Read an Excerpt
The Secret Lives of Lawfully Wedded Wives
27 Women Writers on Love, Infidelity, Sex, Race, Kids, and More
By Autumn Stephens
Inner Ocean PublishingCopyright © 2006 Autumn Stephens
All rights reserved.
Fasten Your Seatbelts: The Transformative Crisis
"Marriage [is] a series of desperate arguments people feel passionately about."
— KATHARINE HEPBURN
Eight Sizzling Sex Secrets to Keep Your Marriage Strong
1. Have an Affair With Your Husband
For him, the story begins on a Tokyo street on a December evening in the last decade of the last century. Neon signs wink and wind in pink and purple tendrils up the narrow high-rises. Yakuza toughs bark out promises of earthly delight to passersby: "Welcome, come on in, only 5,000 yen." A lone man stops before a doorway, hesitates, then steps into darkness.
For her, it opens with another departure, this time in the soft light of a June morning in the first years of the new century. She leans into her husband, kissing him a long, slow goodbye as he goes off on yet another two-week business trip to Asia. She still smells of sex — he smells of soap from the quick shower for the road — unusual, perhaps for a couple that has just celebrated their seventeenth anniversary. For them, it's a travel day ritual. Once their daughter is at school, they fall onto the king-size bed, rolling around in ever-changing conjunctions of body parts, filling the house with moans and naughty words.
"I love you," the man murmurs. The words slip easily from her lips in return. She doesn't yet wonder what "love" really means to him after all. With one last kiss, he turns and walks to his car, grinning, buoyant, the picture of a happy man.
Sometimes, as I replay it, he whistles.
And I — of course that innocent, trusting woman is my former self — smile because I think it's because of me. I had no idea the reason for the lightness in his step was not so much memory as anticipation.
2. A Sexplosive Start Keeps the Fire Hot
I was twenty-three when I met my husband, although I already felt ancient and battered in matters of the heart. I had just begun a Ph.D. program in classics and comparative literature and was looking forward to spending my Saturday nights cozied up with brawny reference books for many years to come. My high-minded plans were foiled, however, by a twenty-five-year-old MBA student who'd ventured over to my corner of campus for cultural enrichment. From the first, I admired his warm amber eyes, his quiet intelligence, and his willingness to forgo the study of profit for the allure of long-dead civilizations. He was drawn to me because I'd lived in a sun-drenched Mediterranean country he'd only read about and wore black fishnet stockings to class.
Within the month my scholar-nun's vows were forgotten. We spent entire days in bed, staggering out only to refuel at all-night diners. Trips to the grocery store together only confirmed we were soul mates. Why else would we both feel a sudden craving for Rice Chex without exchanging a word? The bond went even deeper. Both of us had lost parents when we were teenagers. We knew how to make each other laugh. "I missed you before I met you," he told me. By Christmas we were engaged. My only worry before our wedding was a fleeting concern that I had no worries at all. We were married in a traditional church ceremony mostly to please my mother, but my last shreds of feminist cynicism dissolved when I found myself weeping at the altar during the soloist's rendition of "One Hand, One Heart."
Later that evening, as we lay in each other's arms, he stroked my cheek and said "my wife," as if the very words were new and marvelous. Strangely moved myself, I shared my musings about wedding nights and how they no longer had the meaning they did in times past. Back then it probably would have been the first time a "nice girl" like me would open her body to the man she loved — not that I regretted my sexual experience with other men; surely, educated choice is a better foundation for commitment than enforced ignorance. I certainly wasn't sorry that we'd done plenty of premarital test runs between the sheets. We fit together well, and although I still worried I was too slow to warm up, I always managed to have an orgasm one way or another, a pleasure I couldn't count on with past lovers. And yet, I envied those virgin brides who had something so precious to give: the potent combination of body and trust for a lifetime. All I had to offer was more of the same.
Lifting me on top of him, my husband whispered, "It is different from the old days. It's going to be better, because I'm going to make you come." The words alone almost did the trick, but then I felt a new sensation: a tugging in my chest, an opening out of my ribs, as if it did matter that we'd joined our lives with formal vows. As if, without knowing it, I had been holding something in reserve for this moment. I'd never quite gotten why all that grunting and hip-grinding was called "making love." That night, I did.
Conflict came soon enough. The first years of our marriage coincided with the start-up boom of the late eighties, which for an ambitious young man meant ninety-hour work weeks, vacations cancelled for last-minute meetings with important clients, and 'round-the-world business trips. I protested, but there was always another deadline or deal just on the verge of signing. I'll never forget the sight of my husband hunched over on the kitchen floor, a cooking spoon in his hand, crying because I'd given him an ultimatum: Take one day off a week or else. "I feel like I'm being torn in two," he sobbed. "There's not enough of me to give you both everything you want."
