Kimberly: My boyfriend and I are in our second year of living together. I noticed when we first started dating he liked porn. Now it’s getting worse. He treats me like gold, so I don't want to bring anything up. What do I do?
Dr. C: What concerns you about it?
K: It’s getting expensive: he spends about $100 a week. And he’ll watch two or three movies in one sitting. He calls me to see where I am before he starts the next one to make sure I won’t come home while he's online. I know because I have the log on and see the times. It didn't bother me when it was every now and then, but now its every day. I’m afraid it will lead to other things. If I bring it up, it will push him away.
C: I see. Well, your concerns are legitimate. Here’s how I see it: consider this your chance to see if the relationship can handle legitimate concerns. If it can, the connection you already have will deepen and strengthen and become more secure and close. If not, do you really want to be with someone who won’t take your feelings seriously and address them together with you as a couple? How good a relationship is it, really, if he uses the fact that you brought up genuine concerns as a reason to distance himself from you? I realize everyone's ideals and preferences are different, but that sounds like a recipe for long-term @#!*% to me.
K: So what should I do?
C: If it were me, I would bring up my concern and hope that it reveals my partner to be considerate of me and my feelings. If he is, I would rejoice that the relationship is as good as my instincts told me it was. We would then be on a path to deeper connection. If he can’t tolerate it, I would mourn the loss—but be thrilled that I found out now instead of burying my head in the sand because I didn't want to test it and find out.
C: You're welcome. I hope it goes well. Please let me know what you decide to do and how it goes. Many women share your dilemma and will benefit from hearing how you sort it out and the path you decide to take--and how that goes. I'm glad you reached out.
K: Because I’m in a situation where I really love him and financial issues are a big factor, I may let it ride until I’m done with school. This is not the first time I've had a partner who's done this. I know from experience how it will end if I bring it up. So for now, until I can get a grip on my emotions, I will keep calm. Men will always look at porn. I broke a trust by snooping. If he wanted to end the relationship I think he would be distant rather than trying to please me all the time. So for now I’ll leave it. If I do decide to leave I wouldn't want him to know it was over this, I would want it to be on my terms.
- - -
Okay Readers, I'm usually the one trying to offer help, but I need your help here. Please help me understand! I can't fathom how Kimberly could have arrived at this point. And not just her: how could our culture have devolved to where women find acceptable such a life situation and relationship M.O.? I know from the email I get that many do settle for it, or at least think they should because their friends and their experience tell them it's as good as things get with a guy.
They don't want to be nags; closed-minded, uptight prudes. So they try to go along. But deep down the whole thing sits uneasy with them. Late at night in weak moments they type google searches like "boyfriend looks at porn” or “Why can’t men ever get enough porn?” and end up at my blog. Then they ask—tentative, almost apologetically, “Why does it bug me? It shouldn't, right? After all, it’s just porn. I would hate to set things back by bringing it up.”
Since starting this blog, I've been blown away by how many women Kimberly’s age feel more hesitant and unsure about initiating emotional intimacy than men of my generation were about initiating physical intimacy. We were indoctrinated that sharing emotions is just as important for a woman as physical affection is to a man. We became convinced that to expect the one without being willing to give the other in return was selfish and sexist.
As one who bought into this way of thinking and spent years trying to put it into practice, I have to confess that my emotional connection with my wife Jenny is now as fulfilling and important to me as our physical relationship (not to downplay the physical!). So I have to wonder how we've gotten to the point where a woman can be two years into a relationship, which has been sexual from the start, and yet feels like trying to get to "first base" with him emotionally would turn him off and scare him away. And she doesn't want to do that because she does truly love him. What about expecting to be loved in return?
Is this the kind of relationship we want our little girls to feel obligated to put up with when they’re older? He gets to share his bodily fluids, but sharing your concerns is too much? Come on! Can’t we recommend as a general rule: never open your legs and let in a man's penis who won't open his heart and let in your feelings?
Sorry, if I'm sounding harsh it's only because I think that too many women--and their men for that matter!--are missing out on so much potential joy. It breaks my heart. Do I sound old-fashioned when I talk about relationships as a source of joy? I must admit, I do sometimes wonder what happened to the world I thought I knew. It makes me livid at our pornified, hypersexualized culture for doing this to women like Kimberly and their men.
To me this seems like the new sexism, where women squelch their own voices, sparing their men the job.
How do you see it?