Category Archives: sex

breakups are harder on men? who knew?

While reading my Glamour magazine recently,

Blogger’s Note:  I receive Glamour magazine because when my favorite interior design magazine was cancelled last year, the publishing company decided to fulfill my remaining subscription with Glamour.  I have no idea what demographics they were relying on when they made that assignment. I am certain that I am 20 years outside their target audience.  I read it rather than throwing it away because I like a good, trashy dose of brain fluff once-in-a-while.  Anyway, back to the point of this sentence….

I came across an article titled “Why Breakups are Harder on Men than on Women.”

SERIOUSLY?! This I just had to read.  But only after scoffing audibly while instantaneously calling to memory the countless hours I’ve spent crying and thrashing and eating ice cream and drinking wine (sometimes all at the same time) after my own breakups.

Now, if you’ve followed me for any length of time at all, you know I’m a huge, shameless fan of little relationship factoids.  I collect them the way some of my guy friends collect sports statistics.  In my quest to do better with relationships post-divorce, I devour and regurgitate relationship research constantly.  My friends are abundantly patient with me, and I think some of them actually find this stuff interesting, too. But I’ll admit that when I discover some new little factoid that I’ve never heard before, I get a little giddy, kind of like when Separated Dad calls me to wax lyrical about the iPhone 5’s new features.

So, I set aside my skepticism (okay, some of my skepticism) and proceeded to discover why breakups are harder on men.

For those of you without the time or inclination to read the whole article (men should probably avoid the part about why size matters…), here’s the relevant part:

“Sex releases bonding chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin into female and male brains, and it’s vasopressin that helps a man bond with you. For an animal-kingdom example, consider the usually monogamous male prairie vole, a cute little mouselike creature. Larry and his colleagues discovered that without the vasopressin effect, the vole would turn into a promiscuous cad. No vasopressin effect, no monogamy. When a human male is under the influence of vasopressin, as all are during sex, he forms a bond with you that’s kind of like an animal claiming a home; your scent, your eye color, even your apartment all become cues that make him crave you. Another animal example: If you give a male hamster a shot of vasopressin to the brain, he’ll run around peeing like crazy to mark territory—that’s his place, nobody else’s. Release a guy’s vasopressin by having sex with him, and he’ll unconsciously start to view you as the territory he’s bonded to. You don’t have to like it, but this is where much of that famous male possessiveness comes from.”

The idea then follows that when the man goes through a breakup, he loses not only his girlfriend, but his whole sense of “home.”  Apparently, the bonding chemicals affect females differently, causing us to nurture, rather than protect, our mates, so the breakup affects us differently, too.

Hmmmm….

A couple of things jumped out at me from this description, beyond the fascinating science.  One was the author’s use of the word “crave” to describe a man’s attraction to his woman.  I’ve often used that word in my own head when thinking about how some men seem to truly need that sexual –rather than simply some other physical — connection with me.  I’ve often wondered if their need of me went beyond satisfying some basic urge like hunger.

I also had to acknowledge the male possessiveness thing.  Almost without exception, the men that I perceived having the strongest sexual attraction to me were also the men who were the most possessive.  I had never, ever linked the two until reading this article, but for me, at least, it’s true.  I’m not exactly sure what that means.  Naturally higher vasopressin levels on their part?  Something in me that triggered more release of vasopressin during sex? I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter.  But I find it intriguing.

But above all, I was captured by his use of the word “home” to describe how the man attaches to his mate.  I have noticed that men — in songs, poetry, and Hollywood declarations of love — frequently invoke this sense of a woman as “home,” but, to be truthful, I’ve never really understood it.  From my female perspective, some men have felt more comfortable or comforting or safe to me than others, but I don’t think I’ve ever described someone as feeling like “home,” nor have I ever heard any woman of my acquaintance do so.  This is very curious to me, since women are supposedly hard-wired to nest, to create a home, to want to feel “at home.”  And yet we don’t seem to invoke that lingo about our partners.  Men, on the other hand, are “kings of their castles” and “masters of their domains,” but hardly ever talk about seeking a home or creating a home or whatever.  And yet, when reaching for a word to describe their soulmate, they settle on “home.”  So now I wonder:  is that because, for a man, “home” is wherever his woman is?  Does he not seek to create a home so much as to find one in a mate? Does her scent, her hair, her possessions become that home for him?  If so, that is a positively lovely and precious and wonderful thing.  And if it means that he hurts more when it’s over, then that is sad, to be sure.  But also kind of wondrous.

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how well do you know your vagina?

Even before I start, let me say that I can only imagine how many hits this post will receive, given that any post that even remotely touches on sex always skyrockets to the top of my ratings and claims the top spot for far longer than it generally deserves. But since we’re all (mostly) mature adults, I will continue…

When I was 21-years-old and living in England, I was on my lunch break one afternoon and alone in the office.  As I was leafing through some British version of Glamour or Cosmo or a faux Mademoiselle, I turned the page and was confronted with a double-page spread of vagina mugshots. One hundread to be exact. One hundred thumbnail photos of other women’s vaginas, all lined up neatly next to each other under the title “How Well Do You Know Your Vagina?” My jaw literally dropped. I turned the page quickly, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I snuck a peek back at the vaginal mugshots and proceeded to lose the better part of the afternoon learning more than any middle school health class had ever taught me about vaginas.

It was like intellectual porn, really.

