Wildfire says things like “I love being inside you” and “Your pussy feels so good.” I think about this in the middle of the day, sitting at my office computer and reviewing edits to my technical writing. He’s thirteen years younger than I am and tattooed. Under his forearm and wrist tattoos are some straight scars I might not have noticed outside of the closeness of my bedroom. We don’t have much to talk about, but we don’t do a lot of talking. When we first fucked, I told only a few friends. I thought they might judge me, but they love that, fresh into dating after the end of a painful, twenty-year-long marriage, I have a man under thirty who loves being inside me and thinks my pussy feels “so good.”

The first two times we sleep together, I make him go home so I can enjoy my bed on my own for the rest of the night. “I admire that independence,” he says, and he kisses me and leaves to walk back to the friend’s couch where he crashes when he’s not fighting fires. On our third night together, I let him stay over. In the morning we wake up, and I look at him and say out loud what I’m thinking: that I am more conscious of our age difference in the morning light.

Once, a lady in my church told me never to reveal an insecurity to a man. “Don’t tell your husband you don’t like your legs,” she said. “You will plant seeds that weren’t there, and then he won’t like your legs either.” We Christian women were always protecting men, even from our own vulnerabilities.

I’m sick of protecting men, so I tell Wildfire how I feel about the way I look in the morning glow in my early forties, a decade that so far feels soft and comfortable to me. The sun shines on his smooth brown skin; he turned twenty-nine a few weeks ago. “I know what you look like in the dark and the light,” he says and pulls my naked body close.

I went out twice with one other much younger man in the week before I met Wildfire. Two days after our first date, which took place at a local brewery, he texted, I got fired today. I wasn’t sure what role I was supposed to play. Oh shit, I wrote, I’m sorry.

When you’re dating, you divide a mental piece of paper into two columns labeled YES and NO and make checks in each one. Eventually one side outweighs the other. There is a space between YES and NO, though, and I put the firing there because it’s a big deal to lose your job, and though it doesn’t seem totally appropriate to put an almost-stranger in the role of comforter, people can act irrationally during a life crisis. Along with learning to protect men, I’ve gotten quite good at consoling them.

When I arrived at his house for our second date, he answered the door wearing slippers with socks. He’d overturned a package of sliced cheese squares onto a platter, surrounded them with enough French bread for a family, and laid all the alcohol he owned out on the table. The plate of cheese was leaning toward the NO side of the mental checklist, and I felt like a jerk for letting it tilt its bready head that way. I watched him chew and thought of our text exchange over the last two days. I started the conversation by making a flirty joke, and the following morning he texted me about a dream he’d had: I was straddling him, he said, and he could feel everything. Then he asked, Are you a dom or a submissive? We hadn’t even kissed yet, had had only one beer together. His question felt like an instant NO, but, being new to dating, I wondered if maybe this was what young folks were asking these days. I stumbled through an answer.

I haven’t thought of sex that way, I wrote. I like to enter it with a little mystery.

Me too, he answered. I just want to know how to please you.

I wasn’t sure I wanted him to please me.

At his house Cheese Plate asked what kind of music I wanted to listen to. He had a streaming service pulled up on his TV. Eighties? Nineties? I couldn’t help but wonder if he was offering me those choices because I’m eleven years older than he is. He picked something by Vance Joy. “This is my mom’s favorite song,” he said.

NO side—check.

He chewed and talked while I drank a warm whiskey ginger, because while he had a table full of alcohol, he didn’t have any ice. We talked about TV shows. He asked, “Have you seen . . . ?” and named a show, and I answered, “Yes, it’s great,” or, “No, I haven’t seen that one.” He showed me a picture of his new baby niece. YES side—check. I would go on another date with him just to hold her. He told me about the leopard-print “Cool Granny” shirt he’d bought for his mom. The conversation lagged, and in the awkward silence, I became aware that I wanted to go home, that I wasn’t excited to be there discussing TV and sipping warm liquor.

I finished my drink and started my exit. “Well . . . ,” I said.

“Can I kiss you?” he asked.

At that point, his baby niece was really the only YES on the sheet. I knew I wouldn’t see him again, but I was trying to be adventurous after many years of being deeply religious and prudish, and I know I can sometimes be too critical. “OK,” I said, “but only kissing.”

