Hello Dr. Saltzman,
First of all I just want to say that you are amazing! I cannot articulate what I think/feel about your work.
Okay I will try to make this short and sweet. I am 23 years old and have been married for 5 years now (my husband is just 5 months older). I was molested when I was 16 and it negatively impacted my views on sex and sexuality. Lucky although very young, my husband has always been very understanding and has always been extremely supportive. I believe that we have what many don't, true love and understanding for one another.
What most men consider a pitfall (at least in our Latin American culture) is what my husband loves most about me: I have a mind of my own, I want more to life than popping out babies for the sake of keeping some good-for-nothing asshole by my side. He loves that I am intelligent, opinionated, successful, and that I don't take crap from anyone. Most men in our culture see this as a threat, but he sees it as it is and he is proud of me.
I love him very much for these reasons and so many more, but I feel like we don't share passion, I feel like I am not necessarily sexually attracted to him. I have fantasized about other men and although I think this is normal, I wish that I would feel like that towards the man that I love so much. Our sex life was almost nonexistent in our first year of marriage and we have worked hard and it has slowly gotten better. It has only been until this month that we have been having sex consistently, before this month we would have sex maybe once a month. I have never really been interested in sex until now, obviously because of my first encounter with sexuality and because when my husband and I would have sex I felt like he was only pleasing himself (he would 'finish' very fast--he says he couldn't help it--and then climb off me). Sex has become more consistent and I find myself wanting to have sex a lot more now that my husband has begun a job in another city. As a result, we only see each other on weekends when he comes home. I must also mention that he is my second boyfriend and the only person I have ever had sex with.
As I mentioned before my concern is that I did not feel really attracted to him until now and there have been times--I haven't experienced this since he has left--when I feel like I don't love him. I feel really mad at him for no apparent reason. Everything he does makes me angry or not necessarily angry but annoyed, little things, like the way he chews, walks, most little things that I usually don't notice. These things make me feel like I don't love him. I hate feeling like this because I really love him and although everything has been fine since he has left I don't want those feelings to come up again. He has been very supportive and patient with me in all aspects (even when I am a total bitch--pardon my French--for no apparent reason). He does not deserve the way I feel. He is the only man in my life that has not let me down and has treated me with love, kindness and, most importantly, respect. I read a book recently, Love The One You Are With‚ and the author mentions something that I took to heart: "Love is the sum of our choices, the strength of our commitments, the ties that bind us together." I really hope that this is true because I found some comfort in that quote.
Please tell me what you feel is my problem.
I am sorry, I did not intend for this to get this long.
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First, thanks for your kind words. I am always happy to hear that someone finds my website useful. And all of us can use as many fans as we can get.
Your question--"what is my problem?"--is complicated not only because it deals with sexual desire and sexual pleasure, which in themselves are matters troubling to many people and certainly, judging from your letter, to you, but also because you are trying to stretch the word "love" within this one short letter to mean several very different things. Let me try to explain.
In the English language, there is only one word "love," and this word is used to refer to such very distinct and divergent feelings as love for a child, love of a valued teacher, love of humanity in general, or love for someone who has just provoked an orgasm and whose face and body appear beautiful and desirable. The situation in your mother tongue, Spanish, is a bit better since español has two words for "love," amar and querer, which, as in the popular song, "Amar y Querer," can be used to distinguish between two different kinds of emotions: querer often implies desire, while amar implies a deeper kind of love—something beyond desire. But far better in this regard than either English or Spanish is the ancient Greek language which has three or more different words which in English would all be translated as "love." In other words, what the Greeks separated into at least three different categories, each designated by a different word, in English is conflated (mashed together) into just a single category: "love," and I believe that this mashing together of various meanings has confused and hindered your search for deeper, more workable understanding of the complex emotional relationship between you and your husband.
For the ancient Greeks, this mashing together of meanings did not exist. Because their language provided at least three different words, they were able to be more subtle and more definite when they thought about love. By the way, this is an interesting point: since we think in words, we can only be as intelligent and as subtle in our thinking about life as our personal vocabulary as well as the general vocabulary of our particular culture will allow us to be. This is why reading and education are so vital for anyone who wants to be intelligent and philosophically aware. To learn new words with new connotations is to open the mind to new ways of understanding.
To choose another example of the importance of language, for an American snow is snow. Same for a Mexican, for whom nieve is nieve. But for an Central Alaskan Yupik Eskimo who lives most of his or her life surrounded by snow, finer distinctions are necessary, and so their language contains numerous words for snow, at least fifteen, possibly up to one hundred. For example, to a Yupik, aniu means "snow on the ground," while nutaryuk means "fresh fallen snow on the ground." "Muruaneq" means "soft deep snow," while "qerretrar" means the opposite, "snow with a hard crust on top." For a Mexican, who usually just sees nieve atop a distant mountain, or perhaps in pictures, the difference between soft snow, and crusty snow is unimportant and so does not require special words of discernment—the one word, nieve, is sufficient. But for a Yupik, being able to discern and communicate subtle differences in types of snow and the condition of snow can be essential for survival. Perhaps a Yupik can go hunting on foot by walking on the hard crust of qerretrar, but would require a sled or showshoes to move along on muruaneq. In other words, the more important it is to distinguish between various subtleties, the more precise ones vocabulary must be.
