An issue has arisen in my relationship with my (first) girlfriend, and it hasn’t gone away after a month. I’m not going to write about this personal matter as it relates to our relationship right now, but I want to write about it in general terms, as I’m sure we’re not the first people to encounter it.

My girlfriend likes me a lot, but her sexual attraction has been dwindling for the past month because she does not find me sufficiently masculine. She struggles to say exactly what it is that she’s missing. When she thinks about it she comes up with things that I do that turn her off that are trivial and nothing to halt a relationship over, but I think that I know roughly what she’s getting at. I lack aspects of body language, the way I carry myself and the way I relate to her socially when we’re together, that hetrosexual girls are wired up to respond to at an unconscious level.[1]

My girlfriend told me about this issue at a time when I was feeling really happy about having relaxed into the relationship such that I could really be myself. I never set out not to be myself, but it’s inevitable when one meets new people that one tries to impress to a greater or lesser degree, and I was feeling good because I had no semi-conscious need to do this anymore. So it sounded like she was telling me that myself wasn’t enough; it went against the classic advice to always try to be yourself in romantic relationships, advice that I really wanted to follow. Since we like each other a lot and get on well in a way that is more than just a friendship, it feels like her complaint is about a defect of me that would present a barrier to a sexual relationship with anyone, rather than a incompatability between just us two.

The question that I struggle with is to what extent it is wise to try to become more masculine. Romantic partners can and should make and fulfill small requests for changes in behaviour. Perhaps a certain kind of teasing makes your partner uncomfortable and they ask you to stop, even though it’s something that you bring to many of your social interactions. This is okay. Perhaps you are someone who makes appointments only at the last minute, and your partner asks you to make them further in advance with him or her, since their schedule is busier or they are just uncomfortable with doing things last minute. Also reasonable and not an attempt by one person to mould the other person into someone different.

Right now, I can’t clearly see the line between being prompted to improve oneself by someone close to you, and trying to win a particular individual’s affection as a result of emotional neediness.

One further thing I want to make a quick note of. When I spoke to one particular Korean friend about these issues I encountered a cultural dimension that initially made my jaw drop. They told me that when it comes to sex, in Korea, ‘no’ from a girl doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no’. No Korean I have spoken to since, or foreigner with an understanding of Korean culture, has disagreed, and they have all nodded in understanding. And I’ve raised this with a fair few people. The kind of masculinity required to navigate sexual relationships under this kind of culture, without raping anyone, is something that I have no idea about. One western friend I talked to this about said straight up that this makes me and any Korean girl who hasn’t adopted the western mindset sexually incompatible. My views on what makes for a good romantic relationship are barely formed, and so I feel unable to assess this.


[1] I don’t claim that this unconscious level isn’t manufactured by our culture.