I fell in love with Daniel* hard. We went to museums, thrift stores, and film festivals together. When our relationship got serious, he told me he had chronic back problems. I didn’t really know what that meant. Would it affect our relationship? Why did it take him so long to tell me?
“Particularly for a guy, it’s a sign of weakness if you show you have a problem in sex or say you’re in pain in any physical or emotional way,” senior visual media arts major Charles Solomon* says.
Solomon has chronic constipation issues, acid reflux heartburn, and possible nerve damage in his penis. He has never told a girl he’s interested in about his conditions.
“I wouldn't want to jeopardize it by mentioning anything like that, because it's a huge turn off,” he says. “It would have to be at a point where it feels like I'm pretty confident that what I say won't affect how they feel about me.”
Two months into dating Daniel, we suddenly stopped having sex. It went on for three weeks. I tried seducing him, but he kept turning me down. I told him I felt unwanted and sexually frustrated.
“This is why I didn’t tell you for so long. I knew you wouldn’t understand,” I remembered him saying.
I felt helpless. I wanted to improve our sex life, but I needed to be sympathetic towards him too. It’s hard to fix a situation when it’s out of your hands. Avery Higham and her partner learned this the hard way.
Higham was cooking dinner for her boyfriend when she started crying. She realized she had to touch raw chicken. The junior communication studies major is diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Higham’s boyfriend noticed, immediately asked what was wrong, and offered to help.
“I kind of pushed him away and said, ‘Listen, I just need space to myself right now. I just need to figure out this dinner. I can’t focus on you trying to help me on this. I need to handle this on my own,” she says.
Higham knew her boyfriend felt helpless. She understood how much he wanted to try to fix the situation, but he couldn’t.
While Daniel and I were driving, he offered to open our relationship because he was concerned I wasn’t sexually satisfied. I knew he was a monogamist, so this shocked me.
I felt bad I let him set aside his own physical health issues and relationship views, because he felt he was the problem. He thought if he didn’t adjust, I’d leave him. That was the last thing I wanted to make him feel. Jane Spears* faced a similar problem.
After having sex with her boyfriend, Spears started sobbing. The senior journalism major is diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. She has an unsteady sex drive. Spears wants to have sex all the time on her highs, but not at all on her lows.
Spears’ boyfriend didn’t know about her diagnosis, so he thought he did something wrong. That was when Spears decided to tell him.
“He just hugged me. I said ‘Do you not like me? Is there something wrong?’ And he said, ‘I really appreciate that you told me this. Thank you for telling me. This helped me. If you want me to, I would love to continue to just understand you,” she says.
In the car I told Daniel, “There is no one else I would want to be with but you. I’m so sorry I made you feel this way. I want to work on this with you.”
I bought a vibrator that day.
Curtis Oviatt, a junior communication studies major at Millersville University, is missing a left foot from a lawnmower incident. Oviatt wears a prosthetic that he removes when he goes to bed or takes a shower. He keeps his prosthetic on in the beginning of a relationship. This is a problem when he and his partner want to relax, take off their shoes, and watch a movie in bed.
“It can be a little discouraging when you think ‘Oh, the girl I just met doesn’t care I’m uncomfortable.’ But she just doesn’t know! People don’t always know right away, so give it time,” he says.
It definitely took some time, but I learned to understand Daniel’s condition. We talked a lot about our needs and found other ways to make sure we were both happy in the relationship.
“It’s not going to be easy. Whatever they’re feeling may not make sense to you but that is okay,” Higham says. “You’ve just got to show support and what that support looks like, only you and your partner can decide.”
*Names have been changed to maintain confidentiality.