7. Only Happy When It Rains (April 11)
I’m a man in his mid-40s who has been happily married for 10 years. I particularly enjoy my wife’s dry, some would say sarcastic, sense of humor. Her wit not only attracted me to her as a partner, but it was one of the things that got me through a difficult time in my career, enabling me to see the humor in absurd and uncomfortable situations. About 18 months ago my wife’s mother passed away suddenly and my wife began seeing a counselor. After a few appointments, the counselor prescribed an antidepressant medication, Paxil, and my wife’s has been taking it ever since. As a result, my wife's personality has changed. Not dramatically, but enough so that she has become a glass-half-full, constantly cheerful type of person. I have no idea if this is common or perhaps if she was always depressed and her dark humor existed for her to deal with it. I'm glad she's happy now but I thought we were happy before and frankly, I miss my old wife! The new rainbows-and-sunshine person I'm living with gives me a headache and I find myself less attracted to her. I feel like a jerk and don't know what to do. Help!
I’ll get back to you with an answer in a few weeks, because now that my husband has seen your question I assume he’ll start slipping Paxil into my half-empty coffee cup hoping for a similar change in my disposition. I have had many letters from people desperate to get their annoying loved ones on some kind of medication to take the edge off of jagged personalities. But I’ve never received such a cri de coeur from someone who wants the old sarcastic, unmedicated person back. But as an old, sarcastic, unmedicated person myself I appreciate hearing that not everyone wants a partner who has the buoyant outlook of SpongeBob SquarePants. You’re right, however, that telling your spouse her new cheerfulness has you wanting to get into bed, alone, and pull the covers over your head, is going to be a difficult, even baffling conversation. It’s best if you first broach this in the context of just checking in with her about the grief that propelled her to the therapist’s office. If she’s feeling more acceptance about her mother’s death, you can ask if the therapy has moved on from that to deal with other aspects of her life. This will give you the opportunity to talk about whether she feels the medication is still necessary and why. Depending on how that goes, you can say that you miss the sarcastic take she had on life. Tell her you don’t want to interfere with the treatment plan she has arrived at with her therapist, but as far as you’re concerned, her personality never needed any tweaking.
8. “The Mannequin Maneuver” (June 6)
I'm a woman in my 50s who started masturbating when I was about 12 and have ever since. As a young girl, I discovered my orgasms were much more intense and a lot faster (just a few minutes) and easier if I had my legs straight out on the bed with muscles tensed. The problem is that now I have to do that to be able to come. I hate it and am embarrassed about it. My lovers have never expressed a problem with this—to the contrary—but I am still deeply ashamed. I have tried to climax in other ways but it took a really long time and I needed a vibrator to finish. I fear my current lover will get tired and bored with my "patented method.” I told a close girlfriend about this last year and she blurted out, "Ewww: mannequin!" which was a kick in the gut. But should I just get over my shame, and if so, how?
When you’ve let your lovers in on your supposedly shameful secret that you must stick your legs straight out in order to have a Mount Pinatubo–intensity orgasm, to a man they’ve responded, “I can work with that.” Over the decades you’ve worn a powerful groove between body and mind that is a shortcut to ecstasy. This is not a cause for despair but celebration. Just because you have a “patented method” does not mean you’re a dull lover. You can engage in all sorts of gymnastics, but at some point during the session, you will feel the urge for your legs to stiffen. By your own account, no one has ever softened in response. The only negative I see is that it’s your personal method and not universally applicable. The world would be a happier place if the countless women who never reliably get off could solve this frustration with a session of mannequin legs.
9. Alfredo, Straight From the Pump (July 25)
I am a new mother of a lovely 4-month-old baby girl. My husband has been curious about my lactation, and I allowed him to taste some (from a bottle that I pumped). Now, he wants more. He thinks this sweet, fatty milk product would be perfect for a creamy mushroom pasta sauce. This disgusts me. Turning breast milk into food for adults feels a bit like making margaritas from my sweat. My husband argues that since we have plenty of supply and it wouldn't hurt the baby, I should just let him try it and get over my repulsion. Am I being unreasonable?
Your husband sounds insane. I cannot imagine using breast milk for anything but lobster bisque. Take heart that your husband is not the only one with culinary designs on his wife’s lactation. A New York chef made breast-milk cheese (“strangely soft, bouncy” according to critic Gael Greene). However, it’s no longer in production, not just because of weaning, but because the health department rendered a negative verdict. Tell your husband you’ll stick to your breasts’ providing dinner service exclusively for the kid, but you’d love to have his creamy mushroom pasta. Say that he can find the necessary ingredients in the dairy aisle.
10. The Cruelest Confiscation (June 13)
My husband and I are at odds over our younger daughter and her "blankie.” My mother bought it for me when I was born and it's been loved so much for so long that it's completely see-through. I passed it to both of my girls, but only the younger has been attached to it. My daughter is almost 6 years old and my husband says she's much too old to be carrying around a "rag.” He also has a problem with her referring to blankie as "him" because it’s an inanimate object. My youngest talks with blankie and when she has tea parties she will "feed" blankie. (I was a similarly imaginative child.) My husband wanted to burn blankie or throw it away, but I got him to agree not to by saying I would make a bear and use blankie as stuffing. Blankie has been hidden from her for two weeks. Our daughter cries sometimes at night because she wants to cuddle with blankie, or she will say "I'm afraid blankie is going to die." I want her to have the blanket back, but my husband is adamant. Is there some way I can convince my husband that loving "blankie" is still OK no matter what our daughter’s age?
