Being The Hero of Your Own Life

“Dennis” wrote to me in email:

I am in a similar situation as “Darby”, i.e. my kids are the same age (actually I have 3 in stead of 2) and my wife’s libido is zero too – when we do “do it” it is about once every two months or so. We don’t have as much money, as I don’t make as much, but I do work five minutes away so I am there for my family – my father was a traveling salesman and was not home very often – I try not to replicate that.

When we do talk about sexual frequency (or the lack of it)she says that she is too tired; her sister and her friends (who also have small kids) are the same way (or never have sex at all). She also assures me it has nothing to do with me technique or style-wise, etc.

Your blog does have some interesting suggestions – the body odor/farting issue is an important observation and needing to get away from it all, say to a bed and breakfast is a good suggestion as well.

A contributing factor is that my wife is on Paxil; I know this has an effect.

Finally, I also think that our marriage has settled into a pattern in which my wife is perfectly comfortable. One of my problems is that I try to avoid conflict at all costs and I think if I move my wife out of her “comfort zone” it will cause of great conflict.

My question is: how do you break the routine?

You are looking at your wife as if she and her emotions are chess pieces you could move around on a board of your devising if you just knew the rules of the game or the “tricks” to try. But the answer is that you don’t “move your wife out of her comfort zone,” you move yourself out of YOURS.

Your comfort zone is the one where you”avoid conflict at all costs.”

Maybe in some part of yourself you LIKE being a quiet, self-righteous sufferer, clutching your virtue to your bosom and resentfully telling yourself how your spouse is so awful to you, how her behavior or personality limits you so fatally, how she makes it just impossible for you to…(fill in the blank).

You break the marital routine by breaking your own routines, especially the routines inside your head, the main one being the childish fantasy that if the other person would just straighten up and fly right –“flying right” defined as behaving in consonance with your pleasure — you would finally be happy in your life. Meanwhile, YOU don’t have to do squat. You can wash your lily-pure hands of the whole thing and sit back, secure in the knowledge that The Problem of the Marriage is the other person and their failings.

Cushy gig, huh?

Being afraid to cause conflict is a big part of the problem, of course. But you also don’t want to just go out and start breaking things before you know who you really are, what you really want and the right way to get it.

So ask yourself (ideally you’ll sit down and write the answers, or at least make a few notes to yourself):

What kind of man are you?

What kind of man would you like to be?

What is the most ideal man you COULD be?

How did you get to where you are and who you are today? What is your family and romantic history?

How would your enemies turn your life story into a movie? How could you turn your story into an uplifting movie, with the happiest ending possible? (No fair saying “a fairy godfather makes me rich” — the story has to be driven by YOU and your character.)

That imaginary movie is your personal myth, the one you’ll base your ethics and behavior on in the future.

But be careful: you don’t explore your history, your “story so far,” to make yourself unhappy or to give yourself excuses for failure. You’re looking for (a) the real, live truth about yourself — as brutal or ugly as it might be — and (b) the basis for your future story, the one in which you become your best possible self. The one in which you become a Hero.

The Heroic You is defined from within, by examining your own reality, not by comparison to other people.

So you don’t say to yourself, “I’m okay because other people are worse.” But you also don’t say, “I’m terrible because other people are so much better.”

You don’t restrict your adult self, going forward, to what Mommy or Daddy did/didn’t do to shape — or “ruin” — you.

You don’t define yourself by what other people might think of you.

You don’t define yourself by what other people will “let” you do.

You don’t define yourself by measures like

how much you have,

how you got it,

what you can’t get,

why you’re not able to get it, or

what other people won’t give you.

This is dangerous territory, of course. When you first start thinking in this new groove, of your new self, emotionally independent of others’ opinions or demands, it will be tempting to believe that you can chuck realities you don’t want to face and dismiss responsibilities that you think are interfering with your ability to Be All You Can Be. But the inconvenient thing about being a hero is that they always fulfill their commitments in life, one way or the other. Dealing with their their personal demons and their tough situations — in a forthright, proactive way (not just suffering through them) — is what MAKES them heroes.

Heroism starts within you. It’s not a product of your situation, your opportunities, or the people you have to deal with. It’s inner strength and quiet assurance without any taint of “Look how much I saaaacrifice! Look how much I suuuuffer!” Wanting people to notice how good you are, demanding to be admired or rewarded because you’re Such A Nice Guy (or having tantrums to make sure they know you’re baaaad) are some of the ways you enslave yourself to them.

