Confessions of a Sexless Marriage
I have a big confession to make. Huge. But before I do, you need a little back story.
I was a single mother with two kids for many years. I dated during that time, but truthfully, I made terrible choices in men, not to mention a couple women.
After a string of losers, I finished off with the coup de grace; a seemingly normal, intelligent man with a good job, who quickly devolved into a drug addict, and over the course of six months lost everything he ever had: kids, job, house, freedom.
Of course, by the time that relationship was over, I’d decided I’d had enough of dating.
Enter the nicest guy on the planet. Let’s call him Simon.
Simon was a longtime customer and he made me laugh every time we interacted. I hesitated when he asked me out, but in the end decided that adult conversation and a free dinner were worth the risk.
We rarely spent a day apart after that first date, and two years later we tied the knot.
I brought little to the table besides my wit and intelligence, something I’d never really used for much more than snarky, albeit pointedly observant, commentary on kids, life, you name it.
He was kind, generous, and everyone loved him. Correction, everyone loves him, including my kids. They bonded immediately, to the point that I often became the odd man out. The mustachioed villain. They were the Three Musketeers and I was d’Artagnan.
Of course, Simon seemed to not only accept, but appreciate all the things that made me ME. I’m mercurial, wild, passionate, creative, and a little crazy.
I cry easily. I also laugh easily.
I know how to have fun. Like, I fun the hell out of fun.
I write and sing and dance. Granted, I only do one of them well, but that’s not the point.
I rant, often hilariously. I know when I’m being ridiculous, and I can’t stop myself from turning it into a bit. I parody myself, much to the amusement of those around me.
I love hard, including Simon. I threw all of the passion of my mind, body and soul at him, believing I’d finally found someone who could take it all.
And for him, I worked hard to reign in my crazy. I settled down, started focusing on a career, and tamed my wanderlust. We had a solid friendship, a good sex life, and we seemed to be on the same page.
A number of years into the marriage, we were still going strong. I’d read about the “Honeymoon Period” most couples go through, and assumed we’d avoided the rut. I believed we were the exception to the rule.
I wish I could pinpoint the moment things began to change, find the catalyst. If I could, maybe I could fix it.
It was subtle, and had probably been happening for some time, but I’ll never forget the moment it hit me.
We were driving, alone, the perfect opportunity to fool around. I reached across the car to massage his thigh.
He pushed my hand away and said, “I’m driving.”
His reaction floored me. Of course he was driving, but when had that ever stopped us?
Assuming it was an isolated incident, I tried to let it go. I didn’t say anything, but after that I started to see a pattern. While he didn’t outright reject me, his enthusiasm had waned.
After a while, I realized I was the only one initiating intimate moments. I began to hold back, curious to see how long it would be before he noticed.
And that’s when our sex life evaporated.
A sexless marriage is defined as one in which sex happens less than ten times per year. Spread that over the last five years, and you’ll get a snapshot of our marriage. Recently, it has been fourteen months.
I’m not one to hold back my feelings, so naturally I started talking about it, asking questions as delicately as I could because I’ve always tried to lift my husband up, not tear him down.
What I got back was “it’s me, not you.” “I just don’t have a lot of desire these days.” “I’m not sure what’s going on.” “The kids are too old to act like we used to. They’ll know what’s going on.”
It changed nothing, and I died a little inside.
I started going to a therapist, trying to figure out what I wanted, what I was doing wrong, and explore possible solutions.
It changed nothing, and the passion inside me wilted a little more.
We went back and forth for a couple years. I would express my dissatisfaction every few months; he would agree that something was amiss.
It changed nothing, and he withdrew further.
I bought games and activities designed to strengthen our relationship. He would try them once.
I bought lingerie; he admired it before he went to sleep.
Okay, I thought, maybe there’s something medical going on. I gently encouraged him to see a doctor. After three years, he finally went and found out his testosterone count was low, but not so low as to preclude a sex drive.
And he did nothing.
Finally, a year later I pushed again. He went back to the doctor and started testosterone treatments, albeit irregularly. Unfortunately, it isn’t a magical cure for men, suddenly imbuing them with the raging sex drive of a teenager. And in the case of my husband, it has had little to no affect.
It has changed nothing.
The next step was a couple’s therapist. Perhaps I was doing something to break down the intimacy in our relationship? What could I do to bring it back? He went willingly enough, but each time I thought we’d made a breakthrough, we would go home and life would quickly revert back to the status quo.
After years of talking and crying and trying, nothing has changed.
I still love my husband. He’s my best friend, and I can talk to him about pretty much anything.
Even this issue, I’ve talked about. I’ve explained how the mercurial, wild, passionate, creative, and a little crazy woman he fell in love with is slowly dying inside, and she’s screaming at me to fix things. I’ve told him how lonely I feel without any physical intimacy. I’ve expressed that at 40 years old, I’m not ready to be celibate.
Then it happened. The moment that changed everything for me. It happened during yet another discussion about the state of our marriage, five years after the first discussion.
Simon looked me in the eye and said, “It’s as if I woke up one day, and that part of my life was over. I just have no desire anymore.”
What about me? I screamed internally. Don’t I get a say in this? Don’t I count?
If he were any other man, I would have left a long time ago, but he is still my best friend. I can’t imagine my life without him. So how do I reconcile the two parts of me? How do you fix something that seems unfixable? I’d never considered sex to a primary component of a marriage until it disappeared.
I floundered after that pivotal moment, torn between staying and leaving.
Which brings me to my confession I mentioned earlier.