He leaned in and kissed me like I was a submissive. It wasn’t terrible. It would have been kind of hot, actually, if there weren’t so many NO checks. Then I felt him shifting his weight and realized he was taking off his slippers. I had only a second to wonder why before he straddled me on the couch.

A week later, when Wildfire pulled me over to straddle him, I would think, Ah, yes, much better.

I started to feel some movement and realized Cheese Plate was grinding his hips all around. He wasn’t pressing them against me, just gyrating them in the air while our mouths touched. I couldn’t help but think what we looked like: my five-foot-two frame eclipsed by him on his knees above me, his slippers abandoned on the floor.

“I hope you can eat all that cheese,” I said when I left. Twenty minutes later I received a text. I really like kissing you, he wrote. I never want to push you to do more than you are comfortable with. And, he added, when you are honest with me, it’s a turn-on. Fine. This was fine. But he didn’t stop there. I read your poem about men not accepting your body. I want you to know I would find you beautiful for all your faults.

This was the third time in my very short dating experience that a man I’d matched with on a dating app had dug around and found my writing. Though I’ve worked hard to become a published author and am aware that people can read intimate details of my life just by googling me, I always find it startling when those details are thrown back at me by a near-stranger. It feels like an unfair advantage. The first man who brought up my poems said, “It sounds like it was hard for you when your dad left the state for work.” I thought, Bitch, don’t bring up my dad. When a man tries to talk to me about my poems before I get to know him, I feel he’s making a premature attempt at intimacy, and I build a little wall. This man told me he had just written his first two poems, and he figured it was fate that we had matched. He sent me his writing. They were standard first poems. I’m glad you are finding meaning in this form of expression, I wrote. A week later, after we’d met in person and I’d told him I wasn’t interested in pursuing anything with him, he responded, But I wanted to learn so much from you.

What do I say to Cheese Plate after he has played me his mom’s favorite song and air-humped me on his couch? Do I tell him that when I wrote in my poem, “Here is a PowerPoint presentation on whether men find your body acceptable,” I wasn’t talking about just my body? Almost any woman in our culture can relate to the endless expectations not to age, not to overeat. Do I tell him it’s tricky business to conflate the poet with the speaker in a poem, or that poems are not always fact, even though they are almost always truth? Or do I respond to I would find you beautiful for all your faults with photos of my stretch-marked belly, the deep scars on my back, and my pillow-lined face in the morning—then follow that with a text, How ’bout now? I didn’t reply at all.

I give myself a couple of days before deciding to end things with anyone I’ve gone on dates with. Two days after Cheese Plate told me how beautiful my faults might be, he checked in: How are you? I said it had been nice to meet him, but I didn’t think I was feeling a romantic connection. I wondered if you might be feeling that way, he said, and I thought, OK. Whew. But then he added, I was thinking we would just be friends with benefits. Let me know if that’s something you’re ever interested in. I could have said I didn’t like how he’d straddled me. I could have asked him why he’d played me his mom’s favorite song. I could have told him it’s creepy to use people’s poems as come-ons. Instead I said, No, thank you, and I unmatched with him.


I met my husband at the age of nineteen, straight out of living on a missionary base—a kind of compound where we learned the ins and outs of converting people around the globe to Christianity. Weeks before our wedding, my young fiancé and I had doubts. When I went to a church elder, he said with deep concern, “If you don’t marry him, I believe you are missing God’s will.” All I had ever wanted was to know and do God’s will.

After we’d been together for eighteen years, my husband went through a classic midlife crisis, realizing maybe he hadn’t wanted a family (to be fair, we’d had babies when we were practically babies ourselves), and he definitely didn’t want me. We’d come close to separating before, but I was afraid this time was more serious.

One afternoon I was walking loops around the arboretum with my friend Sarah, not knowing exactly what was happening in my marriage but knowing it wasn’t good. I was thirty-seven years old, a mom with kids and varicose veins. Marriage had always been hard, but I had hung in there through my smooth-skin, easier-to-lose-five-pounds years, and now my husband wanted to leave me. I said to Sarah, “I’m afraid no one will ever want to fuck me again.” I was sure I had missed some window, and I felt a terrible regret about all those possible fucks moving further and further away, along with my youth.

