Warning: naughty language ahead!
“Stay married until you die,” the message from my friend read.
Unlike me, married for 23 years, she’s navigating the dating world. She often shares with me what it’s like, and I, so far removed from this world, can’t pick my jaw up off the floor as I listen to the gameplay people put themselves through in the hopes of finding love.
“Trust me, I plan to!” I responded to my friend.
Though, this wasn’t always the case. There are two specific periods of time in my marriage where we seriously considered divorce. One happened at the seven-year mark, the other at the nine-year mark.
Not because we didn’t love each other anymore, or because of any cheating or abuse, but because over time, marriage gets increasingly tangled and messy.
Sometimes, it seems as if the easiest thing to do might be to walk away.
I used to never read the dating and sex articles on Elephant Journal, but as my grown daughters have moved into this world, and because my friend has opened my eyes to it, I’m curious about what’s changed since I was dating in the 90s. A lot, actually. I don’t recall so many rules and expectations, especially for women: let him lead, don’t text first, don’t express strong opinions.
When my husband and I were dating, we didn’t know of any rules, let alone try to follow any. For one of our first dates, I challenged him to a road race and beat him; I’m pretty sure these dating rules would’ve suggested I hang back and let him win.
Another time, I changed all the programmed radio stations in his car to ones of my liking; I wanted to see how he’d react to his buttons literally getting pushed. I’m guessing a test of character like this is nowhere to be found in the dating rules of today.
Back then, we women were finding our voices and asking guys out. I personally loved planning a date and taking care of all the details, including the bill, as much as I enjoyed being surprised by a date’s plans.
So, I’m shocked by advice today that seems right out of the 1950s. Advice like this would’ve never landed on me. Nor will it land on my daughters, who are both powerful, forthright, and natural leaders.
A lot of dating advice seems centered around maximizing sexual compatibility, not around how to build anticipation for a lasting relationship.
For example, on Cosmopolitan’s website one of their bullet points is:
“Sex & Relationships: Actually useful and super modern advice about how to have the sex — and relationship — you want.”
They put “and relationship” between em dashes, like an afterthought. Great sex might lend itself to a great relationship in movies and magazines, but I promise you it is exactly the opposite in real life.
I wish I could say that the answer to staying married is about mutual masturbation, or that great sex would ever be enough to make up for disconnection in any other area. I wish I could tell you that when things get hard, a good romp is what brings two people back together who are living separate lives, or whose communication has grown stale, or between partners who no longer have anything in common.
If only a mind-blowing orgasm would’ve been what I needed after my husband had been traveling for work from Monday through Friday and I’d been home alone with two spirited young daughters with no outside help at all. If only the answer for how to solve the challenge we faced when one of us left religion and the other still found comfort in it came when we did.
But the truth is, at no time in our marriage has sex been the way, or at least, not the only way, back to each other or to understanding. Our naked bodies have not sorted through our differences and defined new paths forward for us. Only our naked emotions have had that power. And if we’re talking about turn-ons, a man getting emotionally naked is a panty dropper for sure.
Who’s making these dating rules about leading and following and who calls whom? Are people encouraged to play the same games with their friendships or relationships with family, and if not, why would we treat dating differently?
All this debate over who’s chasing and pursuing and who’s making what moves—to what end? To get into a relationship with a good actor and strategist?
What’s the point of pretending to be something we’re not, unless the only goal is sex? You’re going to crack someday, I guarantee it, and your true self will prematurely ejaculate. Then what to do—start over with someone new? Might as well do it with the lights on and let your partner see you in your wholeness from the start.
I suppose there are times in my marriage where “he leads” and times when “I lead,” but I put these phrases in quotes because they sound so ridiculous to me.
During the periods I’ve had chronic hives for months on end and couldn’t focus on anything but my own burning skin, he had to “lead” by driving the kids around, making the meals, doing the laundry—all of it—while I tried to recover. And, as sexy as it is when a man is folding your underwear, it was no aphrodisiac back then.
Neither was it an aphrodisiac when my husband started acting strangely in his mid-40s. I thought he had started secretly drinking because he was slurring his words, and repeating himself, and was becoming increasingly belligerent and difficult to talk to.
He was adamant he wasn’t drinking more than a casual beer or two. I felt lied to; he felt wrongly accused. While I’m sure he would’ve enjoyed it, a blow job probably wouldn’t have turned him on to the fact that something was very wrong, nor could it have relayed how worried and scared I was.
