I am still around, I’ve just been super busy and haven’t had much time (or frankly, much inclination) to write. But I am still performing in and producing BedPost Confessions, which fulfills that piece of my creative spirit. This is a podcast of me performing at the December show, a night that I ended up filling in at the last minute for a very sick Mia Martina. When I was thinking about what I would read (just 3 hours before the start of the show) I picked up the memoir I wrote and opened it to this chapter. It’s called Marshall, and I hope you like it
Would you like to go to the BedPost Confessions show on Thursday? I asked my 13 year old daughter, not expecting her answer to be delivered with such alacrity …
“YES!” she declared. And with that the decision was made.
I wouldn’t have asked her unless I was certain she was prepared for entry into the realm of sex storytelling, of course. I had not extended the invitation heedlessly. No, it had arrived upon the heels of one of our discussions about her sex education class, the class where she had just been informed that “abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy and STIs, although only if practiced perfectly.”
“Perfectly?” She had challenged, with a snort that indicated more irony than inquiry, “Like perfect ever happens.”
Indeed. My kid’s too smart for a Texas-sized indoctrination of abstinence to ever take root. In fact, I’d venture to guess that most teens know that abstinence education is inherently flawed. But many fall prey to systematic shaming by adult bullies and end up buying into the assumption that not only is premarital sex dangerous, it will fuck up your reputation: chewed up pieces of gum and dirty toothbrushes and all that. Amazing really, that an adult drew these parallels. And we wonder why kids can be so mean.
I will say that my daughter’s class –which under Texas law MUST promote sexual abstinence– is (thankfully) taught by the folks from Planned Parenthood and therefore includes not only units on sexual anatomy and reproduction, but also birth control education – typically ignored by abstinence-only programs. And once a week, the students are sent home with written questions for parents that must be answered and signed. Questions like “Name 2 kinds of hormonal birth control” and “Can you get pregnant from oral sex?” These are meant to spur conversations between parents and teens that might not otherwise take place.
Planned Parenthood rocks.
One of the pamphlets that she was sent home even includes a section called: Guidelines For Sex Partners. It is on the very back of the pamphlet, but it’s in there nevertheless, and it talks about the importance of consent (and not pressuring someone to gain it.) It also highlights honesty, treating each other equally, being attentive to each others pleasure, protecting against physical and emotional harm, practicing safer sex, expressing, maintaining and respecting boundaries, and accepting responsibility for your own actions.
It was in reading this section that I understood the comprehensiveness of her sex ed program (which does declare abstinence-only as the “safest” solution, but doesn’t force-feed it) and I felt deep gratitude that it wasn’t rife with anti-sex dogma (not that she’d accept it anyway.) But it was because of this that I was encouraged to extend to her the opportunity to see a BedPost show, to offer her an adjunct to what she was learning in school (which was decidedly a supplement to what she had already learned from her father and me.) I encountered a little bit of push-back from a well-meaning family member, “Are you sure she’s ready for that?”
I was certain of it.
Because here’s the thing: sex is not a taboo. It is not banned, proscribed, forbidden or excluded (except under certain circumstances) but we hold these ridiculous cultural attitudes that say that it is, which is at great conflict with what our bodies tell us. We ignore, forget, minimize, closet and shame sex and sexuality when it is a defining and essential part of who we are, and should thus be regarded, exalted, respected … celebrated.
Keeping my daughter from BedPost –a show that I have co-produced for the last three years– would only perpetuate the stormy taboo looming ominously above her head (courtesy of abstinence-only teachings and the slut shaming that it generates,) and those of teens her age across the country.
The one that tells them that despite what their bodies say, sex is not meant for them.
I will never teach my daughter to ignore her body. Instead, together we will listen to the stories of others where we can find them. Because it is inside of these stories that wisdom lives, where pieces of others’ experience are extracted as information and carried forth for dissemination … and the actualization of new wisdom. Where conversations begin and where question marks –not definitive, resolute periods– punctuate them with the eagerness and enthusiasm of teens themselves.
And there were questions, MANY questions that my daughter had for me last night after the show was over, but the very first one was my personal favorite:
“Can I go again next month?!?”
