Early in my mommy life, I began to join groups. A support group for single parents. The PTA at my kid’s school. A support and social group for Black moms. A community group advocating for school resources. I was active in all these groups while I worked full-time and pursued a master’s degree. People would often marvel at my ability to be so involved while also turning out creative projects. How did I have this happy, healthy kid when I was seemingly too busy to focus on her? How was my house intact when I spent so many hours writing? To put it plainly, it was because I wasn’t having sex. Cloaked in a ton of wit, I would often tell people if I had a mate I’d be having too much of a sex life to be in all these groups.
For the first three years of my daughter’s life, I didn’t date, didn’t really go out, and wasn’t having sex. Much of this was a purposeful decision. I had also stopped drinking until she was around two. Parenting alone heaped an extra amount of responsibility on my plate. I thought if I wasn’t the most extra version of myself our lives would be in disarray. I was determined to not live up to the “single mom” stereotype of needing lots of handouts, and drowning my sorrows in substances. I was laser-focused.
But, then I met a cute guy I just had to have. He was finer than fine, as I like to say of those who truly embody it. After three years I was ready to revive my loins and deal with whatever lack of focus came with it. He also worked full-time, was in grad school, and unfortunately, lived some distance away. So, finding time to satisfy this renewed desire was tricky, but we made it work. Even though the relationship didn’t work, I was excited to have this piece of myself back. An active sex life had always been important to me, so I was ready to consistently have one again.
Once my kid could use the bathroom on her own, I became more comfortable dropping her with family and friends. But, dropping the kid with my parents started becoming a problem. My parents are busy retirees. Empty nesters who were excited to see my siblings and me go. So, I would have to schedule my kid’s time with them, like I would schedule work meetings. But, when I would initially reach out to my mother for the ask, she’d always ask me why. Why did I need them to take the kid?
After several eye rolls, I’d tell her about some event or movie, then she’d ask specifics of where I would be, and what time said event or movie would be over. The annoyance of my teen years was happening all over again. This became a regular line of questions from my mother, and I was sick of it. As a 100% single parent, why did I need to provide a reason for a break?
At one in-person inquisition, I blew up. “Why? Maybe I just want to sleep or go for a walk! Maybe I want to have sex!” My mother just about fell out over the last part of my explosion. And she seemed puzzled. Why would I even be thinking about sex, when I had this kid to take care of? This was the moment I was determined to understand the absurdity of the sexless mom. Even my kid’s Godfather would reinforce this absurdity whenever I’d wine about not having anyone to kiss on New Year’s Eve. He’d say I could kiss my kid, as if baby hugs and kisses were all the fulfillment I needed, now that my main title is mom. I eventually hired a babysitter because paid help wouldn’t question me.
A few years later, at one of my mom group meetings, the conversation delved into the needs of some of the single moms in the group. There’s this false unspoken notion that single moms are always looking to married or partnered moms as the gold standard. So, at this meeting, they wanted to know how they could help us. I spoke up and said maybe we could have a singles mixer. Or maybe the married/partnered couples could have one of us and a single friend over for dinner. You know, hook a sista up!
The room fell silent, and everyone stared at me, then the floor. If anyone had been wearing pearls, they would’ve been clutched with a death grip. Shame and judgment smeared the faces of women who were supposed to understand me. The other single moms acted like I was the crazy outlier. They had no desire to date because life was just so hectic with work and their kids. They all said they were good. But, were they? And even if they thought they were good, in a sense, why were they good? It had become clear to me that the very act that allowed us to carry the title of mother was now seen as a superfluous burden.
On almost every TV show I watched growing up, the mother was always too tired for sex. Mothers would constantly shoo away their husbands’ flirts and affections. When the husband would scoot behind the wife at the kitchen sink to nuzzle her neck, never did we see this woman put down the Palmolive, turn around and indulge her mate. He was trying to get something from her she simply had no time for. I wholeheartedly believe every girl who saw this grew up to believe once you become a wife and mother, all the sex bets are off, and men are just this annoying distraction to the things that matter most: the kids and the home.
In my late twenties, I used to run around with this gorgeous blonde woman. She was foreign and smoked cigarettes. We’d go to clubs and drink and dance. She’d wear short mini skirts and flip her hair around. She was hot. A few years into our hanging out, her very hotness attracted a man she eventually married and had kids with. She quickly changed the way she dressed. No longer did shirts or dresses hug her body in an alluring way. She bought plain Bermuda shorts and buttoned-up tops from suburban department stores. She blamed this shift in her image on becoming a mom.
