Sunday, July 30, 2006

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

One of the pleasures of blogging has got to be having more space to ponder aloud the thoughts of other bloggers. One of my favourite bloggers is Fade to Numb, who writes a marriage blog. I like reading him, partly because he is cool and funny, but mainly because, like me, he has a sex issue in an otherwise pretty good relationship.

FTN seems to be able to work at this issue without the issue killing his relationship. And this is surprisingly rare. There are, after all, a myriad of ways a person can respond to chronic sexual frustration in a relationship. Will they revive the passion (or, at least, the sex) in the relationship? Will they start an affair? Will they spiral down into a depression? Will they get so frustrated that they just check out emotionally and let the relationship die?

There is a strong element of suspense about blogs that focus on this issue. Sort of (cue stagey voice over) "Will Arwyn ever respond to Digger's attempts at intimacy? Will Dewdrop's husband ever figure out what the clitoris is for? Will Desperate Husband ever leave or start that affair? Tune in next time, as we play Can This Relationship be Saved?"

Now, FTN recently wrote a post on blogging marriage, outlining some rules for himself. I agree with most of them, and especially Rule #1 Don't make blogging a substitute for working on the relationship. But, darn it, he has written Rule #3 Don't keep secrets.

Don't keep secrets, as in don't keep a secret blog telling the world about your issues with your partner that your partner doesn't know about.


Well, my partner knows I have started a blog. He knows what its called. Its easily findable. And I have told him that my blog is more personal than his. A moment's reflection would probably suggest that a "personal" blog might have him in at least the occasional cameo appearance.

But does he know that our sex life is a major theme of this blog (at least so far)? No.

Has he been completely fine in the past with my telling real-life friends about any relationship issues? No. He is a very private person.

So am I planning to either delete or fundamentally change this blog to protect his feelings? No.

Do I harbour some anxieties about what he would think if he read it? Yes.

I have told him enough that he could find out anything he wanted to about this blog, but he probably won't. Because we have something of an unspoken Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy around here. Its like gays in the military. The army is opposed to certain things. But at the same time, it may know or suspect certain things. But it doesn't need to be told explicitly. It doesn't want to be told. Everything just goes more easily if certain things are not inquired into too closely.

Officially, we don't have secrets from each other. Secrets are bad. Talking is good. Officially, if we don't know something, its not because its a secret, its just that we haven't got around to telling each other yet. But in practice, Don't Ask, Don't Tell works for us.

You see, my partner is a Vietnam Veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD tends to distance the person somewhat from their own emotions and from other people's emotions. And although he makes quite a big effort to stay connected with me, it doesn't come naturally to him. His default mode is to be very self contained.

And for me, I am not only his partner, but his carer, due to his physical health issues. And one thing I have learned over the years about being a carer is that I have to keep just that little bit of emotional distance from him.

Caring is hard, because you have to give more to the relationship, more to your partner, than most people do, and your partner doesn't always have the ability to give back in equal measure. It can be hurtful when you want to share everything with your partner, when you keep expecting them to be able to maintain intimacy all the time, because they do not have the energy and those expectations will not be met. Sharing your feelings, your needs, can be a beautiful act of sharing on your part - and for them, it can be a dumping of your emotional crap onto someone who already has too much to deal with. A lot of the time, you need to hold back just a little yourself and expect that they will do the same.

And I think it is partly a man-woman thing, too. Have you ever noticed the way, after a big relationship discussion, the woman is happy, the woman feels better, she has got that incredibly pressing issue off her chest? And the man staggers away, looking exhausted and freaked out, and as if someone has attacked him with a blow torch?

Also, to some extent, a chronically sick person is a somewhat depressed person. They are tired, they are in pain, they are horribly bored, they are having trouble maintaining hope that they will ever feel good again. And they get down.

I used to try to stay totally connected with him. I used to ask him about everything. I used to share all my thoughts and feelings as they came to me. I used to not go out and do things because he couldn't come with me, and it seemed cruel to leave him in the house alone. But over long practice, I have learned that this is not the way to go.

Because my experience is that, if you do this, if you allow your own life to be totally governed by their illness, if you allow yourself to get caught up in their every emotion, you, too will spiral downward. Because the honest truth is that, if you truly dwelt on the pain of watching your beloved suffer, if you thought every day about the total effect of that illness on their life, on your life and your relationship, if you truly counted each loss and mourned it fully, it would just be too sad. You wouldn't be able to get up in the morning. You wouldn't be able to work, to look after your baby, to look after them, and do all the other things you have to do. And you wouldn't have a life yourself.