We’ll see, baby. We’ll see.
“You get me more than anyone else in this world does, you know that, right?” I whispered to him softly, the love-happy in my system possibly more pronounced because of where we were – inside a beautiful black-lit bar, one that we built together along the Esplanade. Burning Man 2013.
“I do know that Sadie, and I can say the same about you. You know, I always feel so safe whenever you’re around me.” These words, uttered many times in the previous week, landed straight into the core of my spirit and carried with them the beautiful weight of unconditional love; heavy, abiding, peaceful.
“What if we did this, sweet man? What if we got married, say thirty years from now… when you are 80 and I am 75, and we lived out the rest of our days together, friends until the end?” In that moment I could not imagine not having him in my life forever, and beyond all that is certain I believe this sentiment will never change. I understood, too, that this dear friend of mine felt the same.
“You mean, instead of live together, we die together?” he asked curiously, head tilted, eyes gleaming.
“That’s right” I said, my smile as broad as the Playa.
“I accept, Sadie.”
And with that simple agreed-upon future arrangement, we sealed our engagement with zip-ties, one each wrapped around our left pinky fingers, the ends snipped off at the head.
Tied together ’til the end.
Yes, it has been a while. Many months in fact since I have written anything here.
During my time away (or maybe because of it) I discovered that relationships, as fulfilling as they are, are massive time-sucks; it cruises by quick and dirty during the New Relationship Energy stage, doesn’t care what you did before it, halts all but the essential elements of your daily life. Five months with him went by and this writer Sadie ceased being a writer … and was just Sadie.
I didn’t like that, of course, but I didn’t let it bother me too much. Okay, maybe I did. I was happy to concede, to put my thoughts about the things I write on hold for the man I’d chosen to do monogamy with for the first time in a long while. He was worth it, I had decided. And ultimately – at least for the time being – he was. I was swimming upstream without feeling fatigued. I was, in fact, energized.
Love does that, doesn’t it? It energizes us.
And it was the most responsible, drama-free breakup I have ever had the pleasure (with simultaneous pain) of experiencing. No lying, no betrayal. Done with brutal honesty and as much blame-free integrity and responsibility taking as could be mustered. It hurt, yes, hurt us both. But that’s love. It hurts, after all.
Before, during and after, love stings; shards of ice on a fresh burn.
It had hurt before I’d met him, I felt lonely and unlovable. But he proved me wrong when I loved him and he loved me back – his gift to me, one which I will cherish forever. And it hurt during, our frequent conflicts making visible our vast differences, mountainous regions of divergent viewpoints, separated by unsailable seas of black and white. We learned, I think, about ourselves. I know I did. I determined what it is I want, and what it is I don’t.
And one thing I don’t want is to not write.
So I am back now, but just for a wee bit before I swoop back off to the Black Rock Desert for my yearly respite at Burning Man. But I shall come back with stories to tell, I am certain.
Meanwhile, check out the new BedPost Confessions website that I managed to create during the time I wasn’t writing
Guess who’s spent the last little while in the studio?
ME! I recorded an audio version of my book Open All the Way: Confessions From My Open Marriage
Head over to Red Planet Audiobooks to get your copy. If you do be sure and let me know what you think!
Are you monogamous? Poly? Open? Weighing your options? Going with the flow?
The way to structure one’s relationship has become a choice, hasn’t it?
Not too long ago, Monogamy was the assumed structure of relationships. It is still the default structure, meaning most people in committed relationships are monogamous (or at least claim to be,) but now there is more awareness about the existence of open relationships and responsible non-monogamy. Responsible non-monogamy, or ethical non-monogamy for those who don’t know is where romantic partners openly practice non-monogamy (meaning sex and intimacy with other people) and they do it with honesty and integrity and within the best interest of everyone involved. And while it can be difficult to practice this, since people are complex, sex is complex, and relationships are complex, it can be done. I know many people who are successful at it, and those that are successful have to work VERY hard in order to maintain that success, so to them I say Rock the Fuck On.
That’s not to say that monogamy doesn’t present its own set of challenges. Relationships in general are challenging. But we negotiate them anyway because it’s our biological imperative.
