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He can be awful

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 26, 2012 07:52 AM

Heavy letter for a Friday. And yes, I'll stay in touch with the letter writer.

Q: I have been married for more than 20 years. My husband had some affairs (with different women) three years ago. I know that he is still talking to these women, as he makes comments about what they are doing and it seems pretty current information. I have not been able to gain back the trust and love that I once had. We have two children who are under 18.

My husband constantly calls me fat [and other inappropriate things] when our younger child is nearby. (I don't think that our child sees it though.) He pinches me until I tell him to stop because it hurts. He jokes, "I haven't even begun to hurt you." He flirts with friends and neighbors until we're all uncomfortable. When we tell him to stop, he says something like, "Oh, you can't take a joke."

He now accuses me (at least once a week) of having an affair with someone. I honestly will say I have never had an affair with anyone. If I refuse sex with, he gets very mad takes all the blankets.

He also threatens to divorce me and leave me with nothing. I used to kiss him after these threats, but now I'm at the point where I tell him to go ahead and leave me. I am at the end of my rope. We have tried counseling, both individual and marriage, and it hasn't worked because he has quit going after a few sessions.

– So Now What?, North Carolina

A: This is an abusive relationship, SNW. And I'm going to reveal to the readers (after much thought) that you emailed me several years ago about similar issues. It was a letter that we just didn't get to -- and it was much less severe than this version (it was about the affairs, not the abuse) -- but these problems have plagued your marriage for a long time. You've been pinched, harassed, questioned, and shamed, sometimes in front of your children. You need a way out. (And for the record, kids see and perceive more than you think they do. I'm sure that your younger child is aware of what's happening.)

You need to check in with a local domestic violence organization. North Carolina has them. (Click here if you're at a safe computer.) Pinching might not seem like real abuse, but it is. So are threats and intimidation. You must meet with a professional who can help you navigate this process. Because it will be process. If you can continue individual therapy, please do.

It's also a good time to reach out to your community. Don't be afraid to call friends and family. You mention that your neighbors have shared your discomfort over the years. Are any of these people real friends? Can you spend more time with them, just to feel less isolated?

You can't go through this alone, and you certainly can't put it off any longer. You might think I'm misusing the word "abuse," but find a safe computer and do some reading. You might be surprised by the definition.

Readers? Is this abuse? What should the letter writer do? Are the affairs relevant? Talk.

– Meredith

My friend made a pass

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 11, 2012 08:21 AM

Q: I'm a man in my mid-30s who was in a friend's wedding recently. One day prior, I got to hang out with an old friend I've known for more than 20 years, "Jeff." Jeff and I are both married with children, and as groomsmen, we had obligations to attend to the day before the wedding. Our wives stayed behind with the kids before joining me and Jeff at the festivities the following day.

Jeff was always an odd duck. He lives in Europe and just carries himself differently than most guys I know. A few of my other friends have always suspected that Jeff is gay, but I tend to shrug it off and insist that being a European metrosexual doesn't mean he's gay. Well, after this weekend, it seems my friends' suspicions are confirmed.

Jeff and I split a hotel room for one night. The moment we got into the room and put our bags down, he made a comment that if we pushed the beds together, there'd be an even bigger surface on which to "fool around." I laughed, assuming he was joking, and gave it no more thought. Later, we went to a nearby pub for dinner. He insisted on buying me dinner and then said that I didnít have to sleep with him unless I wanted to. I feigned amusement and tried changing the subject to the draught beer menu. But he persisted, asking, "So, do you?" Humiliated, I replied, "No, thanks, and youíre not buying me dinner."

The rest of the evening went on without incident, but the next morning, Jeff made another pass. "Breakfast sounds good," was my terse reply.

Our wives arrived later that day. Once my wife and I were alone, I couldn't help expressing my relief that she was there, and I had to tell her what had happened with Jeff. She was wide-eyed and sympathetic. I admitted that I was not completely surprised, but certainly in shock, as I never expected to be the object of my friend's sexual advances.

Now what? The only person I've told is my wife. If Jeff had simply come out to me, I'd be honored and supportive. Instead, he hit on me and made me feel shamed and degraded. If I confronted him, I'm sure he would deny it, find a way to explain away his untoward actions, and I will in all likelihood lose him as a friend. Should I just forget it ever happened and leave Jeff to come to terms with his true sexual identity? And was I wrong to ignore his advances simply to keep the peace?

– Gloomsman, Maine

A: Your friendship with Jeff has changed forever, Gloomsman. There's no way to delete the weekend.

You can either ignore the issue because he's an ocean away, or you can bring it up and hope that he listens. And you never know -- he might be longing for someone to ask him what's going on. He might appreciate some honesty.

My advice, for the moment, is to give yourself more time to process what happened. You don't know what you want to do about this guy, and that's OK. There's no statute of limitations here. You can even wait to see how it feels the next time you see him in person.

For the record, you didn't make a mistake by staying silent and getting through the night. You were harassed in a hotel room by a guy who's supposed to be your friend. Your instinct was to set boundaries and make it to morning. That's understandable.

For now, you're entitled to time.

Readers? Should he confront Jeff? Will Jeff deny the issue? What should he say to Jeff? Did he do the right thing in the hotel room? Should he have this discussion soon? Help.

– Meredith

I want to leave my wife

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 5, 2012 08:21 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I am in my late 40s and have been married for almost 25 years. I love and respect my wife -- she is intelligent and is a great mother to our two grown children. We have had a good life. There was a time about a decade ago where I was not in a good place personally. I was in a job I hated and just generally not happy. During this time I had a few one night stands with women I met through my job. I eventually confessed to my wife because I felt so guilty about it. She was devastated but said she forgave me and I have tried very hard to be a better husband and better person. I found another job that I enjoyed more (and where there were not many women). Things have been pretty good for the last nine years.

Recently my wife has been depressed, anxious, and sometimes has unpredictable outbursts. I think she is suffering with the whole empty-nest thing. I have tried to be supportive but it seems like she takes all her emotional issues out on me and several times has thrown my past cheating in my face even though she claims to have forgiven me. During this time, I happened to meet a woman (Sarah) and we have gotten close and have been physical a few times. I felt really guilty about it though so cut off the friendship. But I found I was miserable because I had no one to talk to about what was going on with my wife. So after several weeks of no contact, we have resumed our friendship and spend a couple of hours a day talking on the phone or emailing. We have only been physical once in that time. Sarah's a good listener and is also going through something similar (she is in an unhappy marriage and contemplating divorce).

After many conversations with her, Sarah helped me realize how unhappy I've been in my marriage for a long time. And that my wife has never forgiven me for my past cheating and probably never will. I am contemplating leaving but I'm worried about how that would affect my wife. I don't want to hurt her. I also worry about the financial aspects. My wife is the bread winner in the family and came into the marriage with some family money. We enjoy an above average lifestyle - without her income I'm not sure I could even afford a decent place on my own. I think my friend would be willing to move in with me (assuming she gets a divorce) but she doesn't work so would only have whatever alimony/child support comes her way after the divorce. Sarah says her husband does reasonably well though so we could probably enjoy a comfortable lifestyle especially if she were able to keep their house. But she also has two young boys and I'm not sure I'm ready to be in a step-dad type of relationship.

I know my wife would be devastated if I asked for a divorce. I have asked her to get counseling but she refuses. She's a good person and I do care about her but I'm just not happy. Should I do what's best for her or what's best for me?

– Unhappy, Mass.

A: Should I do what's best for her or what's best for me?

You should do what's best for both of you. You should stop cheating and get your act together.

Maintaining the status quo and lying to your wife isn't what's best for anybody. It's certainly not in your wife's best interest to live with someone who's miserable and lining up a second life behind her back. You have to drop Sarah, like right now. You're not entitled to her attention, and you both need to focus on your real lives.

You must also go to therapy, even if it's just for you. Perhaps you can go for a while and then ask your wife to join you for a session or two. Sometimes a visit on someone else's behalf is less intimidating.

And please know that you can't jump from your wife to Sarah. You sound crazy for prioritizing your escape plan and discussing your standard of living as your marriage is dissolving. You should show this letter to your therapist. I think it'd be quite revealing.

Again, in no particular order: Drop Sarah (now), go to therapy, ask your wife to join you, and be honest with her about what you want from your marriage, if anything. No more coasting, cheating, and planning for a live-in girlfriend. Sarah is married and so are you.

Say it with me: Married. You need to be a husband and figure out what's best for you and your wife.

Readers? Is there some narcissism going on here? Should he tell the wife about Sarah? Does he have to cut her off? What happens his wife continues to refuse therapy? Help.

– Meredith

I'm the other woman

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 4, 2012 08:05 AM

Great chat yesterday.

As for today, just remember to be helpful. You can be critical, but please give advice.

Q: I carried on an affair with a man -- who later became my boss -- on and off for over two years. It is an extremely long story filled with unbelievable circumstances, so I will summarize the events.

This charming man has insisted to many, including myself, that he and his wife "have an agreement" that if she doesn't know, him having extramarital relationships is fine. I took this as truth, maybe because I wanted to, and have known others he has approached this way, though none that followed through. I had intended it to be a short-lived affair, and he is well-known as somewhat of a womanizer, which added to my belief in his claim. I met his wife on a number of occasions and based on things she said and allowed us to do as friends, I was pretty convinced they really did have the agreement.

When I showed no interest in "dating" him, he laid it on thick and seemed genuine; however, when I would show interest, he would disappear completely. This became a recurring theme. If I tried to talk to him about "us," he would often lose his temper, blame things on me, break me down, and claim he just wanted to be friend ... only to seduce me a short time later. He often accused me of having personal ads up and trying to "cheat" on him, which I later found out was something he had been actively doing to me.

Why did I carry on this affair? Because when he made me feel good, he made me feel like the only person in the world. It sounds pitiful, I am aware.

After two years of fighting, I finally had enough. I started encouraging him to leave me alone, be my friend, and be with his wife, but he was unrelenting. He wouldn't stop hassling me about getting back together. We finally had a huge fight and he became afraid I would tell his wife, so he told her. I did not believe he told her, as he often seemed to lie, and when he recounted what he said to her, he revealed he had lied at least about the length of the affair, so who knows what else. I believed him after she confirmed it in an email to me and asked me to cease all contact.

Still, we kept in contact. On and off, we were friends, but we often talked about getting back together (mostly fueled by him). We did not engage in sex, but he would still give me little presents and often made plans with me, which one of us would cancel. Over the last six weeks, he tried to come back to me multiple times, only when I wasn't interested, and when I finally became interested, he unloaded hell on me. I told him I couldn't handle the emotional strain of his mercurial emotions and to either come back or leave me alone.

Shortly after, he contacted me under innocent pretenses as a friend, and began the begging anew. I was resistant, but finally believed him again and wanted him back. A few days ago, we had a short phone conversation in which he accused me of being the juggernaut in this recent scenario (though I have emails that show otherwise) and was outright cruel. He claimed to me that he now honest and wants to work on his marriage (which he has claimed several times, only to come back to me), when just a few hours before he was trying to arrange a meeting with me. I am tired of him coming back. I feel gullible and stupid for believing him so many times and have told him to leave me alone multiple times.

I am considering "helping" him to be honest by contacting his wife with texts and emails, but there are literally thousands. I don't want to hurt her, I just need him to leave me alone and I think it's unfair that he broke my heart repeatedly, cost me my job and some mutual friends, and continues to wreak havoc on my heart whenever the mood strikes him. Should I send all of our communications and alert her to the reality of the relationship, or a select few showing that he has not kept his word and has been seeking me out repeatedly?

I am not malicious. There is something wrong with him and I have come to realize she lives in a bubble of her own denial. I want to be left alone and I want him to have no avenue whatsoever to come back to me, be it innocent or otherwise.

– Enough is Enough, Calif.

A: Do not send emails to the wife, EIE. And stop trying to be this man's friend. Change your email address and cell phone number so that only safe people know how to reach you. Cut him off.

You keep taking about his bad patterns, but you're the one who succumbs every time. His wife actually wrote to you and asked you to stay away, and you dismissed her request. You ignored her. She might be in a bubble of denial, but so are you. You started this because you thought he had an open marriage, but you continued it even though you knew you were the other woman.

My advice is to give yourself what you want. "I want to be left alone and I want him to have no avenue whatsoever to come back to me, be it innocent or otherwise." Fine. It's not that hard. You just have to change that phone number and go away.

This situation isn't out of your control. Everything that's happened to you has been a choice. Let this letter be the start of the rest of your life. Don't forward any emails. Just disappear from this man's world so that you can have a world of your own.

Readers? Why can't she let go? Is she addicted to this situation? How can she cut him off? Advice? Help.

– Meredith

He called off the wedding

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 19, 2012 08:36 AM

We chat at 1.

Q: Hi,

My fiance and I have been in a relationship for almost 10 years, engaged for 3. We were ready to get married in a few months when he confronted me about my attraction to him.

I told him honestly that I wasn't attracted to him anymore and he called off the wedding. I told him that the loss of attraction is normal for couples and that we could work it out, but now he is questioning our entire relationship. He says that at this point, he doesn't want to be in a relationship. He says he questions his love for me and mine for him.

I admit that during our relationship, I haven't communicated with him as I should have, but I have started going to counseling to work on my issues of self-esteem, negativity, and communication. He feels as though he's been putting so much into the relationship (and that I haven't been doing my part) that he is burned out. I feel as though it's still too early for him to honestly decide if he wants to be in a relationship.

I have tried to tell him that couples counseling would be best to help us sort out our feelings clearly, but he is unwilling to go. He is only open to going to my therapy to have the psychologist tell me that he doesn't want a relationship anymore. I am working on myself, and am ready to give my all into saving our relationship. I don't want to lose everything that we have shared, and I told him that all I want is one last chance.

– Frustrated and Lost, Las Vegas

A: If he's open to going to your therapist, take him, FAL. That's your fiance's best offer and you just can't force him to do more right now.

You told your partner of 10 years that you're just not attracted to him anymore. It seems pretty fair that he decided to cancel the wedding and re-consider his options. He's putting himself first. I can't say I blame him.

You're in a state of transition. You might discover in therapy that you don't want to get married, at least not to your fiance. You might decide that you need some space to figure out what makes you happy, and that you waited three years for this wedding because it wasn't something that you could ever be sure about. Don't beg your fiance for a life together until you're sure that you want it.

Continue the therapy. Bring him along. Be honest with yourself about what's best for both of you.

I know that sex ebbs and flows in relationships, but you're telling us that you're not attracted to the guy you planned to marry. That's a pretty big deal. You should want more for yourself, and he has every reason to want to walk away.

Readers? Do they need couples therapy? Should the letter writer ask the fiance to stay? Should people be attracted to each other after a decade? What about their other issues? What's happening here? Discuss.

– Meredith

Am I allowed to move on?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 10, 2012 08:34 AM

Q: I have been with my boyfriend for 4 years. He is my absolute best friend and I adore him. We live together and for the most part have a wonderful relationship. Here's the problem: We have a non-existent sex life!

To me, this is not something I can overlook. I want to feel desired. If I bring this up to him (which I have many times), he makes a joke or shrugs me off. I'm so fed up and don't know what to do. I can't picture my life without him, but at this point he's more of a friend than anything. I feel that the only reason we're still together is that we've already been together this long. It's just convenient.

To make it even more complicated, I recently met a guy quite randomly and we hit it off and have become fast friends. I have unbelievable chemistry with the new guy and can see myself with him easily, which makes me realize what I'm missing. When I think about the new guy, I am happy and relaxed as opposed to stressed and dissatisfied at home.

I know my boyfriend is a catch and that I should feel lucky, but I feel that we're just not compatible anymore. I guess I feel guilty about my needs/wants. Is sex (or lack of) enough of a reason to call it quits? I'm confident that it will not change. Should I try, try, try some more or salvage what friendship is still intact between us and move on?

– Sadly Unsatisfied, Boston

A: Is sex (or lack of) enough of a reason to call it quits?

Yes. Absolutely. There's no need to drag this out. You're already shopping for a new partner.

You say that you adore your boyfriend, but you've made it clear that you're "just not compatible anymore." The end.

My advice is to prepare yourself for some loneliness because you will lose your boyfriend's friendship during this breakup. Your routine will be destroyed. You'll need to find a new home.

Please make sure that you have platonic friends who can help you (and maybe house you) as you take these big steps. And whatever you do, don't use the new guy as your support system during this process. He's not really a friend. You're lining him up for more.

Readers? Does she really adore her boyfriend? Does this new crush have potential? Does anyone think she should stay in her relationship? Is this really just about the sex? Discuss.

– Meredith

Having kids ruined our sex life

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 30, 2012 08:27 AM

Q: My wife of almost 12 years and I are from different backgrounds and cultures. Those differences are the glue that has held us together.

