Men talk to me all the time about sex, which is only natural, since I'm a sex therapist and I make my living talking to people about their sex lives. But it's funny how many guys like to talk to me when I'm not working, when I'm pushing my sons in their double stroller or watching them at the playground. Neighbors know what I do, and it seems to draw the men to me—and they open up about certain things that the guys who actually come to see me with their wives just don't. Every time this happens, I end up saying the same thing: "Dude, don't tell me, tell your wife." Then comes the part where he shrugs and says, "Yeah, I guess you're right, I'll do that," but you and I both know it won't happen.
So I'm here, on dads' behalf, to tell you the things they think, but won't always say:
"I want to cuddle."
Guys who were never big on cuddling (except, of course, in the early days when they were trying to get in your pants and convince you to stick around) are as surprised as anyone to discover that now that there's someone else competing for your time and attention, they yearn for the physical and emotional connection that comes with a simple snuggle. Sure, all things considered, we'd prefer to have sex and then cuddle. And for some men, the cuddle is welcome because it gives us a tiny shred of hope that you want more (yes, even though we know we have to get up early tomorrow).
Too often, being a dad feels like one long, constant interruption, especially when it's the end of the evening and we've finally made it to bed, only to have to deal with baby monitors beeping, desert-parched voices desperately calling out for water and malicious talking Elmos digging their battery packs into our spines. It feels like there's always something getting between us and you. That's why cuddling is as much of a relief as finally getting off our feet for the day. It reminds us we still have you. Even if sex isn't happening.
"Take charge in bed. Please?"
Okay, here's the deal: As dads, we know that sex often feels like a chore on your to-do list. And because we also know that there are a lot of chores on that list (many of which we do our best to avoid), we end up lobbing a lot of sexual softballs in your direction knowing that most of them won't be in your sexual strike zone. But after a while, all that pitching starts to wear us down. Sex may feel like a chore to you, but always having to be the one to initiate it starts to feel like a responsibility to us. And the last thing we need is more responsibility. Maybe it's a function of how dads are genetically wired, but we can't look into our children's little eyes without seeing visions of college tuitions, spring breaks, trips abroad and the little Picasso who's going to grow up to be a starving artist. Even if these are years away, it feels like they're right around the corner. The sense of long-term pressure and responsibility keeps us up at night, which gets us thinking about sex (since we happen to be up already).
So please, we'd love it if you'd surprise us by coming on to us. Get naughty with us, talk dirty, tell us a secret fantasy. Tell us you had a "sexy dream" last night. That'll do the trick. You can act all bashful if you want, but when we ask you to tell us more (and we will), describe how you threw us down on the bed and made us your love slave.
"I'm fed up with date night."
One of the hardest things for dads to deal with is the sense of routine that comes with parenthood. Once, we were young and free, without a care in the world. (Stop rolling your eyes. That's how we like to remember it.) Now everything is scheduled, planned to the nth degree and endlessly repeated to the point that even date night starts to feel predictable and pressured.
Getting out with you once every two years (I mean, two weeks) should be a fun evening of escape, but all too often it ends up feeling like more of the same. From the anxiety of having to spend what has to be 500 bucks just to have dinner with that couple who likes to order too many bottles of expensive wine, to the worry that we're going to have to pay the babysitter for another hour if we don't leave now, to listening to you stress about how the kids are doing, date night can be a real downer.
Instead, we're dying for something more spontaneous. Go on a date day: Call in sick, drop the kids off at school, and have lunch and a couple of glasses of wine. Engage in silly public displays of affection. Go to a 1 p.m. movie where there's nobody else in the audience. If date day isn't in the cards, then stick with date night but don't plan anything this time—just get out and go wherever the night takes you.
"I want more guy time."
Now that I've told you how we really feel about date night, you should know something else: Even though you're our best friend, the mother of our wonderful children and the love of our lives, this Friday night we'd really like to hang out with our buddies and watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, complete with commentary by Ricardo Montalban.
Please don't make us feel even more guilty about it: We know we never get to go out and do stuff together; we know we constantly complain about how we just want to spend quality time together (i.e., have sex); and we know we promised you a night at the ballet. But as much as we love you, you're, well, not a guy. And now that we're dads, what we need is to blow off some steam with our buddies. A little absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially when we're able to swill beer, belch, call our friends names you'd find offensive and make stupid jokes you'd be embarrassed to hear me say. You know the phrase that inside every man there's a little boy? Actually, he's a big dumb teenager, and if you let him go hang out with his friends every now and then, he'll come home a better man.
So how about we call that expensive but totally trustworthy new babysitter with an MA in creative arts therapy and, as crazy as it sounds, go on separate date nights? Maybe that's not technically date night, but you can go hang out with your book club and discuss the revelations and disappointments in that new novel by the guy who wrote The Kite Runner, and we'll check in on our "loser" best friend who's "still single and always will be because he's a total slimeball." Later on, I bet we'll both be really glad to see each other again.
"You look hot."
You know this, right? Oh, what, you don't? We know you're convinced we're crazy—how can we possibly think you look sexy when you feel overweight and out of shape, when you haven't gotten a pedicure in ages and your eyebrows need to be waxed, when your clothes are all puke-stained, and when you haven't showered in two days? We get it. But you know what? We still think you're hot.
Okay, yes, you do look great after primping and preening for the dinner party we don't want to go to (see "I'm fed up with date night"). And that's a great outfit you just picked up on sale for virtually nothing (yeah, right). But that moment when you bent down to put the dishes in the washer? Your butt looked awesome! You were smoking. Call us crazy, but hey, there's a guy inside this dad. We still think about sex at least a hundred times a day, and no one makes us think about it more than you.
"It turns me on that you're the mother of my child."
More than anything, sex is about self-esteem, and nothing gives us more of a jolt of sexy pride than to look at you and the kids and think, "Holy crap, I did it! I pulled it off. I'm the husband now. I'm the dad." I swear it feels like just yesterday we were sleeping on George Jetson sheets and listening to our mothers complain about our dirty underwear. But now we have our very own wives to complain about our dirty underwear. We made it! Truth be told, we weren't sure it would ever happen. We could have ended up like the aforementioned "loser" best friend, who may have a DVD collection to envy but doesn't have you. You turned us from a little boy into a man. And the sense of manliness that's wrapped up in you and the kids and our little family is a wellspring of sexual self-esteem. It's us against the world, and just knowing there's an "us" gets our engines revving. So come on over here, and give us a cuddle.
Now that you know what your man's thinking, help him get the conversation started. I, on the other hand, need to go make sure my wife knows these things.
Ian Kerner is the author of five books about sex and relationships, including Sex Detox: A Relationship Rejuvenation Program for Everyone