Chronicle of a marriage

I lusted after another woman, and told my wife about it.

By Barry Sallinen

Published September 6, 2001 7:31PM (EDT)

When we had been married maybe three years, the desire-difference issue reappeared in a particularly painful way. The publisher I worked for was swallowed by another, and the new house sent a team of consultants to smooth the transition. I was less than thrilled about being acquired. I feared for my job and gave the consultants a wide berth for several months. But the dust settled, I kept my job, things returned to normal, and my colleagues and I became more comfortable with the consultants.

I felt particularly taken with one of them, a woman about my age (early 30s). We flirted, then had lunch, then made regular lunch dates. Electricity was in the air. The consultant, Paulette, was as married as I was. But she and her husband lived far away. She was in New York for the consulting job. She hadn't seen him for weeks. And she was horny. She made it abundantly clear that I was invited to spend the night at her hotel. And we both knew the clock was ticking. Soon the job would be over and she would return home. I wanted to fuck Paulette -- badly. I could think of little else. But I didn't want to cheat on Elly. So I told my wife about my lust.

I'm not sure why I raised the subject. If I fell in lust with another woman today, I doubt I'd say a word. But back then, I was young and idealistic. I believed naively in total marital honesty. Paulette was on my mind a great deal, and one night I just blurted it out. Elly and I wound up having a long talk about my extramarital yearnings.

Ever since Elly's libido had dried up, she'd been saying: Sex is no big thing. I love you. Isn't that enough? Now I got to turn those words back on her: I love you, too. And I agree: Sex is no big thing. So you shouldn't mind me fucking Paulette for the next few weeks until she goes home.

Well, guess whose opinion quickly turned 180 degrees. Suddenly sex was a big thing to Elly. She was not the least bit into my fucking Paulette. I confess I enjoyed rubbing her nose in her hypocrisy. She asked me not to fuck Paulette. Then she begged. I reveled in my power over her. Of course, there was no way she could stop me if I decided to fuck Paulette. But we both knew that I would be risking our marriage if I did.

I was overwhelmed by lust for Paulette. She was a very sexy woman. And, unlike my wife, Paulette actively desired me, was pursuing me, kept whispering in my ear how much she wanted to fuck me. I loved it. And Elly had to deal with it.

All of a sudden, Elly became the sex-crazed gal she'd been those first 18 months. She was all over me just about every night. I loved that, too. But I also decided to do it with Paulette. In part I was reacting to Elly's and my long battle over our desire difference. It was my revenge for Elly's loss of interest. In part I felt flattered by Paulette's aching desire for me. And in part I was simply consumed by lust. A few years ago, John Hiatt had a song with the line: "I'm so easily led/When the little head does the thinking." Women talk about men who "think with their dicks." With Paulette's smoldering sexuality within arm's reach, I guess the little head was doing the thinking.

In the discussions that preceded my fling with Paulette, Elly kept saying she couldn't do what I wanted to do. She said she couldn't just fuck someone for fun while she was in love with me. Plenty of women have affairs, I replied. Maybe so, she conceded, but she couldn't. I felt both reassured about her fidelity and mystified by this difference between us. I had no problem separating sex from love. I was into fucking Paulette for the sex of it, to see another woman naked, to explore her, enter her, come inside her and hopefully thrill her. But even while lusting after Paulette, I understood that she was not the type of woman I could love or live with, and tried my best to reassure Elly that I had no thought of leaving her for Paulette -- even as I packed my toothbrush to go and fuck her. Elly replied forlornly: I couldn't do that.

I told Elly which night I'd be gone. She took it with surprising equanimity, the way a death-row inmate reacts to the news that his final appeal has been denied. She just asked that I call her the next morning at work.

Sex with Paulette was great fun. She was the first gal I'd fucked since all the work with Elly had taught me ejaculatory control and how to really please a woman. Paulette appreciated my staying power and my moves. Call me Mr. Stud.