I hadn’t had kids yet, but the reason for her newfound reservation seemed ridiculous. And I was terrified that once I became pregnant, some mystical mom fairy was going to whisper this nonsense in my ear as I slept. I thought about the TV moms I had watched growing up. Mrs. Roper from Three’s Company was the only horny woman I’d seen on TV. But, she didn’t have kids, and her husband thought she was too old to be hot and horny. So, was society manipulating us into believing only young, childless women want to have a sex life? Was my friend just the byproduct of this mass media manipulation?
Though I was raised by happily married people, there wasn’t much I ever envied about married life. Married people always talked about sex fading after marriage. The focus of marriage was supposed to be about building a home and family, not just frolicking in the sack like a single person. And my mother always talked about sex like it was dirty and gross. Once I started having sex, and enjoyed it very much, I understood that sex had faded for my parents. They were satisfied with their companionship and their continuous build, and no longer needed the frolicking. Later for that, I thought, early in my sex life. I was going to be the woman who defied those odds.
I have several married guy friends. Some are terribly unhappy. Some have come to terms with the sexless nature of their relationships. And don’t get me wrong, the fact that they’re depressed and frustrated is totally contributing to their lack of sex. But, across the board, they all feel like their wives stopped caring when these men put a ring on it. Stopped caring about sex. Stopped caring about looking sexy. Stopped caring about maintaining a real, intimate connection. Stopped caring about simple acts of affection. It’s this “I got him now” syndrome that deludes some women into believing they no longer have to work for their mate because they think the mate isn’t going anywhere. The divorce rate in this country is a clear indication that’s a bogus notion. This quote from Diana Vreeland, on her husband, always stood out to me:
“He had fantastic glamour for me. And he always retained it. Isn’t it curious that even after more than forty years of marriage, I was always slightly shy of him? I can remember him coming home in the evening- the way the door would close and the sound of his step… If I was in my bath or in my bedroom making up, I can remember always pulling myself up, thinking, ‘I must be at my very best.’ There was never a time when I didn’t have that reaction-ever.”
And of course, husbands should also work to be at their best. But, when women don’t want to focus on the cracks in the foundation of their marriage, they tend to over-mommy. They bug the hell out of the kids with craft projects, baking cookies, and building forts. They bug the hell out of other moms with maniacal playdate scheduling and glorifying their obsession with being the classroom mom. And everyone in this woman’s world has a visual of her over-mommying. Proof to her husband, and eventual couples therapist, that she is in fact exhausted by all of her mommy duties.
I know these women, and meet these women at my kid’s school and her activities. I sometimes want to ask why they aren’t focusing some of that energy on sex with their mates? I wonder if they’ve ever thought about when sex stopped being a thing they needed, a thing they really enjoyed. And oddly enough, these women are super protective of their husbands when they’re in spaces with women like me. Happy, energetic single moms who still keep it cute, and enjoy getting some when the schedule permits. I laugh inside when I see a wife casually insert herself into a conversation I’m having with her husband at some kid’s birthday party. I’m so not about that homewrecker’s life, but I do know that most men are very simple creatures. Feed them, fuck them, and leave them the hell alone.
A great TV show that digs deep into what I’m saying is the HBO limited series Tell Me You Love Me. It’s about three couples, and their sessions with a couples therapist. Couple A has been married for a long time. They have two healthy kids, a nice home, good careers. The dad is the baseball coach. Some real Norman Rockwell, American dream shit.
BUT, they haven’t had sex in over a year, and they don’t seem to think it’s a problem. The therapist helps them pick apart their actual problems, so they can be intimate again. Couple B has been married for a while, and they’re having lots of sex, but only to serve the wife’s goal of getting pregnant. So, what was once this really hot time has become very obligatory and mechanical. A chore the husband slow-foots his way through, just to keep his wife happy. Her lack of focus on him and his needs becomes a major source of tension. And Couple C is engaged to be married, having lots of sex, but can’t agree on what marriage really means. They aren’t on the same page about trust, commitment, or unconditional love.
The show superbly sums up much of what I’m saying here. All the stuff we do—the classes, the groups, the projects, and playdates—are often insignificant tools we use to detour from what we really want to focus on, or should be focusing on. And if that focus should be on sex, the stuff can wait. The stuff will always be there. Don’t let the sex fade.