Dear Dr. NerdLove: What’s the best way to tell someone they need to take better care of themselves? My brother, S, is a lovely person who will help anyone in a crisis. He once drove 5 hours to help me move, even though I definitely didn’t ask him to do that. The bad thing is S refuses to take care of himself.
The trouble is he’s about to start online dating and S’s lack of self care impacts other people.
We recently went on a long family trip together with more than 10 people. By the second day, S noticeably stunk. Most of our tickets were seated next to each other that day, so that was very unpleasant for me and anyone else in the vicinity. He didn’t seem to notice, until my father directly told S to take a shower in the evening.
Throughout the trip, S wouldn’t shower regularly or wash his clothes unless we bugged him about it. He didn’t even want to wear a rain jacket in the pouring rain.
S also refused to wear sunscreen at any point of the trip, despite multiple offers on multiple occasions. This led to him to finish the vacation burnt to a crisp and sniping at anyone around him.
This isn’t a new problem unique to family trips. In college, he was made to sit in a different part of the church van due to odor. S’s in his 30s, so I would have hoped he would have figured it out by now.
In the past, trying to get him to meet basic hygiene or care standards causes S to react like you’re baselessly nagging him. I don’t want to nag him, but I also don’t want him or anyone else to suffer the consequences of him not caring for himself.
S works in IT and makes decent money, so it’s not an income issue. He seems to think he’s low maintenance by showing up to a trip with barely anything packed, not wearing a rain jacket, or bothering anyone with his shower schedule.
Not gonna lie, PS, this is a weird one. This sort of neglectful behavior is really unusual, especially considering how much of an impact it’s had on him, physically and socially.
My immediate thought – and I want to stress that Dr. NerdLove is not a real doctor – is that there could be a mental health issue going on. There’re a lot of various mental health issues that can directly affect one’s ability or willingness to care for yourself. Sensory processing disorders, for example, could mean that showering or things like putting on sunscreen are so unpleasant that he can’t bear to do it unless it’s absolutely necessary.
However, one thing that leapt out at me is that you say he thinks he’s being low-maintenance and not “bothering” anyone with his shower schedule. I have to wonder if the “bothering” part is a factor… and if that may be a sign of depression. When someone’s dealing with chronic depression, they often have a hard time motivating themselves to do even very basic acts of self-care and self-maintenance. A lot of folks who deal with heavy depressive episodes may quit brushing their teeth or hair, showering regularly or otherwise have a hard time just taking care of themselves. Sometimes it can be a matter of fatigue or motivation, or even physical pain. Other times, it can be because of a sense of shame or lack of self-worth; they don’t deserve to be clean or to take care of themselves.
If S feels like he’s a burden, then he might see some forms of self-neglect as a way of not letting his “selfish” needs interfere with what he sees as other folks’ good time. It may be worth encouraging him to talk to a therapist or psychiatrist; if he does have a mental health issue, then getting treatment could also have the benefit of making it easier for him to practice some self-care.
Alternately, is it possible that S is autistic and doesn’t see personal hygiene as a high priority? Some neurodivergent people may not see self-care as something terribly important or have to consciously remind themselves to take care of certain basic physical needs. That might also be a source of any sensory processing issues; the very sensation of water touching his skin when he showers or bathes may be so intensely unpleasant that he avoids it unless he absolutely has to.
Or he may well have convinced himself that he’s living some sort of high-speed, low-drag lifestyle and that showering, laundry and even just packing isn’t a thing he needs to prioritize. God knows I’ve known some folks who just plain didn’t give a shit that they stunk to high heaven; that was other people’s problems and they didn’t have to be around them if they didn’t like it.
However, while knowing the source of this disconnect would be helpful, what matters – at least in the immediate term – is making sure he takes care of himself. You say that trying to get him to meet a baseline for personal hygiene standards makes S respond as though you were nagging at him. I wonder if explaining to him just how his lack of self-care is affecting him and the people around him would work better than saying “hey man, did you remember to shower today?” Telling him that walking around in a cloud of swamp-ass, pit stank and halitosis is actively repulsive to the people around him might get him to meet at least minimum standards so that he’s not actively offensive to the folks around him. Making it clear that smelling like gym socks and a week of unwashed ass sweat is a bigger bother than his taking 30 for some brushing, flossing and hopping in the shower. Or at the very least doing a sponge bath or a catbath with a washcloth if hitting the shower is actively uncomfortable.
Similarly, laying down some house rules for family trips may at least cut down on the pushback from him. If there’s a dedicated 5-2-1 rule for all trips (Minimum 5 hours of sleep, 2 meals, 1 shower per day), then at least he knows that’s going to be expected of him regardless of whether he feels it’s unimportant or not. It might even encourage him to institute a similar rule for himself, outside of family get togethers. And God knows it would make things more pleasant for the folks around him.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I’ve been with my partner (M) for 8 years now. I ( f) feel like I’m wired differently than most. I don’t have sex dreams, I don’t have flirty crushes, I don’t have secret fantasies that don’t involve my partner. When I get off on my own, he’s the only one in my head with me. I’ve only ever been truly attracted to him as a person in my life, end of story. Again I know that this is not typical. ( This is important).
