Does size matter?

How do you know when it's over, how do you know if you are big enough for her and what should you do if your sister's husband wants to have sex with you?

Published April 9, 2002 11:39PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

How do you know if it's over?

It's like this: I'm 30. About six months ago I broke up with my boyfriend of five years. He was like my husband. I never wanted a husband, but there he was: a loving, faithful, bright person who wanted to be with me forever. Our relationship was, I believe, based on a combination of intellectual affinity and mutual protection from the big bad world.

What was lacking from the start was a sense of challenge and growth. I crave stimulation and change. He, well, doesn't. So I did most of my "growing" on my own: long solo trips, plans for school and new moves alone. Which mostly never transpired. I became more like him than he like me. Together we became very stuck. (We're both struggling writers.)

Things had been going downhill from a sort of low place, but no one was admitting it. At a very fragile moment, another man came into the picture. A nice, loving person, but like me in some crucial ways: impulsive, searching, adventurous. I moved out. The scenario was pretty "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Scenes From a Marriage." I took a long trip to the other side of the world. I returned and tried to have a pure friendship with my boyfriend while secretly seeing the other man, finally consummating our attraction. The other man quickly saw that I wasn't ready to move on and broke up with me. My boyfriend wanted to make our break more real and stop seeing me altogether. So what did I do? I went to our apartment to pick up some things, found my boyfriend there and, after a long and depressing talk, rolled on top of him, which determined that, in the near future, we would be together.

So, we are back together after a very half-assed break. Our problems haven't been solved, but we are more aware of them. There is a painful weight in the air that only I understand. I can't bear to tell him I was with someone else, but I wish I could. I wish that all the real shit and muck and horror could come out, that we could truly work through them and come out brighter and stronger, but it's fucking unbearable. And because we are unable to talk about this, I know we have no future.

I mean, why couldn't my boyfriend say, OK, Dear, go, run like the wind, explore the world, see other men, and I won't hate you, you can call me, I'll still be there. I can't be a free spirit and be with him at the same time, and I can't let go of him.

I Cannot for the Fucking Life of Me Make a Real Decision

Dear Indecisive,

Let's be clear about what a decision is. A decision is a done deal. It's not a bid, or a bluff, or an experiment; it's a commitment to a course of action. When a runner fakes to the left, that's not a decision, that's a gesture intended to induce a decision by the opposition. The runner uses the fake to clear the field for himself; it's a way of gaining power and flummoxing the opposition.

What you've been doing is throwing fakes.

The person who refuses to commit gains a temporary advantage; he can sit back and wait and see what the opposition does. But eventually, if you don't commit to a course of action, you get crushed with singularly professional violence.

The only difference between taking a flight to Rome and breaking up with your boyfriend is that on the flight to Rome you can't turn the plane around just because you start to feel scared about Portugal or rejected by London. When you make an adult decision, you stay on course, just as though there were a strong-jawed, mustachioed pilot up there saying, "Sorry, Ma'am, you bought your ticket to Rome, start speaking Italian."

Your behavior so far has not been good. It sounds to me as if you have equivocated and practiced self-deception in order to avoid making decisions and following through on them. You are living in a world of suspended wish-fulfillment and unrealistic expectations; your boyfriend is not likely to say, "Fly, free spirit! I'll always be here for you!" So what you have to do is stop pretending that things just happen to you. You are doing all this. Own up to it. If you don't want to be married, don't live as though you were married. If you feel trapped in your relationship, end it.

Buy a ticket to a breakup and get onboard.

Dear Cary,

I have been on a friendly basis with my oldest sister's husband (he's 55) ... um, let's call him Mark, since they got married some 25-odd years ago. She is in her late 40s; I'm in my early 40s and blissfully married to my husband, let's call him Clark (he's 52), for 21 years.

Despite many opportunities presenting themselves over the years, I have remained happily faithful to Clark, and I am certain he has been true to me as well. I had always just assumed Mark and my sister had a similar situation.

Recently I was on a business trip in the vicinity of their home and decided to take a side trip and visit them for a couple of days. One afternoon, my sister had to work for a few hours and the kids were at school, leaving me and Mark at home to amuse ourselves. Much to my horror, he asked me to have sex with him, and said he had been in love with me for years. This was accompanied by tearful lamentation about their sex life having been virtually nonexistent for the past year. I was not even remotely interested in consummating this one-sided lustfest, and dismissed the idea in as lighthearted a manner as I could. (I asked him if he'd ever seen "Hannah and Her Sisters" -- he hadn't.) A couple hours later, everyone came home, everything was fine.

So the obvious question: Do I tell my sister? Do I tell my husband? Do I tell anybody? If I try to put myself in her position I think I would want to know. However, I'm afraid if I go to her she won't believe me, or will think he was just kidding (he wasn't), or they will get in a big ugly drama of my making. I sort of want to tell Clark, but I'm not sure what his reaction would be either. In retrospect the whole scene was just really weird, and I wish I had reacted with more shock and horror, because that's how I feel now. I am best friends with my sister and don't want to jeopardize that. We only see each other's families about once a year, but next time is gonna be weird. Thoughts? Advice? (Honestly, I feel better already just putting this in writing.)

