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.

 

 

Tall Guy

I am dating a white man. I mean, I’m actually dating a lot of white men. But, there is one who is particularly White and Male. Like. He golfs. And works in tech. Compared to my band of amazing weirdos, he is the odd man out.

We met on an app to find threesomes a while back and sexted nearly daily for about a month. At the time, he wasn’t ready to meet in person, as he is married and they were taking a step back from all this to make sure it felt right to proceed in non monogamy. The sexting was on the up and up with his wife and I was in no hurry, so he continued.

We have been exploring some age play. Nothing too dramatic. Just daddy/good girl stuff. But we haven’t even pretended there was an actual family connection or that I was super young. And in sexting, I found I was extremely turned on by this dynamic. It turns out I will do just about anything to be called “good girl” in bed, when I finally get that I can almost always cum.

I feel conflicted about how much I like this. As a feminist and a good person, I don’t condone men controlling women or incest. But, I have received the advice again and again that the way one plays in bed must be divorced from our actual politics. Intellectually, I believe that, but I’m still working on shedding the shame of having a kink like this.

Fortunately it’s just something I enjoy and not something I feel I need a lot of. Tall Guy and I played with the dynamic via texting for about a month and although we’d never met, I began to feel pretty connected to him. It was clear we were at least compatible in this one way and it was also clear that although he found me very sexy, he was not interested solely in that part of me.

When we finally met, it was at once new and familiar. We had drinks at a dim, craft cocktail bar and laughed at the fact that we had had so much text sex and never even heard one another’s voices. Physically, he is outside of my usual type; he’s very tall (6’4″) and clean shaven. Personality wise, he’s more like me than like the men I usually see. Which is interesting.

He’s very kind and thoughtful, a good listener and clearly emotionally and mentally stable. It makes sense that he is in a healthy marriage. He and his wife are quite well to do, they own a brand new three floor walk up in a great neighborhood, they travel a lot and live a life of relative luxury. This fact at once interests me and makes me sick. I love hanging at their house and going to nice places with him, but it also clear to me that they are the beneficiaries of a crazy amount of privilege and I’m having a hard time grasping how aware of that they are.

One of my favorite things about non monogamy is getting a first person peak into the way a lot of different people live without having to integrate into it fully. Tall Guy and I do basic bitch things together, like picnics in Millenium Park and cocktails at great yuppy bars. I imagine at some point there will be brunch. These things are a real part of myself and so I’m glad to have a person to do them with.

Being with Tall Guy speaks to a part in myself that I’m a little ashamed of, but is also kind of important to me. It’s a comfortable, stable life with someone of my same demographic with few challenges. Which also means little excitement. Tall Guy honestly reminds me of how amazing Spouse was; a beautiful combination of stability and comfort but with intrigue and curiosity.

The thing I like most about Tall Guy is his ability to communicate. In fact, that’s the only thing all the people I see have in common; solid communication skills. But there have already been a few healing experiences with Tall Guy. In navigating multiple relationships for the first time (they’re new to this also), things come up. And I have been extremely impressed with 1) my ability to articulate when something doesn’t sit right and 2) his ability to respond to that and assure me and vice versa.

I think Tall Guy is my boyfriend. And I think I like having a boyfriend like him.

 

 

Oh to be young and in love

Spouse called to check in on me tonight after my health episode. Truth be told, it was difficult to get through without him. My new people stepped up, but I wasn’t supposed to even have those people. I am married. I was supposed to have a husband. And I don’t.

I’m still in some pain and feeling tender and not quite myself, so the conversation went there pretty quickly. We were both in tears. I asked him the question I ask myself all the time “Why didn’t it work? We loved each other so much.”

If that question had a simple answer, we may not have to ask it. There are a lot of answers and it’s tempting to fit it into a neat narrative. But that wouldn’t be honest or fair. In fact, we decided tonight that doing so may actually tarnish the beauty and rarity of what we did have.

Facebook reminded Spouse of a photo of he and I snuggling in bed with our first dog. In the picture I am looking at Spouse with the kind of adoration and love that you just can’t fake. He told me that when he saw the photo he could remember a time when I looked at him that way. He said he could remember when he deserved it and he remembered I continued to look at him that way long after he deserved it..

Spouse is incredibly intelligent and incredibly afraid of letting others in, emotionally. When I met his family, they told me they had never seen him so happy as he was with me. He attributed this to the fact that he never felt he could truly be himself with them of with anyone. He told me then and reaffirmed tonight that when we met, it was the first time in his life that he felt maybe another person could know him and understand him. He began to show himself fully and fearlessly, censoring only ever so slightly.

That time, which cannot be defined by dates or eras or legal status, was ecstasy. We met, and in typical me fashion, I said “you” and focused all my attention on making him mine. We fell quickly, fully and without fear. Within weeks, I was intending to spend the rest of my life with him and he me. We empowered one another, made one another smile and laugh and discussed everything. We melded our lives easily and without question.

There was a moment tonight when I wondered if I would ever have it again. That experience that words cannot even begin to adequately describe, that love. And we agreed: no. Neither he nor I would ever have that again. Because to be young and in love is truly a unique and impossible to replicate experience. And I feel unbelievably grateful to have had so much of it with such a special man.

We will both love again. I’m sure of it. But we will never love with such recklessness and fearlessness. We will never fall so hard and so deep and so fast quite like that again. We agreed and reaffirmed something we’ve felt all along: just because it changed doesn’t mean it was a mistake. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been a part of.

 

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.

 

Going Inside

Knowing your marriage is over and feeling that your marriage is over are two very different things. In some ways, I have been “making up for lost time” over the past 8 months since Spouse and I separated. Tons of dating, tons of sex, new friends, new adventures, etc. But the pace at which I was going was unsustainable. So, the day after I finished checking the last big box on my sexual wish list, I realized it was time to slow down and do some feeling.

The weeks since have been a mixture of grief and peace, new hope and despair. I have not once questioned the decision to end my marriage, but the fact that it’s the right thing doesn’t make it an easy thing. We’re lucky in that the dissolution of our marriage has been respectful, kind, honest and mutually decided upon. But there is still hurt and pain and disappointment.

There are so many ways to understand what happened or didn’t happen. I can tell myself and others the story of my marriage in a million different iterations and they’d all be true. But trying to comprehend such a thing is both worthwhile and futile.

So I’ve retreated some. I abruptly stopped maintaining existing relationships with men, deciding that the important ones would continue to seek me out. I reasoned that just because I could sustain all of these casual relationships doesn’t mean that I should. And right when I decided that I felt at once relief and sadness and very quickly, exhaustion set in.

Having healed from one trauma before and also believing that life is nothing but a slew of traumas, I know that it isn’t a consistent upward trend. Healing comes in fits and starts and this is no different. Some days I believe the darkness is largely behind me and other days I feel as though I’ve only just begun letting it in.

But one thing is for sure, I am showing up. I am paying attention and I am letting myself feel what must be felt. There are still multiple men around, there is even a new one that I find really promising. But most nights I stay in with S and M watching Gilmore Girls and sewing. This is a moment for turning inward and I intend to embrace it fully.

I truly believe I can at once close off the borders to my body and my heart for healing purposes and keep them permeable enough to consider myself open to new and deep love. We shall see.