How do we solve the intimacy problem?

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I'm a woman in my mid-30s. My last relationship (10+ years) ended during the peak of the pandemic, about a year ago, because my partner decided he wasn't attracted to me anymore. I spent a lot of time in therapy to heal. A friend set me up with someone in July and we hit it off, but there are some strange things with our sexual chemistry. He's often initiated intimacy, and then stops because he feels uncomfortable or "not into it." This is frustrating at times, but I've tried hard to be respectful of boundaries. When he is into it, the sex is amazing!

We connect on many levels, have shared values and interests; the emotional and intellectual connection we have is real and very compelling. Late last year he moved out of the city and into my house in the suburbs for a couple months. Now he lives between my house and a parent's place (he's saving up to try and buy a house). The other morning, after staying at my place for a little over a week, he said he feels like he is "a sex worker for food." This was not said in a joking manner, and said shortly after we had been intimate. I was devastated. I've tried hard to be respectful of his boundaries and clearly failed. It amplifies my conflicted feelings about my sexuality and physical attractiveness, especially given how my last relationship ended.

I don't know what to do. I genuinely love this person but don't feel OK initiating intimacy anymore. If the emotional and intellectual aspects of the relationship weren’t so compelling, I'd probably have moved on. I feel like this person is someone I'd like to have in my life, if not as a partner, then as a friend. But I'm also trying to figure out how long I should wait or how hard I should try to resolve the intimacy issues we clearly have. My gut tells me if we haven't been able to work on those issues by about a year's time (this July), then I should move on. Importantly, my partner is recently sober (about 1.5 years) and most of his recovery occurred during the pandemic, which was really hard for him. We both love each other and acknowledge we've got baggage. He says he's sexually attracted to me, which I believed, until yesterday. Another factor in all this is that while I'd like more sex specifically, the frequent hand holding, kissing, cuddling, and hugs are really nice during these pandemic times. I'm clearly reluctant to let go for a lot of reasons. My best friend thinks I'm taking this comment particularly hard, and I should relax and see how things progress. It's been a really long time since I was in the early stages of a relationship, so maybe these are issues I've just got to get comfortable navigating. I don't have a super specific question, more a request for advice on resolving these types of intimacy issues in a compassionate manner.

– Request for advice


The comment was hurtful, but I'm not sure it was about attraction. It could have been about wishing he had his own place and feeling bad about crashing at yours and then running to a parent's house. Really, that could bring up a lot of insecurities about stability and how he provides for himself and others. Maybe he wishes he contributed more. I don't know.

Still, your reaction comes from a real place, and the best way to talk about all of this is ... well, to talk about it. To tell him what you've told us. You're doing a lot of work to figure out when and why he isn't into sex – and whether it's about you. But you can ask: what feels right for him? How do his interests fit with what you enjoy? How would you like to be told he's not in the mood? Is there a reason he initiates and then changes his mind? More specifically, does he feel pressure to start something when he doesn’t want to?

I feel like there are so many questions, and part of this whole thing is weird because of the pandemic and not knowing how the two of you would relate to each other if you spent less time together and weren't dealing with massive shifts like the state of the world and his sobriety. He hasn't had much privacy for his process. It's just hard to know what's what. Honestly, would you be living together if it weren't for COVID-19 and so many complicated logistics?

Talk to him about all of this. Find out if he believes you're sexually compatible, which is a different question than "Do you find me attractive?" Remember that this person isn't your ex of 10 years. Different person, different problems, so please, don’t spent too much time invoking the past.

Also, please know that this relationship is newish. It's been many months, and some things don't click. If this person is better as a friend, it's OK to end it after less than a year. Have the talk and find out more.

– Meredith

Readers? How would you untangle these problems? How do you take that comment?