I don’t even remember the moment that pushed me over the edge.
The foundation of my marriage had been eroding for years, but it wasn’t just about my marriage. It was also about fear that time was running out for me as a woman.
With two young children and a busy job in an industry that is 90% female, I had come to a scary realization.
I wouldn’t even be able to find an affair if I wanted one.
I spent my days in my house, at work, and in my house again. The most sexual attention I’d gotten in years was when the bartender at my work Christmas party winked at me (and let me tell you — that man deserves everything he wants in life, because that wink sustained me for months).
I had just turned 37 years old. All of my fears of aging and time running out felt like a weight crushing me slowly into a smaller version of myself.
So in a moment of desperation, I demanded that my husband and I try it. I threatened divorce if not.
A week later, I dove into an open marriage with zero planning and zero plan. I’ve written elsewhere about the sexual adventures that followed.
But my brief experiment with an open marriage wasn’t just a sexual journey. It also was what I needed to feel human again.
I am not the first to suggest that a sexual affair can deliver a renewed sense of aliveness. Esther Perel speaks of the jolt of life people often feel when engaged in an affair. She also explains that our sense of the “erotic” is more than just sex.
The sex I started having with other men was meaningful and powerful. But I was also surprised by some of the other side effects of my open marriage.
I started painting again
I spent much of my childhood drawing. I’m a natural artist. But I hadn’t drawn or painted in years. Like many other “hobbies,” this was pushed aside by work, parenting duties, and the doubt that I was never actually that good.
But when I started dating other men while married, my watercolors came out again.
I developed my own style with ink pens and watercolors, and I started practicing by painting photographs in the New Yorker. When I fell in love with a man named Collin, I spent hours painting a photo of a Joshua Tree he had taken on one of his favorite hikes, and I gifted it to him on his 43rd birthday.
In our almost two decades together, I have still never gifted my husband a piece of my own artwork.
I felt good in my body
From the outside, my body was the same body it had been two months before. But I carried myself differently.
I felt sexy again, even as a mom who spent all of her days in COVID quarantine. I bought sexy lingerie just to wear under my clothes.
I liked what I saw when I passed by the mirror. Of course, a big part of this was the rush of validation I was receiving from men. But it was also due to a sense of new-found confidence and joy that I hadn’t felt in so long.
Music made me feel again
Music has always meant the world to me. I still have my bulky CD books with all the mix CDs that represent the various stages of my formative years (some with choice titles like “Suite 401D Going Out Mix!!!!”)
But a scary thing had happened to me in the past few years of motherhood: I had stopped listening to music.
Suddenly I was having sex with other men and listening to music again. I still get a rush from one of the songs I would listen to on repeat on my drive to Collin’s house.
I learned about my own sexuality
Well duh. But I’m not just talking about having sex again.
That part was great, but I also found I was more curious than ever about understanding myself sexually.
I subscribed to OMG YES, and like a teenager I started watching their videos and learning about my own pleasure one step at a time.
. . .
My open marriage didn’t have a tidy ending. But two years later, I still benefit from the renewed sense of life that the experience gifted me. And I often come back to the modern-day version of a mix CD that I made during that time. It’s a Spotify playlist with the most relevant title: “michelle.”
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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