There were lots of fun facts and figures (none of which I remember now), and all kinds of historical details about chastity belts and venereal diseases and the like. But the section that really arrested my attention that hot summer’s day was the part of the article that discussed how unique vaginas were and how very few of the 100 women pictured on the preceding pages could correctly pick out her own from the line-up. The magazine article lamented the fact and credited it to the repression of female sexuality.

At that, I looked up and wondered… Could that possibly be true? Of course we could pick out vaginas, right? We’d know our hands in a second. Our lips. Probably even our ears. And vaginas are at least as important as those, right? But then it dawned on me. I hadn’t ever really seen mine. Not really. Not the way it looked in the mugshots – the full-on, legs-spread version. And if I really thought about it, it had never occurred to me that they would all look so different. I figured they were mostly the same, perhaps with some minor variations, like a knee or an elbow.

Now, being that I was a young woman determined not to be sexually repressed, I was aghast. But I reassured myself what I was in the clear majority, according to the article. And actually (I triumphantly reminded myself!) as an American, I was probably in an even greater majority in my home country, given that we Americans hold the dubious honor of being the most sexually repressed Anglo society. So there!

But it still bothered me.

A few nights later, over Indian curry with some girl friends, I mentioned the article and asked them nonchalantly if they thought the statistics cited were surprising.

Girlfriend #1: That’s bollocks. Some twit who’s never seen her vagina wrote that article to justify her own prudishness.

GF #2: Agreed. It’s rubbish if you ask me I mean, who HASN’T seen theirs?

<general scoffing around the table as I took a quick bite of Naan and changed the subject>

Well, you can bet that I got very well-acquainted with a small compact mirror and my own pink parts later that night. Like hell was I going to be the only one of our acquaintance who couldn’t pick her vajayjay out of a line-up, should the need ever arise.

I had forgotten about that magazine article until recently. One morning I woke up, rolled over, grabbed my iPhone and opened my email to find this photo:

Credit: Elephant Journal. http://www.elephantjournal.com

It was attached to a story in one of my favorite online journals – Elephant Journal – about the latest craze in cosmetic surgery: vaginal reconstruction known as vaginoplasty. What?! I had never heard of this! Yet again, I was behind the proverbial eight-ball as far as vaginas were concerned!

You can read the article yourself here, but the nutshell version is this: women across the country are paying between $10,000-15,000 for designer vaginas. Apparently, the most desirable vagina is one with thick, full outer lips (or labia majora, if you’re the clinical sort) and small, tight inner lips (or labia minora). So, apparently, not all vaginas are created equally beautiful; someone, somewhere decided that there is a particular standard of vaginal beauty, and this is it.

Huh.

Okay, so maybe I should have been comforted and found some way of peacocking my privates around town a la Britney Spears, but instead I was just dumbfounded and more than a little appalled. I mean, really… is this what we’ve come to? We’re now judging and classifying women by the most private piece of our anatomy? Pitting us against each other – yet again! — in the continued, futile competition to be the perfect woman? How sad is that?

First I wondered whom decided on the ideal standard? The article indicates that this “perfect” vagina strongly resembles the standard exhibited by the ladies of the porn industry. After a moment’s confusion, I realized that this makes perfect sense. Women are watching porn in ever greater numbers – porn that is created by and mostly for men. And, for most women, it is our only real opportunity to see a vagina other than our own up close. So it stands to reason that more porn watching by women would result in a female curiousity about what other women look like down there and what men might prefer.

The next logical question is why would the male porn executives (do you suppose it says that on their business cards? “John Smith, Porn Executive”) favor this particular look over some other? Beauty, we know, is a standard that is (thankfully) forever changing to some extent. But, as study after study shows, within cultures, at any fixed time, there are very strong and consistent ideas of female beauty, and many of those ideas are rooted in biological drives of which we aren’t even aware. Large breasts suggest a nursing (and therefore) fertile woman. Same goes for a high waist to hips ratio. So, no surprise to discover that the porn pussy resembles a healthy, fertile young woman’s vagina. From older friends who speak plainly about these things, I have learned that as we age, and particularly as we go through menopause and lose estrogen, the inner and outer lips of our vaginas lose their fullness and elasticity, becoming elongated and darker. Therefore, vaginas that seem to resemble those characteristics of a post-menopausal woman (even in very young, nubile women) may be subconsciously associated with older, less fertile women.

So, yes, it appears that men (speaking very broadly here), might have a preference for a particular “look” in vaginas. This is not entirely news to me. Having a very curious nature and no real filter for probing questions with my male friends and lovers, I have conducted, over the years, my own informal survey of male preference of intimate female body parts like nipples and vaginas. And my highly unscientific survey supports the idea that there are, indeed, some very broad preferences.

Okay, so that’s the science (including my own, less-than-sound brand), but here’s how I think it works in real life: most men are simply happy to be given access to the castle. The location and structure of the moats and turrents are really quite unimportant in the grand scheme of things. As the Elephant Journal article makes plain, just because men may have a preference doesn’t mean that that preference will determine (or even influence!) their decisions about dating or having sex with a particular woman. One man even told me about how his ex had such long and protruding inner lips on her vagina that she would have to carefully tuck them into a bikini bottom. My mind boggled at this, and while he acknowledged that it was certainly not his favorite part of her anatomy, he’d been very attracted to her and loved her very much. So, bottom line, yes, he noticed, and no, it didn’t really matter. Was he relieved to discover I was built differently? Yes, but he definitely wasn’t dating me for my vagina any more than he’d left her because of hers.

