Sexual self-care

I was at the chiropractor over the weekend, and boy do I love my chiropractor. Like if you could be besties with someone you see for only 20 minutes every 4-5 weeks, this would is me and Dr. B. Anyway, I was telling her how Theo and I are in a good place now, for the most part, and how we still do little Acts of Service for each other. Things that would have seemed ordinary in married life, but are amplified as super good deeds now that we are apart. And in the banter about how he makes me coffee when he comes over to look after the kids, I mentioned that I had recently encouraged him to go talk to someone about investing the money I gave him for the house.

“Wow, you really were doing it all, weren’t you?”

I paused to reflect. Yeah, I honestly think I was. Because if I think about the things he did, he still does them now, just without living in the house. He still makes my coffee and the kids’ breakfasts and lunches, he still shovels the walk (when he’s here during a snowfall), he takes out the trash for me, takes the car to the garage… and he’s a good dad to the kids. Done!

Wait, I skipped too far ahead, because as Dr. B and I were catching up, I mentioned that I haven’t had sex or dated since August-ish. And then I told her that Ali (yes THAT Ali) had been messaging me, flirting and asking to see me. He’d asked me to a concert (I couldn’t go), he’d asked me to make time for him and I was wishy-washy about it, and finally he came right out with, “I need a date and time to see you please, gorgeous.” Well, hello there! Apparently that’s how you get my attention, by being direct and insistent.


The thing is that Ali has been seeing Svetlana (did I call her that? I usually refer to her as the Russian Twinkie). So after I agreed to meet him, I had a bit of panic. I don’t want to be the other woman and break some young woman’s heart. I don’t have any Mrs. Robinson fantasies, last time I checked. I don’t want bad dating karma (which I know is not science, but whatever). In discussing this with Dr. B, the tangent eventually got to all the things I did for Theo.

“You know what? I think you should go out with Ali and just have fun,” Dr. B said thoughtfully, “I mean, you’ve been dealing in a lot of masculine energy by carrying it all, and now you need to balance your female energy. It’s time to let someone take care of you.”

I thought, heck, I shouldn’t assume here. Maybe he just wants to meet up for a drink and see how I’m doing. Maybe he wants to talk through his relationship, decide if he’s having kids and then make dating decisions accordingly. But I washed my sheets anyway. I coloured my roots, and shaved all the things anyway. I put on a body con dress. Because even if it was a maybe, I have not had sex since the summer. Didn’t I deserve a little body worship?


He was sitting at the bar, a sure sign that he wanted to get touchy (as I now know), and greeted me with a long tight hug. We chatted easily, with no expectations and no holds barred. There was a moment when I realized that if we respected each other’s boundaries, this could be one of the best friendships either of us might have. I mean how many people can go out with someone, say whatever they want, ask completely honest questions and have them answered equally honestly and then have that same person want to rip your clothes off? It dawned on me that I’d been selling this possibility short.

To be fair, I think over time and with my distance, he’s learned he can be candid with me and it doesn’t hurt my feelings. Not the kind of candour that’s mean-spirited, but talking through his sexual frustrations with the Russian Twinkie, or discussing whether he could be monogamous ever again. I don’t judge, because he’s not my future husband. He’s my friend who likes fancy cocktails and a solid fuck. Which is pretty much all I have time for once or twice a month.

I’d also been completely denying myself of any corporal pleasure. When I decided to hunker down until I got through the toughest parts of the separation (the agreement, Christmas/New Year’s and the Year One milestone), I became someone who binge-watched a lot of TV and hid under the covers. I barely had a sex drive, because what was the point? I could take the Dolphin out for 5 minutes or I could sleep. Sleep typically won out (though I’ve had to replace the batteries a few times over the past year).


So there we were at the bar, handsome, delicious Ali and flirty me, and it only took one drink for us to get handsy. I found his mouth irresistible and distracting. I asked upfront what kind of agreement he had with the Russian Twinkie and the lines seemed fluid enough that after two drinks I planted a kiss on him. WHO AM I?

He made it clear that coming home with me without telling her first was a little bit of breaking their rules, but at that point I was ready to take him to the fancy single bathrooms in the basement. He paid the check and we walked a good 20 minutes back to my place, chatting and giggling the whole way. He offered dating advice, admitted it would be challenging for me as a smart woman who is “a lot.” (Parking this thought for later.) When I asked him his opinion on #MeToo, I thought, “Damn, that was stupid,” but he answered thoughtfully and respectfully and his opinions aligned with my own, while giving me something new to ponder. Man we make each other laugh, it’s… nice.

