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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.
I walked into the apartment, looked around for a minute, maybe a trifle longer, and then announced - This’ll do.
I’d never, ever. Ever. EVER. In my life, in my 43-almost-44 years of living … ever made a decision about where I was going to live without consulting/consorting/conferring with someone else. And yes, by someone else I mean the Ex. And before him it was roommates. I’ve always had someone else to consider, and still do of course, because I have a daughter. But this decision? This was my decision to make.
All fucking mine.
Two bedrooms? Check.
Clean? Uh huh.
Washer and dryer? Yep.
A pool to beat this insufferable Texas heat? Yessir.
Fitness center? You betcha.
A place that I can call my own, a place that I won’t share with anyone (‘cept the kid of course, half the time) and in which I can run around naked and scream loudly like a blood-lusty vampire IT’s ALL MIIIIIIIIINNNEEE?
Checkity Fucking Check.
One night I actually did exactly that, sort of. Ran round my house at 2:00 am proclaiming to absolutely no one in particular, except for maybe myself and my cats, that it was finally ME time! Time to do whatever I wanted! My time! Time to do whatever my little Vampira heart desired. So ya know what I did? I ate cheetos in bed and watched the Tudors until my Tylenol PM kicked in, whereby I proceeded to slumber, wholly uninterrupted, until almost 1:00 the next day. Yes … decadence often comes wrapped in packages that may appear rather humdrum to the casual observer. Cheetos and sleep as the definition of decadence? Really? Yes!
Sometimes sticky orange fingers and non-bleary eyeballs are the stuff of which personal victory is determined.
The need to find an apartment appeared on the heels of this announcement by the Ex – We must sell the house.
Well, fuck, was my first thought. Then it quickly turned into acceptance – Okay.
He’s right of course. It’s too much house for just me, the kid and the cats. But it was my house and dammit, I’ve enjoyed living here. But divorce means division of assets (and Cheetos in bed, apparently) and the time has come that we split this one into two remnants and leave the memories that accompany it where they belong – in the past. I will miss it here. There has been a lot of history made in the 3.5 years I have inhabited this home. This is where I quit drinking, where I finished writing my book, and where our daughter has grown so into her own that she is barely recognizable to me (who are you, kid?)
It’s where I have entertained a few lovers. Where my ex did did, too.
This house is where I said, “I will love you forever” as well as, “I want a divorce.”
Yep, inside of these walls is where all began to delicately dissolve between us – where we witnessed the beginning of the end, where we followed its path with purposeful yet frightened fingers until we reached its crucial and inevitable pivot point. We’ve gone as far as we could go – this house bearing witness all the way.
So, we will sell and then I will move – break free from the confines of the past and eliminate the burden of this 2,300 square feet enslavement to it which also continues to connect me to the Ex. I shall soon have my very own place, where I will swim in the pool, run around naked and perhaps even create new relationships – while relishing my independence and freedom.
And yes … how it will play out remains to be seen. But one thing’s for certain -
It will be mine.
My daughter and I were watching a program recently where one of the characters pledged to love the current object of her affection, her partner, forever. My daughter inexplicably paused the television and turned to me to ask, “But you can’t commit to an emotion for the rest of your life, can you? I mean, it’s an emotion. You can’t control your emotions like that, can you?”
She’s not quite twelve and the girl is already questioning the dynamics of love, the language surrounding it and the meanings that such language creates. And I have to say that I adore her for her capacity to challenge such established notions.
The characters on TV -who were perhaps 20ish- symbolize the cultural narrative (in which monogamy is the prevailing precept, which is, I dare say, subtly inferred inside the statement I will love you forever,) and their love-pledge illustrates the concept of everlasting love and the assumption that it exists for most, regardless of the level of its participants’ emotional intelligence, which I think informs the possibility of everlasting love. Emotional intelligence is grown, acquired, through relationship experience, and by questioning relationship dynamics and learning various ways of operating inside of them. I also believe that acknowledging the very real truth that most relationships end or at the very least change/shift/morph into something else is part and parcel of acquiring it. One learns through experience exactly what love means inside of long-term relationships – in all of their beauty; tinged with adversity, jealousy, longing, tension and communication mishaps that are sure to make even the most passionate of us ask, What is all of this love business for, anyway? But that is the nature of love, isn’t it? It makes us question who we are. What we want. Provokes us to procure a value system with this particular notion firmly embedded - I truly believe I will love you forever. Therefore I will.
But on some level she’s right, my daughter. We cannot know with absolute, unfettered certainty who we will love tomorrow, just as we cannot now with certainty that Magic Mike will do well at the box office. My guess is that it will, simply because the opportunity for women to objectify men in such blatant regard doesn’t present itself often enough – and we ladies, yes, we have sex drives too – we wouldn’t dare miss the opportunity to objectify a hot guy in our patriarchal society. Especially when the simple observance of Channing Tatum’s abs is the equivalent of eating two pints of Cookies and Cream, but without those pesky calories. Deliciousness.
