Marriage; Does Half Plus Half Make Whole?
Spoiler alert: No.
I was recently interviewing a sex therapist out of Los Angeles for an article I'm writing. I like to drop this into all my conversations because it makes me sound SO COOL, and because it was such an enlightening and positive conversation. I want to to discuss all the things I've learned. Just maybe not at school pickup with moms I barely know? Simmer down, Sarah.
Anywho. Both the sex therapist I recently interviewed (did you hear about that?!) and other women I talked to emphasized how critical it is to maintain a unique self-esteem and sexual identity independent of a long-term partner. To be loved and give love, you have to know how to love yourself, it seems. My specific questions had to do with reclaiming sexual identity/sex drive after kids, and all agreed that it's critical to find quality time by yourself, to pursue your own rest and pleasure, and to love on yourself. This is really interesting to me, as someone who met and married super early in life. I think there's a bit of codependency that occurs when you're figuring out who you are in tandem with another person. It's a beautiful thing when you shift and change in parallel, but sometimes I think our identities can get too woven and we forget to pursue ourselves. ESPECIALLY when we have little kids and our 'self' is further reduced to what we are to another person. I know for me, in the thick of raising little kids, I thought I needed to devote any kid-free and work-free energy I had to my partner, because we were getting so much less "us time" than we did prior to kids and the relationship felt weird, distant, a little fractured. It felt selfish to chose myself, time alone, pursuits of my hobbies and peace...and I thought selfish was the worst thing I could be. Constantly choosing someone else just led to resentment, bitterness, and more burnout. It's only been in the past few years that I've realized we need to nurture ourselves- for our own wellness, and for the partnership. The wisdom of age and experience, I guess.
I'd love to have saved myself so much pain- if I could tell my younger self something, it would be not to drop myself in the pursuit of someone else's happiness- and I would tell him the same thing. Ultimately, the thing we want most in ourselves and our partners is self-awareness, right? Figure out what you want and be clear about it. And since I'm doing the same for myself, it won't scare me, it won't be a threat, it will be exciting, a relief to know that I'm getting a fully realized, independent version of you that's capable of thriving on your own AND with me, and vice-versa.
Specifically regarding sexuality, the sex therapist and the women I interviewed all said that we have to find their own version of sexy/we have to have a sexual self independent of our partners- I was like, huh-wha? But the heart bone's connected to the BONE bone, right? They emphasized that there's no way another person can make you feel worthy or whole, that you need to feel that way yourself and then bring that WHOLE self to the other person...so one full person plus one full person makes two full people instead of this halvsies making one bullshit.
So how do we make this happen in practical terms? I mean, masturbation is one important part of it, not to put to fine a point on it. The sex therapist and all the women talked about how religious culture interferes with us ever getting to know how to satisfy ourselves- inserting shame and silence into this critical facet of ourselves- and how it harms us and our partnerships. Another important thing is getting away for regular alone time- my friend and her husband wisely have always scheduled weekends away alone (not as a couple- just one at a time, someone stays back with the kids) for a night or two to do whatever- take long baths, read, wack off, watch the shows and eat the food their partner hates, just to figure out who they are alone when no one's witnessing, judging, questioning, needing. It's so wise and it's so rare. There are other things, of course- hobbies and disappearing into headphones for a while listening to books/music that are only yours, having independent friendships, exercising, etc.
So...for the couple to thrive, each person needs to make themselves whole...and then they can talk about how they encounter each others holes. Please be proud of me that it took me this long to make that joke, my God it was hard. (Giggity)