Plus, they make us feel good.
I know a little bit about non-monogamy and open relationships. I am a polyamory consultant, I consult with people in open relationships about how to navigate them ethically and responsibly. I wrote a memoir called “Open all the way” about the open relationship I had with my now ex-husband. And for 5 years I wrote about the subject extensively, so much so that I was once referred to as the “most prolific writer on the subject of open relationships on the internet today” which sounds quite nice but probably just means that sometimes I don’t know when to shut up.
But despite my history of non-monogamy, these days I am practicing monogamy.
When I tell people I am doing monogamy they always go … WHAT? You?
I get that probably most people don’t feel compelled to emphasize the fact that they are monogamous – “Hi, this is my boyfriend and we only have sex with each other”… but that’s just because, as I said, monogamy is the default structure of relationships. It’s pretty much assumed that couples that are together are monogamous. But when you have done non-monogamy for a long time, and have been quite vocal about it like I have, then the expectation gets re-set. And so it was assumed that I would continue to have open relationships. Assumed by friends, family, co-workers … and even to an extent, it was assumed by me.
This is the story of how I challenged that assumption ….
I peered at him across the table. Our waiter had brought us an offering of crostini with roasted tomatoes. He hated tomatoes, I had just learned, but he sampled it anyway, careful to contain his disdain for the texture, the taste. He looked so damned cute over there, but he felt too far from me; the table was a sea, it seemed. A long, vast expanse where too much could get lost between us, could become swallowed by waves of misunderstanding.
With my hands in my lap, fingers folded over knuckles for assurance, I pleaded with him, “Please, please don‘t assume that just because of my history with open relationships that an open relationship is something I need. Or want. I would actually do monogamy for the right person.”
I surprised myself with this announcement. I hadn’t pre-meditated this proclamation, wasn’t exactly sure where it came from; but I was certain that, regardless of its genesis, it was as true as anything I’d ever believed.
Before this date, we’d had a pre-date (you know the pre-date, the let’s meet for coffee and check each other out date?) On this pre-date we had determined that we were steadfastly in sync in important areas – like religion and politics … but here on our date-date we just had found a place of divergence. In the realm of relationships, he is traditional. And, traditionally …. I am not so traditional.
And so I felt like I was asking a lot when I pleaded with him not to make assumptions about me based upon my previous relationship history. He had not googled me (in fact, he never has.) He didn’t know much at all about what I do at BedPost Confessions. All he knew up to that point was what I had just told him – which was that I had an open marriage and wrote a book about it.
Perceptions, such as the one that I was worried he was crafting about me upon hearing this information, are difficult to break free from. And I have, quite admittedly, painted a pretty specific (and sometimes salacious) picture of myself by being so outspoken about my relationships on the interwebs. And because I wrote about open relationships I understood that I was, by default, perceived as an open relationship advocate. But I am actually not an advocate for open relationships. I am an advocate for honesty, always. And more specifically, I am an advocate for designing the relationship of your choosing – be it monogamous or non-monogamous – I advocate for people creating the relationship that is right for them and their partner (or partners) and whatever that looks like, irrespective of what anyone else expects it to look like.
So there I sat, at a table with this adorable man I had met on OK Cupid (because contrary to what seems to be another perception, I don’t get asked out very often) … and I was asking him to not make assumptions about me based upon my either my past relationship history or my present work (because I tell ya, I have said to people “I co-produce a show called BedPost Confessions where we tell sex stories on stage” and they have run away from me, literally run away from me like I had Leprocy or a Billy Ray Cryus mullet.)
Yes, I asked this man to instead craft an opinion about Sadie the person, regardless of all the sex-related stuff, but without blocking it out completely because talking frankly about sex and relationships is a part of who I am after all.
So, basically, I said, “Here, juggle all of this!”
And it is difficult to do that, isn’t it? Juggle the different pieces of who people are? When we begin to see someone we see all that they have allowed us access to. Shit like their job, their interactions with their children if they have them, their previous relationships and how they were impacted by them, we see their social skills, their bathing habits, how their parents treated them, the way they dress, what their ideals are …. the faces they make when they come if we’re lucky … and after we have viewed them for a while we discover whether or not they match us to enough of a degree that they will fit into our lives.
