Q&A with Dr. Corwin

Q: Last night I got an email from a woman I was crazy about last year.  I don’t know how to respond.  Last year she said I was too clingy, and then she just stopped calling me back.  I’ve worked hard to accept this and move on–but now I get this email where she says she’s “making amends” because the way she disappeared wasn’t right, and she wanted to apologize.  I accepted her apology, said I didn’t hold bad feelings toward her, and that was the end of the email exchange.  But now I’m confused–does she want to start up again?  Should I write and tell her I’d like to try a fresh start?  I still have big feelings for her…Why would she write me if she doesn’t want to see me again?

A:  First of all, I think you handled that very graciously.  You accepted her apology, let her know you’re not holding a grudge, and closed kindly.  That was perfect–and it was enough.

Sometimes confusion is a cover for feelings you don’t want to have, like rejection, loss, disappointment.  It’s easy to start reading between the lines and inserting what you wish you were hearing.  That usually doesn’t work out.  It’s best to just take people at face value–like you did with your first response.  But to go back and ask if there’s a possibility for more is setting yourself up to be accused of being too clingy, again.  And here’s the thing: I don’t know if you’re too clingy, or not–but it does seem that this woman perceived you that way, so anything you do in an effort to draw closer is going to get interpreted as “There you go again.”   It may make her feel good–“See how she wants me!”–but it’s basically demeaning to you and can’t possibly be good for your self esteem.

What is good for your self esteem is when you realize that you respect yourself enough to not chase someone who’s not meeting you halfway, and when you have the courage to walk away from an invitation to grovel.  It may be sad, but it’s not toxic, and it opens the way for a relationship of mutual respect.  So good for you for your first response, and stick to it!

Q: My partner has been spending a lot of time with a recent female acquaintance who shares common career and social interests.  They meet at least weekly for lunch or coffee, and often talk on the phone or text.  I’ve never had a reason not to trust my partner, but I feel uneasy about this friendship.  Am I overreacting?

A: You’re not overreacting.  Most of us would feel uneasy in this situation.  You need to talk about it, and it may be hard because this is such a sensitive topic.  You both need to simply listen to each other so you can understand what’s happening emotionally.  Is your partner indulging a flirtation, filling an emotional void, or actually just hanging out with a friend?  Once you have more information, you’ll know what will help you feel more at ease.

Remember that it matters–a lot–what the “other woman” thinks and feels.  Is she clear about boundaries and fidelity or she under the impression that you’re oblivious or indifferent?  What does your partner think this woman thinks?  Conflicting agendas are problematic,  so clarity really helps.

Your worries make sense.  It may be hard to express them,  but believe me, avoidance is worse!  And authentic communication may help you and your partner love and respect each other even more.  That would be a great outcome.

Q: My partner had a complete blowout last weekend, says she’s done.  She was angry because I’d just gotten back from a long trip, and for the first 24 hours I was home I just was into settling back, catching up on work, enjoying being home–but she wanted to make love, and said I ignored her.  So when 24 hours passed she blew up, said she wants me to be more affectionate and excited about her but she feels “invisible and unimportant.”  I think she takes things too seriously.  We’ve had this same discussion 100 times before, and nothing changes.  So are we doomed?

A: Not necessarily, but it’s good that you’re asking.   It depends how honest you both can be without getting so hurt or angry.  Sounds like you’re on different sides of the emotional/sexual attachment continuum–she wants more and you want  less– and you feel blamed for not being more like your partner.  That’s not possible, so what else can you do?

To end this repetitive cycle, talk honestly with each other about deeper feelings that were going on last weekend.   What was she thinking/feeling during the first 24 hours you were back, when you were not engaging with her?  What were you thinking/feeling during those 24 hours?  Take deep breaths before having this conversation. It will be incredibly easy to lose the goal–genuine, productive conversation–and fall into defensiveness, criticism, withdrawing, or even disdainful eye-rolling.  None of those will help!

What always helps is the prayer of St Francis of Assissi:  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  If you want to understand what those 24 hours meant to her, she may be more willing to understand how it was for you.  And empathy like this can only help, regardless of what the outcome is.

Q: We’ve been together for 6 years, and my partner says she just doesn’t care about sex that much.  Recently we had a great talk about this, and then we made love (first time this year).  It felt great, but I’m afraid to get excited because part of me thinks it won’t last.  How do we keep from falling back into the same old rut?

A: Do you know what was great about the talk you had?  Were either of you more authentic than usual?  Less critical?  Something about your talk helped you both feel safe enough to venture back into sexual intimacy, so congratulate yourselves on that!  I’m guessing that you were able to identify some things that have been barriers for both of you (stress, fatigue,  friend/family demands, self-esteem issues).  To avoid falling back into a rut, you and your partner need to make a commitment to set aside time for these kinds of conversations about sexuality.  When you commit to intimate conversations, you create and nurture sexual feelings with each other.