But she’s also not quite correct. Because the truth is that we do have the capacity for long-term love. I hope anyway. I posed this question the other day on Facebook and was inundated with many thought-provoking responses. My question was this,
Do you believe one can sincerely, authentically commit, in real-world application, not metaphor, to loving someone else for the rest of their lives? Is futuristic love predictable? Or is the phrase “I will love you forever,” simply a symbolic statement we use to convey the emotional weight that we feel presently?
I entered into the conversation with an admittedly cynical attitude. I know, personally, that my own emotions are, or at least can be, fleeting feelings. They are part of my body’s machine, integral to its mechanical process, but not something that has to drive me. I possess them, endure them if I have to, revel in them when I feel so inclined, and perhaps I occasionally avoid them. But can I commit to the emotion I feel at any given time? Can I predict its occurrence? Can I say, I am going to be mad as hell next Thursday at 1:15. Whoooo, My ass is going to be chapped right then.
No, of course not. So can I say with certainty, I will love you next Thursday at 1:15 ?
Of course it’s not quite so black and white. Generally, anger requires provocation in order to manifest. But what about love? Does it need to be cultivated? I thought it did. But I learned -or was perhaps reminded- through my interaction with my Facebook friends … that love is different that way.
Love is a choice.
And it is inside of that choice that makes love have a power, a power that other emotions do not possess, and never will. Love is acceptance, in every sense of the word. It does not require reciprocity, nor does it need to be redacted as an act of vengeance or ego-preservation. Like choosing to love, taking love away is a choice made by the person who has offered it. It is my choice to love someone. And within that space of loving, truly and honestly loving someone without ego or expectation … I am given a gift.
Sounds new-agey, I know.
Because really? Love? That is a power that resides in me. It’s free, it doesn’t cost a thing – not my self-respect, not my self-worth, nor my vitality, well-being, satisfaction, fulfillment or by ability to self-express. In it, with love, I sacrifice nothing. It is unlimited. And it gives back immeasurably. Fills me up, nourishes my spirit. Reminds me that I am not alone in this world. To give love is to get it in return. Even if the object of my love does not grant his or her love back to me, I will still get it in return – from someone else. I believe that.
I have to believe that.
I tell my daughter I will love her forever, and I am certain that I will. I cannot imagine not loving her, you see, and this is where the idea of loving forever, and the sentiment attached to it, might very well originate. The sheer unfathomable-ness of such a scenario is so weighted, so impossible to construe, that I avoid even contemplating it. I see that this is where the power lies – in loves ineffable nature.
This is how big love is.
So big that we don’t ever want it to stop.
I certainly would never say to my daughter, I think I will love you forever, although don’t quote me on that, because I don’t know how I will feel in the future. That would just be mean. And inaccurate. And it would do nothing to help her cultivate the emotional intelligence I know she has the capacity for, and it would leave her muddled to the possibilities that loving can create.
We want to be loved. We need to be loved.
And we need to love.
So, to my daughter I say this – “No, Babygirl, you can’t predict your emotions or where and how they will show up down the line. But love? Love is different, which I guess is why it is so very special. And I promise you, I PROMISE you, my darling love, that love is something you can count on me for …
“It isn’t possible to love and part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.” ~E.M Forster
Sometimes I glimpse my mother inside of myself; I might see her face in mine when I round the corner into the bathroom, my lips fixed just so. Sometimes I’ll hear her in my voice, inside the very timbre of my words, and marvel at how they echo the sentiments I once considered fatalistic – those cars are driving way too fast down this street, the music is awfully aggressive, isn’t it? do you really want to wear that out to dinner, honey?
Mothers have a way of turning into their mothers in at least one way, if not another.
My mother might offer advice to strangers, even; if she happens to have first-hand knowledge of a sort that they appear to lack. Mothers enjoy being helpful after all. It’s one of the things they do best. Nurturing spirits long not only to provide care.. but to educate.
But my mother would not have poked her nose into the business of four teenage girls riding the Express A train from Brooklyn to Manhattan. At least not the four teenage girls that this mother (that would be me) encountered last week. No, I am pretty sure Mom would have been a tad bit mortified by their conversation, or at the very least bemused. And surely she’d have kept her mouth shut (if it weren’t hanging wide open, that is) — the certainty with which I say this has its basis in the assumption that their conversation’s topic is not in her area of expertise.
But it is in mine.
I couldn’t help but listen in. Two of them were sitting right next to me on the bench so the access was easy, the other two sitting across on the other side, legs draping the floor of the train. They were all wearing skinny jeans, tight tees and low-top Converse, and carrying little purses, the contents of which I could probably guess – lipgloss, money, metro card, gum, cell phone, condoms. The short-haired girl sitting on the other side of the one sitting next to me was up in arms about some boy she liked, or at least did like, until she decided he must be gay…
“Do you know what he told me?” she hissed at the girl sitting just beside me, “He said that Molly stuck a finger in his ass and it made him laugh! Can you believe that? I mean, he just let her do that and he thought it was funny?”
I looked over at her and I swear I saw fire flames dancing inside her pupils. Her friend responded, “What’s the problem exactly?”
“The problem? The problem is that that means he’s gay! Any dude who lets anyone put a finger or anything else in his ass MUST be gay!”
