I have never been someone who had to pay for sex, so when I got to that point not too long ago, it jarred me. I realized as I handed over the money that I had to look back, as seriously and thoughtfully as I could, and evaluate the life choices I had made. Somewhere along the line, decisions I had made put me in the position of having to fork over a hundred bucks in order to get the skin-to-skin contact that millions of people take for granted. That's not a great place to be, but maybe there's some learning to be had, if nothing else.
It's been a couple of years now that I've had to pay for sex, and as icky as it feels to do that, I'm not going to stop. Sex is important -- it's fundamental. If I have to pay for it, so be it. Maybe in the future things will change for me, and I can get sex again for free. I didn't pay for sex in my twenties, or in my thirties as I got married and had kids. It's only now, as the kids get older and my ability to have no-cost sex dwindles, that every randy thought or feeling leads to the question, "Do I have a hundred bucks to spend on this?"
I have never been the best at planning, although I'm pretty good at getting stuff done, both at work and at home. I've raised five kids, more or less (the youngest ones are still small). It didn't occur to me as I ran after toddlers fifteen years ago or delivered my youngest ten years ago this summer that my lack of foresight would put me in a pay-for-sex situation down the road. But that's exactly what happened.
Imagine my house. My husband and I live here, along with two dogs, two cats and five children ages 9 to 18. The oldest ones (18-year-old twins) go to college, but they're living here for the summer. There's a 16-year-old living here who comes and goes at all hours. There's a 14-year-old and a soon-to-be-10-year-old whose sleep patterns go from erratic to completely random after the last school bell rings. There are always, always, always kids around my husband and me. We are never alone.
If I kiss him or he hugs me, a younger kid goes, "GROSS!" and an older kids says "Get a room." There is not going to be any action in this house, apart from the week when we take the smaller boys to visit grandparents and leave the bigger ones on their own. On the road, things won't be any different. The small kids' sleep schedules won't allow for any more sex than the big kids' middle-of-the-night arrivals and departures do. In other words, in the sex department, we are screwed, at least until the kids go back to school. That's where paying for sex comes in.
It is bad enough to leave on a Friday night (after making dinner for the troops, packing a small bag and checking on the big kids' social plans) saying, "Have a great evening, you guys! We'll see you in the morning. We won't be coming home tonight." That is bad enough, because the big kids roll their eyes and make vomiting noises while the little ones cry, "Lucky! You're going to a hotel? Will they have an Xbox in the hotel? Can I come?" Even on hoteltonight.com, a non-sketchy Boulder-area hotel room costs $100. Wine, strawberries or baby oil are extra.
It's worse, though, not to go, and only to look lovingly at my husband while we ferry kids here and there to band camp and playdates and rehearsals. It's awful. There is no way to say to kids ages 9 through 18, "Why don't you go somewhere and stay gone for two hours?" There's no way to say it, and they wouldn't oblige us if we did. (The older ones would ask, "What's it worth to ya?")
So we pay for it, at Holiday Inn Express or Residence Inn or somewhere else, checking in at the front desk like film noir fugitives who would die if they spotted a neighbor or someone from one of my job-search workshops in the same hotel (it has happened). I wonder what other people in our situation do, because a hundred bucks a pop is steep, especially after years of getting all the sex I wanted for free.
When I was in my twenties, I dreamt of meeting a new best friend who played the piano like a dream and needed my help in his or her career in order to arrange a swap (accompanying for career coaching). I never met that person. Nowadays, I dream of meeting a new best friend who manages an Oakwood Suites or some other corporate-lodging place and needs branding or HR help. These days, that sounds like a swap made in heaven. I'm not holding my breath.
I feel sorry for me, but more so for my husband, who asks me out for a drink on a lovely Friday night, looks at me across the table and says "You look fantastic, but it's impossible." Don't worry, I say. I know. We just spent a hundred bucks last Friday. It's not a good way to live, this fee-for-sex thing, but I suppose the universe wants me to learn some cosmic lesson. (No, not the lesson that's there's porn on the Internet. I know. That's not what I'm talking about.)
My husband told me that when a group of New Yorkers were asked whether they'd prefer a great meal or great sex, a majority of respondents chose the meal. I don't think any of those people faced the houseful of leering eww-gross romance critics that I do, or they would have picked the sex for sure (assuming a hotel room came with the deal). Funnily enough, I was never a hotel sex person back in my dating days (who had the money for that?), but now that there's no alternative, I can see the appeal of leaving unmade beds behind and never worrying about a sleep-walking kid walking in on the festivities. It's nice, but you can't say to your kids every other day, "Mom and Dad are sleeping elsewhere tonight." That doesn't work. And then there's the matter of the hundred bucks.
Buddhists say that everything changes, so I'm trying not to overreact to the pay-for-sex situation I find myself in. It's not the best, but at least I know where the sex is coming from (who's invited, that is) when the opportunity and the hundred bucks miraculously appear together. In the meantime, I try to be patient, water the flowers in the garden and write long poems. I'm kidding about the poems. (Now, I'm going to head over to LinkedIn and see if I know anyone at Oakwood Suites.)
Follow Liz Ryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asklizryan