I think I know that I just need to keep silent about this and hope nothing ever happens again ... right? Thank you!!

Dear Hit On by the Brother-in-Law,

Yes, I think you are right that the damage and the costs of telling your sister would vastly outweigh any good to be gained from it. However, do not just try to shut it away in your mind. Instead, take it as evidence that your sister is in some sort of danger, and reach out to her. Become even closer to her, because eventually something is going to go wrong in her marriage, and she will need your support.

And if you find yourself waffling, wishing to tell her, and need to see clearly why you cannot tell her, consider: It would force her into an agonizing conflict: Either her husband is untrustworthy, or her sister means her harm and is trying to wreck her marriage. That would cause her much suffering with little positive result. If there is a way to inquire discreetly if there are problems in the marriage, OK. You would know best. But, in spite of what seems right, telling her would just be like blowing up a bomb in her living room.

Dear Cary,

About six months ago I met a girl at a function. We ended up spending the night together. I thought everything was fine, but the next morning she was quiet and aloof. I asked her what was wrong. She said, "You don't want to hear this." I pressed her about it, and finally she said, "You're too small for me." I was about to point out that I'm nearly 6 feet tall when I realized that she wasn't talking about my height. There was no snappy rejoinder available to me at that time, so I dressed and left.

In looking back over the past couple of years, I've had at least three potential relationships that seemed to end once things got carnal. For the record, I measured myself at 4 and three-quarter inches, fully erect. There. I said it, albeit anonymously.

There isn't much more to tell, other than that I'm fairly devastated. I now avoid places where sex generally is commodified. I go to movies, but not with dates. I drink more. I look at ads about implants and surgeries, but I cannot envision myself making that peculiar phone call. Does size matter that much? Do you think women have one of those threshold/roller-coaster signs -- "You must be this long to ride this ride"? Or should I pretend nothing happened and ignore what she said, putting my trust in the human race and hoping for a better result next time? I'd appreciate your advice, though I'm ready for the jokes.

Not-So-Biggie Smalls

Dear Not So Biggie,

Well, size definitely does matter to some women in some situations, and to varying degrees, but there is no universal standard. While penis size occupies an especially powerful place in the psyche, it is, like many other things in a relationship, also a matter of personal taste. It probably has an exaggerated importance in the kind of casual settings where, as you put it, "sex generally is commodified," but there's no use ignoring it or pretending it doesn't make a difference.

The key is to finding the role it does play in a relationship and not having it be a deal-breaker. If a woman is really crazy about you, she's going to make exceptions. Not only will sex take its place as only one of many important things you do together, but the communication that comes of long acquaintance will enable the two of you to find things to do that make you happy that don't necessarily depend on your having a great big impressive schlong.

There is a wealth of technical information about penis size available, and there are experts who know much more of the clinical details than I. But I would focus on assigning this particular fact about you its relative importance in your overall makeup.

And now, I'm going to go measure myself.

Dear Cary,

I need to stop drinking so much -- I suppose that means I need to stop drinking entirely. There was a message this morning on my voice mail from my boyfriend saying he came over last night and I wasn't sober enough to talk to. His having come over at all is news to me, and not good news. He's seen me drunk many times, more than he's seen me sober, though we have spent wonderful time together when I've been sober. He's the best, the one. He's patient (he works with underprivileged kids), he's kind, he's funny, blah blah blah.

I've been through outpatient rehab programs twice. I've gone to AA, but there are too many danged people! I don't know what I'm asking you, really. I know the answer is, "You have to stop drinking." Maybe I just want to tell you that I read your column and I like your advice. I'm 36 too, so not all of your readers are under 30.

I'm supposed to call him today, because "we really need to talk." I know we do, but I don't want to, not about this, and not now. I love him with a new kind (to me) of love. It's not fierce, or crazy, but it's deep, and spectacular. It's like reading "Moby-Dick" for the first time -- I never knew it could be like this.


Dear Jon,

You just have to keep at it. We both know you have to stop. So just keep trying. Don't mind the people at AA. Just keep going. Try a residential treatment program, too. Why not? Ninety days with a bunch of misfits could be just the thing. Just keep at it. I know, I know, I know. But what can you do? Sure, that's true. Right. I know how you feel. But there's nothing for it but to quit. So you just keep at it. Learn to be uncomfortable and not to care. Nobody says you have to be comfortable. We live in a narcotized society of smooth, comfortable people, and some of us just aren't comfortable. Why should we be? When I quit drinking I learned to be just fantastically, profoundly uncomfortable and defiantly not to care! To be aware of how uncomfortable I was and to just say screw it! It was a spirit of marvelous defiance in which I found the strength to be a writhing mass of jittery fear and just walk down the street anyway. Who cares? Screw 'em! Let 'em live in their own little hells: I've got mine! Plus, it is nice to remember who came over last night, even if you just played Scrabble. Just keep at it every day. Get up and go to a meeting. Call somebody who doesn't drink. Do everything possible, do everything the old-timers say and then do everything possible again. And then keep doing it. When you feel like breaking down and crying, break down and cry. And then just keep not drinking. And eventually you've made it through the day, and then you go to sleep and get up and do it again.

By Cary Tennis

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