When you are the well partner of a sick person, there is some balance you have to find between being connected with them, and being connected with your own feelings about the situation, and being able to distance yourself sometimes. Maintaining this ability to move in and out of full emotional intimacy has been a hard lesson to learn and has taken me years. But its like developing sea legs. At first, you feel sick, you stumble around, you can't understand why the ground keeps shifting under your feet. But ultimately you get it. Your body remembers how it works. And one day, the waves get choppy, and you just balance without even thinking about it.

But the result? A certain distance.

And a knowing certain things about each other, without knowing the full story, and without necessarily wanting to know the full story. And now this strange, unspoken, knowing-but-not-knowing, not-wanting-to-inquire-further, about this blog is part of our life.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

What about you? How much would you tell?

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Well, my special thanks to Rob for his encouragement to get back on the "bike" (ha ha) and to Bromley for her sound advice to set a specific time for our sex date and keep the man busy until then. Because it worked, and it was the best we'd done in ages, and with an unexpected and delicious bonus.

We set a night. We set a time. I made it clear that he could reschedule if he wasn't feeling well and I wouldn't resent it as long as he told me as early in the day as possible. And we had a nice day, with a leisurely brunch with the newspapers, as he likes to do.

And he helped me to get our baby down and the major chores done early.

And when the time came, he didn't "forget". He didn't stare at the TV like it was about to reveal the meaning of life. He didn't look surprised and somewhat shocked to find out that it was that time again when we'd already done it this year. He didn't look at me like I was a chore. He played me rock and roll love songs and danced with me and told me I was beautiful.

And I didn't sit there thinking sadly of all the times things had gone wrong. I took a long, hot shower, sprayed on perfume I know he likes, put on something pretty that showed just enough to be interesting, and read a few pages of a light, sexy novel that got me in the mood, too.

And it was good. There was long, slow kissing. There was tender and passionate touching. There were silly jokes and giggling. And there were orgasms. Lot of orgasms.

Well, actually, that was the unexpected bonus. I think I had a true multiple orgasm last night.

Let me explain. I am fairly easily orgasmic. I would practically never have any kind of sexual activity without an orgasm. And the thing is, my partner has talent in this area. A rarely exercised talent, its true, but talent all the same. He is like one of those former sports stars who have retired, but then suddenly and unexpectedly return to the field and blitz the opposition, showing they've still got it.

I remember when we had been broken up for three years and got back together. In that time, I'd had a few sexual partners. Some of them were pretty good. I'd learned a few things. But I remember that the night we made love again, for the first time in three years, I realized that it was far and away the best sex I'd had in three years. And not just because of the feelings, the closeness, but because some men are just naturally good at this stuff and he is one of those men.

Anyway, I would usually have several orgasms with my partner. One after another, with a little rest in between. My record in one session is eight, and I would reliably have two or three. And I thoroughly enjoy them. But last night, the second one started before the first one had ended, and the third one started before the second one had faded. It just went on and on. And it was good! After we'd finished, I just lay there, gasping with pleasure. And my partner lay there smugly, feeling like an utter sex god.

It was good, good, good. And it wasn't just the orgasms. The feeling between us was good, good, good.

Just thinking about it, I have felt the need to break off in the middle of this posting to have a little dance around the loungeroom, singing James Brown songs:

I feel good (dee dee diddle-dee dee dee - dazed look of a truly satisfied woman)
I knew that I would now (little jig)
I fee-e-el good (sensuous wiggle on the spot)
I knew that I would now (dee dee diddle-dee dee dee - big grin)
So good (punch the air)
So good (head banginging)
I got you!!!!! (dah, dah, dah.... yeah!)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Body Thoughts

I went swimming yesterday. And I really enjoyed it. I am a good swimmer. In normal life, I am a bit clumsy, a bit of a klutz. In the water, I am different. I love the water, and I glide through it with the grace that is somewhat lacking when I am on land.

Part of this lack of grace is my tendency to live in my head. For a long time, I believe, I was barely aware that I really had a body. I think a lot of people like me, girls who are praised for being brainy, for their good grades and neat writing, don't really connect with our bodies. Our bodies are basically something that keeps our heads, where we really live, off the ground and able to reach for more books.

