The Relationship Between Honeymoons, Eyes-Open Sex, and Writing

When I was twenty-two or twenty-three and in my first years of marriage, the ToolMaster and I faced a conundrum. He was a relatively new employee at his work, in charge of a multi-million-dollar project that was about to go live, I was a medical intern and had no say about my schedule. Try as we might, we couldn’t get our holidays to coincide.

At the same time we both needed a mental break because, well, I was a medical intern who had no say over her schedule and he was still a relatively new employee, proving his capabilities to himself and his boss.

What to do?

The solution was obvious to us both–independent vacations. And so it was that I went to the mountains for a period, unaccompanied. I stayed in a cheap motel, dined on instant oatmeal and simple meals from foods bought in the city and kept in a cooler. In the mornings I left details of my upcoming hiking trips with the motel manager. That way, if I twisted an ankle or got eaten by bears or targeted by a sexual predator, someone would know where to start looking when I failed to return.

In the evenings, I went to the hot springs alone and soaked my solitary bones.

It was fantastic. Not as fantastic as if the ToolMaster had been there, but I had a perfectly wonderful time, as did he, when his project took off and the time came for him to do the same.

It didn’t occur to us that this would be seen as abnormal.

It didn’t occur to us that the objections would be about the quality of our relationship, rather than the financial burden of paying for two holidays in one year on one salary, or the extra safety risks involved. Weren’t we worried about the other person’s faithfulness? people wanted to know. Wasn’t this a sign we didn’t really care for one another because, actually, we were still in the honeymoon phase of our marriage? Wasn’t this weird?

Know what we found odd?

That these questions weren’t just posed by people of an older generation, which would be somewhat expected, but that our peers were equally confounded and bemused. We were surrounded by doubters. Fortunately, something in us both said we were lucky to see the world through a different lens. We might we weird, but we were a matched pair of odd ducks, so everybody else could butt out.

Years later, when I was teaching Human Sexuality, I had the happy occasion to pick up and read several books by Dr. David Schnarch.

  • (Constructing the Sexual Crucible: An Integration of Sexual and Marital Therapy (Norton Professional Books)
  • Passionate Marriage: Sex, Love, and Intimacy in Emotionally Committed Relationships

Wowsa, guys. He wrote of challenging concepts:

  • eyes-wide-open sex;
  • marriage as the proofing ground to interdependence;
  • sexual dysfunction as a gateway to intimacy and self-sufficiency;
  • relationships constructed on the partnership of equals where each is still responsible for their own happiness–in essence, the opposite of that Jerry McGuire sentiment of “You complete me.”

I was smitten. I’m not certain if it was a case of someone articulating what I believed, and then pushing it to a deeper level (oh the irony that I’m talking about a sexual therapy book), or whether those books became a formative influence. Both, probably. Not that it matters.

Why bring this all up? Yesterday I read an article which reminded me of Dr. Schnarch, of a defining period in my life, and it’s too good to keep to myself. Here’s a quote:

“It’s easy to have hot sex with a stranger,” Schnarch insists. “But passionate marriage requires that you become an adult.”

And this, Schnarch admits, is a challenge. Becoming an authentic adult means going against the whole drift of the culture. It specifically means, among other things, soothing your own bad feelings without the help of another, pursuing your own goals, and standing on your own two feet. Most people associate such skills with singlehood. But Schnarch finds that marriage can’t succeed unless we claim our sense of self in the presence of another. The resulting growth turns right around and fuels the marriage, enabling passionate sex. And it pays wide-ranging dividends in domains from friendship to creativity to work.

The rest of the article can be found in Psychology Today in an article entitled How to Grow Up. Read it, peeps. Aside from the sexual material, I think you’ll find many principles which apply to writing.

In fact, I think you’ll find a happy confluence of material on self-determination in two literature-focused posts I highly recommend:

Robin LaFevers’ Find Your Voice, Find Your Power

and Justine Musk’s The Most Badass Thing You Can Do as a Creative

How about you? In a committed relationship, is there a place for separate vacations? Do you believe your marriage or partnership goes against the culture’s grain? If you could name a seminal work (heh) that influenced your relationships for the better, what would it be? 

