Making Passes and Taking Hits

This post is a first for me and I thought it needed a brief introduction. I usually keep marriage along the periphery of the stories I tell. The silos of parenting and life are not as concise as they can seem in storytelling, they aren’t silos at all; they’re brush strokes sharing space on one canvas.
 Marriage, two sides, a post in two parts—first, what you’ve come to expect here, my words and emotional take on something that happened; second, words from Sean, his perspective on the same thing. It’s personal and revealing. 

Our kitchen is at the center of everything, not because of an open floor plan, or even because it’s “that place where everyone gathers,” our kitchen is at the center of everything because when I am trying to get something done the kitten, dog, and all three girls suddenly need to be near me.“Mom, can you get me a small glass of apple juice? Not a big one though, because I won’t drink it,” Finley asks and explains.
“I need help, I can’t figure out how to regroup the numbers on this problem.” Briar mutters in defeat.
“Mama, do you know where my Red Sox hat is? Or never mind, can I ride my bike?” Avery asks having not looked for her hat and then asking to ride her bike to pull me away from whatever chore I happen to be doing in the kitchen.
Typically I try to manage all the requests, I pour the juice, slog through the math, and maybe I find the hat, but definitely I redirect and offer a snack out at the tree house or a project on the table in lieu of a bike ride.
The dog and kitten, I have no solutions there. If they aren’t under foot, then they are scattering kibble, toys, and inexplicably large volumes of wetness in every direction. I try to avoid them and when I make the cat let out a startled scream I declare, “It was her fault. If she doesn’t want to get stepped on then she shouldn’t sneak under my feet.” The girls sometimes agree, other times they tell me to be more careful.
Some nights I wait to do dinner until I have so effectively scratched all the homework, school day recap, and one-on-one time with mom itches that the girls disappear to their rooms to doodle and play. These are the nights when I find myself alone in the kitchen, quietly drifting from the counter to the fridge and back to a cabinet for a spice I’ve told myself 3 times that I need to take out for the steak rub.
One night I was finishing up sautéing onions and mushrooms to go into a pasta sauce. Green beans rattled inside a pot, steam escaped from beneath the lid just as the oven chimed letting me know that it was done preheating. I reached for a pan holding a loaf of farm bread I intended to dress for garlic bread, when Sean snuck up behind me, pressed his body against my back and cupped his hand on my front.
I am blushing, both as I type these words and as I stood in the kitchen. I giggle nervously and he whispers in my ear, “I found you. You and your busy, busy hands in the kitchen.” We both laugh. He cocks his head around so that we are cheek-to-cheek and he grins at me with all the infatuation and delight he did when we were first dating. I kiss him.
“I love you,” I say and I scoot away to grab the pan. I bend over and put it in the oven and he gooses me. I jump up. “Stop, I have to cook.” He waggles his eyebrows and says, “I’m ready to cook something up too.” I laugh in spite of myself.
“Seriously, stop. I have to cook. Later.” I turn and he slips his arm around my waist and flips my arms over his shoulders. I hug him and whisper that I love him. Turning back to lower the heat of the burner the green beans are on, his hands are there again. I jump. We go back and forth, his hands on me, my hands putting them gently, yet firmly down on my hips. Back up they go.
“Will you stop? Just let me cook dinner, then after the girls are asleep…”
He cuts me off. “After the girls are asleep you’ll fold laundry and then we’ll go to bed. This magical later time you talk about never comes.” His hands are nowhere near me and he looks defeated.
“Sean, I just—I have to finish dinner. It isn’t that I don’t want to, I just don’t want the girls walking in and I don’t understand why you always do this when I am cooking.”
Resigned, “I am mad about you, Amanda. I feel like doing this all the time, but it’s only when you are in the kitchen that you slow down enough, but it doesn’t matter when I do it. You never want me. You act disgusted that I’m touching you.”
I can’t do this. Why does this always happen? I want to be adored, I know that he isn’t lying when he talks about worshiping me, but when his hands land on the part of me that makes me the most insecure I don’t know what to do. He’s watching me and waiting.
“Listen, this isn’t about you. This is my stuff. I’m sorry. I promise that after dinner we’ll get the girls to bed.”
“Amanda, this is about me. I am your husband and you can’t stand me touching you.”
“Sean, that’s not fair. It isn’t that I can’t stand you touching me, it’s the when and the how.”
“Who cares? It’s our kitchen on a Monday night. I love you and I want to touch you and have you be excited about that. Is that so wrong?” He is starting to back away, the grooves on this path worn in a rut we fall into so easily.
“No, it isn’t wrong. I am wrong. I want to live up to the idea you have of me. When you touch me. When you touch me there. Here (I indicate my chest), I feel inadequate. I worry that you are going to feel like I am not enough, because I am so much less than I was. Five and half years of non-stop nursing have left me feeling deflated and unattractive. And I, I just, I don’t want you to feel me if I am wearing a padded bra or if I am not wearing a bra. I just panic.” My voice is cracking and my cheeks are flaming.
“Man, we have been over this. I love you and I cannot get enough of you. I don’t know what you are measuring yourself against or what I ever did to make you feel like this, but I can’t keep doing this. It kills me that you don’t think that you’re enough.”
I know that he loves me and I love him back in more ways than I can even articulate, but at this impasse I can never get myself across to where he is. I cannot overcome the sensation that he is going to touch me or look at me and I am going to be less than he hoped for and that fear makes me shrink away.
This time we’re cut short by the girls thundering down the stairs and filling the painful silence with declarations of hunger and boredom. I promise myself that I will work on this. I need to get past this because short of time travel or plastic surgery my body isn’t going to change. I hurry to hide behind drinks and setting the table, all the while silently wishing that I could just swat my insecurity away like the kitten at my feet.

