He's sweet, but ...

I'm married to a loving partner with an endless list of positive attributes and one glaring flaw: He is a horrible kisser.

By Cary Tennis
Published April 30, 2002 7:07PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have been married to my husband for almost three years: He is a sweet and loving partner with an endless list of positive attributes but with one glaring flaw: He is a horrible kisser. I admit I have let the problem escalate by not addressing it years ago. I assumed that his ability would improve over time as we learned our way around each other's anatomy. But sadly, the kissing seems to have gotten worse or, at least, I have become increasingly turned off by it.

Several months ago I decided to tell him how I felt. I wanted to avoid hurting his feelings so I took a mellow approach: I said that because my mouth is much smaller than his, he tends to open his mouth too wide and overwhelm me in a sea of spit and tongue. I told him to try closing his mouth a little, and that we should practice kissing until we get it right. His ego was bruised and he seemed hurt and perhaps angry at me. He thought I was being overly critical and didn't see what the big deal was. The result of our little talk: The kissing is worse than ever. His lips are as rigid as stone and it's like kissing a robot. So now we no longer kiss at all, except for brief, tight-lipped smoochy "goodbye" kisses before work in the morning. The strangest thing about this dilemma is that my husband is a very good lover: His lips work marvelously on the rest of my anatomy. Unfortunately, without any kissing, we are having sex less and less because it's more difficult to initiate.

I find myself fantasizing for hours about kissing. I miss it terribly. I ogle the lips of strange men in the grocery store, wondering how it would be to kiss someone again. I don't want to have an affair, I just want kissing in my life!

Kissless in Seattle

Dear Kissless,

I'm not saying that all men are emotional 3-year-olds, but I am, and your husband may be a little like me. When challenged, however gently, to leave our realm of mastery over the known universe, we freeze up; we resist; our mouths tighten as if we're being fed something awful. We'd like to cry, but we can't, so we just pout or sulk or become impossibly distant. Or we deliberately fail at the task before us in order to demonstrate the futility and foolishness of such a demand. And then we go to a bar, or smoke a cigar, or hose down the driveway whether it needs it or not.

The mechanical problem of how to kiss is not the difficult problem; the difficult problem is how to coax your husband to revisit the embarrassing clumsiness of that time, probably in adolescence, when he first learned to kiss.

For adolescent boys, the catechism of osculation is an exquisite pleasure but also a diabolical test requiring a sophistication and control few possess. Failure, moreover, comes at an enormous price: A young man's quest for the Holy Grail rests often on this one exam. Moreover, even if you can persuade your husband to undertake your lessons, negotiating a time to practice might be difficult, since this is one sport in which one would much prefer to play an actual game.

So my guess is that there's going to be a lot of what people used to call "emotional baggage" around this issue of kissing. Or maybe it's just my emotional baggage. Could that be? Holy mackerel. Well, I'm afraid our time is up for today.

I may not have been of much use on this issue, as it has served mainly as a madeleine for my own remembrance of kisses past. However, there are undoubtedly readers out there who have taught their husbands to kiss. I have a feeling we may hear from some of them.

Dear Cary,

My husband and I had been married for under a year when we got custody of his two pre-teen children. They are great kids (other than being classic tweens) and we are all in therapy to see if we can make a family out of this can of mixed nuts. Nearly a year later, my husband is facing some difficult career choices. When I married him he traveled a lot, doing a demanding job in several languages, and I was a driven career girl with student loans to pay off and a passion for nice restaurants.

Those things have changed. Last week I got upset with him taking yet another trip to Europe, leaving me with the kids, so he has decided to move to a position with a lot less travel. Now I am worried that he is going to hate me for clipping his wings. What would you do?

Wing Clipper

Dear Clipper,

There has to be room for freedom of individual action within a marriage, but it can take many forms. His business trips may have provided him a good chance to be by himself and enjoy the kind of unimpeded motion that can reinvigorate a man. He may still need to get away in some fashion, but if having a job that requires less European travel helps the family function well, it was probably a wise choice. I would not burden yourself worrying about whether you made him sacrifice; he made the decision and must take responsibility for it. But it sounds like you recognize that those business trips provided him something that he needs in his life. Be alert to ways those drives may surface in the form of restlessness and discontent, and, if you do not feel that he's simply being spoiled, do what you can to let them be satisfied within the rather more narrow confines of our native continent.

Dear Cary,

I'm a 21-year-old woman with a 27-year-old boyfriend. We've been together for about a year seriously, and prior to that we hung out and had sex for six months. While I know a lot about my boyfriend's sexual history, (some menage à trois, group sex, once blew a guy), he doesn't know a whole lot about my own. I've adjusted the number of guys I've slept with, and I have denied to him that I fooled around with women.

I don't consider myself bisexual because I wouldn't date another woman or fall in love with one, just fuck her. I feel awful that I have lied to my boyfriend even though my attraction to a small number of women wouldn't affect our relationship. I want to be honest with him, but I don't know how to approach this.

So, do you think I should admit my lie, or not? I think that most women are just like me, except for women that are total dykes.

