I said no sex to my husband until he goes back to his AA meetings. It feels ridiculous, but what will it mean if I break it?
It’s like the summer of 1976 in our house. R and I are living through a drought, but not from lack of rain: ours is a self-enforced sex drought. It’s only been a couple of weeks but the grass is looking distinctly grey and worn, and one of us needs to put the sprinkler back on.
Sex has never been a problem between us. I will shamefully admit to many things in our relationship being pretty dire, but we’ve always made time for sex. It is, if you like, the glue that has held us together through the seismic shifts in our relationship.
I have reviewed our conversation in bed about R giving up on his AA meetings, and I still don’t know if I’m right to have put an end to sleeping together for a while. “It’s punitive,” says R when we sit down on the sofa to watch a film.
“I know, but it is giving me the space to think. I’m confused.” In truth, when my husband agreed to the strike, I was secretly sad he didn’t put up a fight.
I miss feeling his skin against mine. We are sleeping in separate rooms. We are kissing each other on the cheek, rather than the mouth. We are, in a sense, temporarily separating, but without the drama and hassle of splitting possessions, children and money. But weirdly enough, our friendship has improved.
The film is brilliant. I take an instant fancy to both the male and female leads, and it soon becomes apparent that there is going to be plenty of sex. I’ve never really liked being the observer because I’m greedy, but films are always fun to watch if they a) turn you on and b) you can in some way re-enact a particular bit that grips you in the comfort of your own bedroom.
With the no-sex barrier yet to be lifted, I feel cheated. And yet, I am the one who made the rule.
“I’m actually getting quite desperate now,” I say as I watch my husband make the living room sofa into his bed. I feel the unstoppable, selfish urge to will him to come upstairs with me.
“You said we needed a break.”
I had. He was right. This is my problem: I often get what I want and then I forget why I actually asked for it in the first place. What had my reasons been for temporarily giving up on sex? It was the only thing that was consistently good in our relationship.
But then I remember. Sometimes, I feel that sex provides a quick solution to problems that aren’t being dealt with properly.
I try to explain this as he undresses. Watching him isn’t helping me want it – and him – any less.
“You actually think about things far too much. That’s your problem.”
With that, I leave the room. He is right again. I am constantly talking myself through problems before they have even started.
With each step towards the bedroom, I list my original reasons: R is not going to meetings; I am not sure if this relationship is going to work, so I need to have some distance; I am still angry about a lot of things from the past (the effects of R’s drinking), but I feel all right when we are connected, in the act. Afterwards though, the anger resurfaces; I’m aware that I use sex as a weapon, yet sometimes it turns into the stick that beats me. If I have the power, that feels good, but when I don’t? I feel low and rejected.
In bed, my phone beeps. (Last year, R and I set some house rules to see if we could improve our relationship. One was to ban phones from the bedroom. After a week I buckled. “It’s my alarm clock, you see.”)
“Do you still want me?”
The answer is a wholehearted yes. Yes to your body, and yes to you coming upstairs and putting an end to this semi-ridiculous sex strike. Yes to you, and us, and all of the imperfections that still exist.
Afterwards, though, the recurring voices in my head begin again. I am still awake, fending them off, when R is fast asleep and snoring next to me.