Eat Mangoes Naked – On Becoming Myself… Again

View from Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

In some ways this post is a follow-up to Where’s My Parachute:  Lessons in Love and Loss, my mini-autobiography.

In college, a female mentor introduced me to Sark and her classic book Succulent Wild Woman.  If you’ve never had the pleasure, Sark’s work is like a playful, engaging little kick-in-the-ass that feels like a soft pillow enticing you into a lazy, afternoon nap.  Sark inspires you to envision a more expansive life and take the risks to get there.

Some of my favorite gems that I go back to again and again from SWW:

-“Traveling Alone for Women.”  Sark inspired many trips small and large for me, including a month-long, cross-country road trip by myself where I struck up conversations with strangers of all kinds.

-“Marrying Yourself.”  This is brilliant stuff, folks.  Everyone should marry themselves, everyone.  Go out there and “become the person you want to find!”

– “Investigating the Dark Places with a Flashlight.”  Sark is all about facing our demons head on, with plenty of naps and treats in between, of course.

-“Importance of Being Crabby.”  Duh.

-“Radical Self-Acceptance.”  In college, I actually put little post-it notes all over my dorm room that said “permission” in keeping with Sark’s advice to “fly permission flags.”

-“Importance of Vibrators.”  I will never forget how Sark describes getting her first vibrator as a teen on Easter morning.  She bounds downstairs exclaiming joyfully, “Happy, Happy Easter!” after using it for the first time.  I often think Happy, Happy Easter to myself after a particularly satisfying time…

It’s incredible how life sends you something, and then brings you back to it again and again  offering a fresh perspective each time.  When I first read Sark, I was doing very hard emotional work.  Sark helped me take myself less seriously, give myself breaks, and accept myself where I was.  Part of that was accepting I was really far from being emotionally ready for serious intimacy, including sexual intimacy.

At the time, Sark’s advice about learning to be alone, taking emotional risks, and facing dark feelings felt so on target, but other things were very foreign back then.  Sark talks about “living juicy,” “succulence,” and “sexual blossoming.”  She has another book entitled, “Eat Mangoes Naked.”  Looking back, what Sark was getting at was eroticism – taking hold of erotic energy and utilizing it to live a richer, more vibrant life.  I was so far from “eating mangoes naked,” the best I could hope for at the time was protecting myself from further emotional harm.

In 2005, I traveled around southern Africa with a close friend of mine.  It was one of the three most important experiences of my life.  I had met Seth only two months prior.  I was allowing myself to take risks with intimacy that I hadn’t before.  The friend I was travelling with kept looking at me like I was someone different she’d never seen, as I spoke about Seth and my feelings for him.  Looking back, it was a time of succulence for me, one of the first I had ever allowed myself.

I spent a lot of time on my own during that trip; reflecting on my mother’s death just a few months prior, grieving, but also exploring my feelings for Seth, realizing I was in love with him, and considering what that meant for me.  I remember walking across Table Mountain in Capetown, looking out over the stunning coast and shimmering ocean.  That was my ocean, the one I’d learned to walk next to, but at the opposite end of the world.  At that moment, the sun felt like it was shining on parts of me I hadn’t even known existed.  While my mother’s cancer kept me closed off and hidden, her death left me raw, exposed, with a lot of open spaces ready to be filled.

This week I found myself eating mangoes naked with a lovely, witty, sexy woman from Cape Town.  I had a little chuckle to myself, for Sark, for how far I’ve come, and for the way we grow in circles, revisiting the places we’ve been so we can see the view from where we are back to where we were.    That day, I again found myself somewhere I never could have imagined I could get.  “Living Juicy,” as Sark would say.

By this point I really know what “Eat Mangoes Naked” is all about.   The woman I was on my Africa trip was no longer terrified of love and loss, but the woman I am today is more than that, she is a real Succulent, Wild Woman.  The risks I am taking now feel easy and playful instead of like walking through a title wave.   I let all the big questions of identity and relationship negotiation melt away this week into the simplicity of brushing up against a stranger on a rooftop, an instant connection, and a lingering sense that this was what supposed to happen, for both of us.

My new friend is back in Cape Town now.  Saying goodbye is hard, but it also teaches us to embrace the present.  So I am left with the feeling of being amazed by life, and truly, almost painfully grateful.  Grateful above all else for the simplicity.  After the soul-searching, the over-thinking, the wading through other people’s fears and projections, this experience has been beautifully ordinary.  Not ordinary in a bad way.  Ordinary in a way that tells you in your gut that you knew who you were all along, and that new experiences don’t have to change the old ones, just deepen them.

