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Sex Phases, Red Flags, and “I Just Don’t Think You’d Be a Good Parent”

1. I’ve been conditioned by quizzes in magazines and movies to believe that it’s a red flag when a man has trouble with the idea of marriage. My boyfriend of a year and a half and I talk about marriage frequently. Neither of us are in a hurry to get married. Recently, he blurted out, “I don’t really like the idea of marriage.”

He then went on to say that he loves me, and is committed to me. That he wants to have kids and buy a house with me. That, because he knows marriage is important to me, he’ll be willing to marry me in a few years. He even set a tentative date for when he’d like to propose (after returning from a deployment). But Dude, should I still be worried? I love this guy more than anything, and we’re very happy together. But need I be concerned he’s happy the way we are and will never want to take the next step — or that he’ll only do it begrudgingly?

So play this out in reverse. Imagine he’d said he’s happy, that everything is great, but he’s set a tentative future date at which he’d like to break up with you. Would you take that statement at face value?

This isn’t a dude thing or a lady thing, this is a people thing — when we’re in a situation where our desires clash with social pressures, we often imagine future dates at which we’ll feel different. “Hey, great to see you! We should get together! Sometime!”

If he’d proposed, but set the date after his deployment, that would mean something, but what he’s told you is that he doesn’t want to marry you right now, and right now is the only time frame in which proposals of marriage have any weight. No amount of “I’ll propose later” means a thing.

He’s keeping his options open. You should do the same. 

2. So here’s my situation: I’m 29 years old, my boyfriend is 32. We were friends for many years before we started dating. He joined the army and we kept in touch here and there. Two and half years ago we began dating, but due to the distance (he’s stationed out of state) I broke it off a year in. We remained friends and we both dated other people. He ended up having a child with a woman he dated. From what he told me, they dated for a few months, broke up, she realized she was pregnant after the break up, and they’re amicable with each other. Since we’re still friends, he would call me for advice and just to talk about the pregnancy. And his family was/is very unsupportive of it all.

Six months ago, around the time of his son’s birth, we became romantic with each other and began dating again. Since then, we’ve been very serious, spending a lot time together, talking a lot about our future. Mostly because if we want to be together seriously we have to make decisions as far as him getting out of the army or us getting married to be together.

Also around the same time of his son’s birth, my brother (a single dad) hit hard on his depression, and I started helping him out with my niece more than before. I basically take care of her on the weekends and sometimes during the week, and my brother and I started talking about possibly of taking in my niece more long-term since. Last night I was on the phone with the boyfriend and I told him that my brother and I were talking about moving my niece in with me permanently. I was expressing my concerns and that I was stressed out about it, but that we were trying to figure out a way to make it smooth for my niece. He tells me, “I never thought of you as a parent.” To which I say, “What?” He responds, “I just don’t think you’d make a good parent.” So I basically freak out, and he says “I don’t mean with your niece, she’s five. I mean if you were to get pregnant and have a baby, I don’t think you could do that.” To which I freak out A LOT MORE.

What bothers me is how he views me in his life. We have talked about marriage and family, and we’ve both said they’re something we want. I felt that we were working to build something more long-term, so it scares me that he doesn’t think I’d make a good parent. Especially when he already has a son, who if we get married I’d have to help raise. A part of me wants to break it off with him for saying that to me. Am I overreacting? Overthinking it? Does he see his baby’s mother as the only mother of his children? Do guys date girls and talk about marriage and a family they think will be bad parents? Or is he getting cold feet? My friends think this is all bad, I need a dude’s perspective. Please!

Here’s one dude’s perspective — why would your friends give you bad advice in this situation?

If he thinks you’ll be a bad mother, it all but guarantees that raising a family with him would be a rough ride, and believe me, speaking as a married dude with two feisty kids, you and your partner better be as one on the parenting front, or all other forms of marital comity take a backseat.

Add in, just for laughs, a guy who gets a casual girlfriend pregnant, and whose family is unsupportive of someone bringing their grandson into the world, and it doesn’t sound to me like you were freaking out. It sounds like you were reacting appropriately.

Really, why would you put up with that? Listen to your friends.

3. I have a question that might be less of a question, and more of a plea for people to share their stories with me. It’s about SEX! (oooo!) and more specifically sex within marriages or long-term relationships.

I’m a woman in her 30s, who has had a few long term and lovely relationships in the past decade: 2 years, 3 years, 5 years. I’m currently a year into the best relationship ever! He’s sweet, caring, hilarious, smart and energetic — he’s all the good things tied up with an awesome bow. I would marry this man tomorrow. I think our life together is going to be fantastic, and I’m excited every day to wake up and see him there. Plus, he’s super hot!

But … ah, there’s always a but … sex is doing my head in. In every one of my relationships, after a year or so, I start feeling less and less like having sex. It’s happening now with this man. We kiss and cuddle and it’s great, but half the time I get very little reaction “down there.” When we do have sex it’s always enjoyable, but I don’t understand my reticence to actually “get there” you know? I feel like I don’t understand or trust my body sometimes — why isn’t it reacting to this hot situation by getting all hot? Would I really rather get up and have a cup of cocoa?