He will have sex dreams about others ( I hear him in his sleep- it’s not me he’s dreaming about and he talks and moans- it’s clear what’s happening). He will then wake up from the dream and initiate real sex with me. This bothers me, because we don’t have sex very often ( not enough for me at least) so I feel like I should jump at this chance when it’s presented. However, knowing that he’s fresh off a dream where he’s having sex with someone else makes me feel bad, like I’m being used.
Should I feel bad? I know dreams are only dreams; he can’t control them. But it feels like I’m this body substitute in real life for the woman in the dream and it makes me feel bad afterward when I consent, even if it’s been a long while since we’ve had sex.
Maybe if I had sex dreams too, or fantasies about others, it wouldn’t matter as much to me, but that’s not who I am. And I feel like I’m jealous that he gets these dream experiences as well as real sex when he wants it, and I….. don’t get either.
So how do I get this out of my head, this feeling of being second best to his dream girl?
Thanks for any insight you have on this.
– The Silver Medal
You’re creating problems where there aren’t any, TSM. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t necessarily problems… just that you don’t need to add complications to what’s already there.
I wouldn’t say that whether you’re wired differently or not is the issue. It may be a complicating factor, but it’s hardly the cause. There’re plenty of folks who’ve had sex dreams about people other than their partners or who’ve developed crushes on others who also have complex or negative emotional reactions to the idea of their partners fantasizing or having sweaty dreams about other people. More often than not, that reaction is a matter of cultural values and upbringing – the idea that love and monogamy means that you are only attracted to your partner. In practice however, that’s not the case. Humans aren’t naturally monogamous; as a general rule, we enjoy sexual novelty and there’re a lot of biological processes – such as the Coolidge Effect – that reinforce this. A monogamous commitment is just the promise that someone won’t sleep with anyone other than their partner; it doesn’t say anything about not wanting to.
Then there’s the fact that your partner’s having sex dreams about other folks. These ultimately don’t mean anything. While sometimes our feelings or psychological and emotional states may be reflected in our dreams, dreams are for the most part just noise. As the Bard said, they’re a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. While Freud and others have famously made great hash about the meaning of dreams, most of the time, dreams are just that: random images, events and the like.
(And a good thing too, otherwise Freud would have a field day about my dreams of bumping into Travis Willingham, Ashley Johnston and Laura Bailey on golf carts while on vacation in London or having remote controlled kaiju battles with one of my favorite authors.)
As far as the dreams go, I wouldn’t too much stock into what they mean or who they’re about, other than your partner has sex dreams and wakes up horny afterward. It’s not that he’s using you as a substitute for his dream girl; it’s that something random in his imagination got him aroused and now he wants to do something about it. And you happen to be right there.
That having been said, however, his tendency to wake up with a hard-on and immediately roll over is making you feel used. While whatever he’s dreaming about doesn’t have meaning, his behavior is making you feel bad and that is legitimate. While yeah, there’s an understandable impulse to take advantage of his post-REM boner since you aren’t having as much sex as you’d prefer otherwise, the fact that this is leaving you feeling like a human Fleshlight ain’t cool. Leave the specific dream figure out of it and it comes across as “only wanting sex on his schedule and when it doesn’t seem to be about you, specifically.” That is a far bigger issue, to my mind.
Now, if you two were having more sex in other circumstances and this didn’t leave you feeling cheap and used, that might be one thing. If you were cool with the bonus midnight hornt what horns up at midnight, then hey, extra sex, everyone’s happy. But I imagine that the feeling of “you’re not as into me during our waking life together, only when your sex dreams leave you with morning wood” feels… well, kind of insulting at best, even without some somnambulant succubus being involved.
There’re a couple things that I would suggest you do. First, if his waking boner is making you feel used, then let him know and tell him to go take care of it himself. You may want more sex, but you don’t want to feel like a living sex toy to be masturbated into at his convenience. If he’s that horny when he wakes up from these dreams, he can go rub one out somewhere else without bothering you. That’s in the short term.
In the longer term, however, you should talk about how you’re feeling like your sex life is lacking, especially in frequency. This may require an Awkward Conversation, where you lay out why this is bothering you, what your ideal solution would be and how this would make things better. Or it may mean talking to a couple’s counselor, especially a sex-positive one who can help with any intimacy issues you’re having. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists has a referral directory that’ll help you find a sex-positive therapist in your area; having a third party mediating these discussions may make it much easier for the two of you to talk things through and come to some mutually satisfying conclusions.
Or it may help pinpoint other issues the two of you may be having… ones that’re only showing up via his subconscious.
But as I said: it’s not the dreams themselves that’re the problem. It’s his actions and how those actions are making you feel. It’s better to focus on those, instead of worrying about women who may or may not only exist in The Dreaming.
This post was previously published on Doctornerdlove.com.
You Might Also Like These From The Good Men Project
|Compliments Men Want to Hear More Often||Relationships Aren’t Easy, But They’re Worth It||The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex||..A Man’s Kiss Tells You Everything|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock