I’m not allowed to touch my girlfriend. Ever.

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Dear How to Do It, 

I know that advice about relationship problems frequently boils down to “communicate with each other.” What has stymied me is that we have communicated, but I have a problem with our established agreement. My girlfriend doesn’t like to be touched. We have a healthy sex life, but she doesn’t want to be kissed or caressed outside of it. Nor does she like hugs and kisses, or touching each other casually in our daily life. When we first got together, I assumed that she’d get more comfortable with touch as she got to know me, but we did eventually have a proper conversation about it: No touching. Ever.

She either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to talk about why, and she definitely doesn’t want to try and change. We almost broke up, but after a lot of talking, we decided that it could work. We enjoy each other’s company, we support each other, and I have plenty of family and friends to fill up the touch-meter with hugs and casual contact. I loved her by then, so I thought it was worth it. Except I didn’t realize how much I associate intimacy with touch.

Meanwhile, a long-term friendship with a girl I grew up with has ended, or at least been put on hold, because the emotional lines were getting blurred. There’s never been anything romantic between us, and she’s not generally my “type,” but I was going to her for physical affection. My girlfriend didn’t see the problem. She’s glad that I ended the relationship when it entered the danger zone, as she values monogamy a lot, but she didn’t understand how weird it was that I was seeking physical affection from a friend.

I think because she doesn’t value touch, she doesn’t see how it can be a minefield to seek it outside our relationship. We need to break up, but it feels wrong to pull the rug from under her when this is something she believes we’re on the same page about. Is there anything more than communication can do here? It seems like we’re at a weird impasse that we can’t fully absorb because neither of us really understands it (I believe, but don’t really understand that she doesn’t miss touch, and she understands but can’t quite believe that touch is more important to me than our relationship). It feels like this should be something we can work through, but it seems any way forward requires someone to give up what it feels like they need to live.


Dear Touch-Starved,

You hit the nail on the head: It’s a mismatch. Your girlfriend doesn’t like touch; you need it. However positive your intentions were by assuming that she’d get more comfortable with touch as she got to know you, that assumption was wrong. You were given all the data you needed, and then told in no uncertain terms: “No touching. Ever.” Loud and clear. That you decided to try for a relationship despite this doesn’t make you a bad person—sometimes it takes a while for us to sort out what we’re willing to tolerate for the sake of love, and at any rate, love is a journey, not a destination.

You said it yourself: “We need to break up.” When you feel that way, it’s often true—it’s potentially damaging to allow a person to think all is well when you’re figuring out your exit strategy (and writing into advice columns). If you feel that breaking up with your girlfriend would amount to pulling the rug out from under her, you in fact have not been communicating, and it invalidates the premise of your letter’s opening.

You don’t have to go into the breakup conversation like it’s an execution—you’ve discussed this issue before, she’s given you a hard-line answer, you’ve tried to cope with that, and it’s not working. Lay it all out carefully. Let her know that you’re contemplating breaking up, and see if she has other suggestions. It could very well be that when she understands that your hard line doesn’t intersect with hers, she will come to the mutual decision that the relationship can’t go on. At the very least, more communication can provide that clarity and will make your probable imminent split less confusing and more humane. It’s worth it for that alone.

Dear How to Do It, 

My husband “Justin” and I are very kinky gay/queer men in our mid-30s. After 15 years together, we’ve been getting deep into a Daddy Dom/little boy dynamic—complete with incest and ageplay elements. (Yes, we both have difficult relationships with our fathers, why do you ask?) It hasn’t quite risen to the level of a lifestyle dynamic where we’re in it 24/7, but it’s definitely been seeping out of the bedroom. The other night, we even watched a movie at home in these roles.

I’m the “little” in this situation. The nurturing dominant role fits Justin like a glove, and it’s such a thrill to see him regain confidence and become more self-assured through play. He finds this mindset so steadying that he’s explicitly tried to apply it to other areas of his life, with great success, and I’m so proud of him.

My relationship with my actual father was extremely close and secure until it violently and abusively imploded the moment he discovered that my developing sex drive was oriented towards men. I didn’t even realize how badly I needed someone standing in for that role to tell me that they will love me regardless of who I sleep with or desire, and that I’m safe. Even though Justin and I have always been ceaselessly supportive of each other, the precise support he’s been giving of late has me feeling especially uplifted and held. This whole experience helped me realize I need to go back to therapy to deal with all this trauma and has brought out a playful side in both Justin and me that I hardly recognize but can’t get enough of.

Somehow, this kink seems to be healthy and healing for each of us. We’re even spending more quality time together versus just hanging around watching TV, and back to going on fun dates. We’re closer than ever before, without feeling codependent.

The problem is, I still can’t shake off the shame for wanting or enjoying this dynamic, and despite its benefits, I’m still struggling with how it makes me feel. I guess my basic feeling is that it’s only moral to remain repulsed by something like parent-child incest, which is absolutely is, if/when it is real. But this isn’t real, and yet, I can’t seem to let go of my feelings about reality to be able to fully enjoy the fantasy. Please help.

