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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Hetero-monogo-binar-illa-normativity and… Cookie Dough

If Unwrapping Identity is as Simple as Inventing a New Flavor of Ice Cream, Maybe Being Queer is Just Being Human?

-Also appears here at  Check it out!

–In 1980, Adrienne Rich wrote possibly the most important queer feminist text in human history, Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.  Today, I bring you my own thoughts on compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory monogamy, gendered and vanilla existence, all through the lens of… ice cream.  

—For anyone who might be wondering (especially those who remember this), no I was not high when I wrote this post, just hungry.

Every time I think I’ve stepped completely outside the box, I find there is another box. My life is like one of those Russian nesting dolls—open me up and there’s another one inside. But in my case, instead of getting smaller and smaller, I get queerer and queerer.

When it comes to sex and gender, our world is like an ice cream shop that only sells two flavors—with maybe a third special flavor available on certain days of the week. As a lover of frozen treats, I have to say, that’s pretty lame!

Imagine if ice cream only came in chocolate and vanilla. Strawberry would seem pretty damn novel—even radical! Strawberry might seem so radical, it could never occur to anyone to do something crazy like mix flavors together, add nuts, chocolate bits or (god help me) cookie dough! How empty our lives would be without cookie dough! And the saddest part—we would have no idea what we were missing!

I’ve always been outside the box. It’s not like I only knew about chocolate and vanilla. At 20 years old I was hanging out at something called a “Queer Kiss-In.” I just wasn’t kissing anyone. Why not? Because there were other boxes I was still inside.

Strawberry. I got it. I got the strawberry, but I didn’t get the cookie dough. I was outside the straight box, but I was still inside the monosexual box. I hadn’t reached pansexual yet, and wouldn’t for years. There was no way for me to imagine cookie dough back then.

Why do I meet so many other women who didn’t realize they liked women until later in life?  You see, many of us were never offered that flavor. When we looked down into the display case of life we didn’t see queer as an option. Even me, who thought I was pretty damn radical, marrying a feminist man in a partnership ceremony, wearing a brown dress, keeping my name… I thought I was at the wheel, but I was still caught up in compulsory monogamy and heterosexuality. I questioned the gender expectations traditionally ascribed to “marriage,” but there were so many other things I didn’t question.

Strawberry was my big fat feminist, egalitarian wedding. Cookie Dough is separating marriage from monogamy. I know, I know, I need some dessert.

Seriously though, it’s really hard to see something in yourself that you’ve never seen anywhere else, and that no one recognizes in you. In the last couple of months I’ve had several friends I perceived as straight or lesbian tell me they are much closer to bi, as well as friends I perceived as cis-gender tell me they aren’t. The more I talk to people about my identity, the more I’m able to truly see them, and perhaps, the more they are able to truly see them. I’m left wondering if the LGBTQIAPK, etc. folks that we see out there are only tip of the iceberg.

What’s different about queer people who somehow manage to recognize queer in themselves and live it? Are their skins thicker, are they smarter, luckier, were they simply in the right place at the right time, or are they gayer, kinkier, or more gender flexible than the rest of us? I can’t say.

All I know is how incredibly fine the line is between me and your garden variety heterosexual, vanilla, monogamous suburban mom. If so many of us ladies are, or were, just a couple neuron-firings away from recognizing our queer, than how many more are out there like us whose queer neurons just haven’t fired yet?

Why does one mom stay closeted her whole life, even to herself, while another is tormented by her same-sex desire which she never reveals to anyone?  Why does one woman have a secret affair with a woman, ultimately coming to view herself as a lesbian, while another has a full -blown, long-term relationship with a female, but still identifies as straight. What separates the woman who comes out to her husband and friends and has discreet relationships with women, from the one who leaves her marriage and never looks at a man again?

In my humble opinion, very little.

I say that because I could be any of them. I could have landed anywhere on that spectrum. I still could.  Had I never had pregnancy and birth hormones coursing through my veins and experienced the head-trash of becoming a mother in our society (see here for my manifesto on motherhood and coming out), would I have gotten so in touch with my queerness? Easily not.

