I am always astonished by my mom’s insightfulness. We were speaking recently about how desire inevitably ebbs and flows in long term relationships. During the conversation I mentioned that in my relationship with my ex-boyfriend the physical desire for him never wavered. In fact, I said, it grew and grew over the years and when we finally broke up it was at it’s height. I used this personal example to ‘prove’ that the curse of long term relationships to destroy passion wasn’t always the rule.
Once I finished telling her my thoughts she responded with an observation that had never crossed my rose colored mind. She said “the passion lasted because you never really had him”. Wow. That is absolutely true and it took me over 20 years to learn it.
This is the ex I have written of before. We met when I was 23 and were together off and on for 12 years. We were serious for long stretches of time, then would break up, and eventually would find our way back to one another. Sometimes the break up lasted a day, sometimes a few weeks, and once it lasted almost 2 years. This is also the ex that I had an affair with once I learned of my husbands infidelity. This “affair” was mostly emotional since he lives in another state but it had it’s physical moments as well. I finally ended it for good almost 2 years ago. 21 years after I met him. But my mom was right – I never really had him. I always knew that he could walk out the door the next day. I felt insecure in the status of our union and anxious about our future. I never truly was able to depend on him and when I did he usually let me down. It was that thrill and that uncertainty that kept the flame alive.
I think this is the case with most affairs as well. We feel a heightened sense of passion because we know at any time the person is going to be pulled from our grasps. We desperately cling to the moments we can hold them, touch them, see them. And we are left longing for him/her in those long lonely nights when they are not with us.
This is a horrible way to live. Always worrying that it’s the last time you will be together, wondering if the feelings are true, imagining them with their spouse and their families, knowing deep down that if they really wanted to be with us they would be. We go days without hearing from them and our anxiety builds with each hour -then comes the thrill when they reach out again and this act calms all of our insecurities while setting us up for yet another round of passion followed by loss. It’s a painful cycle. We want so badly to believe in the fairy tale ending. But at some point in our adult lives we need to accept that fairy tales are not true. We do not have them.
I used to say that I had a healthy sex life before I got married. But that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. I certainly had a full sex life – an adventurous one – I could even go so far as to call it liberated. But ‘healthy’ probably wouldn’t be the first word that one would assign to the sexual experiences I enjoyed from age 15 – 35.
Now that I am married to a man that I adore – who you know is a recovering sex addict – I have been introduced to the true concept of intimacy. My husband and I have developed an amazingly intimate relationship. Our vulnerability, our honesty, our amazing support of each other as individuals. It’s all been life changing. I have to say that bringing intimacy to our sex life has been the most stubborn part of our relationship.
Neither of us ever learned how to be intimate with a lover. He, being a sex addict, always disassociated from the people he was having sex with. I, a victim of early molestation, tended to capture some control through my hyper-sexualized relationships. Considering our history with infidelity, we know that reverting to our old ways could be triggering for both of us. So we are faced with the task of abandoning our sexual tendencies in search of something more connected, more honest and (I cringe a little here) more intimate.
It’s not going so well.
Both of us are unsure how to play our new sexual role. Honestly, it’s easier to just not have sex. We love each other deeply. We dote and laugh and respect the hell out of each another. Our communication is raw and honest and we can find the humor in our faults. It’s not that we don’t WANT to have sex. We both would very much enjoy having a semi-regular go at it. But as soon as we attempt to have sex he starts to worry about my needs – then I get pre-occupied with his concerns – he gets insecure that his erection on anti-depressants isn’t quite what it used to be so he feels like he is disappointing me – I try to say something hot to turn him on but end up feeling like I am faking it – and on it goes. Not romantic. Not sexy. Not effective.
All that being said, this is probably the first time in our lives that we are truly thinking about the feelings of the person we are sharing our bed with. Perhaps we are actually too concerned with the other’s experience – the key to good sex is likely being a bit more selfish than we are capable of being with one another right now. But to be fair we are still healing from infidelities and betrayals that would have done in a less willing couple. Maybe this is just another step on our roundabout path to getting to our goal of having intimate sex with one another.
We may not be able to have the sex life we want at this point, but being able to express our feelings and have them acknowledged by one another every time we make the attempt is surely getting us one step closer.