I called Elly the following morning as agreed. She didn't sound so good. Back at the apartment that night, she went to pieces. She couldn't stand me having sex with anyone else. She was frantic. She wanted me to break things off with Paulette immediately. She couldn't take it. She realized that sex was a big thing, that my having another lover was too much for her to bear. Of course, I empathized. I could see myself feeling terribly threatened if Elly decided to fuck another man.

Paulette had maybe two weeks left. After our night together, I'd hoped to have a few more before saying good-bye, probably forever. But seeing Elly in extremis broke my heart. I loved her. I was committed to her. I did not want to hurt her. So I did as she requested. I explained things to Paulette and broke it off. She wasn't thrilled, but she understood.

I confess that I resented Elly a little for standing in the way of my fun. Aw, come on, I recall saying, how about letting me fuck her a few more times. But Elly was freaked, and I did not want to hurt her more than I already had.

After I broke things off with Paulette, Elly and I returned to our relationship -- and our desire difference -- as if nothing had ever happened. It was weird, but neither of us mentioned Paulette again for years. Then, maybe five years ago, Elly and I were attending a publishing party and who shows up with her husband in tow. Paulette and I greeted each other politely. I introduced Elly, and she introduced her husband, whose name I immediately forgot. I was amused by this chance meeting, but Elly was unnerved. By that time we had kids and a mortgage so threats to our marriage had much higher stakes than they did at the time of my one-night fling. We didn't last long at the party. Elly kept tugging at my sleeve to leave, and not long after bumping into Paulette, we did.

I've never had another affair. (And I don't think Elly has had any, though I've never asked her.) I confess I've felt mildly tempted on occasion. But since Paulette, I've never followed through. I haven't wanted to hurt Elly. Or sneak around behind her back. I've realized that what we have is special, something worth cherishing. I'm willing to make sacrifices to protect it. And I don't want to be seen as a womanizer, don't want Elly complaining to her friends about my philandering, and have to put up with opprobrium from people in our social circle.

The Paulette episode showed that Elly's libido was not permanently missing in action. In fact, it was remarkably robust under certain circumstances. We both saw that I could use the threat of an affair as a weapon in our frequency war. On occasion, if Elly stretched our every-week-actually-10-days beyond two weeks, I would grumble that other women might find me more alluring than she did. But I've never carried out the threat. Despite a high-gear sex drive, deep down, I just don't want to hurt Elly.

A few years after we married, Elly and I had our first child, a daughter. I expected to be sexually turned on by seeing her pregnant. I was looking forward to it. I imagined that as her body swelled with child, I would feel as though I were fucking all these different women, all of whom happened to be my wife. I imagined having the best of both worlds: constant variety but with the same woman.

Much to my surprise, and Elly's, I found both of her pregnancies to be major sexual turn-offs. I'm not sure why. I just wasn't all that interested in fucking her pregnant. Elly's pregnancies marked the only times in my life that I have actually experienced protracted libido loss. On the one hand, it felt weird: This part of me that had always been high on my emotional agenda was suddenly a mere shadow, almost gone, as though I'd had a limb severed. I missed wanting sex.

On the other hand, the experience provided some perspective on how Elly felt about the issue. She was right. You could love someone deeply and not be all that interested in sex with them. Not wanting sex felt oddly freeing, one less thing to obsess about. It also felt disconcerting. Without a rampaging libido, I hardly recognized myself. I felt like an empty shell, dead inside. I'm not sure why my libido collapsed, but according to pregnancy books I've seen, it's not that unusual. Perhaps it was hormonal. I can't be sure, but it was as though a switch got turned off.