We have two beautiful children. We've given our lives to them and are on the same page in terms of their upbringing. She has put her career on hold (it has been 10 years), and I have been fortunate enough to be able to provide a very comfortable lifestyle.

Here's the problem: We have virtually no intimacy anymore. It has been like this since my youngest child (he's 9) was born. We've talked about it millions of times, but nothing ever changes. Her explanation? All women change sexually after having children. I need to get over it. Yes, she's that abrupt. As for me, well, I'm a physical cling-on, which I know can be annoying. I'm also a man, so I could exercise between the sheets on a daily basis.

My problem is, 90% of our relationship works. The other 10% doesn't. She feels everything is just peachy and avoids intimacy as much as possible. Sometimes her behavior makes me feel insecure and sometimes even not loved.

What advice can you offer us?

– Gottohaveit, Boston

A: "What advice can you offer us?"

Am I really advising two people here? Or just you?

If this letter had come from both of you, I'd tell your wife to visit her doctor to see if there's anything she can do about her missing sex drive. I'd tell her that sex is important and that she's lucky to have a husband who's desperate to stay close to her.

But ... she's not asking me for advice, is she? It's just you here. So the real question is: How can you get your wife to acknowledge that this issue is legitimate?

My advice for you is to take it slow. Ask for kissing. Suggest visiting first base with the hope of a trip to second. Sit close to her while watching TV. Your wife might be less overwhelmed by light physical intimacy, and the light stuff often leads to the rest.

Also try to plan a trip for just the two of you. It won't necessarily lead to sex, but it'll give you time and space to talk about your wants and needs without kids around. You can ask her about that doctor idea. You can tell her that you feel lonely when she pulls away. "I feel lonely" is more difficult to dismiss than "I want sex." "What should we do?" is a better question than "How can I get what I want?"

Make sure you choose the right words and ask her questions about her own needs. Find out what makes her feel good. Ask her what used to make her feel great. Don't overwhelm her with demands. Just have a discussion -- as two people who still love each other. Because that's what you are.

Readers? What can he say to get her attention about this? Is it a lost cause? Is her reasoning valid? Are their cultural differences relevant? Help.

– Meredith

My boyfriend's late-night activities

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 21, 2012 08:30 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I've been reading Love Letters from the beginning. I was hoping I wouldn't ever have to write in for guidance but alas, here we are.

My boyfriend "Tom" and I have been dating for over a year and half. We moved in together earlier this year and things have been absolutely amazing. We openly and easily talk about our future together. Things just click in every department. For reference, we are both in our mid/late 20s.

Tom is more of a night owl than I am (he also goes into work a bit later than I do in the morning) so I usually turn in a couple hours earlier on weeknights. The other night, I got up to get a drink of water and I walked into the living room. Tom was furiously typing away on his laptop and clearly was so engaged in whatever he was doing that he didn't see me at first. When he did notice me, he immediately minimized the screen and shut his laptop. I obviously called him out for his sketchy behavior and asked what he was doing. He opened his laptop back up and showed me a pornographic literary website -- a lot of erotic reading material. I don't have a problem with porn in general, reading or watching.

My problem is that there are also chat rooms where people interact with one another. From what I gathered, it can range from actual personals (let's meet up) to group stories (someone writes out a scenario, another person jumps in with the next part of the storyline until 20 people have made up a story). My boyfriend was partaking in the latter.

I was shocked to say the least. We have (or so I thought) an extremely active and fun sex life. He apologized profusely and said he'd never partake in the chats again. He said he had known about the website for a long time and had always just read the stories. He said he only very recently decided to check out one of the chat rooms.

He also claimed that he never interacts with people one on one. Although he knew I probably wouldn't be thrilled about it, he thought there was no harm in a group chat putting together stories. I reiterated that while I thought reading/watching pornography was fine, he crossed the line by actually interacting with other people.

My question is: Should I believe that he's never taken it beyond a group chat? Even if I do think he hasn't cheated physically, is that where he is progressing to? What if he likes some girl's storyline? Is he going to want to try out her ideas in person? Am I just overreacting about this entirely?

– My Boyfriend Has a Late-Night Problem

A: I understand why you're uncomfortable about the chat room stuff, but I just don't think that Tom planned to use this website to set up an in-person cheat. I can't make you any guarantees, of course, but based on what you've told us, Tom likes erotic fiction and found a snazzy website. He got carried away, probably chatting up a bunch of people who just read "Fifty Shades of Grey."

You've explained your boundaries and he's accepted them. He didn't get defensive and he certainly didn't hide. (He opened that laptop pretty quickly, didn't he?)

Again, I can't promise you that he's never going to cheat on you, but this website stuff doesn't sound very serious. You've told him that you don't want him to chat with others. Now he knows the rules.

This is the kind of thing that happens when you're learning how to live with someone. You want to do all of the weird stuff that makes you happy, but suddenly there are witnesses. It takes time to adjust. Take a deep breath and keep communicating.

Readers? Was this cheating? Was it going to lead to a cheat? Is she setting the right boundaries? Discuss.

– Meredith

We want different things in the bedroom

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 17, 2012 08:39 AM

Please behave in the comments section today. I don't want your opinions to disappear (and this letter is tricky).

Q: I've been with my boyfriend for six years. We are talking about getting married in the next year. We get along in every way, balance each other well, and love each other very much.

Here's my problem: I think he's addicted to sex. Instead of holding my hand or wrapping his arms around me lovingly, he grabs my hand for other reasons and gives me affection that is overtly sexual. He constantly says explicit things to me (many things I can't state here) that make me feel extremely uncomfortable and creep me out. He is always complaining that he never "gets any" and that he wants to "explore" in the bedroom in ways that I am not comfortable with. I've been struggling with it for years and now I've caught him browsing the Casual Encounters ads on Craigslist.

I don't think he's cheating on me, nor I do I think he's contacted anyone from these ads. It may be more of a visual thing but I'm worried eventually he may cheat. Iíve tried talking to him about it and he just gets defensive (it's a "he can dish it but he can't take" it scenario). I wouldn't mind trying to spice it up in the bedroom but his version of that and mine are two different things. I want more romance and he wants ... something else.

Help! What do I do? I love this man and I want to marry him but I just think we may want to TOTALLY different things in the bedroom and I don't know that we will ever find compromise.

– Touchy Subject, Oregon

A: The bedroom is a very important place, TS. If you can't compromise in the bedroom, this relationship won't work. I'm actually shocked that you've made it to year six with these issues.

I'll trust the third sentence of your letter and assume that your relationship is awesome despite the sex stuff. If that's really the case, I want you to talk to your boyfriend about this issue one more time. Let him know that the conversation is important (not just a nag) and that you're doing some serious thinking. Focus on the positive -- what you enjoy about your physical relationship -- and maybe he won't get so defensive. Ask him what he wants your sex life to be like in five years. Then tell him what makes you happy. Honestly, if you can't fulfill each other's needs, you're just going to leave each other wanting.

Wouldn't it be nice to find someone who wants to hold you instead of grabbing your hand? Wouldn't it be nice to feel like you're satisfying someone in the bedroom instead of finding that person on Craigslist looking for more? Every couple goes through sexual highs and lows, but you're dealing with a constant low. Nothing is right. Your boyfriend of six years is creeping you out.

Try the discussion again. If you can't meet in the middle, please walk away and start looking for someone who can give you a big, romantic kiss without pushing for more. That's what you want.

Readers? Can this kind of problem be fixed? How should she bring this up? What if her relationship is really great in other ways? Is he addicted to sex? Help.

– Meredith

He's angry that I dated other people

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 7, 2012 08:25 AM

Q: I am in my mid 20s and a young professional. "Jack" is 25. We both live in Boston. Last fall, after five years together, Jack dumped me. It wasn't completely out of the blue. We had been unhappy for a while but it didn't hurt any less. When he broke up with me, he was very final, he said his goodbyes, ignored my pleas to work out our differences, and stopped answering my calls and texts. During the early break-up stages, I had a major family emergency. Naturally I reached out to him for support, but he was not there to help. I had no choice but to pick up the pieces of my life and enjoy being in my early 20s in the city.

Fast forward to the spring. After almost six months of not speaking, Jack worked his way back into my life. I had never stopped loving or caring for him and although I was hurt by his inability to try to push through our faults, I realized that the time apart had been the best thing for us. I couldn't have been happier that he wanted to give it another go.

The inevitable catch is that Jack is very conservative, and when we were getting back together he made a very bold statement that if I had "dated" or "been with" anyone while we were apart, he wouldn't be able to be with me. I attempted the response of "we weren't together so I'm not talking about it," but he refused to accept that as an answer. So I did what I thought was right and went with the "what he doesn't know won't hurt him" strategy. Although he really pushed the issue and begged for my honesty, I flat out lied to his face when he asked me if there had been anyone else. I wanted him back so badly that I truly didn't feel like I had a choice.

Last Saturday night, after four months of bliss and far too many cocktails, he brought up that he had heard I was lying about what had happened during our time apart. I reluctantly confessed that I had lied and that there had been other people.

To say he flipped out would be an understatement. I was called every name in the book, my belongings were dropped off at my house, and I have been getting seething and hurtful texts ever since. I don't know if he is more mad about the lying (an admitted mistake on my part) or about what I did. I think both. But he has called it quits AGAIN. I told him that adults don't just walk away from relationships, they work through problems, but he has stated that he doesn't think that he can ever trust me again and would never want to be intimate now that he knows I have been with other people.

I want to be with him more than anything, but after his recent proclamations about not being able to forgive me, I am not sure where to go from this point. Do I continue my apologies and pleas or do I walk away for a final time?

– Reluctantly in love, Boston

A: If you have to lie to maintain a relationship, it's probably not a relationship worth having, RIL. Had you written to Love Letters four months ago, I would have told you not to get back together with this guy.

He had no right to expect you to stay out of the dating game after he bailed on you. You say that he's "conservative," but he sounds selfish and irrational.

If he was worried about his health, he could have asked you to take an STD test. His real concern has been his own weird definition of purity and your commitment to him when he wasn't committed to you.

You say that you want to be with him more than anything, but he hasn't earned that loyalty. He ditched you, made irrational demands, and then ditched you again. This relationship isn't worth saving.

My advice? Let this go. Allow yourself to get angry. Yes, you messed up by lying (please, never do that again), but he made mistakes too. Unless this guy acknowledges that he also owes you a serious apology, it's over.

Readers? Who's at fault here? Does he have the right to be angry? Does she? Is there something worth saving? Help.

– Meredith

She wants to wait until marriage ... for everything

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 20, 2012 08:33 AM

We chat today.

Q: Dear Meredith,

"Sarah" and I have been together for a year and a half. It has been wonderful from the get-go; we both have the same interests and she is one of the kindest, smartest people I've ever met. We're also 12 years apart in age (I'm 36, she's 24), but we're both grounded. She still lives at home with her parents but says that will change once she gets a full-time job in her field. (That's taking some getting used to; Iíve been on my own for 14 years).

However, one thing has been nagging at me recently: she's waiting for marriage to have sex. She told me this very early on in our relationship -- it's a religious thing, as well as her own personal preference -- and I was fine with that at the time because I thought, well, there's other things you can do. It's also her preference; who am I to pressure her? I learned soon after that no sex before marriage meant no real physical relationship before marriage. It really never bothered me until the last few months when it's been on my mind constantly. I also realized that I'm nowhere near to getting engaged -- I'm still trying to figure out if it's because I will be making a career change soon, or if I'm still unsure if she's the one. This is the longest relationship for both of us (and her first "real" relationship).

Recently, she and I had a long conversation about this waiting. I told her that this no-contact thing is very frustrating to me, but quickly added that I wasn't looking for the obvious solution because I'm not forcing her into doing something if she's not ready. I've never experienced anything like this before -- nor have the few, close friends with whom I've discussed this, and they're all as perplexed as I am about what to do. What I'm worried about is losing interest in her physically, which apparently already is showing itself; I don't ask her to stay over anymore because what's the point? Can physical attraction ever leave and come back? What happens if we get married and on the wedding night, I have no interest in seeing her naked? It's like we're an old married couple and it's only just begun. I said this to her, concerning the wedding night, during our talk and all she said was, "You better not," which kind of says to me she doesn't fully understand where I'm coming from.

Look, I'm not some kind of sex-crazed person, but it is one of the fun parts of being in a relationship (like I need to tell you that). I really don't know what to do. Sarah is such a sweetheart and we do have a lot of fun together, but I'm kind of worried that the lack of physicality will doom this relationship and there won't be anything to get it back.

– Stop! In the name of celibacy, NH

A: You're either the kind of person who can accept the no sex before marriage rule or you're not. And you're not. You never were. You want to be in a physical relationship with the person you're dating. Seems fair to me.

I have to wonder why this relationship appealed to you so much and why you've let it go on for so long. It makes me think that somewhere deep down in that brain of yours, you're so afraid of rejection that you felt good about being with someone who talked about lifetime commitment on the first date.

Maybe you needed that kind of security to get going in a relationship, but you're obviously ready for more risks Ė and some reality. I'm sure that Sarah is fantastic, but she should be with someone who shares her philosophies about sex and marriage. And you need a peer.

You already want less of her. You're moving on. Let her move on, too. End this.

Readers? Any reason to stick around? Why did a relationship with Sarah appeal to him so much? Is it lack of confidence? What should he do? What's the lesson here? Discuss.

– Meredith

Dating a bad kisser

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 8, 2012 08:30 AM

Q: Let's be honest, that first kiss is supposed to set the tone for the rest of your relationship. Well, what happens when you start to date someone who is a TERRIBLE kisser but has all the great qualities you are looking for? I've just recently started dating "Matt" and we have a great connection, enjoy many of the same things, have the same sense of humor, etc. We were set up by a mutual friend who believed we would hit it off, which we did. Unfortunately, our first kiss was not what I had anticipated. He asked if he could kiss me in this sweet, romantic way, and then when he did. He sort of puckered his lips out and it was just a series of weird pecks. It was like we were strangely making out but without crossing the boundaries of respective zones. I chalked it up to the fact that it was late and we'd been at the bar all night. But the next kiss was the same. And so was the one after that. I truly do not know what to do. Kissing is a deal breaker for me! I want that hot, sexy, passionate kiss. But it's not coming. Do I ask our mutual friend what the deal is? I know he's had girlfriends (he's in his late 20s). Did they never tell him? Why doesn't he know how kiss?

– Tongue Tied, New Hampshire

A: First kisses do not set the tone for relationships, TT. They are often awkward and weird and we laugh about them later.

But third kisses should be nice. And fourth kisses should make you want a fifth.

I don't know why he's kissing you like a bird, but it's time to sit down on a couch and tell him how you like to be kissed. Tell him what you enjoy. You don't have to be critical. The talk should actually be sexy and sort of fun. You can even say, "Let me show you how I want you to kiss me."

If it's bad after that -- or if an honest conversation about your needs freaks him out -- please bail. But hopefully it will work. A hint: Sometimes it helps to show right after you tell.

As for whether you should tell your mutual friend, well, that depends on the friendship and whether he/she wants details. If I were the friend, I'd want to know -- and I'd want to be thanked for trying. Organizing a set-up takes courage.

Readers? Are first kisses important? Is he bird kissing her to be respectful because she's a friend of a friend? How have you helped a bad kisser? Is there hope here? Should she tell her friend about this? Help.

– Meredith

We went from making out to a hug

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 8, 2012 08:24 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

I need an outsider's perspective on this:

I met a guy, "Jack," online about two and a half months ago. We really sparked immediately and even made out at the train station. He was the first guy to really strike my fancy since a bad break up last summer, and we kept it slow but saw each other about once a week. There was lots of kissing and staring longingly at each other but not much more.

Things slowed even further at one point with us not seeing each other for more than two weeks. When we did finally hang out, we suddenly weren't even making out. Now we're at a point where at the end of our last hangout, he gave me a hug.

My frustration comes from the fact that even though I don't see him often, I'm still very attracted to Jack when we do hang out. We laugh, we have spark, we call each other adorable. I feel like he acts like he's still romantically interested in me but he doesn't make any moves any more. Normally I'd just go for it with him, but I'm afraid he wants to be platonic and that's why he's slowed.

So, my question: Do I talk to him about this? Should I ask if he still wants us to be dating or if we've officially moved into friend zone? Or would that just make things awkward and potentially alienate him from me completely? My gut is to ask, but my friends keep telling me to wait it out. It's never been very serious and I'm not looking for him to commit to me. I just want to know if he's now my cool fun buddy or if I can still make out with him like I really want to.

– Befuddled and Bamboozled, Somerville

A: Your friends are wrong, BAB. (Sorry, friends.)

It's been almost three months and you've gone from making out at the train station to hugging goodbye. There's no need to wait this out. Ask him if you're actually dating and why things haven't moved past first base.

