Q: When I started dating my husband, he told me he had a low libido. I said I could deal with that. We waited several months before having sex, and then after we started, it was infrequent and impersonal. There was some slow improvement over the three years we dated. Then we got married, and suddenly he had no libido at all. He blamed health problems and assured me he was trying to address them. Despite being diagnosed and successfully treated for multiple physical and mental health issues over time, things only got worse. After four years of marriage, the relationship has become strictly platonic. I can’t even start a conversation about intimacy without him getting irritated. After we married, he also decided he no longer wanted children, and I eventually convinced myself it was probably for the best, given his health. We built our dream home, adopted a pet, and built an outwardly successful life together. I was, if not happy, at least complacent. Until I ran into an ex-boyfriend at a party. We split many years ago on good terms. We ended up talking about how important it is to him to have a biological child – something we talked about a lot when we were dating – and we got physically close, and that got me thinking about how much I missed sex with him. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about him. I think he was hinting that he wants me back, and right now that sounds like the answer to all my problems. But if not, I don’t want to leave my hubby and lose the decent life we built together. Plus, my leaving would hurt my husband’s feelings, his health, and his finances. I also worry that people would blame me because it will look like I left because things were tough. Can I follow up and clarify with my ex before I break it off with my husband, or is that too much like cheating? Is it selfish of me to even consider leaving at this point? I’m a 30-year-old woman, so I don’t have a lot of time left to decide about children.
– Indecisively Married Dame On Nearing Exit
Here’s something I’ve never seen in my inbox: a letter from someone explaining how sex with their partner was infrequent, impersonal, uninspired, unimaginative, etc. at first but – holy moly – the sex got a fuck of a lot better after the wedding! Now, maybe that happens – maybe that happened for you, dear reader (if so, please write in) – but I can’t imagine it happens often. So, boys and girls and enbies, if the sex isn’t good at or very near the beginning, the passage of time and/or muttering of vows isn’t going to fix it. If sex is important to you – if you wouldn’t be content in a companionate marriage and/or don’t want to wind up in divorce court one day – hold out for someone with whom you click sexually.
Okay, IMDONE, either your husband married you under false pretenses – putting out/in just enough to convince you to marry him and only pretending to want kids – or his good-faith efforts to resolve his health issues didn’t help (at least where sex is concerned) and he changed his mind about being a dad (perhaps because he doesn’t feel healthy enough to do the work of parenting). Either way, you’re free to go. Even if the sex was good and your husband wanted 30 kids, you’d still be free to go.
Whether or not you stay, IMDONE, you should explore your options before making up your mind. So go ahead and call your ex and ask him if he’d like to get coffee with you – in a public place and shortly before an appointment you can’t cancel. Your ex may have been hinting about wanting to get back together, or he may not want to get back together and was engaged in what he thought was a little harmless/nostalgic flirtation – harmless because he knows you’re married and presumably unavailable. There’s only one way to find out what your ex wants or doesn’t want, and that’s by asking your ex. So ask.
And while that convo could be regarded as pre-cheating or cheating-prep or even cheating-adjacent, it isn’t cheating. You married someone who unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of your marriage – no sex, no kids – and you have an absolute right to think through your options. And a husband who won’t even discuss intimacy with you can’t ask you to refrain from contemplating or even discussing intimacy with one of those options.
Whether you have that convo with your ex or not, IMDONE, you need to ask yourself if you want to stay in this marriage. You’re only 30 and you wanted and still want kids. Ex-boyfriend or no ex-boyfriend, you can leave your husband – and you can leave him without abandoning him. You can still be there for him emotionally, you can offer what help you can financially, and you can help him secure health insurance.
Finally, IMDONE, you frame your choice as the husband or the ex – one or the other – but there is another option. It’s the longest of long shots, I realize, but I’m going to toss it out there anyway: one or the other or both. Your husband would have to agree to an open relationship, and your ex-boyfriend – if, again, he’s interested at all – would have to agree to it, too. Good luck.