And when I did pay attention to my body, it was usually negative. I think the teenaged years were the worst. I was not, in fact, the ugliest and fattest teenaged girl in the world as I believed at the time. Pictures from the time actually show a rather pretty girl of normal weight. Slim, rather than otherwise. But, of course, I spent most of my teenaged years comparing myself to airbrushed models, agonising over every flaw, and castigating myself for my greed, my laziness and my inability to look like them.

I think I was a pretty typical girl. And I'm a pretty typical woman. As Digger Jones has often said, women have body issues. Serious body issues. Maddening, insane, loony toony body issues.

We don't get to loony toony land by ourselves. Your average western woman, growing up, has seen thousands of images, heard thousands of accounts, of women as we are expected to be. And we would have to be deaf, blind and completely oblivious for at least some of it not to register. For at least some of it not to make us ashamed.

Now, there was one time when I was pretty much utterly free of these thoughts: when I was pregnant. For the first time, my body could grow in size and I was nothing but delighted. I was proud of my magnificent porn-star breasts. I stroked my bump with great satisfaction. I did not feel fat. I felt womanly, curvaceous, fertile, and abundant.

It was fantastic. And a large part of my pleasure was that fertility treatment was very hard on my body and my self image. Not just the morning needles in the belly, the messing with the hormones, the fear that too many treatment cycles might have horrible consequences like breast or ovarian cancer, but the utter lack of privacy. I am a modest woman, physically, and it felt like every doctor in the world and their asistant had peered up my clacker.

Every aspect of my cycle was so closely observed that I feared the whole system would shrivel up and die from sheer embarrassment. And despite the fact that I had never had more evidence that my body was working perfectly, despite the fact that it was my partner who was infertile and not me, the endless medicalisation of what should be a natural process gave me a deep belief that my body was defective, somehow - otherwise, why else would it need this treatment, and why did it fail me despite the treatment? And me and my defective vagina and my defective womb wished profoundly to be left alone together to sulk.

So the contrast between this experience and the beauty, the mystery, of my pregnancy was a deep source of joy to me. And I thanked my body every day for giving me my precious child.

Now, unfortunately, that experience is over. My post-pregnancy, post-childbirth body is no longer a source of joy to me. The extra kilos that nurtured my baby have stayed with me. The skin that streched so beautifully to accommodate a much-wanted, much-love child has stayed stretched. My body is not just bigger but, well, sort of floppy. Wobbly. I don't recognise it as mine.

I think most women feel this way about their bodies after they've had a baby. One of my favourite authors, in her journal of her son's first year, said that when she lay down at night, she could feel her tummy resting quietly beside her like a puppy. Another woman I saw on TV said that her arse was so big she felt like she was being followed. A friend of mine said that, if anyone wished to know the whereabouts of any part of her body, they should start in its original postion and head south. I know what they mean. And the less said about my thighs, the better.

I exult in the beauty of my son's body. But I am ashamed of my own.

Something must be done. But no dieting. I hate dieting. Dieting to me is just an orgy of self-hatred. It is a false promise. It is months of deprivation and hard work followed by months of gaining back everything you lost, with interest.

So I swim. One major benefit is that I see other women naked in the changerooms. I see how even the women who really are fat actually don't look that bad. A bigger woman can look like one of those stone age fertility goddesses - with her jutting belly, her huge breasts, she looks formidable and powerful rather than vulnerable and ashamed. And I see how the slender, fit ones who look so good in their clothes are not so perfect. They, too, have little bits of cellulite. They, too, have bits that wobble. And we all have our beauties, as well. We are all women together. We are all, in some profound way, the same. For some reason, it makes me feel compassion, empathy - for them, and for myself. For my body.

And I swallow my fear that everyone will look at me in my bathers and judge me. I hold my chin up and walk proudly to the water. And I feel my body, I feel me, strong and free, moving gracefully through the water.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tears Before Bedtime

Well, last night was kind of a debacle. We had arranged a sex date to make up for the other night.

I was really looking forward to it, and this made me happy. Because the sorry fact is that, while I spend a lot of time thinking about sex, I don't always get excited about opportunities when they arise. Part of it is self protection. There have been so many occasions where things haven't worked out as planned that I don't like to get my hopes up. Its just too crushing.

And part of it is a kind of sadness about how I know it will go. What I want is for the man I love to want me for himself, to see desire in his eyes. Or, failing that, for him to at least touch my hand or kiss me at the door in a way that tells me that tonight will be special in some way. There is something about the matter of fact way that my partner acts like it is just another night, except that he has added making love to me to tasks like taking out the garbage, that just robs the whole thing of eroticism.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate the thought and the effort. While I would love for us to rush towards each other with total, spontaneous mutual abandon, I do see the love and thoughtfulness in the earnest gathering of all remaining physical resources by a sick man to please the woman he loves. Seeing the effort he is making does make me love him more. But the honest truth is that, when he turns towards me with the same faint-but-determined expression as he turns towards a pile of unwashed dishes, it doesn't turn me on. It touches my heart but it turns my body stone cold.

