Hey Dr. NerdLove,
I’m a 50-something married guy who as a result of medical issues has permanent erectile dysfunction (pills don’t work, injections don’t work) and as a result of a lot of dating trauma, has huge self-confidence issues. I have no problems making friends, I’ve got lots of them, but I’ve had a lot of trouble finding and sustaining romantic connections.
I mean, yes, I’ve been married for over 20 years, so arguably I *have* sustained a romantic connection, but my wife, always less interested in sex, basically just gave it up about five years ago, and I decided, after listening to a fair amount of Dan Savage and discussing with my wife, to try polyamory. I found a welcoming community, but getting into polyamory just for a sexual connection your wife abandoned was frowned upon, and it turns out that I’m largely attracted to/attracted by people who are demisexual and often on the ace spectrum.
So I dated a few people, and I met and fell in love with someone else. But her needs for polyamory changed, and what was a loving, sustained relationship dissolved into a lot of fighting as she realized what she needed had changed quite a bit from when we first got started. She needed a nesting partner and a dad for her kids, and much as we loved each other, I can’t do that without a divorce I don’t want and becoming a dad to young kids again, which I also don’t want. Finally, in the last month, I had to break my own heart and break up with her. We remain friends, but it’s really hard.
After all of this, I honestly just want to shut down dating altogether. I’ve always been terrible at it, I’ve already met two loves of my life, and at my age I don’t see any real possibility that I’m going to meet another. And casual dating is out, in large part, because I’ll have to break down my sexual issues to new partners, which is difficult to do with casual partners. I’m too much of an extra hassle for someone to have a one night stand or FWB relationship. As Dan Savage has often noted, dick is plentiful, and yes, I may be a kind and funny guy, but that’s not in that short of a supply either, as far as I’ve seen.
So the issue I have is that I have sexual and affection/physical needs that are not being met, and I cannot for the life of me figure out a way to get them met. I’ve even considered hiring sex workers, but given FOSTA/SESTA, I have no idea how I’d even go about finding someone ethically in a way that I can afford anyway.
I feel pretty trapped here, Doc. I think I’m a pretty smart guy, I think I’ve considered the angles, I’ve done the therapy, and I think I’m legitimately in a place where the only answer is to shut down those emotional and physical needs, and I’m not entirely sure how to do that.
There’s a lot to unpack here, DB, but I think one of the most important things to focus on is how you’re defining things. I realize that you’re coming from a complicated relationship situation and you’re dealing with a freshly broken heart, so the pain and negativity is weighing down on you. This entirely understandable; it’s hard to have an upbeat outlook when it feels like you had to pull a Mola Ram and yanked your own still-beating heart out of your chest. But let’s look at it from a different angle, shall we?
To start with, you and your wife took a complicated situation – you want sex, she doesn’t, you both don’t want to get divorced – and found a solution that works for the both of you. This requires a lot of emotional intelligence, trust and clear communication, as well as maintaining a great deal of respect for one another. That, in and of itself, is commendable. The seemingly “easy” answer – get divorced – wasn’t right for you, and so you two found a way of making things work on your terms.
That’s something you should be proud of. Making this sort of pivot in a multi-decade relationship is difficult under the best of circumstances. Doing so when you also have other complicating factors – medical-related disabilities, erectile dysfunction, dating trauma – makes it even more complicated. So the fact that you two collaborated to find a solution and threaded that particular needle says a lot about the two of you. Even if your new relationship isn’t typical, the fact that you two were able to collaborate like this says a lot of good things about you.
Similarly, we have your recent break up. It’s rough, no question about that. But it was also necessary. You recognized that you were in an untenable situation, where your needs and your partner’s needs weren’t compatible, and you did the hard, but required thing: you chose to end it. It broke your heart, sure. But that heart break, as bad as it is right now, as much as it hurts right now, is lesser than what the both of you would’ve experienced if you had tried to force yourself to stay in this relationship. This was a quick, clean break, not a prolonged, dragged out ordeal. It sucked – it probably sucked than anything has sucked before for you – but it was the best decision you could make in a bad situation. You wisely, rightly, chose to cut things off. Not because you didn’t love her enough, but because you did love her – and yourself – enough to do the incredibly hard thing.