As I sit here alone, picturing her in her apartment on the slope of Table Mountain, overlooking that same sparkling ocean I once did, I think about the incredible journeys life takes us on if we let it.  If we drown out all the noise, turn off the tv, ignore the naysayers, don’t let other people’s fear turn us off to our own internal compass…  If we don’t play by other people’s rules but allow ourselves to make our own, the ones we really need, life will take us exactly where we need to go.

I know there are many of you out there who feel like you can’t live your fullest, most succulent life right now for a variety of reasons.  The path may be long, can be slow, and I assure you there will be pain along the way.  But don’t let anyone tell you you can’t.  Don’t let anyone tell you you have to stop, that you are getting too old, too wild, too outside the lines.  Keep expanding, keep growing.  Eat mangoes naked.  Find people who will do so with you and let you go when you need to do so alone.  Why do we do anything other than let the ones we love live fully and succulently?  If someone loves you, ask them to set you free.  But you have to set yourself free as well!

Seth and I talked a lot this week about feeling like we should feel bad.  Feeling bad about not feeling bad. We have real fears, of course, but the ones that came from outside of us, we are letting go.   From here on out we steer our own ship.  We are accountable only to each other.  Never could I have imagined this depth of connection when I first marveled at having an intimate partner.  There is little more powerful in terms of an act of love than setting someone free, and little more exalting than having that person stay anyway, though the door is open and the whole world is spread out before him.   There is great power in watching your partner grow and live fully, putting your fears aside, and being happy for him.  The “poly” folks call this compersion.   I think Sark would call it succulence.

Yours in grateful exploration,


P.S. – Breasts seriously rock.






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Why I’d Love a Four-Person Marriage

Originally Appeared on elephant journal.

A few years after finding and marrying each other, Seth and I found our couple-friend soul-mates. Over the few years that followed, in an entirely platonic way, we became more than just friends. When there was something going on in one of our lives, there were four people, instead of just two, who put their heads together and figured out what to do. Instead of Seth and me planning our social schedules together, all four of us would coordinate. When one of us was being bullheaded, there were three other folks there to gently but persistently provide an “intervention.” Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to get your partner to hear feedback on his behavior when there are two other people there backing you up!

However, the biggest thing I took away from that experience was that the business of life felt a lot less like work during that time. Life felt less burdensome and more fun. With four adults facing the world together things just felt a bit less daunting. Spending time with friends stopped feeling like it required elaborate planning or impossible scheduling feats. There just seemed to be… time.

When our couple-friend soul-mates divorced, Seth and I were devastated. We all joked that Seth and I were more upset than they were, but I think in some ways we really were. We were losing this family unit we’d created, except we didn’t have any of the motivation for wanting to move on that they had. We were perfectly happy in our sexless, four-person marriage. We hadn’t signed on for divorce.

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Marriage and Compulsory Monogamy – Are We Making Informed Choices?

Seth and I at our Partnership Ceremony

Seth and I at our Partnership Ceremony

Originally Posted on

What’s the best way to predict if a couple will get married?  Find out how many of their friends have!  In many social groups, once one or two friends marry the rest will drop like flies.  So is marriage merely a form of peer pressure?  Do we all want to avoid being the last single person left standing?   If so, are we really getting married for the right reasons?

Between the ages of 28 and 32, I felt like I was attending one wedding per weekend.  As someone who had always viewed marriage with skepticism, it was only when I found a truly egalitarian partner that I considered getting married for the first time.  Seth and I viewed our “un-wedding” partnership ceremony as a form of resistance to peer pressure.  But despite our insistence on expressing our feminist values, honoring those who did not share the privilege of legal marriage, and refusing to engage with the wedding industrial complex, we were still thinking relatively inside the box.  We were still making a heterosexual, legally-sanctioned, long-term partnership with an assumption of monogamy.

One of my best friends is getting hitched next month.   Almost five years after my wedding, as I support her through her journey to marriage, I’m seriously wondering if my own is going to make it.  After a stressful infertility experience and fifteen months raising twins together, my relationship is in its toughest period yet.  I’ve never had a “that won’t happen to me” attitude about divorce.  Being a therapist, I understand how tough the dynamics of couples’ relationships can be to navigate.  I always felt that even trying as hard as I knew I would, it could, indeed, be me.  What I didn’t know was what it would feel like to try that hard and have to face the possibility that it might not be enough.  I didn’t understand that I could still be so in love with my husband, still see him as an amazing partner, and yet wonder if it’s possible for us both to get our needs met while raising children, managing careers, and constantly evolving as individuals.