The next several hours (yes, HOURS, thank you Mr. 36!) were gold-medal-worthy. He is a generous and considerate lover. Any woman would be lucky to sleep with him. He is just so happy to be fulfilling a seven-year fantasy that it’s easy for me to be my wild self. To play with sexual me, explore what she likes and how she may want to be perceived, but also it’s a huge practice in letting go and getting to the root of my true sexual self in the absence of an ego who is performing for applause. Because there are no expectations to make a life out of what we share, we can just be our animalistic selves. It is dirty and hot, but also playful and fun. No, it’s FUN! Bolded, underlined and italicized. So much flirty banter and talk of fantasies, and LOUD!

Of course today, I’m a giddy schoolgirl. I can barely answer, “How was your weekend?” I should have brought extra panties to work. I found a hickey on my thigh this morning and now I want to answer every question with, “I HAVE A HICKEY ON MY THIGH!” I am writing this on my lunch break to get the goddamn thoughts out of my head.

“I need to do this more than every six months or so, so that it’s not such a novelty,” I texted my best friend. My best gay said, “Oh just fuck him. Be a gay man for a while!” So perhaps that’s it. Ali will continue to see other people and explore what he wants for the rest of his adult life, and I will ask him to come over for afternoon delights every few weeks when I have some time. Neither of us has to get off the path we are on right now.

I’ve never had a lover—at least, not one that I didn’t try to make my “boyfriend.” It seems indulgent, but also feels like the right thing for right now. I’m not ready to date just yet. Not ready to really put myself out there. Not ready to navigate how to be a mom who dates and worries about when to introduce someone to the most important humans in her life. This is safe, and a sure thing, and brings me SO MUCH JOY! I’m not doing it because I have to. It’s not a “should.” I’m filing it under self-care and patting myself on the back for now. Go get yours, girls.

 

 

And now for the rest of the story

I bawled on the way to work this morning. OK, OK, fine, I cried most of today, including in front of my kids, which is pretty much the worst ever. It’s just all so much sometimes. I don’t even know how to make it all work.

There’s the stress of trying to buy the house, which puts me in a terrifyingly massive amount of debt on my own, but is somehow cheaper month to month than renting a space big enough for the three of us in the city where we live. And I completely understand that that run-on sentence is one of great privilege and I should shut up. But also, I’m losing sleep over it. I’m terrible at budgeting, terrible at saying no to things in the moment.

What to cut and where to make it all happen? I have to be organized as heck. I can’t forget my lunch, ever. I need to make sure our meal prep is buttoned up. I need to cancel the cleaning lady and take that work on myself, share it with the kids, which means increase the nagging, which makes me hate myself.

I have to get my house in order. There are piles of bills and school paperwork and laundry. There are mice under the kitchen sink that need trapping and their toxic poop needs cleaning up. The woodpeckers are pecking holes into the shakes on the side of the house and that probably means there’s something to eat up there and I’m praying it’s not termites. The car needs fixing again and now costs as much to maintain as a new car, but my new mortgage is going up as much as a car payment, so I doubt I can even afford a new car, let alone the fixes. I make good money, so all of this is embarrassing, but I have never had a head for numbers.


(Bear with me while I barf this all out so I can stop crying.)

My evenings mean racing home at 4:30, to pick kids up at various places or just rush to get dinner started. Then it’s a mad race to make dinner while they are trying to tell me about their day, or have homework questions, then clean the kitchen and get them bathed, etc. They are old enough to do most of this stuff on their own, of course,  but there’s a certain shepherding that comes with being a parent, because kids are adorable self-involved assholes and you have to nudge them to keep them on task.

This is common for lots of parents, and there are many couples for whom one partner consistently works late or travels a lot and the other partner has to sort this all out alone. Or a spouse dies. I get it, I’m not the only parent who is doing this dance. But I suppose I got used to having two parents at home in the evening. I got used to one person cleaning the kitchen while the other wrestles with homework and bath time. It’s become difficult to enjoy the evenings when you are only playing drill sergeant.

Of course there are moments of brilliance in there too, but for the most part, after a busy work day when you have NO time to recharge, the kids suffer. You are not the best mom you can be. And that’s a terrible feeling where I am, right smack in the middle of the intense years of parenting. Because I know it’s fleeting. I know my days are numbered and I want to enjoy the time I have with them before they don’t want to be with me anymore.