My guess is that he's still seeing other people and wants to make sure that your relationship isn't becoming more serious. And if that's the case, do you really want to stick around? I mean, you say that you're not looking for a commitment, but don't you want to be with someone who's excited about you and wants to take steps forward each week? At the moment, your relationship is aging in the direction of Benjamin Button. (Next week you're going to get a high five instead of a hug.)

Ask him what's up and then ask yourself if this is worth pursuing. Because there are a lot of guys out there who will want more. You're not in this for a "cool fun buddy."

Readers? Is he just a nice guy who's trying to take things slow? Should she talk to him or wait this out? Are you put off by the fact that he seems to want to see her less? Cool fun buddy? Discuss.

– Meredith

Our sex life isn't what it used to be

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 26, 2012 08:32 AM

Q: Hey Meredith,

I feel kind of silly writing in about this but it's a real issue. Let's get right to it without any food-related innuendo (I promise no grilled cheese euphemisms here).

Basically, I am in a phenomenal relationship. My fiance and I -- both in our early 30s -- are like puzzle pieces. All of the obnoxious cliches are true. We are best friends, we never fight, we have each other's best interests in mind, etc. etc. There is no doubt that I want to be near this person on the regular for the rest of my life.

But one thing has gone mysteriously missing ... our sex life. And I'm scared about that. Now I know all about the end of the "honeymoon period" where you're amazed that you even got dressed long enough to leave the house. I know that moving in together can also take some of the steam and sizzle out of the bedroom. We don't have any weird expectations about it happening every night, so it's not even like there's too much pressure on it. What I'm afraid might be happening has unfortunately been confirmed by others who have been in very long relationships or have been married: we're becoming roommates.

We are still very much physically attracted to each other and still in love so it's not disinterest in that sense. But I guess the easiest way to put it is that we just don't think about it as often anymore. I know I was starting to feel that way and so I asked him about it, and he admitted that despite being a guy and the fact that he could pretty much be ready at the drop of a hat if I was so inclined, he doesn't just sit around thinking about it. We've both just become content with each other's company and friendship, and I'm really afraid of letting that comfort level overtake sexual intimacy, which I believe is a really vital ingredient to a healthy, successful relationship.

My bottom line is that I don't know how to make myself get in the mood or how to put us back to a place where it's a priority again without making it this weird agenda item that feels insincere and forced. I find that I often have a hard time relaxing enough to want it, and sometimes, even if the whole mood is set (candles, wine, etc.), I still have a hard time being present. I thought 30s were the sexual peak for women!? I feel slightly defective, and we're not even married yet!

How can we regenerate our sex life in a way that doesn't feel forced or inauthentic? Have your readers in long-term relationships gone through this? How do we avoid the roommate curse on our otherwise perfect relationship?

Thanks for any and all advice,

– Friends with No Benefits, Boston

A: This is about time, FWNB. Sex tends to happen when you're 100 percent focused on your partner -- when you're really listening to them, when you notice the way they breathe ... the way they return your stare. (Cue the Sade.)

In the beginning of a relationship, focus is easy because of the infatuation. But when you get into a daily routine with someone you love, you have to make time to shut out the rest of the world.

Yes, you guys live together. But do you actually have time for flirtatious dinners and naps that involve more than just napping? I'm not talking about cheesy, "inauthentic" dates with candles. I'm talking about real hangout time. Make sure that your quality hours together aren't just about paying bills, planning a wedding, and eating in front of the television quickly so that you can pass out before the next day.

Also, sex is great and all, but hand-holding is a lovely gateway drug. I'm not talking about walking-down-the-street hand-holding. I'm talking about we're-on-the-couch-and-touching-just-for-the-sake-of-it hand action (yeah, I just said hand action -- be grown-ups). When you get close for no good reason, your brain is reminded of the possibilities.

Make time. Stay relaxed. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. Work the gateway drug. Evaluate again after a few more months.

Readers? Is this normal? Any suggestions? Will their sex life return? Does it ever get better? What can they do without trying too hard? Tips, please.

– Meredith

I lack experience

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 16, 2012 08:35 AM

Happy Patriots Day.
Happy Marathon Monday.
Because it's a holiday, I'm running a letter that's urgent -- but similar to another letter that we dealt with last year.
Be kind. Stay hydrated.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I have an awkward issue that until recently I was never embarrassed to admit. I'll be turning 28 in a few months and I've never been in a serious relationship and am still a virgin. For some vague background: I had some serious life issues in high school and a social life was the last thing on my mind. By the time I got to college, I was just trying to calm down and relax, and was more interested in friendship and my schoolwork. After college, there was more turbulence in my life and when everything finally straightened out, the last thing I wanted to do was enter a relationship. I went through some rough years and I admit I had some trust issues because of it.

My life has finally been on a good path for the past year or so, and I figured it was time to explore that unknown territory of dating. Going on dates isn't my problem. The problem is letting anything progress into a relationship or having sex. To be honest, I never thought I should be ashamed of my lack of experience, but I know people can be cruel about it. People tend to either laugh in disbelief and pity, think I'm joking, or wonder what's wrong with me. And I know that you're supposed to go through the awkward learning stages of dating and sex in high school and college. I'm pretty sure men my age won't find it charming to have to take on the responsibility of teaching me about sex and dating. I've found that they're usually looking for someone who has it all together.

So, I need some advice on what to do. Am I worrying too much about this? Is my problem weird? How do I go about admitting to someone that I'm almost 30 and completely new at this?

– New at this, Boston

A: First of all, no one has it all together. Second, you have life experience that others don't have. While your peers were dating and having sex, you were learning how to get through tough times on your own. That makes you experienced. Just in a different way.

We learn from every relationship, which means that when you start dating someone new, you'll have plenty to teach.

My advice is to get comfortable with your status in your own head and understand that even the most sexually experienced people fumble through new relationships. Ignore anyone who is cruel -- but if someone scoffs because they are surprised, give them a moment to recover and apologize.

Also, you don't have to volunteer this information until you're ready to disclose the other details about your past (those serious life issues). Something tells me that if you put your lack of experience in context, it won't be that much of a shock.

There's no right time to tell someone this stuff, but you should probably wait until you're having one of those lets-share-everything conversations. And when you're having that talk, make sure you ask him about his life. He'll have his own stories to tell and they might make you scoff in surprise.

Readers? When should she volunteer this? Is it a big deal? Are people really cruel about this stuff? Discuss.

– Meredith

Is this love or lust?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 12, 2012 08:26 AM

Q: I love your column. There are so many entries about how to conduct yourself in a relationship. My problem is that I don't really know how to have a relationship, and that I want one with a younger man I recently met. The man is a dreamboat -- smart, funny, witty, handsome, driven, and a successful actor. He is five years younger than I am (he is in his mid-20s). We have intense physical and mental chemistry. We've only been out five or more times and were intimate on our second date (which was amazing). Now I can't do anything except think about him. I want to see him and be with him all of the time. I know I really want a relationship because I haven't had a serious relationship ... basically ever. The actor and I have discussed our past dating history. He knows where I'm coming from, and we agreed that we wouldn't put any pressure on the relationship and would see how things go. He doesn't seem like a player -- but I am so skeptical.

He continually stops by my place but also has joked that he is fine with me "until someone better comes along." He really seems to like being with me and is very emotionally and physically aware of how great our chemistry is when we are together. When we are apart, however, he doesn't go out of his way to ask me how I'm doing, and he's not taking me out for dinners and walks along the harbor (I'm a romantic, can you tell?).

I have dated men who have "wined and dined" me, however the chemistry was never there. With this younger man, the chemistry is there but I am pessimistic about whether he will want a mature relationship or one that makes me feel emotionally fulfilled and loved. Am I wasting my time? Should I stick through it and possibly get hurt in the end? (Did I mention he is very sexy and verrrry attractive???)

Thanks, Meredith...

– In Lust or In Love?, Boston

A: You're in lust and it sounds fantastic, ILOIL.

Not every relationship is meant to go the distance. And sometimes we get hurt by the mature guys who wine and dine us. All I know is that you're enjoying this, so by all means continue.

Usually relationships like this run their course in their own time. Yours will either get deeper and more satisfying ... or it'll start to feel very, very shallow, and the actor's verrrry attractive face will become less stunning because your emotional needs will begin to cancel out the physical.

I don't like his "until someone better comes along" joke, but I assume it's just a joke. It's certainly not a deal-breaker, because frankly, after five dates or so, you don't know whether you might dump him if someone better comes along.

You want this right now and you're learning, which means it's not a waste of time. Go have fun. Stare at the phone. Make out with your very sexy actor. Just stay on top of your feelings and be honest with yourself if/when the relationship turns from exciting to tiring. And in the meantime, if you want to take a long walk by the harbor, just ask. He's learning too. Be clear about your needs.

Readers? Is there any potential here? Does there have to be? What about his not-so-nice joke? Is this just a fling? Is it relevant that he's an actor? Is she as inexperienced as she thinks she is? Help.

– Meredith

Dating a recovering addict

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 7, 2012 08:31 AM

It's chat day.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I met my most recent boyfriend (now ex) at church. He's an alcoholic/addict. We're in our mid-20s. When I first met him, he was smoking pot (more and more as time progressed) and drinking a lot. We slept together the first time we hung out. In the beginning, we were happy and had fun, although I always noticed he seemed unable to have reciprocal conversations. About six months into our relationship, he decided to get sober again, but declined to go to AA or NA meetings. He took on more things in his life (music, school) and had less and less time and mental space for me, as well as himself. We were together for more than a year.

I recently expressed my issues with his inability to be present and engage me in conversation, as well as his lack of time to spend with me. He felt attacked, got defensive, and broke up with me a few days later. He told me that unless I could accept who he is and think of a way to move forward, he felt that we were out of options to continue our relationship.

Then last night we went for a walk. He told me that he wants to make time for me and for himself. That he realizes now that he is just dry and the things I've been wanting in him (and him for himself) occur naturally when he is in a program. He apologized for blaming everything on me and explained that he is now seeing that he was just being stubborn, and the things I wanted were not hard for him to provide. He said he wanted to cut down on his involvements so he can have a personal life again (he literally spends all of his free time doing homework and music). I told him I wasn't sure, that he broke my heart and I don't know if I should compromise on my needs from a partner.

I told him that I wasn't totally closed off to the idea of seeing how he is when he's in a program. We wound up being intimate that night and were both confused afterwards. He kept asking what it meant, and feeling scared that he had ruined his chance of being with me. I'm feeling a little foolish, unsure of where my desire to be with him is coming from. Would it be totally ridiculous to see if this could work?

– Confused in Arizona

A: It sounds like your ex has a lot of potential and that he's working hard to create a better life for himself, CIA, but I'm not so sure about what's going on in your head.

What drew you to him in the first place? What compelled you to stick around when you realized there were problems? Did you feel obligated to stay? Or was it something more?

Rather than focusing on this guy's habits, I want you to focus on you. See a (say it with me everybody) therapist and talk about what comes next in your life, with or without him. I don't know enough about your past to make guesses about why you were with someone who wasn't capable of "reciprocal conversations," but something tells me that it's been easier for you to worry about him than it's been to focus on yourself.

While you figure this out, please be honest with him. Tell him that you don't know what you're doing and that this isn't just about whether he can cut it as a boyfriend. You're not sure about your own motives and you're also in a period of self-discovery.

He's learning how to have a personal life without succumbing to temptation. You're learning about why you need a partner, how you choose one, and what fills your life. For now, I'd put this whole thing on hiatus -- not because I think he's going to relapse, but because you both need to sort out your motivation for being with each other and what you want and need as individuals. Take some space.

Readers? Am I right to say that this is just as much about her as it is about him? He's in a program now and seems quite motivated, so should she stick around to see how it goes? What's happening here? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's a dud in the bedroom

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 29, 2012 08:42 AM

Happy Leap Day.
We have an extra day this month, so shouldn't we have an extra letter?
We won't chat today, but check back at 1 p.m. for a link (right here) to a Leap Letter.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I've been dating my boyfriend for a little more than a year and a half. He's 33; I'm 27. We were casual acquaintances for about two years before we started dating, and are fairly serious now. I love him for many reasons, including his sense of humor, his love of sports, his intelligence, his love of dogs, his sociable and extroverted nature, and his unconditional support of me in whatever endeavor I've undertaken. However (and of course there is a however), he is terrible in bed. Our sex life is an absolute dud.

It was incredibly underwhelming right from the start, but he had enough good qualities for me to want to work through this issue. He is a former frat boy and spent his college (and post-college) years with a variety of ladies who he obviously did not try to please. Before me, as he admitted himself, his standard operating procedure was to take, take, take, not give. I told him the status quo was not going to cut it with me, and he has since tried very hard to be a giving partner. At first he complained a lot about back pain, and he blamed that for why our sex life had to be very simple. But then he and I got to exercising together, and dropped a significant amount of weight. His performance got significantly better for months, but the last couple have seen us right back where we started. He's been blaming back/hip/leg pain for his inability to perform, or whatever other physical excuse he can find, and it's making me feel awful. He plays a competitive sport a few times a week and he runs regularly with me, but nothing changes in the bedroom.

I feel ugly and undesirable most of the time we are intimate because I'm not getting what I need from him in this setting, and no matter how many conversations we have about it (outside of the bedroom, usually, when things are calm and there's no pressure to perform at hand), no lasting changes have been made. I'm tired of breaking down in tears after yet another failed attempt, and this is becoming a deal-breaker. I don't know how to fix it. I am out of ideas. Please help.

– Tears in the Bedroom

A: There are many variations of "simple," TITB. Try to figure out other ways that "simple" can work for both of you. I mean, I can't run on pavement or flat surfaces for more than a few minutes, but that doesn't mean I have to stick to the elliptical machine at the gym. I can also do that stair climber machine, and I can walk at an incline on a treadmill. I can also do the elliptical machine backwards without aggravating with my shin splits. Catch my drift?

I'm sure that a sex therapist would have a lot to say about this, but as a brain-focused person, I'm mostly worried about your self-esteem, his apathy, and what the bedroom issue means about your relationship. So much of great physical intimacy is about eye contact, emotional bonding, and the ability to be playful with a partner. It sounds like you're missing some of that big stuff, and maybe not just in the bedroom.

As you try to redefine "simple," please spend some time thinking about whether you feel intimacy in your daily emotional life. Yes, he's a great guy with a dog and a sense of humor, but is there real chemistry in your relationship? Is there a romantic, intimate bond? Or is he basically a fantastic friend who signed on to be your boyfriend? Something tells me that the tears are about the big picture. Please take some time to think about all of it before you decide what counts as a deal-breaker.

Readers? It sounds like she's already approached this guy about their bedroom problems in a thoughtful way. What else can she do? And what's the other side of the story here? Is this just about their sex life? Discuss.

– Meredith

We swept the cheat under the rug

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 28, 2012 08:29 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

I have been married for five years, and a few months ago, while I was nine months pregnant with our second child, my husband slept with another woman. I was made aware of the affair when I found a note from the woman in his work bag written on hotel stationery. I confronted him, and he admitted to the affair. He had met the woman a few months earlier, while attending a conference for work. They kept in touch and by coincidence (he claims), they were both in New York on business trips at the same time and she met him at his hotel and they slept together. He said that was the extent of the relationship, and that he felt so guilty afterwards that he cut the trip short to come home to me and he never talked to her again.

When all of this came to light, I was adjusting to life with a newborn baby and a toddler and felt that I could not mentally and emotionally deal with another thing. Of course I was devastated, but other than a lot of screaming at him, crying, and making him sleep on the couch for about a week, things slowly returned to "normal" and the affair was kind of swept under the rug. Our relationship on the surface has been fine, but I am still dying inside. We have not been intimate since I found out, I can't bring myself to even kiss him.

Recently, he left his computer on when he was out of the house and I checked his email. There was no correspondence with this woman, but I did find her email address in his contact list and I also saw an email receipt from an upscale body and bath store, from which he often bought me gifts when we were first dating. I sincerely thought, with Valentine's Day coming up, that he had bought something for me. V-Day came and went and nothing. This latest discovery is eating me up inside, especially because he continues to go to conferences.

Should I confront him with this? I will have to admit that I went through his email, and I'm not sure if he will even tell me the truth once I bring it up to him. I feel so alone in all of this, as I cannot bring myself to confide in anyone, because I don't want them to think badly of my husband, as crazy as it sounds.

Any advice would be a huge help.

– Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater, Boston?

A: You must tell your husband that you saw the receipt, OACAAC. Then tell him that you need some time for a real talk. Make plans to go to therapy and discuss. Ask a family member to watch the kids. Have the discussion that you've been putting off since last year. If you don't confront this issue right now, it's going to keep oozing out from under the rug. You might as well deal with it on your own terms.

