I have always thought of monogamy as a gift — a loyal commitment I should be able to give my partner in an ongoing, loving relationship. But it’s the “should” that I balk at. I would prefer monogamy to come naturally, like the love I have for my children, but for me (and the longer I’m around, the more I realize this is true for most men) it doesn’t work that way. Nor is monogamy a desired state. It’s not natural, it’s cultural, and appears to make some societies run smoother. It gets you on a less complicated route from cradle to grave.
In the past, I have allowed myself to labor under the illusion that fully conscious honest unspoken agreements could be struck with women who were essentially strangers and that an arrangement could exist (other than masturbation) called uncomplicated sex. PROBLEM-FREE FUCKING! WHOOPEE! But with time we all find out that this kind of fucking is just swimming on the surface. Once you dive down and look into each other’s eyes and see what’s deeper, you’re in over your head. That’s when relationships get much more humane, much more complicated, and much more difficult to maintain with more than one woman.
I did try to carry on a duplicitous relationship with two women for about two years and I don’t think I could or would ever want to try it again. I expect that if both women knew — if it was a conscious, adult, consenting triangle — then it might have been different . . . for awhile. But no, it was that old lopsided man-has-woman-on-the-side situation, and it all blew up when the woman on the side got pregnant and my wife did not. That was very heavy. The heaviest thing I’ve ever experienced. I really was not prepared for any of it. I was fifty-one years old and had never made a woman pregnant in my life. It was something I’d really given up thinking about. It was just not an issue. In fact, while I was having the long affair with Kathie, I was using condoms mostly just as a precaution against AIDS. The fear of pregnancy had all but slipped my mind.
When Kathie — with whom I’d been having what I thought was an uncomplicated, undemanding relationship based on fun fucking, recreational drugs and long walks in the woods — got pregnant, my whole world changed, or maybe I should say, the two separate worlds had come together with a crash. I thought back to a hotel room in Cambridge where I was lying beside Kathie in a state of after-intercourse bliss and her saying, “You know if I get pregnant with you, I’m going to want to keep the child.” A stupefying, “whatever,” had played in the back of my head as I dozed. Now I realized that I would have to make a decision. I never dreamed that it would come to this, that I would have to choose between Kathie and my wife, Ramona.
I have to tell you that the freedom of choice is almost unbearable for me. I often find myself thinking more about the road not taken than the one I took. As a result, I am a very messy chooser. I tend to get paralyzed by the choice, then freak out, short circuit, act out and drive everyone nuts. So I was acting partly crazy from the time Kathie told me she was pregnant up until the time I first held my eight-month-old son in my arms. By then I had driven my wife away and most of our mutual friends. I came to realize that if there is anything comforting about death it is that there is no choice involved.
But of course, part of the choice was made for me by biology. Biological destiny. I couldn’t have done it by myself, even in my head. After my wife left me to try to build and create her own boundaries, I did take a little time to myself, enough to allow me (question: Who is the “I” that allows the “me” and who is the “me”?) to realize that I needed and wanted at last to see my son.
When I arrived at her loft, Kathie, whom I’d not touched for almost two years, greeted me in a polite and formal way and told me that she would go wake up Forrest so that I could meet him. But it was I who resisted and said, “But don’t you want to go to bed first?” She really looked good. She was in great shape for a woman who’d just had a baby. And when she said, “What makes you think I want to go bed with you,” her resistance turned me on. I think I responded, “Because I think it would be good for both of us.” And it was. Like old times, we selected one of her roommate’s chambers (she shared her loft with three other people). It was the female roommate’s bed that always made things a little hotter.
I was amazed that after all the lawyers, the money and the just plain shitty sadness that had come and gone, we could still connect in such a fully satisfying way. We went through all of our favorite positions. The best aspect of sex with Kathie came back. I was amazed that it was not lost. She is what I call a phallic woman. She knows how to actively fuck me, and I like that. I liked the way we passed active and passive energy back and forth. At some points I felt my erection was no longer mine, but belonged to both of us with no separation. There was a nice rhythm of alternating domination, and it ended in mutual orgasm. It was like very good meat and potatoes comfort food, a homecoming — but as though no time had passed between us. Then came the waking of the child, like some fantasy of cause and effect: here’s what you do to have a baby and here is the baby. Very unreal.
In my recent book, It’s a Slippery Slope, I talk at length about the whole phenomenon of first seeing my son. I describe him as “a little innocent Archimedes who made a fulcrum large enough to break the fusion, a fusion I never dreamed I wanted broken between Ramona and me. No other woman could have done that . . . Back then there was always another woman . . . but there was never another son . . . I loved my son Forrest for the way he loved Kathie, his mom, and turned her into a mother before I could, leaving me to get to know and love her for the woman she is.” But that’s another story, and you can read it there if you want to.