Also, the kids are the one thing that forces me out of any funk or trash-talking of myself. I hate when they have to comfort me, I have so much guilt about that, but I’m grieving and I can’t always fucking hide it. I remember my own mother crying when my father had a four-year affair and she finally kicked him out. She would sob and it would terrify me. Now here I am, doing the same thing to my kids. She would talk shit about him, and it would make me uncomfortable. Because even though my dad was a supreme dick, it was confusing. Now here I am, in the same place, and I hate myself for it.

But the kids, they are so forgiving, so resilient. They hold my hand and start skipping down the sidewalk and I too am forced to skip and enjoy life. They have adorable, astute and funny insights on things and it takes me out from the dark place where I live now.  I worry that I’m ruining their childhood, imbuing their memories with all sorts of awful. I worry that the happy times won’t outweigh the bad, and that they’ll resent me like I do my own parents. I know they worry about money and how I will be able to afford it all and I hate myself for not shielding them from all this.


I am realizing that I’m stuck in the “poor me” place and I need to crawl out of it. But the weight of it all being on my shoulders is killing me right now. “But you always did it all alone,” friends try to remind me. Yes, partially true, I did do a lot of it. I did not have the most supportive partner, but maybe part of this (which I have to accept) is that I am such a control freak that I was unable to let any of it go.

There is no bereavement leave for those who’ve lost a spouse by any means other than death. There is an equal amount of pain and sadness and paperwork to deal with, but no time off. Suck it up, buttercup, says society. You brought this upon yourself with your feminist thinking and wanting things to be equal and better. You destroyed your marriage, because you couldn’t work full-time, be the primary breadwinner AND do all the emotional labour. You couldn’t be the woman behind the man and coach your spouse to great heights so he could provide and you could be the perfect domestic goddess. You created this situation with your inconsistent expectations, acting like you could do it all until you fucking lost your mind.

If my kids or employees were freaking out like this, I would suggest we make a list. Break it down into manageable chunks. Figure out what the priorities are and what can be delegated. I would encourage them to let go of perfection in place of just plain old “gettin’er done.” I think I am at a point where I need to manage myself that way. And there’s a lot I need to let go or delegate, and admit that I have a LOT of guilt about delegating to my kids. Because none of this situation is there fault.

At the same time, getting them to step up and do more is good for their growth. I just have to find the words and the energy to present it to them that way. There needs to be consequences for when they don’t hold up their end of the bargain. And rewards for when they do. I need to be consistent in my approach, which can be a challenge in a two-parent environment at the best of times, but when the other parent can uphold different rules and attitudes at their home, it presents an added layer of complication.

I have spent the past week isolating myself a bit, limiting my social media and cell phone interactions (I deleted most of those apps off my phone). I’m (not overtly) keeping my family at a distance, same goes for old friends. Because when I post stuff on social, it’s a touchpoint, and people get this general feeling of, “She’s OK.” But I’m not actually OK. I have a lot of emotional baggage to sort through and purge. I have so much of me to excavate and understand. I don’t want judgment, assumptions or unsolicited advice right now. I don’t need the Yaya Sisterhood plying me with platitudes. I need to answer, “Is this true?” about myself.

I need to get real, REAL quiet until I hear my inner voice again. And it’s going to be painful AF. Things are going to get real dark as I withdraw from the distractions and the people who have kept me buoyed up the past nine months. At the end of this withdrawal, after having a Trainspotting moment of seeing a baby with the spinny head crawl along my ceiling, there will be me at my essence. There will be forgiveness. And love.

Just, maybe you can silently, virtually hold my hand while I get through this really tough part, k?

All the time

Last week, on my birthday, I rode to work on a sticky, sunny day, one ear bud in (because two ear buds while cycling through a city is a death sentence), listening to bahamas. I’m a sucker for folk rock or moody emo music, especially if it’s about love and heartache. I’m a fucking hopeless romantic, like most women of my generation, raised on rom-coms starring perfect-nosed blonde women.

I’m about to date. I think this is what’s happening. And as is clear from the blog, I’m overthinking it already. I’m trying not to, honest. But the game has changed in 20 years. Who texts whom? How to respond? Am I asking too many questions? I’m a fucking journalist so the answer is probably yes. But maybe I just say fuck it and I stick to one rule: Just be me.

