Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Reader's Comments

In response to my post two weeks ago, a reader posted a comment:
I do not find it fair that because your needs have changed over time you now expect [your wife] to fulfill them.  She changed too and is willing to go back [to] the way it was but you are not... It might be hard for her to deal with it but just [her] that she isn't enough anymore.  Is it not harder to make her believe that if she has sex with you it will be fine when you know you will always need more? It could drive both [of] you crazy... No sex for months is inhuman already, when you're married it becomes a duty, if she doesn't feel like she can fulfill your needs, but doesn't want a divorce, she should be fine with closing her eyes on your behavior with other women from time to time...
Lots to unpack here.  First, let's establish that my needs have never changed over time. I have always been a highly sexual man with a very healthy sexual appetite. In my earlier years with DW I never shied away from trying to expand her sexual vocabulary and skills to be more in line with what I liked and wanted. This was done while I also worked a 12-step program for sex and love addiction. When my first child was born I left that program, feeling that I was likely not an addict but was in denial that my sexual needs were totally healthy and normal. So what has changed, I guess, is that I have formed a healthier ("sex-positive" if you will) relationship with my sexuality. By then, my relationship to DW had deteriorated over sexuality, culminating in her telling me nearly nine years ago that "I don't care if I ever have sex again" and suggesting that I find a girlfriend for sex outside the marriage. I knew instinctively that she was only testing me to see if I'd actually go through with it, but I also knew that was a very practical solution to staying in a marriage with a woman I deeply loved but who was signaling the end of our sex life together. I kept my mouth shut and started seeing other women, and did so for over eight years until she accidentally caught me. Now that my activities are known to her, there is no going back to secrecy, because I want to stay married.

Second, in our discussions both in and out of counseling of returning to a marriage that involves sex, we never discussed going back to the way it was for us. I won't accept a life that doesn't involve a rewarding and fulfilling expression of my sexuality. I've told her repeatedly, and she's heard me and understood me, that I've accepted her for who she is right now. This means that I'm okay if sex is no longer going to be part of her life, and that it's also no longer going to be part of our life together, but only because sex must be part of my life. If she wants our marriage to be sexual again, that's wonderful, but she has to be on the same page as me. And a totally fulfilling sex life for me must include a willingness to try anything, or at least talk about it. If she doesn't want to participate in certain things, that's fine, but I'm no longer going to restrict myself to being less than satisfied. Part of our marriage surviving has to include her accepting me for this man that I have always been, but have only recently begun to express outwardly. She's not thinking at all that if she has sex with me it will be fine, particularly if her idea of what's acceptable for her is less than what's acceptable for me. She knows very clearly that what she has to offer might not be enough, and in her mind, she's still struggling with whether or not she can live with that in her marriage to me.  If she can, we survive; if she can't, we don't survive.  In a perfect world, we would have had this discussion before getting married or having kids, but the world is messy and we now have to clean up the mess we've both made.

Finally, I disagree with the comment that when two people get married, sex "becomes a duty." That's the last thing it should be. Sex should never be obligatory in any relationship.  In some religious traditions, I can understand that way of thinking. The purpose of marriage is to create families and bring children into the world, so there needs to be sex to make that happen, etc. Also, if sex is only acceptable within a marriage, then sex must be part of that marriage. But times and morals have changed; people have sex before marriage, and outside of marriage, all the time, and no one really has a problem with it. People in committed relationships bring in other partners all the time, and no one really has a problem with it.  To me, sex should always be desired, and never seen as a requirement, in a relationship. As soon as couples have sex because it's an obligation, then I think the emotional connection is damaged. Do that enough times and the emotional connection can become severed, perhaps permanently.

Let me be very clear: I don't require DW to submit to me sexually. I don't require that she do all that I want to do in bed. What I do require is that she accept who I am: that she supports me in being who I want to be (including sexually), and trusts that I will always honor our marriage and relationship no matter what I do. This isn't even about sex.. It's about two complete people creating and nurturing a relationship that in turn nurtures each of us to be the people we've always wanted to be. I'm hoping that DW's journey to come to terms with her sexuality helps her become a more complete woman. It's a big investment for me, of course, with two young kids being part of the picture, so there's a lot at stake.  I'm determined that I'll never give less than 100 percent to this work.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Open Marriage Watch: Week Six

Wait, what happened to week five? We didn't see the therapist last week, and there were no big developments, so I didn't blog.  Plus, I've gotten one or two reader comments that my posts are getting really long-winded, so I'll try to tone that down.

The past weekend, and tonight, in fact, things have gotten very interesting indeed.

