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Craig Tomashoff

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Divorce: The Exchange of Intimacy for Absence?

Posted: 03/14/2012 6:20 pm

A few paragraphs from now, I'm going to say something incredibly stupid that may well haunt me for the rest of my life. In the meantime, though, let's hear a few stupid things people have told me.

Like what happened after I had a vasectomy at the tail end of my marriage. At a follow-up visit a year after the snipping, the doctor asked how everything was functioning. I explained that I'd gotten divorced since I last saw him so there'd been no chance to test his handiwork. At which point, he shook his head and said, "So what are you waiting for? Just get out there, find women and have sex already."

That was certainly a more entertaining prescription than the usual two-aspirin-and-call-me-in-the-morning thing, but one that's very tough to get filled at the pharmacy. He wasn't the only one I encountered who seemed to think that when the court signs your divorce documents, they're delivered to your doorstep by a stripper named Fantasia. Whenever I met up with married dads during those first post-divorce years, they would inevitably offer their condolences about my split, then lean in to discreetly ask not if I was sleeping with anyone but how many women I'd slept with.

I understand why the doctor and dads assumed my sex life might be so active. They took divorce to mean freedom, and the most significant proof of being free after marriage is sleeping with whomever you want whenever you want to. Well, I hate to ruin the X-rated illusion, but it's a lot more complicated than that. You're trying to hook up with someone at the very point in life when most other people seem to be settling down with someone and sex is something squeezed in during The Daily Show's longest commercial break. I'm not saying having sex after divorce is impossible. I'm just saying it's like helping your 10-year-old with algebra. You know you used to do it, but it's been a while since you had to show off your skills so there's bound to be some awkward, embarrassing moments.

Which leads me to my aforementioned stupid confession.The last year in which I had sex, Tom Cruise was jumping on Oprah's couch, Saddam Hussein was being executed and we were all concerned about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I realize that revealing this very personal fact could really ensure that I never have sex again, given that it makes me sound like damaged goods. However, I bring it up because I hope I'm not the only sensible adult who finds the idea of post-divorce intercourse more challenging than sitting through an episode of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians".

It's not like I haven't gotten close to going all the way during these past six years of second-chance celibacy. There was the flirty divorcee I met in a bar, who invited me back to her apartment and then smoked so much pot before we got started that she fell asleep in mid-foreplay. There was the single mom who wound up with me on my couch, only to be interrupted by a call from her son needing a ride home. And there was the former comedian who joined me for several intense front-seat make-out sessions, including one on my birthday where we rounded third and headed for home, but then just never returned another call.

In fact, I haven't talked to any of these women since our close-but-not-close-enough encounters, which I suppose should bother me. But the thing is, once it became clear I wouldn't be having sex with any of them, I felt relief rather than disappointment. I realize most divorced guys who hadn't been with anyone in six years would react differently. They'd sleep with anyone with a pulse, and even that's negotiable. Yet I was secretly happy nothing happened. But why?

In a word, fear. I know, I know... I'm worrying too much about what should be the fun part of a relationships I'm not even in. Still, as much as we'd like to pretend otherwise, sex constantly hovers in the ether from the very first post-divorce coffee date we have with someone. It is an issue in any failed marriage. Maybe there was infidelity. Maybe one person wanted more of it in the marriage than his/her spouse. Maybe the ex was the one with the more active libido. Whatever the situation, intercourse was intimately involved in of the most traumatic events in your life -- divorce -- so there's no way it isn't a concern as you put your personal life back together.

When you're single, sex is something often proceeded by the word "casual." Marriage naturally changes that, teaching you to take the act more seriously. Then, divorce exchanges intimacy for absence and you feel the pressure of not only finding that connection again but holding onto it because there's no telling when you'll get another shot. Which leaves my brain spinning out with questions.

"After years learning what one person likes, what if I don't have the skills to satisfy this new person?" "I'm coming out a long-term relationship and odds are she is too, so can sex with someone new just be for fun or does it mean a new commitment?" "When do I tell the kids that daddy's seeing someone new?" "How much is that Cialis prescription?"

Ultimately, I suppose, we develop these worries as a way of delaying acceptance of divorce. Once you sleep with someone new, that pretty much makes the transition to your second life official -- which is not a bad thing. It's a necessary thing. So perhaps I shouldn't be looking at sex as a wall that I'm not sure I can scale. Rather, it's a door I probably should have gone through by now. Not just so I can loosen up and enjoy something pleasurable for a change, but also to finally assure my vasectomy doctor that his work is satisfactory.