And ultimately it is difficult to find someone that fits snugly next to us in that way. Someone who can meet our rough edges with corresponding ones, whose intentions can’t help but smooth the contours of who we are; where we connect so viscerally, it is as if they were always there.
I was pretty damned sure that the pieces of who I was would be a difficult fit for just about anyone.
But there I sat, hopeful and pleading, as I threw my pieces out on the table between us … along with a piece I would be willing to construct – monogamy for the right person.
And the sweet, sweet man sitting across from me agreed not to make assumptions. And I imagine that took a little bit of work.
But I had some work of my own to do. I had to re-evaluate my own perceptions of monogamy, which had been adjusted to accommodate my own choice to be non-monogamous. I had lived in an open marriage. But I wrote about it in order for others to understand the concept … in the hopes that one day it will be a relationship structure that is accepted instead of condemned, or even better, celebrated as a choice arrived at by consenting people.
Condemning people for their relationship choices is so passé.
But doing non-monogamy and writing about it meant that I had to kinda rebuff the concept of monogamy as a possibility for myself.
A quick aside here — My ex and I had lots of reasons for choosing to have an open marriage – too many to go into in this context – but I will say that we designed our relationship together, the way we wanted it to be, and I take fierce pride in that. And because we did it our way, committed to its success while understanding the risks and defining our own expectations of the outcome, we bonded in ways that would not have been possible had we not taken that particular journey together. And I feel very strongly that creating our very own custom-designed relationship template served to unite us so that when it came time, we could part ways as friends. Which is what we are today.
But back to my recalibrating my attitude about monogamy – I had previously viewed monogamy as limiting. But in reconciling it (or perhaps rationalizing it to support a new choice) I saw that open relationships/responsible non-monogamy can be limiting as well, since people who are willing to engage in open relationships are a much smaller segment of the population and are often difficult to find because they are closeted (and that’s due in large part to the lack of awareness and understanding about them, and thus subsequent judgment.) And, sorry to all the poly folks out there because I know you are all spectacularly wonderful at poly, but the people who do non-monogamy really well are an even smaller segment of the sample who practice it – although this will likely change as more people open up and learn to do it ethically. Also, open relationship drama can be HIGH drama, lemme tell ya.
Yeah, you know.
And then I had to think about what monogamy is actually about.
Is monogamy about sex? Is it about commitment, about respect, about upholding a social obligation, creating emotional safety, implementing boundaries? Is it simply about making a promise not to fuck other people?
I think it is probably some or all of these depending on the couple … but ultimately it should be a choice, an honest choice – not a default choice – that feels right for both of the people involved.
And for me? If I am gonna do monogamy for the right person … the sex has gotta be really good with the potential for it to be even really gooder. Because while sex might not be the entire component of monogamy, it is a BIG piece of it.
And if I am being truthful, there at the table that night, a seascape of lonely between us, I had an inkling that this man who I had yet to even see naked might be the right person, the one for whom I’d do monogamy, which I know now is why I announced it in the first place … but I wasn’t quite ready to fully indulge that notion. It was a first date-date after all and I was busy pleading.
Even if I had known that night that he was the right person, what I could NOT have intuited was how open-minded this traditional man would be about us designing a relationship of our choosing, together, the way that works for both of us, even if it doesn’t follow the traditional long-term relationship trajectory of date, fall in love, move in, get married. That night I could not foresee how great a listener he would be, or discern the sincerity and thoughtfulness he would willingly, excitedly extend toward the people he cares about. That night I didn’t know he’d want to see Sadie the woman who sometimes feels like a little girl instead of Sadie the sex lady who stands up on stage and says cock and pussy and throws coy looks at the audience for effect.
That night I had yet to discover that navigating our many differences and divergent viewpoints would be easy peasy lemon squeezy compared to every single one of the relationships of my past.
Yep, maturity, kindness, reciprocity and the ability to not take shit personally – I would later discover – makes being in a relationship exactly what it I think it should be … fulfilling and fun. And it turns out that each of these beautiful, captivating characteristics along with my own aching, abiding intuition, is what determined that the right person had indeed, been sitting in front of me that night.