A few months ago I was out with a friend and I met a man. There was something about him, something I couldn’t put my finger on in the moment, but now I realize it was the loneliness his eyes. It mirrored my own, and we began talking over a drink.
In town on business, he asked if he could have my email address and maybe have a drink when he was in town next. I agreed.
We talked through email, became friends, eventually meeting whenever he was in town. One night, he walked me to my car and tried to kiss me.
I won’t feign ignorance and say I didn’t see it coming, but I panicked in that moment and pushed him away, leaving as fast as I could. I emailed him and said I couldn’t see him again.
I’ve never been a cheater before. If I wasn’t happy in a relationship, I would leave it. I knew that I’d already crossed the line with that first drink, but I still had time before I crossed the point of no return. I’m not a religious person in any way, but I’ve always considered myself highly ethical.
I went home after that kiss and told my husband I couldn’t continue the way things were any longer and that I was going to start looking for an apartment.
He cried and begged me to give things more time.
I told him I didn’t want to end up cheating on him, and that it seemed inevitable if we stayed the course.
He promised he would go to the therapist again, and I told him to do so if he wanted, but to go by himself and for himself, not for me. He said he wanted to, and finally I relented, agreeing to stay.
He went to the therapist twice, and it didn’t take long before we had slipped right back into the status quo.
It changed nothing.
And the courage I found that night I said I was going to leave has slipped away, hiding behind my fear of losing my best friend and starting over.
You’re a coward, I tell myself, but it changes nothing.
One day, I got an email from my friend, asking me if I would reconsider meeting for a drink the next time he was in town. The bitter disappointment from my last attempt to fix things still lingered. It had been six years since Simon and I first discussed the state of our marriage.
Nothing had changed.
I emailed my friend and agreed to meet for a drink.
When we met and I looked across the table at him, I realized something in me had changed.
At the end of that evening, I let him kiss me, and this time I didn’t push him away.
Over the next three months, we met whenever he was in town. We talked and laughed and got to know each other. We’re very different people, and it’s interesting to hear his perspective on life, but I don’t think I could ever fall in love with him.
Neither of us is looking for that.
Finally, during one of his recent visits, we went to his hotel room and crossed the final line. It was a moment I should regret.
I don’t, however, because I’d forgotten what it felt like to have a man kiss me like he wanted it.
I’d forgotten what if felt like to be touched with passion.
I’d forgotten how a man’s hot skin felt against mine.
I’d forgotten how good it felt when that delicious tension built up inside, rising to a crescendo.
I’d forgotten what if felt like to be mercurial, wild, passionate, creative, and a little crazy.
I’d forgotten what it felt like to be ME.
Will I see him again? Yes.
Do I feel guilty? Yes, but not for the reasons you think. I feel guilty for NOT feeling guilty about it.
Intellectually, I tell myself that what I’m doing is wrong, but emotionally it doesn’t seem feel way. Emotionally, I feel as though I’m taking a long, deep breath after years of being denied oxygen.
I know this situation can’t last. I know that eventually I will have to end it either way and make a decision. It’s inevitable.
But I’ve learned something about the world, and about myself.
I’ve learned that it’s easy to judge what is moral and ethical, but it’s harder to accept that life isn’t so black and white. It’s easy to tell someone to do the right thing, but it’s harder to grasp what that is. It’s easy to draw a line in the sand, but it’s harder to accept that the lines move sometimes.
Writing this story down has been hard, intensely personal and I know a lot of people will look down on me for what I’ve done. They’ll think I’m an entitled, spoiled, middleclass wife. Or a slut. They’ll believe I’m amoral and unethical.
Just leave, they’d tell me. Do the right thing.
And it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? End a marriage, tear a family apart, and lose my best friend. Change our entire world.
And for what? For something he doesn’t want anyway. He would be perfectly content if we never had sex again.
Truthfully, I don’t need anyone to say those things to me. There is nothing anyone can say to me that I haven’t said to myself dozens of times.
I’m telling my story anyway. I know there are many people experiencing the same thing I’m experiencing. They’re agonizing over their choices, tearing themselves to pieces, trying to ease their pain.
I told Simon once I felt a little like he was holding me captive. “You don’t want me,” I told him, “but no one else can have me either.” He agreed, saying he could understand why I felt that way.
It changed nothing, and now I realize sometimes you reach a breaking point. Sometimes right and wrong meld together.
I’m no saint, but I’m no devil either. What I am is a flesh and blood woman trying to find her way back to herself, trying to find the woman she once loved so much.
I’m mercurial, wild, passionate, creative, and a little crazy.
I like that woman.
She cries easily. And laughs easily.
She knows how to have fun.
She writes and sings and dances.
She goes into silly rants, mocking herself as much as others.
She loves hard, with all the passion of her mind, body and soul.
Finding her again has been a mixed blessing, but now that she’s back, I’ve realized I can’t live without her again. I shouldn’t have to.
I know this story sounds like it’s about sex. But it really isn’t. It’s really about loneliness and expectations.
Simon and I expected to find fulfillment in each other, but it was a faulty expectation to believe we could be each other’s everything.
We expected we would always find a middle ground, but it was a faulty expectation to think the two sides would always meet.
We molded our lives together, but it was a faulty expectation to think we could change everything about ourselves to suit the other.
I expected my husband would always love me the way he did when we met, without realizing that nothing ever stays the same.
And Simon? Well, he changed the rules of our relationship without discussion or warning, and expected that I would follow suit.
As it turns out, that’s something I just can’t do.