Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

Posts tagged “monogamy

Sexy Sex and the Other Two Kinds of Romantic Relationship

OFF-blurdance

I’ve been thinking a lot about sex lately. Maybe it’s an “absence makes the heart grow fonder” sort of thing, or a retrospective retelling. I’m not sure it matters which. But in my meanderings someone suggested I listen to this TED talk about sex and desire. She seemed to think I might find some answers to things I’d been writing about. Boy, was she right.

The secret to desire in a long-term relationship | Ester Perel

Did you go watch the video? It’s amazing. And if you didn’t, or you simply don’t have the time right now,  here are my quick notes. Paraphrases from Ester Perel’s talk on desire.

+++ notes +++

“Sex isn’t something to do, sex is place you go, together and in yourself.”

In her studies she asked what made a long-term partner attractive again. Here are the typical responses.

  • when they are away (when we can gain some distance from our mate we can re-see them)
  • when they are being radiant – holding court, in their element
  • when they make us laugh, or surprise us (seeing our mate decked out for a party)

There is a big difference between needing someone and desiring them.
“There is no neediness in desire, no care taking.”

Partners who seem to have vital sex lives later in their relationship also share several traits.

  • they know how to bring back erotic desire (and they work at it)
  • committed sex is premeditated sex (you have to make time and plans)
  • willful
  • focused
  • patient
  • and present

And finally, there are three kinds of love:

  • lust
  • romantic love
  • attachment to a long-term partner

And humans have the capacity to love many people at once, in various permutations of these types of love. And somewhere in between that “attachment” and the “lust” we lose the magic.

+++ end notes +++

Okay, so to apply this new logic to my principle quests here, would be the next logical step for me. How in my marriage did my wife’s “lust” get lost in the “attachment” trap? What parts of our relationship became about survival and not about joy? And why, with a willing partner, did she choose to continue shutting down our sexual connection?

In my marriage, as she headed into a passionless place, I was trying to do everything I could think of to get her back in the mood.

These questions parallel a conversation I’ve been having with a psychologist who deals with couples and sex and divorce. And she wrote a post that caused me to ask her a direct question about my marriage and the loss of our sexual connection. Here’s what she said.

“There are only two healthy choices I see: either work on marriage, including deep look at how you perpetuate the dynamic where a wife doesn’t want sex at all (which is pretty rare- only 11% of marriages sexless which I think def is 10 times or less per year but have to look up), or move on.” Dr. Psych Mom on Facebook.

There was a choice, at some point, that my then-wife made. She chose to believe and inhabit the pattern of exhaustion, loss, overwhelm, depression, anger. And in focusing on those aspects of her own life, she failed to see what was right in front of her. A willing and lustful partner, who also happened to be a long-term attachment. We are all independently responsible for our own happiness. There was nothing I could do, though I tried, to alleviate my wife’s stress, worry, and low-libido.

Again, there’s all this talk recently about how women’s desire begins to degrade over the course of a long-term relationship. Duh! It’s the same for both parties. Sure, sex with a nubile young stranger could be just the tonic your sex life needs, but in a monogamous relationship those things are not longer available outside of fantasy and pornography. Sure does get the heart racing a bit. So women, are now able to admit, “hey our sexual attraction diminishes over time, even if the guy is awesome and loving and supportive.”

She had already exited once via an emotional affair, perhaps now she was planning how to reignite the lust with someone else. A very painful and selfish way to go about rebooting your passion, but those were her choices, and at some point, I had to go along with the decision.

In my marriage, as she headed into a passionless place, I was trying to do everything I could think of to get her back in the mood.  Even if I did all the chores on the list, even if I was making plenty of money, even if she got a good night’s sleep… It didnt’ matter. She was making a choice away from the marriage, sex was just an early warning indicator. It wasn’t about the sex. It was about her.

