Tag Archives: sex

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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Filed under dating, relationships, sex

thomas murray, epilogue

I have been waiting to write this post until the sad missives stopped arriving, and I believe that day has finally come.  The stream of emails to my inbox from hurt or deceived women has ceased.  Jenni is healing and has moved on.  Our blogging community proved itself capable of surrounding and protecting our own.  Thomas Murray, and all his ridiculous, self-aggrandizing attempts at dazzling (and possibly victimizing) women searching for their heart’s love, is a pathetic chapter I will be glad to close.

But not without some final words.

Sometime ago I received an email from a woman I will call “Kay.”  I am choosing to relate her story here because it demonstrates that Thomas’ approaches and avenues are varied and adaptable.  Kay, like a lot of women, found my Thomas Murray posts through a Facebook friend who had also had dealings with Thomas at some point in the past. (Is it just me or are there an exhausting number of such women?!  How in God’s name does he keep track? I’m envisioning a massive Excel spreadsheet…)

But I digress.

Thomas contacted Kay via Yahoo Personals sometime in 2006, using an alias of “Noah.”  She was living in Texas; he in Oklahoma.  She had no idea he was married, and they began “a whirlwind romance.”  She shared some of his loving and romantic phrases with me, and they were easily recognizable as his trademark “love bombing” technique.  (One of my commentators coined that term and, frankly, I freaking love it.  Makes me smile every time….)  According to Noah/Thomas, he was divorced, with two sons, and his ex-wife worked for his mother in their family-owned cosmetic import/export business dealing with high-end department store cosmetic brands. [Note to liars:  pick something you know something about.  There is no import/export business for department store cosmetics.]

Fortunately for Kay, the “in-person” portion of their romance was abruptly interrupted when he told her that his company was relocating him to the Middle East to “stop bad people from doing bad things.”  (Btw, I’m laughing so hard right now I can barely type.  Oh, Thomas, you are nothing if not entertaining!)  They tried to stay in touch, but Kay decided that the relationship didn’t have enough to keep it going.  They agreed to be friends and that seemed to be the end of it.

Reality check:  Sometime in late 2006 or early 2007, Thomas and his family relocated to the Virgin Islands, where they purchased the small resort building that they currently own and manage.  So, unless the Iraqis surreptitiously invaded St. Thomas without the U.S. press or government noticing, it’s a pretty sure bet that he moved to paradise and not a war zone.  But more on his war zone activities later…

Fast forward to 2011: Kay and Thomas stayed occasional email friends over the years, until last spring, when their emails increased in frequency.  Kay reports that Thomas had dramatically changed in the years since she’d really known him, becoming more aggressive and bossy and critical.  She relates how he immediately began offering her “advice” concerning the improvements she needed to make in order to be worthy of him (for those of you keeping track of red flags, this is a big one).  She also noted that he had lost a great deal of weight, which he attributed to the injuries he’d suffered from being ambushed in the Middle East and taking on shrapnel.  Once again, I’m chuckling so hard typing is difficult… Thomas never was one to waste a perfectly good lie.  Might as well get as much mileage as possible out of it, I guess!  As a side note, Kay surmises that he actually had lap-band surgery in the intervening years, as his diet was consistent with the post-surgical maintenance recommended for that procedure.  I find this small point particularly hilarious, given Thomas’ brutal assault on others’ lack of self-discipline….  Guess we all need a little help once in a while, eh, Thomas?  It was also during this time that Thomas began pressuring Kay to meet him in….. <drumroll, please>….  beautiful, sunny Puerto Rico!  She declined, telling me that his “life coaching” had turned her off and she simply stopped communicating with him.

Lucky, lucky woman, no?

Kay, as well as others I heard from, commended Thomas’ excellent taste in women as his one redeeming quality.  I would like to second that sentiment.  Loudly.  I have heard from some very articulate, intelligent women whose email signatures suggest impressive professional achievements.  At least he has that going for him.  What a shame he’ll never be worthy of any of those women.