Now, in the wake of that big dramatic/traumatic life shift there are a couple of unexpected changes in my sexual life. One is rather easily called conscience, the other I might label my “biological clock.” The biological clock is an entity I had never really known existed in men because women so vehemently claim it for themselves. But it does exist for men and it gets turned on sooner or later. The maddening issue for women is the brevity of their clocks in relationship to the longevity of our male clocks. Now I’m pretty sure that the more I fucked around the more my bio-clock, which I couldn’t hear, was going off. Also, I suppose I was reconnecting with the primal need to spread my seed from nest to nest until one took and grew. It was a very basic and non-discriminating drive, an old story. But something was complete when my first son, and then just as unexpectedly, my second son was born. That really slowed me down — in a good way. It gave me the opportunity to experience a new kind of love that was not just based on carnal attractions. At its best it opened me up. It made me fuller. It made me want to be at home more.
Another odd and unexpected condition the children created was that their presence made Kathie often unavailable for sex. This unavailability recreated the dynamic sexual tension that was so present when we were having our affair. The children put boundaries on and around our desire and forced us to be creative, to seek out and find our little private erotic spaces.
That’s when I slowly discovered for myself the redirection of sexual energy, sometimes referred to as “sublimation.” I’d read about tantric sex for years, but as it turned out, it was downhill skiing that proved to be my means of redirecting sexual energy. I didn’t entirely give up on sex but found a way to be less compulsive with it. I’ve always experienced my sexual impulse as coming from the base of my spine and then spreading out from there. I often think of it as like the color and flavor spot that used to be in the center of the margarine in the late ’40s when my mom would hand me what looked like a big cellophane-wrapped white brick of lard. Then, as I began to squeeze it, that little orange sun of color and flavor would break and spread out until the whole packet was a delicious yellow color. I’ve done yoga every morning for thirty years and that is what happens to the energy in my body. At first I feel and can sometimes visualize that flavor bud in the base of my spine and then I feel it spread into my whole body until I’m quite naturally awake. That for me is the best time to have sex if I’m going to have it (if Kathie is in the mood and the children are occupied somewhere else). But, as is often the case, I am left to redirect it without losing it. For me that means staying physical (not sitting down to write, read and think).
Just last year I was able to really test it out at an intensive skiing workshop. At the end of the day I felt like I’d just had a seven-hour orgasm. And I know now what my surfer friends are always talking about — the supreme redirection of sexual energy.
So, monogamy goes on or I should say, because it is not a natural state, we make it go on. Sometimes when I’m about to go out on the road on tour I fall into the old habit of buying a box of condoms “just in case.” But Kathie always finds them and writes little notes on them in red ink like: “Think of your family in a time of need.” Or: “Do you really want to use these?”
I laugh when I read these messages. They are like little post cards from home. Then I get out my family photos, look at them, take a cold shower and go for a walk.
But I do have to say that if I can believe in a future and not act on every impulsive sexual temptation that comes my way, when I get home to Kathie, we are able to share in the creation of the hot sex I didn’t have on the road. My hotel rooms have changed from sex pads to sanctuaries. Before, hotels rooms were always lonely places that cried out for erotic relationships to fill them. I couldn’t walk into one without thinking of sex with the unknown woman soon to be met. And often, the cheaper the hotel, the more driven I was to find after-hours companions. Now in my contracts, I request four-star hotels where I can treat myself to comfort, where I can be alone and be comfortable. If I am out on the road for too long without a visit from Kathie, and that old sexual energy builds up like a hot rock in my groin, I try to sublimate it. Occasionally I give into it with my favorite form of masturbation. And I swear to Kathie, even though she doesn’t believe it, that that’s why I sometimes carry condoms with me. I use those condoms with the little notes she’s written on them to lend some realism to my masturbation. I place two firm couch pillows on the floor, stacked on top of each other, unroll a lubricated condom, and go to town. It makes for full, hip-thrusting, toes-to-nose orgasms. It’s really a good way to get full release and free up your hands. To grab your own ass and pretend it’s a surprise. And, it works, it really does.
So everything is working and in balance now. I try to avoid temptation rather than throw myself into the center of it. When unknown women smile and tell me that they love me, I try to remember that they mean they love my work, they love my image, my public self. My private self is really plugged into Kathie (and hers into me); I’ve become a family man.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s Personal Essays in 1998.