Episode 87: Work and Intimacy (part 2)

Show transcript:

Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.

This is the second of two shows on work and intimacy…and the affect one has on the other.

“Culturally, what we see as really important is productivity, status, position, achievement – women are so achievement focused. And my feeling is you have to decide, how do you want to live your life?”

Coming up, the rest of my conversation with sexuality counselor and nurse/midwife Evelyn Resh.

Since I released the first of these two shows I’ve heard from a few listeners especially on that point where Evelyn said she’d get pushback – where she advised women to start having kids in their twenties. One 25-year-old listener said look, I’m in law school, I don’t even have time to have a boyfriend – I’m focusing on me.  And one of them said, I’m 31 and I’m single and I basically don’t have an intimate life. And now thanks to what your guest said, I’m worried about having a high-risk pregnancy.

When I was 31 I didn’t have an intimate life either. I felt like I was living in a culture that glorified sex, and I wasn’t part of that.

So these shows with Evelyn aren’t meant to be shaming single people. They’re aimed at people in a relationship, but I figured they’re worth listening to for everyone because most of us who are not in a relationship now probably will be at some point in the future.

And here’s something else I heard from a different listener. She wrote after the very first show I did with Evelyn a few years ago. She said, I liked hearing that show but you said absolutely nothing about gay relationships. She said I’m gay and I can tell you when you get two women together, two women focused on doing everything for everyone else, your sex life can suffer.

I asked Evelyn to talk about this.

“Sure, well this is handy because I am a lesbian and I’ve been with my same sex partner for 23 years. I think the woman who wrote to you and said how is this different with two women, I think there’s a hot mess component to this for precisely the reasons that she has brought up to you which is that generally speaking you’ve got women who are dedicated to family and to work and to advocating for everyone in their family and trying to do everything.

We both happen to have children we brought into our marriage…and we now have 3 granddaughters from my spouse’s oldest son. And so now, it’s funny we’re doing this interview today because just this past weekend the whole tribe was here and what were the two of us doing?  We were concentrating and focusing on having everything perfect for everyone there. And then we had to start the work week yesterday. And the two of us were like limp rags. And trying the entire weekend to say OK look it’s not all on our shoulders, these kids are all grown up now…let them take over more of this. And it was not very successful. So there we were cooking meals for 12 people, making sure that there was something everyone was going to enjoy, grocery shopping at the end of our workdays, it was insane.  And by the time we fell into bed we were just spent. And we had this whole tribe of perfectly competent adults who could have taken more of that on. But there’s this way of mothers and as women that we assumed it.”

I asked her if there were any other things that are specific to gay couples and she said people who are married or partnered, they tend to have a lot of the same issues – regardless of their sexuality. She sees about 80% heterosexual couples, 20% gay couples.

I wondered what happens to the dynamic in a same-sex female couple if one woman stays home and the other goes out to work. But Evelyn says she doesn’t see that much.

“I see less and less of that because so many families can’t survive on one income, and so I have very few people where either member of the couple is at home full time. What I do see is actually it’s more often men who are at home fulltime taking care of children and women who are sole breadwinners and still having to do so much work at home, because the way that men take care of children isn’t the way that women take care of children… and 9 times out of 10 women who are powerhouses in the workforce are going to come in and be powerhouses at home – and not let go of a lot of that responsibility.  They want it to be done their way, and so this creates a whole new set of problems. And in terms of intimacy also.”

AM-T: “In terms of intimacy, in what way?”

“Well there’s an interesting thing that has started to happen in my practice. And that is that women who are very competent and very high level professional women start to feel resentful of men that are staying home and doing more female traditional things, because they want to come home and they want their male partner to act and be more traditionally male – so I’ll give you an example. Women will say to me, I come home, I make all the decisions, I pay all the bills, we go out to dinner and I say, where are we going? and he says, well where would you like to go? Why can’t he just sometimes take charge of that and say, meet me at such and such a restaurant at 7p.m? And that’s that. And then I can just surrender. I feel like I’m in charge of everything and I want him to stay in a more masculine energy, linear thinking place. He’s become so feminine I can’t stand it.

And then I start to laugh and I say but this is the arrangement you’ve made and it doesn’t engender him with a lot of masculine energy. Well then he should find it somewhere. It’s fascinating what’s going on now with more and more women, if someone is a sole wage owner it’s not that uncommon that it’s the wife in the family who works. Men are in this weird place and they feel kind of emasculated – this is what men have said to me. And the impact it’s having on sex is very complex.”

She says the women want a traditional chest-thumping mate to pop up at their desire. Which tends not to happen. Meanwhile she says the guys often wonder what exactly their wife wants. Now I imagine this is not the case in every relationship where the woman is the sole wage earner in a heterosexual couple…but those people aren’t the ones calling Evelyn.

In the first show I did with Evelyn 3 years ago she focused quite a bit on the role children play in relationships. If you remember in that show I mentioned that Evelyn trained her daughter when she was ten to do her own laundry. This was so Evelyn wasn’t so overwhelmed between work and home. She reasoned if her daughter could operate a computer, she could operate a washing machine. This gave her a bit more freedom from housework, more time with her spouse.