I think the appearance and character of intimate female parts is, for men, probably similar to penis size and shape for women. Do we notice? Absolutely. But excepting the extreme ends of the spectrum, it doesn’t influence how we feel about the guy we’re with. Like eyes and hands and smiles, it may be – or not – something that we particularly like about our man.

So why are women spending so much money to get a designer vagina then? Typically I try to refrain from judging other women for their cosmetic surgery choices. Having not lived in their shoes, with their experiences, I do not feel qualified to cast a verdict on the wisdom of their nose job or breast augmentation. And, should I choose to have anything done to alter my body, I would not want other women weighing in with their opinions.

But.

TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS?!?! Seriously, people?

The breast thing, the nose job, the tummy tuck, the liposuction, the chin implant… I get it. Honestly, I do. This, I do not, though. While I can recognize that perhaps I have never encountered the unique humiliation of disrobing and being concerned about the appearance of my vajayjay, I still have to imagine that – not to be a broken record – but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Is there a man (or woman, for that matter) out there who stopped sleeping with a woman because he didn’t like the look of her vagina? Perhaps, but I’m really doubtful on this one.

But then I have to wonder if the male reactions are subtle and the guys valiant in their efforts to conceal some element of surprise or disappointment, and I cannot imagine how much that would surely suck.  I suspect that the ex with the protruding lips must have received some less than favorable reviews at some point in her life… enough for her to ask the man I know whether they bothered him. So, obviously, there was some uncertainty or insecurity there. That I get. That I understand. And that I wholeheartedly sympathize with. Given the extremely long list of things that women worry about as we disrobe for the first time, adding something that intimate (and heretofore unchangeable) to the list is just a crying shame.  Ugh!

Finally, I wonder at our choice in idol. Why, again, are we making ourselves over to look like porn stars? Are the women getting this cosmetic vaginal surgery the same ones who are getting the double F cup size on purpose? Or are these women who are otherwise just like me and have decided that they need a porn pussy to be pretty? Usually major beauty definition shifts are credited to bona fide celebrities (See Cindy Crawford for curvy models and Angelia Jolie for full lips). But in this case, we’re talking about emulating young women who’s biggest achievement thus far has been to star in a porn movie under a fake name that would likely make her father put a bullet in his head. I don’t really get it.

But I guess it’s the only model women have at this point. Until more female celebrities start following Britney’s lead and allowing us all a glimpse at their vajayjays, we can only go with what we can see, I suppose. Still, it seems a shame. I’m sure amongst the top 50 female celebrities, the variety of vaginal types would be quite diverse. By revealing themselves that way, they could likely set at ease millions of women nationwide and stop all this ridiculousness before it goes any further. But I don’t expect to see Jennifer Aniston opening her legs for Cosmo anytime soon.

Now that I think of it, if the female celebrities do decide to take a stand for vaginal beauty, I think that all their male counterparts should disrobe publicly as well. Just as a show of solidarity, of course. Definitely not because I’m curious and like seeing hot men naked. I’m just sayin’.

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worst. sex. ever.

I don’t usually kiss and tell.  Well, actually, I do kiss and tell, but I don’t usually have sex and tell.  Unless it’s bad.  And then I spill the beans.

A friend reminded me recently of the story of my worst sex ever.  It’s  a story that he remembers because… well… everyone who’s heard it remembers it.

First, let me be clear that a guy has to be an over-achiever to claim the title of worst sex I’ve ever had.  I’ve had a lot of sex.  Some of it was worthy of whatever the Oscar for porn is, and some of it was just plain bad.

Before my marriage, my award for worst sex ever belonged to a really nice guy with a really small penis.  Now, I’m honestly curious what kind of karmic debt he’d incurred to force him to go through this life with such a remarkably small penis, but it was truly so small that I didn’t even realize when intercourse had actually begun.  This dubious distinction won him the cruel nickname of “Phantom Dick” from one of my girl friends.  (And, I’m not a size snob; in fact, I am biologically constructed in such a way that a guy has to be pretty darn tiny to not satisfy my size criteria….) But, anyway, Phantom Dick was so nice and smart and sweet that I was relieved when our relationship fell apart for other reasons, so I wouldn’t have to suffer the guilt of breaking up with a guy simply because nature had played a mean joke on him.

Twenty years later I realized that there are far worse things than phantom dicks.

The lover who currently holds my worst sex ever title we’ll call John, because… well, because that’s his name.  I dated John not too long after my separation.  By the time John and I took our clothes off, he had had a crush on me for several months and had been angling for just such an opportunity.  So, the sexual tension was high and the anticipation was thick.

The foreplay wasn’t awful.  It was, however, what I like to call “Checklist Foreplay.”  (Every woman over the age of 30 is nodding her head right now and going “Ohhh…. bummer.”)  Checklist Foreplay, for you young women and male readers, is when a guy seems to move through the motions simply because he knows he’s supposed to.  It goes something like this:

  1. Kiss mouth.  Check.
  2. Kiss neck.  Check.
  3. Fondle breasts.  Check.
  4. Kiss breasts. Check.
  5. etc, etc.  You get the idea, right?

Here’s a good rule, guys:  If you don’t enjoy doing something, don’t do it.  Sure, we’d probably rather that you did, but doing it without any enthusiasm is worse than not doing it at all.  I don’t do things in bed that I don’t like to do.  (Okay, in fairness, I’m not sure what those things might be, but if I find one, I swear I’m not going to do it.)

