” Intimate justice refers to a woman’s right to sexual pleasure – and the expectation that we are entitled to it.”
Even though I’m a sexual anthropologist, my own relationship is not immune to ordinary trials. I study how people fall in love—keep the love, and the many ways in which they destroy it. Does this knowledge help my own relationship? Or am I, like everyone else, parked at one of the classic relationship road stops?
Let’s explore our relationship journey.
1) The meet cute
My meet cute took place in a cocktail bar in Fitzroy. I spotted him across the crowded room … and sent my wingman, Phil, to bring him over. After sitting in a quiet corner and talking to him for the next few hours, and exchanging numbers at the end of the night, I whispered with certainty to my girlfriends the next morning, “I met the man I’m going to marry.” (He, on the other hand, wasn’t so taken.) One year and one month later, we were married. But—oops—I’m skipping steps.
Ah, falling in love… the drug-like high whereby our brain releases a cocktail of chemicals, such as oxytocin and dopamine. The biochemical elixir only lasts so long (usually from two months to two years). Or, if you believe Hollywood propaganda, it never wares off.
Meeting in our 30s, we came to each other with fully-formed identities. At the time, I was writing a weekly column for Mx, documenting my dating escapades and offering readers relationship advice. Over dinner on our first date, he asked me hesitantly, “You’re not going to write about this, are you?”
I gave him a mysterious smile. “I write about everything.”
Little did we know, that I’d spend the next decade writing about him, eventually nick-naming him: my ungrateful muse.
3) Intimacy leading to partnership
Over a period of days, months or years, individuals move toward exclusivity: partnership can range from being in an open relationship with established guidelines, to marriage.
We’d been in a fight and he came over, unannounced, and I was in the kitchen putting the kettle on, and when I turned around he was down on one knee, holding a handcrafted Mentos wrapper ring. “Did you hit your head?” I asked, as he’d been at a martial arts class. “No,” he said, “I realised on the drive over, that I want, more than anything, to marry you.”
We moved in together and less than a year later, I was dancing with him in my grandmother’s wedding dress on a boat on the Yarra; Leonard Cohen, singing,
Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Dance me to the end of love
According to a recent Australian study, regardless of whether married or cohabiting, living with a partner is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction.
At this juncture, I was writing regular columns for Fairfax, and had an agent and a book deal—for what was eventually titled, Sex Drive, about women’s changing libido across the life course.
The research took YEARS. Meanwhile, I got pregnant—so I filed off articles to my editor about the instant I felt conception; and the impact of the early baby years on couple intimacy. Two years later, I got pregnant again.
As the deadline for my book grew closer, my husband became my enforced weekend research assistant; one of the many obstacles of being married to a sexual anthropologist. I was working on a chapter about the future of sex drugs that treat low libido, and was having a hard time deciphering some of the more technical aspects. Since hubby had a science background, I gave him the task of reading dozens of articles about the effects of sex drugs when administered to rats. Oh, the fodder for cocktail conversations.
4) Disillusionment ** where all couples eventually arrive/often coincides with parenthood
At this stage, most couples, bereft of romance, face each other and silently think: Is this it? Where has the person I fell in love with gone?
For us, raising two wildly passionate and creative children without any extended family, whilst both trying to have meaningful, stimulating careers … was tough. Is tough. The Australian satisfaction study reveals that contentment following the birth of a child initially rises but then declines steadily for the next five years. Oh, shit. Life satisfaction, they concluded, is at its lowest between the mid-30s to the early 50s.
My columns changed focus. I started writing about date nights, how to keep the spark alive, and gender norms in regards to housework.
Husband, horrified, would open Sunday Life magazine from newspaper and ask, “What have you done? This is private?”
5) Power struggle stage
Repeatedly throughout any relationship, couples confront power struggle imbalance. At this juncture, three outcomes occur. A) They break up (or cheat). In Australia, the median age at divorce for males is 45 years of age and the median ages of females is 42. B) Their relationship survives—just—but heads toward emotional/sexual flat line. Or… C)
6) True love, or something like that
For me, the hot guy I saw across the crowded bar, is now the resident “doctor” in our house, extracting splinters from my children’s muddy feet, he is the master brainstormer, pancake-flipper, funniest—and sexiest—man I know, who, despite leaving his shite around the house, starts everyday with a clean slate as far as I'm concerned. When things get so crazy I want to pull my hair out, I give him the evil eye and intone, “Power struggle imbalance.”
As for my writing, my identity has shifted from a Sex in the City character to a mother of school-aged children. I’ve silenced aspects of my life, valuing privacy. There are unspoken rules. I don’t write about our sex life explicitly. I don’t write things about my children that they would be uncomfortable with. And let me tell you, hubby’s grateful for that.
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