In 1990 when I was 37 I lived in a simple one-bedroom apartment in the Hollywood Hills with Poppy, my timid Russian Blue cat. I was in the midst of exploring multiple partner sexualities. I would note how bored and emotionally trapped I’d felt in monogamous pairings and decided the best thing would be to have my own house, my own social identity, economic independence and ultimately bear and raise a child on my own. I noted things I found distasteful:
“I do not want to be kissed or in any way touched by men (or women) I am not attracted to and I am not at all interested in group sex.”
Yet, I admitted:
“I very much enjoy having intense connections with multiple lovers…my favorite configuration is being the exciting other woman to married men who seek relief from the confines of bedroom sex with their wives.”
The two married men in my life were Ben and Brad.
Ben, a Cal Tech trained scientist who I met at a polyamory support group was the father of two young daughters and married to Catherine, a woman he met in grad school. For the first several months of our getting to know each other we’d have lunch at Rives Gauche, a French Café in Sherman Oaks. He would tell me about his research in “Fulfillment Technologies.”
Eventually we began to conduct “Research” on a bedspread laid across my living room floor. He’d stroke my clitoris in a repetitive and prescribed fashion for extended periods of time, telling me to fully experience “Receiving.” This was unusual for me. It felt geeky and decidedly unromantic. To me, interacting by “Touching Back” generates an erotic conversation.
Nonetheless, I play along and eventually surrender into “Just Feeling” and then moan and shriek in delight! Several weeks into this research, he begins to insert a finger…and then additional ones as I beg for more. I drip and shudder from the deep full body orgasms that follow. Eventually, we make love to help my body integrate the overwhelming intensity.
Ben invites me to become a family friend, including playing with his children and helping his wife plan his birthday celebration. Family time is delightful and he tells me that when the time is right he will propose to his wife that I be fully added as a “second wife.” I note that he struggles with depression and that we have connected during one of his socially extroverted periods. In the end all I can do is be grateful for the brief window of erotic ecstasy and feel relieved that his wife Catherine did not find out about our “Research.”
Tandem to my visits with Ben, I meet Brad. He is an inventor and an entrepreneur who also has two young daughters and an unsuspecting wife. We meet at a business support group he hosts in the living room of his West Hollywood home. I am filled with ambition to host my own radio show on sex and gender, launch a story-telling business and write my first book. He is drawn to my starry-eyed ambition and I am in awe of his world. His house is forever filled with interesting people and fun gadgets.
I am flattered when he asks me to join him for Robert Mauer’s philosophy lectures at UCLA as well as many events and gatherings. One evening, after one of our outings, he comes up to my apartment to continue our conversation. Suddenly he pins me against the wall and places his lips on my lips. I am quizzical for about 20 seconds and then consent. We land on my bed…and become lovers. His touch is exquisite. I like everything about him — his looks, his brain, his beautiful body and his fantastic sense of humor.
Quickly, I want to be with him much more than he is available. He is running a demanding business, is a devoted father and has a high-spirited wife named Sofia. There really isn’t room for me. But somehow we see a lot of each other. He calls me from his car phone (there weren’t yet cell phones), I send him personal faxes (trusting that they will only reach his eyes) and we meet up with each other everywhere we can.
One day, he claims he needs to focus more on things at home and won’t be so available. I soon find out he has begun to spend time with another single woman whose name is Sasha. Sasha soon feels duplicitous about dating a married man and reveals all to Sofia. Sasha and Sofia bond. Brad is confronted. My relationship with Brad is exposed. I sit with Brad and Sofia at their kitchen table and attempt to defend Brad and myself. I explain with the authority of a cultural anthropologist — multiple partner researcher (with a personal agenda), that Brad is not a candidate for marital monogamy. I propose to Sofia,
“If you want to save the marriage, I should be incorporated in as a family member/lover. I love him, love your family and it would be my dream to have a child with him.”
Sofia is aghast. She mutters,
“You have been conned by Brad.”
“What about the cottages in your backyard? I could live in one and help out with your kids!”
“No way! That’s absolutely absurd!”
I point out,
“In other world cultures, polygamy is the norm for successful men. Considering that Brad is now the CEO of a successful company, he should be able to live like the man he is.”
