Normal and not so

Is it strange to be engaged to a man who doesn't want to have sex? And what about a girlfriend who's gone Republican?

Published February 19, 2002 8:35PM (EST)

Dear Readers,

Hope you had a good Valentine's Day. Crusty and iconoclastic rebel that I am, I resent the fact that some great czar of the collective heart has ordained that on this day we will be reminded that we have a friend in the diamond business and be given heart-shaped Mylar balloons.

Even the Italian restaurant my wife and I ate in on VD was serving pasta shaped like little hearts, which melted my heart a little, but not enough to overcome my sense that this is one more holiday that might have started out as something cool and wild but has been bought and paid for by capitalist philistines. So I celebrated it with surrealist poems and with continued feverish work on my own novel, which is indeed one day soon going to be finished.

Dear Cary,

I'm a youngish guy who dates frequently and have come to discover something disturbing over the course of my last several dates. Namely, that I'm too weird for all the normal women I meet and too normal for all the weird women I meet. What on earth do I do? I feel if I don't resolve this dilemma I'm going to wind up like Steve Buscemi in "Ghost World," except I won't be sleeping with Thora Birch.

Stuck in the Middle

Dear Stuck,

I keep meaning to see that movie. I hear it's really good. But what do you do? You just keep dating. And maybe -- Oh, here, this is it: I was out at Fort Funston in San Francisco this morning, walking the dogs, and there used to be those giant guns out there to protect the California coast from Japanese attacks, and I was thinking about how the gunners would get the range. They wouldn't hit the first target they fired at. They'd see where the shell landed, and then they'd adjust. And fire again. And adjust. And bit by bit, by firing and adjusting, they got closer and closer. Really, that's what I was thinking about.

And dating is the same way: You see how close you got, and you adjust your aim, and you adjust your target. You collect coordinates: Let's see, last date had three colors of hair and 17 piercings, I wasn't weird enough for her, but the sorority girl before her didn't even know who Steve Buscemi was, I was too weird for her, so I'll search for a girl with maybe one color of hair, five piercings and at least a rudimentary knowledge of, say, R. Crumb and who has seen, maybe, "Ghost World" and would like to see "Amelie," if she hasn't already.

Break the problem down into its constituents and triangulate!

Good luck. You sound like a pretty cool guy.

Dear Cary,

I've been dating the same guy going on five years. The first year, in which we had great sex, was spent long distance, then during the second year I moved to his state and we moved in together. The third year we bought a house together, and during the fourth year we got engaged. We are now five months away from the actual date.

As soon as I moved in with him, our sex life began to dwindle. First once a week, and now maybe once every four to six months. I kept a journal and wrote several letters to my partner about our diminishing sex life. I wanted to keep open communication about it so that we wouldn't end up where we are today, which is a very sexless relationship. It is not even about the sex, but the intimacy at this point. I'm 28 and he's 32.

Occasionally his penis does not work. I usually just would not say anything and tried to ignore it so he wouldn't feel embarrassed. And I've read books on how the mental state and the physical element are tied very closely together. (Something I think he has no clue about.)

I don't want to get married if we can't find a way to be comfortable with each other sexually. I've been seeing a therapist for the last few months, and my partner finally agreed to come with me this week. I've been trying to separate myself from the situation and not take things personally so I can see what is really going on.

In the last three years his company has exploded. He went from one person to 40 people working for him. He is stressed out, never happy, never available for me, works seven days a week if he can, always trying to catch up, and by the time he does come home or does take a day off, he is so exhausted that he has nothing left in him except to relax. And he has gained about 35 pounds in the last three years.

I'm bored. Questioning everything. Although I look at him and love him with all I've got, I am lost on what to do. I keep telling him that we need to have something that we like to do together, like hiking or mountain biking or something fun, so that it will be good for us to get out and enjoy nature together.

I have initiated sex many times, and he has simply rolled over without interest. Believe me, I have tried everything, even oral sex. Which used to be an easy turn-on.

Is he having an affair? I know I think about being with other people now, just so I can have some attention, just so I can feel good about myself. Not that I would, but my heart is sad that I have no sexual energy in my life.

Nothing would make me happier than to come out on the other side with him. If a couple can conquer a sexless relationship, can't they conquer anything? But is it really possible?

Desperately Trying

Dear Desperately Trying,

What a compassionate and positive person you are. You have done everything and it hasn't worked and you still look on the bright side and hold out hope for the best result. And so I join you in that spirit of hope, but I also caution you not to get married yet. Not until you really see what's going to happen, until you feel confident that it won't be a sexless marriage. Because if the relationship has gone dead, for whatever mysterious reason, if you get married you will be compounding the problem.

I can't think of anything you haven't already thought of. Perhaps by the time you read this you and he will have visited the therapist together and the therapist may have pushed the issue forward a little. Maybe the therapist will have asked him some more direct questions or will have gotten him to open up a little. He may be having an affair, or he may be satisfying himself in some other way. How can you know? At a certain point I think you have to realize that, from what you have said so far, sad as it may sound, you may have to admit that this relationship is beyond retrieving. You may have to leave him. And your marriage is fast approaching, so you have to make a decision soon.

Why not try one more time to get him to tell you what's going on? Tell him directly that unless things get better, you're going to call off the marriage. And don't get married unless you're sure. It will just be that much more trouble later to make the necessary changes.