Especially when I've been expected to keep myself on ice for three lonely, sexless months. Icy has become my default mode in this endless winter where it is never Christmas.

So among other things, I have been worrying about the way I seem to have turned off to him. While I have felt all the usual frustrations, I have not been able to feel that having sex with him in that I-don't feel-like-it-but-its-good-for-the-relationship way he does it is actually going to meet my needs or address any of the issues. And this worries me because, well, when one partner is sick or their libido is low, the other needs more enthusiasm for things to work, rather than less. And if that doesn't happen, then sex between us will die. And what lies beyond that is a country I don't want to explore - of complete sexlessness, of endless solitary masturbation like a goddamned teenager, and, even worse, of an instability that undermines our love and the security of our much loved child, of possible infidelities and betrayals.

But last night, I just had this little flicker of desire, hope, anticipation - this feeling that things might go differently.

But of course, they didn't.

By the time I'd had to ask, well into the evening, whether it was going ahead (nothing in his manner sugested that anything of particular interest would happen that night), by the time I'd watched him string out chores as long as was humanly possible, by the time he'd settled down in the front of the TV until so late that, even if we started, our baby would wake up any minute (and you know how impossible it is for a woman to focus in on sexual pleasure when a baby might cry any minute) - well, by that time my little flicker was totally snuffed out.

And I was disappointed. And I was angry. And I was sad. And, to be honest, even though I knew it would be better to do it just to give him some encouragement in the trying, I just didn't want to have sex with such an utter dork.

So when he finally grabbed some candles and headed confidently into the bedroom, happily anticipating my excitement and gratitude, he didn't get the response he was expecting.

There was no sex. There was just tears before bedtime.

At least the tears before bedtime resulted in something - after the initial drama, a decent discussion about what went wrong, some plans to work on his overall health and for him to have some counselling about his feelings of depression and depondency about his health, and genuine empathy on both sides.

But still, there was no sex. We could have gone to bed with each other. But instead, he got to go to bed with a big, steaming pile of guilt and inadequacy and I got to go to bed with my frustrations and fears for the future.

Maybe we should have just watched TV.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Beautiful Boy

Damn, my son is beautiful. Is it possible that every parent thinks their child is the most beautiful in the world, but that mine really is? I mean, objectively the most beautiful so that any unbiased observer would agree?

When I was pregnant with our sperm donor baby, I must admit I worried a bit.

You see, we didn't get to see any pictures of our donor. We didn't get to observe him and see what he was like. He sounded great on paper - dark hair and blue eyes (like me and my partner), intelligent enough to have a degree, healthy enough to be a sports nut, and willing to be contacted if needed. But of course, I couldn't help thinking of all the men I knew in real life who would look great on paper but who you would never want to know better. And genetics, while not everything, is a very powerful thing.

So when I was pregnant, while I longed to hold our baby and look into his face, while at some level I trusted that things would be okay, I just sometimes worried that our donor might be an absolute gargoyle.

There was something primal about this fear. When I was a kid, I was very into Greek legends. And one great theme of those legends is the rape of earth women and impregnation by gods and monsters. With an unknown biological father, who knew, when the time came, exactly what kind of creature I might bear?

But also something rational. The world is not kind to ugly people. While I knew that I would love an ugly baby, the world would not agree.

But in fact, our son truly is beautiful. At ten months old, when he is no longer the kind of tiny, very young baby that draws women like a magnet, strangers still stop us in the supermarket to coo over him and compliment us.

Actually, he looks a lot like me, and yet somehow the features which on me are merely reasonably attractive have been tweaked just that tiny fraction that makes them beautiful instead. And he has these amazingly long eyelashes that everyone comments on. You can see people looking at my partner, and looking at me, and wondering where those long, lush eyelashes come from. Wasted on a boy, they always say. I don't agree.

Most days, when he is going off to sleep, I sing him John Lennon's Beautiful Boy.

I watched him this morning. He is just on the threshold of walking for the first time. He can push his little wooden trolley along the floor, and last night he was trying to take his first steps without holding on to anything. He would take one, then another, then get so excited that he would overreach and fall over. I looked at his triumphant little face, and his plump, sturdy little legs, so determined, so delighted with himself, and I just fell in love with him all over again.