My advice is to tell someone (maybe a few people) in your life what happened. I understand that you don't want to tarnish your husband's reputation, but you need help and that's what communities are for. Wouldn't you want your friends to confide in you? Wouldn't you be supportive? Disclosing the cheat will help you process the fact that it really happened. You need honesty right now. You need an inner circle of companions who can help you deal. You need perspective.

As for your "once a cheater, always a cheater" question, my answer is no, I don't believe that people who cheat are destined to repeat their mistakes. In fact, I don't even like to use the label "cheater." Let's call your husband someone who cheated. Will he cheat again? I have no idea. All I know is that he did once, and that it's time to accept what happened and talk about it so you can heal and figure out the next step. Please break the silence.

Readers? Once a cheater, always a cheater? Am I right to say that it's important that she tell her friends and family what happened? Or will that make the situation messier than it needs to be? Anybody else sweep a cheat under the rug? What should she do to deal with this? Help.

– Meredith

Sex after 'the change'

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 16, 2012 08:28 AM

This letter writer didn't tell me where he's from. So let's just picture him living in ... Jamaica Plain.

Please keep your comments respectful -- and PG.

And as for updates on letters in the comments section -- don't assume they're real until I verify them. And letter writers, if you have an update, email me (from your original email address) to let me know that it's really you.

Q: Meredith, here's one I don't remember seeing addressed.

I love my girlfriend of many years, we get along great, she's low maintenance, and we've cohabitated for many years (she's older than me). No problem there! In that time, however, she went through the change of life. I thought, no more birth control, great! But it was so much more. While she's just as loving a person as ever, the entire sexual tension aspect is just gone! She'll still be intimate and enjoy it (when I start it), but the buildup, the teasing, and the sex drive in general is gone.

And the smells are different too, in a bad way, making certain things we used to do (and enjoy) rather unpleasant. While I'd never hurt her, I now can understand why men go for younger women. You'd have to have a pretty golden relationship to survive this. What can I do to reconcile myself to this new reality? I'm not ready to be this old!

Thank you.

– The Big Change

A: I know you're upset, TBC, but there are so many wonderful things about your letter. You love this woman. You want her to be hot for you. You've had a fantastic sex life for years. Even now, as she's coping with a major biological change, you guys are working to be intimate. You have a lovely foundation here. Have faith in it, and consider this an adjustment period, not your new reality.

Go see a doctor. With her. Because you need to find out what's going on and whether there's anything you can do to make it better. The pharmaceutical industry has put a great deal of effort into developing pills that make us want to get it on (and maybe even smell right). Go find out what your options are and whether all of these changes have to be permanent.

I want you to know that menopause isn't the only thing that can mess up your sex life. Many people will tell you that their libido changed after having kids. For all you know, your own sex drive has changed over the years in small ways that have affected your girlfriend. No matter what we do, our bodies are always in flux. Finding a younger girlfriend doesn't prevent these issues.

I empathize. This is all scary, weird, and uncomfortable. The good news is that you're in love with your girlfriend, you can be honest with her, and there are doctors who specialize in this kind of thing. Hang in there, and start getting some answers.

Readers? Is this why people find younger partners? Have you gone through a similar situation? What should he do? How can he cope with feeling older because of his partner? Help.

– Meredith

Men and strip clubs

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 7, 2012 08:25 AM

Buy your tickets to Friday's screening of "Cruel Intentions." Film critic Wesley Morris and I will be there to answer questions about this film and why it's so darn sexy. You can also enter this contest to have a free dinner with us.

Also, the woman who wrote this letter did not say "ice cream cones," but I'm keeping it PG. Please keep it PG.

And let's try to keep that off-topic stuff in the message boards (the champagne rooms) -- or save it for late in the day. I don't mind conversation, but these letters deserve some undivided attention.

Q: My fiancť of 3+ years is planning a vacation with his buddies/co-workers to Atlantic City. I asked if I could come along, since we had been talking about planning a similar trip. When he said it was an all-guys trip, I brushed it off until he mentioned that a woman, who happens to be a lesbian, is also attending. This raised a flag to me because I instinctively know what this means: strip clubs. When I asked why she was allowed to go, his response was, "Well, she's not gonna mind if I have [ice cream cones] in my face."

Keep in mind that his friends either have been married for a while or are single. Now I know that it is in every man's DNA to want to see a naked woman, but I can't help but be bothered by this. I am not sure if it's because we were trying to plan a trip like this for the two of us and now he's decided to go with his male friends, or if I'm just bothered that his sole purpose for going is for a strip club.

Regardless, I am bothered by the fact that his whole weekend will be spent blowing money at strip clubs -- money that we're trying desperately to save for a house and a wedding. I never thought of myself as a jealous person, but now that I am faced with this issue, I am beginning to think that's exactly what I am.

It's not that I think he's going to cheat, but cheating for a male means different things than for a female. If I knew that he was [looking at ice cream cones] and was very [close to sampling ice cream cones], I would be extremely upset. The counter-argument I brought up was, "If you found out I had my hands or face in some guy's [ice cream cones], you would be upset too."

Knowing that men go to strip clubs to see beautifully-sculpted naked women (and pay them to be their eye candy) makes me resentful that he isn't satisfied with what he has at home. I will give myself credit and say that I am a stunning young woman, who could stand to lose a few pounds, but nevertheless I am very good-looking and like to make my man happy.

Is this irrational? Am I crazy to get so upset by this, and do I just have to let it go? Or do I have a right to voice my concerns without seeming like a nagging girlfriend who can't let her man go to a strip club for a weekend. I know that telling/asking him not to go will only make him resentful and want to do it even more in the long run, but I won't be able to sleep the whole weekend he's gone, and I probably won't be able to get bad thoughts out of my head. I also probably wouldn't be able to look at or touch him knowing where he's been.

I just need some guidance from some rational men and women, in healthy, long-term relationships who have faced similar situations. Why do men feel the need to touch and look at other women, when they have their own beautiful women at home?! Who they don't have to pay...

– ConfusedAboutMen, Medford

A: I get a lot of letters from people who want to know how I feel about strip clubs, and, well, my answer is too complicated to stick into a simple Q&A.

But I can tell you that the people who write in about strip club issues often have other big problems in their relationships. If your guy was doing a good job of saving money for the wedding, would you be as upset about this trip? If he gave a more respectful, loving answer to your question about the vacation, would you be so focused on the strip club? Are you really jealous about what he'll do with these women -- or is this about your fiancť's priorities?

It seems to me that after a 3.5-year engagement, you're feeling a bit forgotten. I mean, even if the "ice cream cones in my face" thing was a joke, you were obviously upset. He could have comforted you and made you feel safe. He could have discussed boundaries for the trip.

My advice is to take the strip club thing off the table so that you can clear your head. Think (and talk) about the stuff that bothers you on a daily basis. Those are the issues that are worth your attention. And feel free to tell him how you define cheating. He should be open to (and expect) that kind of conversation before this trip.

Readers? Thoughts on strip clubs and cheating? Is this really about the strip club? Am I wrong to say that she'd be more comfortable with the trip if he were better on a day-to-day basis? Discuss.

– Meredith

My wife stinks

Posted by Meredith Goldstein November 11, 2011 08:15 AM

Q: Hi Meredith,

My wife has been on a health kick for the last year or so. She regularly goes to the gym and watches what she eats. She looks great and feels good about herself. So what's wrong? She stinks!

Yes, she smells, and not from lack of showers but from the food she eats. In the last year, she has gone from vegetarian to vegan. She is eating a lot of organic foods, greens, soups, etc...

Normally, I would tell her to stop eating things with garlic, as that was my first thought. But even now I find other foods without garlic make her stink.

She does not smell it on her so she is not concerned.

It is a huge issue for me because I no longer want to be intimate with my wife. I don't even want to be in the same room as her when she gives off this aroma. And this especially applies to the bedroom because then she is right next to me and there is no escaping it. I have tried things like going to bed earlier so I'm asleep by the time she stinks up the room. Sometimes the smell is so bad I have to leave and sleep in our guest room.

I know I do probably have a more sensitive nose than others as I'm usually the 1st person at work who yells out when someone starts cooking fish. But this is a deal-breaker for me. I feel like I have a roommate living with me rather than a loving wife.

I feel like I'm ready to walk but wonder what advice you can give me before I make this decision.

– GrossedOutHubby, Boston

A: You have to be 100 percent honest, GOH. Not mean, but honest. You have to tell her that the smell issue is beginning to kill some very important parts of your marriage. Tell her that you're scared. That should disarm her.

Frankly, your sensitive nose might be picking up something important. Perhaps she's eating too much of one thing. Perhaps she isn't getting enough protein. If she's concerned about her health, she's going to want to see a nutritionist about this smell to find out whether the odor is a symptom of a greater problem. You can even offer to go to the doctor with her to help describe the scent.

One thing to know: Even if she's empathetic, goes straight to a nutritionist, and begins experimenting to find out what makes her smell better/worse, this is going to take a while. My advice is to have as many outings as possible in places where scent isn't so important. Like a big, crowded restaurant.

If she refuses to address the smell issue and tells you that this is your problem, this is no longer about the odor; it's about her health kick trumping your marriage. At that point, you have every reason to ask her to go into therapy with you to talk about how to prioritize the individual without losing sight of the partnership.

But you're not there yet. Start with real honesty (and some compliments about she used to smell) and a trip to the nutritionist. And yes, once you have this talk, you're allowed to kiss her good night and camp out in the guest room. At least for now. No one's going to be happy if you spend the night tossing and turning.

Readers? How do you tell a partner that they stink? What if she refuses to deal with this? Anyone vegan? How important is a partner's familiar smell in a relationship? Discuss.

– Meredith

I want to wait

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 25, 2011 08:48 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

Love the blog, love you, love the readers. However, I noticed there was a shortage of letters about gay people for whatever reason, so I decided to write in about my situation and try to bump up the stats for Love Letters. Well that, and I also need some advice.

After a rough breakup last year and then several months of not dating, I felt like it was time for me to get back out there and try to meet some new people. I went to Meetup events, created an online dating profile, kept an open mind about being fixed up by friends, the whole nine yards. I met some really interesting people and eventually I started going on dates. Some of them were trainwrecks, but some of them have been great.

I met one of the great ones three weeks ago. He's funny, cute, smart, and overall a really nice guy. Since we clicked right off the bat, we have gotten together a handful of times and have had a few sleepovers. When we crashed at each otherís places, even though I am attracted to him, I knew in my mind that I wasn't going to have sex with him just yet. However this past weekend, he stayed over and we did have some late night grilled cheese (I am a guy after all ...). He definitely tried to take things further, but I resisted. When he asked if everything was OK, I basically said, "I like to get to know someone before I have sex with him," which elicited a slightly surprised reaction from my date.

My question is this: Is it really such an outlandish concept to want to get to know someone before you have sex with them these days? Don't get me wrong -- I have been dating for over ten years now and I definitely went through the phase where I threw around the term "date" very liberally, as many of these were clearly one night stands. But at this point in my life (I'm 29), I feel like I want to find out if this person has the potential to be in a relationship with me before we just dive right in. And I don't mean waiting three months; I'm talking about maybe another two or three weeks while we are still getting to know each other. I don't think that is unreasonable, but maybe I am in the minority here. How, if at all, do you think I should bring this up to him? I don't want to make a big dramatic scene about this. I just think it would be better to have a brief but honest chat about what is going on rather than sending mixed signals or making him confused.
Any advice from you and the readers will be much appreciated. Thanks!

– Wanting a Bit More Time, Boston

A: Bring this up with your guy -- but very, very casually. Like you said, you don't want to make a big dramatic scene.

Just say, "Hey -- I hope I'm not confusing you with the bedroom stuff. I'm very into what we're doing here, but I don't want to rush things."

Honestly, how can anyone argue with that?

My guess is that his surprised reaction had to do with being caught up in the moment. For some people, sleepovers mean a specific thing so it's always best to make your intentions clear. He might have also been a bit hurt. Your reason for not having sex with him was that you didn't know him well enough. Maybe he feels like he already knows you. Make sure he understands that you're just as psyched as he is about continuing this.

Waiting for good things isn't outlandish at all. Keep your own pace. Just make sure that if you really like a guy, he knows it. There's a difference between "I'm not ready" and "You've been rejected."

Readers? How do you say, "Let's wait awhile?" How do you sleep over without sleeping over? Help.

– Meredith

I'm in an open relationship and I have a crush

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 21, 2011 09:00 AM

This seems like a good Friday letter, yes?
And if you check back in a few, I'm posting a bonus letter today.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I have a quandary. I'm happily engaged to my best friend and we've been together for years. We've had our ups and downs, and we just went through one of those downs, but we're figuring things out. We've both made a commitment and we're not leaving. We've agreed to try an open relationship. It's not about wanting to cheat. It's about realizing that there are some things he can't give me, not because he hasn't tried, or doesn't want to, but just because of his personality and the way he is. It's not his fault but I realized I need something else, too, hence open relationship. Nothing has happened with anyone as this mutual decision is only a week or so old. So what's my problem?

For the last year and a half I've been talking to a guy friend online. His hours are closer to mine (my guy and I have different work hours), he's been a really good source of support, and we've both been there for each other. We have not met face to face, but, you guessed it, I've got feelings for him. I have no idea if he sees me as anything more than a friend. He's far away in another state and we usually communicate by IM. He's single, but he seems to have fallen for a gal who's a friend of a friend that lives across the country. She's nice but they've agreed to take things slow and if someone else comes along in the meantime not to wait for each other. I'm his friend so I'm trying to be supportive but having feelings for him and not being able to say anything is tearing me up inside. This guy deserves to be happy.

My guy knows how I feel about this guy, but he has asked me not to go after him, as he believes this guy is very much like him and feels that if I'm looking for something different I not go for someone similar to him. I see his point, but the feelings are still there.

Do I say something? Do I keep my mouth shut and forget my feelings, be the nice friend and just deal with it by writing emo poetry (I could start an emo band on the volume of stuff I've already written)? Do I just call a time out on my relationship until I figure out? I live with my guy and we've been together for 5 years so it's not so easy to just walk away. I just want a different perspective that isn't in my head or from a single friend. Please help. Thank you.

– Emo Poetry Gal, Boston

A: You're engaged to your good friend, EPG. You are not engaged to someone you want to marry.

End this. Please. There's no need for your fiancť to watch you feel in love with other people. Call this "open relationship" what it is -- the final stage of a long romance.

Once you move on from the whole thing (yes, for logistical reasons that might take a while), start looking to date single people who live nearby. Maybe this online guy secretly loves you, but do you really want to pursue someone you don't see ... who wants to date someone else?

I know that you don't want to be single, but I guarantee you, if you walk away from all of these guys, your emo poems will be better than ever. More importantly, you'll be able to figure out why you keep attaching yourself to people who have given you a way out.

Readers? Can you fix this mess? Help.

– Meredith

The Almost-30-Year-Old Virgin

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 22, 2011 08:47 AM

Please watch your mouth with today's letter. Don't get your comment poofed away.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I grew up in a pretty conservative home and went to a religious college where sex wasn't unheard of, but there was no stigma for those who were not doing it. I kind of drifted away from the faith in college, but still didn't really date much. There were a couple girls, and I made my first grilled cheese sandwiches then, but never went all the way.

Since I left college I've had one long term girlfriend, but not anyone I really saw a future with. I've been waiting until I was married but always thought I would be married by this point. Now I am staring my 30th birthday in the face and feeling a bit like a movie should be made about me starring Steve Carell.

I'm not an Abercrombie model by any means, but I've had plenty of opportunities. My question for you is whether or not I should just take one. I'm not religious anymore, and it doesn't look like I'm going to get married any time soon. There's really no good reason not to have sex except that I've waited this long and I figure I might as well see it through.

Obviously that has been good enough for me so far, but I'm getting to the point where I am worried that not only am I going to a 30-year-old virgin, but a 50 or 70-year-old one. That was never part of the plan.

So what do you think?

– The Almost-30-Year-Old Virgin, Boston

A: It's never going to feel just right, TA3YOV. If you wait until you're married, it'll be weird. You'll wonder if you should have tried it with others. And if you try it with people you don't wind up marrying, you'll wonder if you should have waited.

My advice is to try it with someone you like enough -- someone with just a little bit of potential. Because my concern is that you're not connecting with the women you date because you're not really allowing yourself to be vulnerable with them. We talk a lot about emotional intimacy on Love Letters, but physical intimacy is another way we get to know people. It's certainly another way we get to know ourselves.

So yeah, try it. Not with just anybody, but somebody nice. Somebody you want to get to know better. And expect that you'll second guess the whole thing -- because you will no matter what. But also expect to learn something about who you are, what you want, and what it's like to do something scary with someone else.

