In honor of Mother’s Day, the next two Auntie SparkNotes columns feature a special guest expert: Auntie’s mom! Together we’ll chat about each problem and offer our respective takes on the letter-writer’s conundrum: twice the advice, DOUBLE THE SHENANIGANS. Are you ready?
I suppose I'll start this letter off like so many before me; I've been dating this wonderful guy for about a year, and I'm completely in love with him. He's smart, sweet, funny, and he's helped me deal with some pretty heavy stuff that I've been going through lately. We've never actually had any serious disagreements, and I don't think I've ever been happier.
Now, in the year that we've been dating, we've gotten fairly, um physical. I'm not completely familiar with the base system, but I would estimate that we are currently sitting around third base. We haven't, however, done the HND, and that is where the issue lies. You see, the other day, after a rather, um, exuberant makeout session, he decided to tell me that he believes in abstinence, and wishes to remain celibate until marriage. I was rattled (especially because he was in the midst of putting his pants back on as he said this), and I don't quite know how to feel about this, Auntie. On one hand, I love him, and I respect his personal decisions and beliefs. However, this particular belief is one that directly affects me, and it's also one that I don't happen to share. Maybe I'm just a hormone-crazed teenager, but waiting until marriage is not something I've ever wanted.
There's also a small, stupid part of me that insists that I'm the problem. It keeps telling me that the problem isn't that he doesn't want to have sex, it's that he doesn't want to have sex with me. I know this probably isn't true, but I can't help thinking it, all the same.
I know I have to talk to him about this Auntie. But I'm just really, really afraid to. I don't see how this issue can be resolved, because I can't see either of us changing our views. And I don't want to lose him. Please help?
AUNTIE SPARKNOTES: So, mom, here we are on an instant message program! Let's start the official dialoguing now, okay? I'll kick it off.
AUNTIE'S MOM: Go to it.
ASN: Okay: HI MOM!
MOM: Hi honey! I'm excited.
ASN: Thank you for being my co-advice-giver.
MOM: My pleasure. Now I can say I'm excited.
ASN: You can say that at any time.
MOM: I'm excited.
ASN: NO I'm EXCITED. So, initial thoughts on this letter? Mine: this is why it's a good idea to have a conversation about your sex values before anyone's pants come off.
MOM: Seriously. I've actually been thinking about it all morning. I do find it bizarre that she would have had no inkling, which makes me think he wasn’t being particularly upfront. The fact that the letter said nothing about the why of his attitude is bizarre to me.
ASN: Exactly. I mean, what could it be? Religion? Secret gayness? They’ve been dating a year! How has this never come up?
MOM: And how could she resist asking, when he was pulling his pants on while simultaneously declaring his commitment to abstinence? Maybe stunned into silence? She would know if he was very religious and likely to want to remain celibate.
ASN: Which is not to say that religion is the only reason why he'd want to.
MOM: No. I pushed send too soon!
ASN: That's okay! I'll edit this so that we don't look like freaks who can’t type.
MOM: Good idea.
MOM:The fact that he's engaged in all this heavy petting really makes me wonder if he’s just trying to force a breakup by introducing something he knows is a deal-breaker. Which, unfortunately, makes him a HUGE [EXPLETIVE].
ASN: MOM, we can't say [EXPLETIVE] on SparkLife.
MOM: LOL SORRY.
ASN: LOL HEAVY PETTING.
ASN: Although the whole "everything-but-intercourse" concept of celibacy seems to be a thing that the kids are doing these days? But let’s move on, since even though it's fascinating to debate the reasons why this guy might be waiting, we’ll never know. And his reasons for waiting don’t have any bearing on what the letter-writer should do, anyway.
MOM: Yes, because clearly she has to have a conversation with him.
ASN: Which she's "afraid" to do, because she sees this being a relationship-ending conflict, ultimately.
MOM: And I agree, it is. Because otherwise someone would have to compromise their principles (although I know some readers may have a hard time believing that being in favor of sex outside marriage is actually a principle, but I think it is.)
ASN: Do you think that it's important to test the waters pre-marriage? The sex waters?
MOM: Not exactly, but everyone has to do what feels right for them at what feels like the right time. I'm not talking about what feels "good," but about what each person is comfortable with and wants to do. That allows for a lot of latitude, and it also allows for people to change their minds as they grow and mature and experience new relationships.
ASN: Right. And part of being in a relationship is letting your partner know where you stand on things like this.
MOM: I worry about that, especially. Clearly this guy has been hiding something that was important for her to know, and I do think it's important that we point that out.
ASN: Yes, the fact that he didn't mention this before is really worrisome. And it's natural that she'd be freaked out! This isn't just about sex/no sex, but a serious lack of communication.
MOM: Very true. I guess that's what bothers me the most about this whole situation: if I were her, I’d wonder what else don't I know about this guy and what he believes, who he is.
ASN: And until they talk, she won't have the info she needs to make a decision.
MOM: Exactly. She needs to know what she's choosing before she can choose it.
ASN: But once they’ve talked, I think it’s reasonable to say that she’s also free to decide not to decide, yes? Can a couple recognize their issues, but table them until or unless they become a big deal?
MOM: Yes, as long as it doesn't mean one person is waiting for it to become as big a deal for the other person as it already is for them. And he has to be content with the fact that she has no problem with premarital sex. It would be awful if he made her feel "less" because of her opinion on that.
ASN: Definitely. Her beliefs and values might be different from his, but they're just as worthy of respect, and he has to treat them as such.
MOM: That's non-negotiable.
ASN: And it bears mentioning that as kind of silly and arbitrary as the everything-but-intercourse take on abstinence is, his idea of “celibacy” may still leave enough overlap between their respective values and desires for her to be happy and satisfied with things as they are... until or unless she’s not. This doesn't have to be a dealbreaker until it actually is a dealbreaker.
MOM: Right. For either of them. And they may even end up breaking up for other reasons before sex even becomes an issue. I wonder if he just assumed all along that she wouldn't want to go all the way, just as she presumably assumed that he would want to.
ASN: This is why you should never assume things while nude.
ASN: Or something.
ASN: You must clear the air of assumptions before you clear your body of pants.
MOM: I love it! A very good rule to live by. Seems particularly important in light of this week’s Sherlock.
MOM: I really need to watch it again, but they only repeat it at 4 in the morning... the bastards.
ASN: Mom you really need a DVR.
And for our letter-writer, in summary: It's time for you and your boyfriend to start communicating openly and honestly—starting with a conversation about your respective sex values. Scary? Yes, but not-talking about the issue doesn’t make it less scary, less real, or less potentially-relationship ending. And until you find out more about his feelings—and until he knows that yours don't match his—you'll keep feeling unhappy, uncomfortable, and paralyzed by fear of revealing what you really think. And while your differing sexual values won't necessarily break you up, letting a conflict fester unacknowledged is something that no relationship can survive.
What do you think of Auntie’s Mom’s advice? (And be kind, you guys, this is my mother you’re talking about.) Leave your feedback in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie—although, alas, not her mom—send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: Let's Talk About Sex