Last month I found myself at a workshop called "The Art of Sex," hanging on the every word of a spirited sex educator from Babeland (a woman-owned, “sex-positive and sleaze-free” erotic toy shop in New York City). I was sitting in this class because six months prior, my husband had stopped looking at me. By that, I mean looking at me in the way I’ve observed straight men in love or lust sometimes look at a woman: The eyes go a little wider than usual, he smiles subtly, and you can tell in that moment that whatever the woman is doing is so adorable, bewildering and awe-inspiring to him, that he just wants to marry her. (And of course, have sex with her all night.)
I’d received that look a million times during our brief 10-month courtship, but now after just two years of marriage, I began to suspect my husband was a little bored of me and our routine. I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those women who needs to feel men’s stares as a form of personal validation, so once my husband stopped really looking at me, I stopped feeling validated by him, and consequently stopped feeling so madly in love with him. And when the love stopped, the sex stopped, and then he really had no reason to look at me anymore.
I wanted desperately to share my bedroom troubles with my close girlfriends, but I was always the woman in our circle who talked frankly about sexuality, in all its glorious, graphic details. How could I possibly maintain my status as the “Samantha” of our group, if I admitted that my sex life was absolute shit? If my friends realized I could only talk the talk, would they ever listen to my advice again? Would they still think I was interesting enough to invite to bottomless brunches? Eventually it just hurt too much to keep on pretending. I confessed the problems to my best friend, and just as a best friend should, she signed both of us up for The Art of Se...
And so, after a night in class learning a few ways to spice up a blow job, after purchasing $400 worth of hypo-allergenic sex toys, after forcing my somewhat reserved British husband to complete a sex questionnaire about three-ways and nipple clamps to improve our communication skills, after putting all of these new, fun tools to use in bed, I orgasmed. And it wasn’t just any orgasm -- it was the first orgasm I’d ever had during intercourse.
I’d been masturbating (face down, furiously) since age 6, but I’d never been able to replicate the sensation with another person until now. My husband was there, of course, inside me, but I know my sexual response was really thanks to a bright pink clitoral vibrator called the “Sqweel 2.” The moment the orgasm hit, I cried -- out of relief, astonishment, fear, pleasure and a host of other emotions. And my husband didn’t know why I was crying. He didn’t even realize that I had just come. He continued to move inside me, going through the motions of sex without any sense of the momentous, life-changing, life-long goal I had just reached. I continued crying, he continued thrusting; eventually he came, and as usual, it was all over.
That night I sat curled up on my living room floor, replaying the evening in my head, while my husband lay sleeping peacefully in our bedroom, no doubt stretched out diagonally, colonizing the entire mattress. I thought perhaps it wasn’t fair to blame him for not knowing what had happened to me. I couldn’t always sense the exact moment he came, unless it was accompanied by a frantic scream or a low moan. Besides, if I was so desperate for him to share the moment with me, why had I stayed quiet and let misery take over instead of just, well, telling my husband I had come?
I think it’s because I grew up believing that the person I married would be my perfect match. Even if he wasn’t always able to read my mind, he would at least be able to read my body. And from the first time we met, my husband fit the bill better than anyone. We magically bumped into each other on vacation in Israel, both of us floating on the Dead Sea. He was one of only 150,000 British Jewish men that exist in the world, which means he sounded like Mr. Darcy, but told jokes like Jerry Seinfeld. This man had to be designed for me.
But then I got a job in New York, and we rushed into marriage to secure his green card. There was no proposal, no ring, no joyous phone calls to friends and family about this wonderful life event. Instead, it was the first time I realized my husband had doubts about me. He wanted to keep the wedding simple at city hall, inviting no one, telling no one, and treating the marriage like a meaningless piece of paper. He claimed it was so that our “real wedding” down the road would feel more special, but if he knew I was the one, why not propose now? Why not plan a wedding reception for this year?
Two years in, he no longer seemed excited about discussing the future with me. If I brought up hypothetical future children or plans for a belated honeymoon, he acted awkward and terrified, as if I were bringing up these topics on our second date. The more I felt him slipping away, the more I tried to change my behavior to become his ideal woman again and restore our flawless relationship. Life became an exhausting series of one-sided compromises that eventually sent me running and screaming to The Art of Sex, desperate for some concrete solution.
I realize now that in bed that night, I not only wanted him to share in my orgasm, I needed him to be a part of it -- one perfect, romantic moment that would reassure me this marriage was worth it, and that it could become the ideal relationship I wanted, despite an imperfect beginning. But my husband had missed the moment, and sitting there, naked from the waist down on our scratchy wool living room rug, I saw that while the sex was technically getting better, he still wasn’t looking at me. I had told myself over and over again that if I could fix this sexual problem, then the look and everything else that came with it would fall in line, but our problems were clearly much more complicated.
I have no idea if we’ll stay together for the next 50 years, file for divorce next month, or which decision would make me happier. There are still wonderful moments when I look at my husband searching in vain for his pants in the morning, or sitting at his laptop trolling goodreads.com, and I think to myself, “OK, he’s going to be absolutely adorable at 85.” There are times when I see him standing in line next to a little girl at our neighborhood bakery, and I imagine him giving a look, not the look, but a loving, awe-inspired gaze toward our future daughter. I honestly cannot imagine what my future would look like without him.
I suppose I have to decide whether the promise of how things could get better will outweigh what has gone wrong so far. Maybe all of the things I think have gone “wrong” are just the inevitable ups and downs of any long-term relationship. Maybe if I just stop waiting for the perfect look or the perfect moment of sexual intimacy, and start accepting that this longing for more may always be there, I can finally start to enjoy my reality again.