John tried to be sweet, paying me compliments.  Some hit the mark — “You have the body of a 25-year-old!” — while others did not — “Nice boobies!”  Ahem.  Another good rule of thumb, guys:  When in bed with a woman, don’t ever, ever refer to her body part by a name that her sexually-repressed grandmother might have used.  Go for a porn-worthy reference, or stick with the clinical term.  But don’t call our parts by cutesy names.  It’s not sexy.  It’s just icky.  If you doubt me on this, imagine how you’d feel if we said to you, “You’ve got a great pee-pee.”  Seriously.  Just don’t do it.

After the toe-curling pleasure of our 5-minute foreplay (not), it was off to the races.  I felt certain that things would improve once we really got rolling.  After all, this was a good-looking guy whom I knew to have no trouble seducing women and more than enough notches in his bedpost to suggest the development of serious artistry in the sex department.  So maybe foreplay wasn’t his thing.  It was bound to get better, right?

Umm.  No.

Because there are hardly words for what happened next.  Basically, he moved his car into the space, and threw it into park. And there it sat, idling.

At first, I was confused.  I looked at his face.  His eyes were closed and he had the look of someone thinking hard about something.  Okay, I thought, maybe I just need to do some of the work here.  But that wasn’t even possible — he was nearly 6 feet tall and about 190 lbs.  I could barely move my arms, let alone my hips.  Not that it really mattered, because, as I was contemplating how to manipulate my body, he sighed and pulled out of the parking place.  Job completed.

Then he smiled at me and said lots of sweet things and I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.

On the drive home, I was not only sexually frustrated but absolutely flabbergasted.   I mulled over any and all explanations for what had just happened.  Perhaps he was drunk and having to struggle to keep the car running?  Or maybe he was just so overwhelmed at the opportunity to have sex with me that the engine got too revved up too quickly? (I liked this explanation, personally.)  Or maybe this was some Kama Sutra thing that I’d have appreciated if I’d ever been disciplined enough to read the book instead of only look at the pictures?

Well, because I am a glutton for punishment very nice person, I gave John a second chance and confirmed that, whatever the reason, this was his personal style of sex.  To his credit, the second time lasted slightly longer; long enough, in fact, for me to remember that I’d forgotten to take the chicken out of the freezer for the next night’s dinner.  Now, I’ve had sex that literally made me dizzy and nearly pass out, so if you’ve got me thinking about frozen chicken while you’re supposedly making love to me, our relationship is not long for this world.

So, before we go on, let’s review for our male audience what we’ve learned:

  1. No Checklist Foreplay.  Unless the checklist consists of “Ravish her body passionately,” it’s just uncool and a buzzkill.
  2. No cutesy names for our female parts.  Not unless you want us to turn you on with references to your “pee-pee” and your “bum-bum.”
  3. Friction — actually, movement generally  — is a necessary element for intercourse.   Whatever you do, don’t park the car before taking it around the block a few times, please.

As it turned out, there were ample reasons that John and I did not belong together that are far more important than his claim as my worst sex ever.  But he still holds the title.

And, if there is a God in heaven, he always will.

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men: read this… we’re begging you….

Apparently men have a hard time figuring women out. 

I don’t understand this, but I have accepted it.  So, as my public service for today, I point you to a brilliant article by a relationship counselor who summarizes it more clearly and succinctly than I ever could.

Read it.  Study it.  Be it.

Please.

(Oh, and ladies, you can address your thank you notes to thatprecariousgait@yahoo.com…..  😉 )

19 Things Women Wished Men Knew About Sex and Relationships

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oh no, she didn’t!

Not too long ago, I was out with a guy I was dating and we ran into a woman he knew.  As I talked to some other people, I watched with interest and some amusement as this woman kept touching him, flirting with him, and generally commanding his attention.  At some point, he must have subconsciously reached a comfort limit, for he shifted his weight away from her and up against me, and shortly thereafter he excused us and we departed, with his hands on me.

I find women who make passes at men who are obviously spoken for just a little bit fascinating.  My friends do not do this, would not even think about doing it, and probably would be ashamed if anyone suggested that they were doing it, but clearly not all women our age got the memo that this is childish and disrespectful of not only the other woman involved, but the man as well.  I refuse to play this game.  At all.  In fact, if she can tear him away from me, she is more than welcome to him.  Seriously.  If I feel like he’s playing along or encouraging it, I’ll simply get up and walk out.  At that point, it’s follow me or not.  If I leave, I’m prepared to leave alone.  Funny thing?  I never have.

But there is something almost voyeuristic about watching another woman flirt with your man.  Seeing how she uses her body and her eyes and her smile to try and reel him in, entice him, maybe make him think just a little about her.  And gauging his reactions, seeing him respond or not, reading his body language as he subconsciously processes all the stimuli assailing his senses.  And it’s genuinely amazing how easily and clearly your intuition can read the intentions of both of them, if you only let it.

I have been in situations in which all available empirical evidence would suggest that I should be worried about the she-wolf in front of me, licking her lips as she tries to extract my man from my side, and I have felt nothing but mild bemusement.  And yet, I have been in other situations, in which only a slight, momentary glimpse between my guy and some other girl has informed me that the deed has, in fact, already been done.

Female intuition is a powerful thing, if we bother to listen to it.  But I also think that, in these situations, the old adage that “it takes one to know one” tends to apply.  And that is where my own ability to accurately survey a situation moves from speculation into certainty.  Because I’ve been there, done that.