Capitalism has no heart, but I did, so I gave in and followed him into the office nights and weekends, a pillow under my arm so I could sleep on the carpet across from his desk while he worked into the wee hours. There were practical benefits. I finished a book I never would have written and became good friends with the cleaning lady. Yet there was romance in it, too, to be sealed away together in a golden, lamp-lit kingdom of our own while the rest of the world slept.
In the years that followed, his workload eased as the company grew, then began its slow decline. I left teaching to raise our daughter and found an avocation in fiction writing. Our lives settled into comfortable routine. Yes, my almost-perfect husband regularly forgot to recycle empty cereal boxes. And his halo wobbled dangerously with that credit card charge for a lap dance in Tokyo. He bowed his head as he told me, his voice pinched with fear.
My first impulse was to assess the damage. After all, knowledge was power.
"Did you touch her?"
"Did you get hard?"
"Yes. But the experience wasn't really very erotic ..."
Despite his protest, the image taking shape in my mind was too awful to bear any more "truth." Sick to my stomach, I ran out onto the porch and watched the season's first snow flurries reel through the air for half an hour, hugging myself until the late autumn chill finally dulled the throbbing in my gut. For the next three days of torment, I couldn't bring myself to speak to him, but slowly I began to take a more rational view. It wasn't as if he'd had any real relationship with this dancer, and his shame made it clear this was a one-time mistake, a simple indulgence of curiosity. Yes, it was a blot on the purity of our love, but I was not so naive as to imagine I could police his every desire. He swore he'd never do it again and I believed him. He was my true love, my best friend, the one person in the world I trusted completely.
3. Don't be the Last to Know — Telltale Signs of a Cheating Spouse
The morning after his return from his last Manila-Jakarta-Bangkok trip, I woke up early and snuggled close to him in bed, enough of an invitation for sex that he had no choice but to bury his face in my shoulder and say, "I have something to tell you." I could feel his heart hammering in his chest and fear slashed through me, too.
"Don't say it. I don't want to know," I hissed. But I recognized the tremor of shame in his voice from the lap dance confession. I knew.
He took me at my word and said no more. Not that he had much of a chance. His request for a hug was met with a shiver of disgust. For the rest of the day, the moment he entered a room, I slipped away like a ghost — and that's just how I felt: hollow, insignificant, dead.
It was Father's Day, and I could barely force my lips into a smile as our daughter gave him the card she'd made, "I love you, Daddy!" printed with painstaking care. Later I handed him my sentiments for the holiday, a note requesting that we go to counseling. He nodded, I'll do anything it takes, and promised a note in return. This confused me. We weren't in the habit of communicating by letter when we were in the same house. But in a resurgence of hope, I assumed he meant to make an apology, the more heartfelt for its formality.
The next evening he waited in the doorway of our bedroom just long enough to watch me hurl his note across the room. Where do I start? I guess with the second bombshell, he'd written. I have a rash that may indicate I caught herpes ... Still I wondered: Can you catch herpes from a blow job?
The bombs kept falling. The doctor diagnosed the rash as a bacterial infection that would not recur — a relief — but I knew we still needed treatment. A therapist friend gave me the names of four colleagues who worked with couples. Three handled routine infidelities; one specialized in men who patronize prostitutes on a regular basis.
"So, what is it?" I asked, trying my best to sound jolly. "Once or more than once?"
I'd come to dread his pauses. It was, in fact, "several" times. Which means three or four. Right?
A few weeks later, during our second therapy session, he insisted that he was serious about changing his ways. The proof? He'd already deleted the women's phone numbers from his cell phone.
Yes, the women. Not one woman. Many. A whole database of them. My jaw dropped. "But you didn't have personal feelings for any of them, did you?"
My husband met my eyes for a long moment but said nothing.
The couch lurched and I was falling, hurtling off the tallest building in the world while faces watched from the windows, slinky Gong Li call girls smiling into cell phones, my daughter's half-siblings, dark eyes shining.
A few hours after the session, I called him at work and asked point blank, "How long has this been going on?"
This time he did answer.
4. Fantasy Fuels the Flame
It is now time for a confession of my own. Like my husband, I have also lived a secret life for many years. When I mentioned a while back that I write fiction, I lied. Well, not lied, exactly, but there is more to the story. I am, to all appearances, a bespectacled, middle-aged mom with a few too many useless degrees. Who would ever suspect that I began writing erotic novels when my daughter was a toddler, finding respite both from "mommy duty" and a lifelong servitude to coloring inside the lines, by typing up steamy sex scenes while she napped? Indeed, I even published some of my creations for a decent chunk of cash. You could, I suppose, consider me a sex worker of the mind, peddling fantasies under a false name to protect my real-life reputation, just like my sisters in red light districts the world over.
