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Ill-Equipped? (Who Isn't?)

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Jennifer Lehr answers your questions about sex, love, and relationships.

QUESTION: I'm 38 years old and have been seriously dating a great guy named Mark. He just bought a house and he wants me to move in with him. Am I making a mistake if I move in and he hasn't proposed?
-- Daniella

ANSWER: Your question, Daniella, begs many other questions.

First of all, I'm dying to know if you two have ever discussed marriage. My hope is that you have. My guess is that you haven't because if you had, you probably wouldn't be asking me this loaded question.

For the record: I'm 100% against the surprise, get-down-on your knee approach to making the most important decision of your life. There is much to be discussed and it shouldn't be up to him alone to decide when that happens. The dynamic of you waiting around for him to propose sets up a beautifully inequitable start to a lifetime partnership. It's a ridiculous tradition fraught with so many unnecessary expectations.

Next, I want to know if he is asking you to move in because he'd need a roommate anyway to help pay the mortgage so why not have it be you? In other words, do you think he'd still be asking you if you wanted to move in together if he hadn't bought a house? The answer might be telling.

And finally, you should keep in mind that moving in together really ramps things up in a relationship, creating an atmosphere that isn't conducive to that warm, fuzzy feeling that our society (generally speaking) thinks should inspire a proposal. Very often two people have radically different lifestyles, like John and I did (and do). He's fastidiously neat and pays his bills immediately and balances his checkbook perfectly. I have a much more haphazard approach to living. When we moved in together, we rather quickly found ourselves fighting over everything from hanging up the bath mat and paying the utility bills to the receipt for a 700-dollar pair of boots I bought that he found in the garbage. The latter sparked a panic in him so great -- "How will I ever make enough money to marry a woman who wears shoes that cost as much as my car!?!" -- that it took years to even admit. We got married because we knew the other was committed to working through all of our problems -- no matter how long it took, not because moving in together proved we got along so well.

So, Daniella, I don't know enough about your situation to give you a more direct answer, but, I hope this helps.

QUESTION: My boyfriend Sam and I (we're the same age -- 36) have been together for just over a year. A couple of months ago he got a new job that keeps him very busy and away a lot. It seems every time we have a weekend together he's too tired for intimacy. How do I get the spark back without pressuring him?
-- Kate

ANSWER: Kate, you are absolutely right to not want to pressure him. Pressuring will only push him even further away. I wonder, however, if it is really fatigue that has killed his libido. In my experience, three of the top reasons one doesn't "feel in the mood" are feeling pressure from your partner, resenting your partner, and depression. I mention these Kate to see if they spark anything that you hadn't thought of before. Does Sam resent you for some reason? Do you resent him? Does he seem depressed, withdrawn?

Back in the days when my husband John was my boyfriend and he wasn't screwing me enough (or at all) and I was desperate for affection, love, and sex, I got some good advice from my therapist who I call the notorious DLB. I told DLB that every night when we'd go to bed, I'd lie there simmering, waiting for him to do something, anything! Hold me. Touch me. Screw me! Something! But the more I stewed the more he felt pressure. And so DLB said that while we were untangling the web of our issues, it would be helpful if I didn't have any expectations of John for a while -- to not apply any pressure at all. "How do I do this?" I asked.

DLB recommended that for a limited period of time -- (that I chose and only shared with her) -- I was to think of John as GAY! Can you imagine? It was the last thing I thought I'd hear out of her mouth. So I set out to think of John as my gay best friend . . . who I held hands with, who I joked around with, just not the man I'd kiss or screw. And when I got into bed that first night of my experiment, I was relieved to find a certain rage lifted from my body.

Kate, why not give it a try? I'm sure there are a whole host of reasons why Sam doesn't feel amorous right now and another group of reasons why you're with someone who doesn't want to have sex with you (fear of intimacy comes to mind!), but I think it'll be easier to get to them if you aren't continuously resenting Sam for not screwing you. He'll instantly feel a difference. And then I recommend you two find yourselves a couples therapist!

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About this column:

I called my memoir Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex because that's exactly how I felt -- ill-equipped . . . not only for a life of sex, but for love and a relationship.

In high school I was a late bloomer and then found myself sleeping with the wrong boys for the wrong reasons. Things got worse in college. Tormented by my lack-of-love life, I endlessly wondered if I'd ever find someone who loved me, who I not only loved but loved sleeping with. It's no surprise that my fancy undergrad and graduate education were of no help when it came to these super-important parts of life. Where was the course on attraction, communication, love, commitment, sex, finances in a relationship?

It took hitting rock bottom at age 28, when I was constantly fighting with John -- the man I loved, with whom I was barely screwing -- to create my own ad hoc Relationships 101. I decided to do whatever it took to make our relationship work. My efforts to equip myself, as it were, landed me in therapy, in double sessions of couples therapy for three years, at a Making Marriage Work class, and in the self-help aisle of the bookstore. Almost ten years later, John and I are still together and I'm relieved to report that I feel pretty well equipped. (But now that I'm a new mom, I have a whole other area to feel ill-equipped about!)

So if you too are feeling ill-equipped, please e-mail me your questions at Jennifer@jenniferlehr.com and I'll do my best to be of some help. I look forward to hearing from you.

-- Jennifer Lehr

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