The above was the final WYW post on the old Salon blog, so I thought I’d make it the final post here, as well. To see the very interesting commentary that followed, please see the corresponding Page.

I’m finished with the task of moving the posts and stories over here to WordPress. Everything that I thought could be of any value (and a lot of bullshit from a few commenters) is here. As always, take what you can use and toss the rest.

The Salon blog will go dark on December 31, 2009, but I have essentially abandoned it as of today. I will be stopping in here from time to time to maintain links, pick up suggestions, see what’s happening in comments, etc., but I won’t be here to respond on a day-to-day basis. However, as often occurred over at Salon, the comments threads can become their own independent conversation areas to share ideas on these issues. Please feel free to use them as such.

Thanks for reading.



Are Online-Only Relationships “Cheating”?

In preparation for the upcoming migration of the “Infidelity” topic from the old Salon blog over here, I have republished  Fiona’s Story: A Tale of Online Love, which actually made its debut about 10 years ago on a now-defunct discussion board.

The story touches many of the issues we have been talking about already, like boredom and disgust with fat, but to my mind, re-reading it today, the most interesting questions to ask about it have to do with how people might view Fiona’s never-consummated, now-ended relationship on the continuum of “cheating.”

Personally I don’t think there’s any question that she “crossed a line,” in the infamous words of SC Governor Mark Sanford. The downright pornographic transcript of Fiona’s IM sex with her computer lover is proof enough of that. But Fiona, as shown by her answers to reader questions about her story, is essentially unrepentant and even claims that it might have helped her marriage. Is she fooling herself? Check it out.

The Attraction of the “Bad Boy”

One of my readers asked:

Thus, the eternal question: why do women go for jerks? Or another phrasing: why do women go for men who treat them like shit? For every woman who wants to be on a pedestal – note the intentional use of cliche – another wants to be under the heel. Good looking, bad looking, fat or thin, rich or poor – doesn’t matter, you can find a million women who want a man to tell them what to do.

That’s a VERY interesting question. To see how I answered, visit the Page: Do Women Prefer Bad Boys?

In Which Henrion Asks For a Hug

“Henrion” wrote in email:

My wife has been sick the last two weeks with the flu, then a cold, so I have tried to give her some room. We had a nice day yesterday…painted the living room, went on a walk, had my mom over for dinner. Then, I was on my way up to bed and walked up to her (she was sitting in a chair, watching television) and said, “Can I have a hug?” She looked at me with what I would almost call disgust. You see, when I ask for something like this, she says I use a “whimper-y” voice, and it really turns her off. Of course, I think I’m asking in a normal, modulated voice. But why should this make a difference anyway? I am asking for something I want, and is it so hard to provide a hug?

I said this (among many other things):

One reason Mrs. Henrion might hear these requests as “whiny” or “childish” is because this is common manipulative strategy in children. They will ask for hugs in order to get attention when they feel their parents’ interest has strayed, or to reassure themselves of their parents’ continued love after an angry incident. For most kids it’s enough that their parent dredges up an outward expression on command, no matter how reluctant or perfunctory it might be. Just getting the parent’s compliance with their request is reassurance enough, because they know that they still matter enough to the parent to at least be able to make them go through the motions of love.

But putting up these kinds of performance hoops for our partners, adult to adult, is usually viewed (although not always consciously) as a childish demand for attention. That may be why Henrion’s wife always hears his requests as whiny or whimpery, no matter what actual tone of voice he’s using. What she hears is, “Stop what you’re doing and show me that you love me. Right. Now.”

Although Mrs. Henrion is couching her objections in terms of the tone of his voice, it’s probably because she cannot face or express the fact that it’s not the way that he asks, it’s the fact that he asks at all. Like a parent who is faced with a kid who constantly uses his vulnerability as emotional blackmail, she “hears” it in a way Henrion claims he doesn’t intend, but I don’t believe she is misunderstanding the basic dynamic.

Commenter “Harry” (who admitted in open forum to being “Henrion”) contended that although I might have a bit of a point  here and there, the way I expressed it to him was “indelicate.”

I shared this story with you in hopes that you could provide some constructive criticism, not castrate me and treat me like a child.

Find out how I responded to this charge in Are You Acting Like A Child?