Sarah didn’t even slow her stride. “You could get fucked tonight,” she said.

During this same time, when I was faced with the prospect of divorce, I began to mourn the loss of our family structure: all of us sleeping under one roof, inviting friends over, taking road trips together. A different friend said to me, “You’ve made a beautiful life, with or without him.” Whether my marriage lasted or not, she reassured me, I had my passions, my deep and joyous friendships, an important place in my community, and meaningful connections with my children. I knew she was right, and I clung to her words like a life preserver.

Throughout the rocky years that followed, while my husband and I tried and tried again to stay married, I built upon my friend’s vision of my life. I continued to pursue activities I was drawn to and felt good at. I drew closer to friends and made new ones, and I strengthened my relationships with my children. What a gift those words from my friend were. I hadn’t been able to see the truth until it was spoken by someone else. And eventually I had built enough of a life of my own to be brave enough to leave our difficult marriage.


American Flag was ex-military and not the kind of guy I would pursue a relationship with. He was also the first man I had sex with after I left my husband. Before we met in person, we talked on the phone once, about our kids and growing up in Wyoming. I had to drive to his city to shop for work clothes for my new job—I live in a rural area—and I got an Airbnb, both so I’d have time to try on clothes (dressing rooms were closed because of COVID) and also, probably mostly, so I would have a place to spend time with him. (COVID restrictions had also shut down restaurants and bars.)

I judge myself now for allowing a stranger into my Airbnb, and for having sex with him during a global pandemic. But I don’t judge myself too harshly. I wanted to get things over with. After so many years in a disintegrating marriage, I wanted to see what it would be like to be intimate with someone I was choosing on the fly, with no shared pain between our bodies. I had waited seven months since my separation. I couldn’t wait any longer.

The sex was more than I could have imagined. It was wild and adventurous, and when he turned me over onto my stomach, I orgasmed so intensely I didn’t know where I was for a moment. He went home, and I fell asleep smiling.

After just one night back in the game (or was this my first time in the game?), I felt reassured that I was, in fact, fuckable. American Flag had a gorgeous body and a dick so big I felt sore for days, which made me wonder how anyone could ever be his full-time partner. He made a big deal out of how beautiful I was, how good in bed. He kept saying, “You don’t know, do you?” After a marriage that had made me feel ashamed of never being good enough, sex with American Flag made me wonder if I’d been all wrong. And even though I’d grown up in a Christian purity culture that made me feel guilty for having sexual desires, I felt no guilt about this encounter. I added up all these newfound blessings: reassurance that someone could find me attractive; proof that I liked sex; guilt-free pleasure. For days I felt joy whenever I thought about them.

There were red flags, too. He told me he didn’t usually like the women he fucked, but he actually kind of liked me. (I need to say that I’m rolling my eyes here, because I’m sure you are, too, and I want you to know we’re on the same page.) He trained military personnel in interrogation tactics, a topic I found both intriguing and alarming. When I asked about it on our date, he laughed and changed the subject.

We kept in touch casually, texting once a week or so, but he lived an hour and a half away, and I was busy with my new job. I never felt any desire to invite him into my home, which I now find telling. The topic of sex came up several times in our texts. We both agreed it had been so good. If I drive up again, I asked, would you also want to hike or watch a movie? I didn’t want a relationship with him, but friendship seemed appropriate, considering the sex and the long drive. He texted back too quickly, I don’t really like to complicate things with women I’m fucking. (It’s fine if you roll your eyes here, too.)

Almost three months after our date, American Flag invited me to stay the night. I backed out the day of and felt completely at peace about it. He texted a couple of weeks later to say he had hoped to hear from me. I told him that maybe I did need to feel some friendship with a sexual partner, and he responded, I don’t owe you anything as you don’t owe me anything. Bye!!! I sent a screenshot to my friend Sarah. We laughed and hated him for it. I deleted him from my phone and sat back on my bed, relieved.


