Honesty, Asexuality, and the Un-Recloseting

by Lindsay Miller

1. I can’t talk to my friends about this, because they all think my girlfriend and I have the perfect relationship. We met through Craigslist casual encounters, and started out as fuck buddies. Which was fun! No shame there. Gradually, we fell head over heels in love with each other. She was talking marriage by the fourth month we were together, all that kind of stuff. She was an AMAZING girlfriend who went over and above (weekly cookie care packages! lovely love texts nightly! sweetest letters ever!). I was a pretty good one, given the fact that I’m a sporadically employed undergraduate student who can’t afford things like surprise weekend getaways to the beach for birthdays.

And that’s the problem. She’s 27, I’m 21. Not a huge age gap, but significant in terms of life journey. She wants to have babies by the time she’s 30. I want to have babies … 10 years from now. She has a full-time job with benefits in a field she loves, I just interviewed for a position as a deli clerk. I live with my parents (I’m on break from college! It’s temporary!), she lives on her own and pays for everything.

We recently have been having Serious Talks about our relationship. She told me that she felt under-loved, so I stepped it up with the lovey notes, treats, cuddles, planning dates. She told me that she felt like I didn’t know what I wanted from my life and was changing it to suit her, so I laid it out in an email and asked her to respond either way with how she felt. It’s been a week and she hasn’t gotten back to me.

It might be the lack of reciprocity I’m able to give her, might be her falling out of love with me, might be the weather, but she’s been really … cool to me lately. Cool as in we haven’t had sex in two months. I asked her what was up, and she said she didn’t feel like I was giving enough and she was feeling hurt. She’s not really a penetration kind of girl (which is fine! I like touching her!), so I stepped it up with the back rubs, which is her preferred kind of touch … and still no sex. In our Serious Discussions, she said that she feels like I’m not giving love/affection/backrubs out of pure altruism, but that I expect something in return. I don’t know if I do! I just know that I miss getting fucked.

I’m staring at a Gchat she hasn’t responded to for an hour at my internship and about to cry. I don’t know what to do, or even what my question is. I can’t tell if we’re fundamentally incompatible, she’s just processing that I’m not going to be an equal partner for a while, or if I’m not loving her as she deserves.

Help. I love her terribly, and I don’t know what to do.

There’s a lot to tackle here. Let me start with “you initiated a serious where-is-this-relationship-going talk over email?” and slowly work my way up to “you guys should definitely break up.”

First of all, you initiated a serious where-is-this-relationship-going talk over email? That indicates to me that you two are having pretty serious communication issues. I can kind of see the email thing if you’re in an LDR, but if you live in the same city, you should be having those conversations face-to-face. The fact that you didn’t feel comfortable looking your girlfriend in the eyes and saying “this is where I think my life is going, and this is where I imagine you fitting into it” suggests that you don’t really feel comfortable being honest with her.

Now, yes, it’s harder to come up with a spur-of-the-moment monologue about your future together than television has conditioned us to believe, and there can be some merit to writing out your thoughts before you say them. Still, sending an email in lieu of having an actual discussion is a bad sign, and your girlfriend ignoring it for a week is an even worse one. The reason it’s so troubling is that communication is basically the Number One Big Thing a relationship needs, because no matter what conflicts you have, communication is how you resolve them. There’s no moving past a disagreement if you can’t talk about why you disagree and what you want to do about it.

You and your girlfriend have other problems, obviously. You’re at very different points in your life, and your timelines don’t match up well. Also, she thinks that physical affection is something you should provide (in the form of backrubs) without expecting her to return (in the form of orgasms). I am not really into “love is you doing whatever I want and not asking me to reciprocate” as a relationship model. There’s nothing wrong with having a low sex drive, but accusing you of selfishness because you gave her a massage is, frankly, bizarre. And there’s no way to solve any of these issues if you two can’t communicate with each other.

So, yes: You guys should definitely break up. It will be painful, because you love her despite your differences, but it will be for the best. You should be dating someone you can talk to openly, someone who wants to touch you as much as you want to touch her. And your soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend should be dating a nail salon massage chair.

2. Okay so I’m a 29-year-old bi/queer/occasional lady fucker, never thought much about the label as it’s not something I tell a lot of people. But let’s talk about one of the people I did tell: my husband of 10 years and father of my 7-year-old child. Way back when we were laying out plans for marriage and happily ever after, I told him that while I could promise him to never ever sleep with another man, once in a while I’d want a lady friend, and if he couldn’t deal with that, it was best that we didn’t get married. Initially he was like OH HELL YES and then some ground rules were drawn up: He wants to know her, she had to know I’m married, she wasn’t to be part of our little family unit, nothing long-term that took up a major amount of the him-and-me time. All of these were rules I could agree with, and off we went to the altar.