I once heard a talk by a woman who is an expert in the field of transgender identity. She stated, with regret, “We’re losing a whole generation of butch lesbians.”  Her implication was that many of the women who would have identified as butch lesbians in the past are now transitioning to male. Why would this be? Current technology and visibility of transpeople means—you guessed it—more flavors. It seems the butch lesbians of the past were all about strawberry, but they hadn’t yet sampled the cookie dough.

It all comes back to the ice cream. If we look down into that case and all we see is straight, all we see is monogamous, vanilla, traditionally gendered, and paired off in dyads, then there’s nothing else to sample. There are so many flavors we all have yet to discover! Everyone has another box to get out of. We all have unexplored aspects of our identity, and for most of us, more unexplored than explored.

I never saw a woman love a woman in a way that wasn’t platonic until I was 18. When I acted flagrantly queer in high school, nobody ever noticed. I’m not saying they ignored or rejected it—see that would be a form of recognition, albeit painful. I’m saying they simply didn’t see it—like a color-blind person looking at a pattern and only seeing certain parts—they were queer-blind. Their brains were not wired to see queerness. They had neurons firing to straight girls acting very, very friendly with their best friends. Groan.

When I was a senior in high school, I won an award for writing. It wasn’t a surprise. I’d been getting praised for my writing my whole life. But what if I hadn’t? What if no one ever noticed my writing? What if no one around me even knew what writing was? What if my teachers paid way more attention to other talents I had and ignored my writing skills? Would I be writing this right now?

Amazing how parts of us can get hidden so far inside us that we don’t even know they are there, while the things that get validated, groomed, praised, and noticed tend to be the ones we cultivate. That my friends, is why I have a husband and a blog where I write about being queer, but not a girlfriend. And that too is why I wasn’t kissing anyone at the “Queer Kiss-In.”

It wasn’t that I wanted to kiss someone but didn’t. I don’t think I even had access to those feelings. I don’t believe it’s because they weren’t there—I think I just didn’t know where to look for them. I didn’t even know to look for them. By then, I’d had my straight parts reinforced up the wazoo, and my gay parts not at all. Remember Eve, my “sixteen year-old lesbian alter ego?” She’d already been sent into hiding by that point.

This is what compulsory heterosexuality is. It’s not big brother knocking on our doors and telling us “You are going to be straight, vanilla, marry, and be monogamous, and that’s just the way is it, young lady!”

It’s much more subtle, and much more pervasive than that. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything we see, but most of all, it’s in the many, many things we don’t see. It’s in everything we are told about ourselves, and it’s in the silence of the things that are clearly in us that not one ever sees.

So what is fluidity then?

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not so much that queer feelings suddenly appear where there weren’t any. I wonder if it’s more like we are, for a variety of reasons, able to see more. It’s like we get treatment for our queer-blindness, and suddenly we can see twice as much. It’s like walking into an ice cream store, and instead of three flavors, there are six, and then sixteen, and then sixty. What if those ice cream shops were everywhere? What if we could all see all the possibilities?

I wonder if we would conclude that fluidity is simply seeing more and more of what already is, and queer is just another word for human?

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Help! There’s a 16 Year-Old Lesbian Trapped Inside My Body, and She Wants Out!

Also appeared in elephantjournal – check it out!  This post is dedicated to MF.

The following is an internal dialogue between me, Lyla (“grown-up,” married, mother of two), and my gay, teenage alter-ego. We’ll call her “Eve since,” as you will see, she spends a lot of time focused on, shall we say, forbidden fruit.

Lyla: There has to be a way to keep up with the laundry without doing some every single day!

Eve: Girls.

Lyla: Aw, my little boy asked a question, that must be a developmental milestone.

Eve: Girls.

Lyla: Seth is my soul mate, best friend, and life-long companion.

Eve: Girls.

Lyla: How do I know if my kids are adjusting well to pre-school?