First, DW and I were doing our usual sprucing up around the house over the weekend, ahead of our kids leaving for a week to go to summer camp.  They'll only be gone a week or so, but it's great for us to have that time alone together without having the kids around to distract us from each other.  It's been a good thing. Our intimate time had been getting incrementally more intense, and she's been somewhat more willing to be sexual. So this day we were sharing with each other how much we were looking forward to having a whole week alone without the kids. I said, "Think maybe we could try having sex while they're gone?" "Yes," came her reply. "Really?" I asked, kind of blown away. "We can try, I want to try," she said, "but I can't promise anything." I said that I wasn't expecting anything so we could just go really slowly.  That seemed to make her happy. Meanwhile, now I have to go scouting for some really good lube. It's hilarious that this made me think of one of my earlier encounters with Audrey, which, as I recounted in my blog post about it, makes me sound rather prophetic:
I kept her in that position and started to enter her without a condom, but she got up from the bed to get something from her purse.  I figured we'd be using condoms, but she came back with just a bottle of lube.  I forgot the name of it, but it was so much better than the Astroglide I have always used.  I'm going to have to get this stuff the next time I need it at home (in 2017, probably!).  She said she'd gotten in at a sex shop.  
Well, here we are in 2017 and I'm needing lube at home!

Second, yesterday, after the kids were on their way to camp, DW and I were starting one of our annual projects that we do when the kids leave. This project was to de-clutter our kitchen. It was a monumental undertaking, since DW was a collector of things and was almost pathologically incapable of throwing anything away.  I realize that makes her sound like a hoarder but it's not like that at all.  She just has accumulated stuff over the years and as she and I have moved from place to place, we just haven't thrown a lot of it out or repurposed it.  Now, however, there's an online community in our neighborhood that lets us dispose of things that others might want, whether it's free or for a small price. As both of us were feeling somewhat free without having the kids in the house we were joking with each other and kidding around. I got her to laugh out loud a lot! And, at one point, we just grabbed each other and started making out like teenagers. Didn't lead to anything more for the rest of the day, but that was the most passion she'd shown in a long time. And it dawned on me: what turns DW on is laughter, lots of it.  When she feels free to let go and laugh, she's much more likely to be sexual with me. This holds a lot of promise this week for trying to have sex.

As if that weren't enough, there's more. Not less than two previous SBs have come forward and expressed interest in getting together again. First is Sam, sweet Sam, whom I last saw in early 2016. Since that time, she's been told of what happened.  At that time, she was unsure of what to think about it, but in the past four months or so she's come to realize that it's not that big a deal and she's willing to get together again.  The second former SB who wants to see me again is none other than Jade, with whom I had a tumultuous 10-month arrangement in 2013 until I told her off in spectacular fashion.  I apologized for that about 10 months later, and then had lunch with her about two years ago where she expressed an interest in starting up again. I was reluctant, and over the next week or so we made and she broke two dates.  I never committed to sleeping with her at all, just to get caught up.  Then she took something I told her during a moment of reflection and intimacy and she threw it back in my face.  She wasn't hostile about it, but at the time it struck a nerve with me and I hit her hard again. Reading the blog post I wrote about it, I realize that I've been quite touchy around her, and while it hasn't been totally inappropriate, I think I may have been overly sensitive. She did kind of break my heart, but my heart wasn't really all there to give to her, was it?  And it still isn't, especially now.

Jade told me she has a new place -- "a better place, a more private place, with a jacuzzi lol" -- and she invited me to visit her next week and get caught up over a glass of wine. Sounds awesome, but it feels like a trap -- either from her or of my own design. I'd feel wracked with guilt just going over there after I've so openly told DW that there was no longer a benefit to being unfaithful behind her back. I can only imagine getting sexual with Jade the second I walked in her door.  If she and I decide to meet, I'll definitely suggest we meet in public first.  And then I'll have to figure out a way to introduce the idea to DW.  There will have to be a bit of deception around it, but that's the way it goes.  Since Jade and I haven't fucked in over four years it's going to feel like new again.  Perhaps I can convince her to create a new profile on the sugar website so I can find her that way. If that works, then it should be easier.

More to come...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Open Marriage Watch, Week Four: A Game of Inches

I entered this week's counseling session knowing that, with DW on her period, she might be more emotional than normal, and not necessarily in a good way. Typically, when she gets emotional during her period, she can be explosive in anger, inconsolable in sadness, and overall totally irrational. I felt glad to see that she didn't go there after all.

DW wanted to go straight into talk about sex, which, while it seemed like a good sign, was full of potential pitfalls.  We began by recounting for the therapist that we'd spent some quality naked time in bed, and that she'd jacked me off on one of those occasions. DW seemed pleased with that, and in general, I was too. But, as my headline states, this is a game of inches. We are moving forward at a snail's pace, at least in my mind. And I am still initiating all of it.  Well, almost all of it. This morning, she invited me into the shower, after she'd gotten cleaned up. But by the time I was ready to join her she was turning off the water.  I misjudged her routine and thought that after she cleaned up she'd linger in there, but she didn't see me so she just ended her shower.  I apologized and offered a rain check. Probably later this week.

