How to deal
November 4, 2018 11:33 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with a partner who has responsive desire? I’m tired of being the only one who intitiates.

What it says on the tin. The sex is amazing when we have it, and we have it regularly - but only because I initiate. This wears on my self-esteem. I want to feel desired. Once in awhile I would like him to reach for me. It happens rarely, and only after I’ve brought it up and reminded him that I need this.

He’s a wonderful partner in so many ways. He’s a caring, attentive, sexy lover. He tries to make an effort to initiate, but it’s so against his nature that I doubt this part of him will ever change (just like I can’t change from spontaneous to responsive). I want to find a way to live with this. Do you have any tips/strategies?

Note: we’ve tried scheduling sex - he still doesn’t initiate on those days.
posted by puppet du sock to Human Relations (4 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

Have you already read Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are? (If so, and it didn’t help, I apologize because it changed everything for me.) I found it SO useful and practical because she outlines in detail how desire works for different people and then gives scenarios and suggestions for how to handle differences in responsiveness.

It goes way beyond who initiates and uses actual science and not outdated gender roles or reductive beliefs about desire and that was helpful for my relationship because the one who didn’t initiate felt so much guilt about it which didn’t help matters. The metaphors used make a lot of sense to me (and my partner): that desire isn’t just what hits the gas but it’s also what hits the brakes, and also that there’s also a monitor in your mind that needs to see that effort is worth it in order to pursue something. I can’t stress how useful this book has been in my life.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:23 PM on November 4, 2018 [9 favorites]

Schedule it better: set it up in advance so he doesn't exactly have to initiate but neither do you. Literally put a time and place on the calendar, and at the very least set a particular vibe you both tend to like, if not actually putting some explicit planning into it (text or email some warm-up material back and forth a day or two in advance, pick some particular activities you're in the mood for, create a roleplay, negotiate a scene) so that everybody shows up at the appointed time and place knowing exactly what you're there for. Obviously you can go off-script once you're there, but at least set the stage.

There's a bunch of reasons affairs are compelling, but I strongly believe a lot of it is because this is normal behavior for an assignation but not, for whatever reason, in a regular old completely sanctioned relationship where spontaneity somehow takes on a high value. Structure is good stuff, it's powerful stuff, and allows you both to play to your strengths. If you still need to play around with the concept of "initiate" to make you happier, maybe set a pre-appointment on his calendar to email you the first volley 48 hours in advance or whatever, if he is able to find that palatable. Invent rules that serve the purpose.

Another way to play around with the concept of initiation is to brainstorm a bunch of scenarios or starting instructions or premeses to keep in a list, and then use a randomizer app or some other way to pick one. Again, do it at the designated place and time so you're both showing up for the same purpose, don't wait for him to bring you the list because that's likely never going to work. You can also try coin-tosses or similar at the last minute to pick who goes first if both your personalities find that suitable.

Do whatever it takes to set yourselves up for success here, but do try to free yourselves - both of you - from some of the rigidity of "initiate" as a construct. It should be a team effort, in the end.

A lot of people who are in perfectly secure relationships and still have initiation issues are often not worried about rejection, which is the classic assumption, and it's worth exploring what it is that feels ill-suited for him specifically and in what ways you can accommodate his actual arousal mechanisms. Some people just feel cringey and embarrassed in that transition moment from "responsible bill-paying adult" to "sexy beast" and find that gear change really difficult, but if you pick at it a little you may discover that there are loopholes you can work with. As long as you are both interested in exploiting them, in gaming the system as a team, there's nothing wrong with creative problem-solving here.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:28 PM on November 4, 2018 [9 favorites]

I don't have any advice for you (other than seconding Come As You Are) but if he is interested in what I learned, by far the biggest, mind blowing thing that I figure out (that is, of course, incredibly obvious in hindsight) is that your brain can decide that something is a good idea even if your body isn't really interested (yet). I can choose to initiate because logically I know from experience that once things get started, my body will catch up.

Another thing for me is that I hate to feel cornered into having sex or disappointing my partner. What if I initiate and then it turns out that I'm just not that into it? So, sex-adjacent things that sort of signal a warm up but allow me to back out work better - like a back rub that might turn into something more or might not. Also, having a schedule would trigger by cornered feeling - there are already expectations in place so it isn't my idea.

The other thing that can play into this is being the low desire partner (relative to the other person, not relative to some absolute scale) It's like if someone is offering you food every two hours and then gets upset that you won't initiate the meal planning. I'm already getting more than I need, and if I'm not hungry, I'm not going to be thinking about food. So, that might be another dimension to think about.
posted by metahawk at 12:35 PM on November 4, 2018 [20 favorites]

>He tries to make an effort to initiate, but it’s so against his nature that I doubt this part of him will ever change (just like I can’t change from spontaneous to responsive). I want to find a way to live with this.

>This wears on my self-esteem. I want to feel desired. Once in awhile I would like him to reach for me.

Okay, well I think the first step is finding a way to decouple "him initiating" and "I am desired". He's not initiating because that's not who he is, not because he doesn't desire you. It's not like (I assume, based on your description of him being attentive etc) he makes you feel like sex with you is a chore he's going through the motions for, right? Once you initiate he's into it? So step one is taking how loaded initiating is for you, and just... unload it, a little. Not sure you need to go full-blown therapy on it, but unpack it a bit for yourself, see where it's coming from, realize they're not intrinsically linked. Society has some dumb messages about how men work but society has lots and lots of dumb messages, we don't need to buy into it all.

Step two: what other things, that come more naturally to him, make you feel desired? Maybe he can step those up. Here's where I insert the bog-standard advice of looking into love languages. I'm gonna guess based on initiating being an issue for you, that it's very likely touch is high up there for you. Would it help if he touched you a lot more? Like, would goodbye kisses in the morning and welcome home kisses in the evening (and I don't mean pecks, I mean minimum ten seconds) help? Or maybe you have a second love language he'd find easier to shower you in?

But also, learn his love language. Chances are high he is "reaching for you", just in his language not yours, and so it can be helpful to just train yourself to recognize all those things he's doing that are his was of saying he loves and desires you.

Third: May work for you-- initiate without initiating. What I mean is, go get dressed up, then, like, sit around flirtily, make flirty comments, rub your foot up his leg, eat food sexily, whatever. But do not proceed further. Sit there radiating willingness but leave a gap there that he's responsible for closing. My only caution with this plan is to make sure in advance that the basic groundwork-- he's not too exhausted, he's in a reasonably willing mood-- is already there, so that it's likely he will respond positively. If you do try scheduling things, this could be something to try on scheduled nights.

Also: There's an important detail missing from your question, which is how often he responds to your initiation and whether your frequency is what you'd like it to be. Is it just that he's not initiating, or also that he's rejecting your overtures, and/or that you're not having sex as frequently as you'd like? Because those are separate issues...
posted by Cozybee at 11:56 PM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

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