Wayne Koestenbaum, the author of the new book "Humiliation," is answering questions from Salon readers over the next several days about their most shameful and cringe-worthy moments. Have a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am an eight-years-married father of two young children. I love my wife very much, and could not bear to be one of those weekends-only dads, so divorce is off the table. Therapy is off the table as well, as we are living paycheck to paycheck and barely treading water as it is. Here's my problem:
When my wife and I were dating, sex was regular, oftentimes approaching frequent. While it was nothing you'd call adventurous, I had no complaints. We did a few different things, she wore cute little outfits for me (which I particularly loved, more on that in a minute) and while I'm more a swing-from-the-chandeliers type, I was satisfied.
The minute I put the engagement ring on her finger, she was done. If I tried to initiate anything, I would get an excuse, except for the time she punched me in the crotch. I'm generally conflict-averse, but I told her on the spot, "You do that again, I'm gone." Always an excuse -- "I'm preoccupied with the wedding." "Work killed me today." "I'm too stressed out about money." Money was (and continues to be) the big one. Once crisis ends, another begins. Not long, it was the old Mad magazine favorite, "I have a headache."
We spent our wedding night adding up the money in the wedding cards. Once the final total had been established, she bolted into the bathroom, tore off her wedding gown and hopped into bed with a "Night-night!" I was looking forward to getting into that wedding gown for months. The whole garter thing had me so charged up it was all I could think about for the rest of the reception. I didn't think she was serious. I reached out to her -- "Very funny, come on over here" and she reamed me out for being a pig and "Is that all you ever think about?!?"
From our wedding night on I have resented the hell out of this, and I feel totally ripped off. She looked amazing in her gown, and I kind of have a thing for sexy outfits. As our marital life went on and sex went totally out the window (we've had the same box of Trojans since 2009), I started to wear outfits myself. The final nail in the coffin of our sex life was pounded into place three years ago, when my wife found the clothes, wigs and shoes I had collected over the time we weren't being intimate.
I've also started chatting with strangers online. The interaction heightens things considerably, and one woman has invited me to meet her at a local gay bar where I can dress up safely and we can meet and etc. etc. etc. As tempting as it is, and it is, I won't do it. I have enough guilt already. I hate my job; I'm hardly ever home; when I am home all I hear about is money and our lack of it; I think about killing myself daily. My kids are frequently the only thing keeping me here. If there are any non-harmful, morally sound coping mechanisms you could suggest, I would really appreciate it.
Dear Adventurous Crossdressing Father of Two:
I love you. You have a brave and plucky spirit. I applaud the new venture you've undertaken: outfits. Please meet up with that woman who suggested a rendezvous at a gay bar. First, let's deal with the wife situation. Here are five brief pep talks.
1. Put divorce back on the table. Or: tell your wife, "From now on, sweetie, it's an open marriage."
2. Your wife punched you in the groin? Drop her. Your kids will be grateful. Kids don't want to hang around in an unhappy household. Your kids will feel the unconscious undertow of your sorrow, frustration and anger. Your kids will grow up with that rage and unrest as their own toxic shadow. Unburden them by divorcing your wife, or figuring out an amicable ("open marriage") pact.
3. Keep buying outfits! That is a creative and soul-expanding hobby. Your wife has given you a priceless gift: She has granted you a new fantasy, a new fetish, a new arena of sexual pleasure -- a world to which you might have remained a stranger, had your wife not bestowed you with the golden key.
4. If you truly want to remain married to your groin-punching wife, stop feeling guilty about your off-campus escapades. Keep chatting with strangers. Keep collecting outfits. Consider that you're doing it for the kids. You're giving them a father who achieves some measure of erotic enrichment.
5. If you say "I think about killing myself daily," that sounds dire; may I urge you to consult a medical professional, and to exercise ingenuity in the search for someone -- social worker, counselor -- who could lend a hand at a low cost? I'm not a hotline; I can't offer that level of concrete advice. My comments, however lighthearted, have a serious aim: I suggest that you respect your own wish for pleasure, sexual and otherwise, and that you not remain confined in a hindering marriage.