Meanwhile, with Elly's morning sickness and feeling fat and the other physical and emotional changes of pregnancy, she was even less into sex than usual. But she noticed my libido loss, and it bothered her. Was I turned off by her weight gain? I didn't think so. Her mammoth boobs? No. I liked them. Her huge hips and butt? Not a problem. Did I still love her? Yes, very much. I just didn't want to have sex with her. Our sexual conversations during this period had a surreal quality. Elly actually missed my compulsive calendar watching, missed my reminding her that it had been a week and that we were due.

I found myself using the phrases Elly had used for years to explain her comparatively low libido. I just don't feel I need it. I enjoy it when we do it, but sex just isn't a priority for me now. Usually we laughed about all this, but I could tell that Elly was upset that I didn't desire her pregnant. Both times, from the moment of the positive pregnancy tests through her recovery from delivery, we did it maybe three or four times. We talked about it, but not much. I kept telling her I loved her, which was true. I just didn't want to fuck her. After a few conversations, we both dropped the subject and focused on things like painting the nursery.

Of course once the baby arrived and when my libido came roaring back with a vengeance, we quickly reverted to our old selves, and returned to our age-old struggle over sexual frequency and our once-a-week deal that usually wasn't quite once a week. I tried to come to a new understanding of Elly's low-level libido based on my own libido loss during her pregnancies, but I can't say that I succeeded. Those memories faded quickly, leaving me where I'd been for so long -- wanting more sex than I was getting.

By this time, we were in our mid-30s, with two careers, a mortgage, two cars, school for the kids -- and less time or energy for sex. Guess who was bothered by this, and guess who thought it was no big deal. Yes, parenthood opened a new chapter in our frequency struggle. But our lovemaking continued to grow and evolve and, miraculously, feel ever more fulfilling. Except for feeling more tired than we had B.C. (before children), parenthood didn't really change the basic shape of our sex life. The kids were in bed by 8 or 9 p.m., and slept reasonably soundly (with a few lapses) so we could usually have sex if we wanted to. Since our once-a-week compromise years earlier, we'd always scheduled sex, so the parental lifestyle, which involves compulsive scheduling of everything, didn't really throw us.

Some parents lament that having young kids cuts severely into sex. That wasn't true for us. In fact, I recall our lovemaking during those years quite fondly. Elly and I had been together for many years before having children, so we'd worked the kinks out of our relationship. But we'd never been partners in a project so all-encompassing as parenthood. Parenthood inaugurated a new level of teamwork between us, and I was pleased with how we rose to the challenge. Elly was, too. We worked well together, and had surprisingly few conflicts about child rearing. It drew us closer, and as a result, deepened and enriched our lovemaking. We held each other more tenderly. We understood each other better. We took to giving each other back and neck rubs as a prelude to sex. We had a rule that we would never discuss the kids while naked. But we bent it. We took to getting into bed naked then cuddling a while, having neck rubs, and chatting a bit about the children or other random tidbits of our lives then drawing each other close and using our tongues for something other than speech.

During this period, children were not the only new wrinkle. For the first time in our lives we also had some disposable income -- along with grandparents who were still healthy enough to take the kids some weekends. A new chapter opened: The romantic weekend getaway. As I mentioned, Elly was more into sex on vacation than at home. But in our 20s that meant twice during a week-long backpacking trip on the hard ground in a cramped tent wrestling with sleeping bags and bug spray.

Weekend getaways were so much more erotic. We'd do it once, occasionally twice, over two or three long loving days together. The sex was fabulous. Elly got deeply into getaway sex. Something about quaint B&Bs turned her on. The lovely setting, the precious furnishings and doo-dads, the Gourmet magazine breakfasts, the relaxed ambiance, and no kids, no responsibilities, just the two of us. In a hotel room, we had no past to obsess about, and no future to worry about, just the present, the zingy erotic present. Naturally, I bought Elly a fat guide to all the B&Bs and country inns within 150 miles of our home, and encouraged her to make reservations. With the kids taken care of for free, we could afford a weekend away every few months.