A final reminder:  Ladies, be careful.  Noah/The T/Thomas/Tommy… a chameleon changes his colors, but not his nature.  I don’t care what his name is, if he’s love bombing you and he’s never met you, proceed with extreme caution.  If he really thinks you’re amazing, you “feel like home” to him, and he’s never met anyone like you, he’s going to be willing to hang tough while he earns your trust. We’re grown-ups now; we have to take care of ourselves and each other.  The Thomases of this world are the “bad guys doing bad things.”  And, in a dogfight with those “bad guys,” my money is on the smart, determined woman every. single. time.

And on that note, I close the book on Thomas Murray.  Good riddance to bad rubbish.

The End.

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Filed under dating, internet dating, love, relationships, single mom, thomas murray

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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Filed under dating, relationships, sex

…but can you handle the truth?

A blogger friend recently wrote a poignant post about the examination of a marriage, as seen through the rear view mirror, receding into the distance.  Part of his post was about his on-going confusion and frustration stemming from his “runaway wife’s” refusal or inability to provide him with any solid reasons for her seemingly abrupt departure from the family.

Because I was suffering from terrible insomnia one evening, I posted a comment to his post that was so long that (as he later joked), I should have just written my own post and been done with it.  He was right, as he often is, and so I am now taking that comment and expanding  on it here.

If you read enough about divorce, you quickly discover that many left-behind spouses feel that they have been summarily abandoned by their former husbands or wives, with little or no explanation provided.  Even when reasons are offered, they are frequently labeled too mundane to have prompted such a grave move as divorce, and the abandoning spouse is seen as avoiding or withholding the “truth.”  The left-behind spouse feels certain that if he or she could simply get at the truth of why they have been left behind, somehow the whole predicament will make more sense and hurt much less.

I have watched friends and acquaintances who have filled the dismal role of the left-behind spouse grapple with their feelings and attempt to move on.  Indeed, I can see the obvious benefit attached to discovering a truth that suddenly removes the nagging uncertainty and deadens the raging imagination of horrors that plague the mind when it does not have a solid answer that screams “TRUTH!”

But there are a ton of assumptions built into that concept that the truth will set the mind free and ease the heart’s pain.   And not all of them hold up under closer examination….

Assumption #1.  Their truth will make sense and have value to me.

When I talk to people who feel that their spouses have suddenly and unjustly abandoned the relationship, I frequently hear them insist that they want to hear the “real reasons” for their spouse’s departure.  Digging a bit further, I usually discover that reasons have actually been provided, but they don’t seem serious enough to justify the departing spouse’s behavior or, most commonly, they “just don’t make sense.”

I would argue that most departing spouses likely have provided some or most of the truthful reasons for their leaving. I keep waiting to hear a left-behind spouse explicitly say, “I don’t want those reasons; I want the real reasons,” because I’ve heard so many variations on this theme.  The idea here is that the departing spouse likely has shared most of her reasons for leaving, but they aren’t good enough or grave enough to register with the left-behind spouse.

I, for one, can say with complete confidence and incredulity that I told my ex-husband as early as the first two years of our marriage that if he continued treating me the way he had begun to, I would be “gone in ten years.”  At the time, I was pulling that time frame out of thin air, but I did, in fact, end up leaving just before our 11th anniversary. Despite repeated warnings and tearful pleadings on my part throughout the years, he maintained his condescending nature and dismissive attitude, and then proclaimed loudly (and to anyone who would listen) that I had “left suddenly, and without warning or explanation.” I still cannot fathom how he has fashioned his truth from the reality we shared, but he has. So, I have to suspect that lots of other folks do something similar, too.  I suspect there are a plethora of marriages out there in which the departing spouse complained to the left-behind spouse of things over the years that the left-behind spouse dismissed or overlooked at the time.   Maybe she displayed patterns of disappointment over things in her life or their  marriage that seemed to the left-behind spouse (and probably to lots of others who knew her) to be trivial and therefore not something he need really worry about.  Meantime, her fatigue, disillusionment, and frustration was building.

