Friday 19 January 2018

Dear Mary: 'We're together but haven't had sex in months'

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

Question: It's 2.35am in the morning and again I find I cannot sleep as I'm all worked up about my relationship (read, sinking ship). This time last year, I was three months single after ending a relationship with an amazing guy. I ended our relationship as I found him excessively needy and could feel the intensity of his feelings towards me and knew in my heart that I could never reciprocate those feelings. I felt terrible for breaking his heart and hid away for a few months.  Then I decided on a whim to join my mates on a night out and that is when I met my current beau Mr X.

Without going into all the details, our relationship began as more of a friendship. I thought that it was me setting the pace as I didn't want anything too physical given that I'd just come out of a relationship. We didn't sleep together for the first two and a half months and there wasn't ever any passionate kissing. We became very close, we hung out all the time, still do, and often spend four or five nights together. We had a bit of sex at the start but even as far back as January I was thinking it strange that we didn't sleep together much. It's now July and I can easily say it's been April/ May since we slept together.

Bit of context - I'm tall (5ft 8"), size 6/8, into fitness and healthy eating and basically have no hassles getting guys' attention. He was training for a big event and blamed his lack of libido on that, but I don't really believe it's that. I've brought it up lots of times with him and even went as far as saying I hadn't realised I'd signed up for a sexless relationship.

It's the lack of intimacy that hurts the most. I feel there's a huge void in our relationship. In addition, I told him I loved him and his response was he'd never told any girl he loved them. That hurt like hell and I told him I wanted to break up as what was the point if he didn't love me. His response was that I was the only person he wants to be with and he spends all his time with me, so what was the big deal about three small words.

So there's the lack of intimacy, the lack of declaration of feelings and he won't discuss the future. He's in his mid 30s and I'm a little younger. I own my own property but can't see us moving in together. So why am I still here?

It's weird I'm the only one of my siblings with a string of failed relationships. The one thing all my boyfriends have in common is that they all come from broken homes. I'm from the Waltons. Mr X's parents got divorced a few years ago. He was in a relationship until he was 28. When I asked why that ended his response was that it was bad timing, She wanted them to move in together but he wasn't ready to settle down. I'm not sure that he isn't still the same way.

My two previous serious relationships before him were also with men from homes where parents had separated. Is it odd that I find myself in relationships with men from "broken" homes but none of my siblings ever has? It's interesting to note that neither of my exes have gotten married yet either

I really want to be in love again, to love someone with all my heart. I feel I'm holding myself back recently as I don't want to invest myself in something I'm not sure is even there for the other person. I miss the intimacy and the journey of experiencing life with someone. Reading all this, it must seem like a no-brainer that I walk away. Truth be told, though, I feel we are a good match and my world will be seriously empty without him. All my friends are married and on to their second or third kids. I'd love nothing more than to start a family so perhaps that should be my motivating factor to staying or going in this relationship.

I'm not even sure what my specific question to you is. I fear that the issue isn't with my exes, but with me, and that there's something lacking in me intrinsically to be somebody's partner of choice forever. I'm the one they can go on fun holidays with, or to sporting events etc, but not their 'forever after' and mother to their children (though with two previous exes we often discussed having kids).

Sorry for the rant. I'm not sure if I've laid out my concerns articulately enough for you to formulate a coherent answer.

Mary replies: You don't indeed have a coherent question but I sense your unhappiness and feeling of not being in control of your destiny, because that is currently in the hands of Mr X. So I will give you a few thoughts about your email which may help you to reach some conclusions.

Men don't have the same sense of urgency regarding settling down and having a family, because they have no cut-off time for procreating, whereas women do. So X won't share your need to get things settled regarding your future. However, his sex drive seems to be very much lower than yours, and you have to ask yourself if you can live with this. I appreciate that he may have been very aware that you were only recently out of a relationship when you first met. But when a couple start having sex that is generally their most active time as they can't get enough of each other - what has been called the bunny phase - and I have to question why this didn't happen with you two.

You outline what seems to be a very close friendship that is scarcely sexual. Also, if he doesn't see a problem with three small words then why doesn't he say them, knowing that they mean a lot to you?

He certainly seems to shy away from commitment, given his past history. As his parents divorced only relatively recently their story and influence on him may have some bearing on his reticence to commit.

Your previous boyfriend was very big into you and you found him to be too intense and ended it. Your current boyfriend is the opposite. Could it be that in some way you have a problem with emotional intimacy and seek out those who have the same problem? This is only something that you would be able to tease out with a qualified psychotherapist, but it may well be worth exploring.

Finally, as I have said many times, you will never get everything you desire in one person, so it is up to you to decide what is most important in your life and go with whoever will best fill those criteria.

Should I tell her that I'm socially anxious?

I am a man in my 40s who has led a very staid life, and I have resigned myself to that being my future. I never socialised much when younger, and while I am a polite, amiable person, I am only good company in small amounts. I suffer from nerves in many social occasions, so my life mostly just goes from home to work and back.

I met a very attractive younger woman for only a few hours through my work last week. I was my usual polite self, but as she left I was stunned that, without saying anything, she seemed to indicate an attraction to me. The following day I did not have the nerve to bring this up with her, so perhaps because of this she did not appear to show the same signs.

I could not possibly see myself going out with her, and I may never meet her again through work. The thing is, should I contact her, perhaps by letter or e-mail, to explain myself, or just let the matter lie? I think of her constantly , and am wondering what she may be thinking of me for failing to respond at all. Would it be ridiculous to send such a message, just to give myself some piece of mind?

Mary replies:  I think it would be a bit strange to email the young lady and explain why you did not respond. That would be a bit too much information to give her, and too soon. However, you could test the water by emailing her saying what a pleasure it was to have worked with her and saying that you hope your paths will cross again in the future. You will then be able to gauge from her reply if you were correct in your feeling that she found you attractive. You can't see yourself going out with her and that is indeed looking too far ahead, but could you imagine having a coffee with her sometime?

It seems to me that you are suffering with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and it is a pity that you just accept this without doing something about it.

A good start would be the website so you can see that many other people have this same condition.

I urge you to seek help because it seems a waste that you are not able to share even part of your life with another person, particularly when there are so many lonely people out there. The feelings you experienced having met her will give you some idea as to what it would be like to have somebody significant in your life.


You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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