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Sex After Divorce: Fear, Loathing, Fun and Fucking

  • November 27, 2019
  • In Sex

Getting in the game, back in the saddle, hitting some strange. Putting yourself out there again into the world of sex and dating, after a marriage or a long relationship comes to an end, is one of the more peculiar processes we humans subject ourselves to. Yet the desire to bump uglies remains strong within most of us deep into this hopefully long life of ours. One of our evolutionary predecessors was called homo erectus after all.

This new world order is a minefield and you never know which path will take you where. When you’ve been off the market long enough for fashion trends to come full circle (I’m looking at you, high-waisted jeans) then trying on a new partner in the sack is bound to give you a few things to think about.

It certainly was the case for me when my marriage ended, and perhaps this post that you are reading is an attempt to get it all straight in my mind. And I do mean that, because even though it has been four years since my marriage ended, I’m still examining that rollercoaster period of my life. Anyway, make of it what you will.

You Still Got Game?

As I have stated in previous posts, I can only really speak to the male perspective of the issues I write about, and even then it is based largely on my own experiences and observations. And the first question a newly-single guy is likely to ask is: “Where do I meet a woman these days?”

Research on the sexual activity of divorced people is surprisingly scant, and most research available focuses on the effects of divorce on children. The most recent study I could find, published in ‘The Archives of Sexual Behaviour’ in 1992, found that divorced people were having a lot less sex than previously thought. Not surprisingly, this was in large part to do with not having anyone to have post-divorce sex with. This was also backed up in an article in the Harvard Health journal based on the study 'Sex in Mid-life and Beyond'.

Let’s pause and think for a moment that the first study I referred to was conducted in 1992, before the internet was part of most people’s daily lives, and a very long time before the advent of smartphones and dating apps.

I met my former wife in 2006, got married two years later, and we divorced in 2016. During that time period a great deal changed in the landscape of how people met prospective partners, both serious and casual. Hanging out in bars or a club had become really dated, not to mention expensive and inefficient. Christ, the very thought of it now, even in retrospect, is rather terrifying.

This may be surprising to some of the kidz, but there was a time when you had to suit up, go to a bar or something similar, and actually go up and talk to real human strangers. In person. In front of you. And yes, the chance of receiving the real life equivalent of ‘swipe left’ was highly likely.

However, technology has certainly made it easier as you can comb through online profiles to find someone you might have some semblance of a connection with. A buddy who was sick of watching me sit on the side lines eventually took over my phone one day, downloaded a couple of apps and talked me through how it all worked. How times have changed.

And There She Was

In my case, I didn’t initially get back into the game via an app. There was a cute little waitress at a local sports bar I happened to frequent, and we enjoyed one of those friendly, gently flirtatious relationships a good server has with a regular customer. And no, it was not a Hooters kind of sports bar, or I WOULD HAVE LED WITH THAT! C’mon people. It was just a regular place with regular, nice staff, where I would stop for a few quiet beers after work.

Anyway, [author’s note: I shit you not, this actually happened] some months after my divorce I happened to be at another place, sitting outside on the terrace, having another quiet beer. The cute little waitress had moved on from the sports bar long before this particular time and I had given her little thought since seeing her last. I’d had an awful lot on my mind, including like how to feed myself, given I was now so broke.

And then the universe burps up one of those cosmic coincidences that make you wonder if luck, or fate, is actually a thing after all, like starting your car at the exact moment a favourite song comes on the radio, or finding a joint in the pocket of a coat you haven’t worn since last winter.

Anyway, a waitress approached me and said that her friend, another waitress, liked the look of me and could she get my number to pass on. I was not really in the mood to tell the truth, so I said no. I might give her my number, I said, but she would have to come talk to me herself. After much cajoling from the friend, she finally did so. We had a pleasant chat, but it was just the usual dull small talk most people make to pass the time while they finish a drink then head for the door.

But then suddenly there she was, standing at my table, the cute little waitress from the sports bar, like an apparition. As it happened, the girl asking for my number was also her good friend, and she had coincidentally stopped by to say hello to her [and yes, again, this actually happened]. It was the first time I’d seen her not in her sports bar uniform and she looked younger, or maybe more relaxed would be a better description. It was a warm evening, she was wearing sandals, short denim shorts and a gauzy blouse in a plaid pattern with the sleeve cuffs rolled up. Still the same slightly goofy smile, the mischievous brown eyes, but this time her dark hair tumbled down. I had not seen it that way before.

We left and walked and talked, stopped for a bite to eat and another drink. I remembered how funny she was. It seemed, I think to both of us, that there was a sense of inevitability in our unexpected meeting.

