Tag Archives: Spouse

In which I fail, and fail, and fail

“Did you want to try to have sex, before I go?”

I don’t know. That is, I don’t, but I don’t know why I don’t. I’m frustrated and lonely and I crave sexual touch. It’s been months. “I don’t know. No, I think–” I’m inarticulate, nervous. Is it going to be a fight, if we don’t? Is it going to be a fight if we do?

“It doesn’t have to be like standard PIV. You could fuck me, or try punching or electricity. If you need to feel in control.”

My gut twists. I don’t want, not at all. It’s visceral, shocking. I am not like this. I’m babbling. I say definitely no but I’m trying to explain and it doesn’t make sense. I have to say it three times before he understands.

“What about just kissing? You like kissing.”

I do. It’s been months. I feel pressured and miserable and scared mostly, afraid because there’s a delay between reaction and reason. I can feel it, the gap. What I want/don’t want is inchoate and the words I give it feel like excuses, like lies.

I’m trying. I don’t want to say no because I want to want it, because I think maybe the fear will dissipate and excitement can take its place if I just try. Like riding a roller coaster.

It doesn’t work, the kissing. I try. My body wants to fold into itself, there’s no enjoyment, but I try. And then I can’t. I bury my face in his shoulder and apologize.

Questions. “Why” and “what’s going on” and on and on. It feels like pressure. I feel like I deserve it. I snap at him. I don’t want questions I just want to curl up quiet and alone. He deserves answers, it isn’t fair, but my mind isn’t clear enough. So I snap. So we fight.

He only suggested it because I said I was frustrated the night before. He thought I was pressuring him. I thought he was pressuring me. He pulls apart my words and calls them inconsistent. I don’t see it, don’t know how to explain.

This is what I mean by not working.

Last word

Some words feel too alien to be true, even when they are. It makes them hard to say, even harder to discuss and defend. I don’t handle it well. A sentence causes hurt and denial and anger and pleas and I have no words, nothing to offer that doesn’t make it worse.

This isn’t working.

We’re not–we can’t be–a couple.

We’ve been together more than a decade. We moved states away with nothing but each other, twice. Said vows between the arms of a hurricane. I didn’t want kids, he got surgery so we could be sure. We’ve boosted (or sometimes dragged) each other over the day to day obstacles of work and life and academia. Eleven years, almost twelve. Some of it has been good. Some, unbearable.

It isn’t working.

Too many arguments. Too much damage control, too little ability to understand each other. Too much guilt. Because it can be controlled, all this damage, but one of us is gunpowder and the other is flame. How much time, how much effort, before the hazards of staying together aren’t worth it anymore?

There is shouting, tears. Not so much fighting as being miserable at each other in the same room. First he says fine, I’ll go, find a place to stay right now; if we’re not together I can’t bear to be here. Then it’s please, I can’t live without you, just stay, we’ll figure something out. I try to list steps we can take, so we might do this calmly, though neither of us is calm. I say I’m sorry. It doesn’t help. We’re still broken.

We are both essentially single for the first time in our adult lives. He denies it, and I don’t have the energy to say it again. I slink off to another room, fail to be productive, wish I were alone in a quiet that didn’t touch anyone else’s life, where no one else could touch mine.

There are things I know: that this is my fault, that it needs to be dealt with, decisions made, that I cannot put off or put on him. That I am controlling and hurtful and not to be trusted. That the boundaries I set are not fair, that they make intimacy all but impossible. That this is not going to change. That I am not wholly sane, not wholly sure about the things I think I know.

It isn’t working and I feel like an imposter. How can I write about relationships here when mine all fail so spectacularly all at once? How can I be allowed (yes, really, I am) to provide counseling on sexual behavior and boundaries and the rest? Why do people keep asking for relationship advice and how dare I say “I’ll try” instead of “dear God, run, ask anyone but me”?

I’m shutting down and shutting people out. It seems safer for everyone, though this time I’m aware that it is also selfish. This is terrible timing, though no timing would be good. Final week of semester. Papers and exams and presentations demand attention. Applying for jobs. I am avoiding the necessary conversations, not even sure I can form the right words.

