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My wife and I have been happily married for more than a decade. We saw a therapist together for a couple of years; my wife wasn’t interested in sex, and I was. We got much better at it. Then, a column of yours from a year or so ago got us even further ahead: You advised a woman to schedule a weekly sex date with her husband and hoped both of them came to look forward to it. We did that, and it’s been working well. Except my wife prefers to be drunk to do the deed. She barely drinks at all otherwise. But to get frisky she likes two or three glasses of wine because, she says, it shuts up her self-consciousness and resistance and the other things that get in the way. My drunk wife is great in bed. My sober wife doesn’t want to be touched and just wants the deed done as quickly as possible. I enjoy sex with my intoxicated wife, but I don’t love that she needs to be several sheets to the wind to get in between the sheets. She’s consistent in saying it’s not about me, it’s her own stuff. Maybe more sex therapy could help, but who has time for appointments with three young kids and jobs? And maybe it’s fine as is?
—Glass Half Full
Those are some loaded questions: Is it a problem that your wife has to get intoxicated to enjoy sex with you, or should you be delighted she’s willing to get intoxicated to have sex with you? From your account, your wife was never that interested in sex, and so you are one of those couples who decided to pair up despite your mismatched libidos. I do wonder about people who think love will overcome this problem, because surely everyone knows marriage and kids rarely heat up things. I have suggested scheduling sex, which doesn’t sound sexy, but having sex turns out to be more sexy than not having it. In most of these cases, though, the partners have established that they enjoy each other in bed—they’re just not getting there often enough. I think you need to get to the primary source of your wife’s resistance. Is it more that she lies there thinking: “I’ve got to make appointments for the kids’ vaccinations tomorrow. Are we out of bread? Olivia has a recital Thursday afternoon, so I have to arrange to leave work early …”? That is, her domestic life has subsumed her erotic life, and instead of sex being a release, it just feels like another obligation. Or is she saying to herself, “I hate when he touches my nipples. I hate when he kisses my neck. I hate when he wants me to stroke his …” This inquiry into your wife’s feelings needs to be sensitive, even oblique. So I suggest you start by reading Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel and The Return of Desire by Gina Ogden.
See if these books offer insights or case histories that speak to your situation. If you find these, you can ask your wife to look at some passages. Or you can just act on what you’ve read, taking a page from other semi-moribund couples who have been jolted into bed. Since you applied my suggestion about scheduling sex, I’m going to make another one that I can’t even believe I’m advocating. Consider taking a trip together to Colorado or Washington state. For one thing, when the children are far away with their grandparents or a trusted babysitter, your wife won't be distracted about the need to make their lunches. For another, you two can explore the new world of legal marijuana. To get aroused your wife has to shut off the competing voices in her head. So join with her and share a joint. Because this letting go will be somewhat subversive, I hope it gets you two laughing your heads off and tearing your clothes off. No, I don’t think becoming potheads is a permanent solution. I’m just suggesting that casting aside your routines and responsibilities might be a way to create some new sparks.
Dear Prudence: Jealous of Boyfriend’s Dog
I am at an impasse with my husband over his recreational pot use. We are in our late 30s and I have no moral objection to occasional pot use. I did a bit of when I was younger, but have outgrown it. But he's a frequent user and becomes a different person when he's high—he acts unintelligent and clueless. The other problem is that when he has it, he can’t keep his hands off it, so there can be days on end when I only see him high. I end up going to bed alone while he stays up late playing video games and eating all the snack food! Then he runs out and we’re back to normal for a few weeks. When I tell him this is undermining our marriage, he says I'm overreacting. A few months ago he seemed to take my concerns more seriously and agreed not to keep pot around the house. He's broken this promise several times, and now I feel betrayed in addition to everything else. Am I overreacting? Is he underreacting? How do we move past this?
Given my answer to the first letter, thank you for this opportunity to address the dark side of our country’s overdue move to decriminalize and legalize marijuana. I am thrilled we seem to be coming to a place of greater sanity as far as drugs laws are concerned. Our decades-long “war” didn’t stop people from using, but incarcerated millions, many of them nonviolent offenders, and wrecked lives and communities. But this doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences to the increasing availability of marijuana. It may have a lower dependency rate than other drugs, but marijuana can definitely be addictive, and those who start young or smoke daily are particularly vulnerable. If you were to substitute “alcohol” for “pot” in your letter, you would clearly see your husband has a problem. He becomes a different person when he’s using, once he starts he can’t stop, and he makes promises about controlling his intake that he can’t keep. Your husband’s marijuana use is sabotaging your marriage and surely will have deleterious effects on other parts of his life. It’s time you have a blunt talk and tell him he needs help, or else you’re going to have to rethink your life together. He can start by looking into Marijuana Anonymous, an organization that should get increasingly popular in the coming years.