That’s not just admirable, that’s brave. And quite frankly, a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to make that choice. And honestly, making that decision will go a long way towards not just helping keep a good relationship with your ex, but it’ll help clear the path for your next relationship.
Because here’s the thing: you may love your ex, but ending the relationship was the most loving thing you could do for the both of you. You made the hard decision that freed the both of you to find the people who are right for each of you, as you are now. Instead of spending more time trying to shove a square peg into a round hole, you set her free… and freed yourself in the process.
Those are all good things. It doesn’t feel like it right now, to be sure. But it is. Because here’s what’s going to happen:
This pain will fade. It doesn’t feel like it. It feels like you’re going to be living with this forever. But I am here from the future to tell you: you’re wrong. It will get better, with time and care.
What you need to do right now is give yourself a break. Give yourself permission to get out of the dating scene for a bit. You’re hurting and you need to heal. Facing the dating scene right now is very much like someone who just tore their ACL trying to compete in an Ironman race. You aren’t in any shape to date, not because you’re flawed, but because you’re injured. The injury isn’t self-inflicted so much as one that was necessary for the healing to start – like pulling debris out of a wound. It may hurt like the tortures of Lucifer and the entire infernal Host, it may have ripped and torn on the way out… but you couldn’t actually heal until it was gone. All that would have happened is that shard would’ve wedged deeper and deeper, doing more damage until you faced even more dire circumstances.
But now you’ve cleaned and debrided the wound, and the next step is to let it close. Taking a break from dating is a big part of that. Like the aforementioned athlete, trying to leap back into the race will just make things worse. Time off for recovery is precisely what the (fake) doctor ordered.
Now let’s get back to that outlook issue, shall we? You have medically induced erectile dysfunction on a mechanical level. That’s rough… but it’s not necessarily a disqualifier. It just makes you unique, and recognizing that uniqueness is going to be important. Because your uniqueness is going to serve as a super power: it’s going to filter out the people who aren’t right for you. If someone isn’t willing to take you as you are with all the quirks and oddities that make you you, then they’re out of your dating pool. Yes, this feels bad and makes you feel unwanted or unloveable. But consider this: someone who can’t take you as you are? They’re someone who is doing you a favor. You don’t want something casual, and they’re not someone who could hang for something serious or even semi-serious. So fuck ’em – or, don’t fuck ’em, as it were. They saved you time and heartache and you didn’t have to invest in them to find this out about them. That’s inherently a good thing.
The people who frowned on your reasons for entering the poly community? They’re a perfect example of folks who aren’t right for you. While I’m a proponent of polyamory or ethical non-monogamy (when its right for people), I tend to side-eye a lot of the organized communities I’ve seen, who just want to trade one series of restrictive and contradictory rules for another. But again: the folks who’re going to judge you for not having what they would consider to be “good enough” reasons to be poly are also people who aren’t good enough for you.
Now here’s the thing about having a mechanical issue when it comes to erections: that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to live a sexless existence. It just means that you’re going to get creative, and you’re going to want a partner who’s equally creative. As I’m often saying: your dick may not be able to get hard, but your fingers, hands and mouth don’t go limp. Neither, for that matter, do toys. Vibrators, clitoral vacuums, dildos… these will work on demand, without even so much as an inconvenient refractory period. You can even get toys that strap to your thigh or your pubic bone so that you can have the same thrusting action for PiV sex if that’s what you and your partner want. And erectile dysfunction doesn’t mean you have to go without orgasms either. There’re toys designed specifically for folks who can’t get erections – prostate massagers, vibrating sheaths specifically for folks with penises and more. It just means that one of your must-haves for any future partner – short or long term – is going to be on the creative and adventurous side of the sheets.