It isn’t working. What else is there to say?


“You’re not saying anything.”

“I’m a sex toy that caters. I don’t figure I get much say.”

Z’s face goes slack. Anger, restraint. “Do you have any idea how insulting it is for you to say that to me?”

I do, and I regret it. “Defense mechanism.”

Too many words, too late at night. They both say they care. I deflect. There’s mention of romantic attachment. I acknowledge, question relevance. I don’t trust hierarchical relationship structures. The Techie doesn’t say anything. Z says she doesn’t know how else to practice poly. I’m trying not to shut down, failing. This can be a conversation, but not at six in the morning, not after four hours of this. I accept the term “dating,” if tentatively. There’s more to discuss.

Spouse is furious. He hates the Techie. He cries, threatens, manipulates, cries. The reaction surprises me. It’s too strong. I can’t manage empathy; I don’t understand. It hurts to comfort him while he attacks. It hurts that he sees self-defense as an attack. I’m frightened and shut down, curled into the closet messaging strangers for support. Wondering why I ever thought human interaction was worth the work.

Two days, more than twelve hours of difficult conversation. I dredged up ancient history with Spouse. I felt forced into it, but no less guilty. Still wondering whether human interaction is worth the work.

Today’s been stable. Work, meetings, listening to Nightvale radio. No difficult conversation. But stress hasn’t gone down. I’m not certain it will.

I do this to myself. Poor choices, I guess.

Ars Corporeum

Z and I went shopping the other day. First for underwear, then thrifting for dresses. It’s the only clothes shopping I enjoy: rummaging through sale bins or racks of random things.

She was uncomfortable. I get that: mannequins and pictures of skinny, busty white women; saleswomen who talk about bras in terms of cleavage and adding cup sizes rather than comfort or durability. She tried on a few. Some looked great, but the mirror and the shop (and maybe me) made her miserable, so we left empty handed.

I asked if she was okay, she said “yes, except for hating myself.”

My partners don’t tend to fit societal standards of beauty. They aren’t tall or model-thin. They don’t have all-over muscle definition. Those attributes do nothing for me. Honestly, it might be a bit creepy if they did: my family has enough models and could-be models to put me off the look entirely. If I have a type, it’s people shorter than me, unconventional; pierced, tattooed, or scarred.

Z doesn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model (complete with badly Photoshopped cleavage). She’s short. Her features are delicate, almost anime-like. Her skin is scarred, covered in tattoos (we both agree: not covered enough). She’s visibly muscular, not thin.

Spouse is close to my height. He wears his hair very long, nails painted, legs shaved. He favors women’s jeans and shoes, as gender-neutral as he can present. His gestures are exaggerated. Expressions, too: his mild disappointment looks like devastation, slight amusement like unmitigated glee.

The Techie is three inches shorter than me, but people somehow get the impression that he’s tall. His hands are wide and callused, his eyes too intense behind too-long lashes. There’s white in his beard, which he worries makes him look old, though he isn’t and it doesn’t. Ink suits him, though he seems too serious on first glance to be tattooed.

The Chef is strong. Her laugh is high and clear, her smile impish, infectious. She’s six inches shorter than I am, nearly a hundred pounds heavier. She’s strong. She can lift and toss me like a doll. Her bare hands hit with the force of a truck. I love the contrasts of her: breasts spilling over steel boning, black ink on brown skin, heavy blows marked by easy peals of laughter.

She’s beautiful. They all are, not in spite of these things but because of them. We have this idea that perfect skin is untextured, uniform in color (and all too often white), “unblemished” by scars, stretchmarks, wrinkles, freckles, moles, tattoos. But skin tells stories. Scars and ink are most obvious, images of discrete moments. Skin also speaks of habits in callouses, tan lines. Learning the lives that build the bodies we inhabit is a delight. Even knowing this, though, I’m careful to cover my scar, quick to lament my freckles and moles. We’re meant to come to each other as blank canvases, afraid marks left by others or by life will render us unpalatable to anyone new.

