SHE SAID: Ten minutes at Yaddo -- an artist's colony housed in a turn-of-the-century mansion in Upstate New York -- and I was wondering, What could I possibly have done to deserve this beautiful, this perfect of a salvation? Peace, quiet, nice, intelligent, talented people, my own charming writing studio. All of my meals made. A pool. A forest. A rose garden. I didn't recognize myself for a little while -- no husband, no family dramas. No bills to avoid. No TV. No therapy. No couple's therapy.
And then there was the Drinks Room, where I could be found virtually every night for the first two or so rainy weeks hanging out with a small group of writers. I loved that there was a Drinks Room and I loved the Drinks Room. Dark-gold velvet upholstery, deep mahogany furniture, oil paintings hung salon style, marble busts, a grand fireplace and two heavy sliding doors that kept the noise inside. Heaven inside of heaven.
One night after a typical night of scotches and talking about our lives for hours, I found myself in bed being kept awake by my buzzing, lit-up body. I was caught totally off guard. I couldn't believe that I could possibly have been so oblivious as to miss the super strong electrician who had snuck into the fuse box inside my body and heaved down on the handle eliciting that unwriteable sound that is made when thirty million gazillion watts of energy are called into action. But as soon as they were on, I knew who the energy source was: The graying hair writer from the Drinks Room group. Shocked by the light, I couldn't find the fucking switch.
I didn't love it that the next night, after dinner, I was excited to join the Energy Source on a walk down the drama drive, around the ponds, through the rose garden underneath the bright moon aching to hold hands and make out. Instead I walked with my hands behind my back, each one holding the other from reaching out.
Trying to fall asleep that night was worse than the night before. There is no way you could be sitting next to me in the dark and not notice my body glowing and vibrating. What is happening to me? I wondered. How did this happen? Why do I find this man so attractive? Am I really married? How dare I talk to him all night and lead him on, I asked/chastised myself. Now, Jennifer, Miss Holier-than-thou, you are now the unavailable, flirting, leading-him-on one that you learned to avoid so that you could find someone to love.
Wait, that's a little presumptuous. How do you know he is being led on? Just because you had a few engrossing conversations and because he cleaned your glasses for you at the breakfast table? I shot back in my defense.
I'm not a fucking idiot, thank you very much. He is obviously attracted to me, I told myself stating what I assumed was the obvious.
Yes ok, maybe he is attracted to you but he knows you're married. MARRIED. You are NOT responsible for his feelings. You don't have to not have engrossing conversations with a fellow writer--which is one of the purposes of your visit here--just because you happen to find him
attractive and are afraid you are leading him on. And furthermore even if you are leading him on--which I don't think a few conversations constitutes--you don't have to feel guilty that you aren't kissing him as if you are a teenager afraid of being called a tease. I can't believe that you are actually feeling guilty about making yourself seem attractive even though you are unavailable. You can be an attractive, engrossing person Jennifer and not feel guilty about it. It's ok, I said, trying to talk myself down.
Yes, but that's not the problem. The problem is the buzzing and how to turn the buzzing off.
Maybe Jennifer, maybe you just have to be honest with him, I proposed.
Ok, I'll contemplate this outrageous thought for a minute. What would an honest Jennifer say? I asked myself.
Tell him that you find him attractive and love talking to him but that you are married and you are sorry if you have spent too much time talking to him as if you are interested in kissing him because you aren't, I offered.
No, no, no. I can't assume that he wants me to kiss him, I can only say I feel attracted and am sorry but . . . And then all of the sudden I knew what I had to do.
I turned over on my belly and thought certain thoughts, which led to other more graphic thoughts starring the Energy Source. It must have been precisely at the moment that I could no longer think anything at all that the electrician re-entered my body and heaved off the switch because the next time I saw the Energy Source I was surprised slash shocked to find him annoying. His voice was annoying, what he said was annoying, how he walked annoying. . . everything about him annoyed me. Fuumph! The lights went off as quickly and as hard as they had gone on. Thank God I'd found the switch. I was free to go back to loving my husband.
