Four nights ago my husband and I made love for the first time in several weeks. When you bring a new “baby” home– in this case, our beautiful Golden Retriever puppy from Kharkov, Ukraine, tiny and exquisite Giselle Valeo Kosta, you find yourself on duty to and utterly responsible for the mote of life that somehow, alone in a small crate in the bellies of not one but two planes, Kiev to Frankfurt, layover, Frankfurt to Denver, became yours. The first thing to go on hold as a priority or passing interest, is your libido.
So we made beautiful, delicious love. Afterward, we lay next to each other in a state of bliss, naked. Naked, nude, I didn’t mind so much the body I see in the mirror with its deformed and shortened right leg, my post-menopausal belly fat that hasn’t gone away. We lay in animal fervor, nuzzling each other, murmuring private little things. For the record, all ye who dread aging; a 75 year old man can be a rock star in bed. As can a 69 year old woman, she says, sans humility. A fly on the wall would be stunned.
We had been having hard times, lots of arguing. I felt myself backsliding under stress into anger. As I lay next to my love, with whom I have been in some kind of involvement for over twenty-five years, only committed lovers in a common law marriage for the past four, I saw the dimensions of my self-centeredness over the previous few weeks as we dealt with puppy and our other dogs and our own mutual and separate needs for baths, meals, sleep. I hope that this is the last puppy we will acquire or need to acquire for our breeding program for some time.
Our usual pattern has been to grab some rapture time out of the air, off the clock, and to quickly go back on duty to our creatures. But what about sustaining our intimacy, bridging the perilous chasm that had begun to open up between us?
Since that glittering moment on Thanksgiving Eve, I have set aside most of my own pursuits–writing, painting, “facebooking,” curating the English Golden Retriever Fanciers and Breeders group of 1500 there. I had also been posting my own feelings about the #metoo cultural groundswell and put up a page with the hashtag #confrontdontshame and tweeted it in tandem with the metoo hash on Twitter. I have in a word, been spread over any number of things like butter.
I have also been working to overcome my fear of surgery so that I can be restored to something like mobility, my right leg having mishealed post op so that it collapsed, skewing into a “varus” deformity, shortened by a full 3″–now compounded by the effects of ignoring the only cure: a TKR– a Total Knee Replacement, long-stemmed, with leg lengthening, and the repair of the “hammertoe,” an excruciating condition of my big toe also deformed on that side so that has been excruciating to walk on my cane, and the nerve damage from gripping the cane, the wearing down of my left shoulder (one uses a cane on the opposite side of an injury, to counterbalance one’s gait).
Not feeling sexy but then a sudden flare up of hunger and love and need.
I saw that to sustain our intimacy, I would need to curl up with my husband at every opportunity instead of sending him across the living room to his study to be on puppy duty while I slept. I set aside my pattern of working at night and going to sleep around midday leaning against a bolster and pillows set an angle on my bed because it is the only way in which I feel safe in dropping off to sleep–hold-over from childhood mayhem, subject of many other posts on this blog.
For several days I basked in our closeness; we pulled our clunker vintage TV on its clunkier stand around to the foot of the bed, and dozed, periodically getting up to potty the dogs, then back to drowse and doze some more.
For most of my life I have been a dependent person, taking my sense of security from my serial lovers–before that, from my father. A generational co-dependency exists in my family; my mother kept her ill father company in a protracted and emotionally incestuous stay in the family home in Albuquerque; she was never forced to get out on her own and work through her fears of not being strong enough to build a life for herself, to achieve independence. She and my father rapidly became codependent and the dynamics shifted; she feigned insanity until she believed it and got him to believe it as well. She modeled this to me, or I inherited its tendencies in coming from a long line of brilliant and talented women who in relationships, have appeared to grow down.
Last night we had a long talk about these patterns. I pointed out to my love that he was a classic rescuer, a man who needs to be needed by women in difficulty. He once said to me– circa 2015, that women need to be protected.
Yes, he is, in many respects, back there, gorgeous hunk of geriatric love that he is.
When I saw the pitfalls of spending hour on hour wrapped up in each other I became very frightened. Reluctantly we separated to resume our answer to the need to maintain some independence, some respite from cloying closeness that for me, spells disaster if and when I start to fear that I cannot be alone with myself.
Imagine battling these tendencies for a lifetime, doing everything in one’s power to be strong, but never conquering the inner clingy little girl. Our answer has been to be in a dance of togetherness followed by separateness. Our clothing is not commingled in the closet. We each have a room that is an inner sanctum, although mine, with its bigger bed and bigger TV, is our room for periods of time. I am always relieved to turn it back into my space, albeit with its puppies slumbering in their crates, the dolls I make swaddled and still in their baskets.
From 2009 to 2014 I lived alone in an apartment in East Old Town Fort Collins, and for the first time, I discovered that I was enough for myself. I had a long productive period of writing in which I felt whole and complete–completed by those things that I am, that began to flourish. My love for my husband was on the back burner; we had agreed to live apart. He dropped by daily for a chat and a cup of coffee, and I would read him my drafts. he would go back out to the country to our house and write and daydream and take care of the animals. We would sign off with each other in late evening.
He is a classic case of the guy who loves to be the broad shoulder; I’m certain that it helps him feel strong and is an essential part of his identity. When his first wife became involved in the Texas Teacher’s Union, rising to become its president, he found himself drawn to a young, needy woman in the ER where he was a paramedic. I believe that his wife’s growth made him feel unmanned in some ways, and unwanted.
Rain falls in every marriage. We seldom see the runaway stage coach cresting on the hill–the next test, the next crisis. This is not a crisis, but a moment in which I see, at least, what I must do to maintain my dignity, integrity and the growth I achieved.
I must continue to do the things that strengthen and define me independent of our relationship. I must do these with all of my might and main, just as I must, and desire to, be together for hours of touch and hands-on loving. At our age, it is no longer a matter of making love every forty-five minutes. But intimacy takes work and courage. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is essential.
I do not want to be what my mother modeled to me when over time she became an incontinent blob of protoplasm in a chair in our den, where my father enabled her addictions and her weaknesses even as he himself was dying of emphysema.
It is imperative that we women, at least those of my generation who have been so conflicted over the roles of wife and mother versus the elation of being free of being needed by everyone and everything, sacrificing our own needs to everyone and everything, imperative that we build the time into our relationships to re-experience ourselves as whole and secure people.
The clarion call of alarm is what I began to feel when we became enmeshed in caretaking together–that I was losing my footing, far afield of self-care and facing what lies before me….yet another journey into problematic territory wherein I undergo surgery with the goal, restoration of my mobility.
Why it is so infernally hard to outgrow old patterns, build new protocols for self-preservation?
My inner voice says, “Don’t panic. Trust it. Lean on what you know. Celebrate the vibrant, capacious woman you have become–and the love and devotion you have sought for a lifetime. You’ve earned this interlude of joy, and you’ve grown formidable wings.”