Around this time, Elly and I got into sex by candlelight. Previously, we'd always done it more or less in the dark. That never bothered me, and Elly never complained about it. But one day she came home with a few candles, and set them up in our bedroom. Candles were a revelation. The soft, flickering light was so warm and erotic. We couldn't believe it took us so long to discover the joy of candle-lit sex. Now we light candles every time. We even bring a candle or two on trips.

Elly became positively giddy about our weekend getaways -- and a little wilder sexually. She looked for B&Bs with hot tubs in or off the rooms, and we would start the lovemaking in the bubbly water before going to bed. We even began fooling around on the drive there. On one of our early getaways, as we drove along a two-lane country road with no one else in sight, Elly offered to suck me as I drove. I was astonished. Of course, I wanted it. And I loved her initiative. But the first words out of my mouth were: "But honey, what about your seat belt?" We both cracked up. God, were we getting old. But we managed to remain belted while working my pants down and folding her head into my lap.

Another time, Elly wore a skirt with no panties and flashed me in the car. Naturally, these escapades made me hope we'd have some similar foreplay on every drive to a B&B. But no. Elly made it clear that I was not to expect her wild side every time. If she was in the mood, she'd do it. If not, sorry. On the one hand, this irritated me. It felt like another power play on her part. But on the other, I have to admit that the drives to weekend getaways sizzled with erotic tension because I didn't know if the Wild Elly would make an appearance. If she did, that was great. But if she didn't, the sex on arrival was always worth the wait.

It was around this time that Elly and I got into sexual lubricants. Even though we did it only once a week -- if that -- when we made love, it was very energetic and typically lasted 90 minutes or so, sometimes longer. We'd fondle each other, explore each others' bodies, take turns doing each other orally, fuck a while, then return to hand jobs and oral, then more fucking. And round and round until orgasm. Sometimes we even fooled around afterwards, playing with how long it took me to wilt to the point where I could no longer enter her. Our sex kept getting better and more spiritually fulfilling. Even our kissing improved -- less sticking our tongues down each other's throats, more variety, more lightly licking each other's lips, and teasing the other's tongue with our own.

But after a long fuck, Elly began complaining of vaginal soreness. Oh, great, I thought, another impediment to sex. Fortunately, she mentioned it to her doctor, who suggested KY jelly. We tried it maybe twice. What horrible stuff. It was goopy, slimy, smelly. Yechh. But for all of its downsides, KY was an effective lubricant, and we liked that. Lubrication made fucking more comfortable for both of us, and went a long way toward clearing up Elly's soreness.

Elly found some other brands at the drug store, and we eventually settled on Astroglide. We began using lubricant regularly -- and loving it. After lots of fondling and oral we would take turns applying lube to each other's genitals. Early on, I feared the process might feel like an interruption. On the contrary, it became this delicious moment of anticipation: Get ready, honey, because in a few moments we are going to fuck our brains out. Beyond just using lubricants for intercourse, I also got into lubricated hand jobs. Elly's vulva was a tropical paradise when well-lubed. And with lubricant, Elly's hand jobs felt so much more sensual. Lubricants were a revelation. We couldn't believe it took us 15 years as lovers to discover the joy of lube. Now we use some every time. We don't leave home without it. I keep a little vial in my travel kit so we always have some no matter where we are.

I must have been around 40 and Elly 38 or so when a friend invited her to a women's house party where the merchandise was not Tupperware, but sex toys. We were aware of vibrators and dildos, of course, but had never tried them. Not that we were down on sex toys. We'd just never gotten into them. Elly came home from the party with a dildo that was about twice the size of this man at his best, and an odd-looking double vibrator -- the cylinder for vaginal insertion, and a small protrusion designed to nestle up against the clitoris. If Elly had brought such toys home when we first got together, when I was less sexually self-assured, I would have felt threatened. But since I was in my 40s, and Elly and I had a solid marriage and sex life, I was intrigued. Sex toys looked like fun.