I also do not doubt that most departing spouses hold something back.  I suspect that the biggest reason that they don’t ‘fess up to their complete and true list of reasons for leaving is that they are fully aware that those reasons will be judged, deemed insufficient, and the grounds for a debate with the spouse they have already decided to leave. This is probably a reasonable expectation on their part, as the party left behind usually does think that the reasons for the split are not valid or justifiable.  (Admittedly, it is the rare instance when one spouse comes home and says, “I think we should divorce and here are my reasons,” and the other spouse says, “Yes, you make some excellent points.  I agree.  Let’s get on with it.”)

It’s entirely understandable that the departing spouses aren’t eager to engage in a game of  To Tell the Truth with their left-behind spouse when it is likely to result in their reasons being diminished or mischaracterized.  After all, we all know that “truth is relative” in some regards.  I think it’s interesting how individuals — and sometimes even couples jointly — massage the truth to help it fit their personal constructs.  An interesting and obvious example of this is an affair:  when an affair has been discovered, but the couple is still working on the marriage, the truth of the affair is typically minimalized as “a symptom of a much bigger problem.”  But, when a marriage ends and an affair is part of it, the left-behind spouse frequently blames the affair (and the other adulterer) as the whole problem.  I don’t quite understand the logic:  why is it merely a symptom if you’re working on the marriage, but the “obvious” or “clear” (and presumably complete) reason  for the marriage’s collapse if you’re not?  But again, truth is relative…

In the age of no-fault divorce, a spouse can obtain a divorce over his or her partner’s objections, essentially making a unilateral decision to end the marriage. The other party has absolutely no say in the matter.  Given that I don’t believe that marriage should constitute ownership or control of another person, I find myself having to support this notion, despite its obvious pitfalls.

But here’s the crux of it:  the departing spouse does not have to prove his or her case.  He does not have to convince anyone that his reasons are good enough.  Indeed those very reasons — the entire truth of them, if known — might not be good enough for his left-behind spouse, his extended family, their mutual friends, or anyone else, but they don’t have to be. They only have to be good enough for him.  Is that sad and frustrating and bewildering to the left-behind spouse?  Yes, of course.  But in the end, that might be preferable to the whole truth…

Assumption #2:  I want the whole truth.

When a left-behind spouse imagines the reasons that her departing spouse is actually leaving, she usually focuses on things she can change and not things that are inherent in who she is.  I think this is a very natural way for our brain to protect us from potential pain.  It is so much easier to imagine that he is leaving because he hates that you leave your towel on the bathroom floor, than to think that it’s because he’s decided you’re not actually that smart.  So when left-behind spouses are aggressively seeking the truth, they are understandably doing so from a posture that the truth will be things they can work on and will want to change; most people do not imagine that it’s going to be some harsh truth that they cannot, in fact, change.

I think that sometimes the reasons, if provided in a forthright and honest fashion, would be so brutal, so painful to inflict, that common decency holds the departing spouse back. We all think we want the truth, but some truths are so terribly difficult to recover from that the damage caused would be arguably worse than the vague uncertainty.  For example, how many people would truly want to hear, “I realized that I married you for the wrong reasons” or “I was never physically attracted to you and was just a really, really good faker” or “I’ve completely lost respect for you as a person and can’t love someone I don’t respect”? I’ve heard these reasons from people who’ve left and who have chosen not to reveal them to their exes. Revelations such as these could positively devastate the left-behind spouse’s sense of self and self-worth, which seems a cruel parting shot.  They also could make the divorce proceedings far nastier than they need to be, and the irreparable damage could undermine any attempts at future co-parenting.

Indeed, it might be the long-term effects of those words that prompt the departing spouse to be so circumspect….

Assumption #3:  I can handle the truth.

