Best-Of Advice

On an interesting couple

Five years ago I was a happy hooker in Manhattan living a carefree existence and dating an amazing guy. Easy going, funny, caring, hot as fuck, same playful worldview as me. When he had to move away for a few months I decided to let the relationship fade as letting it run its natural course would likely have ended in heartbreak (at 25 he said he had at least a decade before wanting to settle down; at 31 I knew I wanted a child at some point and didn’t have 10 years to wait to start).

Enter 42 year old handsome ad exec client of mine. We start dating, I quit my job, quit partying, and re-entered the 9-5 workforce. We have endless conversations about my ability to be monogamous (I can) because he’s been cheated on. We fall in love fast and in less than a year decide to get pregnant and move in. All seems to be running smoothly until 2 months after our son is born when I come across evidence that he had lied about a past divorce (2 not 1) and then a few weeks later that he had been seeing sex workers for the last year. Over the course of a few months and therapy I decide to stay. He says it was self destructive behavior because he thought my pregnancy-induced ambivalence towards him (I was) meant I would leave him (I wouldn’t). Things got better, but we never recovered fully. A year and a half later he was offered a job in Portland and I said – fuck it, new start, new adventure.

We’ve been here a year and a half and I have no regrets about the decisions I’ve made. I obviously ignored some large red flags, but I love my son. I love Portland. If we broke up I would be happy to stay here (as in, wouldn’t feel trapped).

But we constantly go through the following cycle:

1. He confuses my introversion for indifference and becomes a cranky bastard.
2. I pull away because my father was a very cranky bastard.
3.  I fantasize constantly about the guy who I dated just before him. He was a beam of fucking light.
4. At this point the distance between us is tangible.
3. Blow up. The end is near. Silence. Agree to sort it out. Family unit. Blah blah.

Rinse. Repeat.

His worst fear is that I am only with him because he is generally sensible and responsible, has a good job, etc.

That’s why I’m with him.

I love him but if he was a loaf or a shitty dad I would have been gone a long time ago. The lust has faded and other than our shared love of our son I don’t know how much we actually have in common.

There’s not even a question in there. I want you to read the tea leaves I suppose.


It seems as though you’ve split the difference between settling and settling down. In that sense, you’re like most women who marry in their thirties for the sake of having a child.

Also, you’re right on schedule for the lust to have faded. That happens to all couples after a few years, especially when you throw parenthood into the mix.

You acknowledge your faults (ambivalence to near indifference) and you acknowledge that he is a good husband and father in some generic, outwardly visible sense. That’s all good stuff to know about yourself, but what you don’t seem to recognize is how easily you’re able to change your own history for the sake of your present emotional state, especially with regard to your prior relationship.

I promise you, beam-of-fucking-light guy wasn’t all that special. He was just young and wild. Hell, so were you. I’m not trying to insult your memory of him or denigrate the relationship. What you two had together was very real, and I’m sure he was a great guy, but he wasn’t magical. You were just in love, and now you’re heaping all your “what might have been” fantasies onto your memory of him.

You’re making beam-of-fucking-light guy out to be much better than he actually was. (Yes, you are.) That’s not fair to you, that’s not fair to him, and that’s not fair to your husband.

Now, as for your husband, his worst fear is NOT that you’re only with him because he is a good provider. That’s merely your interpretation of his inherent low self-esteem, which he otherwise is well-practiced at hiding.

His worst fear is that he is unlovable.

This is a man who throughout his life has regularly and continually paid women for sex and affection. You were one of those women, and believe me when I tell you that there is a dark sticky place in his psyche that you’re never allowed to see where he has some major issues with women, and that part of him is tied directly to his fear of being unlovable. (I can’t even begin to explain all the mommy issues involved here.)

If it weren’t for your son, it’s plainly obvious that the two of you would already be divorced — his 3rd apparently — and you would have already fallen in love with someone else. (That’s your larger pattern, interrupted only by motherhood.)

That doesn’t mean you two can’t have a happy marriage. You can, and it doesn’t have to end in divorce. The good news is you two on some fundamental level have always respected one another. Even at the ass-end of one of your blow-up cycles, neither of you have lost respect for the other.

That’s your saving grace. You can build on that. I recommend you two start seeing a relationship therapist regularly to help the process, but it’s time for you both to start a new kind of partnership, one in which you both shift and refine your ideas about love.