Bodies are palimpsest, painstaking to interpret, in places raw and fragile.  Built objects, sometimes showing our regrets and hurts, reflecting what we may not mean them to, not wholly in our control. It’s easy to see that as ugly, when it fails to match what we’re shown. It can make it hard to hear “you’re beautiful” when we only know one template for the word.

Little Lower Layer

Food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.

The objects in our lives have meaning, whether we want them to or not. They may mean one thing to us, something completely different to someone else. There can be conflict, misinterpretation, manipulation without an outright lie when a symbol comes into play.

It’s so easy to be hurt by them, and so hard to avoid no matter how well we understand, intellectually, that what is symbolized is not inherent to the thing. Objective truth be damned: food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.

Food is affection.

I could say “food is love,” but that’s a word I use with the care and trepidation afforded hazardous materials, and hazardous materials have no place in my kitchen. I’m an excellent cook. I love the building of a meal, the time and energy, the heat and smells and sounds of it coming together. If I offer to send cookies or make dinner, it’s because I value someone. It’s an offer of time and energy and the tangible form of joy, not just a desire to nourish. Food is affection. It seemed so obvious I never thought it needed to be said. But to some, a meal at home is banal. It means the night isn’t special enough to warrant going out, or a desire not to be seen in public together, or simple pragmatism. I once made a decadent three course meal for a woman who said “I never really thought of food as something you like. I eat because I have to, but I’d rather not think about it.” To her, my hours in the kitchen were a waste of a perfectly good afternoon.

A room is a right.

Having a room of one’s own confers the right to use that room however one likes. This is inherently obvious to small children, bafflingly ignored by too many parents. In Texas, Spouse and I had a two-bedroom apartment. We shared one room, and the second was a library. It was also my room: my reading chair lived there, my photography table. It was a place I could play country music, sequester myself with friends or a lover, or just enjoy solitude and a good book.

We moved to a one-bedroom apartment in New Orleans. I don’t have my own space here. It’s affected nerves: my need for solitude and silence is at times profound. I have shut myself in the closet here more than once, just to try to feel that there’s some small space that only I control.

The Techie and Z have a spare room. It’s where I sleep, when I stay at their place. They call it my room, sometimes. It’s a convenience: I stay there once or twice a week, no one else does. But it’s a guest room, not mine. I can’t assume it’s available or that I’m welcome. I don’t keep my things there, or use it as a haven. It is not my space, simply space I am allowed to occupy sometimes.

A key is a promise.

The first time the Techie offered me a key was over a year ago. It frightened me, the implication of trust and commitment. I declined. He mentioned a few times that he’d like me to have one before we fell apart in December. I never took it. Since I’ve been with him and Z, they’ve both offered more than once. It just makes sense, if you get here and we aren’t in, or are in the shower; in case you leave something and need to get it, in case Z locks herself out, etc. We want you to have it. No big deal.

It is a big deal. A key is a promise: this door is never closed to you. You are welcome, now and for the foreseeable future. My home is your home.

It’s a promise they can’t keep. The Techie has already shown he’s perfectly willing to excise me from his life completely rather than risk a difficult conversation. Z I credit with more integrity, but their relationship is hierarchical. An open relationship, not polyamory. Thing about open relationships is that they can close at any time, and secondary partners are unlikely to have any warning, let alone a say.

I don’t want a key. I can’t brush off the little lower layer. It clings like cobwebs in spite of their talk of convenience, in defiance of their insistence that it’s no big deal.

As of yesterday, I have a key. They’re out of town for a week, wanted someone to be able to get in if there’s an emergency. I can deal with this. It’s practical, and temporary.

But it makes me sick to look at my key ring right now. I’m afraid they’ll try to say I should keep it, when they get back; that there’s no reason I shouldn’t have a key. On the face of it, that may be true. But I can’t separate the thing from its meaning. A key is a promise, and this is not one I’m willing to believe or accept.