I was what you might call a “late bloomer.”  I was a cute kid, but not pretty.  No, my particular kind of beauty showed up later than a lot of girls.  The upside to that is that it’s saved me from any sort of arrogance around my looks; the downside is that when it did show up, I didn’t waste any time making up for the ugly duckling years.  I quickly learned how to draw a man to me from across a room, regardless of who was by his side.  I delighted in the puzzled expressions of other girls who just couldn’t figure out what it was about me.  On more than one occasion, I threw my hook into a man, just to see if I could get him.  Whether he was taken or not, or by whom, was immaterial.

When I was in my early 20’s, a young man asked me to lunch.  I went, even though I was pretty sure that he had a girlfriend somewhere.  Over lunch, it was revealed that he had been dating the same girl for several years.  Nonetheless, I threw everything I had at the poor boy.  Later, outside the restaurant, he asked me to have dinner with him later that week.  I demurred, explaining that I didn’t date men who had girlfriends, but that if he should ever rethink that status, I’d owe him a dinner.  Then I kissed him on the cheek, flashed him a 1,000-watt smile, tossed my long hair, and sauntered away, hips swaying.  I could feel his stare on me for at least half a block.

Two days later, there appeared in the local paper, an ad, which read:  “To the stunning redhead who allowed me to take her lunch, you owe me dinner. — R.” Needless to say, we went to dinner.

Now perhaps all those machinations on my part would have been forgivable if we had been true soul mates, destined for life-long love.  But of course, that was not the case.  A few months later, I broke up with him.

What I did to that boy — and his girlfriend –, from start to finish, was wrong.  Plain-and-simple, no-excuses, flat-out wrong.  I didn’t need to do that — he wasn’t even the only guy to ask me out that week.  My behavior was inexcusable and should have been unforgivable.  But, being that he was such a great guy, he did forgive me.  A few years ago, he emailed to congratulate me on the birth of my youngest daughter, a kindness I most assuredly did not deserve.  However, I also learned that, after my shameless toying with him, he had promptly gone back to his longtime girlfriend and groveled sufficiently that she took him back.  They married and had some sons and are still together.  Thank god.  Their happy ending is my only karmic salvation.

Now back to the story I began with:  I have ample experience to know full well that the woman with her hands all over my date would like to make more of their acquaintance.  He, I feel sure, would deny the very possibility.  Which leads me to my next minor fascination with this scenario:  Why do guys think that they can assuage our jealousy/insecurity/curiosity by denying what our intuition most clearly knows?  It is so much better, with me at least, to acknowledge it and get it out of the way, i.e. “Yeah, I know she’s kind of into me, and she’s really nice, but I’m not interested in her for X reasons.  So, honestly, don’t worry about it.”  At least then I know that I’m not dating a guy who’s blind and deaf to a woman’s obvious maneuverings.  Of course women are going to flirt with him; if he isn’t attractive enough to generate attention from other women, I probably wouldn’t be interested in him either, right?  Plus, the guy who can own it head-on gets points for honesty and builds trust in the process.  How is that not awesome?  Mild jealousy — mine included — is just a natural indication of interest and attraction.  Left inadequately addressed, it often rides a slippery slope to insecurity and fear.  Which is definitely not awesome.

And then there’s the matter of respect.  What I did to that young man and his girlfriend was show a complete and blatant lack of respect for the boundaries of their relationship.  I find it simultaneously fascinating and disgusting that some single women of my age still do this.  Really?  Don’t we owe each other more than that?  It was bad enough at 22, but 20 years later?  I’d like to think I’ve grown up just a bit, and you’re welcome to join me.

If you have close friends of the opposite sex, this issue of respecting relationship boundaries likely comes up not infrequently.  I dealt with it last winter when my friend K.C. got back together with his former fiance, Amanda, and I wondered how it would affect our friendship.  After all, I had met and dated K.C. for part of the 18 months they’d been apart, and it would be only natural for Amanda to feel jealous and threatened by my continued presence in his life.  So K.C. and I sat down and had a heart-to-heart.  K.C. made it clear that he loved Amanda and wanted it to work and that our friendship wouldn’t be the same if she decided that I was an obstacle to their happiness.  I made it clear that I did not want to cause her even a moment’s concern; that I really wanted a happy ending for them.  And so we came up with a strategy for introducing me to her so that she’d be most likely to accept me, and we openly discussed ways that our friendship would have to change.

Sure, one or both of us could have said that we were friends and Amanda should quit being insecure and get over it.  I could have pouted and complained that I didn’t want my friendship with K.C. to change and insinuated nasty things about Amanda controlling him or being a psycho girlfriend (as some of his other female friends did).  But that wouldn’t be right.  Plain-and-simple.  He did the right thing in protecting and nurturing his relationship, and I did the right thing in supporting his happiness. In short, we behaved like grown-ups.

I guess the bottom line is that I’m not out to get your man.  I promise.  And I’d simply appreciate it if you’d keep your hands off mine.  Deal?

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yowza.

Every once in a while, I have a Single Parent Moment that leaves my married parent friends shaking their heads in amazement and quiet relief that they are not in my boat. Last week, I had such a moment.

James and I have been on-again, off-again for just over a year now.  My daughters, aged 10 and 8, have known him for many years, became reacquainted with him before we started dating last September, and have been mostly unaware of our relationship ups and downs.  To them, he has been a constant over the last year.  They know him, they like him, they have vacationed with him, and for the last few months, they have known that we sometimes spend the night together.  But he has never stayed over at my house when my girls are also there.

