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Cold Comfort

Emily Flake

By Mink Stole | Posted 10/9/2002

My boyfriend is a wonderful guy, but he has a lot of trouble physically expressing his feelings. He tells me all the time that he loves me and how happy he is with me, but he's otherwise completely unromantic. He says depending on physical love for happiness always leads to disappointment, and that the best relationships are based on shared principles, mutual respect, and consideration. Two weeks ago he asked me to marry him, and I said yes, because he is really terrific, and figured that when we were officially engaged he would probably get more affectionate. But it hasn't happened. He gave me a stunning, obviously expensive diamond ring, but he didn't even kiss me. I love him; we have so much in common and I know he'll always take care of me and will never mistreat me, but I want a physical relationship, too. How can I get him to warm up?

Iceboxed Love

Dear Love:
Honey, do not marry this man. He is as damaged as a crystal vase wrapped in tissue paper that's been drop kicked by a pissed-off postal worker. I have no way of knowing what caused his problems, but this is not normal. And if you think it will change after the wedding, you're in for one big, bitter disappointment. Mutual respect and lofty ideals are wonderful in their place, but their place is nowhere near a marriage bed--at least not in the very beginning of your life together. Maybe after 40 years of wedded bliss you'll be willing to settle for platonic companionship, but to start out with it would be just plain frustrating. And possibly dangerous. I don't want to frighten you unnecessarily, but an inability to cope with physical affection could be symptomatic of some deep-seated psychosexual disturbance. It might not, of course, but if I were you I'd want to check into it before I went any further with this relationship. At the very least I'd ask him why he wants to marry you. Don't be embarrassed; it's a fair question, and you're entitled to an answer. And while I hate to say anyone is entitled to a good relationship--it's not that simple or easy--unless you're preparing to join the Shakers, you are entitled to expect more than a handshake from your husband on your wedding night.

Recently my family moved to a new neighborhood, and it's perfect. I mean, really perfect. All the houses have perfect lawns; the interiors look like magazine covers; the wives are all aerobically fit and flawlessly groomed; their kids collect scholastic awards and trophies like my kids collect video games; and every driveway sports a freshly washed, late-model car. My husband and I never really cared that much about appearances. We have books lying all over the place. Our furniture is comfortable but shabby. Our kids do well, if not exceptionally well, in school and play sports for fun, not prizes. Our yard sometimes goes an extra week or two without mowing, and I haven't been to the gym since high school. I dress mostly in old jeans, and my fingernails are always a mess. It never used to bother me, but now that we live here I'm starting to feel fat and inadequate. My husband and kids tell me they love me just the way I am, and the neighbors have all been really nice. So I'm sure I'm overreacting, but I can't help it.

Shabby Suburbanite

Dear Shabby:
I've heard it said that nobody on his deathbed regrets not spending more time at the office, and I can't imagine anyone in the same circumstances bitterly bemoaning her failure to wax the kitchen floor more often. Unless your home is an actual health hazard, which I doubt, stop worrying about it. It takes an enormous amount of energy to maintain a perfect facade, and those other wives are probably jealous as hell of you. While they obsess over keeping their living rooms immaculate, you actually use yours to live in. And so what if you'd rather spend your spare time reading a good book than fussing over your fingernails.

Few of us get through life totally unaware of what other people think, but caring too much about it is a big waste of time. There will always be people who approve, and there will always be people who disapprove, but most people are too wrapped up in the their own lives to pay much attention to yours. If you're really concerned, though, starting an exercise program is a great way to boost your self-confidence and improve your health. You could also do what I do and keep nail files and lipsticks stashed in your car and purse and various places around the house, just in case you feel the need to spruce up a little. Otherwise, trust your family. If they're happy, that's much more important than a perfect manicure on your fingertips or your front lawn.

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