Dr. Tracy's Advice Column

Cartoon Kiss


Wild Child
Stepchild Hell
Love and Self-esteem

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I actively read your website and advice columns - but I feel like I haven't found the answer I need for this. Perhaps you could help?

A little bit to note: I've just gone through a tumultuous time - dropping out of grad school, severe depression/suicidal attempt, dealing with chronic fatigue, career change, and relocation. I ended an engagement to my best friend a year and a half ago and since then have only had sexually-based relationships with both genders (I'm bi). About 3 months ago, a friend who had strung me along finally let me go. Until a month and a half ago, I casually dated and slept with people until my current partner asked me to commit to him. My job is not the greatest, not the worst, and I'm involved in many outside activities, almost to the point of overcommitment. And while it shouldn't matter, I'm 21 and have been living away from home since 15. This is the first time I have had family (my older sister) living nearby.

So - since 15, I've been sexually active. I've not been the wildest, but I've been told that I've tried many things others haven't (i.e. group sex, lesbian activities, etc.) and had a fair number of partners, both young and old. I'll admit that I have a slight deviant streak (i.e. BDSM, role-playing, one-night stands) and tended to tarzan/cheat on partners in the past. I'm not really proud nor ashamed - basically I got wilder during manic episodes and very prudish during very depressed phases. Overall though, I openly look at porn, sex shops, talk about smutty things, etc - basically sex is a hobby.

Unfortunately, this tends to glamorize me in the eyes of my partners. And my current one is no exception. He is a bit of a computer geek and thus like many other computer geeks I know, tends to overly interested in sex.

He's had a wider past than I have (up to 4 times the partners) and his past girlfriends tend to be punkish/edgy. Although he's older than me (25), he's had fewer committed relationships and freely admits that he's ruined most of them through cheating. Because I've been so "wild", he frequently pushes me to consider group sex, bondage, etc. At some point, he'd like to go "solo" and have casual sex with other women on his own. He's excited because he's never had a committed partner that he's swung with or anything. We've known each other for a month and a half and been committed for 2 weeks.

Apart from that, he's a great person. Stable income/profession, owns his own home, fairly modest and responsible, pretty quiet otherwise, and very caring. He wanted a commitment before I did and is sure that he wants to get married and have children someday with someone (I don't). But sex is a big part of his life and while he keeps insisting that I'm the "best" he's ever been with both emotionally and sexually and is extremely attracted to me - I feel uncomfortable. I'm not one to be sexually prudish, but I am getting more and more tired over the years. And I'm not sure that committing to anyone too soon is that great either. I feel that I'd be more comfortable with an open relationship if he and I weren't committed, but he doesn't feel comfortable without the commitment.

I guess what I'm trying to figure out is if the issue is all my end what with my strange history and everything or if he's responsible for any of it as well. It frequently weighs heavily on my mind and we keep having to discuss it every few days, me holding him back. I'm worried that too much pressure to explore sexually will make everything explode badly and I don't know how to show him that. At the same time, given my past attitudes about sex, I feel that I would be hypocritical in hesitating to engage in such an "open" relationship.

I apologize for the length - it's just such a confusing matter for me. If there's an article you have that answers this, that'd be great to read too.

Thank you!

Dear Wild One,

You can't put the Genie back in the bottle once you've let it out. In the same way, you can't be a wild child, explore every kind of sexual activity, and then decide you want to be a prude, especially with someone who knows about your past. You've already told your new partner that you have a somewhat deviant streak and cheated on partners in the past.

No wonder he wants a commitment. He's afraid you'll cheat on him too if he doesn't have one, and maybe even if he does. Now that he knows about your looking at porn, visiting sex shops, talking smutty and and describing sex as your hobby, how can you expect him to not want to explore it with you? Most important, he figures you did it with other guys, so why not with him?

How can you refuse him without making him feel as if you don't care about him as much as you did those other guys? I'm afraid you can't. He was attracted to you because you are sexually open - a perfect partner for his own wild side. He doesn't want a prude or he wouldn't have chosen you. So don't turn into a prude just because you're committed.

You're young. You enjoy sex. No big deal. Relax and enjoy it with your new partner. Experiment, but have rules. For example, there will be full disclosure between you of what you do. And you won't do anything that makes your partner uncomfortable. If you want him to only experiment when you're with him, then let that be a rule. There are all kinds of open relationships. You and he can have whatever kind you want. If you and he decide to swing or get involved with group sex, remember to agree on a private code word that means "I don't want to go any further."

You may be avoiding having a commitment because you feel that puts you at risk of getting hurt if it doesn't work out. But don't let your fear scare you. Lots of committed couples have sex with other people - with the agreement of their partners.

