Monday, August 17, 2015

Open and unafraid

I have always hard a fairly liberal attitude towards sex.  I was young when I started exploring my body and asking questions, and I developed a sense of sexual aesthetic early on.  My dolls and action figures had an active sex life, and I had an active imagination, populating my fantasies with ideas inspired from the inevitable exposure to sexualization that every American kid enjoys.
When I was older, and began to fully understand what sex entailed, I became more conservative in my expectations.  I began to experience the dark side of sex, being bullied for my perceived sluttiness in the way I later learned many lower income girls with curvacious figures are singled out, despite having almost no actual experience.  I decided in junior high that I would wait for marriage to have sex, and in high school adjusted to waiting for college.  When I met my first boyfriend I decided that waiting for love was enough, because he and I were going to go to college together anyway, get married, have kids and start our own Montessori school.
After we broke up I waited a year before developing feelings for someone else, and eventually had sex with a second person.  when I first started sleeping with my high school boyfriend, the enjoyment of sex had been a revelation that led to insatiability.  The second partner was a new revelation; legitimate orgasms, and the realization that sex could improve my mood!
After that the flood gates opened and I developed a "just say yes!" attitude to most sexual experiences, learning a lot about what I did and didn't like, and slowly and fumblingly teaching myself about my own value through the backwards process of seeing how various partners treated me.  It was heady and enlightening and regularly awkward.  My early twenties were filled with experiments that yielded hilarious anecdotes and a couple of romances.  By the time my heart was broken again, by the second boy I loved, I found I couldn't go back to the same adventurous coupling.  I slowed down, looked around, and started that long searching dance all us monogamists do.
At twenty six I fell in love again, with a charismatic narcissist.  We raced down the aisle in secret, and I spent five years learning what it meant to be married, to blend family traditions, and to see the same dang penis day in and day out for year with no end in sight.  I had always been worried I would get stir crazy with out the adventure of finding a new experience to add to my list, but it turned out my wild twenties had done exactly what they were supposed to; I could cozy up with my memories and feel satiated, content in the knowledge that I had tried a little bit of everything, and could make it a netflix night without fear of missing out. 
When that relationship did finally devolve into broken hearts and splintered belongings, I knew exactly what I wanted.  Monogamy, which had terrified my 20 year old insatiable self, sounded like retiring on the french riviera, relaxingly decadent.  I fell in love with a new man, whose stable quiet strength calmed me.  We talked about sex openly; it had been years since I felt any shame about my past, and as a recent divorcee I felt like my monogamy credentials were in order.
A recent work trip has clarified that for me when I spent the better part of the weekend explaining to my calm, level-headed beau the details of an evening out with friends.  His suspicion, laid out with mathematical precision, was based on a society of sexual liberalism, my own personal open-mindedness, and my personal history of both liking sex a lot and, when single, pursuing it actively. 
It took me a long time to figure out that I was hurt by his accusation.  I still maintain I did nothing wrong, but it took me a while to remember how it felt to have to defend my choices, even my past choices, to someone.  Especially to someone I love.
But, the fact remains, I do love sex.  And I love monogamy.  they are not mutually exclusive, and my past is not my present, nor is it my future.  I have no reason to feel guilty about my past.  I own it openly and honestly, and I will not let anyone else color it with their shame or misunderstanding.  I am an adult woman, and my sexual history is part of what has made me who I am. 
Take it, or leave it.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Time on My Side

Today, I am mad at society.

This morning I awoke to the realization that I feel an undue pressure to couple, quickly.  Because I am not getting any younger.
On the surface, that's not society's fault.  Time generally progresses in a linear, forward-moving fashion that I've gotten used to over the years.  But I am not, actually 'running out of time', in the sense that i still have more than half of my life ahead of me.  So why do I feel this way?

There's the biological reality of childbirth, but first, many babies are born healthy and happy to mothers in their thirties and even beyond.  Truthfully, having a genetic child has never really been that big of a deal to me, except in that I think I have decent genetics (healthy, intelligent family...good stuff to share with society's gene pool, etc.), so even the fact that I want to have a baby doesn't explain this pressure.