I had a couple of missteps during this session, particularly at one point where I was trying to explain my context around finding a solution to our incompatibility problem. I don't believe that DW can get on my page sexually, and that she's unaware that she's asexual.  However, I'm more than willing to go down the path of experimentation to test that belief, and I'm more than willing to be wrong, and to admit it. Win-win, right? But when DW told me that she feared she wouldn't be able to provide me the same things sexually that Mel could, I saw that as my opportunity to offer my context, But I then fumbled my words. "I don't really think you can," I said in reply. This came from the place of not believing that DW would ever be sexually adventurous enough to give me a rim job, or go down on another woman, or let another woman go down on her, or consent to being fucked by another man in front of me (these are all things that I would insist would be part of my sexual experience going forward, with or without DW). This response invited all sorts of questions, both from DW and the therapist, and it felt a little like emotional mortar shells raining down on me.  DW still plays, over and over in her mind, pictures and imaginary video of Mel and me in bed, happily fucking our brains out. And whatever she can picture is true, of course, and then some. Mel and I had a fantastic sexual connection, and had it gone on for an extended period of time, I think it would have replaced the one I'd had with C/Hayden, which is still the best ever. I was able to clarify, however, and said that I had concerns over whether DW would, as we progressed, overcome her own self-imposed sexual boundaries and really try to enjoy the journey, and that if she did overcome them and discover her sexuality was truly not that adventurous, she would not be able to handle it emotionally if I satisfied my needs with another woman.

She validated my concerns almost immediately when she said that she believed that Mel was beginning to have feelings for me at the time she discovered my involvement with her. She based that on the fact that I'd paid for Mel to Uber to and from work one day when her car had broken down. This, to her, was a sign that Mel had started to see me as some sort of a rescuer. "She could have asked a co-worker to get back home, but instead she went back to you.  You'd set a boundary with her that was supposed to be strictly sexual, and when you didn't say no to it. She was probably starting to fall for you." "I understand how you can see it that way," I said, "but the reality is far less charged than that. She asked for a favor, she offered to pay me back, and I agreed. And she would have, had we continued to see each other." I know that didn't go over well, either.  The truth was that Mel did have feelings for me.  She called me the best lover she'd ever had, and that our connection went beyond the sexual. I definitely had feelings for her too, but like nearly all the others before her, they would never have amounted to anything because I'm in love with DW.  In the end they never got to be fleshed out, so it doesn't really matter.  The boundary held.

DW maintained that the arrangement should have been a purely sexual one. "Again," I said, "understood. But the truth of this arrangement -- and I suppose any arrangement that I would be involved in -- is that she and I were on friendly terms. That made the sex more fun for both of us."  This seemed to alarm DW because it never occurred to her that any extramarital sexual partner I had would become a friend.  In future conversations, I'll have to clarify that anything less than that would feel like the transactional sex one would have with a prostitute, and that's not my preference in an extramarital partner.  Her concerns about this seemed to be amplified somewhat, so I now see what needs to happen next. She needs an education about what an extramarital relationship looks like, and to be asked whether she prefers me to risk arrest and infections with prostitutes who can fuck multiple partners per day. She needs to see that men aren't that different from women in that they want to care about the partners they're fucking. I know it's possible that a man can find a prostitute to see on a  regular basis who gets him off consistently, and that over time a connection can develop, but even in those cases the clock's always ticking, and there will nearly always have been some other dick inside her before I see her. In reality, men like it when they like the women they're fucking, and it enhances the enjoyment of the sex.  Boundaries can be set to limit the advancement of any emotional connection, including limiting the involvement to no more than a few months before moving onto someone else.

I realize in writing this post that it seems like I'm again playing the end before I go through the process. It's extremely hard for me not to do that, knowing what I know about DW after nearly 20 years together. Let me spell it out again, for anyone who hasn't read this entire blog:
  • No intercourse since January 2015
  • No going down on her since July 2014
  • No blow job from her since 2006!
  • Her not liking to have her breasts touched, fondled, sucked, or kissed since 2005
  • Her not liking erotica of any kind, from literature to porn to Cinemax
  • Her never having masturbated to orgasm in her life
  • Her saying in 2009 that she didn't care if she ever had sex again
  • Her saying in 2012 that she mostly had sex with me because the relationship needed it, not because she wanted it.
  • Her saying two weeks ago that her first awareness of her sexuality came at age 18 when she had sex for the first time, more than 30 years ago.
On that last point, DW said in the session that she had interpreted the therapist's question about her sexual awakening to mean actually having intercourse.  So I posed the question in a different way, asking, "When did you first become aware of sexual feelings in your body or mind?" She said it was when she'd first seriously kissed a boy, at age eleven. But the truth is that she never fully indulged those feelings for whatever reason.  I'll need to ask more about that in the future.

One other major moment during the session came near the end. The therapist asked me if, should DW make a sincere effort to expand her sexual vocabulary, but couldn't for some reason get comfortable with all I wanted to do, I would agree to compromise and accept what DW had to offer sexually as enough. This was one of those moments where she, on DW's behalf it seemed, was testing my terms and whether they were rock-solid. My answer was very plain: "I'm excited to go on this journey with my wife and see where it leads. But I'm not going to compromise on my sexuality. This is a term. I'm not going to agree to limit myself because in my heart, in the context of a trusting long-term relationship, like the one ours is becoming by the way, anything and everything should be available. We should try anything, do anything, and at least talk about everything.  I'm not suggesting we have to do something wild, something adventurous, every time. I don't need to have a threesome every week, OK?  But those things should be available sometimes."  DW nodded her head and said, "That's fair."