If he wants the commitment, then give it to him, but negotiate about what the commitment will mean. If his going out with other women solo is going to make you uncomfortable, then tell him you'll agree to a lot of the things he wants to do, but that's one thing he can't do. You and he haven't been together very long, and your commitment is still new. Take the time to work through the problems and you will both learn give and take.

You really can't expect a guy who fell for you because you're sexually sophisticated to be happy with a prudish lifestyle. If he wanted to be conventional he wouldn't be attracted to you, he'd find someone who goes to Sunday school instead of sex stores.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Stepchild Hell

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am the Bride. The Groom has 3 daughters. I have known, loved, and enjoyed all 3 girls for years. We have shared a lot.

The Groom and I decided to finally marry after much soul searching, years of living together, breaking up, and finally getting back together, staying together for keeps. One HUGE problem -- daughter No. 3, the youngest, the most needed (financially and emotionally), the most spolied, and sometimes really mean, she decided that at about age 15 ( 10 years ago) to be horrible to me, and she has never stopped. She throws fits (use to on the floor kicking), refuses to talk, asks that I leave the house if she's coming for a visit, ignores me if I am in the same room, and she will probably make this wedding a living hell. Her father seems to agree.

Her sisters are fine with me. We are adults and we have our own issues. Nobody is casting any stones. His children are age 32, 29, 25. I am 39 this October. We have dated since I was 23, so for 17 years.

I have helped raise the girls, and I love them very much. However, I was also the ruler maker in our household. So like other would-be step moms with teenagers, we had our challenges, mainly with Traci. The girls are all married now with children of their own. How can I, we, break news and still enjoy our wedding and our life together? The girls live 3 hours away by plane. We see them 4 or 5 times a year at family functions. We all get along well except for her.

The father is very worried that she will not talk to him, make the wedding problematic, not participate in family functions, and blame him. What can we do?

Dear Step Mom,

There is nothing more difficult than being a stepparent, especially to a child who really doesn't appreciate anything you do for her. Consider yourself fortunate that you get along with the other two daughters, and stop expecting daughter #3 do to anything but cause you problems.

It may take years and years for her to decide you're really okay, and in the meantime, you have to stop living your life in fear of her. If she wants you to leave the house when she visits, don't do it. After all, it's your house too. Besides, if you leave, it's as if you're saying she's in charge and you will do whatever she wants.

As for her making your wedding a living hell, don't let her. After seventeen years together, you deserve the wedding you want, without her interference. If you really think she'll cause problems, and her father agrees, then you should consider eloping. Then have a wedding party at home later and invite her and everyone else.

Don't let her spoil your special day. If it means you get a different kind of wedding than the most traditional, that's okay. A wedding is for the two of you, and you have no obligation to anyone else either to invite them or involve them in your plans.

Talk to the other daughters and explain the problem. Maybe they'll volunteer to keep their sister from making a scene and ruining your wedding day. If you can't find a way to have her at a wedding and make her behave, then don't have her at all, even if it means having a runaway wedding. If you elope, of course, you don't have to worry about "breaking the news" until after the event. Hopefully your other daughters would understand, and if Daughter #3 gets upset about not being able to ruin your wedding, too bad.

Go to a fancy hotel, get a romantic suite, and invite a few close friends and relatives who love you. Let the hotel take care of all the arrangements and you won't have to do anything except concentrate on each other. You'll save a lot of stress -- and maybe money too. Plus you'll have a place to spend your wedding night. You could even stay on and have your honeymoon as well.

This difficult stepchild will unfortunately be in your life forever, so you might as well learn to deal with her in a way that will give you the most peace. If she acts nice, then you should be nice back. But if she acts ugly, don't reward her bad behavior by being nice to her. You'll only be teaching her that being nasty pays.

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

Love and Self-esteem

Dear Dr. Tracy,

I am 34 and have been married twice and currently in a relationship.

Here goes. I met this man a year and half ago. We have been together ever since. We have a 4 month old baby together and reside together with my other three children (from previous marriage). The end of January we broke up. I was pregnant and put on bed rest a week later for preterm labor.

I had suspected that he was being unfaithful and lying to me about his online dealings. I discovered that it was all indeed true. He had joined sites in search of his "soul-mate" and was having sex with other women. He had lied to me from the begining about sleeping with his ex-wife to boot. Anyhow, after the January break-up, he kept coming around being very affectionate, still saying "I love you", still talking about us moving in together, still talking about "our" children.