In the year since I left my husband, I’ve slept with five people, only two of them more than once. I don’t know if that’s a lot. I’d like someone to reassure me that it’s not awful, but I’d also like someone to reassure me that a grown woman is allowed to sleep with whomever she wants, and go ahead and throw in that I’m a badass for breaking free of my evangelical, purity-culture upbringing and finding joy in sex. And there you have it: a glimpse of the teeter-totter of my horny, guilt-ridden mind.

The religion I was raised in would say five lovers in a year is full-on Jezebel territory—extra-hot-hell kind of behavior. I can’t bring myself to tell my married friends how many partners I’ve had, but I tell my young, gay guy friends, who have openly and unabashedly shared their own sexual adventures with me. They say it’s quite conservative, especially for a “hot mom.” And I call my single friend Sam anytime I’ve had sex because she says things like “Yes, dude! I am loving this for you!” I tell my sister only about Wildfire. I don’t tell my mom anything. I might decide later to pull this story out, like I pulled out a clove cigarette one time in my twenties when she was visiting, surprising her by lighting it while we held eye contact.

I’ve regretted only one of the sexual encounters, which doesn’t seem like a terrible statistic for a forty-two-year-old woman who hasn’t dated since “dating” meant talking on the phone for hours and desperately dry-humping in friends’ basements or cars.

When I saw Naked and Afraid’s profile on Bumble, he felt familiar—an outdoorsy and adventurous type. He had just returned from a year in Mongolia. Compared to the profiles of gym bros with bathroom selfies and dads who posted pictures with their kids (cringe), his was intriguing. He looked hardy, and, God, I’m a sucker for hardiness. Show me a pocketknife and callused hands, and I’m ready to let you feel me up. His profile had a photo of him holding a giant golden eagle in Mongolia. Looking back, I can see it was partly the eagle I swiped right on.

Naked and Afraid and I texted for a week after we matched. He lived four hours away, so pursuing a relationship seemed pointless, but he was the first man I’d met online who could talk travel, books, the American West, and birds—all things that interest me. He told me about being a contestant on the reality TV show Naked and Afraid: how the producers had paired him with a woman who had no outdoors skills. The two of them had been placed in the wilderness with no clothes and tasked with survival. He said he knew, when he saw the way the hard ground hurt her bare feet, that it was not going to be good. He claimed the show’s editors made him look like a real jerk. I mentioned the eagle in his profile pic, and he asked what my favorite bird was. The American kestrel, I told him: tiny and fierce. On my runs or while driving to work, I would see them standing like little gods or demons, sometimes holding small dead mice. Damn, girl, I would think as I ran by, and the kestrel would watch me with her perfect, judgmental eyes, mouse clutched in her claws like a trophy she felt casual about winning. He replied with four beautiful close-up photos of kestrels he’d taken in Yellowstone. I squeezed my thighs together.

Sex columnist Dan Savage advises readers not to engage in text or phone sex with someone before meeting in person, Naked and Afraid told me, but soon he was asking about my sex life since my separation and my masturbation habits. We’d texted for a while by then, and we seemed to see the world in similar ways, so the topic didn’t feel outrageous. I could tell he was turned on by my honesty. We were crossing into dangerous territory, Savage would have said, but it was fun, and I was still new to all of it. Aside from a sexy picture and some flirty texts, I’d never even sexted with my husband. It wasn’t long before Naked and Afraid and I were having text sex, and it was hot.

He texted on a Wednesday and asked if I’d be around that weekend. We made plans for him to come to my house. I bought portobello mushrooms and ingredients for Parmesan polenta.

Here’s what I know now: When you’re excited about someone you haven’t met in person, you fill in everything you don’t know about them with good details, sometimes incorrectly. You should video-call with someone before they drive four hours to see you; it is hard to tell if you will be attracted to them based on a few photos. Be honest up front and say, If you come all this way, I still might not want to have sex with you. Tell them text sex is not a guarantee their real-life penis will find itself inside your real-life vagina.

When Naked and Afraid arrived, I saw he had braces. That was OK. People get braces as adults. He also had a bushy mustache—part of his wilderness charm—so I didn’t really notice the braces much, and we’d already connected about books and travel and the West, and there was that handsome eagle. But one of the first things he said was “I’m worried my breath stinks because of my braces.” Oh, no. I should have known he hadn’t driven four hours just for mushrooms and grits.