And that is when it stopped being about “me doing monogamy” and became instead a choice that we arrived at together; a place where we can both feel safe, comfortable, and stabilized inside of it.
The table between us that night might have charted my jagged relationship journey. And looking back it was a critical point, a juncture, where a decision to ride the same old wave I’d been riding just might throw me off course. It was time for me push up and over my own attitudes and limitations. And so I did. And charting a brand new passage with this man feels exactly right … right now.
And ya know, it is truly comforting to know that it’s only the two of us at the helm.
And ever since that night, whenever we go out, we sit right next to each other at the table rather than across from each other so that there is nothing between us to block our way. And so that my hand can drift up slowly, from the small of his back and up over his shoulder to find the soft place on the back of his neck, while his hand finds the place on my leg just above my knee, and together we grasp each other lightly yet securely … for safety, for comfort, and stability.
And we hold on.
“See Me” it read, once it was finished. I hated how it looked aesthetically so it later went in the garbage. The process had been the important part ….
It was a mixed media piece that I created Christmas Eve 2011, naked in the loft, candles burning a circle around me, canvas stretched out underneath my feet. Paint dripped down my leg and glue bits dotted my bangs. The cat pushed paws around ripped up pieces of printed photos – muted memories clinging to tomorrow.
I conjured up this particular desire, the desire to be seen as I worked on the painting. Not as a woman whose marriage was failing, whose Christmas Eve was the first she’d spent alone. Not as a blogger who had for years sought attention from whomever might pay it by divulging intimacies generally reserved for close friends. I wanted not to be seen for what a google search would turn up or a rushed conversation after a BedPost show might indicate about who I am … or who I am not. Perception is a squirrely area, a place within whose walls we hover with calculated trepidation. Social media asks us to present ourselves. And we do, while continuing to hide who we really are. We want to control those perceptions.
And as a woman who writes about sex, speaks about sex, produces a storytelling show about sex and sexuality, I understand that assumptions and perceptions don’t always match the person being perceived. And I have come to terms with this. Mostly. Until that Christmas Eve when the craving was white-hot and the need to be understood was deep as black night. It was so intense a desire that I mistook the advance of a lover the very next night as witness of the Sadie who is. I was certain that the many hours of sheet-swimming that had ensued meant my asking to be affirmed, seen, had been answered – and so quickly! But I was too mired in denial to be astonished at such a serendipitous Universal turnaround.
Because, in truth, he hadn’t really seen me. No, not at all. He didn’t see the Sadie who feels so deeply that the pain often transcends the physical, leaving a cold quiet nothing in its place. Or the Sadie who cries often – because she has to – the release of it bordering on orgasmic. Or the Sadie who is still capable of feeling the sting of rejection just as she did when she was 13 and every last one of her friends ostracized her the entire summer. Or the Sadie who likes nothing more than to curl up on a comfy couch and watch really bad television with someone she loves, who likes to nap there, nuzzled in sweaty cotton and warmth. Or the Sadie who is quite afraid to go on a roller coaster but will do it anyway, just because her kid wants to. He didn’t see these pieces of me.
Because he wasn’t supposed to.
And, it seems, I didn’t know how to be seen. Until now.
Now …. I am being seen, bit by bit, piece by piece, by someone entirely new. By someone entirely different from (yet strikingly similar to) me.
By someone entirely awesome.
And even more importantly, I am seeing. Seeing him for who he is, seeing me for who I am, and seeing how we can fit together while remaining separate, individual pieces.
Because that is ultimately how we see people, isn’t it?
When we are just far enough apart to be able to look their way.
So, dear reader … what turns you off?
I am discovering that my own ON/OFF switch operates much differently than it once did. Nowadays it takes a little more to turn me on – more eye contact, more philosophical conversation, more authenticity, more everything actually…. but it takes much less to turn me off than it once did. Meaning my switch flips rather quickly these days. And it doesn’t just go OFF, finishing with a gracious “Thankyouverymuchforbeinghere” but instead it goes OFF, and then exits the building, announcing tersely,
The thing that turns me off the most is the expectation of sex.