And, bonus! That sort of adventurous nature tends to be very good for the long-term satisfaction of your relationships.
But before that can happen, you have to come to terms with the fact that you’re defining yourself by your despair and your belief that your circumstances make you unlovable. Part of the issue here is that you’re only letting yourself see parts of the picture, not the whole. You’re not just a dick, nor are you just a kind and funny guy; you are far more than the sum of your parts. Those components may be common… but the way they combine with the rest of you is part of what makes you, specifically, special and desirable.
That’s the part I think you’re missing. Your wife didn’t marry you for one thing, nor did your ex date you for some other thing. They were with you because you’re you. Anyone you date will be dating the holistic man. They will love and be into the entire person, the uniqueness that makes you you and not some other 50-something guy. The more you can remember that, the more you can lean into your uniqueness and specialness, instead of treating it like a net negative. Yes, there will be more folks who aren’t into you than are, but that’s a good thing. You don’t want to be everyone’s cup of tea, you want to be a few people’s shot of whiskey. A lot of folks who kind of like you is worth far less, even by volume, than a few folks who crave you, specifically.
So for now, take dating off the table and focus on healing and recovery. This will take time. It may take talking to a counselor or therapist for a bit. I would suggest that this is a good time to explore some of your options for sexual fulfillment – from toys, to working with a sexual surrogate to help with mechanical issues, to possibly even visiting some legal sex workers in Nevada. Feeling like you’ve got a handle and understanding of how sex works best for you and making it more normal for you will go a very long way towards making it easier to discuss with potential partners.
And hey, when you’re ready to get back into dating, then you may discover that the fact that you’re frequentloy attracted to demisexual people might well be the advantage you didn’t realize you had. After all, demisexual people don’t feel strong (or any) sexual attraction until they’ve built trust and an emotional connection with their partner. Taking this approach can take the pressure to perform away, especially right away. It gives you more of a chance to ensure that they’re actually someone who’s right for you and that the two of you are compatible, instead of causing you feel like you need to prove something from the jump.
Oh, and one more thing: you’ve had two great loves in your life, which is admirable. But what this means isn’t that you got your two and now you’re SOL. It means you have a great capacity for love, and at many stages of your life. Your age doesn’t mean you’re out of chances, it’s just a measure of time spent on this rock. People can and do find love – world-altering, life-changing, pillars-of-heaven-shaking love – at any age. Having had two at this point is just a number, a measure of experiences in this particular space and time. And if anything, it should serve as a reminder that after 20 years of marriage, you found love again. And if you did it twice? That strongly suggests that a third, or even fourth time are possible.
But again, this is for the future. Right now, you need to rest, heal and rehab your heart. Everything seems dark yeah, but you’re not facing the blackest night. The light is still out there. There’s still hope. I promise.
All will be well.
As before, a couple notes before I let you go:
First: I’ll be doing a live Q&A for my Patrons on December 28th, with Q&As open to my general audience coming in the future. If you’re interested in taking part, consider supporting the site by becoming a patron at patreon.com/DrNerdLove; patron questions will get priority in future live streams.
Second: As the we’re coming to the end of the year, I have a couple requests. First, since January is National Break Up Month, I’m putting out a call for questions about ending relationships: when you need to end it, how to end a relationship the right way, when a relationship can be fixed and how to handle break ups – either as the dumper or the dumpee. As always, submit your questions via the submission form, or send them to [email protected] with “National Break Up Month Question” in the header.
Third: Since that’s also a hell of a downer, for February – especially for Valentine’s Day – I want to hear your Relationship Wins. Tell me about ways you and your sweetie turned things around, what you’ve learned about making things work, how you two solved problems together or otherwise made each other’s lives better. Let’s share some happiness and spread hope, especially in a month when a lot of folks may feel at their lowest. Who knows, maybe you’ll see your story featured here.
This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com and is republished on medium.
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