A friend just called because she was so creeped out.
She goes over to her brother's house on her lunch break from work to drop off a Hefty bag of 'hand-me-up' clothes from her kids to his. She used the key he gave her to get in, like she has a million times before.
I'll let her take it from here:
"I go in and I hear my brother's voice upstairs so I yell 'It's just me with some clothes for the kids' and I hear weird shuffling noises and then giggling and I'm like, what? So he comes trampling down the stairs with this goofy grin and behind him is his ex-wife: my ex-sister-in-law who he hates more than any other human being on this planet. You know this because I complain all the time to you how he complains all the time to me about her. But there they are, all laughing like they're in high school. Needless to say I dropped the bag and ran out."
Diagnosis: Post-Divorce Hot Hate Sex
Prognosis: So bad but so good.
You see it on TV all the time – a divorced couple hopping into the sack for some afternoon delight . There's even a song devoted to divorce sex from the television show "Cougar Town," with the line: "It's the best….but you'll regret….sex with your ex….."
Nobody talks about it but everybody's doing it
My friend's call got me thinking about all the tales of divorce sex I've heard. Despite how common it is, I had a hard time finding much research done on divorcing and divorced couples getting that final hook up. There's a lot out there about dating after a divorce (something I'll tackle soon, OMG!!) But there isn't much exploration of that dirty little window of time between separation and divorce or just after your divorce when for lots of all-too-human reasons a lot of people fall back onto the backs, into old, familiar positions, back into old, comforting sexual routines with their exes.
I suspect the lack of public conversation is because most folks don't want to talk about it. They just want to do it. The secrecy, the absurdity, the naughtiness is what makes it so hot!
Luckily, people tell me stuff. So gathering all of my expert investigative reporting skills I have discovered certain patterns that emerge in ex-sex that I think are worth noting.
Be careful what you wish for
In Chicago, we call this "The Nooner." A hot quickie at the lunch hour. For public officials, it's fine. For vulnerable ex-spouses, it's dangerous.
As in the case of my friend's brother and his ex, this sex has a fairly predictable lifespan. You've got two people who have a tremendous amount of energy and chemistry between them that looks and feels like hate.
They trash talk each other endlessly to anyone who will listen (alas, most often the kids) and seem stuck in the white-hot heat and intensity of divorce in its earliest and meanest phase. OF COURSE THE SEX IS TOTALLY HOT!!!! Basically, you've got two adolescents rampaging on the hormonally adolescent-like fumes of grief, rage, relief, terror and revenge. It can happen once and flame out. Or it can sizzle for a while, until it crashes. Both ways end badly. You can't sustain it. All the old wounds and rawness and resentments come tumbling out from under the sheets with you. Usually one person (the woman) has harbored some tiny fantasy that you might, despite it all, be able to get back together now that the sex is hot and when that inevitably doesn't happen, and things inevitably get ugly again, it hurts all the more. Again.
Exes with Benefits ("Have you lost weight?")
Another incredibly common way to go. You just separated and now that you're not living together things are so much calmer and nicer between you. The pressure is off. You're not fighting. The little snipes and snarks are gone. He's coming by the house to change light bulbs and walk the dog. He seems like the guy you fell in love with. He lights up when he sees you.
You've gotten some me-time, taking care of yourself, got that haircut, started working out. You both look the best you have in years because you're both figuring you've got to get back in shape if you're going to get any action in the, gasp, dating world. So the edges are smoothed out. You guys start going out for coffee to 'talk about the kids.' It's such a relief to sit down with someone familiar, someone who knows you so well, who seems to be his best self. I mean, he's the father of your beautiful children.
Since you're getting along so well and look so good, you're both wondering if splitting was a mistake. What if……..
He drops the kids off late. They go to sleep. Or they're in college but he finds a reason to drop by at an oddly late hour.
He says: "I just have to tell you. You look great. Really, great. Have you lost weight?"
You say: "Want a quick drink?"
****Warning: I know one couple who went from Divorced with Benefits back to living together. According to the wife, the sex soured within a couple of months. All the old baggage moved back in with them and you can name that tune. I am sure, though, there must be couples who have resurrected their marriages from this state into something excellent. ****
The Mount Everest Theory of Divorce Sex: You have it because it's there (and you fear you may never have sex with anybody else ever again)
This is for the practical couple who are used to an active sex life despite having a lousy marriage. It's available. It's easy. It's predictable. It's there. Like pizza – even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.
This seems harmless but it if goes on for too long and you all don't decide to get back together, you will remain stuck in sexual limbo and it won't be good for either of you. How long is too long? I have no idea. I figure it's like Justice Potter Stewart said about hard-core pornography. You'll know it when you see it.
The Long Goodbye
My last category of divorce sex is a first cousin to the ever-popular Smoldering Funeral Sex. (Obviously, this only occurs after/at a life-well-lived funeral. You're all sad and will miss your great, great aunt but is it getting hot in here….???)
The Long Goodbye ex-sex is really a way to grieve, heal and say goodbye together when you both know it's over. This is not the white-hot sex of rage. It's the tender, treasuring, precious sex of intimacy and sadness. You trust each other and love each other but you know it will never work. But this allows you to make sure. Some people make it back together. I suspect most do not, but I'm saying that out of anecdotal evidence and nothing scientific at all.
You wish it could get you back together and the afternoons together are a loving but melancholy grasping for something you both know is already lost. If you can hang on to this trust and tenderness, take it out of the bedroom (or bathroom or back seat of the car) you two will be spectacular co-parents and partners in a whole new way.
No matter how, why, when and where you're doing it with your ex, my advice: Keep your eyes wide open.
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