So, let’s say that, for argument’s sake, the departing spouse chooses to ignore her therapist’s advice and reveal to the left-behind spouse that she is leaving because he is the world’s worst lover and she’s decided to finally have an orgasm after 40 years on this planet.

[Anyone who thinks he’s going to receive that truth with maturity and aplomb should contact me about some lovely Florida real estate I have to sell.  It’s not swamp.  Really.  I swear.]

Exes understandably believe and insist that they would ultimately benefit from the cold, hard truth, and I’m quite sure some (like my blogger friend who inspired this post) probably could.  But I don’t think most people could actually handle a truth such as these examples with any degree of grace or retention of self-confidence.  And it’s really not so surprising.  Divorce is gutting for so many reasons, but when you discover that the love of your life thinks something so terrible of you, it’s capable of smashing your self-confidence to levels from which it may never fully recover.

Take my parents, for instance:  In the face of her constant and abject pleas, my departing step-father had the fortitude to explain to my mother that he realized he’d married her hastily and based on lust more than love.  (This was, to be honest, a truth evident to all of us — including me, at age 13 — when they first married.) My mother repaid him for his honesty by hating him viciously for almost 15 years.  His words haunted her in ways that I’m sure he hadn’t expected, and he paid dearly for them.

Certainly there are some people who are mature enough and confident enough and objective enough to stomach even the worst realizations about their own marriage.  But I must argue that most people would not. Most people would be more like my mother — furious and hurt and determined to make the divorce even nastier than if the truth had not been revealed.   She wanted the truth, she was sure she could handle the truth, but it nearly destroyed her.  And the damage it did to me and our family is a whole post on its own.

No doubt the truth is a dicey thing.  Most of us have this tenuous love/hate relationship with it.  All of us like to think that we can handle it and benefit from it and be better for it.  But can we?  Really?

Being left with your heart shattered positively, absolutely sucks.  It feels horrible and unfair and devastating.  I have often said that during a divorce, people become their basest, worst selves, and some of those selves are pretty terrible.  Is it any wonder, under those circumstances, that some people faced with harsh truths handle them imperfectly?  And is it any wonder, under those circumstances, that some people guard them so carefully?  Very few people are at their best in the midst of pain at its worst.

I think the bottom line is that we all say we want the truth.  We all think we can handle the truth, but in actuality, not everyone who claims to want the truth really wants the actual truth.  Sometimes we only want a truth we can live with.

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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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ashley wilkes was not risk averse

A fellow blogger had an interesting post over the weekend that involved the idea of people being emotionally “risk averse.”  Her post was about the man whom she loves — a married man who has decided to stay with his wife but doesn’t want to let her go.  She sympathizes with his plight.  She feels bad that he is so torn.  She understands and accepts his decision, as well as his waffling, even as she tries mightily to disengage herself and move on.  She wrote of her lover being “risk averse” in assessing his marriage, their relationship, and the options before them.

I wrote a comment to her post and then decided that it was really worthy of a whole post of my own, because I think it’s a concept with which we frequently wrestle, in lots of relationship settings unrelated to infidelity.  It seems to me that if someone cannot or will not make a choice related to a relationship, they are frequently labeled as being risk averse to a potentially difficult outcome.

It got me thinking:  What do we really mean when we say someone is risk averse in an emotional setting?  One professional hat that I wear is that of risk manager, so I fully understand and appreciate and value the concept of weighing costs and benefits, but I think we’ve begun to apply it as a pretty euphemism for a not-pretty behavior…

Remember Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind? Now, I understand Ashley… really I do. I’d probably be great friends with Ashley and spend hours in philosophical conversation with him. He’s basically a good guy and he has some interesting and poetic and romantic ideas.  But there is a reason he is not the hero of the book. This is because, quite frankly, he is a pansy (yes, I know there’s a better word for it, but I’m going with “pansy”). He spends the whole book wringing his hands and saying variations of “Oh my, what shall I do?” while Rhett Butler…. well… Rhett Butler is a man of action, right? He doesn’t dither, he doesn’t over-analyze. He acts. And we swoon. Every. Freakin’.  Time. That’s not to say Rhett isn’t complex, or tortured, or capable of being crazy in love, but just that he’s not an emotional coward.