Now, that said, let me return to the several ancient Greek words which in English all are translated by the one word, "love." First, there is "Eros" (ἔρως) which means passionate love, accompanied by sexual desire and yearning. This word is the source of the English word "erotic." Next in Greek is "Philia" (φιλία), which means friendship including loyalty to friends, caring for family members, and service to ones community. Philia can also mean enjoyment of an activity. From this word come many English words such as "philosophy," the love (philo) of wisdom (sophia) or "Anglophile," a lover of British culture or English people. Another Greek word for "love," is Agapē (ἀγάπη) which means means a general affection which does not contain the passion, attraction, and yearning implied by the word "eros." To feel agapē towards someone means to hold that person in high esteem, or to value the person highly.
Now with that as background, let me try to approach your problem. You say that you two "have what many don't, true love and understanding for one another." OK, but what kind of "true love?" According to your letter, your feelings for your husband, and his for you, are mainly agape and philia, not eros. You feel affection for him, and admire that he is able to appreciate your independent qualities which many Latin men would not appreciate in a wife, but to be honest, you do not feel much eros for him, if any. You know eros and the sexual craving it involves because you feel it for the men in your fantasies, and perhaps also when you see them walk by you on the street, but for your husband you feel not much. You must be honest about this if you want truly to work through it. Yes, sexual fantasies--even those accompanied by masturbation--about people besides ones mate are not uncommon, and so such fantasies can be considered "normal," as you wrote; however, those kinds of fantasies are one thing when you are having good sex with your mate but quite another when you do not truly fancy your own man and when the sex between you is infrequent, unsatisfactory, and leaves you unfulfilled (he finishes fast and climbs off you).
Now you say that there are times when everything he does makes you "annoyed, little things, like the way he chews, walks, most little things that I usually don't notice. These things make me feel like I don't love him. I hate feeling like this because I really love him and although everything has been fine since he has left I don't want those feelings to come up again." This is a common experience in marriages in which the sexual side—the eros—is not really present. If you were having good sex, and so, as a result of orgasmic release, experiencing the gratitude, closeness, bonding, and sense of future possibility that go along with a good sexual connection, those little things, like the way he chews, would not bother you. In fact, you would not even notice them, or, if you did, they would seem endearing. However, sex with your husband has been nothing but disappointing, and the truth is that you do not love him erotically, but only feel affectionate love for him (philia and agape). Because you are a young woman with powerful sexual needs which are not being met, you resent your husband, and blame him, whether you know it or not, for being a poor lover. That is why you find his little personal habits annoying. That annoyance is an expression of your disappointment and a mask for your deeper resentment. You must be honest about this.
Although you are grateful to your husband for being understanding and for valuing your personal qualities, you also resent him for failing to address your sexual needs which in a woman as young as you almost always are quite powerful. That is why you fantasize so much about other men. You can imagine being taken by one of them and made to have real orgasms which would satisfy your needs and make you fall in love (eros) with him.
This situation is particularly difficult since you were a virgin when you married and so do not really know what good sex is like or how healing and relaxing intimate physical contact and orgasm can be for body and mind. You have never had it, you want it, and I don't blame you. On this website I always try to be as honest as I can while being gentle if possible, but in your case, since you describe yourself as intelligent and having a mind of your own, I will not even try to be gentle. I will just be honest. This marriage is in terrible trouble, and has been from its inception. I understand that you two are good friends (philia, agape), and that is important, but it is not enough to sustain a marriage between two young people.
I have not seen the book you mentioned, but if the idea is that a young woman can "love" someone just by wanting to, just by deciding to, just by willing it, just by committing herself to doing it, even though there is little or no erotic attraction between her and her mate, I must disagree, and strongly. The author may have a point in saying that married love must include commitment, and include choice, but, in my experience, mutual attraction and shared sexual pleasure are the real starting point for long-term love. The intimacy of the bedroom is the glue that allows a relationship to keep growing stronger even in the face of difficult times, to survive the inevitable arguments and misunderstandings which must occur between any two people, and, ultimately, to abide in the face of the tragic nature of human life. Without good sex, I cannot see how your relationship can thrive, deepen, and endure. If eros is not addressed, and soon, your resentment will only increase. Without an erotic connection your doubts about your love ("These things make me feel like I don't love him.") will only increase, and rightfully so, because a marriage between two young people has to be more, much more, than just a good friendship. And, since you are so independent, if you do not find a way to have orgasms with your husband. probably you will end up, sooner or later, having some kind of sexual affair with another man.
Now you say that your husband has always been understanding. If that is true, here is my advice. Have a serious talk with him about your sex life. You may not wish to show him this letter, but you must find a way to communicate the gist of it. You two need help. If you want to stay married, I suggest that you find a qualified marriage counselor and begin meetings aimed at fostering the kind of sexual connection which has been missing in your marriage from the beginning. That kind of counseling may or may not work, depending on skill and experience of the counselor, on the capacity of the couple to change and grow, and on whether any sexual attraction at all is present to begin with. Sometimes counseling works well by creating a new level of honesty and open communication which allows sexy things to happen. If counseling does work—if you two are able to find ways to be happy in bed together—you will have a real marriage, something valuable and worthwhile. If counseling fails to help, then you, personally, will have a very difficult decision to make among only three possibilities that I can imagine:
You separate yourself from your buen amigo que en realidad no es amante (your good friend who is not really a lover).
You remain married, but have actual affairs with other men as you already do in your fantasies.
You live an entire life unfulfilled sexually, and constantly hungry for that experience.
Since none of these possibilities seems very appealing, I do hope my words will help clarify your situation and move you to communicate with your husband about the urgency of facing up to this deficiency in your relationship.
I wish you well, and sincerely hope that things will work out for both of you.