Mel and I were watching a movie while snuggling on a small love seat in our bedroom the first time we heard the people above us having sex.
We’d been married about three months at the time, both of us were in our early 20s, and we were living in a small two-bedroom condo in Provo, Utah.
It sounded like loud cliché sex from a movie: squeaking bed frame, headboard slamming, woman moaning, man grunting, and so on. I’d never heard anything like it in real life.
Mel and I looked at each other and started laughing. The people upstairs had just moved in. I was in college at the time, and I’d heard them haul in furniture while I was studying one evening. These condos were just outside a university, so people were constantly moving in and out. When we first moved in, I tried to get to know my neighbors, but they kept changing soon after we’d become friends, so by the time the new people above me moved in, I didn’t make the effort to run up stairs and meet them because I assumed they’d be leaving in a few months anyways.
As I heard these people having loud, gritty sex, I was grateful I didn’t know what they looked like. What if they were unattractive?
“This is remarkable,” I said. “Have you met these people? You know, don’t answer that question. I don’t want to know. If they are really ugly, the image is going to kill me. I will just assume they are supermodels.”
Mel leaned to the end of the loveseat and looked up. She was wearing blue jeans with a little dirt on them from her day job at a greenhouse. Her brown hair was shoulder length and pulled back.
“No, I haven’t met them,” she said. “But this is ridiculous. Our sex doesn’t sound like that, does it?”
I thought about it for a moment. I listened to the sounds a little more, and then I said, “Nope.”
Mel looked relieved, and thinking back, I realize that listening to our neighbors have sex really brought to light the fact that Mel and I had very different sexual expectations. We’d waited until marriage to have sex, and thinking back on those early months, our sex reminded me of two clumsy dancers trying to figure out each other’s moves. But to me, the people upstairs sounded like they had real talent.
Mel listened with a frown on her face. Her reaction was similar to the face she gave the first time I forgot to lock the bathroom door and she walked in on me. It was one of disgust. She seemed to be thinking: Thank goodness our sex doesn’t sound like that. While I, on the other hand, was weighted with this question: Why doesn’t our sex sound like that?
I let out my competitive side. “Are we going to let them beat us?” I asked. “We should have a sex war,” I suggested. “We should try and out voice them.”
Mel looked at me like I was crazy. Like I’d just asked her to have sex on film, or something. Like I was out of my mind. Like there was something wrong with me.
“I can’t with that going on,” she said. “Way to distracting. It sounds like these people are in the room with us. Ugh, this place is so crappy.”
And in fact, she was right. When either of us used the restroom, we could hear it in every room. One evening, I was in our living room studying, and I could hear the guy next-door pouring milk on his Rice Krispies. There really were no secrets in that complex. We could hear conversations, screaming children, and now, were listening to other people having sex. It made me wonder what elements of our lives others were hearing. Did the people next door hear us having sex? Did we make them feel better or worse about their sex lives? Were they snickering at us? Or were they frustrated because we sounded like pros in comparison to them?
Sex is intimate, and listening to other people, real people, caused this strange compare and contrast early in my marriage. It made me wonder if we were doing it wrong.
I looked up, and noticed that the ceiling plaster was falling in little flakes due to all the movement upstairs.
Our neighbors had loud sex for about 45 minutes. After about 20 minutes of trying to drown it out by turning on a box fan and turning up the TV, we went into the living room to finish our movie. But we could still hear it. In fact, we could hear it in every room of the condo. Mel finally suggested that we go for a drive, but by the time we got our shoes on, they were done.
“Oh… good,” Mel said. “You should go talk to them. Tell them that they need to keep it down.”
I thought about her request, and realized that there was no way I was having that conversation.
“Nope,” I said. “Not doing it. You go talk to them.”
I was sitting on our living room sofa. Mel was in the kitchen, standing, with her hands on her hips. She had a stern look, one that said, you need to do something. However, my plan was to do nothing. I never wanted to see those people. I had no desire to know what they looked like. And, it sounded like this guy had a good thing going, and in line with man code, I didn’t want to ruin it for him.
“Check it out,” I said, “These people will be gone a month, maybe two, max. We’ve lived here four months, and they are the third neighbors we’ve had up there. And really, there is no way they can have sex that loud all the time. It’s just not natural. He was probably gone in the military, or something, and needed to work off some aggression.”
Mel thought about it for a moment. “Sound to me like he was in prison,” she said.
“Fine,” Mel said. “But if they keep it up you need to do something.”
I didn’t respond. I had no intentions of doing anything.
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