So he is gorgeous and I am totally in love with him.

Which is just as well, since our first weeks were so difficult that I had a near constant urge to drop kick the little bastard over the balcony.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Its Not the End of the World, Right?

Okay, well, I'm going to talk about the sex issue. Obviously, I would like to be a lady and portray myself as a well balanced personality for whom sex is just one aspect of the relationship and of my life. A little disappointed that things aren't going the way I would prefer, but taking a sensible, rational approach to something that, while kind of a pity, is not the end of the world.

After all, its not really a tragedy, right? There has just been another tsunami in Indonesia, and a lot of people are dead. A lot of people are homeless. A lot of people are wondering if they and their children are going to survive.

So what I should have is a sense of proportion about my sex life. And I often manage to do so. But right now I can't. I am, at the moment, obsessed with sex. And why? Because I'm not getting any.

That's the thing about sex. When you are getting as much as you want, or more than you want, you don't think about it very much. It seems like a silly thing to get so worked up about. But when you're not getting any, for weeks and months at a time, you feel very differently. Well, I do, anyway.

And at the moment, I'm like a she-wolf wolf in the depths of winter. A she-wolf that hasn't eaten in a long time. Who has just seen a potential meal vanish at the very moment that she reaches out and almost touches it with the tip of her snout. Not inclined to be rational and positive about things. More inclined to let out a howl of pain and anguish and then curl up and whimper for a bit.

This is me, whimpering.

So what has sent me into this pathetic state (ie approach 3 instead of approach 1)? My man and I booked a night of passion last night, and he was too sick to go ahead with it. Yes, poor me.

And poor him, of course, but this is MY blog.

And not only that. In the past few months, we have actually made some progress. I have had a better attitude. He has had a better attitude. We have planned sexy, intimate time together and actually followed through on it on a semi-regular basis. We have been having more sex than we've had in years. We have also been having better communication and more intimacy than we have in years.

But with a slump in his health, he just doesn't seem to have the energy for this stuff. Meanwhile, my expectations have been raised, I am no longer quite so used to starvation, and I can hardly bear to see our oh so tortuously built progress receding into the distance. Who knows if we will ever re-create it again?

The is the way the world ends/This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

First Post

This is the first post of my new blog. I am wanting to explore some issues in my life:

1. I love my partner. He is one of the best men in the world, a wonderful and loyal friend, and a fantastic and very involved dad. I think we basically have a pretty good relationship except in one respect. His health is poor, partly as a result of his time as a grunt in Vietnam, and as a result our sex life suffers. The quality is good, but the quantity, well, it isn't there. I have three main respones to this:

  • being almost fine about it. I do other things. I stay positive. I focus on the good stuff in our relationship and in our lives together
  • being somewhat disappointed, but basically okay
  • and at other times, I am frustrated, sad, humiliated, angry, resentful, devastated and so dismayed at the idea that this is my sex life for ever and ever that I am almost ready to cut and run despite all the good stuff.

2. I think I have a good job. Fairly secure, good working conditions, and enough meaningful work to make me feel like I'm not completely wasting my time. But sometimes, to tell the truth, I really wonder what the hell I am doing there. I am bright - officially bright, in that I have a PhD (which I admit is not the best measure of intelligence, but is at least something). I always thought and hoped I would do something that was a real contribution to the world. And here I am, working for the government, putting up with bullshit politics, and mostly tolerating the fact that it moves at a snail's pace. We're talking glacial time here to achieve anything positive. Ice ages come and go between real achievements. So am I just wasting my life here???

3. I love my ten month old son. I went through a lot of fertility treatment to have him. In a way, its possibly a good thing my partner was infertile so that we could just acknowledge we needed the treatment, as otherwise we would have had to battle through the reality that having sex 2-3 times a year is probably not going to result in conception! But mothering sometimes is just so hard. The drudgery side of it seems endless. And our son is a donor conceived IVF baby of a Vietnam Veteran with a lot of health issues including post-combat trauma or PTSD (not to mention any of my issues!). Sometimes I just wonder how he is going to deal with all these issues.

Of course, these aren't the only issues in my life. Just the top three. I could include issues like our finances and debt levels (pitiful), my weight and my feelings about my (fat, including post-baby fat) body, my very tenuous faith and spirituality (don't get me started), but maybe these should be saved for another day, since my boy is waking up! Mummy mode calling...