Her friend, the one sitting next to me, just shrugged. I looked toward the other two girls across the width of the train and their glassy-eyed, teenaged stares pulled me backwards in time – the faces of friends who either have no opinion or have no inclination to offer it. These other girls know their place in the hierarchy, I thought; the short-haired girl is obviously the righteous ruler in this particular pecking order.
“God, I can’t believe it, I mean, can you believe it? I can’t believe he’s gay, I like really liked him, ya know?”
This is where I interrupted. And I interrupted her not in order to save this poor boy from being unduly railroaded in the middle of a westbound train, but more to save her poor little friends from having to endure any more of her insistent whining, whining which had no foundation in fact.
Plus, I have been known to offer advice to strangers. You know, whenever I have first-hand knowledge that they apparently lack…
“Um, excuse me. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation and I just wanted to say something. There are actually a lot of nerve endings in the anus and it’s because of this that the ass can be a great source of pleasure for men. Women too.” The short-haired girl just stared at me, but her friend piped up, “Yeah, I heard that!”
I continued, “Think about it, we have pussies, because we are girls, men have cocks, since they are guys, but we all have assholes. Why would only gay men’s assholes like to have fingers, or anything else, in them?” The short-haired girl cocked her head at me, squinted her eyes. I kept on speaking, “I personally know quite a few straight men who love to have their asses played with. Dildos, fingers, vibrators even!”
“Really?” she asked. I peered over at her friends across the way, both of whom were smiling. I suspected they knew all of this already. They probably had encountered a few ass-centric straight guys too.
“Yep, really! And I know a lot of chicks who like anal sex. And I also know gay men who don’t like it at all. So, ya see, just because this guy let someone go there doesn’t mean that he’s gay. It just means he might like having his ass played with.”
She had one more question, “But, but … I know straight guys who won’t let anyone get anything near their butts! They get really mad about it even, because they don’t want anyone thinkin’ they’re gay. So, if it’s fun and all, why are they getting mad?”
“Well, that’s simple, hon. That’s because of the very false assumption, the one that y’all were actually furthering with this conversation, that butt play makes a dude gay. But now you know that is not necessarily true, right?”
“Wow, yeah. Yeah, I do. Thanks.” Her friends heads nodded in unison, “Yeah, cool,” as the four of them walked off the train.
With that, my motherly duty had been done.
And I am certain that my own mother, had she been there sitting beside me that day, would have been able to conjure up some pride for me and my nurturing, sex-educational spirit… that is after she had picked her jaw up off the floor of the A train.
I spoke with someone last week, someone who has faced great adversity in his life, including the loss of loved ones in a plane crash. Yet he, despite having endured abject sadness, spoke to me with a radiance of such depth that I could practically hear him smiling over the phone line.
This is what he said to me ~
We all face difficulties during our lifetime Sadie, challenges large and small, but it is up to us to decide how gracefully we move through them. The more we manage to act with intention, the more wisdom we build.
I have thought about his words many times since then as I’ve pondered the last several months. And I can consider many of the graceless ways in which I acted over the course of my entire life, if I look back even further … while simultaneously attempting to balance those memories out with the ones that recalled me acting in integrity, and with purpose and meaning. But then I remember that it all has meaning, doesn’t it? Every step we take gets us to where we are supposed to be. Even the stumbly steps lead us to right here and right now.
A couple of days after that phone conversation, I was standing in my living room chatting with a photographer who had come over to take pictures of my house. She’s a writer, too, and is about to embark upon an adventure to a faraway land. I am envious of what she is creating for herself in part because her plan is similar to the one I often fantasize about once my little kiddo flees the nest. But mostly I am inspired. By a single woman carving her very own path. One that, I would guess, has also been paved with chunks of clunkiness, tempered by certain gracefulness.
Because that’s how life is.
She asked me how my book sales were going. I wrote a book, you may know. It is about my open marriage. Or what was my open marriage. I told her that the electronic version was selling fairly well on Amazon but that sales on my old website had stalled out. I thought about it for a quick moment and then admitted to her, easily, because she seemed the type of person that I could be really frank with, that I didn’t much feel like promoting the book any longer. It felt disingenuous; as if, by doing so, I was standing for something that I didn’t have the credibility to represent. After all, I don’t have an open marriage any longer.
I don’t even have a marriage.
But, that’s life, right?
We make our way in the manner we know how, and then we get stuck and we back up or turn around or veer off course or stop for a while and recalibrate and then get going again. Sometimes we fuck up in the interim and sometimes we make choices that feel like we are doing the right thing. And sometimes, even if it feels right, it just isn’t. And sometimes, even if it feels wrong, it turns out to be right after all.
And I guess that this is how I am beginning to feel after these two conversations collided – like I am going the right way. Even if sometimes it feels like I am being heaved backwards by situations and scenarios far beyond my control, I am moving in the direction I am supposed to. Being reminded to act as gracefully as possible was simply… a road sign. Confronting my conflict with my book was, too.
And having an open marriage?
Well that was one of my paths to enlightenment – in learning that my marriage wasn’t everything that I thought it was.
But, hey… that’s life.