My wife Amanda, to whom I’ve been married for 10 years (and have had an intimate knowledge of for nearly 15), is a master at disentanglement. Which is a good skill to have when, as the mother of three daughters, she is almost always mixed up in something. She has the moves to escape, especially when the opponent is her husband:

The stiff-arm. The low-post box-out. The thoroughbred pull-away.
The hip-check. The knuckleball. The kick-turn. The killer backhand.
The triple not-now salchow. Or in this particular case…
The shake-and-bake.

I snuck up on her in the kitchen earlier. Not a kid in sight. I went in for the bear-hug-from-behind, since her hands were busy stirring something on the stove. She flinched (not the reaction I wanted), turned, scolded, and continued about the kitchen. When she bent over to have a look in the oven, I goosed her, for good measure.
That got me a look. And a curt, but definitive “Not now.”
Which I understood, because she was in the middle of something important, like, feeding the family.
And yet, it still left me a little upset—because here is a woman who can turn on a dime and go from mothering a kindergartener with kindness and grace to dressing down a vendor who has made an error that might reflect poorly on our company.
She can correct homework assignments and write a killer ad headline all while presenting a strategy on a conference call. She can mend a tear in a pair of pants and balance our family books with an active Skype chat going. I’ve seen her close afternoon deals with West Coast clients as she’s folding laundry.
But she can’t cook dinner and fool around a little?
Granted, the kitchen flirt almost never goes well, and should probably be dropped completely as a late thirties come-on. That’s for twentysomethings, full of reckless passion that involves arms sweeping across countertops and wooden spoons clattering on the tile.
Still, I look at her in there, working away at the stove. She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and then puffs at it when it immediately comes loose. She looks every bit as good now as she did then.
I’d tell her that if she wouldn’t just puff at me the same way. Sometimes she appreciates the reassurance. Other times it means an eye roll and a shake of her head.
Instead, I tried to put the shoe on the other foot. If I were out at the grill, cooking—which happens several nights a week—and she came out and put a move on me, would I turn her down?
The answer, ladies, is no.
I went back in.
After the grope-and-goose combo had failed, and considering her multiple escape moves, I decided on an all-out assault. The burble of boiling water covered my approach as I made my move again, only to be fended off with a bag of frozen peas.
The message was clear: there would be food, but no fun! I resigned to watch this beautiful creature stir and sauté, while she outlined one ridiculous insecurity after another.
Her reinforcements arrived in the form of three hungry daughters. They tromped down the stairs so loudly that I couldn’t help but think that if we had been fooling around, they would have given us plenty of notice about their arrival.
I suppose it’s time to retire the kitchen flirt after all, which is concerning, because I’m running out of moves. I’ll put it on the shelf up there. Right next to the sugar.