Dear Cary,

I need some good sound advice. I have been friends with "L" for five years. In the time since I have moved overseas, the last two years, she has morphed into a cranky, right-wing nut. As I am about six years older than her, any attempt to lay down basic facts comes off as condescension in her eyes. I see her about once a year because neither one of us has any money to speak of -- she's poor, she's a woman, she used to identify as bisexual (I am afraid to ask now), and she's a Republican. And she is shacked up with some guy who I know nothing about except that he is old enough to have grandchildren and he takes her out into the hills on the weekends to "squeeze off rounds."

I have experience dealing with situations with my parents, who are also Republicans living near the poverty line (that always just kills me). I know the best way to deal with them is to just not discuss politics and religion. I love my parents and I know I am about as likely to convert them to liberal tree-hugging as they are to convince me George Bush Jr. is anything more than a brain-dead puppet. It's just not going to happen and we accept that and go on. But with "L," I just can't stop trying. She's young, you know?

But lately our mails have become tense and nervy, and short. I want to be there for her in the right way, the way she needs. I want to be a good friend to her. Should I just lay off with the proselytizing, like I have with my folks, and hope for the best? Or should I keep sending the N.O.W. and IndyMedia links? Please help me on this one; I really love "L" and I am losing sleep worrying that my funny, wild, open-minded friend has been lost to the dark side forever.

Darn My Bleeding Heart

Dear Bleeding Heart,

I wonder if you can do both, that is, keep sending her the stuff but lay off, that is, let go of the results. Is she OK with you sending the stuff? Did you ask her? Because here's the thing: People want to be accepted the way they are, and people have to acquire knowledge experientially, by going down certain paths until something falls on their head and then they turn and try a different path. You've got to do what you've got to do: send her the information. And she's got to do what she's got to do: read it or not read it.

It sounds as if you reached some kind of understanding with your parents, and you could reach a similar understanding with your friend, couldn't you?

I wouldn't try to change anybody's politics. If you and she both enjoy arguing about politics, well, that's cheap entertainment up to a point. And it might make it interesting for you if you take on the project of just really trying to understand where she's coming from. If her politics don't make sense in a logical way, try to figure out if it's a cultural thing, or a psychological thing, or what. Sometimes certain politics cure people of fear, or ameliorate guilt, or contribute to a secret image they have of themselves. It's not always about having read all the policies. In fact, it rarely is. For most people, politics are an extension of identity. Which is a shame if you ask me, because art is a better way to express yourself than belonging to a political group.

But anyway, that's what I think: Show her respect, don't expect her to be converted, but if she's OK with it, keep putting out your viewpoint. And, who knows, maybe she and her man will take you out shooting. It might be fun, squeezing off a few rounds.

Dear Cary,

I have a very loud neighbor who recently moved into the apartment above me. I have a keener sense of hearing than most people do, but this person is disturbing not only my sleep but also my inner equilibrium. He plays his music way too loud (which we talked about when he first moved in) and is generally heavy on the floorboards.

The worst part is he has sex with his girlfriend so loudly I can hear every moan and groan, and I think there's a chance that one day they may come through the ceiling. It's disturbing to come to consciousness due to an intimate human noise issued by a stranger in a room above you.

I've tried ear plugs but they just fall out. Should I try to talk to him again? Are there rules about apartment living in this type of situation? How do I bring it up without embarrassing him, invading his privacy or becoming the building harpie?

Tormented (and Queasy) City Dweller

Dear Tormented,

That's me up there. Leave me alone!

Well, that might have been me 20 years ago, if you add the power tools, the Fender Twin Reverb and the all-night after-show parties. I was a horrible apartment dweller. They should have evicted me. But in San Francisco, you can't even evict a person off the sidewalk, much less kick them out of an apartment.

My problem, and perhaps the problem of your upstairs neighbor as well, was that I didn't really take the time to put myself in anybody else's shoes. Or it was too much trouble because it would have meant curtailing my own excesses. San Francisco is full of people just like me, who came here to get away from the constant glare of public disapprobation, who came here to get wild, to see what they could get away with, to see how close they can come to killing themselves. We get thrown out of every other city because we're too annoying, so we come here.

After I used big power tools to build a big loft bed in my studio apartment and ripped up the rugs because the floor was prettier, though noisier, and so forth, I received a visit from a neighbor who looked homicidal, and it curbed me for a while, but not for long.

Even moving out was a crime against humanity. Years later, when I got a conscience, I thought I should apologize to the landlord somehow, but by that time the place had been sold and converted into luxury suites, so I let it go. But I know I was an asshole.

Somebody should have bought me rugs. You could do that. Buy him rugs. And you could definitely talk to the landlord. And you can bang on your ceiling. That's the classic apartment-dwelling form of protest. You use a broom and you bang on your ceiling and yell, "Hey! Quiet down! I'm trying to sleep!" Or you yell, "Quiet down or I'll call the police!"

Or you move. Find a house and live with roommates, or find a place with an old lady upstairs who doesn't really care for System of a Down, and who's demure with her boyfriends.

I wish I had a real solution, but that's urban warfare for you. I just hope, for your sake, that the guy upstairs doesn't have power tools and isn't in a band.

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Love And Sex Sex Since You Asked