 

Recently a gorgeous exchange student and some of her friends started taking our class. I think everyone of any gender in a ten mile radius is magnetically attracted to her, myself definitely included. Unfortunately my teacher wasn't spared, has totally succumbed to her hotness, and now spends most of class giving her various assists as an excuse to touch her - which she seems way less into than he is. I'm sure this is one of the perks and hazards of any yoga instructor's life, and I don't really begrudge him the occasional crush on a student, but it's getting a little out of hand - he forgets cues, ignores everyone else in class, and generally makes the normally very restful and centering yoga experience kind of awkward and uncomfortable. A bunch of other people in class have complained about it, including this student's friends, but I don't think anyone has mentioned it to our instructor. 

I feel very loyal to my teacher, and it would take a lot more than this to make me stop going to his class. It's also a temporary situation, since she is, like I said, an exchange student, and won't be here for that long. So... do I sit tight and ignore it, try to breathe through my irritation, and wait for her to go away? Do I lovingly tell my teacher "hey! You're making me uncomfortable, and your teaching is suffering." ? He hasn't done this with anyone else since I started class, so I don't think it's a habit for him, but I'd hate for it to become one, and I really would like to be able to pay attention in class again. What would you do?

Good question! This really depends on your comfort level with intervening and your relationship with your teacher. Given that the situation is inherently temporary, it is not at all a bad idea to use this as an excuse to practice deepening your focus in the face of irritation. The stakes are low, and things will go back to normal eventually, and it is neither your responsibility nor your business, really. Breathe deep and wait.

But if you, like me, relish awkward, head-on, over-honest communication and the growth that it inspires, you should totally clue your teacher in. Here’re my thoughts about that.

Chances are good that he’s unaware of the obvious and distracting nature of his crush. By alerting him to the effects on his class, you’re doing him a favor, and, if he’s as good a teacher as you say he is, you’re doing your whole class a favor, because any teacher who cares will course-correct when confronted with a mistake. And if you can alert him in a compassionate and understanding way, you might just have a chance at alleviating a serious emotional pressure on him.

/Wild speculation interlude: The fact that this is interfering with class to the extent you describe may indicate that his feelings are intense and perhaps a little out of his control. Since most adults, particularly those who have made it into marriage, have experienced intense crushes before, there may be something else at play that’s causing him to react so overtly. What if he’s feeling guilty for his reaction to this woman? The forbidden nature of his feelings and his refusal to accept them may be the reason that he’s spiraling into uncomfortable levels of attentiveness to her—nothing seduces us into losing control like the idea that something’s off limits. If that’s true, a casual, normalizing approach (“hey, dude, everybody’s got a crush on this woman, yours is impinging on class time, no big deal, totally understandable, just thought I’d mention that it’s noticeable”) could help him recognize that his feelings are acceptable and normal, if humility-inspiring, and that his reactions to them are controllable. /speculation

Regardless of whether he’s guiltily burning with desire or just being clueless around the pretty girl, it will be useful for him to receive the message. If you have the opportunity to wait after class and speak with him alone, you can address him about it then—if there are too many people lingering after class, send him an email.

Let him know that you think he’s awesome and you’ve loved his class for two years. Let him know that you need to communicate with him because you have the perception that he’s spending an abnormal amount of time working with this woman since she joined the class. Tell him that the imbalance in time spent, and the fact that other people have noticed it and mentioned it too, makes you uncomfortable during class. Ask him to redistribute his attention to the rest of the students. Tell him, as you wrote me, that this isn’t something that would make you stop coming, just something you have noticed often enough in class that it is prompting this feedback. Thank him for listening, let him know it’s not that big a deal, react to any defensiveness with understanding.

Beware: by doing this, you will risk making classtime doubly uncomfortable for you for a little while. He’ll be more self-conscious around you next class, and maybe for the rest of the classes that contain the exchange student. However, you stand to gain a much stronger friendship with him via straightforward communication, and you have a very good chance of having a more balanced class.  Your classmates will be grateful for the change.