Readers? Should he just wait at this point? Is there a reason he's holding out besides his religious past? Thoughts on physical intimacy helping with emotional intimacy? Stay G-rated.

– Meredith

Are you all taking it too seriously?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 2, 2011 08:39 AM

Here's a philosophical question for a holiday Friday. Have a sunny weekend.

Q: This is an unconventional question, but here it goes. I am a longtime lurker and rare commenter. I am a 25-year-old woman, been in two relationships, dated many, am a strong born-again Christian (no judgments, please), and lost my virginity at 24.

My question is this: Why do the majority of LL commenters think that people should only sleep together in a monogamous relationship? Isn't that putting far too much value on the act? Don't you think that it's a good way to shoot yourself in the foot? IMO, if women just relax about it and have no expectations from it (let's try and see where this goes, NOT "He must commit to me for life!"), then they will be free to make a rational decision after the fact and be saved the emotional agony if the guy doesn't stay with them. I really don't get it and am looking for some reasons. Why the strict view on sex? Has this worked for you in the past? Thanks!

– Wondering, Boston

A: When I first read this letter, I assumed that you jumped to major conclusions about what Love Letters readers think about sex. I figured that if I scrolled through old letters, I'd find a rage of opinions about physical intimacy and monogamy.

But as it turns out, you're right. The majority of LL commenters don't like the idea of people sleeping with more than one person at a time. They usually don't even like the idea of letter writers dating more than one person at the same time.

But here's why:

1. Our commenters worry about health issues. They fear that if a letter writer sleeps with more than one person at a time, they'll put themselves (and their other partners) at risk for disease. They also believe in full disclosure for safety.

2. Our commenters are pretty romantic about sex. They tend to advise letter writers to wait until there's an emotional connection. They often suggest that sex is better that way and that there's less risk of getting hurt.

And ... I'm kind of with them, for the most part. I'm all for dating around. But the reality is that most of our letter writers are writing in because they're trying to find a real partner. In many cases, they want to find the person who will be their last partner ever. It's difficult to advise those people to have carefree sex without expectations.

If we're going to generalize about what our commenters and letter writers believe, I'll say that most LW's don't sleep with more than one person at a time because they really don't want to. And again, there are exceptions to that rule. But when I scrolled through past letters, I was able to see that most LWs save sex because they know what they want, not because they're taking it too seriously.

Readers? Do we all have one shared Love Letters view about sex? Can you address the idea of sleeping with more than one person? Does this letter writer's age have something to do with her philosophy about sex? Can you think of any letters that had us endorsing something other than monogamy? Thoughts?

– Meredith

He's not in love with me anymore

Posted by Meredith Goldstein June 24, 2011 08:31 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

My husband and I have been together for 30 years (high school sweethearts). Neither of us has ever "been" with anyone else. We have two kids, a nice home, nice friends, and everyone thinks we have the perfect marriage. I included myself in that until about six months ago when he started to question whether he is in love with me or not. That's when I found out about it, but he says he's been feeling it for much longer.

He hasn't come near me for months, and there was some trouble prior to that. (Up until then, the sex was great). I have gained about 40 pounds since he met me, and he says that's part but not all of it. He feels like he doesn't know if he wants to be an empty nester with me. Depression runs in his family. He has a stressful job, and provides for almost all of the financial needs of our family. He's very athletic and I'm not, so we really don't have many common interests. In hindsight, I guess our marriage was far from perfect since he's never really been affectionate with me outside of the bedroom and that's something I think I need. Now that that the bedroom activity is gone, there's nothing. He says he's sorry, I didn't do anything wrong, he still loves me, but isn't in love with me.

Needless to say, I am beside myself. I feel rejected and blindsided by this whole thing. My question is this: Would you call this a mid-life crisis or depression? (We're both in our late 40s.) If so, how do these things usually end? I don't know how long is fair to wait it out before I have to move on. We had another blip on a much smaller scale many years ago, went to marriage counseling, but I don't really think it helped that much. I know I still love him, I don't want a divorce, but I also don't want to live my life in a loveless marriage.

– Lost In Limbo, Suburban Mass.

A: I don't think that this is a mid-life crisis, LIL. Your letter suggests that there have been problems over the years and that whatever is happening right now is the cumulative result of two people growing apart. I guess my question for you is: What does your husband want to do about all of this?

He told you all of these upsetting things ... and now you're asking us how long you have to wait it out before you move on. Does that mean that he expects you to be the one who devises a plan? Is he giving you options? Is he suggesting that he wants to work on this again?

My advice is to ask him what he wants to do. Like, in a dream world, would he magically fall in love with you again? Would he move into his own place and be your friend? Even a maybe-depressed person can fantasize.

And I want you to think about your life as an empty nester. What do you want to do? Hike? Travel? Move to a new town? Paint? Can you see your husband tagging along as you live your perfect life after 50?

I wish I could tell you how these things usually end. There's no "usually." But for now, you have unanswered questions. Your husband has given this a lot of thought but he hasn't come up with a plan. He hasn't said, "I want to separate to see how it feels." He hasn't said, "I want to stay and work on this." He hasn't asked, "What do you want to do?" Not really.

Have those talks and get some answers. Find out whether he's waiting to make a move because he wants you to be the one to do it.

Readers? Am I right to say that she doesn't have enough information from her husband? Is there hope here? Is this depression or a mid-life crisis? Do his financial responsibilities have anything to do with this? Discuss.

– Meredith

I hooked up with my best friend's boyfriend

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 11, 2011 07:00 AM

Chat at 1.

Q: Dear Meredith,

A few months ago I drunkenly hooked up with my best friend's boyfriend. Let me give you a little bit of the back story: A group of us had gone away for the weekend and at the last minute my best friend, "Mia," was unable to go. At the end of a very drunken night, my best friend's boyfriend, who I will call "Darrell," and I ended up in bed together. The next day I felt horrible and for the subsequent weeks I debated telling my friend time and time again, but ultimately decided against it and have attempted to move on. I have been away for the past few months since the "incident," and just returned home to where Darrell also resides. Mia has also been away and will not be returning for several more weeks.

My dilemma is this: I have been tortured by guilt these past few months but never did I consider the added complication of having feelings for Darrell. Ever since I have been back I find myself (naturally) thinking about what happened and considering what I would feel it if were to happen again. Darrell and I have hung out a couple of times since I have been back, and I really enjoyed our time together, coming to realize all that we have in common. It was a great hookup, from what I can recall, and now with these developing feelings I feel like I am headed toward a cliff. I do not want to hurt Mia but I also have put my own feelings aside time and time again in order to put my friends' feelings first. I know that Darrell loves Mia but I think we have something, too. He isn't exactly trying to keep his distance.

I've tried to avoid him but I can't seem to keep my distance either and I know given the right situation something will happen again. But I have a history of wanting what I can't have so I guess my question is this: Am I wrong to test the waters and see what this could be? I don't want them to break up and then realize I just wanted him because he was "untouchable." I also don't want to jeopardize my friendship with Mia for Darrell -- she is so important to me and I can hardly believe I am even considering this. I know this whole situation will probably end badly but I am sick of never putting my own feelings first. Is there any hope for a happy ending here?

– Careless and Confused, Cranston

A: No happy endings, CAC. Sorry. You can maintain the status quo and stay guilty and smitten with your best friend's boyfriend, or you can tell Mia what happened and maybe lose her as a best friend. If you do that, you'll probably lose Darrell, too. And if you don't, and he drops her for you, you probably won't be able to enjoy him.

What can you live with? Telling? Not telling? Losing Mia? Living the rest of your life without ever kissing Darrell again?

Let me answer those questions for you. You said in your letter that you know that you love Mia and that you don't want to lose her. As for Darrell, you're not sure. You said that you don't even know whether your desire for him is about him or about wanting what you can't have.

So trust your own words. You can either tell Mia what you did and grovel, or don't tell her and live with it (for the record, I'd tell). Either way, stay away from Darrell. He's not yours. I don't care if there's an attraction. I don't care if you always put your friends' feelings first. You're not entitled to sleep with your best friend's boyfriend. No one is.

There are a zillion dudes out there. Take some space, deal with your conscience, and force yourself to let go of what's not yours.

Readers? Should she tell Mia? And should she pursue Darrell? Is she entitled to anything here? Help.

– Meredith

Worried about his secret fantasy life

Posted by Meredith Goldstein May 5, 2011 07:46 AM

This letter had to be edited quite a bit for obvious reasons. Use your best judgment with comments so that you're not censored all day.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I'm a 31-year-old female. I've been in a relationship with a great guy for six months now. We met online. He's 32 and has a graduate degree and a great job. I've met his family and passed their test, and he's met mine and passed theirs. We live apart but spend three to four nights a week together at each other's apartments. So far, so good.

The other night was an unsettling experience to say the least. I was at his place for the night. I woke up at about 3 a.m. and he was not in bed. I could see the light on in his office so I got up and walked down the hall. As I approached the office, I could see him seated at his desk, enjoying an adult video on his computer. I'm not a prude Ė I know that this happens -- but what was unsettling was that he was viewing [extremely aggressive] material that was degrading to women, both verbally and physically. And what was worse, he was muttering to himself as if he were part of the scene.

Needless to say, I was appalled. He absolutely is not like that. He treats his mother and sisters with great respect. Our lovemaking is sweet and tender, almost too gentle. He's about the last guy on earth I would have expected this from. Now I'm concerned that he harbors some deep hatred of women that might work its way to the surface someday.

My question is, is it normal for a guy to view pornography that is way outside his everyday persona? Do pornography habits ever translate into action in real life?

– Not Sure What's Behind the Green Door, Weston

A: In college, for my women's studies minor, I did a thesis about feminism and pornography. It by no means made me an expert (in fact, I really phoned it in with that paper), but I was surprised to discover during my research that many feminists were open to pornography that on the surface appeared to be offensive to women. These feminists wrote that fantasy lives were separate from real-life behavior and that role playing was just fine. And for the most part, I now agree with the spirit of that philosophy. After all, we all know that I fantasize about a 17-year-old vampire high school student who lives in suburban Washington. If he actually existed, I can't say that I'd date him, let alone touch him. I mean, he's 17.

I believe that the answer to what's going on behind your boyfriend's green door can be answered with a simple conversation, NSWBTGD. Tell him what you saw. Ask him what he likes. Then ask him why. He'll either talk about it and explain himself in a normal way -- probably with some silliness and shame -- or he'll tell you something that will make you feel bad in your gut. Guts are important when it comes to this stuff.

And don't get me wrong, if the pornography you saw can be described as true violence against women, the answer is probably clear. But if it's just about role playing -- and you're OK with that as long as he's not some sort of secret misogynist -- then just talk to him. You'll get a vibe.

Because there is no normal. Some people are anti-pornography. Some couples watch pornography together. Some people's fantasy lives have nothing to do with what they actually enjoy when they're with another person. Only you can decide what you can live with. See how he reacts when you ask him about it.

Readers? Is this normal? Should she talk to him about it or just bail? Is it weird that he was doing this while she was there? What should she say to him if she has the talk? Does the "too gentle" thing bother you? Keep your comments PG.

– Meredith

She's a STAGE FIVE clinger

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 8, 2011 08:55 AM

Note at 10 a.m.: They're working to fix the comment box!

Your book reviews are here ... and this (below) has "Friday letter" written all over it. Enjoy.

Q: Hi Meredith,

I'm considered a pretty nice person, which at times is not good. Yes, I have gotten the whole "You're too nice" malarkey several times. And no, this is not one of those "waaahhh I'm too nice, I hate my life waaaahh" stories. No, I'm not like that I, I don't play that card, I find it pathetic. But every once in a while I wish I could be more of a jerk.

I'm a single person in my late 20s. I love my independence. I do things for myself and answer to no one. Would I like to have a girlfriend? Sure, if it's right, but right now I have other priorities. So, a couple weeks ago, I hooked up with this girl and she stayed over. Sweet, right? Wrong. I've known this person for a long time and had a sense that she liked me but I wanted no part of her beyond what we were doing that night and made that explicitly clear. Before anything physical began I reviewed the ground rules (this is what it is and not anything more, I don't want you calling me all the time, I will not visit you, I do not feel for you romantically, this is just a hook up etc etc). And now I am being mercilessly bombarded with numerous daily texts, phone calls, Facebook chat messages and wall posts, she's friended my friends ... I hate when my cell phone buzzes. Seriously it's NON STOP. I've reminded her of my pre-bedroom riot act speech but nothing changed. Currently I'm ignoring her and itís not working.

So this where the whole "nice" thing comes in. I'm not totally unaccustomed to clingers, but this is for sure a STAGE 5 CLINGER. I usually have good radar for them, but I definitely let my guard down to satisfy an urge, and now this has become my life. My friends think this is hilarious, but even she's annoying them. Any breakup or parting of ways, aside from a couple nasty heartbreaks, has either been mutual, cordial, or ended by passive disinterest. I have never had to resort to being a jerk to get rid of someone and I really do not want start now. I feel like that might be my only resort unless you can figure out an alternative.

– Exploding Phone, South Shore

A: My dear EP, feel free to cut this next paragraph and email it to your clinger.

Dear [insert clinger's name here],
This is a difficult email to write. I'm concerned about our friendship. I allowed our relationship to become physical a few weeks ago and it was probably a mistake. I've been noticing that you're contacting me a lot more often than you used to, and while I think that you're pretty great, I just can't be the friend/partner you're looking for. I'm starting to feel guilty when I don't pick up the phone, and when I do pick up the phone, I afraid that it means more than it should. I think that we should take some space to figure out how to make our relationship more like it used to be. I care about you and don't want to hurt you. But I also want to be honest and make it clear that I was happy with what we had before we crossed a line. I hope you understand. For now, let's keep our distance.
[your name here]

That answer falls somewhere between passive and jerky and makes it possible for you to block her on Facebook and to ignore her calls without feeling as though you're disappearing without explanation. Just be clear about what you need -- and do it respectfully. It's called being empathetic and assertive. You're capable.

Readers? How can he tell her to back off? Should he have known better than to start a recreational relationship with someone who likes him? Should his "ground rules" have been enough for her? Anybody else want to draft the e-mail (or should it be a phone call?) for this LW? Discuss.

– Meredith

Battling my inner Charlie Sheen

Posted by Meredith Goldstein March 22, 2011 09:00 AM

Q: I recently began dating a smart and gorgeous girl who treats me exceptionally well. I like to think of her as the one that came along and rescued me from a Charlie-Sheen-like lifestyle that consisted of hard partying with relationships not lasting more than a night. (Disclaimer: By "Charlie-sheen-like" I mean general heavy partying without the worry of consequences the next day, NOT the parts about doing drugs, sleeping with multiple porn stars, and having abusive relationships.)

When we first started dating a few months back, I found her to be somewhat clingy. She required my attention almost more often than I could handle (even though I've got tiger blood and Adonis DNA). She always initiated the first step in moving ahead with our relationship, such as proclaiming to others that I was her boyfriend, making sure I met and received good grades from her girlfriends, and telling her family how awesome I was. This was a bit smothering and uncomfortable to me at first, but I stuck it out and actually started enjoying her attention. I also found myself opening up quite a bit, something I've always refused to do with anybody besides my closest friends. She's now a person I can have an amazing time with, without the need for alcohol and partying.

The problem that haunts me is this: Charlie Sheen still lurks inside me. I feel the need to sleep with other women, and more specifically, the need to do 100% of what I want to do without repercussions from anybody else in my life. I know inside that most likely I will want to start a family someday and certainly would leave Charlie behind for that, especially for a girl like this. The problem is, I don't know if he will ever leave me, at least anytime soon. Have my many years of partying as a twenty-something-making-a-lot-of-money permanently gotten the best of me and will Charlie continue to haunt me into being a single man for the rest of my life?

– Charlie Sheen's Distant Cousin, Somerville

A: Are there really only two options here, CSDC? Drunken one-night stands or a serious commitment? I'm going to suggest a happy medium -- a grown-up relationship that you take one day at a time. That's all you're capable of right now.

No matter what happens with this woman, you can't pretend that you're locking the Charlie Sheen part of you away like a criminal. You can't think of him as this little devil who's eventually going to bust out of his cage and take over. You are a collection of personality traits, impulses, habits, wants, needs, etc. The Charlie Sheen part of you is as important as the part of you that wants to be dating someone you love. You just have to figure out which part of you is screaming the loudest.

If you decide that your Charlie Sheen desires are more important than your relationship with this woman, it doesn't mean that you're a lost cause. It just means that you're not quite sick of that lifestyle -- or that you're not interested in spending your life with this specific person. And that's OK.

Really, there's some Charlie Sheen in all of us. We can't deny it. We just have to make responsible, honest decisions and do our best to treat people well while we're "winning."