You need to mutually acknowledge that lust fades over time. You need to mutually accept that the two of you have complex sexual and emotional needs, and it’s unreasonable to expect that all those needs can be met by just one person. Furthermore, you need to mutually acknowledge that just because your spouse doesn’t meet all of your sexual and emotional needs, that doesn’t mean you two can’t be a healthy, loving couple.

I promise, you can. As long as there’s mutual respect, you can make it. You may have to fly in the face of tradition, but given your mutual histories, I doubt you’ll have much problem with writing your own rules to your marriage.


7 thoughts on “On an interesting couple

  1. Lynn says:

    I have so much in common with this advice-seeker, it’s not even funny. Only it’s several years post-split for me now. I have to say that I believe Coquette is right. That beam of light from my past quickly burned out for me, before we even truly got together in fact. And the next few dream guys after were the same. I had a challenge in that my partner wouldn’t allow the relationship to open up, but I wonder if I had let him get used to the idea and didn’t chase my fantasy, he might have gotten comfortable. The thing is, parenthood/marriage is tough and doesn’t do well at stimulating passion. It takes work and sometimes if the passion isn’t there, you might do well to consider it like a dry spell when you are single and need to focus on your own happiness in other areas of life and your son. I took the path you’re thinking of and it took several years of painful learning to see that it probably wouldn’t have been worse to stay and that would be good for our son. I just needed to find my own happiness, maybe get some therapy, and get my ex to come to the table relative to sex. Anyway, long-winded, but I thought I would share because this is about five word changes from being my letter a few years ago. My son is doing okay because we are very dedicated to co-parenting and I am finally more content and at peace, but I could have probably gotten to this state within the relationship. Best of luck to the writer and thanks, Coquette.

  2. Kate says:

    I identify with this quite a bit, only in my case we’re not married/ with kids. I wish so much that I could be with someone who was that “beam of fucking light” in my life; I’m the lighthouse in this relationship. I KNOW his fear is that he’s unlovable, and so he spends a lot of effort doing tasks that he thinks show his value and love, but he can’t validate me with words because of that fear. It’s hard to feel like he fully accepts me and I feel like he thinks the same. I can see all the different ways in which my guy would be a great dad or husband, and though our sex is pretty phenoms, emotionally we lack spark. Only… we respect each other so much and see so much value in the relationship it seems foolish to walk away, because how would we ever find something that quantitatively great again? Your “his fear is that I’m only with him/ that’s why I’m with him” resonated with me like whoa. Good luck, whatever you do…

  3. Brian says:

    I’m a supposed 26 year old “beam of light” — as recently as this summer I dated my first 30ish year old woman. She is a wonderful soul with a progressive mind and spirit. We hit it off nicely to say the least. She has a toddler from her past marriage.

    We had a summer fling and this is NOT a relationship. It got a little bit too heavy early on, we sparked a notable combustion, though it was early lust, chemicals leading the way. We communicated honestly and decided it would remain a fling. We kept casually dating, had a genuinely good time, spent nights together when we could.

    We are still friends today, but aren’t dating anymore. She recently emailed me and told me I’ve set the bar for men in her world. That I’m special, one of a kind, etc. Lovely email, but didn’t represent my complete yin/yang. She even told me that she finds it difficult to imagine a better fit for her ever coming along… but she’s going to keep hope and see what happens.

    I felt weird about this email too an extent and don’t consider myself “the bar”, though I guess it’s her individual perception. “The Bar” is who I am inside a fling or short-term interaction, I guess. I’m fun, and relaxed, and loving and sweet. That’s me displaying maximum patience 24/7, because I know after tonight or tomorrow, we are going to be separate again. I’m comfortable knowing “we” has a shelf-life. I don’t know if that makes sense or not.

    I’m a human (range of emotions). I can be obnoxious, and I can be caustic. Every single person has flaws. I don’t know where I’m going with this. I just don’t think people should place anybody they aren’t in a relationship with at the top of their pyramid. Fuck that. There’s a saying “short and sweet” — My point is, my sample is consistent. There’s a reason sustaining a long-term relationship is hard as fuck.

    Coquette gave good advice, so I’ll leave it at that.

    • GE says:

      Ew, take your overly personal humblebrag to Penthouse Letters or something. Of course, Letters to Penthouse may have gone obsolete in which case I say, take that as a hint.

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