The Hook Up: The Hardest Goodbyes



I am 41 and I have been with my wife since I was 19. I used to love her with all of my heart but for the last few years I have realized that although I love her, I am no longer in love with her.

My wife has a few medical issues and suffers from a permanent headache due to an aneurism a couple of years ago so doesn’t work, the problem is that she doesn’t do much of anything. Some weeks she will only leave the house when I am off at the weekend and spends all day watching TV, she has anti depression medicine and I have pleaded with her to go to the doctors as its clearly not working, but she just never gets around to it. I find myself resenting the fact that I go out to work and I support her financially and yet she complains if I spend money on myself or want to visit my family and what really tees me off is paying for her cigarettes when I struggled a couple of years ago to quit.

She seems to love me like she always has and wants to be intimate, but I am just not interested in her sexually, I feel she is more like my dependent than my wife. I really want to talk to her about this, but I don’t know if I am strong enough, she will cry and lock herself in the bedroom and I will worry that she will hurt herself and then I will relent and we will just carry on, same old feelings, different year! What I don’t want to do is hurt her as I do love her, but this is now affecting my work and mental health.

I am not where I wanted to be at 41 and I can’t stand the thought of being in this position when I am 45 or 50. I want to move away from the city where we live, get a car, a small apartment overlooking the sea and be in a relationship with someone who appreciates me. I know loads of people have it much worse than me, but this is possibly the biggest decision I will ever make and I just don’t know what to do about it.—Awkward

Anna says: It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind, Awkward, and that staying with your wife would continue to make you miserable, that you’re unhappy with the circumstances of your relationship, her financial dependence, fragility, and that you can’t even express your discontent because it’ll send her into a flurry of tears.

The very first thing I would do is let go of the notion that you can change your circumstances without hurting your wife at all. Nobody wants to hurt those we care about, but we can’t safeguard others from harm, especially if it comes at the expense of our own well-being. As big as your heart is, and as much compassion as you have for her, you have to do what’s best for you, and from the looks of it, this relationship isn’t that.

Read this previous column, on breaking your own heart.

Breaking up with your wife will be devastating for both of you and will be made all the more difficult by her illness and dependence. You know this, of course. I imagine that your wife probably knows, at least somewhat, that you’ve been unhappy. But it doesn’t have to be on you alone. I urge you to tell her what you’ve been feeling and thinking, even though it’ll hurt, even though it may be brutal. Doing so will alleviate some of the tremendous burden you feel. Doing so will allow some of the weight you’ve been carrying for a long time to be set down. She needs to know you’re unhappy with the course your lives have taken. She needs to know so that you can each take steps toward learning how to exist apart.

A few years ago I was mad about this one particular girl. I thought we were destined to be together. I had a wild house of secret plans for us. And because I spent so much time in my head, in this fantasy place, I didn’t even realize how depressed I was, how the relationship was stunting me. When she finally ended it, I was heartbroken, of course, but the small wounded core of me was relieved that she did it. I didn’t have the strength to admit I was miserable. Sometimes breaking someone’s heart (or your own) is the ultimate kindness.

You don’t have to be the hero. You’re not a bad person for doing what’s right for you. You’re not even a bad person for wanting to not buy her cigarettes after you struggled to quit. But until you can stand up and say out loud that things must change, and until you start taking actions toward that change, then you’re just going to make yourself and, by extension, your partner unhappy.

You’re right that this is a huge decision and ordeal there’s no way to make it be not messy. Resign yourself to the awful parts, but know that ultimately it’s the best and rightest decision. Be compassionate, but be real too. You too have a wild house of secret plans—a car, a beach house, someone who appreciates you. You owe it to yourself (and your partner) to accept that the circumstances of your love have changed, and that it’s OK to leave.

I wish you much strength and courage and fortitude in however you choose to go about it.

As Rilke put it, “Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.”

A bit about me I’m 19, came out a year ago but have known I’m gay since I was about 16. I’m going to start university this September (in the gay capital of Europe, the lovely Brighton) and although I’ve dated girls this past year I haven’t actually slept with a girl. I’m worried that when I go to uni any potential partner may expect me to have slept with girls already and may be put off that I haven’t, or feel it’s too much responsibility on them to take my virginity, or think I’m gonna go all stage 5 clinger on them if they are my first. My question is do I tell them that I haven’t slept with a girl yet, or do I keep that to myself to not scare them off? But is it harsh to then turn round afterwards and be like actually that was my first time?—Worried and Anxious

Anna says: Being a virgin shouldn’t scare anyone off who’s not a jerk, especially not at your age, which is still rather young, girl-sex-wise.

It’s up to you if you want to tell a girl it’s your first time throwing down. Indeed, if you think things are headed in a hookup direction, feel free to give a casual heads up before you go heads down. A simple, “Hey, just to let you know, this is my first time” should do the trick. She might ask if you’re sure you’re comfortable proceeding, but there’s no reason to think she’ll jump to the conclusion that you’re a “stage 5 clinger” (nice expression, by the way) simply because you’re encroaching on new sexy territory.

I never had any kind of talk with my first ladyfriend. We were both 20. She’d been with girls before, starting when she was about 14. I hadn’t been with anyone really, boy or girl. But once we started fooling around, all the stuff swirling around in my head—the insecurities, the questions of whether THIS or THAT was the “right” way to get it on—that just went away in the face of the awesomeness that is girl sex. Because, really, it’s so great.

So, let yourself be thrilled. Let yourself get caught up in the heat of the moment and don’t let your head be in charge too much (or at all, if possible).

You might find that the V talk will come up naturally if you’re with a girl and shooting the shit about past experiences. If so, then bring it up then. Remember that there’s nothing awkward or shameful about it. Your life and experiences are what they are, it doesn’t make you inherently less than because you’ve never engaged in hand-to-gland combat (or equivalent).

In the end, I think most people find that losing their virginity is pretty “whatevz.” I mean, sure, sometimes it’s magical and perfect and rainbows shoot from your bras and such, but most of the time, it’s simply “fine” or “good.” Because it is your first time, and like all things done for the first time, it’s probably not going to be the best and most amazing.

Also, remember to laugh. Especially if/when your bellies rub together and make a farting sound. Sex is fun and funny sometimes. It’s weird when people are too serious about it.

Have an amazing time studying in the gay capital of Europe. And try to reserve most of that “worry” and “anxiousness” over more weighty matters, like your education and career aspirations and how to seduce graduate students.

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 and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your The Hook Up questions at [email protected].

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