He lit the candles. In an instant, the bottom falls out of the day filled with feuding preschoolers and a fearless acrobat toddler, and suddenly I am reminded that I am a woman, not just a mom, but a real attractive woman. He sidles up to me as I wash the last of the dinner dishes at the sink, places his hands tenderly on my hips and whispers in my ear that he thinks I’m sexy.
Me. In my apron-strings, top-knot falling out, still not back to my pre-pregnancy weight. Me.
I turn and give a knowing smile as I saunter to the bathroom–trying to remember my training–waffling back and forth like a tightrope walker without the balancing-stick-thing. My Sonicare dispatches plaque from my teeth, while I do battle with monsters in my head shutting out the loud voices of apathy and fear and straining to hear the quiet small voice of love thumping ever onward in my heart.
From the bathroom I can see the candlelight, flickering from our darkened bedroom, dancing faintly in the hallway, kindled of whispered desire. Tension rises in my shoulders as I contemplate letting him down easy per the monsters’ suggestion. Just as quickly, the voice in my heart breaks in to speak truth.
Monsters: I don’t want to tonight.
Heart: That is what you said last night.
Monsters: I just don’t feel like it.
Heart: Why not?
Monsters: I don’t know…It’s just a more comfortable idea to crawl into bed and go to sleep.
Heart: Life is too short you know…to just settle for being unconscious next to THAT man..YOUR man.
Me (the final decider): You’re right. A little less talk and a lot more action. Time to put my game face on. He’ll never know what hit him.
Heart: Go Get Him, Tiger.
Monsters: 0, Me: more wins than may be appropriate to mention in polite company.
It hasn’t always been this way. For a portion of my ten-year marriage, I have held my husband at arm’s length, apprehensive to show him the real me. Fear gripped my heart as I worried that if I exposed my most vulnerable self, if my husband really knew me, then he might not like me. I mean, there were many aspects of myself that I felt were substandard, ugly and downright embarrassing. I held a warped perspective of beauty in my mind, gathered as an impressionable girl. It seemed to me women were attractive only if they resembled the ones featured in calendars hanging on toolboxes in a mechanic’s shop. I assumed these sexualized images of women must be the universal desire of all men, my husband included. I couldn’t picture myself as one of those women, scantily-clad, stiletto-wearing, sprawled-over-a-freshly-waxed-muscle-car, and concluded I was not going to be attractive to my husband since my belly was jelly-like and if I were to lay over the hood of a car it would look less like sexy and more like I was being arrested. The worst thing I could imagine was being rejected by the one to whom I was entirely devoted, so to protect myself, I played defense–expertly deflecting affectionate advances, and completely unaware that there could be any other strategy.
I used all the standard excuses: I’m too tired. I don’t feel beautiful. It’s too late tonight, maybe tomorrow. I sidestepped his advances by changing the focus of conversation from invitations to engage in physical intimacy to safer topics centered around our children. I was hopeful those would put his fire out because it seemed friendlier than directly smashing his heart with one more “I don’t want to”.
For years, these defensive tactics seemed to be relatively benign. I didn’t think twice about skimping by with occasional time together. My marriage seemed great, and we were happy together. I followed the advice given by the monsters in my head, but I struggled because although my marriage was fine, it was bland. Deep within, I wanted romance and a connection with my spouse that rivaled all love stories ever told. We didn’t have that because I was too afraid to show up as an equal in my marriage. I knew something had to change, because going along this way was not sustainable (nor was it the goal) to remain periodically celibate. Instead of trying to find fault in my husband, I looked at my own issues with intimacy. It became clear I wasn’t going to achieve a deep calibre of connection by playing defense and shutting down romantic advances because I was afraid of being vulnerable. I didn’t want to endanger my marriage by allowing a rift to form between us because of my passive and evasive habits in the bedroom. One afternoon it hit me: my sex life was not what I had envisioned for myself.
What? I have an ideal of what I want my sex life to be?
This realization floored me. All at once clarity spit in my face and my fears seemed so ridiculous. I was done with fear dictating my beliefs about love. I started claiming the truth about my relationship with my husband, and with every true statement, clawed my way to the surface of worthiness.
I am MARRIED to the man I have been entranced by for nearly 17 years.
My husband is the man that blew all the other men out of the water and won my heart.
He is my soulmate and I am his.
He is not at all fickle and has never once made me feel unworthy of his love.
Every time I have been courageous enough to be vulnerable with him, he has accepted me with love and tenderness.
In order to have the love story I wanted, I had to step out of the shadows and begin writing it myself. I learned to play offense instead of defense. As soon as I recognized things needed to change, I made myself some promises to build a romantic relationship that would satisfy me.
I made a promise to:
- Be a confident woman.
- Act instead of think when it came to engaging in romance.
- Stop listening to the negative voices that held me back.
- Recite one thing for which I was grateful to my body for giving me, instead of scrutinizing every tiny flaw.
- Communicate clearly with my husband about my desire to engage or refrain from physical intimacy, with the goal of saying “yes” more than I say “no”.
As I’ve kept these promises, my life has changed and our love continues to grow into a blazing fire. I have come to enjoy my physical relationship with my husband more than I ever thought possible. I am no longer running from something I really want because I am afraid of being unworthy of love. We have a stronger connection because we trust each other with the most tender places of our souls. I have more confidence in myself because I shame my body less. I have realized that sex is a part of my humanity, and I now allow myself to participate in it with my dearly-loved husband without guilt or shame. I have learned the love I have in my heart is not meant to be saved for a rainy day. It is meant to be given abundantly to my partner knowing that doing so will deeply nourish me as well.
Life is too damn short, ladies, to not have hot sex every chance you get with the man you’ve married. We are all going to blink one day and years will have passed us by. We can’t afford to be complacent in a life-long relationship that is meant to flourish, with deep roots and wide branches. Don’t wait for the planets to align, or until everything is perfect to tend your intimacy. You have permission to cultivate a mutually satisfying romance with your spouse–one in which you take the bull by the horns, choosing action over complacency. Step out of your comfort zone and be courageous. Forge a rock-solid connection with your man. Stop playing defense, shooting down every arrow, and start taking your own shots with Cupid’s bow. Focus your wild passion on that man lying next to you, and see if the unbridled love you give isn’t returned to you tenfold. He’ll never know what hit him.
Jennifer Van Winkle lives in Seattle with her husband and three children (twin boys and a baby girl). She is a teacher, musician, and currently a stay-at-home mom. She loves fueling the imaginations of her children with creativity, songs, all things science, good food and lots of play indoors and out. She blogs at Pepper Sprout Home and you can also find her on Instagram.