If he continues this behavior even after such a direct confrontation, then he’s not as good a teacher as you say he is. If he’s simply the dirty-old-man type who’s completely unrepentant of his preference for the supermodels, you may just be out of luck, but at least you will have made yourself heard.

Confronting him won’t be socially easy or risk-free, but it’s one of those juicy encounters that carry the potential energy for real change for both participants. It’s not the only way to handle the situation, but it would be a brave, cool move and I’d salute you for it.

Good luck! If you do it, leave a comment and let us know how it went!
Have something to add to this answer? Leave a comment! Other questions out there? Send questions via email to Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 11, 2010

More advice than he asked for

My second question! I'm noticing that I ought to learn how to edit. As before, drop me a comment if you have anything to add or there's something here that doesn't ring true.

Querent: Recently I started seeing a new woman. Even factoring in the new relationship sparkle, things looked promising.

However, I'm in a long term open relationship with two other women, and one of those relationships has been rocky for a while. My fiancée became challenged by my new relationship, asked for a week where I would not see the new partner so we could focus on our issues. The new partner was extremely supportive of this, though we've maintained contact over texts and she's expressed several times this week that she's missed me.  

On the home front, this was a challenging week, including several times where I told my fiancee that I did not see her and me working out, followed by tearful reconciliations and promises on both sides to work harder.

I cannot say I am entirely hopeful of my current situation with my fiancée lasting, but I want to have tried my best. When she told me that she cannot support my new relationship, I was hurt but understood where she was coming from, and agreed to her terms (specifically, that I could maintain a friendship with this new woman, even have limited intimate exchanges, but nothing involving genitalia and not being involved to a level that would constitute a "relationship"...a term I find horribly vague but understand her meaning).

Now, here's my question. My soon-to-be ex is away this weekend, but we've been exchanging regular texts that are often flirtatious.  I certainly don't want to be a douche and communicate this news over text, but waiting until she returns feels like torture and responding to her as if nothing is different feels disingenuous. Should I break the news to her over the phone? Drop her a hint over text that we need to talk in person?  I really want to maintain a friendship with her, and even though it's possible that my fiancées comfort might change, I also don't want to string this new woman along by giving her false hope.

~Polysaturated in Arcata

RPM: First a quick note to my non-pro-polyamory readers: We could go round and round about whether the relationship setup that PiA has described is a good idea in the first place. For the sake of brevity, however, (too late) I'm going to take the poly-relationship setup as a given, and respond just to the stated tension in the question.

Now, Polysaturated: The question you actually asked is pretty simple. Obviously, the most truly douche-y thing to do is to continue to flirt with the new girl via text message; that's a violation of your honesty with her and a compromise of the agreement you've made with your fiancée. The second-douchiest is to break up with her via text message. (I did that to someone once and, though we do remain friends, he mentions it whenever he feels like seeing me cringe. Then he laughs heartily at my expense. It's good times.) Texting her that something's up and that you should speak in person when she returns will only prompt a 'WTF is going on?' text, which will then lead you right back to douche-door #2. Give her a call and let her know what's up. Long emails work too, if the phone feels too awkward. But for God's sake, yes, communicate the change in status with her ASAP, for the sake of everyone's sanity and no one's misapprehension.

The question implicitly posed by your scenario is more layered. You're doing the right thing by respecting your fiancée's wish that you back off of this new relationship. The forcing function of the week of respite sounds like it's brought some of your issues to the surface--by giving yourselves a week to "work on" whatever's going on between you, you've given yourselves an artificial deadline and a focus on the problems. Here's what I think about that: yay for space, yay for conversations about the hard stuff, yay for a dedication to addressing issues. Boo for the unrealistic expectation that ANYTHING involving major relationship turmoil can be addressed in anything resembling a week.

Whatever the rocks in your relationship consist of, the fact that they've been present for "a while" means that it's unlikely you'll suddenly have some mutual revelation about how to communicate better, and then things will all be fixed. What you're looking at is months or years of being patient with each other, accepting that these things are going to be hard, and working on gaining each other's trust that you're both looking out for the other as well as yourselves where this stuff is concerned. I'm being vague here because I don't know what the issues are. But there's a reason that I'm emphasizing the time it will take.