Equal Opportunity Lover

Dear EOL,

Since the lie seems to be bothering you a good bit, I think you should admit it to him. It might also help for you to think about why this issue is causing you trouble. Perhaps your desire to define yourself sexually is at odds with reality; like many people, you obviously have a capacity for a diversity of experiences that calls into question the narrow, zero-sum categories by which we label each other.

The lines between straight, gay and bisexual tend to blur and may not be worth troubling yourself over. I suspect your real concern is that if you tell your boyfriend all about your past experiences, he may become upset and suspicious or may even want to break up with you. But if he can't handle the truth, it's better you should know that, and this will be a good way to find out.

Dear Cary,

I'm a 31-year-old man who can be witty, charming and fairly "cute" according to the girls I know. I still have no idea what love is (I've only been dating since I was 25), but I do meet women I like and enjoy hanging out with. However, whenever I start having sex, I have great difficulty in maintaining an erection after we stop fooling around and get to the business.

It's like my brain keeps kicking in and causing the rest of my senses to deflate and I can't get it up again. The worst part is that I can keep it up in the morning. This always seems to happen in the evening.

Any ideas why this happens? Is it a common problem, or should I be seeking medical help?


Dear Perplexed,

Since you say your brain kicks in, it may be fear and insecurity that's causing you to tighten up physically. While fooling around may not cause you any unease, contemplation of "the business" may carry with it a certain pressure to perform or dread of failure.

Also, if you and your partner are pausing to make preparations for contraception, you may be losing your feeling of arousal and excitement during that interval. Contraception is best handled with a certain lightness and ease so it doesn't bring the whole proceeding to a halt. You also mention that it happens in the evening. If you're physically tired after a long day, if you've eaten a big evening meal, or if you've been out drinking, those things could all be having an effect.

If I were you, before consulting a physician, I would first try to notice if you're getting anxious when you are fooling around and you contemplate the act, or know it's coming; see if there is an uncomfortable pause when you make contraceptive preparations; consider what you've eaten and drunk in the last two or three hours, and whether you're tired. See if you can rule out those factors first. Then, if none of those things seem to be affecting you, a physician might have some more ideas about what's causing it.

Dear Cary,

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of probably the best relationship I've ever had. M is the sweetest and smartest guy. I think I'm in love. He's 34 and I'm 27. My mom has told me many times in the past that I should be dating men who are older than I am because we would match better on maturity levels. And, true to form, M is the most mature man I've ever dated after a string of real idiots.

My family likes him and my friends like him and this relationship now has all signs pointing to marriage. We have similar humors and habits and hobbies. We love movies, and sometimes we have to watch ourselves because we spend a lot of time on the couch and don't go outdoors for 36 hours at a stretch.

He says he daydreams about our having children one day and I think about it too. The warmest feelings I've ever had for him were when we watched some Super 8 videos of him as a baby and I welled up with desire to have a baby just like the one I was watching on-screen. I also daydream about our wedding. So what's the problem?

I'm missing some passion. I have definitely felt passion before for men -- that amazing excitement that just burns inside that is so addictive. The problem is that whenever I indulged in that pleasure, it ended inevitably in jealousy and anger so I'm almost OK without it. (Maybe it was really lust and not passion before.) Sex is OK with M, but I've definitely had better with the bad boys of my past.

I don't want to sound like I'm not enjoying what I have with M, because I am. I've never felt so connected, safe and comfortable. How do I inject a little excitement without going overboard and blowing what I have?

There is a song on the radio that I find myself singing along to. It goes, "He's everything you want, he's everything you need, he's everything inside of you that you wish you could be, he says all the right things at exactly the right time, but he means nothing to you and you don't know why." It's the last lyric that scares me.

Singing Along With Vertical Horizon

Dear Singing,

After I read your letter, I got out of the Adirondack chair on the deck and went into the kitchen and said to my wife, "Remember the earthquake?" We'd only known each other a few months in 1989 when it hit. We were in Double Rainbow on Haight Street. She was my girlfriend. We were having ice cream. The earthquake surprised us with a pop quiz from the world: Can you two make decisions in a crisis? Can you care for each other?

As the Marina burned, the upstairs neighbors took acid and began to party. My wife and I checked on the bookstore where she worked, closed it up, picked up some of the books, bought batteries and candles before the corner store was completely sold out. We stayed indoors and listened to the radio, played cards, stayed out of the way. If the relationship wasn't going to last, maybe I would have taken off on a bicycle and left her alone. Maybe I would have met a woman to have sex with out there on the streets. We would have had great sex: earthquake sex. I made the decision to forgo the thrills and act like an adult, and the earthquake wrapped us in its narrative like a gift.

Great sex is an incident. A relationship is a story. You need to run arm in arm from a collapsing building, bless some children, bury some loved ones, build a house and still be there to talk about it all, to walk in off the deck and remember something together. You need some struggle, some mutual purpose. If you stick together, the world will enlist you in its narrative. And the sex will be part of the story, maybe not the best part, but a true part.

Cary Tennis

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