And what of Scarlett? As strong as she is, she makes excuses for Ashley nearly the whole way through the book. She understands, she sympathizes, she tries to hold his pain for him. Until she finally realizes that it’s not that he’s loyal to Melanie; it’s not that he is such a great gentleman; it’s not that he’s smart; it’s that he’s too scared to do either the completely right thing or the completely wrong thing. So he dithers.

Today, we’d call Ashley Wilkes “risk averse.”

See my point? Now, I’m being kind of harsh here, I know, and I do honestly believe that “risk averse” can be appropriately applied in some emotional situations. When one has been terribly, terribly hurt, natural caution does (and should) emerge to make us much more calculated in our assessment of situations before we leap. But I’ve gradually realized that most people who call themselves risk averse have no greater reason for fear than most of us; they simply choose to hide behind it.

I have a friend who had her heart shattered a few months ago. She is, most definitely, risk averse right now. She is so wounded and cynical and frightened. But she has every reason to be… what happened to her was horrible and mean and she needs time to regain her confidence in assessing risk and her ability to take leaps of faith. And she will. This is a temporary, rational reaction to a very bad experience.

I’m also dating a man right now who falls into the risk averse category. Prior to his marriage, he was fearless (and I do mean fearless; I shudder at some of his stories). But his ex-wife is truly the stuff of a bad Lifetime movie… she is more deceitful and manipulative and calculating than I ever thought truly possible in real life; her diabolical schemes literally shock me.  But he loved her. He sincerely, deeply loved her. Bought her whole Brooklyn Bridge, and paid dearly for it in every possible way. Five years after their divorce, he is still gun-shy. Normally, I’d say man-up and get over it, but the more I hear what she did to him and to men since him, the more amazed I am that he’s opening up to me at all. But he is.  He’s trying.  He doesn’t want to be paralyzed forever by his fears of repeating one awful mistake.

I suspect that some readers might argue that maybe some people are just naturally risk averse and don’t need a specific reason to exercise extreme caution in their emotional affairs.  Perhaps.  But to that argument I fire back:  how is that different from emotional cowardice? Why do we grant this kind of emotional dithering a nice, almost-laudable label?  What happened to the value of decisiveness?  The idea of “strength of character”?  The concept of facing a fear head-on and deciding that we must overcome it and we must do so without a guarantee?  Show me an American hero — male or female — who was risk averse.  Just one.

So, my point to my fellow blogger was that maybe before we grant someone the sympathetic title of “risk averse,” it might be interesting to ask ourselves why.  Why is this person “risk averse”?  How is this behavior different from sheer emotional cowardice?  At what point does prudence become an excuse to wring our hands and say “Oh my, whatever will I do?”

I sincerely do not mean to be harsh toward those who are struggling through understanding their relationship or their capacity to be in that relationship.  What I am taking issue with is the Ashley Wilkeses of this world, for whom ongoing, drawn-out indecisiveness causes pain for themselves and others, and even wreaks havoc with their own life.   At some point, you’ve done enough thinking and it’s time to make a decision.  Or, as my one guy friend likes to say:  Grow a pair.

Because Ashley Wilkes was not risk averse.  Ashley Wilkes was  a pansy.

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discovering the “parallel relationship”

Today, I am pondering the surreal quality of discovering that you have been engaged in a “parallel relationship.”  A parallel relationship, for those of you fortunate enough to not have encountered this particular brand of pain, is when the two people in a relationship are having completely different relationships.  The easiest example of this is the girl who thinks her boyfriend is totally committed and in love, while he’s telling his homeboys that she’s nice enough and the sex is okay.  These two people are not having the same relationship experience.  They might both be enjoying the relationship in their own ways, but they are definitely not on the same page.  That example might be the clearest, but I actually don’t think it’s the most common.  At least not at my age.

