How can you be intimate, and truly connect with another person without feeling…something?
If my Android kept a tally of how many times I’ve listened to “All of Me” by John Legend in the last month, I would be embarrassed by the total. It is the only song I’ve played for days on end. On perpetual repeat, I listen to John sing in that harmonic tone, “…give me all of you and I give you all of me…you’re my end and my beginning…” I’ve fallen asleep to these lyrics. I’ve woken up to the refrain. I’ve annoyed my children with it in the car. My 2-year-old knows all the words and reluctantly sings along because there’s no point in telling Mommy to turn it off. I won’t.
“All of Me” is one of those quintessential love songs; a man in love with a temperamental and indecisive woman without condition. He accepts every flaw, loving her crazy, her moods, wanting nothing more. She is his “downfall, my muse, my worst distraction, my rhythm and blues.”
I find this ironic and sad and telling in some weird subconscious way because this is not something I’ve felt in real life.
As a teenager, the ultimate insult was to discover your significant other was cheating. We were still fighting acne, there were no rings, no legal binding documents or joint property or shared linens, and yet, monogamy was a concept we all bought into. At a time in life when your hormones are peaking, you are expected to abide by some complicated construct of “the only one” on nothing but an empty, verbal promise.
I was cheated on twice pre-marriage. It hurt, but looking back, it was because I thought it was supposed to hurt. I didn’t mind that my boyfriend wanted to make out with someone else or cop a feel of her boobs, or even have sex. What I minded was that he didn’t tell me about it. It was the lie that hurt most, not the lust.
I also cheated. It didn’t feel morally wrong and I suppose my moral compass never had a true north when it came to fidelity in dating. But it makes me wonder, does true north in a relationship always point toward monogamy?
Marriage is where that dial stopped spinning for me. I never cheated on my husband. Not once did I come close. Even thinking about someone else brought on massive waves of guilt. I respected the vow and legality of my own marriage just as I respect others’ marriages. I suppose I finally bought into that lazily defined social and moral construct when rings were involved.
Several months ago, when I was trying to decide whether or not to end my eight-year marriage, I asked a friend how someone knows they are “in love.” Her answer was in the form of another question. She asked how I would feel if I saw my husband with another woman? My answer: nothing. Because I wouldn’t. The physical act of sex, to me, does not equal love. But what if I saw him googly-eyed and swooning over lattes at Starbucks? At that point I realized the answer was still, nothing, and that’s how I knew it was over.
And now I am alone, at 36, with two small children and limited free time, trying to meet people in the insanity of the online dating world. In the past couple of months, I’ve been propositioned no less than twice by men in “loving” open marriages who want me to be their girlfriend. A third man went so far as to create a fabricated persona eerily similar to the Christian Grey character of 50 Shades of Grey. After hearing some of his most naughty, inner fantasies, and being the recipient of many a “dick pic,” I went Internet sleuthing. I discovered his true identity: He was an executive at a major venture capitalist firm. When I texted him with his real name, he begged me not to tell his pregnant wife about his steamy online exploits because, as he said, “my wife and I have a great relationship and I love her very much.”
Clearly, monogamy does not equal love. And yet, I’m not of the mindset that sex is as casual as grabbing a cup of coffee. It can certainly be as mundane as taking out the trash, but that’s not the kind of sex I want anymore. That kind of sex satisfies an itch, but a day later, you’re itchy all over again. To me, if sex is going to be the mind-blowing kind, it requires a level of trust and respect.
I’m no longer interested in just being scratched; I want the slow, healing massage. The kind of sex I want is an expression of intimacy; a multidimensional connection of mind, body, and soul. It’s giving all of you to another person in just that moment without the need to promise a lifetime.
But all of that sounds too much like love and that’s where the web gets tangled. How are you intimate, and truly connect with another without feeling something? Can you have this kind of intimacy, this something, without monogamy and all the constraints therein? Would this level of intimacy be cheapened if they had it with someone else too? Where are the boundaries of this kind of relationship?
We live in this strangely dichotomous world were we’re able to connect with the available people within a 50-mile radius with a few swipes of our smartphones, and yet, when it comes to actually connecting with them in a real-life, multidimensional level, we fall insanely short.
This one dimension is easy. But navigating the tangled web of lust, intimacy, emotion, sex, and love is not.
Right now, all I know is that I can’t stop listening to a love song. And while I’m hopeful, that doesn’t mean I’m looking for a fairy tale.
I just want reality. I want a multidimensional, tangled, and complicated reality that isn’t afraid of the truth. Whatever that may be.
Shannon Lell spent 10 years on the corporate ladder before being tossed off unceremoniously in 2010. Shortler after, she started writing. Now, she writes at shannonlell.com and is the editor of Mamapedia.com, a popular forum for moms. She writes introspective pieces on personal and social issues and studies literary fiction at the University of Washington.