I’m the older brother of a sister "Anne," who graduated from college last June. She has always been hardworking and popular. However, she is extremely sensitive about the fact that while I went to an Ivy League school, she went to a good but less "prestigious" college than I did. No one else in my family has made an issue of this and everyone was as proud of her when she graduated as they were of me. This past weekend, while visiting my parents’ house, I was getting a book in Anne’s room and found a crumpled letter from her university stuffed in the back of her bookshelf. It was dated the day of her supposed graduation (which she walked at and we all attended) and alluded to the fact that she had not actually received a degree because she was short several credits. She has a good, very demanding job, and I am virtually positive that she never made up the credits and that neither my parents (who paid her tuition) nor her employer are aware that she doesn't have a degree. I don’t know whether to discuss it with her first or just alert my parents.
You are aware, Mr. Ivy League, that a crumpled letter in someone else’s bedroom addressed to the occupant of said room comes under the heading of “none of your business.” But you snooped anyway and found out some very concerning news regarding your sister. Now that you have this information, I think you should go to her and first apologize unreservedly for looking at her private correspondence. Then tell her you are concerned that what is a minor and easily fixable problem now will likely blow up in her face in years to come if she doesn’t address it. Tell her that overstated credentials have torpedoed many careers, and since she’s so smart and so capable, she should be in touch with her college and working out the most convenient way to finish the necessary credits, in order to protect the successful career she will surely have. Be prepared for her to flip out over the fact that you were nosing about in her bedroom, and that you again seem to be lording your high-prestige parchment over her. Then leave this up to her to fix. She is an adult, and if she wants to start her career with a lie, she’s the one who will have to live with the consequences.
My boyfriend and I are both grad students and we live together. Over the past year, I have developed a nervous habit of twirling my hair while studying. Since my boyfriend and I often study together, he noticed the habit and told me he didn't like it and that I should stop it. I laughed and said I didn't want to. He was not happy. I admit I do it all the time, now even when I'm not studying. It's gotten to the point that my boyfriend will poke me and say, “Hair twirling!” and if I refuse to stop he will sometimes get mad and storm out of the room. He says it bothers him that I still do it, knowing he hates it. Am I being unreasonable? Is he being too bossy?
Once I had a colleague who was a compulsive hair twirler. A few months after he arrived at the office, I was looking around at a staff meeting and about half of us (including me) had our fingers on our skulls making swirlies out of our hair. So I know that hair-twirling can be pernicious and contagious! It was a distressing sight. You acknowledge this is a new, nervous habit that you now do obsessively. Surely you can understand his perspective that having your partner constantly engage in juvenile-looking behavior is annoying to watch. You do not say that throughout your life you have struggled with other such compulsions. So you need to direct your anxiety into something more productive and less maddening. Get a set of hand weights and when you start to feel you want to twirl, do some reps and build your biceps. Or take a walk, clean out your closet—you get the idea. Read The Power of Habit to understand the principles behind making, and breaking, behaviors. Just think how great it will be when in response to your reform, your boyfriend tames his own growing habit of being bossy.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“The Only One—Or Else: My girlfriend has a fit whenever I mention my late wife. What should I do?”
“Bed Bug: My husband invited a homeless woman to live with us. Should I divorce him?”
“My Mother the Identity Thief: My mom has been running up credit-card debt in my name. What do I do?”
“Confessions of a Favorite Daughter: My parents’ blatant favoritism made me a narcissist and my sister depressed. Is it too late for me to stop it?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“My Life as a Sugar Baby: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman on whether to stay mum about having dated rich men for money.”
“Tongue Oppressor: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend obnoxiously licks her face.”
“My Creepy Keeper: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose brother-in-law “watches over her” by peeping through her bedroom window.”
“Don’t Look, Ma!: In a live chat, Prudie advises a man whose wife refuses to hide a nude print the next time his mother comes over.”
Check out Dear Prudence's book recommendations in the Slate Store.