A Couple Clashes Over Sex And Religion

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Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.

Today the Sugars hear from two 23-year-old women with separate issues. The first writer is wondering how important sex is to a relationship after her boyfriend decided he wanted to stop having it. Another writer wants to come out as a lesbian to her homophobic friends, at risk of ruining their friendship.


Dear Sugars,

I'm a 23-year-old woman dating a 26-year-old man. We started dating about a year ago, despite us being two very different people. You see, I come from a much more liberal background and a mother who taught me the importance of being strong and independent. My boyfriend comes from a conservative small town and was raised by a much stricter, Bible-reading household. For the most part, these differences help us grow. We both love the outdoors, and we've gone on many adventures in our year of being together. Up until about four months ago, things were perfect. Then, my boyfriend made a huge lifestyle change and basically said I had to make that change with him or I could leave.

When we first started dating we were sexually intimate, but then he decided that he couldn't keep having sex outside of marriage because of his religious beliefs. At first, I was angry and didn't understand. I believe sexual intimacy is a strong and important part of a relationship. I need to feel both emotionally and physically close to the man I'm dating. In spite of this, I agreed to no longer have sex because I didn't want to ask him to compromise his value system. I tried to understand where he was coming from, being a Christian myself, but far too often I'm filled with resentment. Since we stopped having sex, there have been many screaming matches and make-ups.

For the record, not having sex has made me no closer to God. I love everything about my boyfriend, and I could honestly see myself marrying him in the future. But some days the resentment is just too much, and I wonder it's worth it to stay together. Sugars, does resentment ever really go away? What do I do if I feel like my values are now being compromised?

Signed,

Stuck

Cheryl Strayed: Stuck, I think you should break up with your boyfriend. I think you should have a conversation with him first about how important sex is to you and how important that kind of intimacy is in a relationship, and give him the opportunity to rethink his position and meet you in the middle. If your boyfriend's not willing to do that, I think that you've already answered your own question. You said that you believe sexual intimacy is a strong and important part of a relationship, and your boyfriend has told you that he's not going to give you that. Your boyfriend essentially gave you no options, and so I think your resentment will only grow. I think you need to make a choice that feels good for you, and my advice is to end this relationship if he maintains that stance.

Steve Almond: This is a preview of a set of arguments that are going to happen over and over again in your marriage. The question is, can you negotiate these fundamentally different value systems, or are the strictures that he puts on them going to cause you to be resentful two years from now, four years from now, 20 years from now — how the children are raised, what the spiritual practice in the house is going to be, etc. This is your opportunity to figure out whether you guys can work together and both find happiness within a shared value system that isn't just his. He's got to be able to bend on this.

Cheryl: The other thing, Stuck, is I would be paying attention to the fact that he went through this radical change — from having sex, to suddenly saying "no sex because I'm a Christian." You said you're a Christian too, but what any Christian knows is that there are all kinds of ways of to be Christian. He's interpreting his religion in a really different way than you interpret your own, and that's a big deal. And in fact, I would say that's a bigger deal than whether you're having sex or not. So this is evidence of a real divide between the two of you that you may or may not be able to bridge. But it's certainly not going to go away.


Dear Sugars,

I am a 23-year-old woman who recently finished college. I'm in the middle of so many life transitions — moving towns, transitioning into a career, taking on my own bills. I thought all of this change was the real reason I found myself in a weird, unhappy haze. But all at once it became clear to me that the real reason I felt this way is because I've been denying one important truth: I'm a lesbian. This is something I'm really struggling with — not because I'm ashamed, and not because I'm afraid of telling my parents. What I'm struggling with is telling my best friends.

These girls have been like family to me for nearly a decade. They're the loves of my life, my friendship soulmates — except for the fact they're homophobic.

My question isn't if I should tell them — it's how. I don't even know where to begin with all of this. I'm afraid of losing them.

Love,

Questioning and Questioning

Steve: It's clear to me that you need to be quite honest with them. Prejudice thrives on abstraction. Everybody can hate "thus and such" until somebody important in their lives says, "You know what? I'm 'thus and such. That's who I am. I figured it out.' " It's so interesting, Questioning and Questioning, the language you used to describe these women: The "loves of my life," my "soulmates." They occupy the emotional and psychological real estate we often associate with lovers.

Every fear contains a wish. The idea that you would lose these friendships within that fear might be the desire to find a set of friendships that both give you the kind of affirmation you need from a friendship, but also accept who you truly are.

Cheryl: I think the way to tell them, Questioning and Questioning, is to simply tell them. You can even confront their homophobia directly and say, "Listen, I know you have a negative view of people who are gay, but here I am. I love you, and I hope that you'll continue to love me." And if they don't, it really isn't your loss. As much as you love these people, you don't need people to love you for the facade that you present to them. You need people to love you for who you really are. That love is there and it's available. I know this for certain.


You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the rest of the episode to hear from a girlfriend of a man serving in the Navy and a divorcee thinking about her ex-husband's family.

Have a question for the Sugars? Email dearsugarradio@gmail.com and it may be answered on a future episode.

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