09/11/2009 08:20 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Are You Hanging On for Sex?

I'm going to Afghanistan to report on what it's like on the ground, especially for women. SIGN UP to receive blogs from Kabul.

This post is part of a serial, "Sex Love Enlightenment." Previously: After a great trip with Billy on Cape Cod, I went to a retreat and he went to buy property. To see all posts in chronological order, Click Here.

His car's not here. I ring the bell at his massive front door. No answer. I try calling Billy on his cell but it goes straight to voice mail.

What the...? I'd called him from the road, saying I'd be at his place in 30 minutes. We haven't seen each other since we parted in Massachusetts, and I thought he'd be champing at the bit.

I pace for a while and call again. No answer. Should I drive home, wait? How long?

Twenty minutes later, he drives up, saying he took his car to be washed.

As he fixes us drinks, he tells me he found two properties on the Cape that he's bidding on. "I'm going back in a few weeks."

I'd love to see them, I say.

"Well, that's the thing. I don't picture you there."

"What do you mean? I wouldn't want to live there full time, but I could visit."

"I've been having a lot of doubts since our trip. The fact that you went to the retreat on your own, and wouldn't let me come..."

"Guests weren't permitted."

"Whatever the reason, that's what happened," he says. "And I made offers on two places. If I were in love, I'd never think of buying a piece of property without showing it to my woman. I'd be bending over backwards to make sure she was happy with it. He shakes his head. "I'm not doing that with you. So this tells me is: I'm not in love with you, you're not in love with me, and that's where it's at."

I tell him love unfolds in different ways. "We've only been seeing each other exclusively for 4 months. Can't you just enjoy what's going on, and not label it or worry whether it's love?"

He puts out his arms and draws me close; as always, the electricity is mighty. "Are you just hanging out with me for sex?" he asks. I stare at him. Why would he ask this? Maybe he's wondering, is he just sticking around for the sex?

"Would 'Yes' be the wrong answer?" I say.

He laughs, loosening up.

"I don't want to be with someone who doesn't want to be with me," I tell him. "Shall we kiss and say goodby?"

He shakes his head no and pulls me closer.

Two days later, I have to go back to my house to take care of my cat. He begs me not to go. "These have been the two happiest days of my life. That's the truth."

"And you're running away from me?"

"I'm trying to keep you, too."

I know this sounds strange, but after two days of physical intimacy and joy, I'm in an altered state. In spite of Billy's words, I know we've touched love. I've felt us connecting on so many levels, deeper than skin.

He calls me twice as I drive home. "The house is empty without you," he says. "When can you come back?" I get stuck in traffic for an hour, but it doesn't bother me a bit.

One of you wrote a comment recently: "Great sex always feels like love." The corollary for me is that without love, there's no great sex--the sex that bonds two as one and nourishes every cell. I assumed the same was true for Billy.

He calls that evening to say goodnight, then calls in the morning while he's cooking breakfast. No word the rest of the day. No word the next. Or the next.

Stupidly, I had hoped it wouldn't happen this time, but damn if he isn't pulling away again, after the "two happiest days of my life." And this time, it's Waterloo. I can't go on. Not because of him but because of me.

I can't stay detached--it's a great concept, a worthy goal--but I'm not there. As blissful and high as we've been, that's how low I fall. The chest pain is excruciating and I'm struggling to breathe. I fly to New York to do an interview and then go to a reunion of college friends, but I'm just shuffling through the motions. I don't really hear what anyone says. I walk past beautiful vistas and don't see them. I chew what I know is delicious food and don't taste it.

All the while, I'm aware that this reaction is way out of proportion to what's happening. I haven't been diagnosed with a fatal illness. No one I love has died. I'm being left by a guy I've been dating for a short time--a guy who doesn't have the maturity or compassion to even be considered as a long-term partner. But here's where my mind goes: I don't want to live.

Fortunately, I've retained a large enough shred of sanity to grasp that this has to be a major turning point. The problem is not with Billy--he's not "bad" as I've been calling him, he's an imperfect human like the rest of us, doing what he does. His frantic need to run has almost nothing to do with me. And my panic, my chest-crushing pain and wish for oblivion, have almost nothing to do with him.

I've read a piece recently in the New York Times by Laura Munson, about how she responded when her husband demanded a divorce. When he told her, after 20 years, he didn't love her and doubted he ever had, it was like a sucker punch to the gut. But she ducked the punch and said, "I don't buy it." She let him rage, run away, ignore her birthday and miss family events, and she kept saying she knew the marriage wasn't the problem. He was forced, ultimately, to confront his own demons, and after six months, returned to the family with gratitude.

If I'd been able to say that to Billy when he declared he didn't love me--"I don't buy it"--who knows what might have happened? But at that moment, I was incapable of ducking the punch. It landed smack in my most tender and vulnerable place, like the soft spot on a baby's head: the fear that I'm unlovable.

The good news, the fortunate aspect, is that this episode with Billy brought me so low that I knew there was no one out there who could help me. I would have to find my own way out of the ditch, the rut I'd been running in: a man pursues me, I fall for him, he runs and I want to die. Because the pain gets worse with each recurrence, even if I hardly know or care about the guy. It's coming up in extremis, I believe, because something in me has to change, to heal, to be made fresh. And I've resolved to do whatever it takes to accomplish this.

I ended my relationship with Billy a year ago. As the pain has subsided, my goal has changed: from yearning to connect with the right man, to yearning to experience and savor life and love in all their fullness, whether I have a partner or not.

So ends Part One of Sex Love Enlightenment. We're going to take a break as I do more research and field studies. The next part will be the road to Wellville, to healthy love and sexuality, and a commitment--like the one Laura Munroe made when her husband said he didn't love her--a commitment to the end of suffering.

It will be about cultivating many sources of love--besides a romance with one person that's supposed to last forever. Among the sources that are giving me that same sense of aliveness and joy as a romance are: learning to play piano, singing with a rock 'n roll choir, hanging out with friends I adore, and writing, of course, always writing and reporting.

Thanks for coming this far and sharing your ideas. I know we'll make it to the light.

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PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT: Where do you find passion, love and aliveness, other than with a mate? Have you healed yourself of a destructive pattern? How?