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25 thoughts on “The Relationship Between Honeymoons, Eyes-Open Sex, and Writing

  1. I go off to Oregon for 2 weeks without GMR, to Texas for a week or two without GMR; I’ll meet my friends down at the coast for 7-10 days without GMR. GMR will go to South Louisiana to visit family without me. Yeah . . . we do this all the time! 😀 He doesn’t like to travel, and when he does, he’s a go and come right back man. I’m a “I want to stay and visit a while longer” woman. So, we do our own thang. And since he’s here all the time – I need that space – N E E D that space from him.

    I tried the “eyes open” thing – it was kinda weird – like I was challenging him to a duel or something – *laughing*

    1. *raises hand* Another person who requires personal space on a regular basis.

      As for the dueling thing, LOL! Constant eye contact can be seen as a form of aggression, until it isn’t. 😉

  2. What a fantastic post, Jan!

    I have a good friend who had a long and very happy marriage, and after they were both retired, she would go on twice annual cruises alone or with a friend, and he stayed home with the dogs. I’ve always admired their relationship, and you summed up why: they were secure in their marriage, and also in the fact that they could pursue their own interests without fear of upsetting their partner. She wanted to see the world, and he didn’t like not sleeping in his own bed. I heard other people whisper about it being weird, that they didn’t travel together, but I always thought it was cool that they both got what they wanted and they were so happy together.

    This is exactly the sort of relationship hubs and I strive for. We don’t always get it right, but we try.

  3. After working together for almost 20 years, and often taking separate vacations and business trips (by necessity), Mo and I now view holiday travel as time to truly enjoy hanging with a best friend. I won’t comment on our enjoyment of open eyes, especially on holiday, as she’d be mortified.

    I’m moved by the stuff about pursuing your own goals in the presence of, and with the support of, another. When we sold the biz, we had to come to terms with this. I think it was harder for me than for her (i.e. how and the hell am I supposed to do this writing stuff without her constant aid as well as her support? She’s half my brain!). But when you’ve been friends as long as we have, there’s no recourse but to tackle it head on. It’s definitely been part of the process of growing up, for both of us, but especially for the guy trying to regrow half a brain. 😉

    Great thoughts and links, Jan! Love Robin’s and Justine’s posts, and they so apply!

    1. You don’t want to know where my mind went with the “regrow half a brain” comment. You don’t. 😉

      Your situation is so different from mine, Vaughn. I can imagine how wrenching it would be to separate your work, then to renegotiate the relationship. As a couple, we go through an adjustment period when we simply meet and part for a holiday–a infinitely smaller task. It’s a good thing we’re a stubborn lot, right?

  4. I’ve read Justine’s piece, Jan (of course) but not the others, and will add them to my ever-growing list. I don’t think what you do is odd at all. Pre-child, my husband and I often headed in different directions. Now family time is so scarce and precious we all stick together like glue, but someday I foresee a chance for each of us to carve out our own spaces once again. I think making that space is smart — it gives you something to talk about!

    1. Now I’m wondering if I’m going to have collected a number of readers who understand, because they’re of like mind, or whether the ToolMaster and I aren’t as unusual as I’d imagined.

      Sorry about the ever-growing list. If it’s any consolation, I do that to myself!

  5. Love the way your mind works, Jan, and how compelling you make it all sound.

    I regularly go home to Australia to visit family and yes, to enjoy a vacation with them. Occasionally my husband can go, but more often not. I miss him, but it is entirely different, and ultimately more satisfying than if he were there, because it’s all family activities with my sisters, mum, nieces and nephews. I don’t have to consider his feelings or how bored he is or try to adapt to his needs. Freeing!