I have nearly fully laid the groundwork for the possibility that, if DW can't or won't be able to get on the same page as me, I get to seek fulfillment in other ways, with other partners. Time will tell if she can find peace with the knowledge that her husband would be fucking someone else.  A yes means she trusts me and we survive; a no means she doesn't trust me and we don't survive.  It's that black-and-white.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

It's Been Eight Years...

Today is C/Hayden's 30th birthday.  I can't believe that in a couple of weeks from now it will have been eight years since we first met.

Open Marriage Watch, Weeks Two and Three

You'll recall this from my last post:
Then -- without any warning -- she dropped a bomb on me. "I've been thinking that one way we could start this was to maybe invite someone else to join us. Someone we both trusted."

I picked my jaw up off the floor and laughed, which was probably the wrong thing to do.  I apologized, but I said, "How am I supposed to react when you hit me with a revelation like that?  You've never, ever discussed anything like this before."

"It's been on my mind a while."
We did not bring this up in the full week in between sessions. As DW said later in the week, she didn't want to talk about this topic if we were exhausted or the kids were around.  This week, the first thing I did was bring up this exchange. I said that, since she was almost always exhausted, and if the kids weren't around it was evening and she was exhausted and getting ready for bed, "In my head, I'm thinking you are saying no" to talking about this topic.  This got DW upset and accusing me, again, of thinking the worst about her.  "I want to talk about this," she said, "but if I'm exhausted I can't give enough energy to it. It's an intense topic." I didn't respond because I knew that I could ask enough of the right questions to back her into a corner and get her to admit that she didn't really want to talk about it. In my mind, she's simply not serious about it.

But DW's admission gave me an opening to bring up setting the stage for an open marriage. To her credit, DW didn't shy away from this topic as I expected her to. She wasn't exactly comfortable with it either.

From my recollection of the session, DW has three major concerns over an open marriage: 1) that I'm going to be secretive about it and lie to her again about what's going on; 2) that she's not going to be able to handle seeing me with another woman or knowing that I'm with another woman; and 3) if she's able to handle it, that I'll eventually fall for someone who can give me sex and a future, and I'll leave her. That last one is, of course, a biggie. I've written before that if it weren't for the kids being young and needing both mom and dad in the house, I probably would have already left the marriage. And I said as much during the session.  But, I added, a few years ago I decided with the help of my men's group to recommit to the marriage, and I successfully fought through all the feelings of grief over the end of our sexual relationship in order to do that. "So really, I'm in it for the long haul now.  There's no one else I want to grow old with.  I know you're struggling with trusting me, but you're just going to have to trust me on this."

As for her first concern, she thought that her consenting to my having sex with other women necessitated being secretive about it. I reminded her of something I said in an earlier session, which was that there was exactly zero benefit for to be secretive and deceptive about this. "The only way this is going to work is if it's out in the open.  Particularly in light of your idea to have someone join us in the bedroom.  It has to be open."

Since I'm now writing this ten days after the session, my memory is a bit fuzzy, but suffice it to say that we agreed to head in the direction of open marriage and that there was no turning back.

The downside was that we did not talk about it again at all that week. Our anniversary was last weekend (closing in on 20 years!) and it just didn't seem right to talk about my having sex with others. We didn't have sex either, although on our anniversary I gave her a beautiful card with a heartfelt note in it:
Love doesn't mean we just look at each other; it means looking together in the same direction. There's no place I'd rather be than in love with you. I love you more than these words can convey.  Please be my wife forever and ever.
The card was propped up against a vase of her favorite roses that grow in our garden, all of which I'd set up while she was out at the gym.  When she got home, I was in the shower, and when I got out she came into the bedroom where I was dressing. She had a huge smile on her face and said, "That was such a beautiful card and note! Thank you, honey!"  She put her arms around me. "Here," she said, "I want to give you a big kiss, with tongues." I hadn't yet brushed my teeth and I literally had the worst breath ever, so I lovingly took a raincheck. She was a little disappointed.  Later in the day, she tried again to kiss me, but our kid walked in the room and again I stalled. "Later, when the kids are asleep," I whispered. We finally got around to it once we got to bed.  But it progressed no further, as expected.

The next session had us digging deeper, and starting to hash out the details of how such an arrangement would work. By no means is she there yet.  I truly believe she'll never be ready to have sex with me or anyone else, ever again, and I kept playing devil's advocate with her ideas, explaining that I was trying to poke holes in them to see how serious she was about them, or if they were "just thoughts" she'd had. So far she hasn't given up, but she hasn't pressed anything forward.  In fact, I told her that this next week I wanted to press forward physically and sexually with her. As it turned out, this entailed spending some time together in bed fully undressed, touching each other, making out a little.  I treated the time like I would have with someone I was dating and getting intimate with for the first time, asking her "Is this alright?" each time I touched a different part of her body. When I got to her pussy, she said yes and thanked for asking her. In retrospect, I really can't believe I have to do this with my own wife, but it doesn't hurt things after having not been sexual with her in over two years.  We've done this twice so far. The second time I tried to massage her clit and see if she'd get wet, but no luck.  She stopped me after a few minutes, claiming that she was getting irritated down there.  I offered to go down on her, but she said no to that. It was progress, and I was satisfied as far as our marriage was concerned, but all week I've been literally thinking that if I didn't fuck a beautiful woman soon, my dick was going to shrivel up and drop off of me.

