Time to Open Up

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.

A Bad Day to Get Married…

The cool water is bound to smear my make-up but I dab my face with a damp washcloth anyway. Presently – I’m having a panic attack and feel as though I cannot breathe. This feeling of suffocation became unyielding approximately twenty-five minutes ago when I started slinking into the lingerie I picked out for my gown.

And by ‘for my gown’ I mean my…

I mean my…

“Wedding dress.” The wedding dress is what ultimately triggered my full-blown anxiety. For years I dreamt of what kind of outlandish, and extravagant, and lavish, and totally unnecessary ceremony I would have when I finally wed – but somewhere in my late teens I realized that love isn’t as delicious when it’s forced.

Maybe it’s because I watched my mother divorce for a second time.

Maybe it’s because I watched my uncle get cheated year after year.

Maybe it’s because my brother brags about his one-night stands as though they were conquests in some story mode of his favorite video games.

Maybe – just maybe – it is because I’ve never dumped anyone, only ever been dumped…

“This stupid fucking wedding dress.” I groan in an attempt to prevent any more tears from slipping past my lashes. My beautician says the make-up is waterproof but I don’t trust that this is true. Nothing is as good as it seems. Unfortunately, it would seem that after $30,000 – I’ve realized my disdain for this ceremony far too late. I can barely stand in front of my full-length mirror, let alone walk down the aisle into the arms of a man I know I love…

…Who is also a man that asked me to do something I was never interested in doing…a man who wanted to smother me in his love to prove that I was all wrong about the way things work…a man so caught up in his ‘save the princess’ complex that he failed to see that I never once needed saving…

There’s a knock on the door – it’s my mother.

Who else has it ever been? She doesn’t wait long after knocking before coming in – because I know she suspects I’m trying to psyche myself out of this whole thing. The fact that she’s paid for the majority of this extravaganza – with her retirement savings, my grandparent’s savings, my father’s meager earnings, and just about any other penny she could scrounge up – she’ll never forgive me if I don’t pull myself together for the vows. This is why I told her I should have paid for some of it. It’s not like I don’t have enough money for it.

As she’s whispering what she believes to be words of encouragement, I consciously conclude that if I go through with the vows that I may as well just turn the license in too. If I’m going to sign away my passion for my soon-to-be-husband then I may as well make it legally official. I’ve never been the “half ass” type.

That is, in part, to the constant mantra of my hard-working mother while growing up; never half ass anything. As a single mother and well-known businesswoman, the struggles were certainly real. Reminding herself that everything must be done to her fully abilities was probably the only way she made it through our teenage years. I know that for me, personally, it was the only thing that kept me honest. My siblings all learned from her motto, adapting it ourselves as we breached adulthood. I understand that that’s what I must do today – even if it feels as if every particle in my body is demanding me to do the opposite.

Revisiting these aspects of my life forces me into a certain calm. As I center myself, I absently nod to whatever nonsense my mother is spewing at me. I think I hear something about my father waiting just outside the hall for me – that she’s getting ready to lead the bridesmaids down the aisle, just after she bribes the flower girl to try going potty one more time before “throwing flower petals at the devil.”

I chuckle airily as she prances away with an excited energy. The family that I have is so incredibly unconventional and it’s oddly popular among our friends. Once upon a time I thought it might have been our brutal honesty that they loved, but I think it might be the reasoning behind our honesty that makes us such an enjoyably bunch. Perhaps all these people that flock to our formal events, our business displays, and any other informal gathering we may host – because they know that we respect each other enough to tell the truth without traditional delicacy. If I truly believe this, though, why haven’t I stopped to tell someone that I don’t want to get married? Surely they understand that dreaming of getting married is easy and glamorous, but only in theory. Actually doing it is a task that tests your every nerve. It’s like having a second job! Or a third, if you’re already working a second job.

Getting married is nothing like the movies would have you believe. I can’t believe I ever thought, even for a second, that maybe I was just getting wedding jitters. I should have known when finding a floral arrangement proved to be harder than deciding to have sex with my fiancé.

So much happened that night – but nothing like what’s about to happen. By the time I saddle myself up to my father, who is scrolling through his missed text messages when I arrive, I find that I’m making a full circle back to my original concerns – the ones that sent me into an impromptu panic attack. I can almost hear how hard we argued about the types of flowers his family members couldn’t handle – and the fact that the flowers I had picked were a tradition for my family – and the fact that I didn’t have to have real flowers – and the fact that fake flowers aren’t recyclable – and SO. MANY. FACTS! I ended up breaking a vase on the floor in a fit of rage. He ended up sleeping at the neighbor’s house.