Lying and Power: The Discussion

Another lengthy discussion we had on the old blog began with yet another question about masturbation (yeah, I know, but I’ll get back to the more straightforward blog posts eventually). “Ricky” wrote:

My wife of almost 17 years, who has always denied that she masturbates, seems to do just that with her vibrator about twice a month. I too am crushed. Even though I know that she masturbates, she continues to deny it! (I notice her vibrator moved and cleaned in the bathroom vanity, and I have caught her once when I inadvertently left an audio recorder running in a dresser drawer. She at first denied that she masturbates and then finally said it was the first and only time.) She explained that she was embarassed, that she feels masturbation is cheating. However, she continues to masturbate and lie about it. I am more crushed that she lies about the masturbation, than the fact that she does it. Also, even though we continue to have sex, she never cums and it is always vaginal. I cannot rub her clitoris, nibble her breasts nor perform oral on her. Will her masturbation lead to cheating? Why does she continue to lie? Why won’t she let me help her reach orgasm? She seems to prefer masturbation. The deceit is the most painful.

I answered:

Hello, Ricky? You “inadvertently” left a tape recorder running in your dresser drawer?


I think the major problem here is that your wife DOES NOT TRUST YOU. She doesn’t want to let you “do things” to her body, or have any “control” over her erotically, or let you “make” her come. She doesn’t want to open herself to you or “confess” anything about her inner life and responses because she knows [you’re the type of person who would] put a tape recorder in a dresser drawer to catch her masturbating.

I’m sorry to be so blunt, but you need to be told the truth about this situation. That was really, REALLY dumb.

I can understand why you feel so desperate. You feel unloved. You feel that she is witholding her sexuality from you for purely mean and selfish reasons, and not because she’s desperate, too. But you really need to ask yourself why it is so enormously important to you that she admit her masturbation to you. Why do you think she has to “confess” and “permit” and “allow” certain things to you?

Is it because you want to exert some kind of POWER?

And we were off….!

One of the interesting things I discovered, both on that comment thread and via the email I received regarding it, that when it came to the question of whether it was right for a man to actively (and sneakily!) seek evidence of his wife’s masturbation so he could confront her about it, men thought it was just fine, and women (the actual women, that is — this was the point at which I decided that commenter “Lynn” was a man after all) thought it was appalling.

To me this was the gender-reversed flip side of the story told in Insecurity. As I said of the wife’s reaction in that case, I believe that Ricky’s subterfuge was understandable but wrong. In Ricky’s case, it was also massively counterproductive. His hysterical, invasive attempt to “get the goods on her” was likely perceived by his wife as an attempt to power trip her, to penetrate her psychological space, and she was fighting back by literally refusing to allow him “in,” sexually or emotionally.

We cover other issues, too. Check it out.

Misunderstanding: Kerry’s Questions

“Kerian” writes:

I just read your entire blog from start to finish — took me a couple of late-night hours when I should be working on my taxes, due no later than 23 hours from now. I’ve been married for 21 years, together for 25, and we’ve had one of the great love affairs of this era — except sexually. We are emotionally, intellectually and spiritually compatible, we are or should be the envy of all couples everywhere. I feel a closeness, comfort and safety with her that is astounding, and she with me. We love each other with all of our hearts.
But sex has been so screwy practically from day one. I have to admit, I do think it’s more her problem. As far as I can tell, she never has had an orgasm — not even from masturbating, even with some Mighty Wurlitzer vibrators she bought and some fancy slim Italian model she paid serious money for. And the truth is, I don’t think she cares all that deeply whether she has ever experienced to much degree this thing called sex.

A few years back there was an interesting study that showed that sexual activity among women was inversely proportional to their educational level, which led to a very funny editorial cartoon I saw of a woman telling her husband in bed, “Not tonight, dear — I have a Ph.D.” My wife’s a post-doc. Not only that, she’s a successful businesswoman, so she’s constantly thinking and planning, even though we also have two children ages 7 and 3 (and an au pair). She thinks she doesn’t want to work so hard, but she has a drive big enough for three or four people. Just not for sex. And maybe, given how much sex and attraction has screwed up so many people’s lives, maybe she’s better off.

I’ve given up initiating, almost. Generally, she either wants it or she doesn’t, and if she does, she’ll let me know. If she doesn’t, nothing I do will change matters, and I end up feeling rejected. I masturbate a lot. Sometimes she wants it more than others, and comes on to me to make love. But I have to admit, I feel kind of resigned and not that enthusiastic anymore about it all, though I don’t think she knows this.

