Identity

I’ve always fancied myself independent. I’ve sold myself a narrative about a woman who has always and will always do exactly what she wants. It’s not completely untrue.. but it’s also not completely true.

In my teen years, personal definition was about my small bubble. I at once adhered to the homogeny around me and bucked against it. But everything I did and every way in which I understood myself was in relation to the culture in which I was raised; a predominantly white, upper middle class, Conservative, Patriarchal, Mormon community. I was at once a part of it and its biggest critic. But it was all I knew.

Then came young adulthood, where I did some BIG things and made some BIG decisions. I publicly and angrily left Mormonism. I played with sex and drugs. I was sexually assaulted. I traveled. I went to college (on and off). I began to define myself not only in terms of my immediate community, but the world more broadly. Community meant much more than what my physical neighbors did or thought. Politics, belief systems, societal, socioeconomic and community hierarchies were all I saw and cared about. I married in a way that felt radical. I embraced feminism and grew a loud voice. I also built an identity around a profession that stroked my ego in a way that now makes me nauseous.

Then came adulthood. I quit the job that gave me purpose. I left the husband that gave me some parts of my identity. I found myself in a new city with a lot of questions and zero answers. I’ve spent the last year and half extricating myself from the life my young adult self built.

And now it’s time to rebuild with only one consideration: what is it that I truly care about and how will I live my life in accordance with that?

The problem is that question has a different answer all the time. Or maybe, more accurately, this question has many different answers. Here’s a short list just to get myself going:

  • Relationships. I value the people in my life highly. If I do nothing else with my life but cultivate deep and fulfilling relationships, friendly, romantic and everywhere in between, that will feel like a life well spent. I value treating these people with respect, honesty, kindness and selflessness. I feel more valuable and important on the phone late one night with a friend in the midst of a panic attack than at any other time, perhaps.
  • Community. I value being a contributing part of a community. Even more deeply, I value creating communities. I get so much pleasure from connecting folks, especially women to one another in a way that helps all of them.
  • Creation. Creating space and writing and ideas is where it’s at. I feel most fulfilled and calm when I spend time creating. Of course I want to create things that others find interesting/useful, but I think that can’t be the only impetus for creation.

Some things I have derived value from that I would not like to continue deriving value from:

  • Status. I was married to a physician. I was at the top of my career. While status feels nice, it isn’t ultimately fulfilling because it doesn’t seem to really get at who you are as a human being.
  • Beauty. I’m a pretty person and it has nothing to do with my experience of myself or the world. The only thing it really does is make it a little easier for me to get what I want from the people around me. A fact that I am not proud of. The emphasis on it also contributes to a lot of self doubt, self-loathing and hours and hours of wasted mental energy.
  • Fame. I have a mild obsession with being known. I’m not exactly sure what this is about but I don’t like it and I don’t think it will make me fulfilled. I’ve had tastes of it in different contexts. Enough to know that it doesn’t last long and it’s very painful to chase.
  • Fortune.  It’s nice to be able to pay your bills and then buy nice clothes and go on a trip. But it isn’t the key to lifelong fulfillment.

As I’m writing this I’m realizing something simple. The more I want my life to look a certain way, the more unhappy I am.

I guess what I’m getting at in this very indulgent post is that I think maybe I am more free and independent now than ever in my life and I want to be extremely intentional about what that looks like.

 

 

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Having a person

One of the hardest things about exiting a marriage is the loss of your person. In a marriage, you have a built in person. This person is your go-to. In crisis, for events, for staying in and watching Netflix. You don’t have to think about it because you know they’ll be there.

Because work and emotional distance, Spouse hasn’t really been my person in a while. But he was good at showing up when it mattered. I have a recurring ailment that has me laid up in bed for a few days every now and again, unable to walk or care for my dog or work. For years, Spouse managed me care. The dosing of pain pills, who would take the dog out and keep an eye on me while he worked, etc.

So when I had an episode this week, I was truly scared. My roommate is out of town and Spouse was working, unable to get away and also no longer required to try.. So I was in charge of my own care. These episodes are unexpected and they put me in so much pain, I can’t usually think straight.

But the most wonderful thing happened: my community came through for me! Spouse coached Feathers over the phone on how to give me a shot I needed and Feathers stayed with me for 24 hrs, caring for S and I fully. Tall Guy came by to take S out and help after that. My closest girlfriend in the city, H, came by to keep me company and a few men who I just have casual sex with came by as well.