They were -- for me. They introduced welcome variety into sex, and if Elly was taking longer working up to orgasm than felt comfortable for my tongue and jaw, it was nice to have a "power tool" to fall back on to get the job done.

But Elly did not share my enthusiasm for sex toys. They just weren't her cup of tea. I was surprised. From what I'd heard, many women adore vibrators, and have their most intense orgasms with them. But Elly just didn't care for them. She likes physical closeness. She likes us to be wrapped up in one another in tight erotic embrace. Sex toys somehow broke the connection for her. Then she said, "I prefer your cock." I didn't know whether to feel flattered by the compliment -- John Henry besting the steam shovel -- or disappointed that she wanted to trash the sex toys. But that's where they wound up -- in the garbage.

The same thing happened with lingerie. Elly was never into buying lingerie for herself, and I'd always felt intimidated about buying it for her. In my mind, I'd replay that scene from "Annie Hall" where Woody Allen buys Diane Keaton a skimpy bra and panty set and she gives him a look that says: You don't actually expect me to wear this, do you? (You idiot.) But our newspaper ran a piece about a little lingerie shop whose owner specialized in helping men buy it for their ladies. The main mistake men make, according to this gal, was that men think lingerie should make women look sexy. Her message was that men should strive to make women feel sexy. The best way to do that, she advised, was to ditch the skimpy stuff and go for fuller coverage, for example baby dolls, short, lacy dress-like things that cover a fair amount but in a very sexy way. She also had dress models in various sizes, so a man could point to one and say: She's like that. The pitch made sense to me.

My birthday was coming up. I figured I'd buy a baby doll nightie for Elly and ask her to wear it as a birthday present. I got a two-layer purple number that had a G-string and lacy peek-a-boo bra underneath and, over it, a semi-sheer skirt and cape-like jacket. The shop owner was confident Elly would like it. I was, too, and presented the gift with great anticipation of a fun-filled evening. Well, move over, Woody Allen. Elly gave me the same look Diane Keaton gave him. As a birthday favor, she wore the outfit once, then never again. Lingerie was not her thing. It was a shame, too, because she looked incredibly sexy in the outfit.

Lest Elly appear a tad prudish with her rejection of toys and lingerie, in all fairness, I should relate what happened a few months after I got her the baby doll. She got some sexy briefs for me. Red leather. She really wanted to see me in them. I wore them once, then never again. I'm not sure why. But Elly had made her point. Each of us liked seeing the other in lingerie, but neither of us was into wearing sexy lingerie.

Still, I loved the way Elly looked in sex clothes, and wanted to try lingerie again. I went back to the shop. So, she didn't go for the baby doll, the proprietor said, no problem, how about one of these? And she showed me some ordinary-looking nightgowns that on close inspection were somewhat less than ordinary. One was very slinky silk. Another had button flaps over the breasts, butt and genitals. Another was slit up the front and back to the waist. Fuller coverage, she explained, but with an erotic edge. Elly has always liked silk, so I went for the silk nightie. She liked it, and wears it to bed every few months. A few years later, I bought her a knee-length lace bathrobe, with the lace tight enough not to reveal much, but loose enough to hint at what's underneath. She wears that, too.

Besides variety in bed clothes, Elly and I have tried all sorts of different positions: over the back of the sofa, her legs up on my shoulders, in chairs, you name it, the kinds of things you read in books with titles like 101 Sexual Positions. We go for an exotic position occasionally, but we usually stay with five: missionary, woman-on-top, doggie, facing each other on our sides, and a pillow under her hips with me kneeling between her legs. They provide enough variety to keep things from getting boring without the contortions of the exotics.

For probably the last 20 years, our main position has been woman-on-top. Elly enjoys the freedom of movement, not having my weight on top of her, and the ease with which she can go from fucking to sucking me and back. Meanwhile, I love to play with her breasts and suckle them while we're fucking.

