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The Ignoble Experiment

Emily Flake

By Mink Stole | Posted 2/13/2002

My boyfriend just broke up with me. We'd been together more than a year, but he transferred to a college in another state. Before he left, he said he loved me, that I made him incredibly happy, and that he hoped we'd be together forever. But when he came home for the holidays, he told me he is not ready for a major relationship and wants to see other people. He still wants to hang out with me, and even have sex, but with no strings attached. I care so much about him that I'm trying to make this OK, but it just feels awful. What should I do?

Girl, Confused

Dear Girl:
The same thing happened to me once. A man I'd been with for ages decided he'd like to keep his conjugal privileges going with me while exploring other options. I'd never encountered this before, and, because I was trying to be liberal-minded and sophisticated, and because I thought I loved the guy, I tried hard to adapt--for a week. That's how long it took for me to realize what a complete idiot I was and dump him for good. The asshole was actually surprised--he really thought he could get away with it. I couldn't help missing him for a while, but whenever I thought about what he'd been expecting from me, it made me physically ill and I was relieved to be safely away.

Sweetie, it feels awful because it is awful. The guy is not doing you right. Even if he's not conscious of any deliberate malevolent intentions toward you, he's obviously willing to let you suppress your own feelings on his behalf. This may just be stupid male arrogance, but letting him have his way in this will not win you his love or respect. And while you're making this grand, noble gesture as either proof of your affection or proof against losing him completely, your self-esteem is in the shredder.

I can't guarantee that if you reject his terms he'll come back to you the way you want him to, but if you don't there's no chance at all. You need to let him know that if he wants to sample the other wares at the fair, your particular concession is closed for business.

My husband and I have just had our second child, and we have decided not to have any more. The problem is, we have a pretty active sex life. And since we've only been together a little more than two years, we're obviously a fertile combo. In order not to risk another pregnancy, I think it makes sense for him to get a vasectomy, but when I suggested it he was horrified. He said a vasectomy was a stupid idea because if we break up he wouldn't be able to have kids with anyone else. But he thinks it's OK for me to risk my health taking the pill for the next 20 years. He hates condoms, by the way, and refuses to even consider using them. Is it fair to make birth control my responsibility alone? Is there any way to convince him to change his mind? Or should I just cave in and get my tubes tied? We're both 23.

Mama of Two

Dear Mama:
Honey, of course he flipped out. You're threatening his most precious possession. Why, I've known men who are so freaked out at the idea of a knife near their man parts that the mere thought of having a pet neutered turns them into raving lunatics, incapable of coherent human speech.

Granted, he could have been a hell of a lot more sensitive with his reasons for refusal; no one likes to be told her beloved has ever considered the possibility of separation, much less that he's keeping his options open to prepare for it. And even if your marriage were to end one day, his parental rights and responsibilities with regard to your children should not.

It's a sucky fact of life, of which I have been bemoaning (admittedly, ad nauseam) in this column, that the burden of birth control most often falls on the woman. In a marriage, however, when both parties have agreed not to have more kids, both parties have to deal with it. If you don't want to take the pill, try a diaphragm. It's not so much fun, but if you use it right it's pretty safe. And hubby really needs to get over his I-hate-condoms attitude. Since the '80s, men all over the world have learned to use them. If there's no reason past a selfish desire on his part not to sacrifice any of his own pleasure, he can too. Try taking a "latex or no sex" stand, and I'll bet he comes around.

Sterilization may seem like the easiest answer, and it would certainly make your sex life neater and cheaper, but you are awfully young to casually make such a drastic, permanent decision. Life is full of surprises, pleasant and otherwise, and it's impossible to know at 23 how you will feel years from now. Your husband's future paternal possibilities aside, if a huge hormonal tidal wave of maternal longing hits you at 35, you might regret getting rid of your water wings.

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