In the upcoming week, our older kid will be travelling out of state with some friends, before the two kids then leave for camp for eight days.  During this time, I will not hold back if there is some free time the two of us have to talk. I told DW to see about making plans to send the younger kid away for a night to a friend's house, so the two of us could have some adult time to talk about things, which was something we'd agreed on during our last session.

God, this is going so slowly, and my patience is being sorely tested.  But hey, on the bright side, there's no way I'm not getting laid, so when the time is right, I'll take care of that.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Open Marriage Watch, Week One

In our most recent counseling session, DW and I agreed that, despite whatever reluctance either of us had about tackling our sexual incompatibility issue (Note, the reluctance was entirely on DW's side), we needed to push forward with it. Since this session fell on her birthday, DW felt even more trepidation than she would have under less loaded circumstances.  Going in, I promised her that she could ease up or stop the discussion if she felt too uncomfortable.

After sharing some catching up with the therapist (we hadn't seen her in two weeks, during which time I'd started my new job), we told her we wanted to dive right in and deal with our sexual issues. I then introduced something I'd been thinking about for awhile, which was to talk about sex without using the language of sex. This was similar to what I wrote about a couple of months ago.  At first, DW was skeptical and said, "Let's just talk about it."  However, with a little context and some cajoling from me, she agreed and the therapist indulged it.

I established the foundation: imagine that XYZ (not using the real name here) is our favorite restaurant, where we have gone regularly for many years. I asked DW to identify her favorite dish at the restaurant, which was a pasta dish she ordered almost every time we went.  I said, "I love that dish, and every time you order it, I take a little bit from your plate, don't I?"  I then asked her to identify my favorite dish.  "You don't really have one," she said. "You order something different every time." It was then that the analogy began to sink in for her, and she smiled and nodded.  "Now," I continued, "imagine that, when we first started going to XYZ, we both ordered different items off the menu, and we shared them with each other.  But, after awhile, you found this pasta dish to be your favorite and you ordered it every time.  Which would have been fine, except that you insisted that I eat only this dish too. It was all you liked, and you didn't want all these different menu items to be showing up at our table.  And imagine that this goes on for many years. Every time we go to XYZ, all I get to eat is this one dish, even though I also like almost everything else on the menu."

"I see where this is going," DW said. "You've been thinking about this awhile, haven't you?"

Asking her to keep indulging the analogy for a little longer, I went on. "After awhile, eating this one dish left me a little unhappy.  Maybe a little bored too.  And I would tell you about it. But you continued to insist that this would be the only way we could keep going to XYZ, our favorite restaurant. Eventually, though, even you started getting bored with it, and we started going a lot less often. And then, one night, while eating at XYZ, the dish made you sick.  We never finished dinner, and we left the restaurant, and we haven't been back since. I asked you a few times to go out with me, but you refused because now the food made you sick and you were no longer interested.  Imagine," I emphasized, "how it must feel for me not to be able to go to my favorite restaurant for more than two years because that one dish made you sick, even though there might be other menu items that you might actually like if you tried them again."

She sighed.  I abandoned the analogy, having made my point.

"You've asked me for more than two years to go without sex, knowing how much I love it. This has felt, for me, like asking me not to eat. This is why I used the restaurant analogy, by the way. Sex is a part of who I am, it is central to how I identify myself as a man."

The discussion at that point turned to her sexuality, as the therapist had asked if she could ask DW some questions about her sexual development.  She revealed that her first awareness of her own sexuality was when she'd lost her virginity to her first boyfriend, at age 18. This admission confirmed for me what I'd long suspected: that DW had had very little sexual education as a teenager.  She said she had never had an orgasm through penetration, and felt a little defective for not being able to do what a lot of other women she knew were claiming was "the best orgasm ever." 

She also revealed that, while she was excited to have sex with her boyfriend, it wasn't so much the physical sensations which excited her, though she liked them.  It was the closeness, the love she'd felt for him, and the belief that sex "was just something I ought to be doing if I wanted him to be my boyfriend."  I said then that I had long believed that sex between DW and me was always "purpose-driven."  For her, while dating, sex had been about emotional bonding and intimacy, and then, after marriage, it became almost exclusively about making babies, and that once the babies came, it became about, as DW had put it years ago, doing it "because the relationship required it."  Not because it felt good to be naked and making love just because she wanted to make love, but because I wanted it and the relationship needed it. Like periodically driving an old car around the block to keep the tires from rotting in the elements. "One of these days we'll get rid of this old car, but for now let's just run the engine and take it for a spin to keep it in shape."

