I have a confession to make:
I’VE BEEN FEELING LIKE A FRAUD. A FAILURE. AND AN EROTIC HAS-BEEN, TO BOOT.
I’ll tell you why.
We’ve been busy.
The project he’s building shifted into high gear and his stress level along with it.
I went to San Diego my annual Brain Trust retreat for four days.
Great for my spirit. And he took them to a mountain cabin for a sledding adventure.
He turned fifty while I was gone (Abysmal planning. A whole other story.).
I came home sick.
He was gentle and took care. Of everyone.
My parents arrived. That helped. And didn’t.
I got sicker. Vertigo. Nausea.
For twelve days, the world wobbled like I’d just gotten off a boat…where I’d drunk several bottles of bad wine.
He cooked. I got the kids where they needed to be. That was about all… and the effort exhausted me.
As I’ve crawled my way back toward normal, there’s been so much to catch up on: Laundry. Bills. Y’know: love notes. Teacher communication. Client connection.
MY LIBIDO? NO SIGN OF HER ANYWHERE.
Depleted and bedraggled, wrung out from feeling so far from my luscious self, my fun self, my sense of success or play or sensuality… I didn’t think I could afford pleasure. Didn’t relish the “effort” of intimacy. I shrunk into a brittle, contracted version of myself.
HE INVITED ME TO SPIRAL OPEN IN HIS PRESENCE … I TOLD HIM I WASN’T FEELING IT.
I resisted calling the sitter and restoring our weekly date night. I declined nightly invitations to our stroking practice. I couldn’t muster interest in even the personal practices that usually tune up my turn-on.
I SAID THROUGH TEARS, “I CAN’T. I JUST CAN’T GET THERE!”
My raw physical state had wreaked havoc on my mental and emotional state. The further I got from the things that nourish me most, the further I got from feeling my desire for them.
I didn’t want to be stroked. I didn’t want to lie with him and talk and touch.
My desires were like dead bees on a windowsill… No hint of the liveliness or hum they’d always been brimming with. I could hardly remember what they’d looked like in flight.
He titrated his invitations for my emaciated desire, like a healer nursing a patient back from the brink of death. Like spoon-feeding tiny sips of bone broth. He never stopped asking, but it was gentler, slower, smaller. Too small to refuse.
“Let me rub your back. That’s all it’ll be.”
“Let’s just lie together. I’ll hold you. Leave your pajamas on.”
“Let’s sleep naked.”
“I see you, girl. You’re beautiful.”
Over the course of a week, he was relentless, but it felt like balm.
I still didn’t desire sex… didn’t want to give pleasure, let alone receive it.
HE LED ME BACK, INCH BY INCH.
One night, the embers he’d been fanning and feeding — whose heat he trusted, even though I’d been unable to feel it — flicked into flame once again. Longing seared through my core. My body responded to his presence in a way I’d feared it might not ever again.
(I do have a flair for the dramatic, don’t I? “No desire tonight MIGHT WELL MEAN I’ll never feel it again!”)
My fears that desire had divorced me were unfounded.
IT’S BACK. HE LED ME BACK. AND OUR PRACTICES GAVE HIM THE MEANS TO DO THAT.
Lying together, just breathing if nothing else.
The Couples’ Stroking Practice.
Wagging when we reunite: dropping everything and connecting like we’ve been apart for months, with all the gratitude warranted by the miracle of our connection.
PRACTICE GIVES US A CENTER TO WHICH TO RETURN.
I knew that. But there are a few other truths about love and desire I’ve learned these last few weeks:
1. ONE OF US REALLY CAN BRING THE TWO OF US BACK TOGETHER.
…But only if they hold it as an impersonal malady their beloved is suffering. Not a personal rejection. Not a failing on anyone’s part. Just an injured muscle begging for gentle, persistent rehabilitation.
2. WE CAN FIND OUR DESIRE WHEN IT’S LOST, AND WE DON’T HAVE TO FAKE IT TO DO SO.
We can stay with the lostness, and the fear and sadness it brings… and bit by bit, let the light of our partner’s presence lift it the way sunrise dissipates the dew.
3. DESIRE DISAPPEARS ON US ALL.
I don’t know another long-married woman with small children more devoted than I am to stoking her desire, to prioritizing love and intimacy and time alone with her husband amid the busyness of mothering and entrepreneurship and activism… But my desire konked out on me. Again.
4. IT’S NOT A PERSONAL FAILING OR A SIGN WE’RE NOT COMMITTED… AND IT’S NOT A DEATH SENTENCE FOR THE HEAT IN OUR MARRIAGE.
In those same dark hours when I was certain my libido would never rise again, the mean voices suggested my departed desire (“may it rest in peace,” they murmured with cloying reverence) was just cause for hanging it up as a relationship and sex coach. “I mean… if your tools can’t keep YOUR marriage turned on, you ain’t got a leg to stand on…”
Ha! Now, on the other side of it, I can see how central this experience is (again!) to what I know and believe in and teach:
DESIRE DIES A THOUSAND DEATHS IN LONG-TERM LOVE.
This time, it had zilch to do with our relationship. Yes, my chances of being the woman whose flame never flickers are blown out of the water.
But far better than that pie-in-the-sky hope? The truth: We’re just like other couples: we have careers that ask a lot of us, kids we’re passionate about investing time with (along with money and emotional energy — almost all of both!). We have friends we love to see, hampers we can only neglect for so long, and social justice issues we’re devoted to. It’d be pretty easy to let the sensual side of our connection erode, leaving a warm, companionable, peck-and-a-hug partnership.
To have more, we have to fight for it. But fight we can. And when we do, when both of us — or even one of us, in this case — invests the care and the energy to revive the connection whose filament has stretched thin, that intensity returns.
We find we can go deeper in love and sex.
In a world that doesn’t give us many messages that we can expect that kind of deepening inside long-term love, or that it’s even wholesome to want it, that’s something I wanted to celebrate, even more than I wanted to keep it private.
I hope this story helps lend some oxygen to the embers in your own hearth… My fondest wish is that no matter where you are now or where you’ve been together, you can believe in, and then take action toward having, the love and sex you desire inside the relationship you already have.