It was a couple years later before I stumbled into my first lady friend. I took her home for dinner so she and my husband could meet and greet, and I’ve fulfilled half my terms right there. About as soon as my husband figured out that he wasn’t invited into the sexy times, he threw a fit of unreasonable proportions and informed me that the deal was off, I was married to him and would not be fucking anyone else. End of story. Now several times over the past 10 years I’ve cheated on him, always with ladies, and justified it by saying it’ll only hurt him if he knows, plus he agreed, right? RIGHT? I know, I’m a bitch, a miserable cheating horrible person. Feel free to ream on me, you’re not saying anything I haven’t already to myself. Now, my husband is away for a year and I’ve found a lady that I’d really like to get to know. My guilt is creeping back in again, and I’d really like your opinion on what to do. I love my husband dearly, he’s an amazing man and a great father, and I certainly don’t want to leave him … but I feel cheated, even as I’m the one doing the cheating. Thoughts, please??

This is one of those letters that makes the limits of advice columns excruciatingly clear. This is one of those letters that sits in my inbox for months and months at a time, the ones I occasionally open, look at for a while, type a few sentences, sigh, erase what I’ve written, and close it again, because Jesus H. Christ, I can’t come up with anything useful to say. There is just nothing I can offer that will come close to extricating you from the situation you’re in. Either you cheat on your husband — excuse me, continue cheating on your husband — and lie about it and feel terrible, or you tell him what’s going on, running the risk that he’ll leave you and you’ll go through a divorce and your son will be upset and everything will be awful. Or, I guess, you stop having sex with women, but if you were going to do that you would have done it already. Basically, I am concerned that no matter what I tell you, I will be, in some small but measurable way, ruining your life.

But I feel so sad for you — I mean, you’re in such a tight corner that you’re requesting serious life advice from me. That’s kind of heartbreaking. I can tell from your letter that you’re feeling pretty alone right now, and you reached out to someone, and even though that someone is entirely unqualified to help you (honestly, I can’t stress this enough), you’re trying and that should count for something. So I haven’t been able to answer your letter, all these months, but I haven’t quite been able to delete it either. And thus, here we are.

Look, you are doing bad things, and you know you’re doing bad things. Cheating is bad. Lying is bad. They lead to ulcers and wrinkles and relationships built on dishonesty and being reincarnated as something gross. We don’t need to belabor this point. And you’re right that your husband has done bad things too — making promises prior to marriage which, it now seems obvious, he had no intention of keeping — although his mistakes do not excuse your own. But the question here isn’t “should you have cheated” or “should your husband have changed the rules without your input.” It’s “how do you move forward after the bad things you’ve done?”

I wish you had asked me for advice years ago, back when your husband first changed his mind about you and lady-sex. I would have told you then that you should not let this drop. You shouldn’t let him think he’s won the argument, and secretly nurse a grudge and feel betrayed for months or years until one day — surprise! — you cheat on him with a woman and feel justified because, after all, you told him this would happen. I would have told you then that your relationship needs honesty to survive, and if you don’t tell him how you’re feeling now, you’ll end up keeping much bigger secrets down the line.

And that’s what I have to tell you now, even though I know what a scary and risky and awful thing I’m suggesting. I have to tell you that if you don’t explain to your husband how you feel and what you need, it’s just going to get worse. The lies will get bigger and bigger, and your resentment toward him will get bigger and bigger to justify the lies, and maybe one day you’ll fall in love with one of the women you’re cheating with, and the fallout from that will be so much more devastating than if you start being honest now. Being honest will be hard. Being honest may break his heart. Being honest is not guaranteed to fix your life, or your marriage. But I still think you should do it, because living honestly with your pain and your mistakes is so much more free than living under the weight of all those lies.

Stay married or don’t. Fuck women or don’t. But tell your husband the truth.

3. Hey uh, I am also a queer chick! However, it’s been like five years since I was in a relationship with a lady, and since then I’ve moved cities, developed a new circle of friends, and changed my life in a bunch of ways. Very shortly after I moved I also got a Serious, Monogamous Boyfriend (SMB for short).

Not one for the Big Sit-Down Talk coming-out, and not a generally big talker about my love life, I only gradually realized I had … accidentally recloseted myself? And it just didn’t … seem like a big deal. It was irrelevant, with SMB and all. So I accepted folks’ presumption that I was hetero, started sorting myself in public that way, etc.

SO BASICALLY: errybody in my new life thought I was straight! Then I broke up with SMB, and oh wait, errybody in my new life still thought I was straight!

A couple of months ago, I was having a conversation with a couple friends, in which one friend was discussing her recent interest in ladyparts. I sort of unthinkingly started responding to stuff she was saying too … authoritatively? ANYWAY afterward I thought I had outed myself, and went and talked to her about it, and I hadn’t, but by starting the second conversation I’d called attention, so I did! I have since broached the subject with a few more people, though still a minority of my friends.

HOWEVER. Lately my heart/vagina has mostly been shootin’ its Cupid-arrows out at male-identified folk. I am currently vaguely involved with a Broody Musician Guy; I told him I’d dated women, and he turned out to have vice-versa’ed, and talking was great, but the whole conversation really felt like it was about the past. I don’t know how much it’s a fluid-sexuality thing vs. a Socialized That Way Because I’m Straight In Public thing, though.

I guess I have two possibly contradicatory questions.

