I've found a keeper; I'm not sure I can keep her.
I’ve also had a hard time getting close enough to people to genuinely trust them, and I have an especially hard time being physically affectionate.
OUR SWEETIE ANGEL:
I’m a nonbinary lesbian in my early 20s. Unfortunately, I’ve always been a pretty isolated person for various reasons. Due to health issues, I’ve had to approach college intermittently and have come and gone from several different schools. I’ve learned to cherish solitude, but I’ve also had a hard time getting close enough to people to genuinely trust them, and I have an especially hard time being physically affectionate.
I recently moved from my conservative, rural hometown to a major city in a new state, and dating became a possibility for me for the first time in my life. In December, I met someone at a speed dating event. She’s a warm, thoughtful person, not to mention brilliant, hardworking, and stunning. She’s totally out of my league and I admire her very much. In February, we agreed to become exclusive, though already, neither of us was seeing anyone else. Despite its newness, this is her longest relationship and my first. We spent time together a few nights a week prior to lockdown and are now quarantined in our homes, minutes apart but unable to visit each other, FTing most days.
We’ve kissed but we haven’t made out. We’ve gone to sleep in the same bed but we haven’t slept together. She has been interested in taking things further, but she has always been respectful of my boundaries. On my end, I really care about her, but I feel confused and conflicted, because I’ve felt tense when we’ve been physically close. My body has been the site of past trauma and abuse, so imagining or feeling sexual sensations can make me feel dissociative and dysphoric. My girlfriend has been incredibly respectful of my boundaries and generous with her support as I’ve sought help from the resources currently still operating. A few days ago, she told me she wants me to heal for myself, not for her or for anyone else.
That hit me hard because I realized I do not know who I am trying to heal for. I am not good at letting desire in. It is not a welcome guest; it shows up uninvited. Shame accompanies it in and escorts it back out. I want to summon and banish it at my convenience. Basically, I am super afraid of being horny. I was always taught it was not an option to have agency in this area of my life, and so it wasn’t. It still doesn’t feel like something I’ve learned to control.
At the same time, I’m angry and disappointed in myself for not being able to give my girlfriend this thing that would make her happy (sex, I guess, or just more physical intimacy). I’m angry at myself for not feeling enough desire for the person I have chosen. I feel confused by how low my sex drive is and why it sometimes manifests in ways I don’t want it to, like attraction to strangers, or to other people who I’ve chosen not to pursue, including a friend who’s really important to me. This makes me feel confused and ashamed. I’m attracted to my girlfriend, and I want to give her everything she deserves, but I don’t know if I have the capacity to give it to her. I don’t even know if I can move past this point with her or not physically or how long it will take. I feel like I’m trying to rush myself to get to a point where I’m “ready” to let her put her tongue in my mouth because she’s expressed interest in doing that.
I also feel the need to overcompensate with my time because I haven’t been able to do anything with her physically besides kiss. Already, our agreement to FT every other day has ballooned into every day. She wants to see each other in person again. I’ve tried to explain my discomfort surrounding the virus to her before, way before things had escalated to this point, and we haven’t seen eye-to-eye on that. We had a stay-at-home advisory that just expired, and she wanted to see each other again. She said she had just “accepted that she would be ingesting certain people’s germs, and you’re one of them.” I don’t want to be ingesting anyone’s germs right now. I’m not comfortable with this and feel that it’s one more way that I’m unable to be physically present for her. (Funnily, before we dated, I went on a couple dates with only one other girl, who kissed me while sick, resulting in me being sick for weeks; I don’t want it to happen again.) Also, the stay-at-home advisory may have expired, but it was replaced with even stricter measures. She has respected my boundaries on this too but I can tell that she’s disappointed.
I’m increasingly anxious and confused about this situation and have been losing a lot of sleep. I want to do the right thing, but I don’t know what that is. What do I do?
Hi hi hi, you magnificent gem of a human! There are a lot of super important things to address here and I’m going to try to get to them all, but if for any reason I miss something or you feel like I’m not getting at what you were asking, feel free to reach out to me again. ❤️
One of the biggest problems that I see in this letter—perhaps the overarching theme— is that you have difficulty with intimacy, especially BUT NOT ONLY physical intimacy and you’re looking for a faster way for you to be ready for that. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to healing trauma. It’s one of the most bullshit facts of life. I would gladly send you the link to the website you could check out where all your trauma would be cleared if it existed. I’m being a little trite, I know; I know that you don’t think there is a fast way out.
Because the truth is that you are brilliant and wise and caring and lovely and if there were a simple, easy, permanent way to heal from all the pain you’ve had in your life, you would have already done it. Please trust yourself enough to know that you’re healing as fast and as well as you can under the circumstances (being alive) which are very very harsh. You’re doing excellent.
