How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
I’m a married man in my thirties. My husband has always been a bit eclectic—its part of the reason why I married him. Recently, he got into two-phase sleeping. He goes to bed earlier, sleeps for about four hours, then wakes up for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours before sleeping another three or four hours until morning.
During this time, he does things like read, go for a run, work on art, or just drink herbal tea in the dark. I didn’t think he would stick with it because he’s always trying new things and growing bored with them after a few weeks or months, but he’s been doing this for almost a year now. It has impacted our sex life because we rarely go to bed at the same time. It has reduced our time together in the evening because he goes to bed earlier. Also, it impacts my sleep. He tries to be quiet, but him getting in and out of bed and moving about in the house at 1 or 2 a.m. is still noticeable. When he goes for a night run, he always gets back raring to go and sometimes tries to initiate sex with me, but I don’t like be woken up in the middle of the night.
We got into an argument recently because I learned that he had driven to try and see the northern lights without me. It turned out they weren’t visible in our area, but it’s the thought that counts. I brought up how we spend less time together and have less sex. He countered by saying I don’t like being woken up in the middle of the night, that I should just move to his sleeping schedule, and that when he has tried to initiate with me I have turned him down. I don’t fall back asleep as easily as he does, so this plan would probably end up with me sleeping four hours a night. He promised to wake me if he goes aurora or meteor chasing, but I still feel that doesn’t completely address the problem.
A part of me is also a little jealous. I have a 9-to-5 with the city, so I’m a morning person by necessity as well as nature. He’s a successful artist and makes his own hours. I feel like his new way of life is impacting our relationship, but I can’t deny that he’s happier and more energetic.
— Nocturnal Man
Dear Nocturnal Man,
You are reasonable for not wanting to be woken up in the middle of the night—and he is unreasonable for attempting to foist his unorthodox sleeping schedule on you, or at least expect you to participate in it by initiating sex with you while you’re asleep. He should realize that just because he and his sleep schedule are all over the place, it doesn’t mean that others will be, too. It sounds like he might be a little too self-invested for his own good—which often comes with the territory of being an artist, especially a successful one.
That’s to be expected; it’s really just about dealing with it.
But you have to pick a side. If your position is, “Do you, but don’t wake me up,” you can’t then expect him to have made an exemption on your behalf. You had established you didn’t want to be woken up, so he didn’t wake you up when he went to see the northern lights. They’re heavenly but they aren’t capable of sending messages from above like, “Override your husband’s recently established rules and give him the option of gazing up at us—now.” You can’t make rules and then expect them to be broken without an aurora borealis clause. I’m glad that you have established one for meteor chasing.
Jealousy for your partner’s good fortune is relationship poison—do your best to avoid it. What’s good for him is good for the relationship, unless it somehow does a direct disservice to you individually, and it seems that direct disservice here has been mostly attended to. If his getting up at odd hours bothers you, consider sleeping in separate rooms. It sounds drastic, but a lot of couples do it and it’s sometimes useful for quality of sleep. You could also schedule sex—it doesn’t have to occur at bedtime. Working with your partner’s needs and desires is your job. It’s worth encouraging him to pursue that which makes him happy. Two-phase sleeping is doing it for him at the moment. Happy husband, happy life.
Dear How to Do It,
I am married, but I have a crush on another man. We met a couple of times before my wedding, and we even had sex together and it was electrifying. We connect on so many levels. We stopped talking after I got married, but he kept haunting me. I never stopped thinking about him. I kept checking his social media profiles. I was/still am a little obsessive. He contacted me a while ago, and we started talking again; I was very happy when we did, but now I don’t know what to do.
I try to stop myself from talking to him, and to hold in my feelings toward him. My husband would not accept any form of extramarital relationship, but it’s hard for me to let go of a connection I might never find again. The man doesn’t live close, so I’m not at risk of meeting him right away, but I’m not sure where to go from here
— What Now?
Dear What Now,
It may seem like life as you know it is headed for a collision with a brick wall, but you have plenty of time to change course. Think of it like this: Given the constraints of this situation (primarily the distance between you and the guy you’re talking to), you might as well be moving in slow motion. Nothing about this has to be out of your control! You can continue feeling things out, and you should. Since any sort of nonmonogamous arrangement is off the table, you’re going to have to choose at some point between your husband and this other guy. You know your husband well, but this other guy remains a mystery and that’s almost certainly part of his allure. Is it worth trading stability for chemistry, or rather, the perception of chemistry from this vantage point? For many, sexual interest wanes with familiarity unless it’s actively fostered; one of the principles of Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity is that intimacy and eroticism are at odds. You could leave your husband for this guy you barely know, only to find yourself uninterested in him as time goes on, looking for the next IRL/internet connection.
Or maybe you’ve found an ideal life partner. It’s impossible to say at this juncture, and even when it is possible to make a more informed decision, you will never know what truly waits for you on the other side until you’re there. Complicating things is the obsessiveness you describe. It’s hard to tell exactly what you mean by that, but it’s probably worth at least talking to someone regarding obsessive-compulsive disorder if you have not yet done so. Working on that, perhaps through cognitive-behavioral therapy, might also help you attain the clarity that is eluding you.