Finally, after being thoroughly confused about whether there was an "us" or not, I asked him. I was told there wasn't an us, that it was a him and a me. Over those 4 months and prior to the breakup I had asked several times if he was sleeping with anyone else or looking for someone else because things just didn't feel right, I didn't feel like he was being honest, a gut feeling.

I discovered through a mutual friend that indeed he had been having sex and through another mutual friend that he had joined those "Hook up with you soul-mate" sites in November, way before we broke up. So on the 12th, I told him that I could no longer see him in the capacity that he was coming around in. That he was the baby's father, but that hearing the I loves you's and all was just too painful if he didn't mean it.

Then I finally confronted him on the other information a few days later. He admitted to the ex-wife deal, he admitted to looking for "friends" online, but nothing more. I wrote him a letter while he was at work and hadn't sent it yet when he called and said that we should move in together. That he wanted to be with me. I was elated, but thought he must have gotten hurt to go from not wanting to be with me to wanting to be with me.

Now this mutual friend told me that he had tried to talk to her about moving her and her children here from the state in which she resides. The friend said that the other woman turned him down because she found out that him and I were still involved (he had told her and everyone esle that we were done, he wasn't interested in me, didn't love me and would never be with me again).

We ended up moving in together and have been trying to do this thing right. I do believe that he loves me, but I do not believe that he is "in love" with me and there is a distinct difference. He never compliments me anymore, he is rarely affectionate unless it leads to sexual acts and he is forever talking about other women and how much they are "hotties".

Prior to the lies and infidelity, I had never worried about his comments or anything, I even talked about attractive women with him. Now I am just riddled with fear and self doubt. I worry that he will again seek love online, that I will again be hurt, that he will again be unfaithful. I feel like his behavior toward me is about me. That I am not desirable anymore. Since having our child, I weigh less than before, I have been working out and taking herbal supplements to assist in breast size. I do this for me, not him, but yet I am dissapointed when he doesn't notice or say anything.

I had finally confronted him about my feelings and told him that I felt very hurt and that it wouldn't kill him to say something nice about me once in a while. I was told that I am gorgeous and I should know this. I should know that he loves me. So here is my question about that, how can I "know" this when everything he has done tells me something to the contrary? How can I get past this? I know he isn't doing anything now, trust me, I know for a fact.

I hate feeling the way that I do, feeling like I am second best, unattractive and unloved. I know that I cannot seek what I am looking for from another (him), so I need to know what to do for myself to feel better about me?

Depressed in LA

Dear Depressed,

Looking for appreciation from a man who constantly puts you down has put you in a self-esteem void.

When you don't feel loved enough by the significant other in your life, your self-esteem suffers. He is damaging your self-esteem by admiring other women and not admiring you. He is damaging your self-esteem by letting you believe that he is not "in love" with you and by talking about "hotties" without including you.

You want him to give you self-esteem without your having to ask him for it, but that's just not going to happen. Still, you don't have to give up on him. Start asking for exactly what you want. Don't let him get away with not giving you what you need on a daily basis. Set a good example. Be affectionate and let him know that you want affection back. If he doesn't give it, ask for it.

You need to tell him to stop talking about other women who are "hotties," and you need to tell him he needs to compliment you and be affectionate without it having to lead to sex. These are the things that are bothering you and you don't even have enough self-esteem to tell him what you need to feel good.

Tell him you need to hear the words "I love you" regularly. If he doesn't say it, remind him. Help him establish better habits.

But you can't be totally dependent on him for self-esteem. How can you raise your self-esteem? By doing something nice for yourself. By valuing yourself enough to give yourself time. Find a group that you can join made up of people who will appreciate your special talents. Then go as often as you can to be around people who make you feel good.

You can also raise your self-esteem by self-forgiveness. Forgive yourself for every past foible that you feel guilty about. Once you accept yourself, just the way you are, you will have better self-esteem. Stop worrying about the size of your breasts or the weight on your scale. Self-esteem doesn't come from looking good, it comes from feeling good about yourself.

You say you are sure your guy isn't cheating and yet you worry all the time that he will be unfaithful again. You doubt your own ability to keep a man and you doubt that you are desirable enough. Replace those doubts with positive thoughts. Whenever you have a negative thought about yourself, immediately follow up with a positive one. Do the same when you have negative thoughts about your guy.

Practice self-affirmations to give yourself more self-esteem. Tell yourself you are beautiful, smart and deserve to be loved. You will know that he loves you when you love yourself enough to say, "I am so lovable that he can't possibly not love me."

Good luck,

Dr. Tracy

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(Featured art from cover of Letting Go, by Zev Wanderer and Tracy Cabot, published by "Bitan" Publishers, Tel-Aviv, Israel)
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