Brad appears cuckolded and stays quiet. He faces he has young daughters who he very much loves and a reputation to uphold. Despite his appetite for an iconoclastic life, Brad promises Sofia,
“I will be with you and only you. It was a mistake.”
The affair part of our friendship ends and I am relegated to being a family friend. I declare to myself,
“I will never ever again get involved with a married man who does not explicitly have an open relationship!”
And I never ever stray or relent.
Several months later I get a book deal for Women Who May Never Marry and the following year I meet Jon. My plan for a compartmentalized life withers as he and I share a home together and parent his nine-year-older daughter. Jon contends,
“You have one foot out the door.”
I remain quiet and then shake my head, “No.” Disbelieving me, he claims,
“You were never really interested in being with me.”
One evening Jon devises a sharing game where we place secrets in one box and wishes in another box. We read the wishes out loud, place them in an incense burner and then set them on fire. As for the secrets, we unfold them and read them. I read Jon my most potent secret,
“I still think about being with Brad.”
“I knew it.”
Knowing there is no place for me in Brad’s life, to keep peace with Jon I agree to cease all personal contact with Brad. For several years, the only times Brad and I can see each other are for big events like his 50th birthday celebration.
Four years into my relationship with Jon, what I believed I so wanted with Brad and Sofia, arrives. Jon had become lovers with a mutual friend named Violet. Suddenly a multiple partner relationship is at my doorstep. We configure a visiting schedule where Jon and Violet have date nights, Jon and I have date nights, and even Violet and I have date nights. After a year of emotional thunderstorms, Violet and I break up. Jon continues to see Violet separately and as much as I can, I live an emotionally and erotically independent life. Six years later, Jon meets an accomplished writer named Jacey and declares he will be visiting her every other night. I ask Jon,
“When do you plan to see me?”
“I suppose in the afternoons.”
At that moment, I feel I have lost everything. Other than our dogs and cats, there is nothing left for me at home. Having heard that Brad has his own place, being that he and Sofia have divorced, I ask Jon,
“Can I see Brad again?”
“I can’t stop you.”
Brad and I meet at a West Hollywood Café and then drive up to the top of Oriole Drive, the site of his new home. We gaze at the beautiful swimming pool, remove our clothes and dive in. We reach for each other and begin to make love. In that unfettered moment, freedom rings up and down our wet bodies.
We date for a several months. He gifts me useful things including my first laptop computer, my first digital camera and a roller bag for air travel. One weekend we fly together to Seattle where I give a keynote address at an alternative lifestyles conference. Afterwards we spend several days visiting friends and family. Ultimately, he is restless. He’d been married for so long that he needs space to explore.
Eventually he generates his own approach to relationships which he describes as “satellites” that “orbit” around and through his life. Some are casual, others more intense. Whenever he lands in a near-monogamous relationship, any mention of marriage puts an abrupt end to it all.
Thirteen years later our largely dormant relationship begins to orbit into front and center. I had contacted him the previous summer to see if he would be interested in attending several tribal festivals in West Africa. Unavailable, he proposes we go to Ireland in the spring. Recalling how impulsive he can be, I am dubious he will make himself available. When I call the following February, he surprises me. He invites me to, “How the Light Gets In,” a philosophy festival in Hay-on-Wye, Wales. I agree to develop an itinerary for visiting more of Wales and then Ireland.
Having a new Travel Planning Business, we agree that I will create an itinerary, make all of the bookings and he will pay for everything. He tells me to book rooms with one queen bed for the two of us. I haven’t spent time with him in years. I began to wonder,
“What will we be like in bed?”
As the departure date nears, we begin to spend drizzles of time together. We meet for coffee. I drop by. He drops by. We soak together in his hot tub and take stock of each other’s much older bodies. I gather up my clothes and drive home.
Then there is a more planned date with another hot tub soak at his Venice beach home. The rumble of waves fills the late night air. The touch between us is electric: tinged with the old exuberance but marinated in years of knowing each other; familiar and yet compelling.
I am not sure I should mention I have a post-menopausal vagina. I gaze into his eyes as he wakes it up. Suddenly I am wet and absolutely craving him. I am astounded. My extremities tingle all over and orgasms tumble through my body. We wriggle into these extended moments where memories of our high-spirited past meld with the intensity of this now. We are visited by angels as our bodies tumble and shake. He declares,
“This is the best sex ever.”