    I have travelled extensively alone during my single life and loved it, but never during all my married years. This year, I went on my first women’s weekend away in the mountains with friends and thought, why haven’t I been doing this all along?! It was 3 days of hiking, cooking together, drinking wine, laughter and sharing – a dynamic that would have been entirely different had our husbands been there, and the one single woman might have felt sufficiently uncomfortable not to come at all. We loved it so much are doing it again in October!

    My husband has had his own few guy getaways that have reenergized him and I was so happy for him (and also glad I didn’t have to go!)Marriage is about closeness, but we’re not the same person with the same needs. Stepping back to allow the other to pursue their own goals and interests encourages individual growth and mutual happiness.

    1. “My husband has had his own few guy getaways that have reenergized him and I was so happy for him (and also glad I didn’t have to go!)”

      Isn’t that the truth? I find it so much easier to think this way than live with the expectation that love means being joined at the hip.

      I’m glad you had a fantastic trip, but I’m glad you’re back now. You were missed.

  6. I followed Vaughn’s’ link here from FB. I don’t travel easily. My wife thinks DisneyWorld would be a great holiday. We’re on year 20-something of marriage, and I’ve learned that she’ll go where she wants to, and I can go, or not.

    Is it trust? I suppose. I know her well enough that I trust her absolutely. But let’s be honest, there’s always the ghost of a thought lingering. Any imaginative person, anyone not a dullard, cannot stop those thoughts. Not to be over-analytical, but any introspective person cannot help taking a tour through the psyche several times a day.

    What to do? I rely on some really deep pop-blues philosophy from Bonnie Raitt, “I can’t make you love me.” Or, in other words, if I am “doing my job” in the marriage, I will be the same person she decided to marry.

    I might rather be with her on occasion, but that’s okay too. If she needs to go be her some place different, I can understand that, and I know it is part of what makes her the person she is.

    “Seminal work?” You can be darn sure I ain’t gonna refer to the Clooney film “Up in the Air.”

    1. Oh no. I’m stuck on a cultural reference here, Gary, because I haven’t seen Up in the Air. I’m guessing I’d be chuckling if I had?

      If you don’t travel well, it’s very kind of you to make the trek here, Vaughn’s endorsement notwithstanding.

      You know, I agree that a certain degree of doubt and wonder is both human and normal. It probably keeps partners from taking one another for granted and endangering the relationship out of complacency. I can’t speak for the ToolMaster, but I’ve wondered. I’ve wondered even as I choose to trust, then work to keep his trust in me reciprocated and earned.

      It’s probably like stress: too little, we’re asleep; too much, we’ve got bleeding ulcers and heart attacks.

      1. Up in the Air is a Clooney film, where (from the Rotten Tomatoes movie site, Clooney’s “job keeps him on the go constantly. He flies all across the country, staying in a series of nice hotels. And although this itinerant lifestyle prevents him from having any kind of stable, regular life, this doesn’t bother him in the slightest — he’s thrilled to be a boy in a traveling bubble. During one particular layover, he strikes up a conversation with Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a fellow savvy traveler. They bond over the ins and outs of various airlines and hotels, and quickly fall into bed.” By morning, they are figuring out when their schedules will allow them to meet up again, even though they both make it clear that there are no strings attached.” He then takes her to a family event. There are other interactions, and he falls in love, decides to tell her, and shows up at her home. And learns she has a husband and children.

        “Trust” to me is like most of the rest of life. Our only existential hope is to cultivate the attitude that it is real, and true, and valid. As Hamlet said, “Why then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

        1. I’m glad you explained! I thought you meant something entirely different, and this makes perfect sense.

          We sound like we have similar philosophies. I’m sure you know the Gandhi quote about seeing the world not as it is, but as we are. That’s one I think of often.

  7. This is the sort of thing I already knew was true in our marriage relationship, but have only recently realized applied to sex as well! I admit to being taken in by the idea that I couldn’t have great sex unless I was being emotionally fulfilled by my partner. Which is silly, since I don’t feel like I need him to be constantly “there” for me in our daily lives. Turns out what I needed to do was simply take the initiative, take control of my role.