Until she stopped having sex, she had come to think of the physical part as something she could take or leave, but she liked the closeness and the intimacy. This was when I asked, "What if you're really asexual, honey? Because that's a pretty accurate description of  asexuality." She shrugged and said, "Could be.  But what do we do now?"

We didn't have much time left in our session, but I wasn't going to hold back any longer. Both of us had agreed during the session that resolving this issue would either propel our marriage forward or end it. I was determined to move it forward, and I believed she felt the same way. I said, "You told me last New Year's Eve, six weeks after you'd found out what I'd done, that one of your goals for this year was to 'come to terms' with your sexuality. I told you that I thought that was a great goal, but that it was going to take work. And it will. Your sexuality isn't going to find you, you need to find it. But I want to take that journey with you. I think it can be eye-opening for both of us. And as I see it, there are really only three outcomes here."  I went back to the restaurant analogy.  "One is that you and I go back to XYZ and you sample all the different menu items, and you realize that you love all the food as much as I do. Two is that we go back and you realize that that one pasta dish is all you like and you're happy with that.  And three is that we go back and you decide that you've had enough of XYZ forever.  I guess there'd be a fourth outcome, which is that you decide not to go back to XYZ after all and you're fine the way things are. Which is where we are now. Whatever outcome happens, though, I'm OK with it. If this is who you are, I accept it; I have to, if I want to stay married to you."

"But it goes both ways, doesn't it?" she said.

"It goes both ways.  You need to accept me for who I am too.  I've already done all my grieving about the end of our sex life, and I'm going to be OK, so long as I still have an outlet for my sexuality. Because I can live in a sexless marriage, but I can't live with a sexless life. I won't. You can't insist that I give up sex because you're done with it. Not if you want to stay married to me."

It. Was. All. Out. There. I had finally said what had been burning in me for so long.  And DW could no longer hide from the truth, or hide from what needed to be done. The survival of our marriage would very likely mean that she would have to accept that I was someday going to have sex with other women. I assured her that nothing would ever again be done in secret. "There's no benefit to that anymore," I said.  "We'll work something out, discuss it offline."

Then -- without any warning -- she dropped a bomb on me. "I've been thinking that one way we could start this was to maybe invite someone else to join us. Someone we both trusted."

I picked my jaw up off the floor and laughed, which was probably the wrong thing to do.  I apologized, but I said, "How am I supposed to react when you hit me with a revelation like that?  You've never, ever discussed anything like this before."

"It's been on my mind a while."

The session was then over, and we had to stop the discussion. Because it was her birthday, DW asked that we not discuss this issue again for the rest of the evening.  I was cooking dinner for us and the kids, and there was cake.  I had the kids light the candles and together we sang for her.  I have a great pic of her and one of the kids blowing out the candles.

We haven't talked about it since therapy. I asked this morning if she'd like to discuss it tonight. She said yes, so long as "we're not exhausted, and there are no kids around." Basically that was a no, since she's always exhausted, particularly after the kids are asleep. I'm a little frustrated that we haven't discussed it some more, but she can't escape it for long.  Next week we have another therapy session, and you can bet that, in that little room, I'll bring it up.

Next week is the Fourth of July.  "Independence" is taking on a new meaning for me.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Where am I?

Dear Readers --

This will be a very long post. 

I know you have all been wondering where in the hell I've been these past couple months.  What's going on with my marriage?  This post will, I hope, catch you up on the goings-on in my home and elsewhere.

First off, I'm still married, and I'm grateful.  When I last posted, I wrote about listening with empathy.  I finished the post with this: "To be a good listener, which is an essential part of survival in a long-term committed relationship, a man must be empathetic toward his woman. Empathy completes the connection, creates intimacy, and builds trust. The end."

Since this post, so much has happened, both in and out of my marriage and our counseling, to test my resolve to remain empathetic.

Four days after that last post, I got a call from the big boss -- the managing director of the unit where I worked. I was being dismissed in a "reduction of force," which is a nice way of saying that the company was laying me off. On the surface, this didn't shock me. The company has been circling the drain for a while now, and since I was the newest hire in my business unit and required an office closer to home and separate from HQ (which was 45 miles away from home), I was unnecessarily expensive.  Further, problems at the executive level required the decision months earlier to preserve capital, which meant that my business was going to suffer.  And it did; it immediately dropped 80 percent from the end of the third quarter 2016, and by the end of the first quarter of 2017, it had dropped to zero.  I had started looking for work in early March after an announcement was made that a business unit that represented half the company was being sold.  They tried to spin it as though the people who remained behind would see an opportunity to expand their business, but I knew the real truth: the company was being readied for sale.  That would not be good for me.

I knew the drill, as I'd been laid off once before. They had to give me 60 days' notice by law, so that meant my official last day is going to be July 1. But because my work generated revenue for the company, they weren't going to let me stay on and solicit business that I could take with me to my next job. So, I was given until the end of the week to finalize whatever I'd been working on and then clear out.