I am a bit astounded by the declaration, considering all of our many lovers and everywhere each of us has been. But considering the momentousness of the moment I decide to agree, proclaiming a full on,
The next day, I work on our travel itinerary. Prior to meeting up in Wales, he plans to visit Barcelona and Bilbao and then Naples and Rome. I book his connections between Spain and Italy and then onwards to London. I will begin traveling 10 days in advance to explore England and Scotland by train; afterwards we are to meet in Hay-on-Wye to attend the festival and then travel by car through Wales.
On our meeting day, I wake up in Glasgow, Scotland and proceed to take four trains to the bustling Welsh town of Hereford. The moment I step off the last train I am rushed onto my final vehicle of the day, a Hay-bound bus filled with festival attendees. I chat with my seat mate who becomes my new best friend, offering to give me 20 pounds if I can’t find an ATM at the festival. Upon landing in Hay I follow the crowd as they wind through the tiny bookshop-laden-town onto a river park where the “How the Light Gets In” Festival is staged. It is tidy and proper relative to Burning Man…. When I mention Burning Man to anyone, they gaze at me with jaw-dropping-envy.
I land in a live Donovan performance. Aged with scraggily gray hair and plenty of pithy commentary, he belts out his classics like “Catch the Wind” and “Colors.” I am in utter heaven. These are the songs I came of age with as a teen in California. And here eight time zones away, a packed audience of British age mates joins me in mouthing every lyric.
Meanwhile, Brad who flew from Rome to London Gatwick 10 hours prior is still on the road. What I believed would be a simple four-hour drive isn’t. Once off the plane he has some lunch. Then he walks in circles in search of the Hertz Car Rental. Once on the road, he is stopped by the police for appearing to be drunk. He passes their breathalyzer test. The problem is not being able to assess where to place the car in the road from a right-side-of-the-road perspective in a left-side-of-the-road country. To celebrate passing the test, he finds his way to a pub and has a pint of Guinness and some dinner. It is dark and cold and wet by the time he arrives in Hay. As the concert ends, I receive his call. He has arrived in Hay. I offer some coordinates for his GPS and then in a breathtaking five minutes, his engine roars as I step out into the street and wave.
We nestle into our well-appointed Glamping tent. It is freezing and there is a crack between the two mattresses that make up our camping bed. We hold each other tight in search of warmth and connection. We keep landing in the crack. The next morning we find additional blankets to shove into the sides of the bed to reduce the crack. Not being able to sleep soundly, we have lots of sex. The sex is noisy and crazy and much fun. We start out at night, wake each other up at 3 AM and then again at sunrise.
The festival talks address everything from Brexit to the impact of digital culture on human social behavior. At night I dance wildly with the young sweaty kids and then we settle into watching amazing documentaries about gender, exotic cultural practices and the search for identity. We eat whatever we can find. Quinoa drizzled with sweet potato soup, pungent salads, chocolate chai, flat white coffees and pastries. We dive into the same bowls and plates until the finale when he mixes everything altogether with dollops of mayonnaise or tartar sauce and I refuse to taste the final concoction, declaring,
“I’ve had enough!”
Our favorite condiment becomes clotted cream. We will order anything to access more of that cool buttery whiteness.
The festival world is quite manageable. We wander off separately to talks and debates. Topics that are grounded in biology are easier for me to track than the heady philosophical ones. Brad chases high flying philosophy…and then aesthetics like pairing fine wines with classical music. My solo wanders lead me into a deep conversation about sex, gender and the future with a British writer. We scheme about writing something together.
On the last day we visit the prestigious Hay Book Festival. I track down tickets for an extraordinary presentation on animal emotions by primatologist Franz de Waal, we sit in on a talk on music and then on one on the impact of gender on cognition. It is all quite glorious.
I am trepidatious about post-festival travel. How will my appetite for engaging cultures and people on their own terms fare with his for cracking jokes and disrupting boredom? We soon find out. Following the festival we drive south to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. When we arrive at our B and B, I step in gingerly waiting for cues from our hosts. Then he makes his entrance, hobbling on a cane that he manages to lose by the end of the trip. I eventually come to regard the cane as one of his many props. The first thing to roll out of his mouth is a joke. For a moment, I am horrified. Should I laugh to assure the hosts he is joking? I hold back. They laugh along with him as he peppers in the local vernacular “wee” for the word, “small.” Soon he is their favorite guest and I just sit back in awe.
