Sunday, September 7, 2014

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Sex Is Not An Obligation


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It was around 9:30 on a Tuesday. Our two oldest, Tristan (age 7) and Norah (age 5) were in bed, and my wife Mel was feeding our new baby on the sofa. I was sitting across from her in an easy chair, leaning down and filling my gym bag for the following day. Moments earlier I had been messing around online and came across a story in the Huffington Post about a guy making a spreadsheet to track all the times he’d been turned down by his wife. The spreadsheet was originally posted on Reddit, and online commenters had a field day.

I asked Mel if she’d seen the story, and she said she hadn’t. So I told her about it. She didn’t look at me and scoff, like this guy was pathetic. And she didn’t get angry and say that this man was a real low-life. Instead she said, “That’s really sad.”

And like Mel, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for this marriage. Many of the comments were people lashing out at this man’s strange attempt to communicate to his wife about something he viewed as a problem in their marriage. But obviously, a lack of sex was simply the tip of the iceberg. Rather than discuss the situation with her husband in private, trying to find a resolution, perhaps seek counseling, the wife decided to post the spreadsheet online and create a viral sensation so the World Wide Web could mock the poor fellow.

“You know… as a man who’s been married for ten years, this story really hit home,” I said.

Mel nodded. Then she exhaled, and asked, “You’re not going to show me a spreadsheet, are you?”

Frequency of sex is something that we’ve struggled with a lot in our marriage. I think a lot of marriages have this same problem, particularly when there are small kids in the home. In fact, we’ve probably fought about sex more than anything else during our time together.

I laughed, and then I said, “No. It’s just that… for a long time I made the assumption that sex was something I was owed. Something that you were obligated to give me, and if you didn’t then you were doing something wrong. I have to assume that was the logic behind the spreadsheet.”

I let out a deep breath and continued, “In fact, there was a time, early in our marriage, just after we had Tristan, that I thought about making a list of all the times you turned me down.” Then I let it all out. The things I’d been trying to say for years. I told her how few things fog my mind like sex. When we don’t have sex, I get painful. I get lonely. I get frustrated. I look at other women more, which I hate, but somehow do subconsciously, before I have a chance to stop myself. I question my marriage more, which I hate the most. My self-confidence goes down. I feel less attractive. I feel like I’ve lost something, my charm, my appeal, my ability to seduce the woman I love.

“I find you more attractive now than I did when we met,” I said. “That makes things more complicated.” I went on, telling Mel that I know her more now. I understand her more. I rely on her more. Her advice is better. She smells familiar. Her smile is richer now, more sincere. Her hips curve. Her eyes are mature. Her hands are compassionate. Her stride is confident.

“You’re a real beauty,” I said. “And I have to assume that this guy must have used this spreadsheet as a way to communicate with his wife that he was feeling those same conflicted emotions that I often feel when we don’t have sex. He probably felt she was not living up to her duties. And when I think about it like that, marriage suddenly becomes a list of obligations rather than a partnership. I guess what I’m saying is, I want us to have something rooted in love and compassion. I want you to want to have sex with me. Not feel like it’s something you have to do. I suppose I’ve always wanted that, and I don’t know if I’ve ever told you.”  

It took me a long time to stop thinking about sex as an obligation. In fact, I was nearly 30 before I came to that conclusion. I’m now 32. Figuring this out didn’t result in more sex, but it did make me better understand that sex was not something owed to me, like it was a handout, but rather something that I needed to continually work for, same as everything in marriage.

I paused for a moment. I was sitting across from Mel in a chair, so I got up and sat beside her on the sofa. “So I suppose my question now is, how can I woo you more? What can I do differently? I mean, I try to help out with the kids, and be supportive. I tell you that I love you every day, and I try to bring you flowers or something once a month. But at the same time, I know that I’m really bad at taking you out, and I have a lot of gross habits…”

Mel thought for a moment. She let out a breath. “I don’t think there is anything more you can do. Or at least I’m not going to ask you to do anything more. You do a lot. You work two jobs. You help out. You’re a good dad, and I love you. It’s not that I don’t want to have sex with you. There is just so much in the way.” She went on, telling me some of the details of her busy life, her homework, caring for the new baby, chores, and so on. “And you’re busy too,” she said. “I suppose what bothers me the most about every time we talk about sex is that you make it out like I’m the problem. But I’m not. Life is the problem. You don’t need to make me a spreadsheet for me to know that we don’t have as much sex as we did before kids. I know that. It bugs me, too. And if you did make one, I think it would just prove that we have busy lives.”

Part of me was relieved by what Mel said. It meant that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. But I will admit that part of me was frustrated, too, because it felt like there was nothing more I could do to make sex a more consistent part of our relationship. I have to assume that a lot of men feel caught in this trap between young children and making ends meet, and regular sex with their wife.

I told her that I didn’t think that she was the problem, and I was sorry if I came off that way. “It’s more that I’m just frustrated with the situation.”

I thought a lot about what she said, and like I often do, I realized that she was right. Mel is not the kind of person to say, “I have a headache,” or some other cliché statement to get out of sex. The excuses on our spreadsheet would be things like, “I was up most of the night feeding the baby, and I just want to go to sleep” or “I have a paper due in the morning, and I couldn’t get to it during the day because Norah had a meltdown,” or “I haven’t seen you much all week. Can’t we just sit and watch a movie together?” When Mel turns me down, it isn’t her giving an excuse or some bullshit way of getting out of having sex because she doesn’t find me attractive anymore. It’s just the fact that her life is busy. And my life is busy. And we have young kids.

I leaned over and kissed my wife, and it seemed fitting that our new baby was still in her arms, between us.

“Ok,” I said. “I get it. I don’t love it. But I get it.”

Mel smiled and said, “Thank you.”

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.  
Photo by Lucinda Higley


Tracy S said...

I was a bit stunned that there were no comments written on this post so far. But then I started writing and got a bit nervous about commenting on this topic. I am going to do it anyways. My husband and I have been married 9 years and we have 3 children, 5, 3, and 6 months. Your story is very similar to ours. Clint, you expressed your thoughts so clearly, I appreciate it and Mel you were spot on. I have the most amazing husband who adores me and does so much for me to show his love. So it's not that, it's just life. My only thought is, since we now know, all the areas of a mans soul it influences, maybe it could be put slightly higher on the priority list? I ask that question for myself more than anything.