She says one big problem with this whole work/family dynamic is that too many women put their kids before their partners. They do too much for them – as you heard earlier Evelyn isn’t totally immune from this even now; they worry about what’ll happen if the kids get less attention.

“While I don’t think it is always a good idea to put your partner first I do think it’s a good idea to put your partner first more times than to put your children first. Because children grow up and they leave. And what we want for our children is for them to have marriages where their partner loves them a lot and keeps them in mind as being a very important thing, perhaps the most important thing more of the time. And this is not to say when children are struggling or they’re sick but to say to your children we’re going have dinner on our own. You’re going to have dinner at 5.30 and we’re going to eat at 7 is not a mean thing. But this idea that families have to be pods that are moving together at all times and parents don’t take more time to themselves…I have many, many couples who come in in crisis and I say when was the last time you went away on your own? Oh, well before the children were born. How old are your children? Well, 8 and 10. And 11 and a half. And I’m thinking no wonder you’re in crisis. The two of you are managers. You’re family managers, you’re not lovers any more. So this is a big problem for people and they have some terror around leaving their children because their kids might get upset – well, kids get upset. What I’ve experienced is the thing they get most upset about is when they can sense their parents are not a united front. Because the fact is parents are the masters of their universe. And if there’s dissention among the parents the children will get symptomatic. So when parents say go away, I want your mother all to myself, even if kids protest in the beginning it’s very reassuring to them because their parents are not at odds with one another. And that’s what people have to understand is that parents being really unified, really together, really loving one another and expressing their exclusivity at the expense of children on some sort of regular basis is in their children’s better interest, and this is something that’s very hard to grasp.”

And on that same theme of putting your partner first, here’s a statistic I got from Ellevate, the women’s networking group; maybe some of you are members as well and saw this. In one of their recent surveys they asked which relationships their members spent the most time nurturing.

28% said it was relationships with their peers. 25 percent said it was relationships with clients. 11% said it was relationships with their partners. Well at least partners came before bosses –but still, 11%...it gives you an idea of how easy it is for us to take that particular relationship for granted.

AM-T: “Switching tack, because I want to talk about you. Because you wrote a really interesting email saying I have not been taking my own medicine, and now I’m living in a sexual Sahara, and I need to change this. And I’d like you to talk about what happened and how did things play out?”

“Well I think because we know one another and I’m not shy about anything, I’m perfectly comfortable with you asking such a specific and pointed question. And the best way I can answer this for you is by saying it’s an ongoing work in progress. I’m seeing that I’m still pushing against a tide of that sexual Sahara. And having to remind myself every day OK, look at the calendar – when was the last time you had sex? And people will say to me that is so contrived, I can’t imagine, you put on your calendar when you are intimate with your spouse? And I say yes, -- because time can go by and both of us feel exhausted, but as we become increasingly estranged from one another in that intimate realm that we only share with one another, it feels harder and harder to get back there. And so for me I do keep a calendar. I call it my sex hearts calendar. I put these red hearts on there and go oh lord, 5 weeks, this is not OK…it’s not OK based on my own values system. Where can I just let something go and say no, I don’t want to do that right now, I want to be with my spouse.  So it’s an ongoing work on progress and it’s very, very, challenging especially because of my fatigue level and many of us start to face physical challenges that interfere with being sexually active – we have a new knee, new hip, I don’t know, but it’s really the fatigue more than anything. So how do you work that into your life?”

AM-T: “You talked in some detail in that email about how mentally grueling your job can be.”

“Yeah, I come home and I’m not compos mentis. I can just sit and stare out my window, I live in a rural area, it’s very beautiful, sometimes I just sit and stare and I’m so grateful not to have to communicate with anyone by speech or anything else…because I’ve been doing that all day. On average I see 20, 22 people a day…very complex patients. I often work a 12-hour day and I feel that also in healthcare you take a lot of that work home with you, you worry about people, you want to make sure they’re OK, you want to come up with plans that might suit them better in terms of their care. So there’s a mental burden that I know others in my position feel as well. Speaking of dusting things off that needs to be dusted away and tidied up before I can enter into a realm that is so specific to my marriage and is something I share with just one person. So there’s a kind of mental clarity we need to be focused on our sexuality and I still find myself working on it; my spouse feels the same way. The one thing I believe saves us is that we talk about it all the time, even if we’re talking about how we haven’t had sex in four weeks, we’re talking about it, and we make an effort to be loving and affectionate, and not in this communal roommate sort of way, the kind you would only be with a partner.  Kissing one another on our lips, not just on our cheeks or on the top of our head on our way to bed because we’re so tired. That kind of thing. There are certain things that are reserved for my married life that I don’t share with anyone else, and I focus on those even when sexuality feels it’s so subterranean because of my workload.”

AM-T: “Well yes it was poignant…getting that email…because this is what you talk about all the time and certainly when you’re working with clients on their sex lives and what we talked about in our first show, you have to focus on pleasure…it’s an important part of life. I was going to ask you if you had your coffee this morning, sitting down, looking at the view [laughing] but you also say your spouse said she was going to rat you out to your public.”