You wrote, "I cannot say I am entirely hopeful of my current situation with my fiancée lasting, but I want to have tried my best." Not "I want to TRY my best--" you're already looking ahead to the point *after* you've officially given up, and evaluating how to feel good about the relationship being over. Which sounds like you may already have made up your mind, which, if true, suggests a couple of possibilities to me:
A) You're fantasizing about your current relationship being over so you can get back together with your new girl, with whom things are all great and uncomplicated because it's new. You think that she's the one you should REALLY be with, and that you wouldn't have to compromise yourself or have these kinds of problems with her. You'd be madly in love, the sex would always be great, you'd go on impressing each other until you grew old together and you'd understand each other MUCH better than you and your fiancee currently do.

B)  You already know that the issues you have with your fiancee are intractable. You won't budge, she won't give an inch, both of you have good points, and you should really be with other people. You're not quite willing to admit this yet because you've spent time imagining your life with her and change is hard and painful and you don't want to hurt her, but it's a foregone conclusion.

 If A) is mainly what's going on, then it's going to be distracting until your excitement about the (now thrillingly forbidden) new girl fades, which is going to take a WHILE. That's gonna be hard and painful and sad for months before you can even deal with the actual issues in your committed relationship, because you're going to be grieving or pining after this new one. So you'll have to ride it out and only then get to the meat of what's really going on. If your fiancée is someone you have ever been convinced you wanted to marry, chances are good that it's worth it, but it will take patience. I recommend all the cheesy restore-the-romance stuff that all the checkout stand magazines champion--don't spend ALL your time hashing out the yucky stuff. Have some fun together.

Now, if B) is mainly what's going on, you should take whatever time is necessary to confirm it and get closure, and then end your relationship in as nice a way as is possible. But here's the deal. B) is completely contaminated by A). No matter how objective you think you're being, the lure of the new relationship is powerful and could trick you into thinking your current relationship is just broken when it isn't. So if you decide B) is what's going on, and you decide to end the relationship, it would be ideal if getting back together with this new girl was no longer an option. You heard me. You have to deal with ending your current relationship without the Christmas-morning lure of crying about it in your new lady's arms. Otherwise, you'll never convince me it wasn't A) all along.

So break up with your new girl. And in order to keep things clear, agree with yourself that you are dealing with your current engagement on its own terms, and you will not date the new woman, ever, if you leave the current relationship.

Does that suck for you? Yes. Yes it does. But that's what you signed up for when you asked this woman to marry you: a serious affirmation that you will be honest about doing what it takes to make it work, if it can. And you cannot do that with bait on a string somewhere else.

But anyway, yeah, call her.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Abusive dads, once we're all grown up.

Unnamed querent:     My father, who I'm beginning to realize is verbally abusive (given
his pattern of explode then apologize explode then apologize),
exploded at me and my family last week. We had been staying with them
for a couple of months trying to pitch in with as much cooking and
cleaning as we could. We had worried that our presence would be an
imposition, and we continually checked in to make sure that they were happy
with our being there and asked if there was anything else we could do.
A month and a half into our stay, my father retired and began to spend
a lot of time around the house. Then, one morning, he stomped into our
room, waking us up, and told us that we hadn't done the dishes last night
(which we had). When I told him we did, he told us, "This is my house
and you have one hour to get out and don't steal anything on your way
out." So, we packed up our car and decided to drive back home, as we
didn't really have anywhere else to go. Now my step-mother is mad at
us because we didn't "stay and talk" and my father still isn't
speaking to us. I hate this feeling of disconnection, but I'm also
beginning to think that my daughter might be better off without my
father in her life. I spent my childhood walking on eggshells around
my dad, I don't want her to go through the same thing.

    My question is this: should I reach out and try to make amends with my
father despite the fact that I actually want him in my life? Should I
wait for him to reach out to me? Should I ignore the whole thing and
say "good riddance" since it appears he is finally out of my life and
away from my daughter?