    1. Well hello, Ramsey H. Nice to see you here. 🙂

      We all have different ideas of how sex and intimacy overlap–or not–and it’s no secret that one partner’s perception can be quite different from the other’s.

      What gets even trickier is that we can act on beliefs we don’t even know we have, or necessarily want to validate when we examine them. (Am I being clear as mud, LOL?) Then we expect our partner to get it, when we don’t even know our own minds.

      I think I’m dizzy after typing that…

  8. I’m jealous of your separate vacations. Rule-breaking quirks get me into less trouble these days. Perhaps after a half-century of living (oh, God, did I just say that? lol,) family/friends have either learned to accept it, or come to the realization that’s it’s possible to be both stable and odd. Our individuality should be what attracts us to our partners in the first place, why would we ever want to meld that into a soup that masks the intrigue or the mystery?

    1. Here’s to quirks and self-acceptance and maturity! (And to wearing down our families until they have no choice but to call us wise, rather than batty.)

      “…it’s possible to be both stable and odd.” —love this.

  9. I think I’d need the occasional solo get-away from time to time. Whatever works for a couple shouldn’t have to endure criticism for ‘not being normal.’ When I was younger (you know, before I ‘missed the bus’) people kept telling me to get married. But there wasn’t any man around that I found appealing, so it seemed kind of pointless.

    Sad thing is, many of my friends who hotly trotted down the wedding aisle are now struggling to share custody with an ex…and seem to think I was smarter–although I’m not opposed to finding Mr. Right. And making him very, very happy.

    1. Singletons face other kinds of social pressure, don’t they, Phyllis? For what it’s worth, I respect your choice. I’d like to think it’s the one I’d have made if I hadn’t met my husband.

      1. The main thing that bothers me about being single is when married friends forget to include those of us who are single when they get together. Or assume our friendship ends with a change in marital status. We know you’re busy, we are too; but we’re still here for you. Stay in touch.

  10. Jan,
    I loved this post. My husband and I have had separate vacations as well. I find that it just makes me appreciate my husband more. Its so true that you have to mature as a person to have a strong relationship.

    One comment from a friend was “why did you let your wife go to Hawaii without you” It was like he was afraid his own wife might become independent as well.

    Oh well, it takes all kind. Great post.

  11. This is a great post, Jan. I’m glad I followed Vaughn’s FB link to read it!

    My husband and I have been living together 12 years, married for 7. Initially we were somewhat joined at the hip when it came to vacations (not that we could really afford them), but in the last 5 years or so we’ve started going away individually at least as often as we go away together. I find it incredibly invigorating — both in a personal sense, and also in the sense that when we return to each other the relationship feels renewed and re-energised as well.

    We’ve never had any trust issues in regards to fidelity. But I think you tend to see yourself in others. If you’re the kind of person who would have a fling if left to your own devices, you’re more likely to suspect someone else of doing the same thing. Because don’t we all see ourselves as “normal”?

    (Side note: One of the funniest reactions I ever got was when I said to my co-workers, “Oh, I’ve got my husband’s best friend coming over for beer and pizza with me tonight. We were both at a bit of a loose end. And my husband is going out to dinner with his ex-girlfriend.” My husband and I had no concerns about the other’s fidelity, but my co-workers certainly did!)

    1. Hi, Jo. Welcome! I’ve seen you on the WU Facebook page, too. Thanks for following Vaughn’s link in.

      I read your comment and was nodding along, buying it all with a smile on my face until this bit: “Because don’t we all see ourselves as “normal”?”

      Uh, not me. But then it’s probably like the attributes of psychopathy, meaning that if you think you’re crazy you’re probably not. So the fact I don’t feel normal makes me normal, right? (I know I’ve probably thoroughly confused you, which I’m sorry to say is par for the course around here. 😉 )

      As for your last paragraph, you’re navigating some complex relationships there, and IMHO, what matters is that you two are a match!

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