“Yes, well that still is a threat. Periodically. Especially as I still send out my e-blast every 5 weeks or so…I really enjoy focusing on something pithy, in 450 words or less. Sometimes she’ll say to me really, how honest are you going to be with them, it’s been five weeks, and you’re going to be writing something about sex as if you’re an expert? So we have this humor that goes back and forth between us. And sometimes she’ll say OK, if you work on this email we’d better have sex pretty soon because you’re not going to have anything to write about, or you’re not going to make any sense. And it’s true. I pull a lot of content from the experience of having a loving marriage and being sexually alive and alert—and definitely the pleasure piece, and that experience of my coffee every morning, not in a paper cup, not while I’m driving, but sitting, having it in a real ceramic mug…it is something important, it makes me feel alert and alive and I cherish it every single day. So there are still those rules around pleasurable living and when I start to feel I’ve had no pleasure all day long I dial back and find a way to get it, because it helps me keep going.”

And for more on our relationship with pleasure – including Evelyn’s coffee habit – go back to show number 19 when I first met her.

But just going back to that whole idea of needing to make time for sex in your schedule…and how hard it can feel to do that.

AM-T: “I was thinking about this in terms of the busyness factor… especially with women, your brain is always buzzing with all those things you have to do. And I – I don’t know if I want to say this on my own podcast – but sometimes, if you have sex in the morning before work you risk being late for work.”

And you’re thinking OK, I’m probably gonna be late but it would be really nice to do this now…but which is more important, having sex, you know, being with my partner, or being on time? And you are a bit late. But it’s probably a good reminder that you need to prioritize sex sometimes if you want to have a happy relationship.

“Yes, that’s true. I mean people often say to me I want it to be spontaneous and I want it to flow… well it doesn’t, there’s not really anything that’s spontaneous. I mean once in a while we might start kissing and then move into something more intimate than that. But generally   speaking there’s not too much spontaneity in most people’s lives even when they’re on vacation. There’s planning that goes on. Even if they just say let’s take the morning and see where it leads us. OK, well I guess we could call that spontaneous. But it takes a lot of energy to be orgasmic, to stay focused, and with women’s minds being as busy as they are and multitasking, you have to do this mediation exercise. I mean women will say we’re starting to have sex and then I’m thinking about, oh God, did I write the bus note for the kids or oh no, I left my cashmere sweater in the wash.”

Or I forgot to send that email, or I need finish that report…

“And I say yes, that’s a mind, that is what minds do. And when that does happen, I mean there’s the meditation technique where thoughts come into your mind, you think about them and you drop them, and then you re-refocus back to where they are. There’s no crime in kissing your partner or touching your genitals or their genitals and thinking about your cashmere sweater is in the wash, you don’t have to admit those things. You can recognize them, they can be kind of comical. You can be like, oh well, I’ll get them later. This is what minds do. And this whole idea that with a meditation practice for example, you’re going to clear your mind completely – that doesn’t happen. It’s not the end of the world when those things happen, and you just keep going, you just keep having sex.”


Finally I told Evelyn about something that happened around the first time I spoke to her three years ago. I had written a blog post that I posted on the Broad Experience site…

AM-T: “… related to my feeling that whenever I read these articles about very successful women I always wondered, are they having sex? I’m nosy…I can’t help wondering about this aspect of their lives that of course is never mentioned in a Fortune Magazine article. I tweeted this blog post about it and somebody on Twitter got very angry…essentially accusing me of blaming women for one more thing they weren’t doing. It was an angry response suggesting that to talk about needing to have sex was kind of anti-women.”

“Yeah, well I think if somebody is attached to that concept of objectifying women then we have to look at that, or if they feel that way about being sexual, that’s it’s not a health practice…then I mean I work with them from that point. I don’t have this penchant for making sure people are sexually active on some kind of schedule. But what I get disturbed about is when people say I miss having sex, I don’t know why I feel so far away from it, help me get closer to it. Personally from doing this work for such a long time and with many high powered women that, you know, have been featured in those magazines, is the answer to your question is no, they’re not having sex. They aren’t. Because they’re doing a million other things. And they don’t have the energy for it and because they don’t see it as important, and part of why they don’t is because again, culturally, what we see as important is productivity, status, position, money, you know, achievement – women are so achievement focused. And my feeling is you have to decide, how do you want to live your life? What is going to be important? Yes, it’s important to live a life that is intellectually satisfying and where you’re contributing to the world, however you work is not going to miss you if something happens, but your spouse will, and your family will. Your spouse, their life will be forever changed, because there will never be another you.”

Evelyn Resh. You can check out her site at EvelynResh.com. She’s the author of the books Women, Sex, Power and Pleasure and The Secret Lives of Teen Girls. She also does counseling sessions via Skype.

That’s The Broad Experience for this time.

Two shows in a row about sex – you’re probably dying for a rest. And you’ll get one because I need a bit of time before I can put some new shows together so there’ll be a longer than usual break before the next one in July.

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I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.  See you in a few weeks.