Instead, a vulnerable, whole-family conversation initiated his seeking help. We learned that he needed to start medication for ADHD—something he’d been diagnosed with as a child but had never properly taken medication for or received support around.
Slowly, the husband I knew rose back up.
During this critical time of his mental health crisis, imagine instead I’d followed this advice:
“Let him do the thinking of where your relationship is going. Your job is to be.”
Right. Just be, and let my husband fall away from me? I don’t think so.
My husband and I are not strictly “in our feminine” or “in our masculine.” Seriously, what the hell is the point of this fucking language? If anything, this idea that women are “meant” to be feminine and men are “meant” to be masculine points to the ongoing and incessant cultural conditioning we’re all subject to from the time we get a pink blanket or a blue one. It’s not reality. It’s not our wholeness.
My husband and I are whole human beings who have decided to navigate this life together—raise children, have a few pets, drink some beers, buy some life insurance, and occasionally, get dressed up and go out to dinner. Oh, and yes, have sex. Which undoubtedly is also messy, hard, and wet—but it is so much more satisfying when we’ve first embraced the messy, hard, and wet of our daily lives.
As someone not in the dating world, I cannot legitimately offer advice. But, I can say that sex alone will not sustain a relationship through years and illness and job changes and children and loss.
If it’s a true relationship you desire, here are a few tips that might make it last a little longer:
1. Hard Fucking…Talks.
Have them. Do them. Dig deep. Go there. Reveal yourself. Tell the truth. But, no matter what you’re feeling or how frustrated you get, never never never devolve into name-calling or attacking another’s character. No amount of apologies will ever make up for it, nor will they ever be forgotten.
2. Talk Dirty
Living in a human body is messy, and funny, but there shouldn’t be anything shameful about it. Growing up, I learned to hide my tampons and any other evidence of my menstruating body out of the eyesight of men. But my husband has watched me birth two human beings and joyfully cut the cord both times. He whispered to me when my boobs sprung a leak when we’d snuck out for lunch during my breastfeeding months. And, I’ve brought him ice packs for his boys after a vasectomy. Getting dirty and wet together is not only part of our marriage, but part of our humanity. No topic is off-limits—from periods to breast milk stains to tender balls to the shared experience of morning after asparagus-scented urine.
3. Erotic Foreplay
“You fold the towels, and I’ll fold the fitted sheets” is some of the hottest foreplay that happens in my house and often leads to us getting tangled in those very same fitted sheets later on. “I got the dishes tonight,” and “Can I get you a glass of wine?” are the whispered sweet nothings that make my heart swell, and, later, cause other parts of my body to swell, too.
4. Get Good and Wet Together
Oh, how we both tear up anytime we think about the pets we’ve shared and lost over the years. We remember together the tears of fear we shared when we suspected our youngest daughter had meningitis. We remember with fondness when, on a family vacation, this same daughter made a face that got us all laughing so hard we were crying and gasping for breath. Memories like this flush our marriage, and our family life, with joy, sentiment, heartbreak, longing, and sweetness.
5. Don’t Pull Out Early
Not all relationships are meant to last forever, and I hold no judgment toward anyone for the decisions they make. But, I do think we are quick to run from relationship difficulties and messiness. We are easily disillusioned when we see a side of someone we didn’t expect. Maybe we’re expecting too much consistency from people, or not willing to change positions once in a while. Perhaps we’re expecting that what we see is what we get—when instead, like the clitoris, there is an iceberg waiting to be discovered inside each of us, if we dare to explore.
6. Seek Mutual Release
All this talk about work work work might sound like there’s no time for play, but that’s not even close to being true. The work we do engage in lends itself to us being that much more comfortable and free in our play time together. There’s nothing like feeling that as much as anything else, we are the best of friends, with our inside jokes and nicknames and our “yeah, yeah, you told me that story a hundred times.” We work hard at our marriage, but we find ways to let go together, too—including that precious time between the sheets.
I’m married to a human being—not a caricature, a “masculine man,” a “tough guy,” or any other label. And he’s not married to a “feminine woman” or a gentle dove either. He can be tender and sweet, and other times stubborn and as unmovable as a wall. But so can I. We have seen every possible side (and underside) of each other, and we here for it.
What’s more erotic than that?