Any relationship that you ever get into is going to kick up a lot of the dust around old wounds and pains. It will remind you of ways you feel inadequate and ways you were hurt before and pains that you thought you may have forgotten. It will make you desperate and clingy and distant and foolish. That happens to almost all of us, by the way. That’s a pretty universal thing. And your girlfriend sounds wonderful and patient and of course you want to speed this shit up and get to MORE GOOD FEELINGS!!!! WITH HER!!! ASAP!!!
But you can’t. You’re going to have to slow down and ask her to slow down with you. You’re going to have to keep doing the excruciating work of setting and communicating boundaries with her. It’s going to suuuuuck sometimes. There will be things that will feel like Too Big of Asks. Things that make you worried she will walk away.
You have— HAVE— to ask for them anyway.
Because otherwise, you aren’t in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you, you’re changing yourself to be someone that you think this other person might be able to love. That never works. Zero times has that worked. Changing for someone leads to waaaay worse shit down the line. Always.
The task of a relationship (and it blows!!!!) is to lay your shit bare and be like “This is me, I will be open to adapting and changing, but I will not become someone else for you. I will not bend or break my boundaries for you.” You’re seeing if it works out together as you two are!!!!! And sadly, sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t think you both are there yet.
You are not not ready for this relationship, let me be extremely clear. I think you’re doing an excellent job of pushing yourself to be honest and open, to do things that scare you but not things that cause you harm. I think you’re fucking killing it. I know you are.
Physical intimacy is going to take a while for you, if it comes at all. There is some chance that your sex drive is always what it is now. That sex does not excite you, that you do not feel turned on in that particular way by your partner. You cannot make yourself more or less horny, no matter what the inventor of graham crackers believed. That doesn’t mean you don’t have attraction!! That doesn’t mean you two can’t have a wonderful relationship; it doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship with physicality.
I don’t know what it looks like yet— you don’t either! Neither does your girlfriend! You both have to test it out and because of THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC that we are in, you haven’t gotten the chance. Despite the deeply understandable longing from your girlfriend, this pandemic presents a fabulous opportunity to take things slow which will help a lot with your fear and concerns about physical intimacy.
✨Let me take a moment and remind you that these fears are reasonable. This is your body’s most reasonable response to its past trauma. It’s not ridiculous, it’s protective.✨
If you can afford to find a therapist or counselor, I would strongly suggest that talk to one, they may be able to help you more concretely with your fears and concerns about physical intimacy. This is a phenomenal guide by Rosemary Donahue on finding an LGBTQ+ or queer-affirming therapist, if that is of interest to you.
But please also talk to your girlfriend. The more you open up honestly about what you’re worried about the healthier things will be for both of you. (If at any point, you feel that your girlfriend does not respond well to something you open up about, that may be time for reevaluation, but at this point, it seems like she is very understanding and open to hearing this). When you’re ready, admit that you’re worried about physical intimacy, admit that you’re feeling insecure about what you provide her, ask her questions about what her concerns are so that you aren’t making them up in your own head and assuming you know how she’s feeling.
A relationship with this kind of World Event in the middle of its beginning is going to require extra communication, which is unfair. It blows!! You’re welcome to rail against that all you want. But good communication is SO KEY to good relationships that no matter how much everyone talks about it being key, it’s STILL understated. Communicating wants and needs is embarrassing, excruciating, and an act of pure love. For yourself, for the relationship and for the other person.
You both may have to come up with unique “rules” or boundaries for your relationship. (IM MAKING THESE UP AS EXAMPLES, DO NOT FEEL LIKE THESE NEED TO FIT YOU!) Maybe she gets physical intimacy from other people, for example. Maybe you aren’t exclusive because that’s too much pressure right now. You both TOGETHER get to decide what the relationship is. There aren’t just three options: single, dating, and married and you pick one and it looks the same for you as it does for me, and as it does for my next door neighbor Fidel. We’re all figuring our shit out as we go, give yourself the gift of grace to do that! Please!
Try things. Ask for things. Sometimes those things will work and sometimes they will not! Be brave enough to ask for what you need. If you can’t give as much time as you are giving, say so. Explain that you’re afraid that you can’t give physical intimacy, which is why you’re giving more time and express that. See what she needs. See what she craves.
Please give this a full chance. She is, of course, allowed to walk away if the relationship does not work for. You are too!!!! People can love each other and not be right for one another and it is miserable miserable miserable. It’s one of those truths of adulthood/life that makes me want to scoop out my eyes with a grapefruit spoon. But please give everything you can to the relationship first, despite your fear so that you know that should one of you walk away, you first gave it a real chance.
You’ve got this. I don’t think for a second there isn’t something great here.