Woman-on-top also led us to kind of invent a position of our own. We call it "outercourse." Unlike intercourse, my penis is not in her vagina. It's outside, running up between her labia to her clitoris. In the woman-on-top position, with our hips pressed together, and our genitals well lubricated, outercourse feels just like intercourse to me, but it does a lot more for Elly because the head of my penis is right up against her clit. Maybe some sex book has discussed this, but we stumbled on it on our own. Now, in our 50s, it's become one of our favorite moves. Elly has wonderful orgasms this way, and more easily than she does by tongue or with my penis inside her.

An interesting thing happened when we were in our 40s. Elly started becoming menopausal in her mid-40s. We were already using lube, so vaginal dryness wasn't an issue. But Elly became -- how shall I put this? More sexually charged. Not that she wanted sex more often. Far from it. We were still living with our chronic desire discrepancy. But when we did it, Elly seemed to feel more urgency for intimate connection. She began truncating the foreplay and moving more quickly to intercourse or outercourse. If I were inside her, she began pulling me into her more forcefully than she ever had and holding my butt tight to keep me in there. If we were doing outercourse, she ground her hips down into me with a kind of desperation I'd never seen. She also wanted something else. Anal.

We'd tried anal intercourse in our mid-20s after we'd been together for maybe five years. It was a disaster. We weren't into lubricant back then, so entry was difficult for me and painful for her. We did it once and then never again. I don't think we even mentioned it for a good 15 years. But as Elly became menopausal and more sexually charged, anal returned -- not intercourse, but anal fingering.

Elly never came out and asked for it -- and we've never discussed her sudden interest in it. But Elly made it perfectly clear what she wanted. We were fucking, woman-on-top, and my hands were caressing her from her head, down her back, across her buttocks, to the backs of her thighs and legs, and back up again. Elly makes these wonderful moaning noises when she's happy with what I'm doing, and she began moaning at full volume when I fondled her butt. So I stayed there. She moaned more. I separated her cheeks and reached in a little deeper. Ecstatic moaning. I touched her anus and began massaging it. More high-intensity moaning. But it was dry. A little lube seemed like a good idea. We had some beside us. I applied it and massaged her anus some more. She loved it. It didn't take long before my finger was two knuckles inside -- and Elly had an intense orgasm.

We talked about it afterward. Elly was not at all shy about saying that she'd enjoyed being anally fingered. I enjoyed it, too. I love seeing her sexuality unleashed. So we kept doing it. It never would have occurred to me 20 years earlier that "anal sex" could be anything other than penis-in-anus intercourse. But here we were, pushing 50, discovering the joy of anal fingering. Then Elly began doing it to me, and I enjoyed it, too. Of course, it took lots of lube. But by this time we were deeply into lube, so anal fingering was just one more pleasure it made possible.

Back-door fingering fueled my long-suppressed fantasies of butt-fucking. Anal intercourse appealed to me as something novel and different, the most intimate physical connection possible between two lovers. And as a man with a middle-aged penis that needed more fondling than it used to to get hard, remain erect and come, the tight grip of anal intercourse held particular promise for pleasure and fulfillment. I raised the subject with Elly; maybe if her anus were really well lubricated and she was on top and sat down on my erection rather than me trying to push into her, maybe it would feel more comfortable than it had way back when.

She was game, and we tried it a few times. I loved the tight grip, and the thrill of pushing our sexual envelope. Thanks to a lot of lube and the fact that Elly was in control of the speed and depth of insertion, she did not complain of it hurting as she had when we were younger. But, ultimately, Elly wasn't into it. "Your cock is just too big for me," she said with a wink. Just my luck. I'd spent a lifetime coping with the universal male fear of having too small a penis, and all of a sudden, the damn thing's too big for what I want to do. So we went back to anal fingering, which has been fine. I enjoyed anal intercourse, but I don't really miss it.