We’ve both gained weight over the years and we’re both trying to take it off right now — I miss her beautiful flat stomach, and maybe she misses that in me. She never had an amazingly sexy body though — but I’ve always loved it, because I loved her. Sometimes our flabby, almost 50 y.o. bodies strike me as a turn-off, as kind of absurd, although I have no trouble getting aroused when the occasion arises.

What I’m asking here is, is there any hope? You seem to have done some homework, talked to some “experts.” Can we ever have a great sex life? Even though she seems, once in a blue moon, to actually really want sex — or else she knows that if I don’t have it, I’ll go crazy or get truly weird — I think I feel cut down, in some basic way, that I can’t ever satisfy her (and man, I’ve tried at times until my fingers were sore and my tongue was sprained).

At my worst moments, I think that this is basically my fate — I have tremendous love, but I will never know what it’s like to satisfy a woman sexually (I was almost totally inexperienced when I got together with her).     … continued …

Read the rest of this entry »

Technique: Another Woman’s Advice

Reader “Catbird” responds to yesterday’s One Woman’s Preferences post:

Yes, yes, yes to penetration after a clit orgasm. That was how I first learned what a vaginal orgasm was: that sublime throb of pleasure when he slipped in to the hilt after getting me off orally.Speaking of penetration, don’t underestimate the hands as givers of sexual pleasure. Many guys confine themselves to a little diddle-diddle on the clit, followed by finger-fucking (but only one or two fingers, and not for very long) before moving on to the main event: Penis In Vagina. Or if they want to focus on her pleasure, they go down on her.

Guys, if you really want to make your woman scream with pleasure, take a tip from the dykes, and learn to fuck with your hands.

Before you go anywhere near her clit or vaginal opening, massage her mons, labia, and perineum until she is relaxed, moaning, and juicy. Use your thumbs to open her up and give her long firm slippery strokes on her inner and outer lips. Try squeezing her lips together, and jerking off her clit through her inner labia. (Did you know that the clit has a shaft like a cock?) Press her perineum with your knuckles. Knead the hollows on either side of her sex with your thumbs. Massage her lower belly and inner thighs. Cradle her pelvis in your two hands. Stroke and blow cool air down the slopes of her asscrack.

Think of her sex as a part of her body that needs loving touch, just like her shoulders and her hands. Don’t focus on “making her come”; focus on making her pussy feel happy and beloved

Let her tell you when she wants to be penetrated, and how much. Maybe one finger, maybe three. Once you’re in, use the hand’s unparalleled sensitivity and flexibility to explore every inch of her. Massage her inside just as patiently and attentively as you did her outside. Explore all the secret places, the little nooks and crevices. Tell her with your fingers how amazing she feels inside. Encourage her to breathe and make noise, and to use her vibrator, if she likes that.

And if she wants it, fuck her good! Unlike the penis, the fingers can change shape and size, can flex and bend, can seek out the places that love extra pressure and avoid the ones that don’t. If she likes g-spot stimulation, curl your fingers on each outstroke in a little come-hither movement. Give her lots of lube and as many fingers as she wants. Don’t be too shocked if your whole hand slips in there!

And *don’t worry about orgasm!* Even if she doesn’t have the sensations that she has previously labeled an orgasm, believe me, Good Things will happen.

Oh, and did I mention lube? For maximal pleasure, the above activities must be accompanied by copious dollops of sexual lubricant (a water- or silicone-based product designed specifically to make sex more slippery — avoid glycerine, avoid nonoxynol-9, avoid grease or oils).

Despite what many people think, many (most?) women do not produce enough natural lubrication to make sex entirely easy and enjoyable — no matter how aroused they are.

So take another tip from the queers, and remember, lube is your friend.


Personally I’ve never been a huge fan of intensive finger work. It’s nice for foreplay, but in my own case a little goes a long way. Too many men seem to think women should automatically get off on a lot of interior tickling because it thrills THEM. Catbird’s enthusiasm for it is a perfect illustration of how we women differ in our responses to sexual stimuli. Not only from woman to woman, but from time to time in our own lives.

For many women the G-spot does not actually become “activated” until they are really aroused (or, ideally, have actually had an orgasm), and even then for most of us it’s not the magic “come switch” it’s purported to be. It’s more of a general area of Really, Really Good Feelings inside. So it does exist, but if you’ve been looking for some kind of instaneous Bingo Button without success, you might want to rethink what it is you’re actually seeking.

(For a few additional words of advice and a discussion of whether there is any danger in being this direct and honest on the internet, see the page: Meta Discussion: How Open Should We Be Here?)