And yet that fight didn’t deter us; it wasn’t a sign to me that we shouldn’t get married. In fact, I never once suggested to him that we cancel it and get everyone’s money back. His family was too excited to see the youngest son marry, and my family was ready for one of the kids to actually commit to someone.

“I was already committed, dad.” I whispered, looking down to my bouquet that suddenly reminds me of the sort of arrangement you leave at a tombstone. This feels like a funeral to me, not a wedding.

He shrugs his shoulders; “You don’t need to prove that to me, sunshine.”

There’s that brutal honesty. He says that it’s what broke up his marriage to my mom. I think maybe it wasn’t on his part, though. For years he and my mother got along perfectly fine – especially through her second divorce. They love each other so deeply in a way that nothing could ever change.

Is it possible that seeing them like this is what fucked me up so badly that I can’t allow myself to get married? Is it possible that I don’t want to be married because I think the freedom to come and go as you wish is better than staying because a law dictates that you do? How can I possibly go through with this if I’d rather stay unmarried?

And I’m not kidding when I ask myself this question. Slowly, almost hesitantly, the bridesmaids go into the sanctuary with forced smiles and worried glances towards me. Deep down, I think everyone knows that I can’t go through with this damned wedding. Something in my gut tells me that everyone knew that at the end of the day I couldn’t commit to a marriage that would make me hate my partner.

I can’t remember how I got her, but somehow I’m ascending the alter stairs before I decide firmly that I have to call it all off.

I have to call it off.

It’s not fair to my fiancé to get married with this eating away at me.

It’s not fair to me to be this unhappy about a decision that I’ve made.

When did the vows happen? I don’t remember there being any talking, I don’t remember his voice sounding off. Did those things occur? How could they have played out without my knowledge?

“Amelia?” The questioning in my fiancé’s voice is warm and familiar. It brings me back down to reality – to the present, not just in my head either. I stop having my silent break down immediately. The home I have found in him is no less inviting than it was a year ago before we randomly joked about wanting to get married.

“Amelia, are you okay?” He doesn’t even seem surprised by this, which has to mean that he’s questioned whether or not this was the right course of action too. Right? Or am I reading too much into this?

Maybe I am – but there are so many ‘maybes’ bouncing around my unstable mind and breaking heart that I can’t let anything else uncertain enter into my head. So I turn to the hundreds of guests that are sitting in pews and standing propped against pillars…and with loud confidence I reveal the struggle that I’ve been having.

“I can’t get married. I was much happier before I started planning this wedding. My family is awesome. My family is happy. I’m happy. But this wedding won’t allow me to keep being happy.” I drop my flowers onto the floor as jaws drop in a similar fashion. There are even gasps from a group of particularly shocked people – particularly from my fiancé’s family.

There’s more to it, though, and I owe them at least that much of an explanation; “For as social and relaxed as I may seem, inside I’m scared and shy. My life was never conventional, even if it was always successful. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy life in spite of the highs and lows that plague every family and couple. I can’t say what it is that makes marriage seem so awful to me and I won’t discount that maybe I need some therapy to help me understand. I don’t know if someday I’ll change my mind and elope in a courthouse, but I know that I can’t get married today. All I want is for my fiancé and I to take our trip to the Bahamas and enjoy the alone time. We were happy before and I know that we’ll be happy after – because this decision will ultimately bring us closer together.”

During my selfish monologue I never once turned to my fiancé to see if he was devastated or relieved. Judging by the looks on the faces of those in the crowd, I will never be ready for what I’ll see when I turn around. This, at the very least, allows me to expect the unexpected.

And this was unexpected. From his jacket that he’s removing, my fiancé pulls the plane tickets for the Bahamas and car keys. The jacket is tossed onto the podium with the preacher faster than I can blink. Once he hooks his arm around mine – I know that I wasn’t giving him enough credit. He knew I couldn’t do this – and it makes me wonder if everyone had a back-up plan this whole time.

I guess I won’t know for at least two weeks, though, because my fiancé announces very cheerily, “We have a plane to catch in a few hours so why don’t you guys enjoy the reception on our fine families, yeah?” His sassy ass even blows a kiss to the stunned folk left behind in his usually dramatic fashion. I knew there was a reason I chose to stay with him year after year after year…

And I never needed to be married to keep making that decision.