Note: This is the fifth in a series of imaginary conversations with my next girlfriend.
Dear Next Girlfriend,
It’s been awhile since I’ve talked with you. There’s something about winter that makes some of us isolate and retreat to our homes. I count myself in that group this year. It has been a particularly challenging season and like so many others this winter I found comfort and solace in my home, snuggled up on the couch like an ole’ hibernating bear. Now that the first real hints of spring have arrived, I’m awakened again and so are many of my desires. For many creatures, including us, spring is mating season.
Lesbian Musical Chairs & Lesbian Bed Death
In the LGBTQ community, especially among monogamous lesbians based on my first-hand observation and experience, spring is also the season for Lesbian Musical Chairs. Cabin fever has made many of us restless, seeking more physical connection than what we might find in our bed with the person next to us. Some people have affairs and cheat. It’s heartbreaking for those of us who are betrayed by infidelity and both exciting and sometimes guilt-inducing for those transgressing.
JoAnn Loulan, lesbian sex therapist and bestselling author of Lesbian Sex, Lesbian Passion: Loving Ourselves and Each Other, and The Lesbian Erotic Dance: Butch, Femme, Androgyny, and Other Rhythms, traveled the country combining a book tour with comedy and couples workshops. Beginning in the 1990s Loulan addressed a problem identified by University of Washington sociologist, Pepper Schwartz in her book American Couples. Schwartz coined the phrase Lesbian Bed Death to describe a phenomenon she observed that lesbian couples in committed relationships had less sex than any other type of couple.
Unfortunately, I can admit that I’ve experienced this firsthand too. Some therapists and writers believe it has to do with the degree of merging and emotional intimacy that sometimes occurs in same gender relationships between women. The more emotionally intimate we become, we often find ourselves less sexually intimate. Loulan in her workshops talked too about the prevalence of serial monogamy in the lesbian community. We often leave a monogamous relationship, precipitated by one partner engaging in an affair, and partner up in another monogamous relationship, repeating the cycle again and again, hence another round of Lesbian Musical Chairs.
Rethinking Romantic Relationships
Next girlfriend, all my ex-girlfriends, and all my friends who are girls (and not), I’ve been rethinking romantic relationships, which is sometimes easier to do when you’re not in one. Speaking at least for myself, when I’m in one all the history, baggage and distractions I bring with me to relationships makes it more challenging. It’s difficult to have healthy detachment and perspective when I’m trying to attach and get closer. So next girlfriend you can be reassured I’m doing my prep work for the future when we meet.
What inspired this post was an interview I read on Slate, an online news and culture magazine with Esther Perel, couples and family therapist, author of the international bestseller, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. The article was entitled, Why We Cheat: Spouses in Happy Marriages Have Affairs. What Are We Looking For?
I found the Slate interview enlightening and captivating. Perel challenged the way I looked at cheating and its aftermath, both for the transgressor and the transgressed. I’ve been on both sides of that dynamic and have had to either make amends and ask for forgiveness, or forgive either myself or my partner. The reasons she theorizes for why affairs happened surprised me. Earlier today I picked up her book and have begun reading. Perel poses a couple of fundamental questions:
“Can we desire what we already have?”
“Does good intimacy always make for hot sex?”
She also drives some stakes that are quoted in the Slate interview that she considers to be at the core of her theories:
“I can tell you right away the most important sentence in the book, because I’ve lectured all over the world and this is the thing I say that turns heads most often: Very often we don’t go elsewhere because we are looking for another person. We go elsewhere because we are looking for another self.”
“It isn’t so much that we want to leave the person we are with as we want to leave the person we have become.”
“Marriages are so much more merged, and affairs become a venue for differentiation, a pathway to autonomy.”
Following is a sample of the chapters in her book that piqued my interest and helped me look at infidelity and betrayal differently from both sides of the transgression:
From Adventure to Captivity: Why the Quest for Security Saps Erotic Vitality
More Intimacy, Less Sex: Love Seeks Closeness, but Desire Needs Distance
The Pitfalls of Modern Intimacy: Talk Is Not the Only Avenue to Closeness
Parenthood: When Three Threatens Two
Next girlfriend, spring is in the air and I plan on being out and about. Next week is the Wisconsin Film Festival. Perhaps I’ll see you in the audience or I’ll chat you up as we wait in line to see a film. I’ll be the outgoing woman with a broad smile and a gleam in her eyes. I’ll be looking for you; maybe I’ll see you at the movies.
To read, see, or listen more to Esther Perel:
Note: This is Episode 5 of the series, Conversations with My Next Girlfriend, imaginary conversations with the new girlfriend I haven’t met yet, replacing the one-sided talks that I was having with my ex in my head. For Episodes 1 -4, click on the links below: