On Trusting Your Date, and Learning to Say "They"

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.


Dear Roe,

I have a lot of problems with trusting the people that I date. So in the beginning I keep them at arms length and I am really casual. Recently, I met a guy on and he seemed genuine and nice. We went out on dates and even when we slept together he was still attentive and nice. He wanted to date me and I was the one who said we should just have sex for now but he insisted on us going on dates. Spending time together. So unfortunately I began to trust him.

Now, after we have sex he just leaves, or last time, at his place, he told me to leave. I know I should stop seeing him. He also makes comments about my sex drive being too high and gets annoyed that I want to have sex several times (three/four) in a night. This makes me feel really slut-shamed and instead of being my normal independent self I have allowed him to do this. I know I should stop sleeping with him but I find it really difficult to actually want to sleep with anyone.

Dear Letter Writer,

There are three issues going on here, so I’m going to address them separately:

1) Your boy leaving or asking you to leave right after sex.

I’m short on details here, and am trying to figure out what’s happening. Sometimes, especially early on in a dating scenario/relationship, people don’t want to sleep-sleep together after having sex. Intimacy issues, sleep issues, “I don’t want you to see me snoring with wrecked hair and smudged eyeliner” issues – these reasons can be varied and real and also simultaneously something people need to get over, particularly if it’s not just a one-night stand.

No one likes being asked to leave someone’s house after sex. You may be feeling vulnerable, or tired, or very unwilling to put your skinny jeans back on (the struggle is real), and having someone tell you that they’re willing to put body parts into/onto your body parts but they’re not willing to have that body lie next to them for a while just isn’t very polite. It’s usually indicative of a touch of immaturity, intimacy issues, or a slightly mean steak.

BUT, there can be exceptions. Some people have really early mornings, or stay up all night working and like to sleep in. I’m unclear on how many times you’ve had sex, but maybe it’s just been inconvenient.

There’s also the very real possibility that when you said you just wanted to have sex this is what he thought you meant. Maybe for him, sleep-sleeping together is an intimate act, and one he thought you wanted off the table. You’re unhappy with it, so maybe you have a different idea of what sleeping in the same bed would mean for you.

The only way to find out is to ask, and if it’s a case where they’re just kicking you out because they’re not that into it and don’t care if that hurts your feelings, then you do need to drop the jackass.

The stakes may feel high, but they’re actually rock-bottom.

You’re already unhappy with the situation. Asking will either improve the situation, or clarify what you already suspect. If he gives you an answer you don’t like, it means you’ll be more assured in your decision to leave him and you’ll have saved time – both yours and his – agonising over the situation.

2) Again, your letter is short on specifics, but I’m curious about him getting annoyed with you for wanting to have sex three or four times a night, how that conversation is going – and what the draw is in having that much sex with a man you don’t think is very nice to you.

Is the sex that good? Do you always want that much sex (which is grand, good for you) from the person you’re dating? Or is asking for that much sex in one night from a guy who is avoiding getting close to you and won’t let you stay over at his way of extending your time with him, getting physically and emotionally closer, and potentially having sex so late into the night that you finally get to snooze and cuddle beside him?

I ask you this not to shame your sex drive in any way – if you have a high libido, you have a high libido. You deserve to feel satisfied and you are going to make a better guy extremely happy one day. But I am curious about how your libido and your interactions with this not-particularly-great guy intertwine.

I am also curious about how you’re approaching your desire to have sex three or four times a night. If he’s getting annoyed about it, it sounds like that’s not something he wants to do. (And he possibly can’t physically have sex with you three or four times in a row – there are erection issues and respite periods and ejaculate supplies and general fitness levels all at play here.)

So I want to make sure that he’s not getting angry in response to you possibly pressuring him into having sex with you that much. Men can be pressured into having sex, and shamed for saying no, so could it be possible that your requests for repeated sex are actually shaming him for saying no or not being able to perform?

Maybe him asking you to leave is in response to feeling pressured to have sex yet again when he’s not physically or emotionally able. To be honest, if I felt like that was happening to me, I’d kick someone out of my house too. And I wouldn’t invite them back.

Again, you’re going to have to use your words here, and talk to him about what’s going on, because neither of you seem happy with this situation right now.

3) Then there’s the final, bigger-picture issue of your relationship with sex and men generally.

While you’re getting frustrated that this man isn’t giving you the respect or kindness you want or deserve, you’re also open about the fact that you have been keeping him at distance.

Yes, you’re dating him, which may be a big step for you, but by refusing to have a relationship with him and telling him that you just want to have a sexual relationship, and no dating or romance, you’re also telling him specifically that you’re limited in what you’re willing to offer him.