I think the most common version of the parallel relationship at my age has to do with the person who is simply looking for someone to pass the time with.  In the post-divorce, middle-aged world, companionship and sex are valuable commodities.  The once-married are used to having those things, and miss them when they’re gone.  So they seek out someone to fill the role, usually temporarily, to meet those limited and specific needs.   It’s kind of like a friends-with-benefits (FWB) situation.  You spend quite a bit of time together, have sex, maybe even meet each other’s friends, but there is no expectation or desire of it going any deeper.  It’s a great system, when you’re on the same page.  When you’re not, frequently a parallel relationship will emerge:  one party is going along, happily thinking that this FWB thing is great and lots of fun; the other party is also going along happily, feeling good about things but unaware that the relationship isn’t really a relationship at all.  It’s more of a friendship.  With sex.  It has a short shelf-life and absolutely no future.  Minimal investment will be made in the relationship — usually just enough to keep it alive.  Certainly not enough to take it anywhere further.

The dangerous thing about the parallel relationship is that you may not even know you’re in one.  When you first start dating, things are always casual.  You gradually spend more time together, learn more about each other, have more fun.  You might start to rely on each other a little bit more, maybe get more comfortable with each other, talk every day, spend time hanging out without having sex.  But here’s the catch:  you still aren’t in a relationship.  This could just as easily be a long-term FWB situation.  And you might not know it until some little action or word clearly spells it out for you.

Which is what happened to me today.

I have been, against what should have been my better judgment, allowing myself to get close to a man who will never truly care about me.  It’s probably not his fault, to be fair.  We can’t control our feelings.  Whatever “that thing” is, he just doesn’t feel it for me, and if I’m being honest, I’ve known it all along.  He has never exactly lied to me.  He has never “led me on.”  But I liked him and I thought that maybe, just maybe, there was some real potential there.  I thought this despite ample evidence to the contrary.  I refused to see the obvious and instead applied my own standards for behavior and engaging to him. I was thinking that we were seriously interested in each other and exploring what might (or might not) exist between us, but I think now that he was simply having fun with me, enjoying his time with me, all the while knowing that it would never really be anything.  We were having parallel relationships.

So now I am in that awful place of having to sort through the reality of what is, versus the dashed hopes of what might have been.  The reality feels heavy and empty and cheap.  The dashed hopes feel like sharp shards of glass that slice me each time I touch them.  But touch them I will.  I will pick up each and every piece and place them in the prettily-wrapped box in which they came.  Then I will take out my metaphorical Sharpie and mark the box, in clear, firm letters, “Nothing.”

And then I will carefully, deliberately make my own way once again, a little less sure of myself, a little less trusting, and a little less open.

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sex as communication

I had dinner last week with a good friend of mine who is worried about her marriage.  She and her husband have one of those marriages that I admire.  Not that they don’t have their ups and downs because of course they do, but their relationship —  after 18 years — is still based on a deep love and admiration.  I can see it when she looks at him, and I can see it when he looks at her.  Unfortunately, they can’t see it very well when they look at each other.

They are facing a crisis precipitated by a lucrative job offer she has received in another state, and decisions must be made, including the decision of whether he will be accompanying his family out of state, or staying here.  She is frightened and sad and stressed, because she loves him and doesn’t want to lose him.   Their main problem seems to be communication and emotional intimacy.  She wishes he’d communicate more, be more affectionate, and share more of himself with her.  He, I believe, wishes she would appreciate him more, spend more time with him, and focus more of her attention on him.

But for now, they are at an impasse, staring at each other across a divide carved deep and wide by their mutual retreat.  Each is waiting, it seems, for the other to make the first move.  And so they eye each other warily.