Long-term monogomy takes work. It takes a willingness in both partners to work on keeping things open, honest, and a bit spicy. When one partner begins to check-out or begins denying the flow between you, there is very little a solo-enthusiast can do to reconnect the lust. Perhaps it is like a faucet. At some point she was turned off by me. The stress, the financial trouble, the extra weight I put on while stressing out at the big corporate job. But that corporate job was the thing that gave her so much flexibility and freedom in her work choices. It was killing me, but it was the thing that gave her security.

I can’t put myself in her head. And today, even the words she said or wrote, seem to indicate she was indeed overwhelmed herself. The “attachment” part of our relationship had overwhelmed and overrun the lust part, for her. I say, that, because I was always willing to spark things up for her, whatever or whenever she wanted. But once we had kids, I can count those moments on one hand. She argued often that it was the chores that made her tired. And my lack of responsibility, or how I could ignore a burned out lightbulb for weeks. But something else was in-motion.

While I was one of those people who believed in continuing the pursuit of sexual connection, she was no longer willing to go along with the program. She had exited once, several years earlier, via an emotional affair, perhaps now she was planning how to reignite the lust with someone else. A very painful and selfish way to go about rebooting your passion, but those were her choices, and at some point, I had to go along with the decision.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This post really began here:  It’s the Quiet Time, the Alone Time, the Empty Spaces

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Unadulterated Love: What Is Joyful Sex?

OFF-joyfulsex

When you’ve felt the raw power of sexual joy there is never any going back to ‘blah.’

Sex is often a mixed up dance between two people. But sex begins with yourself. And ultimately, your sexual joy begins with your own relationship to something inside you. Sex, and sexual dysfunction, is 90% in your head. So when sex is off, either between you and yourself, or you and others, there is some examination that might need to take place. (I’m no doctor, and I have no understanding of E.D. or other medically related sexual issues.)

I can count on one hand the joyful sex partners I’ve had in my life. Some were even joyful with a side of obsession, and that’s not really good, but the sex was amazing.

You want joyful sex, you explore and ask for a joyful partner. And when the chemistry is ON you can imagine seeking ever deeper levels of connection with this partner.

If you agree with the idea that sex between committed partners is a critical part of a healthy relationship, you can begin your quest: first, to find the joyful sexual partner within yourself; second, to find another joyfully aware sexual partner to explore core sexual satisfaction.

I don’t mean to sound like a tantric sex practitioner, I’m not. (And when someone does claim to be, as Sting did a while back, I want to run the other way.) And I don’t really profess to understanding all the nuance of what goes into sexual chemistry (one of the great mysteries of life). But, what I do claim is my commitment to understanding my own sexual partnership goals and using those guidelines to frame part of my “nothing but 100%” commitment to finding my next relationship.

Ten tenants of my joyful sex hypothesis.

  • Much of what happens during sex is very personal (inside an individual’s mind)
  • There is a physical joy that comes from finding a connected and aware partner
  • Even the prospect of sex can awaken all kinds of wonderful chemical changes in the human body
  • Casual sex can contain elements of joy and bliss, but true joyful sex, in my definition, requires two committed partners
  • The discovery and unlocking of your partner’s sexual potential is a lifelong quest (otherwise monogamy would become boring and lead to infidelity)
  • Is is possible to get too interested and rapt in your partner’s sexual pleasure
  • When you are in the “flow” of sex you are experiencing a micro-nirvana
  • When sex deteriorates in a relationship it is an indication of deeper communication and commitment issues
  • The free play of joyful sex is as necessary as a good sleep, once you’ve experienced it, you crave it, and are somewhat restless and unsatisfied in life, without it
  • Sex is not everything, but it’s a lot

And I have a few ideas about how to discover your partner’s inner joy while having sex.