Dear How to Do It,
A year ago, I experienced a very sudden and traumatic breakup from a long-term partner. (I’m a 40-year-old straight woman.) One of the biggest components of my healing process has been a chance introduction to the local kink community. I go to several events, and now I’m even a “house member” at a regular BDSM/swinger private party venue. I love the excitement, diversity, and openness that the community offers, and I’m discovering interests that I would never have known before.
After months of casual hook-ups/play partners, I’m ready to start dating again. I’ve had some luck on Bumble, and I don’t care if my new dates are especially “kinky.” However, if things progress, what’s the best way to broach the subject with a more “vanilla” man? I want to be honest and sex-positive, but I’m a bit afraid of shocking a potential partner, or making them feel pressured/uncomfortable. I’d like to stay active in the kink community, but I’m new enough not to know how to navigate these two worlds.
— Introducing Sprinkles to Vanilla
Is finding a partner within the kink community somehow out of the question? That could spank two birds with one paddle. If not, I’m sorry, but I can’t un-gay my brain so my only answer to you is: Be upfront and say what you’re into. Part of the point of doing so is scaring away those who aren’t really down. By risking shocking your potential partner, you weed out those who aren’t into what you’re into, making everyone’s life easier. If kink is something that you like but don’t need (and, honestly from what you describe, this doesn’t seem to be the case, but that persistently gay brain of mine does want to allow a margin for versatility of all sorts), when you have that early discussion about sexual interest, you can ask your potential date, “Any kinks?” If he says, “No,” allow that to set the tone and ease off that line of discussion for the time being. If he says yes, you’ll have an even better sense of your compatibility. If you’re keeping your dating life and your kink life separate, you don’t need to reveal your kinky activities until you see the potential for a relationship to get serious and discussions about attitudes toward exclusivity become appropriate. Just keep doing what you do and don’t feel too bad about it. And remember: Sometimes when people reject you, it’s for the absolute best. They’re doing pro bono work in helping you organize your life by organizing themselves right out of it.
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Dear How to Do It,
I’m a man in a happy, open sexless marriage with another man. We share tons of intimacy outside of sex and are genuinely happy sharing our lives together. We play separately and generally don’t share details, but there’s always a chance we may semi-awkwardly walk in on each other. Which leads to my main concern: We have different racial backgrounds. I have a strong (but not at all exclusive) attraction toward his entire ethnic group. I feel like it might be a little weird for him to see me having sex with another member of his ethnic group. I just wouldn’t want my husband to feel cheapened, as if I only married him purely out of physical and sexual attraction. My sex drive is generally far higher than his, so the chances of him walking in on me far outweigh me seeing him. Am I racist or stereotypical on some level for having a strong attraction to members of his race that share his basic height-weight proportions? Basically, I feel for friendship or relationships, stereotyping someone is bad, but it’s just attraction for sex and therefore fine. Am I right?
I am sure it’s a pretty silly question, but I just care a lot about my husband’s sensitivity as he’s a very sweet guy. And ironically, we are very close and open with each other, so why am I nervous to directly ask his thoughts on this?
You don’t have sex with your husband, so you have already established that your marriage is based in more than physical/sexual attraction. That’s the one thing it isn’t based in, in fact! The question of racial preference will remain an open one given the elusive nature of attraction. What makes us like what we like? Any number of factors, conscious and not, that are integral to our life experience and often knit together, impossible to separate. That said, I don’t think “stereotyping” is useful to anyone—the potential partners that share racial and physical qualities with your husband are people, and should be treated as such. It’s OK that you have the aesthetic eye that you do, but drawing conclusions beyond that, which is I think where stereotyping comes in, is a recipe for misconception and offense. To ensure your gaze is ethical, maybe start by asking yourself what this attraction is all about. Do you make certain inferences based on someone’s race? Are these informed by notions that have racist roots and have been played out in racist ways in your culture? (For example, the idea that Black people are hypersexual has been used to oppress and degrade in horrifying ways.) What you describe isn’t necessarily racist, but it really could be depending on your methods and ideology. The ball’s in your court to figure that out.
Is your husband particularly sensitive about race matters, or are your fears based only on supposition? Do you even know? Have you had those potentially uncomfortable conversations with him? Might be a good time to start. If nothing else, don’t host! Set a strict traveling-only policy for hook-ups. That way he won’t be walking in on you with anyone, and you’ll avoid the awkwardness that you fear. Easy!
More How to Do It
My grandmother has been harassing me nonstop about having children for years, and now that I have a steady boyfriend, she’s been ramping up the comments, begging, crying, and even talking to my boyfriend, saying, “I need to carry on the family line.” I’m 36 and have known for many years I don’t want children, and this has been exacerbated by the fact that we have extensive medical problems on both sides that I don’t wish to pass on. She’s now threatening to pull financial help that she very occasionally provides if I don’t have a child ASAP. I’m now at the point where I’m considering forging a doctor’s letter saying I’m barren to get her off my case, even if it means losing the small amount of help I get from her. Is it ethically wrong?