Readers? How can the LW tame the inner Charlie Sheen? Is this relationship the problem? Is Charlie simply the LW's conscience? What's going on here? Discuss.

– Meredith

I give away my goodies

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 18, 2011 07:32 AM

Q: Dear Meredith,

Let's skip to the chase, shall we? I kind-of-recently got out of a relationship with someone I had been seeing on and off for a period of years. He moved, I dated someone else, he moved back, we got back together, and I cheated on each guy with a few different people (I know -- deplorable). Anyways, with all our ingrained bad habits, my starting school again, and general unhappiness with the relationship, I ended it. So now, here I am, a single lady for the first time since I was 17.

My problem is: I don't know how to not sleep around. I'm so used to "hanging out" with a guy at a bar for the night, going back to his place, and then taking off the next morning that I don't know how to function normally with guys anymore. (But what is "normal" really?) My friends warn me that I need to stop "giving away the goodies" because ... because guys won't respect me? Call me back? I don't even know. I'm not sleeping with every date because I'm trying to make an impression or make them think of me in any particular way: I do it because I've usually been drinking and I want to. Does that make me a bro? So sue me.

I think my question boiled down is this: In a dating culture that emphasizes "meet-ups" instead of old-fashioned, out-to-dinner-walk-her-to-the-door dates, how am I supposed to not give away the goodies? (Short if signing up for eHarmony, that is.) When did we depart from romance and end up with hook-up relationships that predominantly initiate and revolve around Gchat? Stop me if I sound like Carrie Bradshaw here, but when I do finally figure out I like a guy that I've been bar hopping with, how do I suddenly declare that I want to be wined and dined? Maybe I've got it all backwards.

– Giving Away the Goodies, Boston

A: I'm glad you made the Carrie Bradshaw comparison, GATG. There's something about that last paragraph that makes me think of Carrie at a laptop. Of course, Carrie never really questioned her own promiscuity. Because she was on TV.

But you're not. And my answer to your big question is: Yes, you have it backwards.

If you want to sleep around, that's fine. I'm totally cool with that. Just be safe. And by safe I mean STD-safe, but also safe from harm -- as in, don't go to some guy's house if you can't say for sure that he's not an ax murderer. And don't go anywhere unless you've told a friend where you are.

But, if you do want to meet a guy who sticks around for more than a night or two, cut down on the alcohol, put on the brakes, and let these relationships play out over the course of more than just a night. You're allowed to bar hop and have a drink with someone to get to know them, but there's no reason to rush the other stuff. I'm not saying that guys won't respect you if they've already "sampled the goodies" -- I've never believed that to be true -- but the goodies exchange is obviously confusing you. It's difficult to figure out if there's potential with a guy if you've already had an awkward morning-after experience with him.

The issue here really does seem to be alcohol, not the dating culture. Without too much bar fun, you'll probably want to return your own home and sleep in your own comfy bed, dreaming of the goodies to come.

Readers? Is she ready to date? Is this about alcohol or the dating culture? Is there anything wrong with having fun until she's ready to get serious? Is her last relationship relevant? How can she tell a guy that she wants to have a traditional date after a night at a bar? Share your goodies. Contribute some Song of the Day ideas.

– Meredith

His former friend with benefits

Posted by Meredith Goldstein February 7, 2011 08:50 AM

Q: Dear Love Letters,

I need help!

My husband and I were married, then divorced, and have been re-married for six years. During our time apart, he lost his license. He then began hanging out with one of his sister's female friends, who became his chauffeur. Well, one thing led to another and they became friends with benefits. They decided not to pursue a relationship. The problem is, years later, this girl attends every family event hosted by my sister-in-law. She is referred to as "Auntie." I am not jealous -- actually, this girl is unattractive and very loud. The problem is, we are invited to her surprise birthday party. I definitely will not be attending -- it is bad enough that I have to spend time with her at family functions. She is not related to me nor is she my friend. My question is, am I wrong for asking my husband to not attend?

– Don't Want Her Around, Boston

A: This one's tricky, DWHA, because your husband's relationship with Auntie is really about his relationship with his own sister. He's not inviting Auntie to your house for family meals. He's not proud that he knows Auntie. He's seeing Auntie when he sees his sis -- and Auntie seems to be a big part of his sis's life.

My advice is to sit down with your husband and pose this question: "What's the best way for us to deal with Auntie without alienating your sister/family or making me feel awful?" Maybe the answer is to attend parties like this one but to leave within 45 minutes. Maybe the answer is for both of you to skip these events and tell his sister why. Maybe the answer is for your husband to go to these parties for a bit and then meet you after for a great dinner.

Just know that there's no perfect answer. It would be great if his sister approached you and said, "Feel free to skip these parties. I don't want anyone to be uncomfortable." But she's not going to do that. She loves Auntie. And your husband wants to be present for his sibling.

You just have to get through these events with temporary solutions. That's the best you can do. There's one annoying person at every party. There's always someone from the past who shows up to haunt relationships. Don't make it a fight. Take a deep breath and deal with it together, one party at a time.

Readers? Am I wrong? Should he have to skip the party? Does the LW have the right to be upset about Auntie? Are we concerned about the husband's loss of license and the fact that he was using Auntie for rides? Thoughts? Discuss.

– Meredith

He got naked with others

Posted by Meredith Goldstein January 7, 2011 08:30 AM

As I mentioned yesterday, Jan. 22 is the second anniversary of Love Letters. To celebrate, Iím asking people to send me pictures of themselves wearing cotton -- because I am told that cotton is the traditional gift for second anniversaries. I want to see people in cotton pajamas. Cotton sweats. Cotton sheets with belts around them. The best entry of the bunch gets a prize. You can e-mail photos to meregoldstein at gmail dot com, or upload them here. As I said yesterday, I don't even need to see faces. Just cotton.

And as promised, here's the naked hot tub letter.

Q: Hi, Meredith.

I'll start this query in the usual fashion by saying that my boyfriend "Tom" and I have been together for a year and a half and have a great relationship. We are both in our mid-20s, educated, hard-working, and very affectionate with each other. We have discussed moving in together once I finish grad school in a few months. I have no doubts that we love each other and share a great friendship, but I'm having trouble getting over something that happened last week.

Tom spent a few nights visiting a male friend in his old college town. He called a few times while he was out there, and I had no problem with him getting away for a few days. However, when he came home, he told me about his big night out, which included a dinner party followed by a naked hot tub session with about five other people, two of whom were girls. He seemed a little uncomfortable telling me. He didn't tell me straight out that everyone was naked -- I assumed they were and he confirmed my suspicion. I smiled and acted like it wasn't a big deal at first, but after a few minutes of cuddling he figured out that I was upset. I told him that I wasn't angry. I was "bothered" (like that makes more sense). He reassured me that I'm his only girl and absolutely nothing happened, and I believe him.

This particular college town (and the people he was visiting) is especially free-spirited and of a communal nature, so I wasn't surprised that everyone was eating vegetarian dinners and walking around naked. Tom thoughtfully listened to my concerns about the hot tub and worked hard to reassure me that "it wasn't like that." Even though I absolutely believe him that nothing happened, and that the hot tub party wasn't exactly a sexual romp in hot water, it's still eating away at me that he was naked with girls I don't know in a hot tub.

Tom actually joked that I should write to an advice column about this, and I silently agreed. I have some major physical insecurities and am apparently a bit jealous.

I know I'm obsessing about this, but am I completely out of line? I trust and love him, and I know the feeling is mutual. Am I being petty for letting this get to me so much? I don't want to make him feel like he has to sacrifice fun times because he's with me, but hanging out with naked chicks in a hot tub is very low on my list of desired mental images.

– Left Out of the Tub, Boston

A: Sounds like Tom was hanging out with hippie naked people, not sexed-up naked people. Vegetarian naked people. Spiritual naked people. Seitan-filled naked people.

You know that he behaved himself, LOOTT. As you put it, this wasn't a sexual romp, just a friendly bath.

That said, you're allowed to tell him that in the future, you'd like him to keep his clothes on when you're not around. You're allowed to feel weird about what happened. You're allowed to be creeped out -- and just a little bit annoyed. We make rules in relationships as we go along. You can set a new one. "No naked hot tubbing."

Just know that it's OK to feel jealous and insecure. Jealousy isn't such a bad thing. It reminds us that we have something to lose. His naked party poked at your insecurities, but you've probably done a million things to make him jealous over time. Maybe you've had an inside joke with a male co-worker. Maybe for him, that's more intimate than being naked with a tofu-eating stranger.

My advice is to make the rule about nudity with others and then replace that haunting hot tub image with a better one. Take him to one of those places in Boston that allows you to rent a hot tub by the hour. Splash around. Laugh this one off and make your own memory. You'll get over this, I promise.

Readers? Was he in the wrong to get naked without her permission? How can she get the image out of her mind? Is she lying about being bothered (as opposed to angry)? Is she allowed to set a nudity rule? Does he get points for telling her to write an advice columnist? Discuss.

– Meredith

He's not affectionate

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 9, 2010 08:30 AM

I'll post the "Casablanca" contest entries tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who entered. It was good reading.

Remember to get your movie tickets, and that the pre-party starts tomorrow at 6:30/7ish. Join me here.

Q: My boyfriend and I are at a breaking point. The time has come to get engaged or go our separate ways. We have been together for a few years. We are in our mid-late 20s and we are best friends. We respect each other, care about each other, laugh all the time, etc. I have no complaints except for the "making grilled cheese sandwiches" part. That area is definitely lacking and he is aware of it. We have tried to improve it and I honestly think he is okay with the current state of things. Clearly, I am not okay with it, but I've reached the point where I realize we have different preferences when it comes to intimacy. My question is -- how important is all of that in a marriage? I feel like without it, we will be nothing more than best friends, and I love him and myself too much to allow that to happen. I'd rather let him go so he can find someone who is more compatible in that area with him, but I do love him and I cannot imagine my life without him so it is hard to let go. I just don't want to marry him and 10 years down the road complain that he isn't passionate enough for me. It's not fair to him or to me. I'm in a tough situation right now and I don't want to be selfish. Thoughts? Suggestions? By the way, there are no third parties involved or anything like that. We are very open to each other and loyal. My boyfriend and I just come from different backgrounds. My parents were very loving and affectionate; his parents were distant and cold. While my boyfriend has taken great strides to improve our love life, I can tell something is still missing.

– Sad in Boston

A: It sounds like you've already made a decision, SIB. The fact that you're even open to the idea of him dating someone else suggests that you've already come to terms with what's going to happen.

You want more affection, and not just the grilled cheese. He's working hard to make things better for you, but it's not quite enough. That sets him up to fail over and over again, and it sets you up to be continuously disappointed.

We all have a list of things we can't put up with in a romantic relationship. Some people can cope with a lack of grilled cheese but consider financial irresponsibility a deal-breaker. Other people could care less about grilled cheese and money but require have a partner who shares their religious beliefs.

You're telling us that you love your boyfriend but that you don't think he can make you happy in the long run. Fearing that you'll miss someone is not a great reason to marry them.

Readers? Do they have to break up? Should marriage be on the table? Am I right to say that she has already made a decision? Discuss.

– Meredith

Avoiding a holiday hookup

Posted by Meredith Goldstein December 6, 2010 09:00 AM

The results of the Romance Rumble are in -- and I lost. Film Critic (and Romance Rumble winner) Wesley Morris explains it all here. I'm trying not to be a sore loser. I bet Lloyd Dobler watched a lot of "Casablanca" before he got on that plane with Diane Court.

Wesley and I will host the Romance Rumble pre-party on Friday (Dec. 10) from 7 to 8:30 at Orleans in Davis Square. All are welcome. No RSVPS/movie tickets necessary. Feel free to show up at 6:30 to get a good seat. I'll be there with plates and plates of food. A note to straight, single men: I'm not stereotyping, but Love Letters events tend to draw a number of nice, single, straight women. Fish. In. A. Barrel. Really. (Just be nice to the fish.)

At 8:30, Wesley and I will walk to the Somerville Theatre for a quick Q&A and screening of "Casablanca." If you haven't seen it, please join us. If you have, please see it again. It will be wonderfully cozy night and a great way to watch a classic. Tickets for the movie can be purchased here.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I could really use your help this holiday season before I make a huge turkey of myself. Here's the back story: I'm a single mom in her mid-30s and I've been separated and divorced for five years. My problem is with my ex-boyfriend, whom I dated for a little over a year. We broke up one year ago when he moved away to go back to school.

To say I had a hard time with the breakup would be a bit of an understatement. I knew it was the right thing to do, particularly since he is significantly younger than I am, but my will is awfully weak when my heart is involved. It didn't help that he was one of those "I love you, but -- " and "let's be friends" kind of ex-boyfriends. My dating experience at that point had been really limited, and I didn't realize that still communicating but not getting any caring out of it would be so destructive. After nearly a year of frustration, we stopped talking for awhile, and I started feeling like myself again. Dating has been horrible so far, though; just a series of awkward first dates with no connection whatsoever. I can't seem to find anyone I like as much as I liked my ex (nor, to be honest, as much as I like my mail man, my chiropractor, and the friendly check-out guy at Whole Foods).

Here's the problem with my ex: we're friendly again, and e-mail very occasionally. However, when he comes home for holidays, it's a different story -- he writes and calls often, making it very clear that he's between girlfriends and wants to hook up. He has always claimed that he loves me and that I'm the only person in the world who understands him -- but I know the truth about such things. Even knowing this, though, I have to confess that I am so weak-willed that I have taken him up on his offers. The memory of love is strong, and it's hard to not want to revisit it. And even though it's usually just for a day or two, it's awfully nice to have someone care about you for awhile.

I'm at the point where I'm forcing myself to go out of town (all my family lives out of state, which doesn't help) for the holidays, even though I'd rather stay home. I know he'll be here for the holidays and looking to "reconnect," and I know also that, while it gets easier to say "no" as time goes on, saying "no" to even a single day of love and attention isn't something I can do easily even though I know it's the right choice.

Can you please give me some advice for keeping my distance? Other than making up a fantasy boyfriend (I tried that once, but it fell through pretty quickly), is there anything I can say to him that will make a difference other than "no"? I'd like him to understand that you can't treat people like this, but somehow I can't reach him. Oh, and if you could throw in a side dish of consolation for those of us who feel like we're going to be alone and disconnected from humanity for the rest of our natural life, I'd be grateful!

– Better Than a Booty Call, Newton

A: BTABC, my advice is to be startlingly honest with him. If he comes over for a pajama party, say something like, "I'm so happy that you still find me attractive because I'd really like to get back together and revisit the issue of commitment!" Then watch him run away. If he says, "No one understands me like you do," fire back with, "You're right -- let's get hitched!" I'm telling you, nothing ruins the hook-up mood like a blunt wish list that involves exclusivity and accountability.

The bigger problem, of course, is what you so brilliantly call "the memory of love." I don't blame you for wanting to revisit the relationship when possible, but perhaps there are other ways to fill the void. Maybe it's time to tell all of your friends that you're ready for set-ups. Maybe it's time to take an exciting trip. Maybe it's time to make more single friends so that you can sit around with peers and talk about the availability of the mail man. What I do know is that it's your job to set boundaries. It's difficult, but you can't count on your ex to learn a lesson and remove himself as a temptation. You have to fend for yourself.

And if you really need a side dish of consolation, I'll give you this: I guarantee you that at some point during the holidays, probably on Christmas, someone will Google you. Maybe it will be a guy from your childhood or one of those men who took you on a terrible date. Maybe it will be your ex. I have no idea. But someone will be feeling lonely without you. Someone will be wondering where you are. It's inevitable.

It's also inevitable that you'll eventually go on some not-so-terrible dates. Eventually. Just stay in the mix and continue to be honest about your intentions. Be upsettingly honest. That'll keep you out of trouble.

Readers? Is my side dish of consolation any good? How do you stop yourself from having a destructive hook-up? Should she stop herself? Is there potential with the ex? Advice for the lonely during the holidays? Discuss.

– Meredith

Am I going to drop the other shoe?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 21, 2010 08:30 AM

Thanks for your great comments yesterday. I'm sure the letter writer appreciated them.

Q: My boyfriend and I have been together for almost two years and have been living together for the last eight months. We have what seems to be the perfect relationship. We get along incredibly well, we have fun together, he listens to me, etc. I don't doubt our love for each other. But lately, I'm starting to think that maybe there are some cracks in our seemingly perfect relationship. I'm the kind of person who's always "waiting for the other shoe to drop" or expecting the worst. So maybe that's my problem. The subject of our future comes up frequently, and before the day comes when he's on one knee asking me to spend my life with him, I need to know that this relationship is truly satisfying and fulfilling for us (OK, for me). He says he's perfectly happy with our relationship.

