But enough about me, back to T – T, who didn’t ask for me to keep a blog, and doesn’t derive the same benefit I do from my story, our story, being “out there.”
I’ll tell you a bit about T, but I’ll do it in a way that necessarily will be somewhat gestural, directional, opaque, obscure – precisely because of her wish not to appear here. (And I should say, this is one of those posts that has been pre-approved by her.) It’s important to me to try to tackle the task of communicating a bit about her in ways that are acceptable to her, that respect her wish for privacy while at the same time revealing a bit about what she means to me, about how our relationship functions in relationship to what you read here.
First, a little anecdote – I may have written about this somewhere in “My Story,” but it bears repeating. It was almost three years ago that I began to wrestle myself out of the closet of secrecy, shame, compulsion, addiction – that I began attending 12-step meetings, that I confronted the reality that, whatever you think of the hypothesis that one can be “addicted” to sex, I was powerless over sex and my life had become unmanageable.
By then, I was lying to T daily about my sexual habits, whereabouts, spending habits, etc. But as I started attending daily lunchtime meetings of the 12-step program; as I got to know, and care about, a cohort of guys who were fascinating – guys exactly like, and nothing like, me; as I became versed in the culture of 12-step programs; I found myself constructing a new secret edifice, a new realm of my life that I couldn’t share with my wife. And I was forced to confront a realization with which I had struggled for several years: for me, one of the hardest things about my systematic, repeated betrayals and deceptions, and about my “habit,” was that there was a lot of interesting shit I just couldn’t discuss with T. Since we met, our single greatest points of connection have been political, anthropological, sociological, economic, cultural, critical, intellectual: we bond by imagining the story of the couple at the table next to us, by sharing reactions to deeply unfamiliar cultures, by debriefing after movies, books, plays.
As I traveled through the demimonde(s) of commercial sex, one of the hardest, loneliest parts was that I couldn’t discuss how fucking interesting it all was with T – I couldn’t talk about the extent to which the public understanding of commercial sex is simply wrong, couldn’t talk about the economics of massage parlors, or strip clubs, couldn’t talk about the variety of types of interactions I had with the scores of women I paid. Now, there’s a (ridiculously) selfish aspect to all this – I see it. But at the same time, it was a statement of truth that one of the biggest losses I felt – and I sometimes imagined (hoped) T would have felt – was the loss associated with our not being able to talk about this wacky, fascinating world that I was learning about.
When I started in the 12-step program, I felt this all once again. I was meeting daily with a bunch of fascinating guys – people with varied backgrounds, of varying ages, deeply religious Jews, Catholic clergy (a monk, even), gay actors, wealthy Wall Street executives, building superintendents and even homeless people. I was hearing fascinating and horrifying stories – there was simply no end to the depravity of us. And the 12-step culture itself was fascinating – there was the (to me illuminating, shocking) impact of simply discussing that which previously had been secret and shameful around a table with other humans and being accepted. There was the rituals, the politics, the squabbles, the joys.
And here I was, not able to share this stuff with T, the one person in my life I wanted to talk about it all with, whose perspective I craved in a deep, bodily way, whose camaraderie and shared consumption of the comedy of it I couldn’t bear to be without. And so, selfishly, long before I should have, at least according to the thinking of the program, I found myself compelled to share with T. (There was more – there was the fact that if I was addicted to anything, it probably was secrecy, shame, and that I knew that if I was to escape the prison in which I found myself, I had to tear down that wall first. This was, to be fair, the main reason I told her when I did. But the other reason was pretty high up there, too.)
I know – it’s pathetic, right? I told my wife I was in a 12-step program for sex addiction in part because I wanted to be able to gossip with her about the 12-step program.
But this is the thing: T is the center of my life. When something happens to me, when I do something, when I have an experience, or an interesting thought, or a revelation, or a question, it’s to her that I turn. This was true within weeks of our beginning dating, it remained true through our darkest days, and it’s true now. There is simply no experience that I have in life that isn’t made richer by my sharing it with her, by my hearing her reaction, her thoughts, and by our bouncing thoughts off of one another.
This is as true of sex as it is of books.
But it’s worth confronting the elephant in the room: sex between the two of us. First, a guy doesn’t live my story without a lot of sexual issues. More than being in recovery for being an addict, I’m in recovery for being a shamed, repressed sexual being. And without going too deep, I think it’s fair to say (and safe to assume) that a woman who married a guy with my sexual profile, sexual issues, probably brought a few of her own challenges to the table.