Eve: Girls… and sex.

Lyla: Dental Insurance?

Eve: How do you pick out a strap-on?

Lyla: I can’t believe this, I didn’t think we had dental insurance, but we do! What a relief!

Eve: Dates… we should be going on them. With girls!

Lyla: I should probably talk to my therapist about this.

Eve: OMG.

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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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In Defense of Labels

Please check out this post on Elephant Journal where your clicks here will help my rating during their “sweeps.”

In my feminist, sex-positive, queer-positive travels, I constantly hear folks complaining about labels.  Let’s just stop with all these labels.  If we could just get away from labels.  It’s the labels that are the problem.  When I hear this, I often wonder how any of the progress that’s been made to expand notions of gender identity beyond the binary and make space for non-heteronormative and queer forms of identity could have been made without labels.  How could we fight for gay marriage without the word “gay?”  How could we raise awareness that not everyone fits neatly into male/female categories without labels like transgender, intersex, and genderqueer?  I can understand the frustration with labels when it feels like they narrow who we can be and pigeon-hole us into existing categories, like male and female, for example.  But ironically, I believe the way to expand notions of identity and free ourselves from those limits is also through more labels.

I recently heard the phrase “Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Minorities” for the first time.  As someone who focuses my career in the mental health field on those very groups, I was so pleased to finally have found a quick and dirty label not only for the folks I work with but for myself, as a queer-identified pansexual.  However, after my initial excitement, I started to feel a bit sad.  Would this mean I would have to stop using the acronym I coined on my blog and have been using for over a year… LGBTQIAPK?

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What Do All Those Letters Stand for Anyway? The Case for LGBTQIAPK.

New York City Pride 2012

People often ask me “what do all those letters stand for, anyway?”  I’m not quite sure why they ask me, since most don’t know I belong in that alphabet soup somewhere.  But they ask, and I’m glad, because I think they should know.  However, there is definitely a part of me that’s annoyed by the question, and thinks, ‘come on people, keep up, it’s not rocket science.’  Of course, there are those who don’t know “what all those letters stand for” because they don’t want to, due to ignorance or hatred.  But there are also well-meaning allies who are having a hard time keeping up.

Hell, there are a whole bunch of folks who fit within that list of letters, or a longer one we haven’t come up with yet, who don’t even know it.  It is confusing.  It should be.  That list of letters keeps growing and growing because the variations in human sexuality and gender identity are infinite.  We probably need the whole alphabet to cover them.  I have this fantasy that one day when there are more of us who fit under the “queer” umbrella than don’t, it will finally be clear that we are all “sexual minorities.”

This is not at all to diminish the experience of people who have to live, openly or not, as sexual minorities in our culture right now.  But perhaps the reason they are in the “minority” is because of how many others are still closeted in various ways.  How many people must be out there who have never spent much time considering their sexual orientations or gender identities due to compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory gender-normativity, and/or compulsory sexual vanilla-ism in our culture?  And how many simply don’t fit labels our culture has yet produced?

I mean, honestly, how many of us have “normal,” monogamous sex, one man, one woman, in missionary position, nothing “dirty,” no bondage-discipline-dominance-submission-sado-masochism-kinky stuff, no outside partners, no shared partners, only clean, run-of-the-mill fantasies, barely any foreplay necessary, easy “normal” orgasms, vaginal for the women, no clitoral stimulation needed, male gets hard easily, cums at just the right moment, no props, no toys, no porn, male in the dominant-but-not-too-aggressive role, woman in the submissive or seductive-but-still-respectable role, only “normal” masturbation in between, like our televisions tell us to?

And how many of us fit neatly and comfortably into one of two biological sexes, as well as the gender identity and gender role identity that our culture would dictate?

Folks in drag at 2012 Pride.

