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I’m a 33-year-old woman from Melbourne, Australia, dating a 24-year-old man. We’ve been dating for about eight months; it is exclusive and official. He’s kind and sweet, caring and giving, and his penis is divine. The thing is, he confessed to me recently that he doesn’t really “feel.” The way he explained it is, the only emotions he feels are fear and anxiousness that he’ll disappoint the people he cares about. He says he’s never been in love. He said his dad is the same way. The only time I see him really “feel” is when he’s high, which he is semi-frequently. He uses MDMA and he comes alive. He seems the way a “normal” person does when they’re in love, but when he’s sober, it’s like he’s trying to mimic the things a person in love would say or do. I confessed I am falling in love with him recently and told him I wasn’t saying this with any expectation of him feeling the same; I just wanted him to know. He responded that he cares for me a lot—but that’s it. I’m now worried that he’ll never love me. I don’t want kids, so time isn’t critical for me, but I don’t want to be with someone who won’t ever love me. —Lacking One Vaunted Emotion
You didn’t use the P-word (psychopath) or the S-word (sociopath), LOVE, but both came to mind as I was reading your letter. Someone who isn’t capable of feeling? Isn’t that textbook P-word/S-word stuff?
“The fear with someone who doesn’t ‘feel’ is that they may be a psychopath or a sociopath, terms that are used interchangeably,” said Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. “And lots of the items on the psychopath checklist relate to an inability to experience deep emotions—like Shallow Affect, Lack of Empathy, and Lack of Remorse. However, I have good news for LOVE! This line: ‘The only emotions he really feels are fear and anxiousness that he’ll disappoint the people he cares about’ is the critical one. Psychopaths do not feel anxiety. In fact, my favorite thing a psychologist said to me about this was: ‘If you’re worried you may be psychopath, that means you aren’t one.’ Also, psychopaths don’t care about disappointing loved ones! All those emotions that relate to an overactive amygdala—fear, remorse, guilt, regret, empathy—psychopaths don’t feel them.”
So your boyfriend’s not a psychopath. Not that you asked. But, you know, just in case you were worried. Anyway…
My hunch is that your boyfriend’s problem isn’t an inability to feel love, LOVE, but an inability to recognize the feelings he’s having as love. (Or potentially love, as it’s only been eight months.) What is romantic love but a strong desire to be with someone? The urge to be sweet to them, to take care of them, to do for them? Maybe he’s just going through the motions with you—a conscious mimic-it-till-you-make it strategy—or maybe the double whammy of a damaged dad and that toxic masculinity stuff sloshing around out there left him blocked, LOVE, or emotionally constipated. And while MDMA can definitely be abused—moderation in all things, kids, including moderation—the effect it has on him is a hopeful sign. MDMA is not an emotional hallucinogen; the drug has been used in couples counseling and to treat PTSD, not because it makes us feel things that aren’t there (in the way a hallucinogen makes us see things that aren’t there), but because it allows genuine feelings to surface and, for a few hours, to be felt intensely. So he can feel love—he just has to learn how to tap into those feelings and/or recognize them without an assist from MDMA.
Jon Ronson had one last bit of advice for you, LOVE: “Marry him and his divine penis!”
I agree with Jon, of course, but a long, leisurely engagement is definitely in order. You’ve only been seeing this guy and his divinity dick for eight months—don’t propose to him for at least another year, LOVE, and make marriage conditional upon him seeing a shrink four times as often as he sees his MDMA dealer.
Follow Jon Ronson on Twitter @jonronson, read all of his books (So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed? is urgently required reading for anyone who spends time online), and check out his amazing podcast, The Butterfly Effect. To access all things Jon Ronson, go to JonRonson.com. —Dan Savage
My boyfriend of 1.5 years shared (several months into dating) that he has a fantasy of having a threesome. I shared that I had also fantasized about this but I never took my fantasies seriously. Right away, he started sending me Craigslist posts from women and couples looking for casual sex partners. I told him I wasn’t interested in doing anything for real. A few months later, we went on vacation and I said I wanted to get a massage. He found a place that did “sensual” couples massages. I wanted nothing to do with this. During sex, he talks about the idea of someone else being around. This does turn me on and I like thinking about it when we are messing around. But I don’t want to have any other partners. I’m like a mashup of Jessica Day, Leslie Knope, and Liz Lemon if that gives you an idea of how not-for-me this all is. When I say no to one idea, he comes up with another one. I would truly appreciate some advice. —Boyfriend Into Group Sex I’m Not
Short answer: Sexual compatibility is important. It’s particularly important in a sexually exclusive relationship. You want a sexually exclusive relationship; your boyfriend doesn’t want a sexually exclusive relationship—so you two aren’t sexually compatible, BIGSIN, and you should break up.
Slightly longer answer: Your boyfriend did the right thing by laying his kink cards on the table early in the relationship—he’s into threesomes, group sex, and public sex—and you copped to having fantasies about threesomes, BIGSIN, but not a desire to experience one. He took that as an opening: Maybe if he could find the right person/couple/scenario/club, you would change your mind. Further fueling his false hopes: You get turned on when he talks about having “someone else around” when you two have sex. Now lots of people who very much enjoy threesomes and/or group sex were unsure or hesitant at first, but gave in to please (or shut up) a partner, and wound up being glad they did. If you’re certain you could never be one of those people—reluctant at first but happy your partner pressed the issue—you need to shut this shit down, Liz Lemon style. Tell him no more dirty talking about this shit during sex, no more entertaining the idea at all. Being with you means giving up this fantasy, BIGSIN, and if he’s not willing to give it up—and to shut up about it—then you’ll have to break up. —DS
I’m an 18-year-old woman who has been with my current boyfriend for a year, but this has been an issue across all of my sexual relationships. In order to reach climax, I have to fantasize about kinky role-play-type situations. I don’t think I want to actually act out the situations/roles because of the degrading/shameful feelings they dredge up, but the idea of other people doing them is so hot. This frustrates me because it takes me out of the moment with my partner. I’m literally thinking about other people during sex when I should be thinking about him! What can I do to be more in the moment?
—Distracted Earnest Girlfriend Requires A Different Excitement
Actually, doing the kinky role-play-type things you “have to” fantasize about in order to come would help you feel more connected to your boyfriend—but to do that, DEGRADE, you need to stop kink-shaming yourself. So instead of thinking of those kinky role-play-type things as degrading or shameful, think of them as exciting and playful. Exciting because they excite you (duh), and playful because that’s literally what kinky role-play-type things are: play. It’s cops and robbers for grownups with your pants off, DEGRADE, but this game doesn’t end when mom calls you in for dinner, it ends when you come. So long as you suppress your kinks—so long as you’re in flight from the stuff that really arouses you—your boyfriend will never truly know you and you’ll never feel truly connected to him. —DS