Maybe this sounds like a common story, and there are a few understandable reasons for it. We live togther, we get comfortable, relationships evolve into something different. The early spark dims a little and is replaced by a companionship that might be a little different but is good too. He sees me in a face mask and old knickers. I see him squeezing his spots in the mirror. I also feel like I understand the ways to manage it or open myself up again — talk openly about sex, go slow, set aside time for each other.

I feel like I can intellectually get my head around the reasons for it and the ways to manage it, but I am still worried and stressed. If I try to work out my worry and pin it down, it goes like this: (1) Maybe all relationships lose their sexy spark after a while; (2) but that’s so sad!; (3) but wait, maybe it’s just ME and I have a low sex drive and I need to fix myself; (4) even if my sex drive is just a touch lower than most people, I still miss feeling lusty and sexy and connecting with him in this really deep way.

I feel like there isn’t much talking about what really happens in people’s bedrooms because it’s so private. I also feel like the way that sex in marriage is dealt with in movies and TV is so horrible I want to cry — the woman is always frigid and cold, and the man is always horny and frustrated. That can’t be how it really is! That’s awful!

So here’s what I’m hoping: I’m hoping people might be generous enough to share their happy stories with me in the comments section. Has anyone been with their partner for years and still lusts after their bones every day? Or do you and your partner get it on once every two months and are completely satisfied with that? Does sexiness ebb and flow with you over time? Is there something you do together to keep the spark? How on earth do people feel after having children!? I’d really love to hear how real people, in real relationships feel about sleeping with their partners after all this time together.

I’m hoping to find out it is really possible, and to be inspired by people who still feel happy, or content, or satisfied. There is so much variety in this crazy world, and I don’t want the only stories I hear about this to be the ghastly couples in Hollywood films, or Liz Lemon who longs for a relationship where you just watch TV with your partner and no one tries any “funny business.”

People lose sexual interest in people they are with, if they are with them long enough. It really is that simple.

I’m not saying that married people all have unsatisfying sex lives — my wife and I go in and out of phase on that score, as a lot of married couples do, and the sex is great when we’re both in the mood — but I am saying that familiarity breeds contentment. It takes unfamiliarity to breed unbridled lust. (Every account of infidelity since the world began hinges on this fact.)

There are people who claim that their sex drives have remained as urgent as when they were first dating, but most of them are lying, in the same friendly way we tell old acquaintances “You haven’t changed a bit.” Our society has come to prize sexual attractiveness above other characteristics and sexual activity above other kinds of togetherness, to the point that the ordinary experience — after a while, there are some days you both want to fuck, but most days not — doesn’t get talked about because it is embarrassing.

If you’re unhappy with the sex, you should certainly do what you can to make it better or more frequent — there is, god knows, a whole shelf of books on the subject. But as with diet books, if any of that advice really worked for most people most of the time, there wouldn’t be so many books about it in the first place. (Indeed, the existence of that shelf attests to the generality of the pattern.)

Whatever you do on that score, though, I’d be damn careful about staking the relationship on creating constant sexual heat despite quotidian familiarity. If that’s the only way you’d stay together, you might as well start figuring out how to divide the china, given the odds.

If your primary goal is hot sex, switch partners. That always gets things revved up, for a while. But if it’s long-term commitment, I’d also plan for a future where sexiness ebbs and flows over time. Because it usually does.

4. The closer I come to the possibility of getting married, the more I wonder what its value is; is it a tradition I’m taking for granted or a symbolic gesture of commitment that happens to have insane financial benefits? I love the idea of having a partner and a teammate, but I want to give marriage as an institution a good, hard look. (I’m not religious and neither is my boyfriend.) What were your reasons for getting hitched?

Why pick? It’s a tradition and, like a lot of traditions, it’s also a source of practical, real-world value. Society shapes itself around its traditions, after all, and not just in financial ways (though there is that) but also social and cultural ones (which is why gay marriage is worth fighting for, and ‘civil partnerships’ are an insult).

As for us, we got married because we wanted to have kids, and we’re traditional people in that regard. What I’ve found since is that being married makes the obstacles to separating higher than the obstacles to staying together. That’s an unromantic view of it, but it’s the truth. Even when we fight, I never have what I now remember as the girlfriend worry, which is “Huh. I wonder if this is the beginning of the end?”

The other thing I’d say is that if you decide to give marriage a good, hard look, odds are you won’t get married. There are too many conflicting and irrational elements bound up in that institution for it to survive gimlet-eyed scrutiny. Remember, tradition is designed to withstand time, not thought. If you decide to do something traditional, just accept that the decision is partly irrational. And if you don’t want to do anything that’s even partly irrational, you probably don’t want to get married.

Previously: Affection, Gift Returns, and Professors on Facebook

A Married Dude is one of several rotating married dudes. Do you have a question for A Married Dude?

Photo via Flickr/boynton

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