The joking never stops. Sometimes it seems that it is orchestrated just for me. The more I try to explain to those around me why I am in utter hysterics over something I doubt they could follow, the more I sense Brad’s comedic genius. We land in the vibrant Irish town of Galway in time for an evening pub tour. The tour cannot coincide with the hinterland Airbnb I booked. I cancel the booking and tease Brad that to fully experience travel in its many dimensions, we ought to check out the local hostel.
I figure he’ll take a quick tour, note the sleeping arrangements are all bunk beds in funky dormitories and then walk down the way to query about a double room at the Victoria Hotel. Before I can blink twice, he’s booked us beds in a mixed gender dorm with other sleepers! I cannot not contain my hysterics.
Clearly he has done this for an emotional moment that can only be accessed by doing (and not just considering.) In the evening, following the rather dull pub tour, we settle into the hostel living room. I chat with an Irish journalist who offers me links to some of his work. Our roommates include a young guy from Nebraska who is looking for restaurant work and an old Irish man who bundles himself up tight and snores. In the middle of the night Brad finds his way into my bunk and we cuddle very quietly. Over breakfast, the guy from Nebraska remarks,
“You two have really great chemistry for an old married couple!”
I briefly explain,
“We actually met 28 years ago, but this trip is the first time we’ve been able to spend real time together.”
The laughter and the deep exploration never stop. We drive to the North of Ireland and stay in a beautiful country-home with a newly retired couple who joke that their “job” is running their rarely-booked guest room on Airbnb. We laugh along with them and then discuss the merits of religion (they are committed Catholics) and the challenges of fashioning a post-retirement life. The next morning we walk across the Peace Bridge in Derry and then drive into Belfast.
I ask Brad to share one of his Jordan Peterson philosophy of life podcasts rather than listening privately via his big-eared headset. He listens to them at one and a half speed so his mind won’t wander off. I want to hear the actual voice tone and beg that he slow it down to “normal.” Instead he brings it down to half speed and then begins to speak in half speed. Once at our Belfast hotel, he slows his whole body to half speed and can barely hobble out of the car! I lead the bell hop to the car to pick up our bags in that Brad is doing half-speed and is absolutely useless; my body is completely overcome with laughter. What starts as a small spurt of pee, suddenly gushes out uncontrollably. By the time we settle into our room, my jeans are soaked. I look at him squarely,
“Why do you do this to me?”
“Darling,” he says, “I want you to live every moment fully!”
And we do. I calm myself down long enough to wash the jeans with hand soap in the bathroom sink and then sling them to dry over the towel warmer. Two days later, they are dry enough to fly home.
Belfast is a city on edge. We are there on Saturday night and dance up a storm with locals in the pubs, catch a post-modern play and view extraordinary street art. The next morning we explore differing perspectives on the IRA bombings in the 80s and 90s. Afterwards we visit the grand Titanic Exposition…and each get lost in our own curiosities. His, the ship design, (he had built one for a Hollywood set) and me, the social economy of linen production and the ways the classes were situated on the ship, especially noting who survived and who did not.
With traveling through Ireland as a backdrop, Brad and I finally got to know each other. We told each other many more of our life stories. We had both picked grapes in Southern France in the 1970s…What might have happened if we had met then? Would we have noticed each other?
And the sex kept on being amazing. In our small Airbnb room in Eastern Wales, another guest pounded on our wall for making so much noise! In our most lovely hotel room in Dublin he brought out thick towels from the bathroom so I could fully receive the gushiest g-spot massage ever. And finally, there was that full morning of lovemaking at our Cliffs of Moher hotel which caused us to completely miss breakfast.
I faced that I very much love him. And I told him so. And he told me the same. Now 28 years later with neither Jon nor Sofia having a say over our connection, he proclaimed,
“I still get to love you. It’s my love and my business! And we had the most amazing time! And you get to have your love, too. It’s yours! Just own it and love it and feel how lucky you are to have all of these feelings as opposed to people who play it too safe and have no feelings!”