As I listened to my friend, I was reminded once again of the differences in how men and women communicate, bond, and reveal themselves.  My friend’s husband is a reserved man of few words, a former farm boy with a broad chest and good heart, and not a trace of metrosexual in him.  My friend is a strong and beautiful woman, a feminist who doesn’t exhibit her vulnerability easily, but admits privately how much she loves her husband’s masculinity.  So what can two people who are so guarded and self-protective do to close the chasm between them?

Get naked, I say.

Get naked and have sex.  A lot of it.  Often.  Be playful. Be flirtatious.  Be sexy and coy and freaky and free.  Talk and laugh and tease and admire.  Make love and fuck and cuddle and kiss for hours on end.  Walk around in your underwear — often.  Sleep naked.  Get reacquainted with the look and feel of each other’s body.  Be shameless and vulnerable and open.  Sure, at first it’s going to seem a little awkward, even stilted maybe.  And that period may last longer than expected, but gradually, very gradually, I wonder if the walls will slowly come down and the tenderness they have for each other will fill the chasm between them.  It’s sure worth a try, right?  What the worst that can happen?  A few good orgasms?

First, a short primer for anyone who has never met a man or a woman:  Women are verbal creatures.  Most of us communicate through words and expression and sharing our ideas and experiences and dreams and fears.  We can talk about the same issue or problem for hours with our girlfriends, turning it over like a puzzle piece, examining every possibility.  We feel grounded and rejuvenated and energized and connected after we’ve had “a really good talk” with someone we care for.

Men, on the other hand, are physical or tactile creatures.  They bond with their friends by sharing an experience together — being on a team, playing poker, attending a sporting event, getting drunk and rowdy.  They don’t usually tell their guy friends that they love them without simultaneously  slapping them or punching them.  And when they are with a woman they care about, they often struggle with expressing that.   I am forever amazed at how even some of my most articulate male friends fumble and stammer when explaining their feelings for a woman in their life.

It took me many years, and many patient friends and boyfriends, to understand that sex is often more loaded for men than for women.  For a lot of men, it is their primary — maybe even their sole — avenue to intimacy with the woman in their life.    These men convey a million emotions and thoughts and needs and desires in how they touch and connect with a woman in bed.

If you’ve had sex with enough men, and you’ve been paying attention, you can tell that how a man is with you is usually about more than his technique or his level of sobriety or his ego.  Many candid conversations with men have taught me that men really are different in bed with different women, and not always in the ways we women might expect.  Sure, maybe their technique is basically the same, but — just as in other forms of communication — it’s the little things and the body language that speak volumes.  The eye contact.  The way he touches you.  How much of his body he connects with yours and for how long.  How he behaves as you lie there afterward.

Women know all of this, of course.  We can all tell when someone is emotionally absent in bed, when they are “using” us purely for pleasure and nothing more.  Every adolescent girl comes to understand very quickly that not all sex is created equal.  But what I think escapes a lot of us — me included sometimes — is that if we’re not paying attention to those little things, we can miss some really big messages.

Last spring I was dating a  great guy, who also happened to be a serious player.  Really.  We had been good enough friends for long enough that I knew exactly how much of a player he was and, truly, his escapades were pretty extraordinary.  Shortly after we finally had sex for the first time, he did something that hurt my feelings, and when he asked me what was bothering him, I told him that I wished I’d never slept with him.  He acted like I’d run him through with a dagger.  I swear.  He got so upset, I was terrified that this big, muscular, hard-ass was going to cry.  I hadn’t said it to hurt him, honestly.  I just figured that I’d been one of his many conquests and, especially because we were friends, I didn’t want to be that.  When I explained that, he exploded.  How could I think that?! he demanded.  And then he  listed off all the things that had happened between us that night, all the ways that he’d tried to communicate to me that I was special.  And I’d missed them all.  Pretty much every single one.