Until last week.

I decided it was time, so I told the girls that James would be coming over, was going to spend the night, and that he’d be there when they awoke in the morning.  My youngest, Bryn, teased me about it with a grin.  Sabrina, my 10-year-old, shrugged.

James arrived as I was putting Sabrina to bed.  He let himself in the open front door and shouted up his hellos to us all.  And then it began:

Sabrina:  So, is James coming over to have a drink with you?

Me:  Yes, and remember I told you that he’s going to spend the night tonight?

Sabrina:  Uh-huh.  So…. are you guys gonna have sex?

YOWZA.

I wish I could report that I responded maturely and gracefully, but I’d be lying.  What I did instead… was laugh.  Yes, that’s right.  I laughed.  I giggled until I had tears squeezing from the corners of my eyes and I was clutching my tummy.  At first, Sabrina looked at me, puzzled, but then she started laughing, too.  We ended up lying on her bed, clutching each other amidst fits of giggles.  It was ridiculous.

Eventually I recovered, and, wiping my tears of silliness away, replied thusly:

Me:  Baby, I’m a grown-up and you’re a child, and so who I do or don’t have sex with isn’t something we are going to discuss.  In fact, who I do or don’t have sex with isn’t really anyone else’s business except for the man I’m involved with.  That’s not even a question that other grown-ups typically ask each other.  And, when you’re a grown-up, whether and with whom you’re having sex won’t be any of my business either.   Do you understand?

Sabrina:  Hmmm…. Yes, I think so.  I guess I feel like it should be my business if I’m going to end up with a little baby brother or sister.

This dramatically illustrated the fact that, while I have instructed her quite a bit about the biology of sex, I haven’t quite gotten around to the idea that adults have sex for reasons other than procreation of the species…  So I punted and went with what I had:

Me:  I can absolutely, positively assure you that you will not be gaining a little brother or sister.

Sabrina:  Phew.  Okay.  That’s really good news.   Thanks, Mom.

Me:  Sure, baby.  Anytime.

There is so much about single parenting that is surreal.  So many conversations that I never imagined having, so many events that I never pictured, so many moments altered by the simple, pivotal fact that their father and I no longer live together.  Parenting is always something of an exercise in Extreme Winging It, but single parenting throws in the extra curve balls.  Just for fun.

I am sure that there will be many more moments such as that one, many more conversations that leave me speechless or giggling at the absurdity of the situation.  But I feel quite certain that, even if I should live another 42 years, I will never, ever, ever forget the night my 10-year-old asked me if I was going to have sex.

Yowza.

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leave ’em wanting more

My friend Annie has a new man in her life, and yesterday she got an email from him, a portion of which read:

I feel like inviting you to join me in lots of my plans lately, but am also trying very hard to just take things slowly and get to know you.

He is wanting more of her than he can have right now.  Her life is so busy and her obligations so many that their time has been limited to relatively brief, platonic meetings.  But he is clearly not okay with that.  When the chemistry is right, there is no such thing as “out of sight, out of mind.”

Annie shared  his words with me with obvious delight and I couldn’t help but smile.  I mean, really, is there anything better than knowing that the thought of you is playing about in a man’s mind?  That he’s wanting to see you, talk to you, spend time with you?  That, perhaps against his basic nature or better judgment or emotional baggage, he is longing for more of you than he’s getting? That the thought of you is bringing a random smile to his lips, a faraway look to his eyes, a tightness to his jeans….

To me, it’s one of the most wonderfully delicious parts of a new relationship… that you’re-on-my-mind-constantly-and-it’s-making-me-crazy period when you both act a bit like ridiculous teenagers with raging hormones and romantic-comedy-inspired thoughts of true love and perfect sex.  This is the period when I sigh at the sound of his voice and giggle when I think of something funny he said and flush with the thoughts of what he did to me last night. Nothing reduces me to a quivering mass of femininity more quickly than when a man says, “So, when are you going to let me see you again?” Makes me want to swoon.  Seriously.

One of the pleasant surprises to me about dating this time around is how sustainable this period can be, when connection and chemistry really are right.  To me, this is one of the joys of dating in my 40’s.  With neither party in a rush to the altar, the courtship can last so much longer and be so much more fun.  Of course, not every relationship that starts with such promise survives, sometimes not even beyond the first few dates, but the ones that do are really special and fun and sweet.

Annie and her guy are still too new to make any predictions about their eventual outcome.  But for now, he’s busy staking his claim on her time, and she’s busy enjoying being claimed.

*sigh*

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I hate men. I really do. except that I don’t.

This week I’ve been back in contact with my most recent ex.  It started with him asking me for some contact information for a summer program for his kids, segued into me asking if I could purchase some landscaping materials from his company because I couldn’t find them anywhere else, and ended with him asking me to go to bed with him.

I said no.  But I really, really, really wanted to say yes.  And that pisses me off.

After our last break-up a few weeks ago, I put the whole thing to rest. We didn’t hate each other; we just wanted different things at this point in our life.  It ended kindly and politely and almost warmly, and I felt like I had closure and finality and all those good things you need to move on.  I found that I accepted the end with a great deal of alacrity, and even I was surprised by how quickly I let go of the hopes I’d had for us.

So I guess I overestimated how “over” him I was.