Feathers and I have been spending a lot of time together lately and it’s been really magical. He is truly a special person and I feel really lucky to be a part of his life. He’s tender and brilliant and creative. I never know what time with him will entail, but I’m always glad to see him. He was a really attentive caregiver as well. One of the best things a person can do for me when I’m in pain is distract me and Feathers is full of stories and ideas, so he was the ideal caretaker. I couldn’t sleep the first night and he stayed up all night with me showing me youtube videos he made or telling me stories, real and fictional.

When Tall Guy came over, he walked in, saw me laying pathetically on the couch and said “oh sweetie” with so much empathy I almost started crying. He came over and gently hugged me and kissed my head. It was honestly such a sweet moment, I wish I had been more lucid for it.

As painful as those days were and as stressful as it is to be so helpless, I couldn’t help but marvel at the idea that even though I don’t have one built in person, I do have people who love me and care about me. And in some ways, sharing the burden among a few people is actually really nice.

I love to believe I am completely self sufficient now. Miss independent woman who can do it all. And I think that’s mostly true. But, there are times of crisis and not everything is meant to be done alone. Such a relief to find out I do have support. I do have people. I just don’t have a person. And that’s OK.

Anniversary

Soundtrack

A little over a year ago, I found myself in hysterical tears on the steps of a church in Streeterville, Chicago.

It was a month into Spouse’s residency and I had never felt so alone in my life. I was in a new city, trying to figure out the basics and Spouse was married to the hospital. We had intended to go grocery shopping together, but as was so common, he was asleep before 8 PM and I was left to go it out alone.

Before leaving, before he fell asleep, I had expressed a need for some emotional reassurance, some closeness and words or actions of solidarity. He couldn’t give them to me. I know he wanted to. And that fact made it harder and more painful. So I got out the grocery cart, took it down the elevator and began the 15 minute walk to the store as he fell asleep and began to snore in our new, king sized bed.

While I walked, I called my big brother, J. J has always been there for me, fully and without judgment. This is when I fell apart. Somewhere en route I had to stop because I was crying so hard. I tucked up into the church steps, hoping darkness would conceal me a little bit on the busy streets. At least three people stopped to be sure I was OK. Including the doorman from across the street, who brought me tissues. I suppose being on a church’s steps made it seem like a very different kind of breakdown.

I thought of this tonight as I walked a similar route, this time headed back to the el after my weekly therapy session. You see, tomorrow is Spouse and my 5th wedding anniversary. Or, I guess it would be. Do you stop counting after you decide the marriage is over?

I cried, albeit not as hysterically as a year ago, all the way home. There is actually something really beautiful about walking around the city, listening to music, and crying. Now I’m sitting on my front porch, still teary eyes, but calmer.

When I tell people our marriage is over, they often ask if I will stay in Chicago. Outwardly, there is nothing keeping me here. I work remotely, after all. I could do my job from anywhere in the US and none of my family or closest friends are here.

But the truth is, I have built a life here. In only a short time and under relatively traumatic circumstances, I have grown into this city. I have an incredible roommate, a growing group of girlfriends and a kooky little dog. I have had more new experiences in the last year than I thought I even wanted. I have had tastes of love, companionship, friendship and great sex with men and women across the north side and am fostering the beginnings of more. I know how to live in this city. I can get around and enjoy myself and I know there are opportunities for me to do anything I want here. And I’m really proud of that.

Last year, our anniversary fell on the night before residency began. We got dressed up and ate at a nearby Italian joint, taking a moment to pause about getting here and what beginning this life would mean. At that moment, we still had a fair amount of blind hope, firm denial and the only thing still true this year: a lot of love for each other.

This is not how I expected to spend my fifth anniversary. But, it’s a lovely night. A warm wind is pulling my hair across my face and the tears are gently rolling now. Last year these tears were futile and frustrated, broken and tragic. This year, the tears are leading me somewhere.

 

Being a Unicorn: Adventures in Emotional Tourism

In the world of kink, Unicorn is a label prescribed to people, mostly women, who enjoy or even prefer being the third in a sexual or romantic endeavor with a hetero couple. We’re called unicorns because we’re hard to find and therefore very special. When I first began my sexual exploration, I may not have described myself this way. But now, I embrace the term fully.

I don’t think that it is my defining characteristic as a person, even if we’re speaking strictly sexually. But over the last few months I have been surprised at how much I loved being the third. I have had a half a dozen threesomes with different heterosexual committed couples and each experience has been unique and beautiful. For a few hours, you get to step inside someone else’s relationship. You feel the love they have for one another in a really safe way.