I'm not kidding when I ask you to tell me what you think.

  1. Oh yes. The kitchen grope. Oh yes. The flinch. I’m working on it. And glad to hear I’m not alone in my flinching. But as much as I want you to stop doing that and let yourself be adored, I need to as well.

    • It is. Thank you. This was scary to publish, but I think it’s important, I think I, we, are not so alone. Hopefully the words float to all the places that they need to go.

  2. Whoa. This is like having one of those magnified hotel mirrors held right up to my face. I’m so full of empty promises for “later” that never see the light of day. And I know it kills my husband, and then me, every time. I’m working on it, but man, I’ve got so far to go. When I think back to the frisky 20 year old that my husband fell in love with 20 yrs ago, I don’t even recognize her. Thank you for sharing what so many of us, I think, can truly understand.

  3. yep, we get it in out house too…
    the kitchen grope has long been retired – i do most of the cooking anyway…
    but i often try for morning delight… after the kids have found the electronics or become engrossed in Horseland… never works…
    and night time these days – with our busy lives and a restless toddler – we are either tired or sharing the bed…

    we have friends with older kids who keep telling us its a phase – we’ll get through it… somehow that’s cold comfort…

    • I don’t think anyone ever made it clear how many news ways there would be to be hurt and to hurt, you know?

      It’s work, but when we make it past all the crap, everyone has fun.

  4. Wow. First off, let me just say that you are one talented couple. Beautiful writing from both of you.
    I know, deep in my bones, what you are saying, Amanda, and as a woman, I find it very helpful to hear Sean’s perspective.
    I wish I could say that as the kids get older, this part gets easier. But, with teenagers in the house, that “later” you speak of after the kids go to bed, often occurs after the two of us are asleep.
    None the less, it is comforting to know that there are many couples who face these same issues. Thank you both for sharing.

    • Thank you, Shannon. I think what is happening for me, for us, is that we have to be as deliberate and willing to keep trying in our marriage as we do in our parenting.

  5. I always hated being on Sean’s side of this. I never could understand what makes women worry so much when we come in. We want you, not some idea of what you should be. And you never seem to get that and you never seem to shake the lack of self-esteem. We want exactly what you are. It’s no more than that.

    • Thank you, Mike. It’s a vicious cycle and I completely get the frustration and disappointment. I’m working on it. Your comment really means a lot.

  6. This happens here too.
    More often than not.
    Not always in the kitchen. And not always when my hands are busy.
    I have some of those moves and I’m not proud.
    Pretty sure my husband would nod at Sean’s words.
    Thank you for your honesty. Both of you.

    • Thank you for yours as well. None of this is simple or easy, but I really believe that when we face things down and when we share or read that others are going through it, we inch closer to figuring out…

  7. I don’t have the words. I wish my husband would read this. Because he thinks it’s only us. He’s convinced we’re the only ones on the planet who struggle and don’t have hot sex every night, even after 12+ years of marriage and three kids.

    I thought implants would help me feel better about myself. But I don’t like being groped on the other side of that any more than I did before. I still have raging insecurities and shrink away from being touched.

    While the insecurities are not the complete explanation or reason for our issues…they are enough to… seriously get in the way.

    I so appreciate reading both sides of this. You are both such talented, accomplished writers and I know many people will benefit from this.

    Amanda, I wish you saw yourself the way I see you. And Sean, I wish you could talk to my husband for me. So that he’ll stop pointing fingers at me all the time and thinking it’s always only definitely solely ME and my fault.


    • Oh, Erin, thank you. I go back and forth on what would be a permanent fix and ultimately I think it’s like public speaking, it’s talking myself through my fears, sticking it out until I get past the overwhelming physical and emotional sense that I can’t do it.

      I said to Sean this morning after seeing Mike’s comment, that I wished I could find a way to have more men see it.

      Sending you a hug.

  8. I am really moved by this – by the beautiful writing and even more by how powerful being vulnerable is. You and your husband did an amazing job at a tough subject.

    I used to wonder – why is it that my husband puts theives on when I am in the kitchen and things are boiling? Sean helped me see it from a completely different perspective. Thank you. And you helped me see that the fear of intimacy may be my own … Wow. This is wonderful.

