Ask Aria: Let Down Lover
I met this incredible guy online a little while back. We were both cautious about COVID, so we stuck to Zoom dates despite sharing a city. It was surprisingly romantic. Even before all of this happened, I loved the intimacy of long phone conversations and avoided hookup culture. The way we're all forced to date now has actually made it easier for me to determine who's most compatible.
Anyway, we started falling in love. We grew desperate to meet in person, so we got tested and quarantined until we got negative results. When we finally got together, I was expecting fireworks. Let's say it was more like.... popping the cork of a champagne bottle. We clearly have a strong chemistry, but like so many straight guys, he's not the most generous sex partner.
I know how to speak up for myself, and I refuse to fake orgasms. But I’m growing resentful of always having to ask for the type of pleasure he just expects, only for him to return the favor in the most obligatory way. Even worse, he actually puts pressure on me to orgasm, to the point that he says can't be satisfied unless I do. He's older and very experienced, and says he's never been this in love, but to be blunt, he fucks me like I'm his first girlfriend. He hates deviating from that same linear cis-hetero sexual script that prioritizes his pleasure and rushes to the finish.
I'm deeply conflicted here. It was a long lead-up to be let down this hard, and to describe it as a disappointment would be a major understatement. I can't tell if this is a problem that can be fixed, or if it's worth fixing at all. My feelings for this guy are so strong, and yet I hate that I'd have to exert so much labor into teaching him not just about my own body but the basics of how to connect and exchange during sex. I’m also wondering, how can you really be in love with someone and yet so inattentive to their needs in bed?
Please help me make sense of this.
Let Down Lover
Dear Let Down Lover,
Oof. I can't begin to imagine your frustration and disappointment. You let your heart be hopeful and open to love in the middle of a pandemic, found it, quarantined for it, just to discover that something major was missing from the connection. That would be deflating if you'd met right away, but with all that cautious build-up, it's an especially crushing letdown. In all your eagerness to understand what's happening and search for solutions, please be sure to make space for all of your complicated feelings right now.
Meeting people digitally can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Dating apps give you nearly all the options of the real world, while video dates can help gauge your intellectual connection without the distraction of those pesky pheromones, clever banter and shared interests can also mask a lack of genuine chemistry, and help fuel a fantasy that collapses IRL. Believe me, you're not the only person who's experienced some version of that since the pandemic began. It might even be some sad rite of passage.
When I first leaned in to distance dating last spring, someone caught my eye so quickly I swiped right without even reading her profile, which I never do. A match! She lived nearby, but we played it safe. We didn't meet in person until we'd spoken for over a month. By then, I could have sworn I was in love. We'd talk on the phone for hours and hours every day, and it was completely effortless. We really just clicked, and I thought it was destined to be my picture-perfect pandemic romance.
Things fell apart pretty quickly once we finally started dating in person. Unfortunately, it appears the magic and whimsy of actually falling in love is a sort of chemical, spiritual exchange that requires sharing physical space to calibrate properly, and there are dangers in delaying that process. We can easily start to fall in love with our preconceived notions, or simply the way someone makes us feel. To say nothing of the emotional urgency that is dating against the backdrop of a mass casualty event that's keeping us all lonely, frightened, and exhausted by endless Groundhog Days.
Here's a way to help determine if there's hope: what is the source of the chemistry that you describe, if it's not present sexually? Do you feel it more when you're conversing over the phone, or when you're cuddled on the couch together? Is there a shared creative expression that you've bonded over that you struggle to connect outside of? Try to notice when you feel most in tune, and if it turns out it's when you're not actually together in person, that's a big clue. With my girl, I knew something was off when I'd get more excited about talking to her on the phone late at night in my bed than I did about falling asleep beside her.
When it comes to the sex, you're absolutely right to distinguish between telling a new person what you like, and having to goad them into centering your pleasure during the exchange, because only one of those things can be taught. If your guy knows you need focused stimulation to get off, but you have to ask for it every time, and if you don't cum he gets upset? It's a red flag, beloved. As a woman who sometimes dates men, I know that "cis-hetero sexual script" is REAL, and we are programmed to go with the flow. But that type of pressure is the antithesis of pleasure, and they can't really coexist.
I know you fell fast and hard, and it can be really easy to tolerate treatment you otherwise wouldn't in order to process that. I also know the pandemic has blurred the boundaries that helped us make sense of our relationships in the Before Times. I don't want to make too many assumptions here, but I do know this: It's very possible that this man has been miscalculating your relationship as well, and has some of his own illusions that are divorced from reality. Perhaps this is the perfect chance to open a dialogue about your relationship, its origins, and its trajectory. I hope you'll learn something that helps get you back on track, with or without your guy.