That was perhaps my starkest lesson in sex as communication, but there have been others.  Most of us have dated a guy or two for whom sex is the only form of communication.  These men can be frustrating because they have often gotten away with using sex as a means of smoothing things over, and have never had to develop their other communication muscles.  When you try to talk to them about an issue or problem, they typically resort to kissing you or caressing you.  This is sweet, but it can also be maddening.  I mean, really, a little of both worlds is necessary, don’t you think?  Otherwise, the woman ends up feeling like the issue has just been swept under the rug, with the expectation that the orgasm wiped the slate clean.  This can be seriously unfulfilling in the long run.

Then there’s the sad experience of trying to reach a man through sex, only to discover that he’s not actually that interested in reaching you.   This is the sexual equivalent of screaming at a deaf man, and leaves you feeling just as foolish.  Remember:  you can’t connect with a man, through sex or otherwise, if he doesn’t want that connection.  This is the more mature version of the warning issued to teenage girls:  he won’t love you just because you have sex with him.  It was true then, and it’s true now.

As for my friend and her husband, I sincerely believe that they both desire to be closer, more connected.  And, as I reflect on our conversation over dinner last week, I wonder if her husband has ever tried to reach her, to create intimacy with her, to express something to her, and she has mistaken it for simple passion or kindness or consideration in the bedroom.   I don’t know if sex is the key to improved intimacy and communication for them, but I do hope they try.  Because whatever key unlocks that precious door can only be a good thing.

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the trouble with parking lot kisses…

A friend complained to me recently that she’d suffered a mediocre first kiss from a guy she really liked and had been looking forward to kissing.  The letdown was bothering her.  I agreed that a bad first kiss could be a sign of things to come, or it could be a matter of circumstances and I asked for more details.

Apparently our hero and heroine had just emerged from their local watering hole after another long evening of exhaustive conversation and flirting, and were faced with the parking lot dilemma of how to part.  She was prepared to say a friendly goodnight and then go directly to her car, but didn’t want to leave him with the impression that she only wanted to be friends.  He seemingly had similar concerns, so he opted for the ineffectual and (guys take note!) never sexy, request “How about a hug?”  The hug, of course, turned into a rather weak, completly anticipated and choreographed kiss, and they parted, probably both nursing similar feelings of disappointment. 

Ugh. 

Certain scenarios just lend themselves to perfect first kisses:  a walk in the snow or on the beach; in front of a crackling fire; on a dance floor during a sweet song; in a car with windows steamed up and the rain streaming down outside…. you get the idea.  But in the parking lot, after a date, is almost never a winner and, in my opinion, should generally be avoided.  Better to allow the sexual tension to build a little more than to potentially deflate it beyond repair.

Because here’s the problem with most parking lot kisses:  they can’t go anywhere.  You’re standing in the middle of a parking lot, for Pete’s sake.  Unless you’re into some fun exhibitionism, it’s going to stop at a kiss, and you both know it, so there’s a certain chasteness built in.  Sure, after a great kiss you can do the whole, “Shall we go to my place?” thing where you get into one of your cars or follow each other (and there’s the inevitable discussion to decide that), and then the drive to whomever’s place (which, even if it’s only minutes, is always long enough to wonder what the hell you’re doing), and then the awkward walk to the door and entrance into the home, and by then, often, it all feels forced and anything but spontaneous and at least one of you is wondering how long you really have to stay and what this whole scenario now means for your budding relationship. 

That’s not to say that some men can’t pull off a parking lot kiss with aplomb.  Some of the most amazing kisses I’ve ever had — including one that literally left me so weak in the knees I stumbled as I walked away — have occurred in parking lots.  Those kisses tended to have one big thing in common:  men who were superconfident in the moment, and exerted that confidence physically by almost literally sweeping me off my feet in order to give me a kiss that I would remember.  Granted, our hero’s tepid, grandmotherly approach was not a great set-up, but he didn’t have much to work with, being in a parking lot and all.

So, really, as I told my friend, give the parking lot kiss a break.  It’s not always the kisser’s fault; sometimes it’s just the kiss.

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