HE SAID: This woman I used to know left her husband. She went off to some artist colony, met a guy and ran off with him to Florida. I didn't know what an artist colony was but you can bet I remembered this incident when my wife was accepted to Yaddo. My single-at-the-time friend Noah told me that these artist colonies were sexual free-for-alls. Yes, a lot of writing got done there, he said, but a lot of other stuff got done there too. I don't care if you are Steven King or one of those guys who brags that he writes every episode of his TV show by himself, my experience is that after four hours of continuous writing, you're done. That leaves 20 hours of sleep and . . . research--if you know what I'm saying.
So when my wife came back from Yaddo and told me some guy turned her on, you'd think I'd panic. I didn't. My wife says a lot of things. On our first date she talked for five hours straight and I fell in love with her. She writes a lot of things too. In fact, she wrote a 350-page book about our sex life. Or rather, our lack of sex life. That's right: my wife wrote a book about me not wanting to have sex with her . . . and it has photos too! She changes everyone else's name in the book except mine.
No. I didn't panic. If she came home on fire I wouldn't panic. But to be fair, I have a few things going for me. I wasn't always the impotent, fearful, half-man my wife paints me to be in her book. No, friend, I used to rock HARD. I had shoulder-length hair, an alcohol addiction and a taste for the pharmaceutical drugs you left in your medicine cabinet. I smoked three packs a day, sampled heroin and once spent the night with two large sisters and their larger friend in a trailer home in a white-trash town named Hannibal, Mo. The word "flaccid" was never used when you referred to me. I was a whambanger, ladies and gentlemen. A maverick. A nut.
So when my wife tells me she had some tremors of sexual electricity towards some geeky writer at some artist colony, I'm saying inside: "Bring it on." I know my wife and I know that she will never cheat on me. Cheating in her world is panicking about some guy she accidentally flirted with in the drinks room of a fancy writer's colony. Drinks room. Please. I had sex on the fairway of a golf course in Edinburgh, Scotland, for crying out loud. I spent the night on acid in a county
jail. I know a little about breaking rules and my wife just doesn't have it in her.
So, John. Tough guy. What happened to you? When did you get flaccid? Was it going sober? Was it the anti-depressants you were prescribed when they found out you were clinically depressed and had been self-medicating with alcohol for 15 years? Was it the Propecia your wife put you on and you took like clockwork knowing the one reason your wife actually would leave was if you were bald? Yes. I think these had something to do with it. But the main reason I lost interest in sex? It wasn't dangerous anymore. I wasn't with the bartender in her room above the bar after hours. I wasn't with the gorgeous Polynesian woman in the rec room of my friend's party. And I certainly wasn't with the transvestite in the backseat of a car.
Nope. I was sober and married. And let me tell you that this was the scariest place I'd ever been. Here you are with this amazing woman and then things go south and you are in therapy, A.A., and couples' therapy trying to figure out why you don't want her physically but at the same
time knowing you would die without her.
At one point our therapist tells me that before we can figure out the no sex part, I have to learn how to express myself. Sober. You try it. Later that week, Jennifer and I get into a fight, I express my feelings and she freaks out and spends the night at Vanessa's.
So when she comes back from Yaddo and tells me she thought about getting it on with this writer, I'm thinking: "Jesus woman, I got enough going on here. You take this one. You decide whether you sleep with that guy or not. I'm trying to keep my brain from exploding by telling you my feelings without any Percaset and Pabst."
But, right after that freak out thought, another one came through: I trust this woman. And I haven't trusted . . . well anyone. Not like her. Boyz, I recommend the couple's therapy. If you like the wild side. If you like going to that dark place, it's the place to be. I mean how often do you get a chance to be in a room with only two exits? Thankfully Jennifer and I exited the door marked "stay together" -- and even if she didn't know it, I knew she wouldn't cheat. I trust her. And, the miracle was, after I realized I trusted her, I started wanting to have sex with her.
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