I’ve realized that most of Seth’s and my exposure back then was to the beginning of a marriage.  For our parents, the reasons for marrying, the life-stage they were in when it happened, and the ways in which they negotiated their relationships were so foreign, it was easy to write-off those marriages as having nothing to do with ours.   We really didn’t have much interaction with people who’d been married longer, were divorced, were single by choice, or who were in non-marital relationship structures, either monogamous or polyamorous.  We understood that our gay and lesbian friends weren’t focused on marriage, but our response was outrage that they could not marry, rather than questioning whether matrimony was or should be everyone’s ideal.  I can only imagine how alienating that time period was for many of my queer friends.

That lack of exposure led our social circle to a kind of groupthink about marriage – an assumption that even though it would be hard, it would be worth it.  I even found myself about a year ago proclaiming the benefits of marriage to a friend who was thinking more critically about whether to marry.  My argument included the ways in which the cultural meaning of marriage and the social support marriage engendered had deepened and strengthened my relationship.  But cultural acceptance makes a lot of other paths—paths that I have rejected—easier, too.  What about encouraging more social support for other relationship structures?  Were the positive feelings I attributed to marriage merely evidence that I, who once saw marriage an oppressive, patriarchal institution, had caved to the peer pressure?  Was I basking in the glow of doing the popular thing, rather than in the glow of marriage itself?

Even if those around us don’t actively pressure us to follow their paths, a lack of other models creates a tendency to default to what others have done.  I have seen that kind of “default” at play as, on an almost daily basis, ultrasound pictures appear on Facebook.  Can they all really making a fully conscious choice to raise families, I ask myself?   At the same time, I’ve watched the rare friends who have chosen not to have children feel alienated and misunderstood.   Resisting peer pressure can be painful, but not resisting it can be as well.  This year Seth and I felt like our own family was being torn apart as our “couple best friends” divorced.  Just like marriage, divorce can spread through social groups as unhappy couples see others finding a way out and exploring new lives outside their relationships.  Other challenges to traditional notions of marriage can also spread through social groups such as exploring queer identity, kink lifestyles, and/or polyamory.  Unfortunately, many of us don’t come to the place where we are ready to consider all of our options until we have the big, socially sanctioned life choices like marriage and children under our belts.

If I could talk to myself back then, before the marriage juggernaut came barreling towards us, I wouldn’t necessarily tell myself not to get married.  I would, however, ask myself whether when I decided I could be a married feminist, I was still defaulting to a hetero-normative, monogamous lifestyle, rather than making a more conscious, more intentional choice.   I would want Seth and me to at least consider a long-term, non-married partnership.  I would want us to talk about whether two adults in a marriage really is the best approach to both relationship and family structure.  There are times when it feels like both my marriage and child-rearing would be more manageable with more adults involved.  I wish someone had warned me that when the terror of spending life alone is not drowning them out, our desires to explore our own sexuality can become louder.  We can suddenly feel unhappy with our level of sexual experience, find out we are a lot queerer than we thought, or that we are not sexually compatible with our partner.  In all marriages, we inevitably realize there are things our partners can’t provide us, and have to reconcile either getting those needs met elsewhere or going without.

Can we ever really fully understand our vows when we make them?

Many couples discuss whether they will have children, what religion they will practice, and how they will handle finances before marrying.  But, few discuss how they will keep their sex lives exciting, how they would handle it if their marriage became mixed orientation, or whether polyamory or an open relationship might be an option.  Seth and I thought we were thinking outside the box, but we didn’t realize that there were other boxes.  Ironically, marriage often provides the stability and safety for us to explore ourselves more fully.  For some, this can deepen the marital relationship, but for others it can lead to the realization that the partner they are with is no longer the right one.  These are the things they don’t tell you in the bridal magazines, or talk about at all those wedding showers.  How many romantic comedies end with the female lead realizing that, while her husband is really good in bed and a great father, he’s not emotionally available enough?

The peer pressure to marry doesn’t necessarily suggest a problem with marriage itself, but a lack of other cultural models.  This results in a lot of people choosing marital and family structures by default rather than by intention – a kind of compulsory monogamy.  If I were advising young adults today, I would tell them to seek out people who have set up their relationships and lives in a variety of ways, including traditional monogamous marriage.  I would tell them to pursue diverse sexual experiences and explore their sexual orientations before committing to monogamy, or consider relationship structures in which continued exploration could be on the table.  I would tell them that marriage is hard–incredibly hard.  But, I would have to add that the best things in life inevitably are.  I don’t regret getting married, but as I make the decision each day to remain married, I believe I’m doing it with greater and greater intention as I glance down more of the roads not taken and realize what it is I’ve actually chosen, and what I’ve given up.

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