My concern is that he is not as affectionate as I need. He's not a very sexual person and rarely initiates intimacy. He doesn't like to hold hands or cuddle, although he will if I ask him. But I don't want to ask him. I just want to know that I'm desired, that he finds me attractive. I've brought it up to him a couple of times, and he tells me that of course he is attracted to me and loves being intimate with me, but he just isn't an openly emotional person and doesn't know how to show it. He tells me that he appreciates all the work I do for him, cooking and cleaning and managing our home. But I feel that our relationship lacks that deep passion that I've experienced before, the kind of passion that makes you weak in the knees and gives you butterflies when you kiss. We don't have that. I often find myself wondering if I could be happy with our relationship as it is for the rest of my life. He's my best friend and I adore him. I want to share my life with him and have a family. But I can't help but wonder if I will ever be completely satisfied. I know that one of the biggest reasons couples divorce is because of sex or issues with sex. I don't want that to be us. I know there is no perfect relationship or perfect partner. He completes me in every other way and is so good to me. Is it enough though? Should I just shut up and be grateful that I have such a great guy?

– Will I Always Want More?, Wareham

A: Well, I don't know if you're paraphrasing or quoting him directly, WIAWM, but your boyfriend has told you that he doesn't know how to show his feelings. So tell him. "I want you to initiate sex twice a week." "I want you to tell me when I look awesome." Spell it out. Maybe even write a list. He's the kind of guy who needs specifics.

As far as I know, there are two types of stomach butterflies. (Actually, there are three, but the third relates to nausea and is not relevant to Love Letters.) The first type is about excitement and lust, and it goes away after a relationship gets real. The second type is the occasional butterfly you get when you realize you're with someone you love who loves you back. If you're looking for Butterfly 1, forget about it. That's a new relationship thing and you've had that experience. But if you're really lacking Butterfly 2 -- those moments of feeling totally in sync with your boyfriend -- then yes, you should worry -- not because of the sex, but because something bigger is missing.

But I'd start with the specific instructions. Because he'll follow directions. And if you still feel antsy after he does, you'll know that you're looking for a reason to drop the shoe. And that's OK. Better now than later.

Readers? Is the intimacy thing that big of a deal? Is this about him or the letter writer dropping shoes? Should she let go of an otherwise good thing? Discuss.

– Meredith

Sex after cancer

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 20, 2010 08:30 AM

It's a heavy letter today. I hope people who have been through this will chime in.

Also, chat at 1.

Q: I have been a long time reader. Really enjoy everyone's input. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I thought my issue may be timely.

I've been married for almost 10 years. Right after we were married, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was in my 30s and was devastated. After multiple surgeries (including a mastectomy), chemo, and radiation, we started to build our married life. We were blessed to have two beautiful children. After my second child, my remaining breast started showing "signs" of potential breast cancer. Over the next year, I had two biopsies and multiple mammograms. Emotionally this tipped me over the edge and I had the remaining breast removed.

My issue? Since my last surgery three years ago, my husband refuses to have "marital" relations with me. No grill cheese sandwiches. No touching. No nothing. I mean NOTHING!!!! A peck in the morning to say good-bye and a peck in the evening to say good night. A few "I love you"s throughout the day. I understand for men breasts are very important. I miss them also. I've tried to approach the topic and his response is "we need to schedule a time." Well, with two children, it's difficult to schedule a time. Counseling? He owns his own business and works seven days a week. He feels he doesn't have time to go. And no, he isn't cheating on me.

I love my husband but I can't remain in a non-physical marriage. It's lonely. He knows I'm not happy but he feels that the marriage is OK. Well, its not. I hate ultimatums but I don't know what else do to.

Meredith ... Readers ... Help!

– Breastless in Massachusetts

A: This isn't about his busy schedule, BIM. And it's not about your breasts. It's about the whole ordeal.

When someone gets cancer, their family and friends become a full-time support group. And when it's over -- if things work out for the best and life is preserved -- there's this massive sigh of relief and everyone tries to go back to their normal lives as best they can.

That's fine, except for the fact that the main caregivers are still emotionally exhausted. They've used up all of their energy to help their loved ones (and themselves) get through the experience. Sometimes they're not just tired, they're angry. Irrational or not, sometimes they're furious with their formerly sick loved one for unintentionally putting them through so much. And no matter what, they're panicked that the illness will return.

There's a lot of literature out there about sex after cancer -- that caregiver spouses are afraid of accidentally hurting their partner physically by taking part in sexual activity, or worse, hurting their partner's feelings if they have a negative reaction to their new body. That could be a part of his problem. Fear.

There's less literature out there that adequately describes the emotional crash that happens after years of compartmentalizing a very scary thing. Having cancer is lonely and scary and weird. So is helping someone with cancer. You've asked him for support for years and now you're asking for something else. He's having trouble understanding that this request is supposed to be a fun one. I think he's still shell-shocked.

I'd start slow -- with cuddling. Sit close to him in front of the television or offer up a back rub. See if you can move it along from there over time.

No matter how he responds to PG touching, he has to make time for therapy -- probably without you. You can tell him that a lack of interest in sex after cancer is very normal -- and fixable. He'll probably be relieved to hear that he's not a horrible jerk for wanting to avoid it all after all that you've been through.

Assure him that you'll watch the kids while he takes an hour to talk to a professional or, better yet, a cancer support group (of which there are many). Do this with a loving smile on your face. Remind him that your marriage is "OK" only if you both think it is.

And maybe plan a vacation. Get some of those supportive friends to watch the kids. The more new memories you make that don't involve waiting for the results of a PET scan, the better it will be for both of you.

Readers? Anyone been through this after an illness? Is this really about her breasts? What can she do without giving him an ultimatum? Talk.

– Meredith

He sleeps on the couch

Posted by Meredith Goldstein October 18, 2010 08:00 AM

It's a very short letter but I'm into it.

Q: I have a problem that I have been dealing with for years. My husband falls asleep on the couch every night. I have tried to tell him that he should come up to bed. That is where couples get close, and most couples I know sleep together.

What aggravates me most is that sometimes he will come up to bed in the morning only to try to "get together." This makes me feel used. He also prefers "alone time." I feel he takes the time to watch his "movies" but will not make the effort to come to bed. I feel unloved and unwanted.

– Unloved, Boston

A: Thought 1: Your husband joins you in the morning because he finds you attractive enough to want to be intimate with you. You are wanted in that sense, right? I'm feeling glass-half-full about that, Unloved.

Thought 2: Do you have a TV in your bedroom? I assume your husband falls asleep in front of the television. If he could watch TV in bed, he'd fall asleep next to you, right?

Thought 3: Do you snore? Does he? Is there something about his or your routine that makes him flee to the couch? Does he object to your bed time? It's worth asking.

Thought 4: Would a new bed help? Pricey, but worth it. Go shopping together. Debate pillow top and memory foam. Make it a romantic retail experience.

Thought 5: He's probably embarrassed about the movies. And I get why they make you feel bad. But we all have active fantasy lives. He might be more open with you if he knows he's not going to have to feel ashamed about his interests. Let him know that you just want to feel closer to him.

Thought 6: You're focused on the sleeping. He might show you love in other ways. Don't ignore those other ways.

Readers? Do married people have to sleep together? Anyone have trouble sleeping comfortably with their partner? Is his couch time about a need for alone time? Is that OK? How can the letter writer make her husband understand that mornings aren't enough? Discuss.

– Meredith

Can I grow to love my friend?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein September 2, 2010 08:53 AM

You know, it has been a while since we had an I-got-drunk-and-did-something-stupid letter. It really has. Like months. I was starting to worry.

Q: I'm an avid reader and I am really hoping that you can help me.

I recently started dating a co-worker. Things are going down the normal path of the beginning of a relationship. We talk all the time, exchange flirty looks whenever we see each other, and we have great, fun, adventurous dates. But this co-worker has made it very clear to me on multiple occasions that he is not looking for anything serious right now.

Last weekend I was extremely upset about this. A man who I have shared both a bed and my heart with did not want to be with me in "a serious" manner. I went out drinking with a few of my lady friends. I then started texting a friend who we will call "Safety Sam." I should mention that Safety Sam has always been deeply devoted to me and genuinely in love with me. He will drop everything for me. While texting Safety Sam, I also texted my co-worker to see if he wanted to meet up. The co-worker ignored me and Safety Sam gave me the attention that I wanted.

That is about all I remember from that night. Next thing I know, I wake up in Safety Samís bed wearing nothing but my birthday suit. At this point I start freaking out. I try to piece together my night. Honestly, how did I end up from a girl's night to a friend's bed? That part is still unclear. I started to worry that I have ruined everything with Safety Sam as well as my co-worker. So there I was, walking down the streets of Boston in a mini-dress and high heels at 10 a.m., reflecting on my poor choices from the night before.

Anyways, my question is this: should I just ditch the co-worker who does not want to be with me beyond flirting and sleeping together and be with a man who is profoundly loyal, dedicated, and faithful? I know I don't care about Safety Sam in the same way that he cares about me right now, but maybe I could grow to love him and want to be with him? Do you think this is possible?

– Walk of Shame, Southie

A: I'm hoping that Safety Sam is as safe as you think he is, WOS. You wound up drunk and in his bed. Really, ask him what he remembers. For your own piece of mind.

As for your question, I think you should ditch both guys. Really ditch them. Tell the work guy that you're actually looking for a real relationship and that you like him too much to be casual. Tell Safety Sam that you want some space from your friendship because you've taken advantage of it. See how it feels to lose him as a resource.

Take both men out of your cell phone, at least temporarily.

You need to figure out whether you seek attention from Sam because he's willing to give it or because maybe, just maybe, you like him more than you think you do.

For the record, I don't think that you're secretly in love with Safety Sam. And I don't think that you can make those feelings grow if they're not there. You don't want to be with a guy who doesn't want to commit (work guy) -- but you also don't want to be with a passive, too-devoted friend who'll do anything for someone who won't return the favor.

Cut everyone off. Get some space and clarity. I know, I know, easier said than done when you have two possible sources of attention. But you asked.

You deserve better than your work guy, unless he can rally. Safety Sam (assuming he is really safe) deserves someone who remembers getting into bed with him.

Readers? Should she cut everyone off? Is there more to Safety Sam than the letter writer is willing to admit? Think the work guy will step up if she tries to walk away? How should she deal with Sam after the bedroom debacle? Discuss.

– Meredith

Forgiving his dark secret

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 26, 2010 09:00 AM

Book reviews will be posted tomorrow. I'm having our Northeastern/Emerson co-cops vote on the winner because I just can't choose.

Also, tomorrow I'll be having sinus surgery. That's not code for "nose job." Apparently, my bad asthma might get better if I let a doctor operate on my sinuses, so I'm doing that tomorrow morning.

That's relevant to you only because it means I'll need some good reading next week when I'm home recovering. If you've been thinking about sending a letter and haven't, now's the time. If you have any suggestions for movies/books to keep me busy, let me know.

Today's letter is heavy. I had to think about it for a few days.

Q: Dear Meredith,

After almost 20 years of marriage, I asked my husband to leave. I grew up and he didn't. I got a promotion at my job after about two months of him being gone and things were going great. With two children, the last thing I wanted was another man

Six months in, I decided maybe I wanted to meet someone and started looking on internet dating sites. Long story short, I met someone, spoke on the phone consistently, and then finally met in person.

Although "Tom" was not what I would have sought out in person, the more we spoke, the more I realized how much we were alike. We were both in our 40s, each had 2 children, had similar interests and were both hard-working goal setters.

For the past two years Tom and I have been seeing each other almost every weekend, and when time allows, days during the week. He is a good, honest, and loving man. Our relationship has been "out of the park" in all aspects.

During these two years, he had made occasional references that there was something in his past that he had done and was not proud of, but I never pursued interest; we've all done stupid things in our past. Well, finally when speaking about possibly moving forward and moving in together, the truth came out and it was more then I was ready for.

Tom told me that about 10 years ago -- so that puts him about 30ish --he picked up a woman who happened to be under legal age. He said he didn't know it and she didn't look it. Again, long story short, he was arrested, they told him since he had no prior record to sign a paper and he would probably get probation. He was scared, signed the paper and spent two years in jail. I do not have all the details, and have to ask myself if I really want to hear any more.

Anyway, here I am, two years of being tremendously happy, loved, comforted, and thinking I have finally found my soul mate. I know in my heart he is a wonderful man and I love him so much, but now this sits in the back of my mind making me crazy. I told him it was in his past and knowing the man he is, we could surpass this and move forward.

My heart says stay, this man is not that man from years ago who made a very serious poor decision. My head says this could present obstacles going forward that I may not be ready or willing to handle. Help!

– Disappointed Heart, Massachusetts

A: I know you think you don't want to hear more about his horrible past, DH, but really, this is the time to ask questions -- of him and of yourself.

How did he process the experience? Not just the crime, but the jail time. How did he move on? How did it affect his ability to interact with women? Who else knows about this in his life? How did his family cope? Where is the woman now? Has this prevented him from getting jobs?

I have a million questions, which means you do, too. Ask them. Not because everything is your business and because you're stacking evidence against him, but because if you get all of your questions answered now, you can put the issue to rest -- either by admitting to yourself that you just have too many doubts to stay with him or by trusting your gut (and his) and forgiving his past.

Some of the million questions you might want to ask yourself: How well do you know him? Was this a surprise to you? Are you comfortable having this man around your kids? Did this story turn some of his other stories into lies? What is he asking of you?

My guess is that you do know this man rather well and that it is what it looks like. But ask, ask, ask. Get all of your concerns out there right now. He told you so that you could start this living partnership with some honesty, so take him up on that. He expects questions. The more information you have, the more confident you'll feel about your choice and moving forward with or without him.

Readers? Could you forgive this dark secret? What does she need to know? Is there a right answer? Talk.

– Meredith

I wouldn't sleep over

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 13, 2010 08:00 AM

Handle this one with kid gloves, please. Seems necessary.

Q: I am a 31-year-old who is very inexperienced and my social life is non-existent. I came to live in the United States five years ago and I had to start all over again. I was a student back home but I had not completed the course of study I was taking at a college because everything was a hardship there. I had a chance to leave my birth country, so I took it without hesitation.

Growing up I kept to myself. I love to read -- especially romance novels -- and I know the difference between reality and fiction. Living in the US has given me an opportunity to change my life, at least on a professional level. I work a simple job during the day and I am back in college pursuing a program in health. At my day job there is a man who is a regular customer. He has been given me these inviting looks for quite some time now and I am deeply attracted to him. I can feel the tension between us, and even other people notice the attraction. He had never asked me out, so I said to myself, "Maybe he thinks I have a boyfriend." So I called him to give him my phone number. We spoke on the phone as if we were old friends and for a few weeks we kept texting each other. He recently bought a condo, and he wanted to take me there, so I agreed to go.

Two days before the meeting, I texted him to inquire about the sleeping arrangements, and he pretended not to understand the question, so I made myself clear and I told him that I was not ready for intimacy on the first night and I needed to know him better before we moved ahead. He apologized and told me that we should forget the whole thing altogether. We do not text anymore. I see him most everyday at work and instinctively I know he is still interested in me. My head tells me to forget about him but, I am still attracted to him.

Am I a fool to hope that something good will come out of this dilemma?

– Rebbeca23, Hyde Park

A: You're not a fool for hoping -- you're just a romantic.

I am a little confused about why you'd be sleeping over on the first date. Did you make that assumption? Is his condo very far away?

Assuming the sleepover request came from him, this guy isn't worth your time. I don't know if he's secretly married, has a one-track mind, or is simply just a jerk. What I do know is that if his intentions had been pure, if he had really wanted to get to know you and pursue a relationship with you, he would have asked for a meal or a movie. He would have respected the fact that you were uncomfortable touring his condo and sleeping over on a first date. He probably would have called you and asked you out long before texting you.

You're inexperienced and new to this country, but let me tell you how it is over here. When someone likes you, they respect your boundaries. When someone wants to date you, they ask to spend time with you. When someone is the real deal, they don't confuse you and then disappear. And really, even if the sleepover assumption came from you, you'd think he'd say, "Of course you don't have to stay over! Whatever makes you comfortable." But he didn't. I'm just happy that you were clear about your concerns.

Keep reaching out, keep being social, keep approaching the guys who catch your eye -- and keep trusting your gut.

This guy was just a test. There will be more.

Readers? How can she stop hoping? Any words of wisdom for the inexperienced? What was this guy's deal? Discuss.

– Meredith

We have different drives

Posted by Meredith Goldstein August 6, 2010 09:03 AM

It always comes back to food metaphors with us, even when it shouldn't.

Q: Meredith,

Love your column. I am an avid reader and part time poster. My problem is not a "do I stay or go" problem, but an appeal to the masses for advice on how to either fix it or learn to live with it.

