Dear Andre –
I’ve been dating the same woman since we were freshmen in college. Our relationship is great and we live together full time, but we are not married or “partnered.” She still says “dating,” or “my girlfriend,” when she talks about us. We also don’t have sex. Ever. Not even a little bit sometimes because it’s a holiday. I’m in my early 30s and it doesn’t feel like it’s time to give up on sex forever for me, but I’m also not interested in trying to manage an “open” relationship.
How do I know when it’s time to see what else there is?
It sounds like you and your partner have a committed intimate partnership, and that’s something to celebrate, not be self conscious about. While we typically associate “intimacy” with sexual contact, it can just as easily refer to emotional intimacy and/or non-sexual physical closeness, and both of those are just as critical to an interpersonal relationship (sometimes moreso!).
It’s still common practice to socialize both men and women to conform to “traditional” (read: monogamous, married, procreative) relationships from an early age through a combination of education, religion, mainstream media and environmental relationship modeling. It’s only due to the Internet’s power of exposure and information dissimilation that many of us even became aware of alternative relationship structures.
Contrary to what we’ve been taught, there is no “one model fits all” type of relationship. There are plenty of people out there living fulfilling open - or closeted - relationships with varying degrees of intimacy. This includes people who identify as asexual, couplings where one or both individuals are disabled, non-monogamous relationships, and so on and so forth. Every person’s needs and desires are different, and to pretend otherwise does a disservice to our individual personality, autonomy and agency. If you need sex in your primary partnership, fine. If you need romance in your primary partnership, cool. If you need both romance and sex in your primary partnership, dandy. If you need neither, kudos. There’s nothing to be self conscious or ashamed of.
The main responsibility that you have to shoulder, however, is making sure that both you and your partner are on the same page regarding the dynamic of your relationship. And it sounds like you still desire some sexual exploration inside of the relationship, where your partner does not.
I’m sure you’re already keenly aware of how much can change in one’s life between their early twenties and early thirties. It’s a dynamic decade where we settle into our identity and sense of self. We become advocates for ourselves, we develop more direction and intentionality in how we operate, and we strengthen and define our boundaries. You’re also still young, and I think it’s particularly self aware of you to acknowledge that you need a little more adventure before settling down.
I hear that you’re not interested in trying your hand at an open relationship, so I won’t try and sell you on that model. Instead, I strongly suggest scheduling a sit-down with your partner to discuss all of this ASAP. I know the idea might be scary, but silence and/or perceived psychic intuition never benefitted a relationship (at least as far as I’m concerned).
You can discuss broadening your definitions of “sex” if they are indeed still quite narrow (e.g. perhaps your partner isn’t interested in penetration or oral manipulation, but mutual masturbation or providing masturbatory “assists” is something she can work with and you can feel satisfied by). You can also discuss taking a break from a monogamous commitment to one another and allowing each other to “do their own thing” for a pre-designated period of time before checking in again. Or, you can acknowledge what may be a permanent incompatibility and transition your relationship into a close friendship. You could also come up with some type of hybrid-style relationship that I can’t even conceptualize yet! The world is truly your oyster.
Best of luck to you both!
If you have your own questions about sex, love, relationships, or any of the moving parts involved therein, drop Andre a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to use the subject line "Ask Andre," so we know where to direct your thoughtful questions.