Of course, I like to think there is an important difference between us, that a writer owns her fantasies in a way a prostitute never can. In my books, I am free to explore areas of sexuality that provoke, amuse, or even scare me. The only urge I satisfy is my own desire to create. Still, I can't deny that my novels, if not my body, connect me with strangers on a sexual level, as my occasional fan mail attests.
But unlike most sex workers — or their patrons, for that matter — I had a spouse who not only knew about but delighted in my secret life. My husband was ever eager to assist with "literary" research. And no wonder. My body had been slow to heal after our daughter's birth and for nearly a year, intercourse was as pleasant for me as being stabbed with a red-hot poker. Oddly, considering what I know now, my husband was faithful during that time. When we were finally able to have sex again, it was all the sweeter for that long period of deprivation. The renaissance was intoxicating to us both, in part because I brought my new writer's sensibility to our pleasures.
Which meant, in a word, attention. How could I transform sensation into words if I didn't drink in the cuminy scent of his skin, the liquid sounds of flesh joining? How could I describe an erection if I didn't watch it happen, the puppet-string jerks as it rose and thickened? Before, it had always just been there. Before, my concentration had been directed inward, to my own response, determined as I was to score an orgasm before my lover tired or complained. I used to envy the power in men's hands, the way they got turned on just by touching a woman, while I had to rely on their skill, or lack thereof, for my enjoyment. At last I understood how the nerves in your palm can sing like electric wire, sending jolts straight to your groin as you stroke your lover's body, how doing for can be as physically thrilling as being done to.
My work gave us license to go wide as well as deep. We tried feathers and blindfolds, silk scarves and fur mittens. One of my characters who could only do it standing up challenged us to make good use of the kitchen table and low dressers, the stretch of empty wall behind the closet door. "Fuck me like I'm a whore," I even commanded him once, as I sat the kitchen table, pulling him close, wrapping my legs around him. I assumed that the momentary flicker in his eyes was discomfort at my brazen request, but he went on to play his part well. How was I to know he was not a virtuous husband masquerading as a rake, but an old veteran feigning innocence?
I certainly felt lucky, even smug, as I reached for the latest allsex issue of Cosmo or Glamour at the checkout stand, flipping right to the good parts, so I wouldn't have to buy it. His Top Five Forbidden Fantasies? We'd done them already. Blow His Mind With Our Supersecret Sex Position? We'd discovered another that worked better.
Only now do I see what those magazines were really selling, what I was still buying beneath my bravado: reassurance that if I knocked his socks off with this month's latest technique, my man would never stray. After all, don't men seek sex with other women, amateur or professional, because they aren't getting their needs met at home?
In the aftermath of his confession, my husband assured me this was not the case. Sex with prostitutes was run-of-the-mill stuff, he claimed, no ancient Asian secrets, no Kama Sutra contortions, nothing nearly as creative as what I did with him. You made me feel like such a great lover, he said. I wondered if I could do that with someone else.
It was an explanation of sorts, but it didn't sit quite right. I was aware he had fewer sexual partners than I did before we met, and I'd always wondered, though I never asked, if he felt threatened by this. Now I seemed to have my answer. My next thought — and yes, I'm embarrassed by my good-girl response — was that in some vague way I'd brought this all on myself.
Too Hot in Bed? Guys Tell Why Boring Is Better. There's a Cosmo headline I've yet to see. If I do, I might actually have to buy it.
5. Dare to Share Your Darkest Desires
I could no longer deny it. My ideal husband had been having sex with prostitutes for twelve years. What was I to do? Laugh and quiz him for details to use in my next novel? Boot him out the door? Give a blue-blooded shrug like Jackie O. and sigh, "Well, all men are unfaithful anyway"? Or, in keeping with my Catholic upbringing, rise above his betrayal with dignity to reveal my soul's goodness and beauty?
In truth, it got very ugly indeed.
I dragged myself through the days, a smile pasted on my face for our daughter's sake. Nights I lay wide awake, a firestorm of pain and uncertainty scorching my insides. Crying provided temporary relief, but I wasn't yet sure what I was mourning. Part of me wanted to know the truth about what had transpired between him and all those other women. Surely, the reality of his encounters couldn't be as appalling as the scenes played out in my sleep-starved brain? Yet every revelation so far had been such a blow, I was afraid I couldn't survive another. Terrified of my reaction, my husband offered no further information or explanation, making me worry he had even more devastating secrets to hide. "I love you, you mean everything to me," was all he would say. Rigid in his arms, I wondered if he was mocking me.
Excerpted from The Secret Lives of Lawfully Wedded Wives by Autumn Stephens. Copyright © 2006 Autumn Stephens. Excerpted by permission of Inner Ocean Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.