RPM: First: really impressive job escaping the abusive situation as soon as it escalated, and thereby protecting your daughter and yourself. It’s clear you’ve learned when to engage and when to step back, for the emotional safety of everyone. You rock.

There’s not a hard and fast “should” here around reconciliation, and there’s certainly no time limit. You deserve as much time as you need in order to feel ready to speak to him again—and if that means you never do, that’s ok too. There’s no objective scale on which Life Is Better If you’re on speaking terms with your abusive dad.

If it’s bugging you that you’re not, and especially if you want to maintain a relationship with your stepmom, then at some point, when you’re ready, it’s reasonable to try and dive back into the fray. People who know more than me about abusive parental relationships say: clear boundaries are good. If the person you are talking to exhibits signs of blowing up or becoming aggressive, give them one clear, calm warning that you are not available to be spoken to in that way, and if the abuse continues, walk away calmly, as you’ve already done once before. Let some time pass until you feel up to it, and then try again if you wish.

Walking away is not a failure. It’s part of the process and it may take several (or an infinite number of) attempts to help your dad understand the effect of his behavior on you. If you try, then the fact that you’re trying is generous of you, and probably will be painful, and is awfully brave, and (let me reiterate) you rock. You have absolutely no responsibility to include anyone abusive in your life, but it’s also not stupid of you to try. This is utterly up to you and what you think will make you happy (or less unhappy, as the case may be.)

As far as your daughter goes: by all means, protect her from this influence while she’s too young to understand what’s going on. Your instincts are trustworthy. This isn’t to say it’s a terrible idea to ever let them see each other, but you always have the right to walk away with her when things get explosive again. Once she grows up enough to wonder why you never talk to Grandpa, or why Grandpa is sometimes really mad, or why you’re always so jumpy around him, she deserves as clear an explanation as she can comprehend about mental illness, irrational emotion, and abusive patterns, and at some point she’ll be old enough to make her own decision about how much exposure she wants to pursue or allow. By that point, of course, she’ll be the strong, self-confident young woman you raised, and much less vulnerable to believing negative things about herself or tolerating attacks on her character.

Hang in there! You’re dealing with a rough situation in a super brave, proactive way already, and you’re far away from him now, so take all the time and space you need to figure this out.


P.S. Readers, since this is the first real question I’ve answered in this forum, I welcome feedback in the comments or via email. How'd I do? What other thoughts didn't I say that would be useful to my first querent?

Thanks so much for reading and asking! As always, please email your questions to for the pubic musing for the benefit of others.

My first question!

...once I let a select few know that I was writing a brand new advice column, the first question back was:

     What name are you writing under?

Good question. When I was ordained as a Universal Life Church minister two years ago, the first couple who asked me to officiate at their wedding ordained me the Reverend Princess Morty, or RPM. In gratitude for that moniker, RPM is my tagline here.

Send questions to!


What if I did?

'Cause I think it would be fun to spend all day having opinions about other peoples' relationships. For reals. This is probably one of those things that only seem like a really great idea at 3:44am, which is to say, one of the only things worth doing. My predicted attention span for this is about a month, but it could be years! Maybe for the rest of my life! You never know when your true vocation is going to come dropping out of the sky at 3:46am.

This is just practice for me, y'all, 'cause I don't have any sort of qualifications except that I think people are crazy awesome and I could spend all day trying to figure them out. So if you send me a question, you're really being very nice to me and I'll try to be nice back and say something useful. And if I get shit wrong, you could TOTALLY correct me in the comments and we could have that thing the kids used to call a 'flame war' and I think that's supposed to be fun too.

This is for questions about all your relationships--not just the ones that have to do with sex. Ask here about dealing with parents, friends, bosses, coworkers, acquaintances, imaginary companions. I will answer all the questions I can. If I ever say something smart you should tweet about it to everyone you know. Otherwise, you know, keep it to yourself, 'kay? I didn't come here to be ridiculed.

unless I did. That part is sort of confusing at 3:49am.

Just...send questions to and we'll see what happens!

Thanks y'all.