When he started kissing me, I thought, Well, I’m in this. I didn’t dislike him. I wasn’t necessarily unattracted. But it was so fast. I hadn’t even heard his voice until a few minutes ago. I had imagined talking first, and eating those juicy mushrooms with flakes of Parmesan on top. Then, sitting on my couch later, after hours of deep conversation, he’d put his hand on my leg, and I’d have a chance to say yes or no. He’d come all that way with one thing in mind, though, and I weighed the effort of just having sex with him (who knew; maybe it would be awesome) versus the effort of telling this nice, hardy (though kind of small in person), eagle-loving, braces-wearing man that I was sorry, but I just wasn’t sure, and, my God, this felt too quick. The engine of his truck was still warm.

By then he was in his underwear looking down at me. “I’m little!” he said, gesturing to his body and kind of shrugging. This wasn’t great foreplay.

“Yeah,” I said, “you’re a little guy.” When he seemed hurt, I thought, You said it first.

I would never let this happen again. I will always choose the awkward letdown over confrontation-free-but-not-great sex that I don’t feel good about afterward. Just half a year more seasoned, and I wouldn’t have let him drive to my house in the first place.

I write these regrets and wonder if I’m alone, if the women reading this are the sort who post on Instagram, If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a hell no! I thought I was one of those women until I stared at the wall and made encouraging sounds so Naked and Afraid would think all was well and finish up. And, I’ll be honest, I orgasm pretty easily—not always big, fountain-spray-in-the-air orgasms, but it doesn’t take a lot to make me come. I love people so deeply. I feel joy so hard. I’ve often wondered if my sex drive is tied to all of that bubbling emotion. There are certain times of the month when I want to fuck all my friends. They are so sexy, and when I think of them while I sit at my desk, a warmth grows from my belly out to my limbs.

That said, I didn’t hate every moment of sex with him. Some of it felt good, and he seemed like a nice person. When I stepped back and mentally surveyed the scene from the ceiling, I felt like a stone-cold diva, a Beyoncé-type independent bad bitch for dating at all after my long marriage and doing it in the little house I was renting all by my pretty self with money from my corporate job, where every month I tucked 10 percent of my paycheck into a 401fucking(k). These were all things my mother, my aunties, and my grandma never could have imagined for themselves. I leaned in and made the most of it.

He emailed me a few days later, saying how lovely I am, how he couldn’t tell what I was feeling, if I was into him. It was a kind message. He was kind. I explained how things had gone too fast, how I wished I had spoken up, how text sex shouldn’t be a contract, and that I would never make that mistake again.


Sometimes I’m ashamed of my body, and then I am ashamed of myself for feeling ashamed. I hate the impossible, ever-changing, and inconsistent standards our society puts on bodies. How can I look in the mirror at this body that has done so much for me and say, You are not enough? I told this to a counselor once. She held out her hands and offered, “We all contain different selves.” She made me see that I can be both a woman who struggles to accept her appearance and a woman who loves this incredible home my soul lives in. I can love my friends’ fat rolls and sharp shoulder blades and over-bitten fingernails and lopsided breasts and dimply butts, but I also cannot help the self-judgment instilled in me by every magazine and ad I’ve ever seen that says nothing is as gorgeous as being young and nothing is as healthy as being impossibly skinny; that a body holding a uterus and all these glorious guts should be denied sustenance until it sinks in on itself enough that it can be shown off in an age-appropriate swimsuit.

I was married for half my life to someone extremely critical of his own body. More than once, and with great sadness, I caught him standing in front of our daughter’s mirror after putting her to bed, lifting his shirt and examining his stomach with disappointment. He often talked about whether he was feeling bad or good about his body. Even in our new, post-divorce friendship he still brings it up. “I’ve been doing forty-five minutes of yoga every day,” he’ll tell me, “riding my bike a lot, and not eating like I used to.” My ex-husband is six foot four and one of the most naturally handsome, thin, athletic men I have known. And his body has never been stretched, rearranged, or ripped open by childbirth. No babies have ever sucked his breasts into deflated balloons.

