On Sex and Rejection

You come home. Maybe from work, seeing your family, running errands. You’re tired.

Your partner is there.

You exchange the small talk that comes with having been with someone for a long time, when you’ve already sat up late at night and talked about life, the universe, and everything and there’s nothing left but, “How was your day?”

You catch up on whatever you haven’t texted or talked to each other about in the hours that you’ve been gone.

You’re not making eye contact while you talk because you don’t anymore. You’re looking at your phone, your fingernails, everything and nothing all at once. You glance up at your partner, and they’re looking right at you. You know that look. You know what it means.

Your stomach sinks. You start immediately planning your excuse, your deflection. Your way out. Your partner leans in to kiss you, and you flinch a little, but you kiss them back. Maybe you can get in the mood. Maybe you can just get through it. Maybe you can even have a good time.

Except you can’t. Not lately. Not right now.

You haven’t had sex in a while. You start to think that maybe you just owe them one. It’s just sex, right? You’re not cutting out a kidney. They aren’t really asking that much of you. They want to be close with you, to be intimate. You can give them that.

They pull your hair aside and kiss your neck. That’s as far as you can go. You lean back and put your hand on their chest. They look at you, with equal parts confusion and resignation, waiting for whichever excuse you feel like using. Do you tell them you’re tired? That you need to take a shower? The trusty headache? It doesn’t matter what you say. They’re not listening. All they’ve heard is, “I don’t want you.”

Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, some more frequently and/or recently than others. Being on either side of that interaction can be incredibly painful and uncomfortable; either you’re being rejected or doing the rejecting. Nobody feels good here.

When emotional intimacy begins to wane in a relationship,physical intimacy isn’t usually too far behind. It makes sense, if you think about it. Within the confines of a relationship, it can be difficult to want to be with your partner when you’re just not connecting. However, like with all things, this is where open and honest communication can make all the difference.

When you’re being forthcoming with each other about where you are at any given point, it’s easier to take things at face value. Sometimes, “I’m tired,” really just does mean I’m tired. Sometimes, though, “I’m tired,” means, “I’m not feeling particularly fulfilled or connected to you as a partner and I don’t want to engage with you physically, but I don’t actually want to address or talk about any of these issues so I’m just going to blow you off instead.”

The problem with that second one there, is that the other person can almost always sense the difference. No matter how stealthy or smooth you think you’re being, people know when they’re being brushed aside and dismissed. So even though you may just be thinking you’re getting out of sex, your partner is left with a whole lot more to unbox emotionally. On top of the hurt and shame and resentment of their physical advances being rejected, now they know something is wrong that you don’t want to talk about. I don’t know about the rest of you, but once I latch onto that thought I can’t let it go. I’ve sat up all night before trying to figure out what the problems in my relationships might be, just because I caught that vibe.

And you know what? When I’ve thought that was the case, I’ve always been right.

You aren’t sparing anyone’s feelings. You aren’t making any problems go away. Instead, use that opportunity to make your voice and feelings heard. Not ready to get into the nitty-gritty of it? No worries. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell your partner that you’re having a hard time with something but you aren’t totally ready to talk about it yet. That’s fine. At least they know where they’re at.

Being open and honest doesn’t have to mean spouting out every thought in your head. You still get to reflect, and process, and share when you’re ready. But if we owe the people in our lives closest to us anything, it’s to not keep them in the dark until after it’s too late.

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