You would think that after 41 years on this planet that you’d have a good grasp on how to do this thing called life. That’s what I thought, when I was a kid. I could not wait to grow up and be in control of my own life. Never did I think I would still feel like such a child in my mind in some ways, that I would continue to see some things in black and white, or that I’d see things more clearly—or really just in more colors–for a while, forget, revert to black and white, and then come back again. I gain some new understanding, decide this is it, then later realize, no, that was not it. There is no it; everything just changes all the time. That is the only constant.
This is the in-color phase of my journey. It’s that moment when, if you’re like me, you realize everyone else knew something you didn’t, like when I first learned about menstruation and sex. There was a hidden, unspoken world everyone else was okay with, casual about, but it was a big deal to me. Until it wasn’t.
It’s also that moment when I realize I can do whatever the hell I want to do. Within reason, of course. I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I don’t have to answer to anyone. People can think whatever they want; I cannot control that, nor do I really give a shit. Okay, I give a shit, but I’m starting not to. Is this what happens after your mom dies? Maybe it would happen anyway. It’s not like Mom would not want me to be my own person; that’s exactly what she did want for me. If anything inhibits me, it’s my inner grandmother, my dad’s mom’s voice saying, Good girls don’t do that.
Then I have to remember that Grandma kept a secret for decades. A little secret she let slip a couple of years ago when she was in the hospital, when my dad and his siblings had to get some paperwork out of her house for the hospital, to come across the marriage certificate showing that she and my grandfather got married after my dad’s birthdate. I know, right? Scandalous.
It gets better.
So my dad asks my grandma about this, and she must have been under the influence of medication because for some reason, somehow she confided that during WWII my grandfather got a woman in England pregnant and married her before coming back to the States to marry my grandma.
That does not fit the family story she’s been romanticizing to us for decades about how she met Granddaddy just before he went off to the war, waited for him while he was gone, they sent each other love letters the whole time, presumably they both remained virginal and pure as the driven snow during the three years or however long it was he was there, and then he came back and married her, then they had my dad.
The jaded me concluded that he was probably just getting drunk and having sex with everyone in sight and maybe she was too back here in the States. Maybe my grandfather isn’t even my dad’s biological dad. Maybe Grandma was sleeping with the whole town. Then she became a reformed Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, preaching to everyone about how important God is, and how, when my teenage cousin got a girl pregnant, she shook her head in judgment. She quoted my grandfather: “He’s got a tough road to hoe.” I interpreted that as judgment then but it was just truth.
The truth is probably somewhere in between. It doesn’t mean my grandfather didn’t love my grandma, or that she didn’t love him. It doesn’t mean both or either of them were sleeping with everyone in town.
There’s this passage in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous that describes how we can sometimes allow our instincts to run rampant, how we will dress up lust as love because it looks better that way. It feels better that way. After spending a year and a half with someone who I believed was my soul mate, I really do not (did not?) want to revert to sleeping with someone I’m not in love with. It just seems so… depressing and empty. Quite frankly, it’s not as much fun. Or passionate. It’s hard to look someone in the eyes I’m not in love with.
One of my friends said, “Just sleep with someone. Or not. You’re a grown-ass woman.”
Good point. We’re all consenting adults here.
A couple of years ago, after my ex and I split, to my idea of getting an FWB, my sponsor said, “Try it. See how it goes.”
I’ll stop for a moment to define FWB (friend with benefits). My sponsor defines it as someone you spend time with in bed together but nothing else. My definition is that it’s a partner much like a boyfriend or girlfriend except that you know you’re not in love, don’t pretend to be, and you go out on dates together, and have sex with each other, but you have no commitment to one another, except the monogamy part, and it’s all short-term.
She didn’t think I could do it, or that any woman can do it without having an emotional connection afterwards, because oxytocin produced during or after sex makes us think we’re in love. For some reason it doesn’t affect the guy the same way, which maybe has to do with how men want to spread their seed and women presumably want to settle down and have babies. I don’t believe this theory but according to her it’s a biological fact.
At the time of my second divorce, I changed sponsors. My former sponsor had recommended that I stay single and celibate for a year after my divorce, claiming that she did so for eight years after hers and if she can do it anyone can. My then-new, now-current sponsor suggested I give this whole FWB thing a try. She knows that I learn by doing.
What happened was that I wound up in a nine-month relationship with someone who got on my last nerve because I wanted a regular FWB, not because I fell in love with him. It was not empowering. There was no freedom or strength in it. It was like an extended one-night stand.
This whole lust-dressed-up-as-love theory, IMO, is not just an alcoholic thing. It’s a societal thing, a cultural story that has become so ingrained in me that when I become attracted to someone I imagine how we will live together, even before the first date. It’s the reason why my former roommate bought me a Nicholas Sparks book for Christmas. “You like love, so I thought of you when I picked this up.” Ie, he thought of me as someone who believes in fairy tale romances from a writer who produces formulaic Hollywood scripts for big money that sells to a public who wants so badly to believe that it’s true. My grandma told us this story for decades because that’s a more romantic story than the reality. It was made for the movies.
Listen, I told my sponsor recently. I know I was all about not being with anyone until I find love again, but I can’t do this for much longer. Celibacy is not something I have to do, and I ain’t gonna.
“You don’t have to marry everyone you sleep with,” she said. Her perspective seems to have changed. Why, I wonder. She feels that I am limiting myself by going back to Steven and not staying open to dating other guys. He has not committed to me, ever, and we don’t even have a date set for when we’re meeting again. She still doesn’t think I’m capable of having an FWB without getting attached, but she gave me the same advice: Try it and see what happens.
Jump into the fire and see what happens.
One of my guy friends says there’s no One, there are just your favorites. My sponsor says there are many Ones you meet throughout your lifetime. I like to think my mom and her husband were The Ones for each other, but just a few months after her death he was already talking about meeting someone else. My grandfather apparently cheated on my grandmother all the time, but she never even dated anyone in the 20 years since his death.
I’d wanted to believe Steven was The One, that we met each other in a previous lifetime, and will be together again in another lifetime, that we will always be together. And maybe we were and maybe we will but it doesn’t mean there aren’t others who I’ve met and others I will meet in the future. It doesn’t mean he and I will get back together.
Today I feel like we most definitely will not get back together.
Will I get an FWB? Maybe. Maybe not. In case you haven’t noticed, I change my mind every day. The best thing to do, I’ve found, is just to try to take everything day by day. Decide what my intent is, and put that out into the universe. That’s what my sponsor advised. What is it that I really want?
Here’s one of my favorite songs by Neko Case: