A Taste of A Life Less Monogamous – Chapter 1
Ryan found himself captivated by the small crack in the ceiling even as he knew he was supposed to be having sex with his wife. He stared at it, focused on it. Two and a half weeks since their last sexual encounter. That gap of time was a new record for them – at least when period, family, or occasional business trips didn’t factor into things. He couldn’t attribute the waning urge to age, either. As much as he felt old, past his prime, he knew he couldn’t classify himself as “older” with a straight face. While thirty-two may once have been middle-aged, these days it still qualified as quite young. It meant figuring things out. Still unsettled.
Still unsettled, indeed.
Even if he could consider himself old, the fault didn’t lie there. Things had always been like this. He and Jennifer had never been one of those couples that couldn’t keep their hands off each other, not even in the beginning when they’d first started dating. Young when they got together, only eighteen and nineteen, with Ryan older by just a few months. They’d been good kids. They’d waited a couple months before the first fumblings, first blips of fluid, first trembling fingers down pants, perhaps stymied by the fear of pregnancy instilled in them from overzealous sex ed classes.
Jennifer had never seen a penis before she unzipped his jeans in the basement of her parent’s house one warm summer night. She’d told him of her one and only prior sexual experience, which had taken place in total darkness with an excess of clothing. Her wide eyes and open mouth betrayed fear when she unsheathed Ryan. He knew his penis measured just on the happy side of average, so it couldn’t have been fear of size. Instead, he read her surprise as dislike and didn’t talk about it, beginning to wear that pattern of noncommunication into their relationship, setting back their progress around the proverbial bases by another four weeks.
Ryan had learned, through hand jobs from his previous girlfriend, how to keep things from exploding on contact and managed a respectable, though unremarkable, nine minute showing before the end of their first time. The tenor of their sexual encounters was set that day, respectable though unremarkable ever since.
We don’t want to be one of those couples, Ryan’s mind insisted, trying to rouse him from wondering how he had not noticed the crack before. Perhaps he rarely laid on his back, looking straight up. Only this position when cuddling with Jennifer, when cuddling before– well, before, before what? What were they doing here?
Roughly fifteen minutes before laying her head on Ryan’s chest while he stared at the ceiling, Jennifer had looked over at Ryan from the opposite side of their sectional couch. They didn’t sit so far apart because they disliked being close; it was just for the simple convenience of each having an end table to themselves. She’d held the March issue of Cosmo, far out of date and vastly more insipid than the last issue she’d read almost a decade ago. The magazine had traveled home with her from Dr. Petrillo’s office because she thought that, just maybe, one of the “How to Please Your Man” articles might be helpful.
Because helpful certainly didn’t describe Dr. Petrillo.
The magazine’s newest suggestion perplexed Jennifer, advising that while on a hike with her man, she find a small, flat stone and conceal it, so that later it might be pressed up against his anus. Her eyebrow cocked with skepticism, her hazel eyes narrowed. What on earth would Ryan do if she suddenly pressed a rock against his asshole? Flip out, surely, and not because of sexual prudishness, but because the whole idea was such an “out of left field” thing to do. Strange, unusual.
Though, if it might help…
No. She put down the Cosmo.
“Ryan,” she said, more of an outward breath than an actual vocalization. Again, girl, louder this time! “Hey, um, Ryan.”
He looked away from his game of Super Mario World and offered “Hmm?” with a smile. For a moment, the childlike innocence of the man she had married overwhelmed her, and all at once she felt a distinct discomfort about sexually ravishing him. Not that she had the energy to ravish anyway. Nor the inclination, really. Hell, they’d both be happy with a little missionary and then call it a night.
It’s been too long. We’re becoming one of those couples, she thought, biting her lip hard enough to surprise a yelp out of her.
Ryan hit pause and blinked at her.
“I was just wondering if you wanted to go upstairs.”
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah, hold on, I’ll get to a save point.”
He did, and they went.
But after undressing across the room from one another and climbing under their six hundred thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, Jennifer rested her head on Ryan’s chest, and there they lay: naked, ready, willing, able, not having sex.
With her head high on his chest, every breath he took blew a small lock of her chestnut hair aloft, where it drifted for a moment, then settled back down.
Ryan’s eyes fell to the top of Jennifer’s head, then back to the ceiling where the crack watched them, wondering, he was certain, why the two of them didn’t have more frequent sex.
He didn’t have an answer for that, though when Dr. Petrillo had asked him alone, with Jennifer waiting in the vestibule for her turn to have one-on-one time, Ryan did admit to a wish she’d initiate more. Petrillo found that noteworthy, jotting a rare note onto his pad in a gesture that made Ryan feel a tiny bit validated. Petrillo never shared his own thoughts, just made that occasional small note and a request to “tell me more about that.” Aside from the silly mantra worksheet he’d given them, Ryan had begun to think these sessions a superficial waste of one hundred and twenty-five dollars an hour. Petrillo had never even asked about his sex drive!
Once Ryan’s youthful race to the top of Sex Hill had reached its zenith a decade and change before, his drive to climb the hill had become smaller every time, he knew. It wasn’t for lack of interest, it was just sometimes easier to rub one out himself in front of the computer at three in the morning than wake Jennifer, she of the early work meetings. Also easier, certainly, than trying to coax an orgasm out of his wife.
Ryan frowned. Was that the crux? The orgasm thing? Jennifer had orgasms, they just weren’t very…well, they were few and far between. When they did happen, they weren’t so much fireworks, but more the kind of sparklers you find in the impulse buy section of 7-11 in early July. That’s not fair, he thought. Orgasms are harder for women. Despite the fact that as a woman of thirty-one, Jennifer sat at her biological sexual peak, she also sat under a decade’s worth of pressure to demonstrate her enjoyment.