Some nights in my living room I dance an I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-be-alive dance, throwing my limbs around and tossing my head, my hair flying wildly. On Saturdays I wake up early, squeeze into spandex, and ride my bike through the rolling hills of northern Idaho. I yell hello to the hawks on the power lines, wave at farmers, and sing along with the songs in my earbuds. I come home stinking and starving and smiling, make a big omelet, and moan with pleasure while I eat it. A few days a week I go to a tiny, hot garage, blast hip-hop or terrible nineties country, and bang weights around with two or three other tough mamas. I get bruises and big, sore muscles. In all these instances I feel like my true self, just as much as when I’m hugging a friend or holding a baby or sitting with my coffee and a book of poems with the sun’s hot hands on my shoulders. I’m in love with the aging miracle my soul inhabits. Yet yesterday I looked at my body in the mirror and knew I am unlovable. Unchoosable. And then I wondered if I have dated so casually because I love being single or because I am terrified of making myself vulnerable and finding out yet again that I’m not enough. Maybe the counselor’s wisdom applies here, too: it’s both.


I am attracted to Roller Derby the first time I see her in the office break room. There’s something about the way she walks: confident and unselfconscious. “Damn,” I say out loud after she leaves. In a meeting a couple of days later, she is just sarcastic enough to get my attention. We become work friends, and I learn about her roller-derby community and how her home doubles as an event center where she and her roommate skate on the open floors.

One night she invites me to go see a coworker’s band play. We laugh and drink beer and marvel at the musicians’ talent. Around 10 PM three of us wander to a bar up the road and dance so hard and so late into the night that I wake up exhausted the next day.

A couple of nights later Roller Derby and I end up at the same bar with a group of funny, strong women. By 2 AM she is in my bed, kissing her way down my belly. She presses her lips softly to the inside of each thigh and then does things so well down there that I grip the mattress behind my head. Over the next week, though, it isn’t the mattress-grabbing moment I think of—it’s those careful kisses.

The first time I felt a fire in my belly for a woman, I was seventeen and living at the missionary base. She was tall and blond and had shaved half her head. It’s obvious to me now that she was gay, but in that place we refused to believe anyone was really gay. Attraction to someone of the same sex was temporary if only you let Jesus deliver you. I remember seeing her in the parking lot and feeling an instant longing that surprised me. Though I hadn’t had a crush on a girl before, I had made out with my friends constantly as a preteen. (We always pretended one of us was a boy.) Even as a teenager I kissed my girlfriends on the mouth sometimes just because I loved them so much. I began to wonder if those intimacies were tied to a desire I hadn’t recognized.

In my midtwenties, as a young wife and mother, I made friends with some of the other women in my church, including another wife just a few years younger than I was. One day, driving home from a church event, she and I talked about how hard marriage is. I said out loud for the first time in my life, “Sometimes I think I would just like to be with a woman.”

“Me too,” she replied, and when she turned to look at me, something shifted between us.

A few months later we sat on my couch and kissed. She held her breath when our lips touched. I could feel her shaking.

I sobbed the next day, believing I had wronged my husband and God with the sin of homosexuality. Still, this woman and I kissed some more, and I went to my pastor, who asked me to share my troubles with my husband. I told my husband that I was “struggling with homosexuality” but did not tell him about the kissing. The church put him and me in a program called Healing House, where an effort was made, with screaming and prayer, to cast the gay demons out of me. Afterward I would drive home and lay a cool hand between my thighs because I was burning hotter than ever for the woman. For more than two years I tried to stay away, but I would occasionally slip up and find myself in her bed.

I had never been loved the way she loved me. It was unmooring and terrifying, and I was filled with guilt. I would come home and stand over my small, sleeping son and cry.

Though I loved this woman maybe more than I’ve ever loved anyone—and I was certain she loved me much more than my husband ever had—it felt safer to stay married. I knew my religious family and friends would accept my being in a difficult marriage to a man but not in a reciprocal, caring relationship with a woman. At best their hearts would be broken by my sin; at worst they could cut off contact with me altogether. I had seen this happen to others in my church, who lost family, friends, and community in a day.