  • Always approach sex more as play than work or a goal-oriented task (the orgasm is cool, and fundamental, but it’s not always necessary for joyful sex).
  • Sex can be fast and furious (a quickie) or long an luxurious (afternoon delight: bath, massage, sex, nap).
  • One-sided sex is fine, and nice if you can get it. (This is one I’m still working on, how to just lay back and enjoy an event just for me.)
  • Sexual energy can be shut down or limited by stress, alcohol, drugs, hunger, exhaustion, worry about work, hyper-focus on the orgasm of either partner.
  • Every sexual encounter with another person is an opportunity to unlock some new pathways of sexual joy, both your partners’ and your own.
  • The more playful and unscripted sex can become, the more flexible and adaptable your relationship becomes.
  • Core sexual satisfaction soothes over all kinds of frustrations and disappointments in life and in your relationship. You still need to talk about any problems in your relationship, but when the sex is “worth it” you will be a better listener and be more committed to the necessary negotiations to keep the other aspects of your relationship healthy.

I don’t know that it is much more complicated than that. You want joyful sex, you explore and ask for a joyful partner. And when the chemistry is ON you can imagine seeking ever deeper levels of connection with this partner.

If you can find your way to playful sex you can find your way to the inner joy of sex that just might give you a longer life.

Even after 11 years of marriage and the duties of becoming parents to two lovely kids, I never lost my joyful appetite for my wife. Somewhere, she began to pull away and shut down her joyful sexual being. It was hard for both of us. But, as bad as it got, I still remembered and sought out the joyful sex I had imprinted between us. I was not willing to compromise, even if I was willing to delay and sublimate my desire while she “worked through some stuff.” When she didn’t return to our sexual bed for weeks, sometimes months at a time, I know there was more going on than sex.

What I understood even in the end of our relationship is my connection to her had been 100% strong and pure. And it did not diminish over time, until some other aspect of the relationship was failing.

As I move forward in my quest for another joyfully connected partner, I know the sexual chemistry is also a non-negotiable. And it’s really more of an attitude than a technique or prowess. If you can find your way to playful sex you can find your way to the inner joy of sex that just might give you a longer life. And a longer life with more joyful sex… well… that may be an enlightened path right there.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Sex: Men vs. Women… Wait, That’s the Wrong Approach

OFF-fk

When the intimacy dries up completely, it’s more about the relationship than it is about the animals in the relationship.

One of my posts on The Good Men Project got a very interesting comment from an articulate and intelligent woman. She was clearly trying to figure out the parts of her relationship (and sexual) experience in marriage. And I hear this a lot, about the fundamental differences between men and women when it comes to sex and sexual appetites. But let’s clear a few misconceptions up. There has been a lot of new science recently that shows women are just as interested in sex, and historically have not always been as repressed as they are today. I’ll get to that in a second, but here is my response to Erin’s comment. You can go read her full comment here on the GMP, but I think you’ll get the idea from my response.

Hmmm… You make a few assumptions that I don’t necessarily agree with, Erin.

1. Sex is about not disappointing your partner. Hmmm. I don’t think that’s the point. Sex should be a mutually desired part of any relationship. I don’t agree with all this stuff about monogamy becoming boring over time. After 11 years of marriage I was never bored or uninspired by my then-wife. Ever.

2. Men are just men and need sex, women can either comply or risk losing their man. Um… Well, some of that is true. But sex can come in many forms. Intercourse is not always the best option for either partner. And it’s true the male of the species has a more dominate drive, fueled by higher levels of testosterone. But both partners should want to be intimate, at least occasionally. Your milage may vary.

3. Sex is not about maintaining monogamy. And men will not necessarily go wandering sexually if they are not getting sex in their marriage. Just as not all women grow bored with sex after being married for a while. It’s simply the average story. But we’re not average, are we?

4. Men deal with the exact same thing, from the other side of the bed. Being constantly rejected for intimacy is hard to handle. I got creative with my requests. I had unspoken attempts. I had happy and playful attempts. I had lustful and passionate pleas. When nothing (and I mean nothing) worked, we were dealing with something other than a difference in libido.