A little background ... I'm about 40, female, with children from a previous relationship. My partner is about my age. We are getting married in a few months. He is, hands down, the most awesome man I have ever known. He is affectionate, loving, kind, easy-going, close to his mother, sexy, funny, etc. I never doubt that he loves me. I trust him completely (it's been a long time since I've been able to say that!). He tells me he loves me all the time, is respectful, a great step-dad-to-be, and my kids absolutely adore him. I honestly believe I have the best relationship of anyone I know.

So, what is the issue, right? Intimacy is RARE in our house -- especially intimacy that's centered on me. In the beginning it was great, but a few months after we started dating, it dwindled to weekends. Now it's become basically scheduled maintenance once a week. He has said heís not a fan of intimacy at night, so I started setting my alarm. We ended up cuddling and chatting. For a while he said it was stress at work. That should be resolved by now because summers are easier for him. Finally we had a serious talk about it, and he said he was perfectly happy with intimacy once a week.

You probably noticed I specified that intimacy is rare when it's about me. He's very appreciative for all of the "attention" I shower on him -- and I am not the type to stop serving dishes just because Iím not getting fed in return. That seems petty and passive-aggressive, and itís not the tone I want to set for our relationship.

When we do manage it, the intimacy is wonderful. When he comes to the table, he brings a five-star meal. Of course, I'm starving a few days later because it was really delicious, and I'm a fan of fine foods. He tells me he's attracted to me. He makes comments that let me know he finds me appealing. I'm in pretty decent shape -- a big gym person. He reassures me that he understands that he doesn't participate enough, and stresses that itís not a reflection of his desire for me.

So, what do I do with this? It's not a deal-breaker. I'm old enough, and experienced enough to know that guys like him don't come around that often, especially willing to take on a single mom. But the prospect of being intimate three times a month for the next 40 years, ESPECIALLY when I know I have a master chef lying right next to me, is beyond frustrating.

– AandD, South of Boston

A: This is a big, loaded problem, AandD, but in some ways it's like any other relationship problem because the answer is compromise. On both sides. He can step up his game and you can manage your expectations. I would have the talk again. This time, make it less about what he lacks and more about how you can meet in the middle.

I understand that he's content with the schedule, but both of you have to be content for this to work. And really, it's not like you're asking him to do the dishes more often. There's something in it for him, too.

With some of these lack-of-intimacy letters, I suspect physical problems or depression. If he's participating once a week, I doubt that's the issue. Sounds more like laziness, stress, and his natural drive. Again, compromise. You have to respect his drive. Perhaps six times a month is all you're going to get. That's not so bad if he can make those six times all about you.

I'd also ask him how you can help get his mind in the right place to participate. Morning vs. evening is just one thing. But Ö a weekend away? Dinner out? Kids out of the house for a night?

Be sensitive. This is a problem that causes defensiveness and hurt feelings. You need to know that you can't expect everything you want. When you have your next conversation about this, maybe ask him what he'd like more of -- TV time? Cuddling? Alone time for him? See what's missing and where compromises can be made. That's more productive than, "I need more. Step up your game." Come up with a real strategy so it's not just a complaint.

And remind him that this is important. Sex and money. This is big stuff.

Readers? How do you deal with someone who says, "Iím fine with once a week." Is it wrong that he hasnít tried to compromise already? Is she expecting too much? Discuss.

– Meredith

Can I get the love back?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein July 9, 2010 09:40 AM

Friday I'm in love. But she may not be.

Q: Dear Meredith,

I cannot believe I am writing to LLÖbut here it goes. Iíll try to keep it as brief as I can; I know people dislike diatribes.

I am in my early thirties and have been in a relationship for about eight yrs. We are not married but we own a home and have a dog together so we are more than invested in things. Over the past year plus, I have been feeling less and less physically and emotionally connected to this person. Our sex life is pretty bad and has been for a few years but we both just seemed to block it out because there were other things (house, dog, peaceful coexistence). We've talked about the problems before but we always just seem to go back to the same pattern of no intimacy. From a compatibility stand point we do, however, make a good "team."

We had a big talk about this recently. I told him I don't think I can handle the lack of intimacy anymore and that I don't feel itís something we can get back. While I was somewhat doomsday, he seems determined that we can regain some sort of physical connection. We never really talk about marriage but now he tells me he was looking for a ring a week before our talk (oy vey)! Ever since we talked he has really been trying, which I do appreciate, but to put it plainly, I am just not feeling it. I feel no connection and almost become nervous at the thought that he may try to "make a move." I guess I am asking if there is any way to salvage an otherwise decent relationship. This man is really wonderful Ė honest, hard working, laid back, and caring. As a person and a friend, I truly love him. But I fear that if I try to force or convince myself I can overlook the missing chemistry I may come to regret it several years down the line. I'm not getting any younger and may want to have children before I am 80. Can a relationship survive on good companionship alone? And should/does a relationship even still HAVE chemistry after so long? UGH!!

Thanks for any help,

– Worried, Confused, Celibate, and Feeling Guilty in South Boston

A: A relationship can survive on good companionship alone. Many people think that's enough. But you don't. And that's fine.

I think you're done with this person, at least as a romantic partner. You're talking about staying in it for him, not for you. You're trying to squeeze out the love. Not once did you mention a fear of being alone. Not once did you mention a fear of what life would be like without him as your boyfriend. The thing that scares you is the ring. The thing that scares you is him "making a move."

This decision is loaded because you're in your early 30s. That's when people get married. That's when people walk around thinking, "Thank goodness I'm with someone who wants to stick around." But that's also when people get married out of fear. You're not clinging to your guy because you're afraid there's no one else. You're saying, "I want to leave now as opposed to years from now." Itís upsetting, but it's honest.

Yes, a decent relationship can be saved -- if both partners want to save it. I'm not getting the sense that you do. This won't be easy. Oy vey, indeed. Hang in there as you go with your gut.

Readers? Do you agree? Is this relationship over? Discuss.

– Meredith

Help me save my marriage

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 23, 2010 08:59 AM

I think this makes the best-of list for Love Letters lines:

"How do you convince someone you'll love them till death without dying?"

Q: Hi Meredith,

I must admit I never thought I would be the guy asking for advice on my relationship, but here I am ... on the verge of a divorce from my college love. I need help because I don't want to lose her, but she seems to be bent on becoming a new person and starting a new life.

So let me preface this story of an ending by telling you a little bit about the beginning. Many years ago, when we met in college, she had the courage to call me up blindly and tell me that she had been stalking me for a couple weeks. This was our freshman year. Her confidence and overall attractiveness sold me. We met and instantly liked each other. It wasn't instant love or a passionate college romance, but we had fun and grew to really love each other by college graduation. In fact I knew that someday I would marry her.

She moved in a year after graduation. We did everything together and we enjoyed many of the same things. But as we grew more accustomed to each other, I think some of that sparkle in our eyes started disappearing. The love got stronger but sex was rare. I was OK with that. The problem was, she wasn't OK with that. Over the years I think she started to doubt her attractiveness and self worth, even though I would constantly give her praise and attention. She needed actions not words, and I tried, but the pressure of my job, my sick parents, and everything else pertaining to daily life was weighing on me. I had a hard time being the romantic that she wanted me to, even though I tried my hardest.

The issues persisted year after year, and we had conversations on a quarterly basis about how we'd fix it, but we never did. Both of us just talked, agreed, and then crossed our arms. She didn't do anything and neither did I. I'm not sure why. She started gaining a lot of weight and started working late just to avoid me, and I feel like she would try and say things just to annoy me so that I would hate her. But all I kept doing was trying to get her out of her rut. Maybe I was too supportive. I don't know. Maybe I was a friend and not a lover. Again, I'm not sure. But as our friendship grew, our passion disappeared.

Fast forward to last year, we're in marriage counseling, she's in exit mode and I'm trying to convince her to look forward not back. I have a new job. My parents are still sick, but I'm more comfortable now with their situation. I was and still am a changed man, and I have been constantly fighting, hoping that she'll have an epiphany of some sort -- an epiphany about who I am and how much I really mean to her.

For the past two years, she has been telling me that she is confused. She doesn't know what she wants, but she knows that she has a hard time forgetting our past. She has a hard time processing the downs, and she doesn't focus on the ups. She's depressed and upset and no matter how much I tell her I love her, she doesn't believe me. "Why now?" she would ask. "Why do you try hard now?" And all I could do was say that "When times got bad, I realized what I really wanted, and it was you" -- and that was the honest truth.

I love and I want my wife more than ever, but she tells me she can't get past what's happened. She can't get over the doubt. She moved out of the house and it has been months now since I last saw her. I cry every day, I'm on a rollercoaster of emotions. I still want her as my wife but how do you convince someone you love them till death without dying? We were born to be together, but a blip in our past is blinding her future. I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep her. Is there anything I can do???

– Dog Willing to Try New Tricks

A: First of all, DWTTNT, what you're describing doesn't sound like a blip to me. I'm not trying to make you feel worse, but your wife dealt with years of rejection and self-doubt.

I feel for her. It probably took a great deal of courage for her to make the decision to let you go. Then, just as she's feeling confident about her choice, you rally. Talk about confusing.

I don't know what you can do to fix this besides words followed by actions, assuming she's open to either. It's about classic, consistent wooing. It's about showing her that you want what she wants.

But before you do any more lobbying, please think about what you really desire. She felt unattractive because you didn't want to sleep with her. Do you want to sleep with her now? She felt as though the romance was gone. Are you feeing romantic about her now?

If your angst and pain over the loss of her is really about losing your best friend, think hard about whether you should be begging her to come home. Some people are very happy just being best friends with their partner after a decade or so. Your wife has made it clear that she wants more, that her definition of marriage involves romance and passion from start to finish. If you can't live up to that expectation (or have no desire to), consider what's best for both of you.

You both love each other to death. I don't think she's really questioning that. She's questioning whether you have similar goals for your marriage. Do you?

Readers? What can he do to get her back? Should he get her back? Is this too little, too late? Why isnít she responding to his new agenda? Help.

– Meredith

No one takes me seriously

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 16, 2010 08:05 AM

Confessions of a party girl ...

Q: My situation is that I am fresh out of college, 22 years old, and love to go out and have fun. I was in one serious relationship at the beginning of college, and once I got a taste of the partying single life, I was hooked.

I don't take anything or anyone seriously when I go out. I find myself engaging in one night stands often, without a second thought. In the past four years I have truly liked one person that I have gone home with. It obviously didn't work out because otherwise I would not be writing this letter.

Recently, I ended up going home with a guy who I definitely did not like. But for the night, it was fun. He continued to call me and promise me the world. Who doesn't like a little attention? So I went with it, never took it seriously, but enjoyed dating while it lasted Ö for a whole three weeks. When it ended, it ended on his terms because "I was too much like him and he doesn't think he would be able to trust me when I went out without him.Ē And I picked up where I left off with my lifestyle choices, no harm no foul.

And even though he wasn't who I wanted to be with, I could not get past the fact that he ended things. Then I got to thinking Ö maybe it's not me who doesn't take anyone seriously ... maybe itís everyone not taking me seriously.

And worse, I don't want to change. I like being spontaneous and meeting new people. I like no limits or restrictions, and I don't think I could say no to an opportunity to have fun with a guy in hopes of finding chemistry. I am not shut off to relationships and just being with one person. I would love nothing more than to find someone to be with and love consistently. I know that I do not have an unfaithful bone in my body so if I met the right person I could be content. But I just donít know why none of these guys to want to be with me all the time, and not just after the bar. And more disconcerting is the fact that I don't see myself slowing down unless I meet Mr. Right. I guess what I'm wondering is, do I have to change my outgoing, willingness to meet new people, party girl personality in order to meet anyone?

I mean we're all looking for someone to love and care about us long term ... but while I wait for that guy, is there something wrong with so many Mr. Right Nows?

– Confused, Concerned, and Maybe a Little Bit Promiscuous in Waltham

A: I think it's fine that you're running around town, meeting new people, and being 22, CCAMALBPIW. Most people wish they had done a bit more of that when they were 22. If I could take a hot tub time machine back to 22, I would take things a bit less seriously Ö probably with guys in Paw Sox caps. (At 22, I was living in Providence.)

The real question here is whether getting intimate with these guys so quickly and behaving like a party girl ruins your chances of having a solid relationship. My answer is yes and no.

Yes, it matters that you flit around sending out a vibe that you don't take anything seriously. If you're not really getting to know these guys, if you're that girl at the bar hooting the lyrics to "Livin' on a Prayer" while you down another Corona, you might be passed over by some men you'd really like.

That said, I don't think your quickness to go home with people for pajama time disqualifies you from being taken seriously. I mean, yes, there are guys who would never pursue a woman who had a pajama party with them on the first night, but that's quite the double standard. If a guy really digs you and wants to know more about you, he will follow up with a call. This recent guy didn't bail because you were intimate with him quickly. It took him three weeks to realize that you weren't his thing. He wasn't your thing either, and he probably picked up on that vibe.

I'm not endorsing your string of one-nights. But I am saying that you're you, and you should continue to be you. You don't have to go against your instincts to be taken seriously. You said it yourself -- when you meet a guy you actually like, you'll sign on. You might even surprise yourself and have no interest in quick pajama time with a guy who seems like he might have real potential. You haven't met anyone like that yet so it's impossible to know.

My advice is to be the best 22-year-old you that you can be. Don't be the promiscuous party girl who doesn't care about herself or anyone else. Be the party girl who is engaged in great conversations, spirited about love, and comfortable in her own skin. If you're that 22-year-old party girl, I think it's OK.

And maybe talk to some guys outside of bars. Just a thought.

Readers? (A reminder to watch your language so we donít have a million comments removed.) Is 22 about taking guys home? Is her behavior preventing her from being taken seriously? Discuss.

– Meredith

She's lost that loving feeling

Posted by Meredith Goldstein April 15, 2010 08:24 AM

Tax day.

Q: Love your column. I never thought I would I have to write you but my situation is getting to me. Married seven years with three wonderful kids. I love my wife dearly. I'm more attracted to her now then when we first dated. But here's my problem. Our lack of intimacy and her lack of affection is killing me. She is never in the mood, never initiates. She never tells me she appreciates me. I have told her how I felt and how much this hurts me. I have cried during our discussion yet she thinks there isn't an issue (readers, please go easy on me). She is always turning me down. Nothing hurts more then being rejected by your significant other time after time. Sometimes I just want to give up.

She thinks I don't understand her and I'm unreasonable. I do understand we have three very active kids and both work. I cook and prepare dinner on most nights. I help feed, bathe, read and help our oldest with homework every night. (This is the reason why it irks me when she claims she is too tired for intimacy.) When she has had a rough and stressful day at work, I try my best to keep the kids away from her and let her relax. I'm not looking for praises from others. I just want acknowledgement from my wife and not be taken for granted.

I don't want a divorce, it's not an option. I don't want my kids shuttling back and forth between parents. We both adore our kids. If we were to separate, it pains me how this will affect my kids life. I want to work things out. I love her dearly and want to spend the rest of my life with her. But this emptiness is killing me. I have suggested counseling but she thinks we don't have any issue. She's very adamant against counseling and thinks I'm overreacting. Meredith and readers please help me. Can counseling help my marriage? I'm I asking for too much?

– Sometimes Love Is Not Enough, Cambridge

A: Love is almost always enough, SLINE, especially when love involves considering your partner's needs. You're not asking for too much. You want your wife to be more than a friend. You're attracted to her. That's pretty great.

But something seems to be missing in your letter. When she says you don't understand her, what is she talking about? It makes me wonder whether there's a bigger reason she isn't interested in affection. Like Ö a chemical thing. Sometimes we lose our drives for reasons that are beyond our control. Sometimes a medical doctor winds up being more of a help than a head doctor.

Here's my thought: e-mail her. Write a letter to your wife. She can wave off a problem in person, but in writing, she'll have to put it into words. It might be a more comfortable way for her to say uncomfortable things.

You can tell her how much this is getting to you. You can tell her that you're concerned that the lack of intimacy will drive you apart. You can explain that intimacy doesn't have to mean sex. If she's exhausted and simply wants to cuddle while watching "House," that would be nice. She may believe that this is an overreaction and that intimacy isn't a key part of your relationship, but you don't agree. Ask her in writing what she wants to do about this. You're certainly open to suggestions, unless her suggestion is to ignore the problem.

And most importantly, ask her what you're missing. Is it just the hectic schedule? Is there more? Is it something physical? She's saying you don't understand her. You want to understand her. You're ready to listen.

Something tells me she won't brush you off in writing. As many of our letter writers will tell you, writing is a good way to get some quick, clear honesty. Make her do that. If she can't, therapy is just about the only option.

Readers? How can the letter writer get his partner to listen? Any thoughts? Discuss.

– Meredith

ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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