Dear Therapist..."Does He Just Want Me for Sex?"
I don't know what to do. I have gotten involved with a man I like and I think he likes me too but he says he has intimacy issues.
He also says he has mental health struggles and he gets a lot of emotional support from his ex. They don't have anything sexual anymore but emotionally they're very bonded. My connection with him is sexual.
I don't know what to do. Please help me!
Dear Don't Know What to Do,
Therapists rarely tell people what to do. Not officially, anyway. Here are the two main reasons why:
1. Reactance: Most people won't do what they're told to do if it violates their sense of autonomy. So if I were to tell you to delete this guy's number from your phone, you probably wouldn't do it and if you did, you might resent me for pushing you to do it. You have to come to these decisions yourself.
2. Responsibility: If therapists made decisions for clients, that would be horrifying not only for the clients, but for the people in their lives, and for the therapist too, if things went terribly wrong. And the blame game would be dreadful. If I were to tell you what to do very specifically and it turned out to be brilliant advice, it would still be important for the choice to be yours, as well as the victory.
So now that I've given you my disclaimer I will say what I think, and you can do with it whatever you want. This person sounds like many I have met and heard of. Many. I can't count how many times I've heard people say they have intimacy issues. And guess what? We all do. Every single one of us, in some way, struggles with intimacy. We want it too much, too quickly; we push it away and feel overwhelmed.
Depending on circumstances and attachment styles, we are all constantly managing closeness with other people and intimacy can be emotional, soulful, physical -- it means different things to different people. You need to find out what intimacy means to this person and what your own needs and wants may be.
Just because he has flagged his intimacy issues does not mean he gets a pass. Is he interested in hearing about what intimacy means for you? Is he interested in listening to you and trying to understand your perspective? You might not have clarity about your perspective at this stage which is perfectly understandable but also, I wonder if you're already preoccupied by wanting to know how he sees you -- wanting his validation and desire and worrying more about his experience than your own.
I think that he may have mother-Madonna-whore issues, and yes, I'm unofficially saying that from an armchair without having met the guy. I'm saying that because many of us struggle to integrate different roles and parts of ourselves and other people in our relationships, and wanting someone physically is not always compatible with emotional connections. You can have standards for what works for you. Go from there.
Charlotte Fox Weber is a verified Welldoing psychotherapist and the author of What We Want: Understand Your Deepest Desires and Live a Fuller Life