Waning passion

I love him, but sometimes I'd rather read than make love.

Published November 6, 2003 8:46PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I live with a man I love, but often I would rather read in the evening than make love. It has not always been like this. At the beginning of our relationship, there was passion and a sense of newness that allowed us to love one another without inhibition. Very quickly we reached a point where making love always ended in the most explosive, touching, amazing orgasm. Neither of us had ever experienced such intimacy before; in fact both of us had largely given up hope of finding someone who could so accurately divine what the other wanted.

It has been a year, and I'm not quite sure when that stopped. Maybe we became too efficient, and just got used to going straight for the goal. We've lived together for four months and sex has nearly come to a stop. I would rather read, because I'm always with him or at work and never have time to read anymore. I love him; he's still the sweet, tender, loving, funny, witty, adoring man I fell in love with and we're nearly perfect companions. But I miss sex and it just isn't happening between the two of us. To date, I haven't fantasized about other men nor felt stifled by the relationship, but if this is happening after just one year is it a sign that this isn't the everlasting relationship I thought it would be?

Nearly Perfect

Dear Nearly Perfect,

Freedom to choose brings surprise, as when we find ourselves choosing what we did not know we wanted and ask ourselves, If I am truly free to choose, why am I choosing this? Is this really what I want? If I do not want this, why am I choosing it? Am I choosing it because I am afraid to choose what I want? Has someone tricked me into choosing what I do not want? Or do I want what I did not think I wanted?

Then we must ask: Who is doing the wanting? Who is doing the choosing? And we must remind ourselves of the obvious. If we are not immediately prepared to confess the incontrovertible truth, we can stall for time, round up the usual suspects and say it is the government who is choosing, or my mother or uncle or teacher, or the person I married, or the person I voted for. But we know none of those suspects have the power to choose for us; if they did, we would dress much differently. So eventually we must admit, as a simple fact, that it is we who are choosing.

Having come this far, with agonizing steps, we conclude the obvious, which I believe you have already stated, but this time we emphasize the act of choice rather than the object of choice: You are choosing to read instead of have sex. You are choosing. That is what we do. We choose.

This troubles you. Because it troubles you, it troubles me a little as well, though only because I empathize, not because I really think it's a problem. I think the only problem is not choosing. As long as you are choosing, you are free, and you are conscious. In fact, though I am a little troubled because you are troubled, and though I care about you, it also pleases me; I rather like imagining you reading instead of having sex; being a writer, I am much more likely to become the object of your affections if you are reading than if you are making love. I know that's selfish. I should be helping you. But writers are selfish. Then again, so are readers. I could be helping you, and you could be ministering to your boyfriend. But here we are in our cocoons, reading and writing, making nonsense syllables.

Look, I know what the problem actually is. You are troubled by the waning of desire. Desire does not arise out of choice. So in a sense you are not really choosing, are you? If the desire is gone, it's a Hobson's choice. But does this mean that your boyfriend is not the right one? Only if we assume that the right boyfriend could prevent the waning of desire indefinitely. Apparently desire wanes on its own.

You could live your whole life with relationships that only last as long as the desire lasts. I can see how that could work, although there would be much frequent explaining, which can take its toll; you would become unpopular with men, who would invariably want to prolong their association with you. Besides, much in our society mitigates against such a practice: Your thirst for companionship, for trust, for familiarity, the corrosive effect of so many impassioned goodbyes, and the economic benefits all seem to argue for romantic partners to stay together even as desire waxes and wanes.

There are innumerable techniques, and ample information, available about how to renew the erotic spark. But that doesn't mean any of that would work for you. If renewing desire were simply a matter of lotions and lighting, letters like yours would not arrive so frequently.

Desire is likely to wane, though not disappear. If you want a long-term relationship, be prepared for that. If you want a series of relationships that last only as long as the physical desire is palpable and vivid, you're free to do that.

Of course, then you will need your own apartment.

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