Pandora’s Box

Spouse got a Twitter account.

I don’t know what it is and I won’t be looking for it or following, but it made my corner of the Internet feel a little smaller anyway. As though there’s suddenly a risk that he’ll stumble across my Twitter and click over here, if only just to peek. If you’re thinking Twitter is a huge community and odds are low, I should add that Spouse has already mentioned following an account I followed.

It’s hard to articulate why this bothers me. It’s personal, what I write here, but not precisely secretive. He knows I blog and tweet about sex. It’s not as though I have secret partners or use this space to cast Spouse in a negative light. In fact, I rarely write about Spouse at all (this is because he’s a fairly private person. He dislikes being tagged when I check in places on Facebook; I don’t think he’d like it if our intimacy were just out there on the Internet for anyone to read).

Partly it is the intimacy. None of my partners reads this. None of them gets that glimpse into what goes through my head when we fuck, or the raw detail of what I do with the others. None of them reads this, so I can write without worrying what they’ll think, without feeling I need to censor myself or owe them an explanation. I can process and articulate ideas based on conversations we’ve had, or use the act of writing to begin articulating for conversations I’d like to have. I don’t have to worry anyone will think I’m using the blog to be passive aggressive with them.

I’m fairly certain Spouse respects this. He also writes about sex on the Internet and would prefer that I not seek out his space for slightly different reasons than mine. I’m not tempted to look for it, but that’s at least partly because the niche he’s writing in holds no interest for me at all. If it were more of a journal, if it were personal thoughts on kink and gender, and his perspectives on sexual experiences, would I be tempted? I don’t know.

It’s a Pandora’s Box situation. Spouse and my other partners know I write about sex on the Internet, but not where. If I told them, or they stumbled across it, would they be able to resist looking inside? Would it even be reasonable to ask them to?

Sleeping Arrangements

It doesn’t have to be a problem. It shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s a problem.

Spouse has been seeing this girl a few months now. The young one who used to date the Techie. Let’s call her Polly Pocket: she is adorable and just about pocket-sized.

We’re all going to a play party tomorrow night. We’re going to be out late–some parties I’ve barely hit the front door by dawn–and it doesn’t make sense to drive her all the way home and then turn around and go back to our place.

There are two logical options. (1) We can all take one car, Polly Pocket can come home with us, she and Spouse can share the bed and I can sleep in the living room. (2) We can take two cars, Spouse can go back to Polly Pocket’s place and spend the night, and I can come home and have the whole bed to myself.

Spouse wants to invent options 3-7 and get upset at me for not liking them. Option 3: we all three share a bed. Hell no. We tried it when she crashed here after the Techie debacle. I got up and moved to the couch. Too crowded, and I’m not a cuddler, and there was unfamiliar movement and breathing…ugh. There are very few people with whom I can share a bed and not be miserable. All of them are either partners/former partners or my sister. Option 4: Polly Pocket and I share the bed, Spouse takes the couch. This is ridiculous. They are both snuggly types, I am not. He is in a relationship with her, I am not. I don’t want to share personal space that closely with someone I’m not in a relationship with. Option 5: make Polly Pocket take the couch. I guess we could, but again with the snuggle compatibility and I don’t want to make her feel exiled. Option 6: I get the bed, they inflate the air mattress and sleep on the living room floor. This makes sense if I am an evil and insane person who will make Spouse and his partner sleep on a glorified pool raft that is likely to be punctured by bad cats in the night. Since I’m not, and it isn’t cat-proof, and loud to set up, and also this idea is crazy…no. Option 7: “I just can’t date anyone else this is too complicated.” *facepalm*

Spouse keeps saying it doesn’t seem fair to kick me out of the bed. He isn’t kicking me out, he’s not listening when I say I don’t want to be there. And yeah, this would’ve been more navigable if we still had a two-bedroom apartment, but we don’t. Sometimes I’m going to have to move over a little to make room for other people in Spouse’s life. It shouldn’t be a problem.

So why is it a problem?