Through all this, from the beginning of our relationship until this point, sex hadn’t been what brought us, or kept us, together. We didn’t have a sexless marriage, like Liza did, but sex was something that we always were “working” on (or felt we should be working on, or resented the other for not working on) – it was never as (good as, frequent as) either of us wanted it to be, and in our hearts, each was deeply (and probably somewhat justifiably) aggrieved. The ambivalence about fucking about which I’ve written was a big problem to T. Our fucking was routine, and the truth is, it rarely featured me fucking her. At its best, it was us fucking one another, or more often, her fucking me. What’s worse, I never made T feel particularly desired. This is a persistent issue: L worried about being “special” to me, P has mentioned it. And neither of them is the woman who loves me, who must watch as I flirt with, as I fuck, a seemingly endless stream of other women, who must imagine each as in some sense a rebuke.
T has said that soon after we started dating, she basically accepted that if she was to be with me, she simply would never be fucked, or feel desired, as she had come to know she enjoyed being fucked, and feeling desired, before me, and she was ok with this, albeit reluctantly. So the news that I had been taking my sexual energy elsewhere was doubly singe-ing to her.
Until very recently, and still, I have not been good at making T feel desired, at fucking her as she would like to be fucked. And to be fair, it’s been a bit of a two-way street. Somehow, we’re wired in ways that have made this a great challenge for each, both, of us. The experience of our getting those things from others, in plain view of the other, has been powerfully constructive, and healing. Even as it’s been challenging.
It was, I suspect, the most difficult thing either of us has done within our marriage to reconcile ourselves to this reality – to the fact that there are needs my wife has that I can’t (or at least haven’t consistently been able to) fulfill, and that there are men who are able and willing to fulfill them. And to its twin – that there are needs I have that my wife hasn’t consistently been able to fulfill, but that there are women who are able and willing to fulfill them.
I suppose it’s not so surprising that this is true – we often expect our spouses to be our everything, and that’s never possible. And T is my everything in pretty much every other area. Including what is for me that most important area – the meta- area – the part of my psychic and intellectual life in which I process what happens, what I think, feel, do. She and I share this in common.
So even as we came to this understanding, that we could achieve a certain type of sexual satisfaction, gratification, with others that simply wasn’t available to us within a conventionally monogamous marriage, we came to another understanding: that we treasured the safe space our relationship provided us to discuss, process, understand this (truly complex) reality, and to work through the joys and pains of pursuing sex, and relationships, with others. And this is the truth: as fun as it is for me to have sex with others, real or virtual, the best part of all of this stuff is talking about it with T, going over what I am feeling, what’s happening, including – but not limited to – the sex.
When T and I have sex, there are occasional explicit references to, visits from, people other than the two of us. But not all that often. More often, we use our dalliances and peregrinations to fluff ourselves, to get hard, or wet, in advance of our sex. And to discover things about our likes and dislikes that we then can share with the other for her/his benefit. We sit next to one another in bed, chatting with others, fluffing others, being fluffed by others; I blog, she blogs; I look at porn, she reads erotica; we both troll through OKCupid hoping against hope there’s someone there for either or both of us (against all evidence).
There’s a relationship about which I’ve only written (and will only write) obliquely in this blog, between T and me and another couple. But that relationship has been profoundly important for us. Early on in that relationship, we cloned a tactic of this other couple: we established Gmail accounts for N and T (see above), and gave one another the login information, and conducted all of our extramarital peregrinations from within those accounts, in plain view of the other. T’s account is on my phone; mine, on her desktop. One result of this has been that we’ve learned a ton about what turns one another on. Sometimes, we’ll lie next to one another, she reading the chats I’ve had recently while I read those she’s had.
We once were a couple who communicated incredibly well about everything other than sex, and almost perfectly badly about sex. But it turns out, each of us is extremely good at communicating with others about sex, and by doing so in plain view of the other (and ultimately, by my having a blog), we have been able to deliver to one another many of the benefits of better communication even as our communication wasn’t yet much better on the subject. I could see how T responded to things other guys said in chat, could see what turned her on, what made her wet. And she could see what got me hard, what kept me up late.
And you know what? Lo and behold, our communication began to improve. And not only that, our sex began to improve. Opening up our marriage, embarking on sexual and quasi-romantic adventures with others has done more to improve our marriage, our romance, our sex, than anything we’ve ever done before. Including couple’s therapy (although therapy helped us create the trusting space in which this was possible).
One thing that’s been wonderful about the last couple of years (and the time since Spring 2011, in particular) for us has been the extent to which we have been able to integrate each of, both of, our sexualities, our sex, into our relationship. And, the extent to which we have been able to integrate our relationship into our sex life. T and I have a sex life that is forever a work in progress. It’s not (and I suspect never will be) the area of our connection that is most intense. But it’s improved exponentially in recent years, and I’m very excited for what the future holds. Because I’m pretty fucking committed to giving T the sense of being desired, the fucking, that she deserves from her husband, even if there are enormous historical and structural barriers to her receiving those things from me, to my giving them to her.
more to come