Q. Can you describe the “Sexual Intimacy Workshop” that you offer?  My partner and I might be interested in attending but have no idea what to expect.

A. Thanks for asking!  Sex is so private–how can we talk about this publicly?  Most women say the workshop feels like a seminar with four or five other  couples. In the morning session, I present a lot of research and information about female sexuality and typical dynamics in same-sex relationships. There’s plenty of time for Q & A, but this is not about personal details.

The afternoon session is organized around written exercises (for your eyes only) to help you understand yourself better.  Then you’ll have structured dialogues with your partner (just you and her, not the whole group)  to help you talk about these issues in a positive, productive way.   The goal here is to help you work as an intimate team, instead of repeating the same old nonproductive arguments.  There will be time for group discussion in the afternoon session, but your sexual issues are between you and your partner.

At the end of the day, most women say they enjoyed the group discussion, were surprised by what they learned, and felt more connected with their partners.  Most women also say they feel better about themselves.  To me, that’s the ideal outcome.

Q:  I just met a woman I’’m very attracted to and hope to go out with, but I’’m nervous about sex.   I don’t have much experience, and have the impression she does.  Any tips?

A:  The best tip for anything sexual is – go slow!  The more time and conversation you have with her, the more you’ll get a sense of how she’d react to your level of experience. My guess is that she wouldn’t be bothered at all (might even like that!), and you could just talk to her about feeling nervous  (most women are).   If for some reason you suspect that she would be critical or disapproving about your “performance,” take that as a sign to Beware!  Criticism and disapproval aren’t good for anyone’s psyche, especially in the bedroom.

Q:  Can you re-light a passionate relationship after it’s already died down for awhile?  It’s been a couple years for us, and I wonder if it’s worth even trying.  Should we just accept that this is the next phase in long-term relationships?

A:  That’s a tough question, and No, I don’t think you should just accept this as the next inevitable phase.   It’s true that it’s hard to re-kindle romance after a couple years of cold storage…but if you both want this it’s very possible.  For most couples, it helps to remember the early stages of your relationship, what you enjoyed doing together, what helped you feel more physical yourself.   That part is pretty straightforward.  The complication is that you probably need to talk with each other about how each of you really feels about this.  It definitely takes teamwork!

Q: The woman I’ve been going out with for a few months keeps telling me she really likes me but isn’t sure she’s over her ex- yet.  We’ve had some great weekends together, but this seems to keep coming up.  It kind of hurts my feelings, but then again I don’t want to walk away from a good thing…

A:  Do you think getting your feelings hurt is a good thing?  Because she sounds like someone who could do that to you.  Dating one person while saying you miss another is really not a very nice thing to do.  Think carefully about how much to invest in someone who’s not really investing in you.

Q:   I’ve been single a couple years.  My friends keep telling me I should try online dating. but it scares me.  How do you know if you’re meeting up with someone who’s got big problems, or is going to hurt your feelings later?

A:  It’s a good idea to be a little scared, or at least cautious, when you connect with someone online.  You really don’t have any idea who they really are, so there are basic safety guidelines:   arrange to meet for morning  coffee or a quick lunch in a busy place, let a friend know what you’re doing, don’t give out personal information too quickly.  Just focus on a friendly low-key conversation at first and see how you feel afterwards.  And talk to your friends about it afterwards, too.  Sometimes they can see warning signs easier than we can, because they aren’t as emotionally invested.  But don’t let anyone tell you NOT to be a little nervous–it’s a good thing to protect yourself!  At the same time, remember–most women online are just like you, wanting to connect with new people but nervous about it.  So let’s be cautious AND courteous to each other.

Q: My partner and I are arguing a lot about our sex life. We don’t really have one, except maybe a couple times in the past year. She thinks we should work on this, but when I talk to my friends they aren’t having much sex either. Sex has never been that big a deal to me. Why should I have to change?

A:  You don’t HAVE to change—but if you want to stay with your partner, you may want to. Sounds like you’re asking her to change, to NOT be interested in sex just because you’re not. A conflict like this can end your relationship, often because someone else comes along who IS interested in sex. And BTW, you don’t have to try to work up a big “sex drive” in order to have sexual intimacy. You just need to be open to learning about female sexual desire, how to re-create feelings you had for her in the beginning, how to meet her halfway with this. It’s not as hard as you think! And I think you’ll like the bonding feeling that sexual intimacy brings.

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