One of the main reasons the acronym that formed around sexual orientations (LGB) has become murky is that the categories those letters cover keeps expanding.  When the gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgender movements merged, a gender identity category was added to a list of sexual orientations.  I believe this was a pivotal point at which our society began to wrestle with how gender variance can interplay and overlap with sexual orientation.  This also opened the door for new identities such as “genderqueer” to emerge.  The term “queer” also became the label of choice for those who sought a more inclusive category, in some cases to avoid having to choose either a sexual orientation or gender identity label.  Queer has also been utilized by many who gravitate toward labels that haven’t gained status in the official acronym yet, like genderqueer and pansexual.  Finally, queer can be a political stance for allies or others who don’t necessarily ascribe to specific “queer” identities, but take on a “queer” stance or perspective.

Transgender calls into question the assumed match between biological sex and gender identity.  Intersex, also typically one of the commonly accepted “sexual minorities,” represents the almost 2% of the population who don’t fit neatly into existing biological categories of male and female according to Arlene Lev, author of Transgender Emergence.  If genderqueer and androgynous became part of the sexual minority acronym, it would represent yet another identity category, this time for those whose gender identities do not fit neatly into male/female gender categories.  Transgender, genderqueer, androgynous, and intersex are all identities which call into question the gender binary.

For me, pansexual is a label that defies labels.  It pulls the rug out from under the gender binary as well as earlier concepts of sexual orientation, by separating sexual/affectional orientation from binary notions of gender.  It is essentially a refusal to define sexual orientation based on gender.  For some, it even calls into question the boundaries between sex/love relationships and non-romantic relationships.  To me it is an identity category which expands, rather than narrows who people can be and how.  As someone seeking to choose partners and set up my relationships and lifestyle based on criteria other than gender, I wasn’t sure how I fit into the queer spectrum until I discovered pansexuality.  I think I always identified with being queer, but I never felt entitled to identify as queer until I heard this term.  I am only identified as queer now because our culture was creative enough to produce such a concept.  How many other queer folks are out there for whom we don’t yet have labels?

Despite the relative mainstreaming of gay identity, there was only one Bisexual group in NYC's gigantic Pride Parade, and no one representing Pansexuals, Asexuals, etc.

Asexual, an identity which is often included within the sexual minority acronym, represents yet another identity type, this time regarding one’s level of interest in sex or identification as a sexual being.

“Questioning” doesn’t necessarily imply what one is questioning, further muddying the waters, but potentially drawing in more folks who are either unsure how they fit under the queer umbrella, or again, may ascribe to identities not yet defined.

Other potential categories relate to those sexual minorities who do not structure relationships around monogamy.  Polyamorists are candidates for inclusion in our acronym, in addition those who are “sexual minorities” by virtue of the less common sexual practices and/or sexual roles they take on, particularly those within the kink community.  K would cover those who practice bondage and discipline, dominance-submission and/or sado-masochism, as well as those with an incredibly diverse set of fetishes and preferences.  According to survey data around 15% of adults engage in some form of consensual sexual activity along the “kink” spectrum.  This is a higher percentage than identify as gay or lesbian.

This is my official petition to add the letters P and K to the more widely accepted LGBTQIA acronym, and to emphasize other “A” and “G” identities.  This would make room not only for myself, but for all those who already identify as genderqueer, androgynous, asexual, pansexual, polyamorous, and those who are part of the kink community.   Perhaps seeing those additional letters will help some of the folks out there who haven’t been exposed to these identities understand themselves a bit better and feel they too have a place in the queer community.

LGGBTQQIAAPPK?  The categories of human sex and gender expression and identities they could represent is likely infinite.  If that acronym looks a bit absurd, it speaks to the absurdity of thinking there are a few isolated “sexual minorities” while the rest of the human race is “normal” and fairly similar.  The truth is the level of diversity in our sexual lives as human beings means we are all sexual minorities.  As accepted and culturally understood identity categories continue to arise, this will become more and more apparent.  Perhaps the “queer” community, is, in fact, becoming more accurately described as the community of people who acknowledge the diversity of human sexual and gender expression and seek to be open to exploring that diversity within themselves and the culture at large.

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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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