The Hook Up: How to talk to pretty girls and what to do if a partner refuses to change

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Hi Anna, My girlfriend and I have been together for almost two years. This is by far the most functional, happy and healthy relationship I have been in. I love and adore my girlfriend but we aren’t without our issues.

She is constantly in pain and is depressed. As a result of her health decline, she has gained a lot of weight and won’t exercise. I’m very active and a personal trainer so it feels like our lifestyles don’t match. I’ve asked her to try and make a change, without attempting to sound like she’s my client or that I have all the answers and no sympathy. Sometimes I feel like I’m her friend and massage therapist instead of her girlfriend. But she told me she doesn’t want to make a change, food numbs her and she doesn’t care about herself enough to make a change. That I should love her unconditionally and be there when she gets the bad news (she already has one autoimmune disease as a result of her lifestyle choices).

In addition, our sex life is terrible. It used to be great. While I realize that relationships change and desire fades this feels different. We’ve had arguments about our varying sex drive. She tells me she has intimacy issues, yet I’m the first person she’s ever slept with. She won’t let me go down on her or kiss her all over, she pulls my hand away and try’s to just focus on me, telling me she doesn’t want to have sex. I said that she used to let me, what changed? She said she has moments of it feeling disgusting and wrong that anybody is touching her. But she sucked it up at the beginning because it was new and she wanted to try. It made me feel like I forced her to do things she didn’t want to. I’ll let her touch me, resentful of the fact she can’t open up, she can’t be vulnerable with me.

I feel like I’ve tried so hard to make this relationship work. I’ve tried to let her inactivity and binge eating go. Telling myself we are who we are and I need to either accept her situation or leave. I’ve done the same with our sex life too. I go to therapy. I’ve accepted that she won’t let me touch her, because I’m obviously not capable of making it feel good for her. I’ve accepted that she would rather have a massage off me than have sex. That when we do have sex it has to be very regimented and I can only touch her in a certain place. I’ve grown weary and tired with being the only one making compromises. I’m attempting to work through my issues whilst she doesn’t even have to think about hers.

I feel like it doesn’t go both ways, why do I have to be the one to change? To suit only her needs? Why can’t she ever just try, try and work past her intimacy issues, her trauma? We have a wonderful relationship despite those things. She’s intelligent, I hang on every word she says, she’s funny, the most caring and wonderful person I’ve ever met. We have an intense connection and kissing her feels like laying on a beach with the sun on my face.

Is love enough? Do I suck it up, accept our sex life for what it is, unfulfilling, regimented, every once in a while? Do I smile and massage her like she asks and forget the fact that I’m hurt she just rejected my attempt to seduce her. Knowing we’ve talked all to stuff to death. Do I just say “Hey I love you, and everything else we have is enough?”—No Bloody Clue

Anna says: I gotta tell you, NBC, I’m having a hard time seeing what makes this relationship as amazing as you say it is.

You describe your sex life as infrequent, “unfulfilling,” one-sided, and “terrible.” She’s in poor health, and her lifestyle choices are only making her sicker and are contributing to your diminishing attraction for her. She’s unwilling to make even the tiniest step toward meeting you halfway on any of the issues that you’ve brought up repeatedly. And perhaps most telling of her depression (which I sincerely hope she decides to treat), “she doesn’t care about herself enough to make a change.” Your “lifestyles don’t match.” And on top of everything, you are expected to willfully ignore your own needs on the premise of an extremely misguided notion of a mythologized unconditional love without compromise.

Romantics aside, love is conditional. To use an extreme example, if you decided to become a meth head who regularly sleeps with the local women’s hockey team, it would no doubt upset your girlfriend. Would her love for you cease to exist? No. Would these new, unpleasant conditions affect that love, perhaps even enough to override the original qualities she found so endearing in you? Yes. Because philandering meth heads tend to not make great life partners. And neither do those who put their needs and desires above all else, all the time, even and especially at the expense of their partner’s happiness and well-being. This is what your girlfriend is doing. And it almost seems like she’s using her ailments to justify her less than stellar stubbornness toward you.

Semantics aside, loving someone means caring about their welfare, wanting them to succeed and thrive in the world. Loving someone requires empathy, willingness, kindness, and reciprocity. Without it, you’re left with blind devotion, with obligation, a parental kind of love. I don’t at all mean to diminish the anguish of her physical pain and depression. Of course, depression sucks, but not doing anything to try and deal with it and then forcing someone who loves you to take up the slack is less like love and more like a hostage situation.

“Why do I have to be the one to change to suit only her needs?” you ask. And the short answer is, you don’t. You can change the circumstances of your relationship. You can say, “I love you but our survival as a couple depends on things not staying as they are.” Or, you can do nothing. If you can look deep within your rawest self and answer your own question with a resounding, “Yes, this is enough,” then you can build your life on that knowing and acceptance. But you do have options, and only one of those is to passively tolerate your partner’s refusal to step up or change or grow or listen. Intelligence and beach-like kisses aside, what does “enough” look like for you? What transformations might take place if you allowed yourself the forgiveness of wanting more?

You have my deepest regard and sympathies. I’ll leave you with a line from Rainer Maria Rilke, who plumbs the depths of life’s uncertainties far better than I ever could.

you are not too old

and it is not too late

to dive into your increasing depths

where life calmly gives out

it’s own secret.

Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your The Hook Up questions at [email protected].

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