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Girlfriend or Girl Friend

"Labeling the relationship" is difficult for many couples, but when your partner has an abusive past that makes physical intimacy impossible, things get even more complicated. The 4-Way gives some tips on navigating a tricky situation.

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Dear 4-Way,
I have a girlfriend that I’m casually seeing and we get together occasionally. Things can be fun and hot when we’re together, but there’s one thing. She’s had some trauma in the past (which we haven’t really delved into), and wants nothing to do with touching me. (No hands, and forget about mouth.) It’s okay for the most part, but it’s become clear things aren’t going to change. Any thoughts on what I should do? A guy needs some love. —GQ, Dallas, Texas

The straight man’s perspective: Chris Kennedy
In keeping with your generic third person referencing, I’m going to say that a guy needs to go elsewhere to get some love.

Your case is a bit strange to me because you say you and the girl are casual and get together occasionally, yet you know an incredibly personal thing; she’s experienced some trauma in the past. It seems like something you shouldn’t really know about if you’re so casual. I’m thinking that she’s using the trauma—real or not—as a barrier between you two.  Does she see anyone else? And more importantly, does she “touch” anyone else? The answers to these questions would tell us if she really has issues with her past and can’t be intimate with anyone, or just you.

Let’s assume she’s not making up the fact that there’s been some abuse in her past. She obviously needs professional help. It could be a long process for her to feel comfortable touching anyone else while she works through this. Dealing with someone who’s been abused may be more than you bargained for in your casual relationship. Are you willing to wait around and be there for her during all this?

Let’s say, in your fantasy, you help her through that abusive past. You help her get help. You hold her hand while she talks about the bad stuff and give her tissues with the other hand while she cries it out. All the while, you’re hoping she’ll put her hands on you in the near future.  She’ll feel comfortable and get through it all because of you. She’ll owe her recovery to you and to top it off, she’ll unleash her sexuality on you. That sound good to you? Could happen, but it probably won’t.  This sounds like something pretty serious and the healing process could take a very long time. I doubt you’re ready to go through this with her just so a guy can get a little love. And who’s to say that she won’t get through this and realize that you’re not the guy for her?

Back to the third person referencing, a guy and this girl both need some love … I just don’t think at this point, they’re going to find it together.

The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer
Wow, there are some big and important issues here. First of all, a healthy relationship includes giving and receiving—in ALL aspects of the relationship. You mention that this is just a casual thing, but if you are hooking up—albeit casually—it’s a relationship of sorts.

I’m assuming here that this woman has been sexually abused and isn’t really talking about it with you. GQ, she needs to be working with a professional about what happened to her. Perhaps she feels safe somehow as the one being touched, but not as the one doing the touching. I am unsure if she is using your connection to recreate what happened to her with her abuser(s), or to play out the opposite scenario. Either way, I don’t think it will bring her healing or closure or trust. You don’t need to be her therapist here, but you should let her know that she needs to talk to a therapist, preferably one who specializes in abuse.

Also, are you the only guy she’s set up these “hands off” boundaries with, or is this just how she does relationships? I would certainly want to know that.  Now, GQ, as for you, what’s so hot about sex when you’re not being touched?! Really ask yourself what makes it so appealing for you. I assure you that it can be twice as hot when touch is given and received.  It’s interesting to me that you mention that “a guy needs some love.” It doesn’t sound like you two have a love connection at all. I’m feeling more of a power exchange taking place, with you as the one who does all touching and her being in a submissive role. And while you may find that hot for a while, it ain’t love.  GQ, if love is what you’re looking for, you need to find a woman you can reach out and touch and know that she will touch you back. That’s the way loves goes.

The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox
GQ, you don’t have a girlfriend right now. You have a friend that’s a girl. Do you understand the difference? Maybe the reason she won’t let you touch or kiss her is because she can play dirty on the side with you but not feel guilty about cheating on someone else.  You say that it’s okay for the most part, but it’s clear things are never going to change. Are you fine with that? Have you told her that? Until you have a very frank conversation that involves wanting to take your relationship to the next level, you’re stuck in instant replay my friend.

The most important thing I can advise is just talk to her. Find out what the rest of the story is. She might open up to you and tell you what the trauma was. After that, she might feel that she can be more open with you since you understand her and that could help take your relationship in the right direction.  Don’t rush things with her. Just get to know her and listen to her. Please understand that I’m not saying you have to be physical to be in a relationship, so hold the nasty emails, people. But, GQ, a guy and a girl both have needs.

The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown
GQ, I’m really confused. When you say you have a girlfriend, do you mean someone you’re dating? Or is she a girl (SPACE) friend who’s more of a friend with benefits? Because “girlfriend” and “get together occasionally” don’t really make sense together.

Next, how is this situation “okay for the most part” for either one of you? If she’s your girlfriend—space or no space—aren’t you concerned about her past trauma? If she doesn’t want to delve into it with you, don’t you think it might be good to encourage her to talk to someone else about it? And don’t you think it’s weird for a girlfriend to not touch you when you’re doing all kinds of touching to her?

Here’s what I think you should do, GQ. I think you should encourage her to talk about what happened to her, if not to you, then to someone else. I think you need to decide if this is someone you’re seriously interested in, or if she’s just someone you want to hook up with. Once you decide that, find out what she wants. If she’s interested in more than just play, proceed with caution. But be honest with her about your needs—you’re not being selfish, it’s okay to want to be touched by someone you’re dating and being physical with. If she’s not ready to do that, maybe she’s not ready for a relationship with you.

If you decide you just want to have some fun and hook up, ask yourself why you’re in this arrangement in the first place since you’re not getting that much from it physically. Second, and more importantly, you need to stop seeing her. If she’s been sexually abused, she’s had a hard enough time with physical relationships, and if you’re not in it for the long haul, you don’t want to contribute to any more of her pain. But don’t just skip out, explain why and talk to her about it. Otherwise, you’re kinda shopliftin’ the pootie, (I hope you saw Jerry McGuire) and that just ain’t right, GQ.

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