When I told Spouse about this – yes, I tell him about my sexual exploits and he loves hearing – he called it emotional tourism. And I think that’s right. You get to visit a relationship, feel and enjoy and be involved in their dynamic for a short time, but you don’t have to move there. You can even visit frequently, but it isn’t your home. For me, at this moment in my life, that has been really beautiful.

I have also been lucky in never having found myself in a situation where one partner had been more or less coerced into the experience. In all cases, each partner was invested in my involvement.

Sexually, it was a wild adventure. So many hands and bodies. It can be a bit overwhelming. One of the hottest things is when a the male part of a couple teaches me how to give his woman an orgasm. Because I have not been with women outside of these experiences, I have no idea what to do with a pussy. But, I can follow instructions! And it is wildly fulfilling to give someone that intense pleasure.

Participating in threesomes, especially the experiences with women, taught me something else about sex and pleasure: it’s not hard to be “good” at sex, all you have to do is care about giving pleasure to the other person. I don’t walk around thinking about sex with women the way I do with men, but I really enjoy pleasuring women in bed because I enjoy pleasing women and people in general. It’s like giving a gift.

Each couple I was with did a really good job at making me feel both wanted and safe. I knew that I could consent or withdraw consent at any idea. This is an important dynamic when it’s essentially 2 on 1. I think I also did a really good job giving both parties in each couple equal attention. I knew that if I was in a couple and we invited a third, I would hate for that person to give one of us more attention than the other, so I tried to stay cognizant of that. It’s pretty easy really, you can always have at least a hand or something on each person.

In each case, I was careful to have a pretty detailed conversation in advance about what each person found compelling in this situation. I wanted to know if one person wanted to watch the other with me, or if they had a specific thing in mind, or a specific thing they didn’t want to do. These conversations are awkward at first, but get easier and are ultimately extremely necessary to the success of a multi-person sexual experience, in my opinion.

The other aspect that made these past few threesomes more like tourism was that it was very clear that this was a sexual experience, we weren’t trying to date one another. So at the base of it all, it’s a true friends-with-benefits situation.

I’m not longer on the hunt for new threesomes, but I’ll stay open to the idea, and will absolutely repeat with some of the couples I’ve been with.

The End

I married Spouse with a sincere belief that we would grow old together, husband and wife. But alas, it isn’t true. Instead, we will grow old together as dear friends, confidants and one another’s constant champion. I imagine that will look differently over the years.

I refuse to see the end of our marriage as a failure. Quite the opposite, in fact.

At the beginning, we fell in love quickly, madly and without hesitation. We founded and ran an advocacy group in our conservative college town and community. We held hands and walked together away from a religion and culture we now condemn. We gave one another the confidence and bravery to be the truest versions ourselves.

The first night we kissed, he was about to drive me home for the night when he came around to my side of the car, opened the door and asked me to please get out. He said he couldn’t wait and he pulled me close to kiss me as the first snowfall of the season began around us. The first time we had sex, I cried. It wasn’t my first time, but it felt as though it was.

For months, I would lay naked in bed, watching him play guitar and sing Iron and Wine or Sufjan Stevens and he would pick me wildflowers on the way to my house each day in spring. We spent hours on his roof discussing philosophy, poetry and religion. We both felt fully seen for the first time in our lives.

We were married  barefoot in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains not 8 months after meeting. We wrote our own vows and my pastor grandmother officiated as we stood beneath an arch Spouse and brothers had built from found wood in the mountains.

We moved in together and out of state simultaneously after that. We were so poor we had to borrow $400 from his parents just to buy a bed. We laid on a pile of blankets in our living room for months, referring to it as our couch. That first year of marriage was bliss and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. He built us a raised bed in the front yard and we adopted a dog together.

But then we began to grow up and through the things of life. Spouse embarked on the arduous and in my opinion, abusive, path of medical education while I held many jobs and finished my undergraduate degree. We supported one another the best we could. There was always love and respect and a good degree of emotional connection through these challenging years. But we were also growing into ourselves. And that means figuring out how we wanted to live and what kinds of things we could give and needed to get within a romantic relationship.

I don’t feel that I can pinpoint a moment where our marriage headed south, because it really didn’t. Part of our vows had a promise in it to hold the space for one another to grow and change as individuals and I feel proud to say that for the most part, we did do that. There is more to it than this, but I think it boils down to the fact that we just aren’t what one another’s needs anymore. Not in this way.

So even though I am palpably feeling the heart break of the end of our marriage these days, I find solace in the knowledge that a broken heart has cracks in through which more love can enter. And in the end, I still have my best friend and words cannot express how grateful I am for him.