What have I got to lose? Really at this point, I can date whomever I want. Really and truly. The choices I made in my 20s were so much about ticking boxes and ticking clocks. Hurry up and find someone to make a baby with! Make sure he can get all the accoutrements of adulthood with you: house, car, dinners out, vacations. Dream of all the boxes you can tick together. Ignore that you are hammering a square peg in a round hole. It mostly fits. You’re not a carpenter anyway, just a girl who has boxes to tick! You’re not mad that it doesn’t fit yet, you’re 20-something! Anything is possible!

I’m on the other side now, I’ve got babies and in 10 years, if I’ve done my job right, I will have a mostly quiet house many nights of the week. I’m in the process of buying that house on my own. I have a beater mom-mobile. I’m self-sufficient. And with full days and nights to myself a few times a week, I’ve realized I’ve once again got the sexual appetite of a 20-something.

I’ve got all the time in the world, don’t you want some of that
I’ve got all the time in the world, don’t you want some of that
Don’t you want some of that, I would if I was you

As my sexy, curvy friend Carla says, “I don’t need you. Make me want you.”

The problem with overthinking is that I’m not ready for someone to take up space in the warehouse. I’ve just spent a good number of months clearing it out. I’m still clearing it out, still purging and coming up with an organization system. I’m still chasing the spiders out and reconnecting with old relics and long-forgotten souvenirs from countries I once occupied.

I just found the dust jacket from a 30-year-old album. I put the record on and listened to the lyrics with adult ears, my experience now layered over my understanding of the songs. I have practiced this language, but speaking it feels different in my mouth now that I’ve travelled the terrain.

I’ve found photos of a girl, laughing on a Georgian Bay beach in a skimpy bikini. She looks perfect, but I know in her head she thought she was fat, she was ugly, not good enough. Another photo, in Acapulco in her 20s, she is wearing PVC and a low-cut top, stripper heels and too much makeup. Night after night, she let a poor man’s Antonio Banderas into her bed, sound of the ocean outside her window. She let him put his hands up her shirt and rub his hard on against her, while telling her when they got back to Toronto he’d be committing to the homely girl who drove him to and from school every day. She was not a girl that guys dated, they told her, she was too much like a guy herself. I decided to tear him out of the photo and hang onto her, because man she looks fierce with that tan.

I had all the time in the world, you wanted none of that
I had all the time in the world, you wanted none of that
You wanted none of that, I would if I was you

I find a box of ugly words that I’ve said to myself over the years. I look at each one, ask myself if they were true and how. Then I burn most of them out back. (I keep a few for days where I want to go nine rounds with my brain.)

There’s a shelf covered in mom guilt. It has to go. There’s a costume that says “Perfect Mother” on the tag. It never quite fit, but sometimes I wore it anyway, just for the Instagram photo op. There are piles of crafts that I always had the good intentions to complete, but never made time for. There’s a cylinder that yells at you when you turn upside down, and then says, “I love you so much, I’m sorry I yelled” when you turn it back the other way.

Put my work in front of my girl, there’s something wrong with that
Put my work in front of my girl, there’s something wrong with that
Something really really wrong with that,
I know this to be true

In the back of the warehouse, under some old skids, I find the giggles of girlfriends, from a time before boys mattered. I find a biography of Duran Duran. I find promises to tell about first periods and first kisses. I find a Dickie Dee bell and a Popsicle stick. I find the absence of self-consciousness and the beauty of a moment.

Behind the furnace, a heart pillow from the 1980s. A prize from a fair, smiling, arms open, beckoning me to embrace it, its fuzzy velour exterior, dusty and worn from neglect. I wipe it down lovingly and squeezed it until it glowed.

I decide to open the windows and let the fresh air in. I sweep and sort some more. I make a donation pile.

I start to envision a space with things in it, but I’m not ready for someone else’s chairs and tables and luggage to accumulate clutter. I’m not ready to share. I know I won’t be single forever, so what’s the rush? But maybe, I could throw one rager of a party in there this summer. Or perhaps host some quiet pop-up dinners in the space. Maybe I just gotta learn to let go of all these plans and thoughts and just surrender to having a little fun, no expectations. I’ve got the keys to the warehouse after all, and I get to decide when to tell everyone to get the fuck out. I’ve got all the time in the world. And for the first time maybe ever, I get to decide what to do with it.

Certainly before the ugly lights come on this time please.