Yesterday, he started texting me about the landscaping materials when I happened to be at a party near his house.  I told him so as I was leaving the party and he asked me to stop by since I was so close (he lives on a spread in the country and I live in town).  I told him I couldn’t; that I had my children with me.  He said, “Even better.  Let them finally see my place. ”  I should have known then that I was in trouble.

We got there.  My girls got big hugs.  I got a sexy smile.  Damn.

He looked…. really, really good.  Tan.  Fit.  He’d just gotten off a job site and was still looking rugged and scruffy.  He gave the girls a tour of his house, and they oohed and aahed.  Then he offered to show them the pool and the barns.  I stood at the backdoor, leaning on the doorjamb, as they meandered around the property.  They disappeared into one of the barns, and the next thing I knew, the three of them came roaring out on an ATV, my girls squealing with delight.  I watched as they tore around the property and finally arrived back at the house, covered in mud and breathless.

Damn him again.

I mean, really… is there anything so sexy as a man who truly likes kids?

Damn him.  Damn him. Damn him.

Finally, he showed me the landscaping materials, and then I announced that we needed to go.  As we were leaving, he hugged my kids and gave me a slow, sweet smile that I couldn’t help but return.  “Made you smile,” he said with a wink.

Damn him again.

I would like to report that I left and didn’t give him another thought, but I’d be lying like a rug.  I tossed and turned last night, trying to ignore the fact that he’d gotten under my skin.  Again.  I’m honestly not worried that we’ll go down the same road we’ve visited twice before.  I was consistent and clear with him yesterday that my answer to his invitation is a reluctant but firm “no.”  I reiterated what I want in a relationship.  I made it clear that I wasn’t going to jump in bed with him, no matter how much he teased and tempted.  I was strong.

But I didn’t want to be.  I was genuinely surprised by how I reacted to him physically.  If you’d have asked me before yesterday, I’d have been certain — certain — the he could no longer have any effect on me.  Apparently I was wrong.

Damn him again.

I hate men.  I really, really do.  Except that I don’t.

Sigh.

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i love you less

One of my dear friends warned me recently of the dangers of opening myself too fully and too soon.  Drawing on some very good and apt examples of her own experience, she reminded me how quickly a man’s initial infatuation can fade, and before you know it, it starts.  The Back Pedal.

Ugh.

Personally, I would rather be sat down and have a litany of my sins read to me than watch someone gradually disappear from my life without explanation.  I suspect that I am not alone in feeling that way, either.

For what dating adult hasn’t experienced that awful feeling of things moving full-throttle ahead, and then *POOF!* suddenly everything changes.  Emails grow shorter, texts take longer to be answered, lags in conversation lengthen…. Typically one party — the one who is still pedaling forward — is awash in confusion and self-doubt.  Did I invest too much?  Is there somebody else?  Have I been an utter fool?  What the hell just happened???

Maybe the worst thing about The Back Pedal is that over-vigilance of this phenomenon typically results in a self-fulfilling prophecy:  He drops the ball in some small way; she thinks “Here it comes!” and begins to retreat; he senses her retreat and backs up into self-protection mode; she sees his pulling away as confirmation of The Back Pedal and builds more emotional walls to protect herself.  And voila!  No more relationship.

I’m definitely not denying that The Back Pedal happens organically… I’ve seen enough of it since my divorce, and I’ve even been the back pedaling partner on a couple of occasions.  It’s hurtful and unfair and immature, but it’s certainly real.  It’s not all in our heads.

I don’t know exactly how you avoid The Back Pedal, but one of my friends once told me that the best defense is an offense and I think that applies here.  So these days, I just address it head-on.  I mean, honestly, if he’s got one foot out the door already, then don’t I want to know that?  And if he doesn’t, don’t I want to know that, too?  Because if I really like this guy, then I don’t want to start pulling away prematurely, but if he’s already decided that the honeymoon is over, then I do need to back up and protect myself. Addressing it head-on has the added benefit of testing the communication lines that the two of us have established.   Can I comfortably share a fear or insecurity with him?  How does he respond?  Is there something here to build on or are we going to mutually shut-down every time we run into a little problem?

A big caveat here:  I’m not talking about throwing The Back Pedal thing out there just to test someone.  That’s underhanded and it’s cruel and you might as well forget about ever having some kind of amazing relationship because you’ve pretty much just killed that possibility.  But, if that little, niggling suspicion creeps into your head, before you give it residence, you might think about just asking the question outright.

My friend’s words of caution made me sad, and not only because I know that hers is not empty advice, but mostly because it shows me where she is at these days.  She, who used to be my most hopelessly romantic girl friend, has given up.  And all because of The Back Pedal.  It makes my heart very heavy.  (And I’d also kind of like to castrate the two bastards who brought her to this place, but that’s a post for another time…)

As I was thinking about her situation and how deeply her fear of opening up is now, I stumbled across this letter from Napoleon Bonaparte to his wife Josephine….  It would seem that The Back Pedal has been around for quite some time, and many a fearful lover has tortured themselves with imaginings of being “loved less”:

Ah!  how will things stand in two weeks? …. My spirit is heavy; my heart is fettered and I am terrified by my fantasies…

You love me less, but you will get over the loss.  One day you will love me no longer; at least tell me; then I shall know how I have come to deserve this misfortune… Farewell, my wife: the torment, joy, hope and moving which draw me close to Nature, and with violent impulses as tumultuous as thunder, I ask of you neither eternal love, nor fidelity, but simply… truth, unlimited honesty.