One: How do I come out? Because this isn’t just, like, “oh, I’ve realized I’m queer, guys! No longer heterosexual!” This is, “yo, I had a fully functioning queer identity for years, but I unintentionally jumped back into the closet just in time to meet y’all! I’ve been implicitly lying about part of my identity/past for our entire friendship!” GAH. Do I just need to suck it up, bite the bullet, etc.? Or am I missing something key?

Two: Is coming out even a necessary part of the answer? I get that part of the reasoning behind “no” is that I don’t want to deal with this, blah blah denial discomfort blah cowardice blah. But at the same time, I feel weird about broadcasting my heart/vagina’s love for other heart/vaginas if I’m just going to go on shackling mine to heart/penises? Should I wait until I’m with a lady again? But then how does that ever happen? Is there any world where the part of me screaming “JUST BE STRAIGHT, YOU DID IT BY ACCIDENT, IT CAN’T BE HARD” is in any way justifiable?

I think it’s perfectly understandable, in a world that is so strongly skewed in favor of heterosexuality, that you feel your life might be easier if you lived as a straight lady. And I’m not going to judge you if you decide that’s how you want to play it. But I will tell you that, if you ever hope to have sex with a woman again, being straight is not your best strategy call.

Lesbians and bisexual girls en masse went through a phase about seven years ago where we were constantly getting crushes on straight girls, and it was a huge emotional roller coaster for us all. Every time they called us we would blush even if no one was around, and when they flirted in that platonic way straight girls do and played with our hair and called us pretty, we felt like we were going to catch on fire and die, and once or twice we got drunk and almost confessed our feelings but swallowed them just in time. Then one morning we all simultaneously woke up happy and clear-eyed and thought, “Wow, I’m so glad that’s out of my system.” Now? If we think there’s even a slight chance we might be developing an interest in a straight girl, we delete her number from our phone and avoid every place we’ve ever seen her, including the office where we both work. So if you want pussy to be an option any time in your future, you’re gonna need to put it out there that you’re queer.

Since you never really meant to be in the closet, you don’t have to explicitly and dramatically “come out,” unless you want to. Just gradually re-introduce your queerness into your everyday life. Drop an anecdote about your ex-girlfriend into conversation, or mention your crush on Alison Brie, or get a tattoo of Indigo Girls lyrics. If anyone expresses surprise that you’re into girls, be surprised that they’re surprised: You’ve never tried to hide it, you’ve just been on a streak of dating dudes recently. Don’t make a big deal out of it yourself, and in all likelihood no one else will make a big deal out of it either.

4. Since thinking about it seriously, it seems obvious to me that I am, in fact, asexual. I’ve never really been attracted to anyone — I fell into relationships because I was asked, and because it seemed like what I was supposed to do. I’ve had sex with a few different guys, and though I don’t regret it — because it brought me closer to them at a time when I needed it — it doesn’t do anything for me. I actually thought I might be gay in high school, until I realized that although I wasn’t into guys, there weren’t any girls I was interested in, either.

My problem is that I have a boyfriend, and I’m not sure how to reconcile the two things. Now that I’ve ascertained something about myself that sort of negates his traditional role, am I being an assholic fraud for not breaking up with him? I mean, he probably deserves someone who likes the whole sex thing instead of being secretly pissed off that we’re pausing Doctor Who, or someone who likes kissing him and isn’t just grossed out by all the bacteria. And even if I tell him in the interest of full disclosure and we stay together, that would put a ton of unfair pressure on him and his genitals.

The thing is, I really, really want to keep him. We live together, and I love having him around — he’s awesome and helpful and warm. My family loves him, we have similar values and life goals, and I truly look forward to seeing him when I come home. It would hurt beyond belief if we broke up. He has kind of a low sex drive anyway, but that might be partly because I never initiate it (something else to feel really guilty about). He’s very traditional, so suggesting he find some of his sex elsewhere wouldn’t work. I kind of just want to say fuck it, it’s worked so far, he doesn’t need to know, but again, that would make me a terrible person. Right?

It wouldn’t make you a terrible person, but it’s still not a very nice thing to do to someone you love. If he figures out on his own that you’ve never actually been attracted to him, he’s going to feel hurt and lied to — and if you’re planning to be with him for a long time, which it sounds like you are, I don’t think you can keep him from intuiting it sooner or later.

The better option is to tell him what’s up and let him make an informed decision on whether to stay with you. There are lots of ways for couples with mismatched sex drives to make things work if they want to, but he needs to know that’s what this is. Maybe he’d rather get sex on the side than break up with you; maybe he’d rather go without sex altogether. But maybe he’d rather find someone who’s as compatible with his libido as she is with his goals and values, and you need to give him the opportunity to make that choice for himself.

It’s scary to reveal something about yourself and risk rejection, but if you do it and the two of you stay together, your relationship will be stronger for it. And if you do it and you don’t stay together, your next relationship will be stronger because you’ll be honest with each other from the start.

Previously: Spectrums and Attractiveness

Lindsay King-Miller is also on Twitter. Do you have a question for her?

Photo by Anna Sedneva, via Shutterstock