Unfortunately, in the last year or so, since Elly turned 50, part of her menopause has involved increased susceptibility to urinary tract infections. She's most likely to get them after particularly enthusiastic anal fingering. I'm very careful not to touch her vulva or vagina with any finger that's been elsewhere, but the lubricant seems to provide a path for the bacteria. Elly has tried antibiotics and cranberry juice and urinating before and immediately after sex. They all help, but she still gets UTIs. So we've decided to retreat somewhat from anal fingering. I use less lube on her back door and finger her a little less vigorously and less frequently than I used to. Since those changes, her UTIs have been less of a problem. But anal fingering is still a regular part of our lovemaking, and I pray it will remain so.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Timing is always an issue when there is a family involved. The kids grew up. Suddenly, they were teenagers -- with no fixed bedtimes. Wouldn't you know, both of ours are night owls. This added a new complication to sex. Could we do it with them awake, our daughter in the next room and our son across the hall? Guess who thought we could. Not that Elly thought we couldn't. She recognized that with the kids staying up till all hours, we'd have to come up with a sexual accommodation. We decided to install a lock on our bedroom door to make sure the kids couldn't walk in on us. We kept the candles, but suspended the music. And we turned the volume down on the love moans. We were both a little hesitant at first. But we got used to fucking with the kids awake. Their music substituted for ours. Our daughter was into Tracy Chapman and Shawn Colvin, our son, Metallica and Ted Nugent. I never thought I'd relish doing it to the strains of "Cat Scratch Fever" down the hall, but necessity is the mother of enjoyment.

With teens in the house, truly private sex, just the two of us alone, became a special event. When it was just the two of us, we both felt turned on. We began encouraging our kids as never before to arrange sleep-overs at friends' houses. Of course we'd been arranging -- and hosting -- sleep-overs since they were around 5. But that was for them. Now that they were old enough to arrange their own, we urged them to do so -- for our sake. Both kids would be gone maybe one night every couple of months. Those nights were like the heady days of our early weekend getaways. We were still at home, but it was a much different place. We played the music loud. We went through a period of distributing candles around the house, having sex in the living room, or the family room, or in the guest room before returning to our own bed. I began to look forward to an empty nest.

Now that I'm in my mid-50s, I've noticed the changes the sex books we've published describe as normal: slower-rising erections, somewhat less firmness, some subsidence when Elly stops stroking me, and more connection between alcohol and balky erections. Fortunately, none of these has been terribly pronounced. I still function fine, thank God.

I've also noticed a gradual decline in my feelings of sexual urgency. I'm just not as desperate for sex as I was 30 years ago, or 15, or even five. I still want it. And I still want it more often than Elly does. But these days, when she says "not tonight," it doesn't irritate me like it used to. I'm not sure if this is a function of my age, or exhaustion after more than three decades of tussling over frequency, or the fact that our sex has become fulfilling to the point that one fuck satisfies me longer. Probably some of all three. But the fact is, I take sexual rejection more philosophically than I used to. I have more of a sense of humor about it, more patience with Elly. That's been good for our marriage -- and our sex life.

So here we are: I'm 54, Elly's 52 and we've been fucking for 34 years. Our daughter is out of the house now, and our son is away for six weeks this summer. As I write, it's late on a Friday afternoon. I left the office early today. Publishing slows down considerably in the summer. Elly said she'd bring home a video. There are several R-rated romantic comedies on her list. I'll heat up the leftover lasagna and make a salad. On my way to work this morning, the artichokes looked good at our local produce store. Maybe I'll pick up a couple and steam them. Elly and I will have a glass of wine with dinner, and afterward perhaps take a walk for some ice cream, then cuddle up on the sofa and watch the movie. It's been about a week, so sex is possible but by no means certain. If Elly pulls out the pot, I know we'll be lighting the bedroom candles. Who knows? I just might get lucky.

Barry Sallinen

Barry Sallinen is a writer and editor in New York.

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