You Need Help: How Do I Spice Up My Relationship?

Q:

I’m a cis woman in my mid-twenties. My girlfriend and I have been together for three years. Living together, pets, the whole deal. It’s starting to feel a little… stale. We love each other and we choose to be together and I’m not looking for anything new. I don’t need a new spark or whatever. I just want to be a little less… bored. The other day when she thought I wasn’t looking I watched her pick her nose. Did we stop trying to impress each other? How do I get that back? We’re not wild sex people. Not even lingerie. Help me #spiceitup

A:

Ah, intimacy. Intimacy can be such a wonderful thing, but too much of any good thing can get old after a while. So let’s parse out what’s going on here.

You’ve been with your girlfriend for three years. That’s a long time, especially when you’re both young and just learning who you are, both in relationships, and outside of them. While some might recognize the twenties as adulthood, developmentally speaking, it’s called emerging adulthood, and it’s a time where you’re meant to be exploring, making mistakes, trying new things, getting your heartbroken and learning to heal it, all in the process of learning who you are becoming in the world. That’s not to say that you can’t do that all in the presence of and in partnership with another person, but the nature of long term relationships is that people tend to develop as a unit, becoming each others’ primary person. Having experiences outside of that can be difficult. You’re living together, and that you have pets – all markers of building a life together. But since there’s so much togetherness, it might be hard to tell exactly whose dream you’re building toward. How present are either of you to the life you’re each building, and the shape and dynamics of your relationship? Is your relationship intentional, or have you gotten so comfortable that you just go through the motions day after day? It’s okay if you are: the demands of life – bills to pay, relationships to maintain, precious little time to ourselves to reflect and practice self-care – can be overwhelming. But if you can, try to take some time to notice how often you really allow yourself to experience your life.

One of the strengths of your letter is that you’re very aware of what you want, and what you don’t want, in terms of the state of your relationship. But you’ve also painted me a very picture perfect scene here: living together, pets, a sense of plodding stability. There is a lot of how things “should be” in this neatly described scene – basically, the queer equivalent of a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and golden retriever. Which is all great, if that is your authentic desire. But even our most authentic desires can get boring after a while. And the sense that I’m getting from you letter is that something is missing.

Plenty of people have written about lesbian bed death, and there are tons of resources out there if that’s what you think is part of the problem. Since you say you’re not “wild sex people,” my guess is that it’s not exactly at the crux of the issue either, although I might suggest that you interrogate for yourself what it means to be a “wild sex person.” What does it mean to be “wild” with regard to sex? What kinds of feelings come up for you when you think about yourself that way? What about your partner? I’m not saying that you have to go out and spend a ton of money on lingerie, or take your girlfriend to a dungeon this week, but what I’m getting from your letter is that everything in this relationship feels very set in its ways, and not open to being understood in a new light. The first step in spicing up any relationship is an openness to changing things up, yet what I’m getting from you is that what you’ve said yourself: You’re “not looking for anything new.”

So you’re not looking for anything new…but something has got to change for you to feel more fulfilled in this relationship. That’s where intimacy comes in. The thing about intimacy, especially when we’re with someone for a long time, someone who plays many roles for us – best friend, partner, lover, housemate – is that it can trick you into thinking you know absolutely everything there is to know about a person, and that, after a while, can feel, as you say, “stale.” But I challenge you to approach your relationship from a new angle. Sit down and make a list of everything you know about your partner, or even just go through it in your head. Her favorite color, favorite food, favorite TV series or movie. Where she went to school; what her dream job is; what her family is like. The name of her first pet. I bet you know a lot…but do you know everything? Could you write about every aspect of her childhood? Could you chart the entire trajectory of her first love, and first heartbreak? What it was like for her to move away from home? What did she feel going through her first month of college?

When we’re with people for a long time, we get used to them in the context of how they are when they’re with us, and often we think that that makes up the whole of who they are. But while it might sound cliché, people contain multitudes, and there are aspects of your partner that you don’t know, no matter how familiar she seems to you when you come home to each other every day. The same goes for you, and you could do that exercise in reverse, as well – make a list of everything your partner knows about you. What is on that list? What gets left out? What are the parts of you that she doesn’t know, like? How does it feel to become aware of those parts of yourself? Without judgment, examine why you decided to share the parts you decided to share, and why you decided to keep back what you decided to hide.

This doesn’t mean that you should run to your girlfriend after you’ve examined all the places you’ve yet to connect, and share them immediately. That kind of uncritical and immediate merging perhaps does lead to the phenomenon of lesbian bed death – an intimacy so tightly bound that it leaves little air for distance, mystery, desire. In fact, that tension between intimacy and mystery/desire seems to be what you’re articulating in your letter: a complacency so commonplace and comfortable that your girlfriend almost seems to forget you’re there, and picks her nose in front of you. If you get a little distance, though, you each become mysterious to each other again, even just a little bit. You’ll remember that you’re a whole person containing vast multitudes and secrets waiting to be discovered, and so is she.

Three years is a long time, but it’s also no time at all. You’ve had over two decades of life and experiences without her, and she without you. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you take a step back and create some distance, you can look at your partner – and yourself – through new eyes. You don’t need lingerie and leather to spice up your love life – you just need to remember who you are, and how much more there is to you both than this relationship. If you remember that, you’ll become strangers again, at least in some small ways, and in that space is where it’ll feel more natural to court each other again. To impress each other. To introduce a little bit of the chase back into your relationship. A little distance is all that’s needed for desire to flourish. A little distance will bring you closer.

Christina Tesoro is a New York City-based writer, sex educator, and soon-to-be therapist. In her spare time she loves to write natal charts, read tarot cards, and run to Rihanna playlists. She is determined to learn how to do a split.

Christina has written 4 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. This is literally the best advice I’ve ever read in any advice column! I used to be in a long-term relationship and so much of this rings true. I recently started seeing someone new and things seem like they could be getting serious so I’m going to bookmark this to read again in a few years as a reminder, ha!

  2. I second the commentor above, this is truly good advice for any relationship of any orientation. And just good advice in general, for remembering how many facets we all have and how self-examination and self-care serve not only our own health but the health of all of the relationships that matter to us. Don’t let yourself and your goals and ideas disappear inside of a relationship, no matter how beautiful and compatible that relationship is.

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