+++

I could tell when she was closed down and when we were close, and some well-thought-out touches and supportive words were often all it took to get her to open up and tell me what was bugging her.

So let’s take as an assumption that men and women desire closeness and affection with the same intensity. And for men, often this affection is driven by the sexual drive inherent in our higher levels of testosterone and our natural hunter instinct. This is biological. BUT… That’s not the whole story, and it’s definitely not the answer for our differences in sexual desire, or desire for frequency of sex. It is part of the story, but in my opinion, not the most important part. Hear me out.

Sex is about hormones and release. Sure. I can agree with that, from an animal perspective. When we were beasts we conquered dinner on the hunt and we conquered women back at home, partially as reward for our prowess and success as a provider. Well, dear women and men, the modern era is much different. The concept of the hungry and sexually frustrated male is convenient, but not all that helpful in navigating or negotiating an equitable balance in touch and intimacy, both sexual and non-sexual.

If we put the imbalance idea on hold just for a second, let’s assume that both partners desire closeness and this involves cuddling, kissing, holding hands, and sexual interactions. If we start with the idea that both partners desire closeness, we can start solving for how to get that closeness, regardless of if it involves intercourse.

What started happening in my marriage to curb our intimacy (and this was just as much about casual touch and holding) was my then-wife began distancing herself physically and emotionally from me. As she got activated by something, anger, fear, frustration, overwhelm, exhaustion, she would withdraw rather than engage. Now, I do understand how any intimate interaction has the potential to become sexual, but that was not the issue. For me, I would’ve been happy with snuggling. But the threat of sex may have kept her from even asking for that simple nurturing.

When I get scared or sad I feel closer and more supported by a gentle touch. That connection, even a hand on my neck, shows me (in some animal – dog-like perhaps) that she is near, she cares, and she is available. Available not for sex but for hearing and supporting me whatever I’m going through.

Sex opens you up to another individual in a human way, that is very different from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some of us are still stuck in the model of that old hunter/conqueror vs breeding partner/reward dynamic.

I can see how in many relationships that are based on much more base, caveman-like, relationships that even a hand on the neck might signal, “hey let’s have sex” but this wasn’t how our 9 – 10 years of closeness had developed. I was as fulfilled by a hug, sometimes, as a good roll under the sheets.

But something emotional was beginning to happen in my marriage that was more fundamental. It was not about sex. It was about being seen and being honest.

If you have sex in a full and open way, you begin to see deeply into the other person’s nature. (I’m not talking woo woo here.) You begin to feel more connected and in my case, you crave that connection, that transparency. I could tell when she was closed down and when we were close, and some well-thought-out touches and supportive words were often all it took to get her to open up and tell me what was bugging her. And most of the time this was not about sex. I was sincerely opening my heart to hers to hear what was hurting her or freaking her out. And more often than not, in the earlier stages of our marriage, it was about external things, or someone else who had done something hurtful.

But… As we began to experience more stress in our marriage, due in large part to the financial collapse of everyone’s economy including ours, she began to avoid being close. If she got scared she would often withdraw. When I had energy and passion for her I would frequently seek her out and dig in my heels until she let me in and told me what was going on. This was the equivalent of a housekeeper making sure nothing was getting swept under the rug. And this type of closeness rarely evolved into sex. It was not about sex, it was about closeness and intimacy.

After a while, however, as things continued to slide, she was harder to reach. And she began to express uncontrollable anger, that would pop out from time to time as a “fuck you.” It was shocking the first time she just blurted it out. The second and third time I had the impression she was bottling up so much anger and rage (in her mind it was 100% about me) that she could no longer contain it in her isolation. But she was so withdrawn that I couldn’t talk her down either.

In some ways maybe she was avoiding sex too. But I think the sex we had was so open and opening she was avoiding sex in order to not be revealed. Whatever she was afraid of or angry about was so frightening she didn’t want me to open her up. She didn’t want to tell me what was really going on. And in the end she really didn’t want to tell me she was consulting an attorney and trying to figure out her best options in asking for a divorce.