This is going to make him try to protect his emotions and withdraw slightly – but now you’re unhappy with him and think he’s being cruel.

Both of you are entitled to protect your emotions however you like, but your desires for this relationship seem to be completely at odds with each other, and it doesn’t seem to be making either of you very happy.

Maybe you need to take a break from dating and work on why you don’t trust men, so that when you do date, you’re able to be clear about what you want, able to communicate openly, and – most importantly – brave enough to be with someone who makes you happy.


Dear Roe,

I have a friend who has recently come out as gender non-binary, and is asking people to use gender neutral “they/them” pronouns for them. I have known this friend for a while, when they were identifying as female, and I really want to be supportive. However, I’m finding the switch to using “they/them” really difficult – not emotionally or anything, I just keep messing up and calling my friend “she/her”.

Part of it is just that I’m not used to using gender-neutral pronouns – but I also don’t know if I fully understand what being gender non-binary is. My friend did explain it to me, but I’m not sure I fully grasped it all, and I don’t want to ask again in case it seems like I wasn’t paying attention. This is all just very new to me but I don’t want to be a bad friend. Any tips for getting better at pronoun usage and understanding what gender non-binary means?

Dear Letter Writer,

I feel for you my dear. I try my very best to respect other people’s realities and identities. I study sexuality and write about it – and yet I still sometimes fuck up gender-neutral pronouns.

I have my reasons: being taught saying “they” was impolite, knowing people as they transitioned to the gender-neutral identity and tripping over the change, blah, blah, blah. But the important thing to remember here is this: whatever shitty reason we have for tripping over pronouns is both real, and completely insignificant in this situation.

Our good intentions are not enough. Our excuses are not good enough. Our attempts are not good enough. We have to try harder, and get it right. When we make a mistake, we just have to correct ourselves, apologise, and keep trying harder.

We don’t give the endless excuses or explain our reasoning or go on about how difficult it is for us, because in a scenario where we are fucking up the pronoun for a person who has entrusted us to respect their identity, we’re inflicting damage. And we don’t get to do that and then still make the experience all about us.

But before we tackle your linguistic problem, let’s delve into the reality of what “gender non-binary” means.

If someone identifies as gender non-binary, which shares a lot of similarities to being genderqueer, it could mean a variety of different things, but generally they identify outside of or wish to challenge the two-gender (i.e. man/woman) system. They may identify as multiple genders, a combination of genders, or exist “between” genders.

The term can be used as a permanent gender identity, or some people may experience their gender identity as being fluid, in which case they may identify more as male or female at a given time (and may request that you change your use of pronouns as their gender identity changes.) Some trans people may also identify as non-binary, either as a permanent identity or during their transition, before they feel like their gender identity is more aligned with the male/female binary.

That may seem like a lot, but in reality it’s pretty easy to find out what a gender non-binary identity means to an individual: ask them.

This doesn’t mean of course that you get to accost everyone with a gender identity you don’t understand and expect them to educate and inform you and answer any and all potentially offensive or just boring questions you may have. A person with a gender identity that deviates from the traditional cis binary of male/female has to endure a lot of ignorance and constant questioning – some curious, some controlling – and so they may well not want to answer your questions.

However, from the sound of it, you and your friend are close, and by telling you their gender identity and asking you to respect their pronouns, they are opening up a space for that conversation with you. So ask.

Tell them that you’ve been doing some research of your own and want to understand what their gender identity means to them, and that you want to understand the complexity and nuance in order to support them as best you can. Then after that conversation, go buy them lunch or watch a movie or you know, continue to be their friend. Simple as.

But one part of being supportive and being a good friend is getting their pronouns right. They are going to be facing constant misgendering by people unaware of their gender identity, people inconsiderate of their gender identity, or people who are openly hostile about it. By screwing up their pronouns – even with the best intentions – you’re becoming yet another person who constantly reminds them of the judgement and lack of understanding facing them on a daily basis.

I don’t say this to shame you. Like I said, I have messed up pronouns in my time, and I empathise. Empathise, not excuse. We all need to do better.

And one way to do it is to practice. Try using gender neutral pronouns as much as possible.

Start referring to your pets in gender-neutral ways, if you’re talking about other friends who use binary pronouns, try to use gender-neutral pronouns when you can. Practice talking about your friend – even in your head – and using gender-neutral pronouns to describe and refer to them.

Like many language issues, practice is key and fluency is the goal, so manufacture ways to get fluent.

Ask you friend to let you know if you misgender them without realising. Sometimes they won’t want to do this, but if they are comfortable calling you out on it, it may make you aware of how often you’re doing it, and make you more careful.

Your concern for your friend and desire to respect them shows that you’re thinking all the right things. Let’s put it into action.

Author:

Roe McDermott: Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

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