—Little Boy Blue

Dear Little Boy Blue,

Well, look: Your letter is full of effusive words to describe your roleplay. It’s given your relationship a second wind, and it’s helped you to process a devastating rejection related to your sexuality. That’s the big voice. Relegate the shame to the role of little voice. Your situation is specific and, in many ways, unique, but overcoming shame is an ongoing process in the lives of many queer adults. It takes a lot to undo the negative feelings culture can impart. As Walt Odets writes in his 2019 book Out of the Shadows: Reimagining Gay Men’s Lives:

We are never completely free of shame acquired in childhood, adolescence, and early adult life, and the mere assertion of “gay pride” does not undo it; it hides it. The ability to consciously recognize shame when it attempts to play itself out can transform our lives. In recognizing shame, we can decide to interrupt its inclinations and play things out differently. In doing that, we sometimes get better results, and our shame and self-doubt slowly diminish.

You’re already well on your way. Your plan for therapy is sound. Also, I recommend reading Odets book (as I do to any gay man—it deserves to have the status that Alan Downs’ The Velvet Rage enjoys as the go-to, how-to-deal-with-gay-baggage manual for guys). Additionally, you might want to look into meditation if you don’t already practice—it has helped me control where my thinking goes. It doesn’t eradicate my negative thoughts or judgment of myself, but it has given me more power to recognize when that happens and course correct.

If nothing else, I commend you for figuring out a way to re-energize your relationship and work through significant pain related to your sexuality. I hope that you find a way to feel good about that all the time—you deserve it.

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Dear How to Do It, 

How do you negotiate the return of the “one who got away,” even when circumstances at present won’t allow for a deeper relationship? I’m happily married to a man. We have two kids, and we have pretty frequent and good sex (multiple times a week, and we both cum). My partner identifies as queer, and though we’re currently monogamous, we have an arrangement where if someone comes around, we can do what we need to do with them.

Outside the bedroom, my partner takes on a lot of stereotypically feminine roles and fully supports my autonomy and other desires (I work a pretty intense job with a lot of travel). The point of saying all this is that my distress is not rooted in my current relationship.

Recently, I reconnected with an old friend at a work event. We had long conversations where we lost track of time, and we had that sense of clicking and anticipating the other person’s reaction. We didn’t have sex (work event!) but since then, we have had several long conversations about just … everything. This friend and I have known each other for a long time and were very close, but he was in another monogamous relationship at the time (I was not), and we both respected those boundaries. He’s longer in that relationship, and I’m stunned by the intensity of this reconnection and also the impossibility: He lives in a major metro area in the same country, but a long distance away from me.

I can’t stop thinking about him and how it feels like he sees me in a fulfilling and needed way that’s distinct from—but does not invalidate—my primary relationship. Also, I’m very attracted to him. He’s made it clear he’s attracted to me and feels this way, too. I really do want to fuck him. I have a sense there would be fireworks.

I don’t know how to proceed. It’s up to me to take the next step because I’m currently in a relationship. Do I let the spark of something rare and special die because of logistics, or do I take a risk and try to build something , even if that something is sometimes contingent on what’s okay with my husband? And yes, I’ve talked about this with my current partner. His response is that this isn’t about him or our relationship, and I deserve to be fulfilled and happy. My current partner is not jealous, and he gets the complexities of human connection. How do I negotiate this ethically and practically?

—Aching and Confused

Dear Aching and Confused, 

You’re already negotiating this ethically by keeping your partner abreast. I don’t think you need to tell him everything you are feeling—you’re in a heightened state, feeling something along the lines of what the poly community calls NRE (new relationship energy), and as you acclimate, you might find that your feelings calm down a bit, which would make divulging them now in their entirety distort the overall picture. But it’s probably important to let your husband know that this might turn out to be something you spend some time on—i.e. not just a one-night stand. It would just help to adequately prepare him—there’s a difference between being open and being poly, and it seems like you may be leaning toward the latter with this one.

Practically, you should navigate this—at least to start—as you would any solo pursuit such as a hobby. Use your free time. Don’t drop everything for this guy—as exciting as it is, a lot of this is taking place in your mind. Yes, you know him, but in terms of how it will actually work with him romantically and sexually, you’re just guessing (slash hoping). You shouldn’t invest too much in a fantasy. Find the time between your familial obligations, stay upfront with your husband, try to keep a handle on your expectations, and have fun. You’re already pointed in the right direction.


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I’m an attractive sixtysomething single woman who’s had two bad marriages that included nonexistent sex in the first one and boring sex in the second. After my last live-in relationship, I met this man who is in amazing physical shape and seven years my junior. We fell into seeing each other regularly but didn’t qualify the relationship as being an item. I like the ambiguity. It keeps things exciting. Nothing has dissipated in our wonton lust for each other. Enter a very good and dear friend who has always had to beat the men off her with a stick. Recently, she brought up having a ménage à trois with my man and me. I think she just wants to have hot sex with my lover and used a threesome as a method to get to him. How do I tell her I’m not her facilitator for finding hot men?

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