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.