The on-again, off-again affair ended when my family and I moved to Minneapolis. Soon after, I told my husband about it. He rode his bike away from me into downtown, and he didn’t come home that night. I drank a whole bottle of wine and could barely take care of my three children the next day. He and I locked it all away and didn’t talk about it for years. My shoulders hunched with shame over what I’d done, and I tried harder than ever to please, falling over myself caring for him and asking very little in return.

I began slowly walking away from religion after the affair, and years later I came to terms with the fact that there are all kinds of sexual orientations. That’s when I looked back and saw that I had missed out on real love.

I would like to visit my young self—a woman who thought she had failed her husband and children; a new mother sure the ancient creator of the universe was deeply disappointed with her. I would hold her and tell her I’m sorry she didn’t get to choose love. I’m sorry she lived within a culture that made her feel she was damaged and had damaged everything around her. I don’t blame her. She did the best she could. And my husband did the best he could. We were both trying to live up to an unattainable standard of godliness before our brains were even fully formed, before we even knew who we were.


I sat in my front yard with my friend Kate recently. I call her my dating mentor. She has educated me about the apps and told me her dating stories, normalizing my own experiences. “I’m trying not to lead with sex,” she said. And I realized that leading with sex is exactly what I’d been doing. I think it was OK for a while, to learn about myself and to rediscover my love for that physical connection. But sitting with Kate, I wondered what it would mean to feel all that with someone I cared for in other ways.

A week later a different friend is sitting in my yard. Poems is newly single, my age, and handsome. He toured as a musician for almost twenty years before going to grad school to study poetry, which is where we met. He wears five rings and four necklaces, often tying a rolled-up handkerchief around his messy hair. Once, I asked why, and he responded, “Because I like it.” In my yard we talk openly about dating, aging, and fear. Maybe too openly, I think as I lie in bed that night and ponder the possibility of something growing between us. We’ve known each other for years, but we’ve never talked this way before.

The next night he asks if he can kiss me. I let him kiss my lips, and then I let him kiss me everywhere.

We didn’t lead with sex, but instead with friendship and laughter and no thought that it might ever be anything more. His poems sometimes make me cry, and he is so different from the macho men I thought I was interested in—like Naked and Afraid and American Flag—and maybe this will never be anything more than what it is now, and we don’t have to love each other in any particular way to share a physical intimacy.

I don’t think I’ll reconnect with Wildfire. I think of him sometimes, but we barely know each other, and he’s off fighting the fires that are eating up the West. Roller Derby and I got coffee last week. She wanted to make sure I’m not freaking out, and to let me know that she wants to be friends more than anything. I’m not freaking out, I told her, and I would love to be friends. Poems and I have been spending a few nights together a week. Last night, after sex, we put on an Otis Redding record and danced in his living room. “I haven’t danced in so long,” he said. We swayed our hips and shook our heads and laughed, sometimes meeting in the middle for a kiss. It felt good to move our bodies and then to sleep in his big bed, where sometimes we were touching and sometimes we weren’t. This morning, before I left, I laid my head on his lap and read him poems from a book on his shelf. He read me a poem he’d started on a bike ride yesterday. “I could fill two silos with all the things I don’t want,” he read, and I asked, “Could you read that part again?”

Maybe I’ve had too many partners in the past year. I started sessions with a new counselor this week, and I wanted her to tell me whether it was too many, but she didn’t, and I am learning to trust myself in this in-between place where my friend Cindy says most of life happens anyway. It’s not an easy land to live in—full of questions and both/ands. But it’s also a space without all the shoulds and the guilt and the things my parents and preachers said about women who are “loose” or, even worse, “used,” and it’s a space where I can be honest with myself.

I’m working on being comfortable in the in-between and hoping to lie down and rest here for a bit and share intimacy with these miraculous, new-to-me bodies. I watched Roller Derby get dressed the morning after she stayed and admired the blue flowers tattooed across her hip. When Wildfire slept over, I woke more than once and stared at the curve of his strong shoulders and chest. He woke, saw me looking, kissed me on the neck, and fell back asleep. Tonight in my bed Poems is inside me, and he pauses for a moment to ask, “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” I answer, because I am.