June 18, 2018
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Cuddling is icky but sex is good

By Emily Yoffe, Slate

Dear Prudence,

I am engaged to be married to a wonderful man. We had a bit of a rocky start with his lying to me about a past escapade he had before we met. He was embarrassed about it and lied, but I found out anyway. Since then, he’s been wonderfully open and honest and we even exchanged email and Facebook passwords as a way to set a general policy of openness in our relationship. Well, curiosity was killing this cat and, though nothing particular prompted it, I looked at his emails and saw some old ones from before we met between him and his ex-girlfriend. I discovered that he called her the exact same, very specific pet name he calls me and signed the emails with the same loving closings he uses to end emails to me. Seeing that felt like it was taking away some of what he has done to make me feel so special. Am I just a replacement for an old flame he can’t forget?

— The Replacement

Dear Replacement,

Making you feel special sounds like it’s a full-time job. You start by saying your fiance was embarrassed about what appears to be a sexual adventure that happened before you came along. In that case, unless it was relevant to you — he was in a threesome and the other two participants were your sisters! — he is entitled to keep aspects of his past to himself. I’m inferring that during your interrogation, he denied something, and you then did some digging and confronted him. No surprise he’s been “open and honest” since then, given your belief that couples should have full access to each other’s electronic communication. I’m sure if there were a way for you to monitor his thoughts, he’d be sporting a head full of electrodes.

I’m of the belief that even married people deserve privacy. That means no scrutinizing of emails, phone calls, etc. (I make an exception for those cases in which there’s probable cause to believe a spouse is cheating.) But for no good reason you just had to look and there you found that your fiance’s repertoire of romantic pet names seems limited. I suggest that you tell your fiance you decided to read his entire email history, discovered he called his former girlfriend the same pet name he calls you, that you consider this endearment to be sullied and he’d better come up with one that makes you feel super special, and fast. You are worried you’re just a replacement for his old flame. Perhaps this conversation will get him wondering if he needs to replace his current one.

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

I’m in my mid-20s. I’ve recently received my master’s degree and am considering the next chapter in my life, specifically, marriage and possibly even children. I have an amazing long-term boyfriend. He’s intelligent, hilarious and attractive. We have many shared interests and a nice group of mutual friends. We are supportive of each other’s goals and ambitions. We have an active and good sex life.

However, there is one seemingly small problem. He does not like cuddling, kissing or having any other form of affection outside of the bedroom.
Sometimes I’d just like to cuddle and watch a movie or kiss him randomly at a stoplight. But he is noticeably adverse to these types of displays, even in private. This is depressing and I find myself wondering if there is something wrong with me or with our relationship. I’ve tried to bring it up, but it just results in a subject change or dismissal as “not a big deal.”

Am I insane for letting this bother me in an otherwise perfect relationship or does it signify a serious intimacy issue?

— No Cuddling Allowed

Dear Cuddling,

You are not crazy to want a physical connection with your partner even when you’re not having sex. I don’t need to cite the endless studies that show the beneficial effects of a soothing touch from a loved one; anyone who has experienced it knows how important it is. However, humans come in all varieties, and there are some people for whom the kind of contact you describe feels intrusive and irritating.

Since you two have a great relationship, you simply have to insist that you hear each other out on this subject. It sounds as if an appeal to his rational side would work with your guy, so present this as a relationship dilemma. Say everything is so good with him that you hope you two can make each other more comfortable on this one issue. Explain what impromptu physical affection means to you, then ask him to describe how it feels to him. Say you want him to be honest and you won’t be offended, you just want to understand why it’s not pleasurable for him. After you’ve heard him out, say you hope there’s a compromise here that will meet both your needs.

Ask if you could give him the occasional smooch for no reason, or if he’d be willing to hold hands with you for part of a movie. Maybe a cognitive therapist could be helpful and give you two some suggestions for “homework.” If he treats this as a problem to solve, that might make him more amenable to addressing it. You probably have to accept you’ll never get bear hugs from him, but maybe you can get your bear to come of out hibernation.

— Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.


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