Since the birth of my daughter, my husband and I still have sex, but he refuses to kiss me.

By Cary Tennis
Published November 19, 2002 10:14PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I have been married for 23 years. For 10 of those years we had a very passionate, intimate, satisfying sex life. Then I had my daughter. Ever since, my husband just stopped kissing me. We still have sex, we both orgasm, but it is so empty. It's like, tweak this here, touch that there, push push and ta-dah, we're done. I have told him many, many times over the years how important/necessary kissing is to me. He just doesn't care at all. He would rather not have sex than kiss me.

I have checked my breath/teeth/sinuses; nobody's mouth could be cleaner. I have tried taking the initiative; it only means he rushes faster to orgasm. Several years ago I told him I would not bring up the kissing subject anymore and I have not. This means we now only have sex when I'm ready to pop off in a second. Tonight he is snoring away; he wanted to have sex, I wanted to make love. So, here I am writing to you.

I think I have tried everything; he seems to have some kind of phobia. He doesn't liked to be touched/hugged at all unless it's sexual. Our daughter has never been hugged by her father, yet I know he loves her. She told me on a couple of occasions how bad she felt because he was so undemonstrative. His idea of showing her affection has been to knuckle her in the head or poke her in the ribs and this has been going on since she was a baby. I used to have fantasies that things would be like they were; I guess I still do or I would not be writing to you. Is there anything I can do?


Dear Frustrated,

Though this question sounds like it's about sex, kissing, making love, motherhood, communication and how your husband feels about you, I can't help feeling it's really about power and memory. It's about power in the sense that you want him to do something but you do not seem to have the power to make him do it. And it's about memory in the sense that you are longing for something that seems to have slipped into the past.

Things slip into the past all the time. But when it's something like your first prom, or your college years, or when you got that first job, it's easy to accept that such a thing can never be repeated. It slips into the past and you accept that. But when something that seems like a willful, conscious behavior slips into the past it is hard to accept that it's gone. If he did this then, you might reason, he ought to be able to do it now. And if he is able to do it now, why won't he? It's tempting to believe it is simply a matter of persuading or compelling him to.

But is it really a question of how to wield your power over him? That alone would be difficult enough, because our power over lovers is at most limited and some might say it doesn't exist. But I'm not even convinced that if he agreed to do this thing that it would satisfy you. Is a lovemaking technique and the feelings that arise from it actually something one person does to another, or is it something that happens between the two of you, a product of your unique interaction?

Perhaps it seems I'm pressing the point. Surely we do things to each other, and surely we can learn and change our techniques. But I want to get at something else: You have to get to the point where what goes on between you is sufficient. Otherwise you torment yourself. Who knows where this thing has gone to, or when it will return?

There is a possibility that the tenderness you miss will come back of its own accord in some romantic seasonal reflowering. It's possible that his kissing was not a behavior that was his alone, but the manifestation of some spirit that arose spontaneously between you, a spirit you could no more command to reappear than you could command God to gratify your needs.

You might not believe in such things; it's only a metaphor anyway, a metaphor for a kind of performance or behavior that is not wholly under our conscious direction. But sometimes if we concentrate on the beautiful thing that remains between us, and stop struggling, those things we miss suddenly come up again seemingly of their own accord.

Perhaps it is gone, though. Perhaps it has left him, whatever spirit compelled him to kiss you or whatever ability he had to quicken his pulse to yours; perhaps that indeed resided in him, and it is gone, and in that sense it is a part of the irretrievable past.

And then you are left with an even more difficult question: Why do things pass, and how do we live in a transient world without going mad?

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Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.

Cary Tennis

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