EXPRESS YOURSELF

I Wrote a Book About Sex After Marriage From My Daughter’s Bedroom

Turns out you don’t need a room of your own in order to write after all

My writing room, not quite of one’s own

I had always wanted to cook, but my first kitchen, no more than a 6-foot-by-6-foot linoleum-tiled square in my tiny walk-up apartment, stopped me from cooking anything more than couscous salad and the occasional batch of pumpkin muffins. I had always longed for a green thumb, but my first garden was a strip of shady, rocky soil, so I halfheartedly planted a few pansies and basil plants and waited patiently for another house that would have a garden with direct sun. I had always wanted to write, but I didn’t have a room of my own.

For a long time, I threw up roadblocks in every direction, always landing on a rational basis for not even trying, and instead focused on the one thing I had pursued despite the ways in which the setup would never be quite right: motherhood.

Then my marriage came to a screeching halt. Continuing to be stubbornly selective about what I wanted to pursue, only going for things when the circumstances were just right, was thwarting my survival. If I was going to rise above the oppressive grief I felt, it was going to mean I had to try new things, whether or not they were well-planned. Whatever I had relied on in the past to keep me coasting through life had failed me, and I needed some new tricks, fast.

I did two things I had never done before. I had a lot of sex with a lot of different men, and then I wrote about it. Both required a level of bravery I had not known I had in me, and part of being brave is accepting that you’re going to fall flat on your face, in front of friends and strangers alike, and then you’re going to rise, rinse, and repeat.

My elegant Grandma Florence, who wore a turban and worked for Estee Lauder back when it was just a burgeoning cosmetic company, had once advised me that if my underwear was ever to fall down while I was walking to simply step out of it without breaking my stride. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that back then, women owned less lingerie and that elastic wasn’t as durable as it is now, so this was a real concern for a lady. I accepted the advice metaphorically: Presented with an opportunity that is likely to make you feel embarrassed and ashamed, just keep moving forward. That discarded underwear will become someone else’s problem.

I felt a laundry list of feelings after learning that my husband had been cheating on me. In the top five was humiliation — humiliation that I was so naive as to miss the telltale signs and that I was such a broken human being that I wasn’t even good enough for the person who allegedly loved me more than anyone else in the world. The advice from my grandmother rung in my ears, but instead of taking it metaphorically, I took it literally. I stepped out of my underwear, and I kept moving forward.

It’s one thing to decide in mid-life that you’re going to sleep around as you never did in your earlier years when it is perhaps expected of you but another thing entirely to take to the airwaves about it. Instead of letting a delicate lacey thong lie discarded on a dirty Manhattan street, I picked it up and waved it around like a flag at a charging bull. I was determined to look humiliation squarely in the face and stare it down.

That’s all very “I am woman hear me roar,” and I felt appropriately empowered and bold, which I liked. It was certainly better than what my alter ego was feeling — broken, dejected, and disgraced. I wrote about a few of my dates and discovered that it’s really hard to write about sex without sounding like you’re plagiarizing a Harlequin romance novel. I had always considered myself a fairly erudite person, and these sex scenes were cheap, tawdry affairs.

I didn’t let it stop me. I wrote about the dissolution of my marriage and discovered that it’s really hard to write about grief without sounding like a self-help guide. I had always considered myself self-made emotionally, not needing someone else’s roadmap for how to get through life, and these scenes stripped me bare. I didn’t let it stop me.

The pages turned into a book proposal, and the proposal—to my shock, delight, and abject terror—was sold to a major publisher. Where were my perfect writing conditions now when I needed them most, a secluded cottage in the woods or a quiet attic room? I made do with a laptop and a coffee bar, enjoying how I appeared to be busy and engaged along with all the millennials clicking away at their freelance work. For almost 20 years, I had been a stay-home mother, and my time at coffee bars had been spent unloading with other stay-home moms or catching a few precious moments to myself with a newspaper and bottomless cup of coffee. Now I was productive. Now I was a writer!

Cue the pandemic and lockdown with my family, consisting of three kids and an ex-husband. I finally had seclusion in the woods but with four other noisy, needy inhabitants and a notable lack of Wi-Fi. The first few weeks, I stopped writing cold turkey. I was too busy but also distracted by a constant state of distress and panic. When it became increasingly clear that these weeks would not be scabbing over but instead bleeding into months on end, I drafted an email to my editor requesting an extension on the due date for my book. A fear of failure prevented me from hitting the “send” button. This was my first paid job in decades. Not meeting the deadline would finally prove to me what a deadbeat I was, adding salt to the wound that was my bruised post-marriage ego.

I had in my corner: a laptop my ex-husband had given me when I told him that I was going to take a stab at writing; one hour a day without children; and an endless supply of spiked seltzers. Every evening at 6 o’clock, I would call down to the basement where Michael was working to remind him that it was time for his appointed childcare hour and then shuffle down the hall to my younger daughter’s bedroom. At her pink wooden desk, next to her pink-canopied bed, enveloped inside her pink walls, I would type out words like my life depended on it. Having never written anything but PTA newsletters before, I had established a routine pre-pandemic, leisurely reviewing my work from the day before as an appetizer before moving onto the main course, new material. Since I had the entire school day to work before being summoned back to my main job as a mom, I had quality hours of alone time to process and write.

Now, I understood that appetizers were for the time-privileged, so they stopped being served. I continued to add new material, and the words came out messy and slapdash, like a mushy, unsightly gruel. Sometimes, I set my youngest daughter up for remote school and sat next to her at the kitchen table, our laptops lined up like soldiers. I eyed the clock, rueing the half-hour live-learning sessions that seemed to end a little earlier each day. Georgia would lean toward me, asking for help when she lost her internet connection or needed an assist on a math problem, and I would tilt my screen away from her so that she couldn’t see the words floating across my pages: pussy, blow jobs, orgasms, cock, condom.

“Why do you always close your screen when I talk to you?” she asked one day.

“Because this is for adults, and you’re not one of those yet,” I replied, which got me an exasperated sigh but no further questions.

I finished the book, and I turned it in on-timeish, only a couple of weeks late. The manuscript needed a lot of work, about which my editor was kind and encouraging. It’s so rare that any of us humans pat ourselves on the back when we do something right, even though we are quick to self-flagellate when we get something wrong, so I’m going to be bold again and do it: Congratulations to me for writing a book, my first book, about the end of my marriage and the sex life I discovered afterward, in completely unfavorable circumstances during a pandemic with three kids and my ex-husband under the same roof. Turns out I didn’t need a room of my own after all.

Author of AVAILABLE: A Memoir of Sex & Dating After a Marriage Ends (Boro/HarperUK June ‘21).

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