The day when you say “I love you less”, will mark the end of my love and the last day of my life.

If my heart were base enough to love without being loved in return I would tear it to pieces.

Josephine!  Josephine!  Remember what I have sometimes said to you:  Nature had endowed me with a virile and decisive character.  It has built yours out of lace and gossamer.  Have you ceased to love me?

Forgive me, love of my life, my soul is racked by conflicting forces.  My heart obsessed by you, is full of fears which prostrate me with misery… I am distressed not to be calling you by name.  I shall wait for you to write it.

Farewell!  Ah!  If you love me less you can never have loved me.  In that case I shall truly be pitiable.

Bonaparte.

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the almost lost art of the love letter

I have been lately contemplating the idea of love letters.  I stumbled across a blog, Dirty Laundry, that includes some beautiful and poetic representations of love, including well-known love letters throughout history.

In a different day and age, men had little choice but to woo women through the written word.  Distance and circumstance and societal conventions dictated that decorum be maintained in public, but when pen hit paper, all manner of passionate ardor was unleashed.  I have been reading Napoleon Bonaparte’s letters to his wife Josephine.  They blow my mind, not simply because of the obvious passion that they convey, but because of their context.  I love to imagine that while this man was re-arranging the European map and writing world history on the grandest stage, his internal processes and desires and emotions belonged to Josephine.  He’s off fighting battles and conquering countries, but in his quiet moments, he is all hers.  Wow.

Now perhaps I am over-idealizing what they shared (who me?).  Perhaps their children or grandchildren or servants would describe a very different feeling in the Bonaparte household.  But certainly they shared more than a genteel affection for one another, more than companionship, or convenience, or complacence.  It was, quite clearly, much better than “okay.”  Which isn’t to say it was anywhere near perfect by our standards: Josephine was not the only woman receiving amorous offerings from Napoleon, but it certainly appears that no one else compared to the depth of Napoleon’s feelings for his wife.

Or take, for instance, Shakespeare’s sonnets.  One of my particular favorites acknowledges that the object of his affection is not perfect, going so far as to enumerate her lesser qualities, and yet his devotion to her is overwhelming nonetheless. And I’m sure, upon hearing that sonnet for the first time, she felt like the most beautiful woman in the world.

I wonder at these odes to love, and I think of sweet love letters I have received.  When I was in high school, I had a boyfriend who lived more than 300 miles from me.  This was pre-internet, pre-cell phones, pre-cheap calling plans.  Sure we talked on the phone, but we also wrote long, long letters to each other.  His sentiments were clumsy and, at times, painfully trite, but the feelings were sincere, and I remember reading his letters with trembling fingers and a fluttering heart.

A couple of years later, in college, I met a boy who would later prove to be pretty bad news.  Apparently, my intuition must have detected this, because I held him at bay for a while despite his model good-looks and persistent wooing.  The day after I met him, and every day thereafter for a week, he sent a courier to my dorm room with flowers, a letter, and a small token… wine glasses, a trinket with my sorority letters on it, a delicate bud vase.  His letters were hyperbolic and so ardent they made me blush (and I was well past blushing by that time), but they also touched me.  By all accounts, this behavior was entirely out of character for him, which made it all the more endearing.

I wonder what has become of the love letter?  Don’t get me wrong, I love the ping-ping! of an incoming text as much the next girl.  And the arrival of cell phones has made possible love affairs that would have withered on the vine before their advent.  Perhaps we have all become more visual, and sexting and Skype have supplanted the love letter.  I don’t discount the fun and engaging and beneficial aspects of modern technology, but I must admit, I miss the love letter.

There is something in words….  in reading another person’s thoughts and knowing that they are for your eyes and yours alone.  And love letters needn’t be lengthy tomes proclaiming undying love; sometimes short and sweet and heartfelt gets the job done just as well.  Take, for instance, the time a guy I was seeing sent me a text, out of the blue, that simply said, “You are my proof that there is good in the world.”  I was breathless.

And love letters don’t have to be sappy to have power and force.  Playfully intimate notes that hinge on shared moments or inside jokes always leave me with the warm fuzzies. I mean, laughing together might be the most powerful aphrodisiac in the world, after all.

But the shame of it, in my opinion, is that too many men (I don’t date women, so I have to limit my experience here to men) genuinely don’t seem to know the difference between a text that says, “Thought of you today. Wink, wink, wink.” and one that says “Why is it that when I spend time with other women, I can only compare them to you?”  (Points go to an ex of mine for that last one.  Nicely done.)

Plus there’s the issue of timing. Timing is everything, as they say, and that bears out with love notes, as well.  I had an experience not too long ago in which a man I thought I was dating exclusively happened to mention that he’d gone out on a date.  I was stunned and spent the rest of the day wondering what, if anything, I actually meant to him.  Then, later that night, he had the unfortunate judgment to send me a text that said, “If you want to booty call me later, I won’t hold it against you.”  Ummm…..  In a different time or place in our relationship, that might have been cute, but that night?  No.  Definitely no.

Of course, I don’t want a love letter from just anybody or for some kind of underhanded, manipulative purpose.  But I have to argue that, in the right context and from the right person and for the right reasons, a passionate love letter can make your heart soar and your body ache and all your defenses melt away.  And I think maybe, just maybe, from all that soaring and aching and melting, can emerge a greater intimacy, one worthy of the best and most enduring love letters.

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