The dingy hotels, the lackluster lovers: I was hooked.
It began when I walked down the aisle, my father on my arm, in the Sonoma wine country. I had been worried about the weather (sunny, low pollen count), my dress (Vera Wang), the flowers (local florist) and the food (vegan, gluten free options). I had the entire bridal party sleep on the wine country side of the Golden Gate Bridge, in case of earthquake. As I took steps toward my groom in my carefully chosen bridal shoes, I realized that the one thing I neglected to consider was if I was marrying the right man.
I was not.
My new groom and I were friends. Pretty good friends, and I had thought that was enough to sustain a marriage. It was not.
I come from a family of strong southern women who believe in setting up housekeeping and fat babies bouncing on laps. The battle cry of, “Marry! Marry! Marry!” echoes in our Appalachian mountain home and in my grandmother’s island beach house. At 28, I was the last single in the family, a second class citizen. They spent years pestering me, looking for suitable grooms, and now I was finally in the wedding gown…saying vows to a man I clearly did not love. My new husband and I had a massive fight on our honeymoon night, sleeping in separate bedrooms. We were strangers in a week.
I should have dissolved the marriage immediately. But, no one in my family had ever been divorced. My logic was simple: I’d have affairs. Affairs require what my friend Micah termed “moral bankruptcy”. If I was not yet morally bankrupt, I was at least ready to file chapter 11.
Yet, I wished to remain married. I was socialized with the awareness that marriage is a priority, a sacred vow. I had wanted to remain single, but I was pushing against a mediated reality. Fidelity’s stronghold on my past beliefs was now slipping quickly as I was faced with a sexless, joyless marriage.
I met HipsterJohn at the Zeitgeist Bar. Tight jeans, flannel shirt, facial hair, requisite ironic non-prescription glasses. He was smoking a cigarette (rolled his own, of course) and reading poetry (likely Ginsberg, but you could substitute any beat poet or even Bukowski). After an hour of discussing politics, art, and poetry, we checked into the Express, a local hotel in the Tenderloin district. We could not go to his place as he was couch-surfing, and we could not go to my place, so we pooled our cash and found the seedy place. This hotel rented rooms by the hour. The marquee declared “clean sheets” where most marquees declared “Wi-Fi”.
The sheets were not so clean.
Later, I had the need to confess. I met my girlfriend, Micah, and told her over coffee.
“What?” She choked and actually spit out her drink, something I’d never seen happen, aside from the movies. “You slept with someone? My God!” She leaned in. “How was it?”
“Awful,” I said, not sardonically, and then added, “I’m seeing him again on Tuesday.”
The sex was indeed awful. HipsterJohn had mastered one move…the jackhammer. There was nothing sexy about it.
“So, why are you continuing the affair?” she asked.
“For the hotel soaps,” I said.
“The Express has soap?” she asked.
On my third ‘date’ with Hipster John I fell in love… with secret voicemails, with the dinginess of the fleabag. The illicit nature of the affair thrilled me. The sex was still, thankfully, quite terrible.
I met Joelle three days later.
“Are you sure you are bi?” I asked, as Joelle, covering her breasts with her hands, stared at the ceiling. We were in room 110, the usual room that HipsterJohn and I shared. I had memorized the odd stains on the ceiling. I fancied they looked like faces. One looked like Benjamin Franklin. One looked like Morrissey, and the largest one looked like my tenth grade math teacher. Joelle continued to cover her lovely breasts. I was clearly some sort of experiment for her.
“I’d like to see you again,” she said.
Stan was much older and loved to spank me. Before my marriage, I had had exactly seven sexual partners (five men and two women). Adding Stan to my weekly roundup of Express visits now placed me in the position of actually having more sex when I was married than I ever did when I was single. None of it was with my husband.
“Go ahead, call me names,” I told Micah. “You know you want to.”
My weekly confessions with Micah had moved from coffee houses to bars. She needed something much stronger to listen to my mounting infidelities.
Micah bit the edges of her lime. “Why don’t you just divorce?” This was a refrain she had sung many times. “I worry about you in that cheap hotel. You could get bed bugs. You could get STDs. You could get bedbugs with STDs!”
“I can’t divorce him.” I said, “My family would die.” I was aware that I was not standing on moral high ground, instead thigh deep in murky bits. But in my family, we stigmatize those who divorce far more than we stigmatize those who cheat. We stay in our bad marriages.
“How was it with the new guy?” she asked.
“Terrible,” I said, thrilled. “I’m addicted to bad sex.” The “new” guy, Stan, had brought me back to room 110 where he spanked me vigorously for such a marathon session that I reached across the pillow and began to read a magazine I had brought.
If any of my new lovers were satisfactory, even marginally good, there may be a chance I’d be tempted to leave my husband. And I could not leave my husband, even though the marriage was moot (we now had not spoken in three days; he felt like a roommate, a sullen roommate).
I continued seeing the same lovers: the hipster, the spanker, the distant-lesbian, because I was drawn to the forbidden surroundings, to the idea of a cheap affair. I loved giving a fake name at the hotel desk (Marilyn Manson and Debbie Harry), the coded text messages, the dark restaurants with a ‘poor to marginal’ sanitation score, where we’d we kiss freely in back booths. I even loved Room 110’s ceiling stains that resembled all those faces, Morrissey tacitly approving, my math teacher frowning at each of my fake orgasms.
Micah wondered if I should get a weekly hotel rate.
Monogamy creates a possession script. We feel the need to own the other partner. I would much rather a partner cheat on me sexually than emotionally, but most people disagree. It was not for me, but clearly, after over one year of intense fighting, marriage was not for me either. One day, I returned from a particularly unsatisfying experience with the hipster (he spent most of our time together pleasuring himself and asking how much I liked his big cock) I returned home to my husband. He was loading a bong after not working all day. I walked out.
It was not courageous. It was necessary. I’m not claiming a big journey of self-discovery. This was simply the end of my narrative with my husband.
After I announced my divorce, however, I received a letter from my sister, then another from my cousin, then an email from my aunt, a phone call from a second cousin…
All congratulating me.
The taboo had been broken.
Three weeks later, my sister filed for divorce. A month later my cousin filed. Six months later, a second cousin…
I wondered how many affairs they had all been having over the years that we’d all been too buttoned up to talk freely about. I was staring at a blank email, when a text message popped up from Joelle asking, “want to play?”
L. Hunter is a writer and editor. You can reach her at www.lockiehunter.com.