Love is both simple and complicated. People oftentimes think that love demands romance. People also think that sex is a mandated experience of love. And, as with many other generalizations about love, people are convinced that love and sex are so intricately intertwined that they cannot exist without the other. For all the awareness and acceptance that the world preaches, people still can’t wrap their mind around some of the non-traditional relationships that do exist, and will continue to exist, in society.
This is why Julie and Kevin sometimes struggled with their dynamic. Since the beginning, Julie was very open about her sexual orientation. She was asexual. She had engaged people sexually before but discovered no matter what the gender or the nature of their connection – she just wasn’t interested in the activity. Her desire in it was absent and her involvement was indifferent. As such, she made no effort to ever seek out those sorts of experiences. When she came across Kevin and found herself head-over-heels in love with him, well, there was a distinct worry their relationship would fail.
Kevin couldn’t have been more opposite in regard to Julie if he tried, if anyone was being honest. While Julie was more interested in emotional connection and avoiding human contact, Kevin was always seeking out physical affirmation and had slept with more people than he could count on two hands. And that had just been during the month that they’d met! As simply as Julie had fallen for him, though, the feeling was completely mutual. It all started over a conversation on sexuality in a sociology class at university.
When they started dating, it was casual. Julie encouraged him to keep sleeping with women of his choosing and that they could address physical intimacy when their relationship became more serious. A lot of their friends wondered whether or not they would last long enough to see that point. Julie’s friends never questioned her dedication to her asexual identity, but often wondered whether Kevin would truly accept her inability to return physical affection. On the other side of the invisible tennis court, Kevin’s friends constantly argued the probability of Julie becoming jealous of Kevin’s sexual prowess.
The only thing that they didn’t know was that Kevin had stopped sleeping with other people. Maybe it wasn’t right away. In the first few months their relationship didn’t seem very real. Julie and Kevin commented regularly that they just felt like really good friends, in spite of the occasional kisses and cuddles that they shared on late weekend nights when their friends were out partying harder than either of them would prefer. After a year, though, Kevin took Julie out for dinner and shared with her that he wanted to be committed to her and her alone. So that night he decided he would find other methods of sexual pleasure because he belonged to Julie. It surprised both Julie and Kevin’s friends who had not even realized that the two still were in an actual relationship.
It’s been about ten years since that day. Side-by-side they graduated college, got jobs in their chosen fields, bought a house, and even adopted two rescue dogs. Life had been nothing shy of fantastic for the pair of them so far; each step of the way defying the odds in what everyone believed was a doomed relationship. This common mind frame is what made it difficult for Julie and Kevin when it really was time confront the sexless marriage they shared. It all came to a point not when a particular woman caught Kevin’s eye, but rather after attending a family friend’s wedding.
“I think it’s wonderful that they can all do what makes them happy and not a single person in that family is upset by it. They just spent thousands of dollars on a brilliant wedding for Amelia but Kelly marries someone she’s been seeing less than a year! I’m jealous. I’m really jealous of that kind of understanding in a family.” Kevin had started when they got home the following morning. Julie was carrying both suitcases with a frown on her face. Life with Kevin had been difficult over the last couple of months. There was this new gal at work that took an internship with the neighboring department. He’d been talking about her nonstop, even taking lunches out with her sometimes too. It wasn’t that he was doing anything with the intern that bothered her so much as the fact that he couldn’t just admit to her that he was very interested in having sex with her.
So when Kevin admitted a jealousy about the wedding she wasn’t upset so much as exhausted. In secret she knew he agonized over the judgment of others who would look at our marriage and title it a “sham” because of the sexless bond they shared. Painful as it was to listen to him go on and on about a beautiful woman at work; painful as it was to watch a fiasco of a wedding; it was not more painful than watching him suffer silently due to his own unfair expectations. Julie was tired but she knew that this was a conversation they needed to have while the relevant opening existed. Deflecting, ignoring, or brushing it all back under the rug were options for the weak hearted. They were options for someone in denial. Julie was none of those things.
For this reason she replied bluntly to her husband, “The only people that need to be happy in a relationship are the two people in it. Or three, if you’d prefer.” Kevin must have been confused, or perhaps stunned, to have heard her plain reply. She expected he would be, not because he was genuinely surprised, but because he knew he’d been caught lying about something. However, they’d not discussed his sexual prowess since their initial engagement. They’d wondered then if an open sexual relationship was an option but he insisted it would let him stray too far from his wife. Those were his personal values – the personal values of family members that frowned upon her sexuality. They’d never been supportive of their union and it was unlikely a change in their sexual relationship would shift their opinions.
“What does that mean?” Kevin treaded the waters carefully at first, but when she said that a third person in the relationship was an option if he so chose. Julie told him that open sexual relationships weren’t so taboo that individuals could be sentenced to death for participating in such a relationship. At first she saw Kevin’s guilt and denial as he stammered through his questions about why she would propose such a deal – a second time no less.
But within only a few minutes he became more at peace with their reality. Julie painted a picture with her detailed recollection of how Kevin changed since the intern started. Each sentence shaded, contoured, and colored in a man who was no longer the husband he promised himself to be, but rather a man more dedicated to his self-preserved image than what he knows himself to be as a person. When Kevin’s shame dissipated he was able to agree that his closeness to the intern was selfishly motivated by sexual attraction.
“She is a wonderful woman, though. I think you would like her if you met her.” The statement hadn’t been intended literally, but that’s exactly what Julie demanded the instant he concluded his thought. In fact, she listed all of the requirements she had decided upon if he were ever to accept her invitation for an open sexual relationship. Not only must Julie meet his partners in person, but also they must have respect for her and their marriage. His partners were not to be anyone with whom they were close, but it was not to be a stranger who couldn’t be trusted in the event of a medical emergency. As her mandates were announced in planned succession, Kevin seemed to become more and more relieved. It was not long before he resembled the man that Julie had fallen in love with in college.
When she finished her clearly rehearsed speech he simply grinned at her with joy in each winkle on his face, “You knew this day would come, didn’t you?”
“I wanted this day to come because if it didn’t then we’d die resenting your celibacy.” Kevin lifted her up and carried her to the bedroom. For other couples, maybe they would have meant they’d be off to have sex. Not for them. Instead, Kevin carried her to the bedroom so that she could get cuddled under the heater blanket to catch up on her favorite television show. This was what he loved about Julie ten years ago, and it’s the thing he loved about her that day. Even the biggest of decisions weren’t as big as they seemed. Julie did was right and she made it look easier than breathing.
For years going home to Julie had been more than enough. In fact, even with the fresh sexual tension at work, Kevin was still thoroughly satisfied when he came home and crawled into bed with his wife. Having sex with her wasn’t something that he needed, and not having sex at all wasn’t something that he struggled with in any way. Kevin had been committed not just to Julie but his decision to be inactive for her. Somehow over the last decade, something had crawled into his gut and waited for someone to come along and challenge who had become for what he thought was the betterment of his marriage. Kevin was once a man with a gluttonous sexual appetite but until recently it had been forcefully dormant. Maybe he’d be a fool for finally accepting his wife’s offer to open the relationship but the only way to find out was to try. True love grows through the highs and lows, so Kevin would have to defy what he’d always been taught about traditional love once again. Thankfully, he knew he and his wife would work through those changes together.