I can be attracted, enchanted and/or crushing hard on someone I don’t know very well and if that person lets me know, overtly or subtly, that they have an expectation that I will get naked with them, an expectation that I will happily consent to shedding my regal robes, providing them with direct and ample access to my own personal crown jewels, an expectation that we will fuck, either straight away or in the future … I will freeze right the hell up. Yep, if they let me know that screwing me is their expectation I turn into a block of ice. You might as well wrap me in cling film and throw me in the walk-in.
Actually, that sounds like it could be fun.
Am I becoming less sexual in my older age? I don’t think so. I just want someone to be with me because they like me as a person, not simply because I might be decent in bed. Who doesn’t, right? It’s that whole I want to be loved for me, not my ability to make you come thing. Is this me growing up or is it me growing into myself? I think it might be both, and my body flipping switches is simply its newly natural response to … sexpectation. And it’s annoyed, I suppose, my body. Because with that expectation comes a sense of entitlement. And that? That is the turn off.
I used to wonder if the expectation of sex exists because of what I do. I am a sex writer and a producer of a sex storytelling show after all. I am all about sex, aren’t I? I recently tested this in conversations with a potential FWB I had met online (and yes, I get that it sounds like there is expectation in that sentence itself, but the thing is that I never expect anything to work out a certain way, I only lay the foundation for the possibility of it.)
Anyway …. I didn’t tell him anything about what I did. All he knew is that I was 44 years old and that I had a “progressive attitude” about sex. It wasn’t long until he was asking me to provide him with masturbatory material in the form of pics and texts and dialogue about what we might do together once we met on person. I had yet to actually meet him and therefore I wasn’t really a person to him yet. Perhaps I was just an ethereal vagina. Am I surprised by this? Of course not
But I was definitely turned off.
And I should be clear that I am not simply requiring this … respect. I am also reciprocating as well. I am all about taking it slow these days. I have certainly done plenty of objectifying of others in the past. The “he is hot and I want to fuck him … tonight” conversation is not one that is foreign to me, by any stretch. But what I am finding, I guess, is that I am just not in that space any longer. Being single has softened me a little bit I think. And I guess that is because I know now –perhaps because I was married for so long and learned what works and what doesn’t– exactly what I want in (and from) my next long or short term partner(s).
And really? I have had enough casual sex to last a lifetime.
I guess what I am saying is that if am going to get turned on, it will be for (and with) someone without expectations, entitlements, or the need for it to happen.
Because neediness? Yeah. Another big ‘ol turn off.
So, what turns you off?
I know better than to make rules for myself, rules such as: No more men for a while, Sadie, while you figure out not only what you have to give, but what you need in return.
I know better than to create such restrictions. Why? Because doing so only invites a test.
And I suck at tests.
It wasn’t an hour, perhaps two at the most, that I had agreed to commit to this No More Men resolution before such a test had indeed presented itself. The test subject was cute in that approachable way, although I likely would not have even noticed him had he not noticed me. I had quietly erected blinders in order to keep any possibility at bay – effectively cock-blocking my own self. My mind had decided on going on this man-diet and my body was following dutifully along. But wouldn’t you know? It was only moments before I had begun the ardent task of removing them. All it took was a smiling voice from behind me, asking what I was drinking.
See? I really suck at tests.
But how could I resist his interest, especially given the timing? How could I resist the enthusiasm of a sweet stranger wanting to know the stories of me? How could I resist quiet contemplation? What about compliments and long stares and shared philosophies? How could I resist a lack of pretense and an eager curiosity? Or the beautiful vulnerability of really being heard?
I could not resist. So I did not resist, even though I tried. Okay, I lied. I did not try very hard; just enough to assuage any future guilt. Just enough to reconcile my desire against my need to be true to my own word.
But, ultimately I failed the test.
Two naked bodies, one bed and zero expectations. We failed that test together, happily. Easily. Without care of the outcome. We were two people, strangers no more, pursuing the simple pleasures of the self while soothing the crooked, jagged lines of loneliness.
And since I was capable of giving that to him, and he to me, needs were met… all the way around.
Which means that maybe I passed the test after all.