The question I met Tom online. We have now been dating for nearly two years, sometimes on Zoom as we live three hours away from each other. This is long-term relationship potential – except, from my side, for one thing.
I am a deeply sexually alive person. Sex is an immense joy to me. Not only the explicit physical acts of it, but also the sharing, the play, all the openness and openheartedness. Tom is divorced and I suspect has not had much sexual experience. I think he is sexually repressed. I have always been open with him about wanting our relationship to become fully sexual. It never has been.
Tom has a serious heart condition and wants everything we have, minus a full sexual relationship, for fear of his heart, although his doctor has given him the green light and said he’s fine to use Viagra. It troubles me that Tom responds to my talking about wanting a full sexual relationship in offhand ways, uncaring about my needs and wishes – in every other way he’s the person I have been waiting for.
It seems like a no-brainer: I should leave. But we are compatible in every way other than this, including intellectually. We are both in our early 70s – when it’s far from easy to find a compatible partner. The grief of not having sex again would be immense, plus maybe underlying resentment would likely erode my regard for him.
I fantasise about finding a part-time lover, to live that part of who I am, while being with Tom for the rest of my life in every other way. Would Tom go for it? Maybe, but I doubt it.
Philippa’s answer I do believe that someone who does not want to have sex should not be pressured into it. Yes, this might be heartbreaking and frustrating for their partner, but we are each responsible for caring for our own bodies and discovering what we each need. You talk about yourself as a sexual person and wanting a sexual relationship in general, but you don’t really talk about your sexual attraction to Tom in particular. If I were Tom, I might sense that you wanted to make love, but perhaps not necessarily to me and this would put me off. No one wants to feel used. Of course, this is conjecture on my part, but I flag it up in case it may be relevant.
He is, you say, uncaring about your needs and wishes, but only around the subject of sex. Perhaps you are being uncaring about his boundary around this as well. Calling him “repressed” could be being callous, too, though I know you are not being so purposefully.
The partner relationships we have could be seen in phases. They look a bit like this:
1. Pre-sexual, not co-habitating
2. Sexual, not co-habitating
3. Sexual, co-habitating
4. Post-sexual, co-habitating
Tom may have got to stage 4, and you have not. He may want to want you as his significant other, but he doesn’t want to have sex. It’s as though, for whatever reason, he’s over that. The reason he has given is health. It’s unfair on him for me to speculate further. The trouble when we are given reasons instead of feelings for a decision is that we can argue with the reason, but really, it’s his feeling. He just doesn’t want to. That needs respecting.
Your solution: “I fantasise about finding a part-time lover, to live that part of who I am, while being with Tom for the rest of my life in every other way.” Maybe this will be your solution. It seems unfortunate for you that you be put into stage 4 when you could do with a bit of stage 2 or 3.
You cannot reason with someone about not wanting to have sex: that is pressurising them and it isn’t right. And you are not ready to forego sex. Talk about your proposed solution with Tom and see what he thinks. Maybe you can be very close friends, always in each other’s lives, but not necessarily partners. You don’t have to cut him out of your life.
On the other hand, you don’t know how this relationship will pan out; you might find after you have weaned yourself off it that you don’t miss sex as much as you thought you would. Companionship, in the end, is what most people probably need even more than sex. A compatible companion needs treasuring.
Life is far from perfect, but “we are compatible in every way other than this, including intellectually…” For that, you could give yourself a score of 8/10, which is pretty close to perfect. And if you could have a lover on the side as well, a person who feels OK about being used and happy to use you in return, well then you might be getting close to a 10. I wonder what Tom would think. I wonder whether you will ask him.
Conventionality does not suit everyone. We must find our own way through life sometimes.
If you have a question, send a brief email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Philippa Perry and Bernardine Evaristo will be live on stage in London at a Guardian Live event on 6 December. Join the conversation in-person or online, book tickets here