So sure, she was withdrawn and withholding of sex at this late stage. But it wasn’t about sex. It was about the closeness that often opened us both up to each other’s deep feelings. She didn’t want to share her hurt and pain. She didn’t want to tell me she was actually considering divorce and not just randomly shouting curses as me. She was so far gone she didn’t want me to see into her at all.

Sex opens you up to another individual in a human way, that is very different from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some of us are still stuck in the model of that old hunter/conqueror vs breeding partner/reward dynamic. That no longer holds true, if you are consciously coupling and relating with all of your intelligence. I do know that some relationships are not based on honesty and sharing, and I’ve seen examples of the caveman mentality too often to count. But that’s not us. That’s no you. That should not be your default understanding of the man vs. woman equation.

And it’s not the way it should be with sex. Sure we men want sex more often. And it is the woman who is the gatekeeper to her own body and the gift of that intimacy. When the intimacy dries up completely, it’s more about the relationship than it is about the animals in the relationship.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

reference: Good Sex: Or Five Ways to Avoid Bad Sex – The Good Men Project

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Blinding Desire

image: shattered, creative commons usageShe said she wasn’t ready for a relationship. She said she was pretty crazy and not reliable. She said she was not over her divorce. She objected when I spoke too longingly. She corrected my assumptions about lust and love by alluding to the problems ahead.

And somehow I blew right through her objections. I was ready for this one. I could move slowly, if that’s what she wanted. I could move quickly and give her a workout to reawaken her libido. I could be even better than she could imagine. Even more confident and comfortable than she imagined. I could do this. I was certain. I did not need to rush it. I was simply enthusiastic and patient and a good honest man.

And tonight I got the dear John letter she had been hinting at. At least she was honest and could give me the blow-by-blow of why we weren’t going to work out. But the objections were the same mundane litany I’d heard before. But what I heard more clearly this time, what came through in spades on this fourth try of hers to wave me off was two concepts.

  1. Monogamy.
  2. Friends.

The first was an unwillingness, though just a week ago she had not imagined that she would have any relationship at all, to settle down and get monogamous. Of course she had not been with anyone else since her divorce. And perhaps she imagined herself sewing the fields. She mentioned “older and wiser” as a potential enticement. (I’m three years younger, but much younger in spirit.)

I can learn from the quickness of my heart to want and capture the imagination of someone else. And how several times, I responded to her objections with loving banter and sweetness.

The second she said something about wanting to remain friends. Of course that would be fine with me. But it changed everything. I had just written the following lines today, describing our conversation on her porch.

“I am looking for a relationship. I desire to be “in-relationship.” If you were to tell me you were really only interested in friendship, that would be okay, but I’d probably start dialing back some of the time I’m spending with you. I don’t really need any more “do something together” friends.”  — Need vs. Want

But the rest was where I was searching for “what’s next” and she is still seeking “what do I want.”

It’s okay, but it’s a huge miss. My first IT girl, who seemed to be climbing on board for the ride. She has taught me a lot. She has blown through my life and my heart like a shiver of love. I am grateful that she got it out in language that I could understand. And we’re really only a week into the skin-attached portion of the relationship. And her subtle objections this time hit the mark.

I won’t create a lover. I can’t convince a partner. And when the “no” is given, there is little hope of regaining the magic. There is always the “no” that has been spoken, hanging like a dangerous warning in the air.

So I pass on a very beautiful, maybe the smartest woman I’ve ever met. I can learn from the quickness of my heart to want and capture the imagination of someone else. And how several times, I responded to her objections with loving banter and sweetness. And how she finally got the courage to let me down as easily as possible.

Better now than in a month. The part that I have learned is: now energy I might have given her, to convince, convert and woo should be put to better use. Time to get on with the tasks at hand, and move along. Sad but true.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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