Please tell me your husband has some other redeeming qualities because as a father he is not only a wet blanket but cruel, punitive, and bizarrely literal. Over the years people (or their loved ones) who were embarrassed or concerned about their security objects, from blankets to stuffed animals, have written in asking whether their continued attachment was abnormal. When I’ve run these I’ve always been flooded with lovely replies from people who continue to have a special place of affection for an article that helped get them through some hard times, including being in a bomb attack in Iraq. In the psychological parlance things like blankie are transitional objects, and their use is perfectly normal and healthy. Given the paucity of blankies at executive committee meetings, most people make the transition and let them go. But giving up blankie could be years down the road for your still 5-year-old daughter—and if she holds onto this shred of assurance over the long haul, that’s fine, too. Your husband’s objection that your daughter calls blankie “he” because it’s inanimate makes me wonder if you’ve married someone who lacks the capacity to understand the minds of others, particularly children. I’m disturbed that in response to his daughter’s tears, your husband wants to incinerate this little piece of cloth. As far as blankie is concerned, you should tell your husband point blank that blankie is yours, and he’s not to get rid of it. But this conflict is not really about a threadbare piece of cloth; instead it’s about your husband’s capacity to be a compassionate and loving father. To address that, start by telling your husband that this issue has made you realize you two need to go to parenting classes together. As a start, hearing from a neutral party that your daughter’s attachment is typical might mollify your husband on this subject. Whether your little girl eventually consigns blankie to a special private place (highly likely) or continues to keep him within reach (possible, but less so), ask your husband this question: What’s it to you?
11. Too Close for Comfort … (Jan. 17)
My brother and I are having a physical relationship. Our parents are admirable people who took good care of us, but are distant and aloof, and I think that my brother and I turned to each other for warmth and emotional support. He’s two years older and looked out for me in high school, and I shared with him what girls are like, which made him more confident socially. After he went away to college, I chose a college in the same city as his, so we continued to see a lot of each other. I'm now a senior and he's a graduate student. About three months ago we were sitting on my couch watching a sad movie and when it was over we turned to each other, exchanged a look, and started kissing. Now we lie on the bed, clothed, and kiss and talk and hold each other. When I'm with him I feel loved and cared for. We have not had sex because there's a psychological barrier that neither of us wants to cross. I go on dates with other men, but I never feel the emotional connection that I feel with my brother. I needed to talk to someone about this so I went to a counselor at the student health service and in the first session she practically ordered me not to see him for three months. I left in tears and haven't gone back. We want to lead normal lives and have families. We both know intellectually that we shouldn't be doing this, but we don't feel the wrongness of it. Must we stop this immediately, or may we let it continue and hope we grow out of it?
—No Sibling Rivalry
Since you’re both in your 20s, the trend appears to be going the opposite way of outgrowing your closeness. You say you don’t want to cross the ultimate line, but you continue to slow dance to the edge of it. If one day Jack’s resolve breaks, you, Jill, are likely to come tumbling after. You profess you two want normal lives, but if you violate this taboo you may never get there. If you do have an affair, or something pretty close, and you vow to forever keep this secret, you each will spend decades hoping your sibling stays silent. But if one or the other feels this is something a future romantic partner should know, don’t be surprised if upon hearing your confession your new love quickly backs away. I know I more or less gave a pass recently to a pair of middle-aged incestuous gay twins, but they had long ago made a physical and emotional commitment to each other, and were asking me about whether they should let their family know. I think even those two men would advise you two to stop the rubbing and get yourselves disentangled emotionally. Your therapist should have had the training not to be so shocked by your revelation that she ended up barking orders. Go back to the counseling office, say your first therapist was not a good fit, and you’d like to talk to someone else about a pressing emotional issue. A good therapist should be able to hear you out, understand your situation, and help guide you out of it. For a window into how strange things like this can get if they go too far, read Jeffrey Eugenides’ wonderful novel Middlesex.
12. Just Be Glad She Doesn’t Use a Whistle (July 2)
Q. My Girlfriend the Sex Coach: My GF and I recently started having sex. I'm not sure the best way to explain it, so I'm going to just give you some examples of things she says during sex. "You're doing great!" "Your technique and fundamentals are really good." (While going down on her:) "Yes! Keep going! You can do it!" "Wow! That's good. You must have been practicing!" Mind you, let me reiterate, these are things she is saying WHILE we are having sex. Yes, in the middle of the act, she keeps saying all these words of encouragement. What is she, my coach? I'm just so flabbergasted by this, I don't even know what to say to her. She doesn't even really talk dirty, she just will shout all these words of encouragement. I really have to dig deep in my mind for really dirty thoughts to stay in the mood because to me it is so ridiculous that I just want to burst out laughing sometimes. What is this all about?
A: At least she hasn't said, "And you stuck your landing!" I'm wondering if your girlfriend is an aficionado of the show Girls, because one of the most cringe-worthy scenes was when Marnie and Charlie got back together, and upon having sex again Marnie discovered Charlie's being with other women had improved his technique, and she shouted out commentary almost identical to what you're describing. Your problem is, one, that the rule-book of how to have a good relationship says you should bring it up gently when you're not in bed. You tell your girlfriend how happy you are with her, how wonderful it is that you've become intimate, blah, blah, blah. But that her commentary during sex, while meant to be encouraging, is really distracting and you'd appreciate if she'd stop. But what I really would hope is that you simply flop away, laugh hysterically, and say, "Marnie, there's no way I can score unless you stop coaching from the sidelines."
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