My last day was very weird. There was no one in the office when I usually arrived, so the place was empty. I was going to have to turn in all my keys, my computer, my ID badge, and my parking passes.  I had to park half a mile away on the street and walk to the office. I cleaned off my desk, threw away non-essentials, shredded some sensitive documents, and placed all my company property in my desk drawer and locked it, leaving the key on a co-worker's desk with a note.  I was done within 30 minutes, and felt a sense of dread leaving the building that it was not going to be easy to find a new job, even as I outwardly expressed confidence to anyone who would listen that I'd find a new gig in no time.

On the day I was laid off, I told DW that I wanted only one thing from her. I needed her not to freak out.  She has always been very nervous around money, and believed that any type of setback like this meant that we were going to be homeless by the end of the month.  Forget the fact that we had enough cold cash to last us the rest of the year with zero income, plus a huge investment portfolio and a home with tons of equity. If things were desperate we could go ten years with no income and still have something left. I told her I felt OK that I'd find a job within a few weeks and we'd be back on our feet soon. She listened, and she told me that she'd keep it together and not panic.  I believed her.

We told the kids that night over dinner.  They were pretty level-headed about it, even though we told them that we were going to drastically cut back on expenses for non-essential things so that we could preserve as much of our cash as possible.  We'd be eating meals at home every day and night and weekend until I started working again. We wouldn't be buying anything unnecessary like gaming stuff or movie tickets (we had Netflix and HBO and Amazon Prime so that would have to be enough).  We wouldn't be traveling this summer unless grandparents were footing the bill.  We couldn't fork over cash to indulge a new hobby.  We only bought one ticket to the awards banquet for my younger kid, the athlete, and said that mom and dad couldn't go because money was too tight.  We arranged for a friend to take the kid to and from the banquet (it all worked out; the kid had a great time without us).  The result was that our normal monthly expenses dropped about 40 percent, which was pretty amazing.

I got to work immediately, telling the family that my new full time job was finding a new job.  I had made some fantastic connections during the last job, and I leaned on a couple of them to network and make connections with other companies. I also dug deep and reached out to former colleagues I hadn't seen or talked to in 15 years for job leads.  I refreshed my LinkedIn profile and really reworked my resume so they matched each other.  I got notices from LinkedIn's job search engine, uploaded my resume to Monster and ZipRecruiter. I applied for unemployment so that I could at least get something while I did this work.  And I researched an Uber gig to see if there was a way to make even more (though I decided against it in the end given how much wear and tear I'd have been putting on my car).  This was all in the first week.

I came up empty, everywhere.  The connections I had went nowhere, other companies weren't hiring even though they said they were expanding their business goals for the year. Former colleagues were no help. The LinkedIn and other job notices were for jobs for which I was either grossly overqualified or under-qualified.  Not one call back for an interview. And I learned that these online applications did not come with a method for follow up. The only way to follow up would have been for me to call the company's main number and be routed to HR, then talk to some faceless person who probably didn't even know I'd submitted a resume or applied for the job.  All in all, very disheartening.

I started feeling really anxious, and I started withdrawing. Even though DW and I were continuing counseling, I felt like I was going through the motions.  She'd wanted to pause the work we were doing due to the expense of it, but I insisted that we keep going.  But I was hiding from DW how I was feeling because I wanted so much to project an attitude of "I got this under control." I figured I could clue her in after I'd nailed down a job.

Two weeks had gone by.  I managed to snag one interview, with an old colleague who was now running a busy unit at a competitor.  I only got this interview by inviting him to lunch to talk "networking."  He said that the company had just wrapped up an acquisition and that he wasn't sure there was a budget to bring on someone else, despite the fact that I came with a serious book of business that could increase his bottom line by a minimum of 15 percent.  He said he would talk to the president and see if he could get permission to hire me.  But I wasn't counting on it. 

It was now three weeks since being laid off and I had no good prospects for work. Even though we had cash and assets, I didn't want to get to the point where we had to tap ourselves out, sell the house, etc. DW's income, which always dropped to nearly nothing in the summer, would in about three week be going away for about two months. We were digging deep into our savings.  We managed to snag a few thousand dollars in help from family members so we could put the kids into camp for the summer.  The younger kid's athletic facility waived about a thousand dollars from our obligations there, saying that after paying for over seven years there they wanted to say thank you.  Our synagogue waived a few thousand dollars in religious school and membership dues.  All told, the fall had been well-cushioned, but neither DW nor I were under any illusions that this would continue.  I started researching how much we could get in rent for our house, how much we could sell it for, and what other houses in our area were renting for.  A good friend had just rented out his three-bedroom house for over $4,500 a month, which was nearly our entire housing payment now.  Our house was much bigger and in a better neighborhood, so I felt we could get at least $7,000 for it.  That would give us about $2,000 toward rent in another house, making our net housing payment about $2,000-$3,000 a month.  A big nut, but much less than what we were paying.  No plan of action was forthcoming, but I wanted us to be informed just in case.