The feeling of running out of time comes from the idea that as I age, as a woman, I am becoming less and less value.  I peaked some time around 24, and am quickly wasting my "Still Fuckable" years finishing my PhD and starting my career.  the idea that, as a youthful and good looking woman in her early thirties I have managed to sneak by, but am living on borrowed time and will inevitably wake up on day, 39 and a useless husk of a human, no longer marketable or of interest.
I've read opinion pieces about how 'smart women are too picky' and listened to all the supposedly tongue-in-cheek sitcom comments about women in their thirties. And it is soaking in.  The women who star across from actors older than me are starting to look (and actually are) younger than me.  I am looking right at you Jeniffer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.  They look great together, but dude is FOURTY.  She is twenty five.  Let's be real about this for, like, one minute.
That kind of stuff perpetuates this nagging feeling that I am not as valuable as I was when I was in my twenties, that I am some kind of sports car you drove off the lot, or a piece of fruit with a short shelf life.
This feeling persists in direct defiance of reality; I am not one of those woman who looks back with jealousy of nostalgia at photos of a younger, more attractive me.  I was an awkward ass teen and young adult, and have only in the last six or seven years really blossomed as a stylish, attractive woman who dresses well and manages her eyebrows effectively.  I have gotten objectively hotter in my late twenties and early thirties, I even lost some weight!
I've also become a better person, through years of therapy and challenging relationships and experiences, I have become the kind of person I want to be.  I am nicer, more honest, funnier, more helpful.  I am more pleasant to be around, and frankly it is more pleasant to be me.
These are, of course, my opinions, but I think most people close to me would say it's true.  I am absolutely certain about the eyebrows thing, and dudes, it makes a difference.  The final factor is my value to society, and that is undeniable.  I am currently increasing my earning potential at a much faster rate than when I was younger, bouncing from anonymous office job to meaningless office job.  Now I am developing my career in a satisfying, challenging and in demand career that will have a positive effect on the world around me.  Soon I will make a solid salary with fantastic benefits and a flexible schedule, making me the idea trophy wife for anyone wanting to pursue their own interests.  Plus there are my qualities that don't age; I like to cook and entertain, and can be helpful in a bevy of social situations.  I am generally a pretty decent catch, and all signs point to me becoming literally more valuable as time goes on.
So this dumb idea that I am running out of time, that each day I exist somehow mars my value, is absolute bullshit.  I knew me at 22, 24, 26.  I was kind of an asshole, or at least I was confused, and often drunk and topless.  Today I am the good kind of fun, that stays up late drinking wine and then makes a frittata for you in the morning. 
And soon I'll be able to buy you something pretty, too.

To the Woman Marrying my Ex-Husband

To the woman marrying my ex husband,
First and foremost, congratulations.  In the whirlwind of the last nine or ten months since you met my ex-husband, I never got to congratulate you on your engagement.
Weddings are a time of joy, a celebration of love and/or settling, and spending way too much money on catered food.
I know you wanted to meet for coffee, and pick my brain before agreeing to marry the man who forced me to sign divorce papers one year ago.  At the time that idea was overwhelming; I didn't know you at all and had no idea how honest to be.  I didn't want to subconsciously sabotage your relationship, but I also didn't want to do you a disservice by not telling you what might save you years of emotional pain and psychological anguish.  So, I did the safest thing I could think to do, and backed away slowly with my hands in the air, hoping you would interpret it in a way that served you best.  Or chickened out, either explanation works.
Now mutual friends tell me that you are getting married on Sunday.  I've even seen pictures on Instagram that make me hate myself for ever learning what the fuck Instagram was.  Or looking at your Instagram.  again, either works.
I am still happy for you; I am a giant sucker for weddings and love and happily ever after, and the idea of someone somewhere getting that thrills me.  But I was married to that man for five years, lived with him, shared holidays with him, and loved him.  So I may still have some insight into his personality that you may not be privy to.
When we first got together it was very similar; whirlwind romance, overwhelming attraction and swift commitment.  We were married within six months of meeting.  The romance and passion were heavy from the start, which leads me to Lesson One: with the highs come lows.
All those wildly passionate kisses and gestures were matched by heated arguments peppered with increasingly hurtful personal insults to me, my character, and the characters of those I love.  Threats of violence came slowly, but punctuated the really passionate fights in ways that still color my memory.  Violent actions became a kind of relief from the building tension of verbal venom, and I found myself waiting for a moment that would finally cross the line into Undeniably Inappropriate, so that I could rationalize leaving this man whom everyone loved so much.
Which dovetails nicely into Lesson Two: He is a textbook narcisist.
I say this clinically and lovingly, because I found it to be true.  While enthralled, I believed he was better than even he thought himself, and repeated in my own voice his words, that I would never find anyone as good as him.  Even after breaking his hold and going off on my own, I lived in fear of confessing that I'd actually left him certain that scores of mutual friends would instantly shun me as the inferior half of the couple.  Making friends again on my own, something I used to relish, was one of the hardest and most terrifying things I had to do after leaving him.  Second only to actually leaving him, which leads to Lesson Three: When his calm rational breaks, you will realize he is capable of anything.  And I mean anything.  I have pre-dialed police phone numbers into my phone, and received pictures on my phone that haunt me to this day.  I do not pray much, so I hope against all hope that you never learn what his limits are.
Lesson Four: You may never be enough.  Speaking of limits, I was stretched to mine within the context of that relationship.  It was a blessing and a curse in that I found out I was stronger and more capable than I ever believed, but I faced some of my darkest moments, too, when pushed beyond my limits to that dark empty space where your soul can't reach.  I hosted holidays with limited resources during finals week while working.  I slept 8 hours a week to complete tasks, and made international phone calls at 1 am while he rested.  Maybe it was my personality, but no matter how much I gave it was never enough.  I caution you against giving away yourself.
He loves well, with his full heart, but he pushes people away.  He demands absolute compliance with his plans, and perfection in execution of anything.  But if you can give him this, you can both be very happy.
Above all, he wants to be cared for and laugh, and enjoy the good things in life.  So, if you can give him those things without questions or qualms, you both may be very happy together.

And I wish that for you.  But also, hold tight to your sense of self, lest it wander away some late night and you have to spend months seeking it, as I did.

I'd like to tell you to call me anytime with questions or concerns, like I tell my students, but let's be realistic.  You will never read this, and just as you will never fully understand my failed marriage to your future husband, I am certain I will never understand your relationship.  But still, into the void of infinate ears and eyes that is the internet, I shout, "Good luck!"

Most Sincerely,

The Woman Who Left Him For You to Find