Shock of The New

I mentioned earlier that there is a surprising surfeit in the research on the sexual lives of the divorced or people who have extricated themselves from a long relationship. However, there is ample magazine literature containing advice, listicles and first-person confessionals on the subject. Perhaps not surprisingly, almost none of them are written by men. Regardless, there does not seem much to split the difference between how men and women view things. The pieces range from cautionary advice to a both-sides-look and end up with the go get-your-freak-on type. (You can read some for yourself here, and here, and here and here).

There are a lot of pieces that provide guidance in these that overlap, but I want to address just three of the main ones that I think are relevant: guilt, anxiety and excitement. Think of it as kind of a Kubler-Ross model for post separation boning.

Let’s begin with guilt. If your relationship is over, then you are doing nothing wrong. For some though, it may be a kind of a knee-jerk reaction to being with another person. To be honest, I think this one has a lot to do with how the relationship ended and how long ago it was. Most marriages don’t feature a lot of intimacy in their waning days, and the passage of time and the general emotional damage that exiting a long-term relationship entails, usually expunges a sense of guilt. On the other hand, if it was swift, sudden and not of your doing, it might be understandable.

Anxiety is an entirely different matter. You get comfortable in a relationship over the years and it can show. I don’t mean just physically, but also in the amount of energy and creativity you bring to the shenanigans between the sheets. You might be worried about what kind of shape you are in, wondering if your moves are up to scratch, or do you actually remember how to have sex properly? Perfectly understandable, and a lot of it will have to do with what stage of life you are at when you are re-entering these teeming waters.

I was only 39 and in pretty good shape when I dived back in, but there is also the fact that moves are specific to the individual. What gets one girl off will not necessarily work for another. The best thing you can do is keep it simple and not overthink things. Oh, and always, always go down on her for an extended period of time. Even if that is not what does the trick for her, she will still love it and appreciate the gesture.

Finally the good part: excitement. What is there not to be excited about? After all these years you are finally getting some strange. Go for it, enjoy it, soak up every exotic part of the experience. That is not to say there are not moments where being with that first new person does not provide an almost out-of-body experience. It is weird, hence the title (h/t: Robert Hughes) for this section.

New Beginnings

We were standing in my room, dark except for the yellow light from the streetlamps spilling through the windows. Another new first time, when it had seemed to me just a short time before that all my first times were behind me. There was no sense of guilt because that ship had sailed long ago. Neither was anxiety an issue, it was just pure excitement. Yes, because of the cute little waitress from the sports bar, a beautiful, intelligent young woman; but also just the new beginning she was a physical manifestation of.

It was a long night, I kid you not, but as a gentleman I will of course not go into details. The one part I will share happened before we got to that room in that house. An hour earlier, we were leaving a rooftop bar and found ourselves alone in an elevator heading to the ground floor. Without a word we moved towards each other and kissed. Pressed against the wall her leg moved up behind me, her calf resting in the small of my back pulling me towards her. It was a moment not easily forgotten, one when you realise both passion and fire are still a real possibility.

Some articles you read of other people’s experiences with first encounters after a divorce, also note one other area of caution - namely to be careful not to imbue these new encounters with a deeper connection they may not hold. However in this particular case we did keep seeing each other, and feelings did develop and deepen.

It’s a difficult course to navigate, meeting someone like that at the entirely wrong time. I would go towards her and then pull away, again and again, with all the elasticity our hearts contained, until there was no more to give and it finally broke.

One night about a year later I ran into the friend of hers at a party, the one who had asked for my number long ago. The friend told me she had moved to Germany, met a guy and married, and they were planning to start a family. All the air suddenly went out of the room, but in the back of my mind I knew it was for the best. She was one of the genuinely good people in this world and thoroughly deserved every happiness that came her way.

The next few years were a strange time, filled with countless characters and encounters, times when I seemed to be living some kind of bachelor's dream, and other times when I when I would look in the mirror and wonder who this desperate stranger was.

But these are stories for another time. All I can say is, every step you take when beginning life again after the end of a marriage or long relationship, lead you to where you are right now. You are a pinball, bouncing around with each little deflection setting you off onto an entirely new trajectory. And if, like me, those things led you to where you have found a good place in your life, then there really are no missteps in the end.

Think of it as a series of cosmic coincidences that make you wonder if luck, or fate if you want to call it that, is actually a thing after all, like starting your car at the exact moment a favourite song comes on the radio, or finding a joint in the pocket of a coat you haven’t worn since last winter.

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