At the end of the third week, I got a call from my old colleague at the one place where I'd had an interview.  He said that he was going to talk to the company president about making room for me, but I wouldn't know for about a week.  I kept my fingers crossed while we hosted my parents for the weekend to celebrate a sibling's birthday. At the end of the weekend, I'd found a short stack of hundreds in the kitchen; my mom had left a note saying she and my dad would be there for us, whatever we needed.  I was feeling quite humbled.

But still, my connection to DW was faltering. Our early morning ritual of holding each other had dropped away, and I was too depressed to talk about it, or much of anything.  On top of that the kids were nearing the end of school, and the stress of final exams for my ninth-grader was intense.  The middle-schooler was also having some end of the year pressure to complete some projects that had been put off till the last minute, and some extra credit work to bring up the grades.  I would say that the overall mood under our roof was bleak.

The following week, I was hanging out with a very large gathering of male friends, one that tended to be powerful when we all started talking and sharing what was going on in our lives.  One of our gathering stood up and shared a lesson he'd recently learned. He was my age, and had been married for over 30 years.  He said that when he was younger and up until a few years ago, he believed that he needed to keep certain details about himself from his wife, for a variety of reasons: some level of mystery was good in any long-term relationship, and he needed to have emotional space of his own, of which he was fully in control, and to share his deepest and darkest stuff just with the men in his life.  These resonated deeply with me and I agreed with all he was saying.  He continued that, now that his children were older and moved out of the house and it was just him and his wife, he realized that the level of intimacy he needed to have with his wife absolutely needed to deepen.  He realized that he needed to be as open with her as he had been all these years with the circle of men in his life. Otherwise, there'd be almost nothing to talk about and they'd slowly just drift apart.  That last thing hit me pretty hard, and I felt awakened to a pretty harsh truth: I'd kept a lot of stuff close to the vest when I was with DW, and that wasn't going to serve me anymore. I needed to open up, to be as intimate with her about what I was feeling as I was with the men in my life.  I knew she felt jealous of how much I shared about myself to the men, and that she only got a small amount.  She said she wanted as much as I gave to them.  I got home that night to find her asleep, but as soon as we woke up the next morning, I took her in my arms, kissed her, and told her what I'd realized. "Thank you!" she said, "I've been desperate for the last few weeks not knowing what's been up with you."  Since that day, we've been far more connected as I've been far more open with her about what's been up.

The next evening, she and I were at a school event for our ninth-grader, when my cell phone rang just before the event got underway.  It was my old colleague.  I ran to a quiet place to take the call.  "I just wanted to give you a quick heads-up," he began, "that an offer is coming out to you in the next couple of days. It'll take a couple of weeks to do the background check and get things ready, and you'll start just after mid-month." It was as we had discussed when we'd met a couple of week earlier.  He managed to convince the company to cough up the funds to hire me. I felt ecstatic!  After saying thanks and that I wouldn't disappoint him, I ran back to DW and my smile gave me away.  We held each other and tears just started streaming down my face. All this time I'd been unemployed, doing all this work to find a job, and nothing was working.  My head told me it was my age, my level of experience, or the fact that I'd had too many jobs over the past five years, that were in my way.  It could have been all of those things too.  I held it together for weeks trying to keep up a positive outlook, but the truth was that I was terrified that I was going to find nothing.  In fact, I'd come to the conclusion that my career was over, and that I'd probably need to spend the next few years transitioning to something else, perhaps less lucrative.  Well, now I had a job! My kid got the news a minute later, seeing DW and me holding each other, and we shared a high-five and a big hug as well.   Through all of this, the kids had been awesome, but I know that seeing their dad not going to work every day took a toll on both of them.

The big lesson for me here is that, in truth, that layoff did really end my career. For years I've worked under the pretense that my hard work in corporate America was someday going to lead to a major executive job, in charge of dozens if not hundreds of employees.  But in over 30 years, I've never even come close. Working with money in my current capacity is really as good as it's ever going to get. I'll make a decent living, but it no longer gives me pleasure or feels fulfilling.  Therefore, every position I hold from this point forward will simply be a job, one that I have to do well in order to survive and provide for my family. There will never be anything more from it.  So the next two to five years will be spent researching and creating an opportunity for me to open and run a successful business of my own, something that brings me joy, that means something to me, and that is something I can give away to my kids if either of them wants it.

As for my marriage, therapy continues. We spent the next week with the therapist talking about the fallout from being unemployed, and I learned more about how my actions affected everyone else.  I was able to tie my behavior to the worst aspects of my dad's personality that I'd inherited, stuff that I had hoped never would be something I would pass onto my kids.  It was a breakthrough of sorts for me, and DW thanked me, through her tears, for sharing that with her.

All of this is good, and I know we'll continue peeling back layers. But we must soon get to the crux of what got us into therapy in the first place, and that's our sexual incompatibility.  The truth about where I am versus where she is has not gone away; she's not all of a sudden finding any desire to be sexual with me, and I'm not consenting to a life without sex.  So discussions have to happen to bridge that gap and find a workable solution. The long-term survival of our marriage depends on it.  I imagine that this will begin at the next session.

Thanks for reading this very long post.  More to be revealed.