Probably fakes it in case I can’t stay hard.
His eyes widened. Now why had he gone and thrown that idea into the mix? Thoughts like that served no purpose. None at all! Except maybe to turn up the heat on his own performance anxiety. Of all the things that might need to be dialed up in the valley surrounding this fledgling marriage, he’d prefer his occasional inability to hold an erection didn’t take priority.
With her head on Ryan’s chest, Jennifer could tell that he had some serious thinking going on, the kind with plot twists and mood swings. His breathing and heartbeat vacillated from calm, almost contemplative, to quick and wildly erratic. She wondered what he could be thinking about. Couldn’t be that nervous about sex, could he? Was he worried that the performance anxiety thing would come back? How many times would she have to tell him that it was okay before he’d start believing?
She wasn’t bothered by his perceived failings, and, unbeknownst to Ryan, about two years ago she’d discovered the healing power of the shower head massager. This discovery had led to finding an orgasm on her own. Unbeknownst to both of them, simultaneous orgasms had occurred on multiple separate occasions. A win, indeed, just perhaps not the win they’d reached for, as the orgasms had occurred in separate rooms.
Maybe she ought to tell him?
Maybe they could shower together.
Freddie Mercury implored them not to stop him now, and insisted that because he was traveling at the speed of light, they call him Mr. Fahrenheit. Ryan’s eyes blinked open. Blurry. He rubbed them. In the distance, he could hear the shower. He turned to his phone, which now wanted to make a supersonic woman of him, and tapped the triple zzzs to give himself nine more minutes of peace. His tap amounted to a shove, and the phone disappeared behind the nightstand.
We fell asleep, he realized. Fuck.
He ran a hand through his hair and counted the strands that came out with it. Twelve today. Seven of them still tan. Only seven. Can’t stop the march of time, bucko, he told himself. Got to get a handle on other things, though, they’re all spiraling out of control.
Feet on the floor, good start.
Ryan sat on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees, hands propping his chin up. His morning wood asserted itself, but he regarded it as nothing more than a nuisance that would have to make itself scarce before he could use the toilet.
He lifted a sheet of yellow note paper off the nightstand, covered in several hand written lines of text. Their mantras. Lines that they’d worked out with Dr. Petrillo. A snake-oil lifeline out of the hole.
“So, we just say this stuff?” Jennifer had asked after they’d finished working it out with their doctor less than a month prior.
“When you both feel that the time is right, you’ll decide to make the change.” Petrillo had told them over tented fingers, a clichéd pose that made the quality of the content that much more dubious.
Jennifer had dismissed the mantras out of hand on the way home from his office. The paper had sat, folded, in the same spot on his nightstand for the ensuing weeks. Ryan didn’t hold much hope either, but something had to change.
The shower stopped and Jennifer emerged. He watched her preen in the mirror.
“Today is the day we change our lives,” Ryan read.
Jennifer poked her head out of the bathroom, electric toothbrush in her mouth, eyes wide, perplexed, a look on her face that silently asked “Really?”
“When we leave this bedroom today, nothing will ever be the same.” He looked up again from the paper and shrugged.
“We’re moving forward,” he said.
“Getting older, certainly,” she added.
“I know, it’s–”
“It’s silly, Ryan.”
“We fell asleep last night instead of having the sex we both claim to want.” He threw his hands up and waved the paper at her. “I’m willing to give it a try. Are you?”
Her comically smug expression, accented by lips covered in toothpaste foam, hung and grew serious. She nodded.
“Then, today is the day we change our lives,” he asserted.
“Nothing will ever be the same.” She waved her hand in a circular motion. “Etcetera.”
Ryan smiled at his wife, seeing the vaguest glimmer of hope in the smile she returned. “We change because we choose to do so. We change because we are no longer…”
“We’re no longer content to be ‘just okay.’” She sat on the bed next to him. The fresh, crisp scent of her shampoo wafted into his nostrils.
He’d always thought her the most beautiful woman, never once doubting his love for her. His commitment, though… There sat doubt. “For someone who doesn’t hold much stock, you sure seem to know the text,” he poked at her.
Jennifer stuck her lower lip out and cocked her jaw. In a flash of naked flesh, she grabbed the paper. “You don’t?”
He knew the words too. That night in Petrillo’s office had been a mild form of catharsis, the kind of night where you realize all the things you want to say and what you want to change, but can’t quite make it happen. He’d read the mantras over and over again on the ride home, as Jennifer drove in silence. “Because ‘just okay’ is no way to live.”
“It’s not acceptable anymore.”
“Because it’s not what we want from our lives. Right?”
Jennifer nodded, sincerity in her eyes, but also a tinge of desperation. He knew the desperation well, because it had crept up on him, too. From the outside looking in, their marriage looked fine, healthy. At least, no more at-risk than anybody else’s. They rarely fought, certainly not in public. They were nice to each other, affectionate. All outward appearances nominal. Internally, though, when the chips were down, they’d both felt an upsetting certainty: This is how friends feel toward each other, not lovers, not husb and and wife. This is how roommates feel. Roommates that occasionally get around to sex when the urges reach critical mass.
“We can do this,” said Ryan, though it sounded more like a question than a statement.
“We can do this.” Jennifer sounded even less sure of herself, but they held eye contact a moment before she changed the subject. “Don’t forget, the party at Barbara and Noah’s is tonight.”
The promise of the moment gone, Ryan flopped onto his back on the bed, sighing theatrically.
“You knew about this. I thought you wanted to–”
“It’s been a long week,” he griped
“I know,” she said, moving her hands to her hips, a comical stance of nude defiance.
“Do we really need to go?”
Jennifer threw her hands up in the air. “I don’t know, Ryan. Isn’t this the day we, you know, live?”