  9. This ALWAYS happens in the kitchen. and I always feel so guilty when I say no, but NO. I don’t want it there. I am tired. I am busy. I am trying to figure out how to mete out different portions of me around and I don’t want to be groped. And I hate that I feel that it is groping, when it truly is an act of “I love you. I want you.” I should love that he wants me, and it becomes such a circle of frustration.

    Thank you for writing this.

    • Thank you for reading it. Hearing how other people are experiencing echoes of this scenario lifts a bit of the sense of failing as a partner.

  10. Amanda, This writing is so raw and honest. And beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been there. And it wasn’t easy or fun. So I completely get it. I think with age (pushing 49), I just kind of let go of some of my bodily insecurities. Too much to hold on to when so much else needs attention. Some of the insecurities, but not all. The men we love, who we know love us, don’t see us the way we see ourselves. The first thing my husband thinks when he sees me naked is not “look at her pouchy stomach.” Though that’s what catches my eye when I look in the mirror.
    I love reading Sean’s side. Keep the dialog open. That’s so important. But you know that. XO.

  11. I think my husband is like Erin’s and thinks we’re the only couple in the world who goes through this… maybe because people are always having tremendous amounts of sex on all the TV shows we watch.
    Thank you for your honesty here… I know this all too well. Part of it is that I’m busy or tired a lot of the time. Part of it is that I want more talking before touching… and part of it is that I cringe when my husband touches my much like pudding midsection.

  12. Wow this is my first visit to your site and I’m blown away by you (and your husband’s) writing. So real and well-written.

    I’ve learned from my experience that it’s usually a better idea not to deny intimacy lol. Even if you have to deal with the hassles of cooking later, the ensuing issues of intimacy denied outweighs them, I find.

    After I had the twins, I had (and still do) this really gross sagging belly that just won’t go away. And after I stopped nursing my beautiful boobs went back to their pitiful less-than-A-cup size lol. There was a point where I felt pretty gross, but thankfully my husband didn’t seem to think the same. I don’t think they measure us against the stereotypical beautiful woman and instead probably feel really lucky that they get to do this at all lol!

    • I think there is some wisdom in finding ways to put intimacy ahead of other things, now, if walking that walk was as easy as agreeing with that talk is

  13. I get this and feel this on every level, including the resignation that Sean was feeling too. This was so honest and therefore so relatable. And I love that Sean shared his view. I look forward to more of these from both of you.

    • Thanks, Nina. We had fun working on this together and it has made talking about this something that isn’t steeped in hurt and shadows.

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  16. Thank you for this. I’ve come back to this post several times over the last few weeks. I’m back again today after the recent confession from a mentor and friend that her marriage is falling apart—her husband says his love for her has changed—after 34 years of marriage and 3 kids. But she knows it didn’t just happen; she can look back at the early days and see how, in moments like you’ve written about, the downhill must have started long ago. It is terrifying to me. I wish people would talk about these things more openly and bring them into the light; so, so many of us can relate.

    • Oh, Katie, I am so sorry. I think, at least for me, that the old adage of marriage being work is something I forget. That’s not quite it, it’s almost like because I am an adult I think that I should be able to bypass some of the really awkward issues or that if it’s really love it shouldn’t be awkward or hard. I don’t know if we thought our being this open would help anyone, but it did help us. I’m so sorry for what your mentor is going through.

      • I have just read this post and all comments. I am so moved by the honesty. I truly wish that I had known more about this while I was married. My then-husband would do this to me while I was cooking and it felt so inappropriate, besides feeling tired and unattractive after having premature twins. And after the babies were asleep, I was too….I didn’t make intimacy a priority …and I didn’t feel like I could. Thank you for sharing both sides….beautiful and courageous words.

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  19. Wow amanda. I have just sat here and balled my eyes out at this post. You have written what is so hard to describe. And it happens all the time, and it kills you a little more every time. I am so glad your post has made us all realise we are not alone. It means that things are worth the fight still if we can all feel like this. And it not be the end of the world or marriage. Thankyou thankyou thankyou x

    • Oh, what a sweet comment. It seems like it’s so easy to just assume that marriage or relationships are fine or that we have earned the privilege of being past fear, insecurity of discomfort. Hopefully we can all find our way to being aware of the hurts and hopes of each side.

  20. All of a sudden I was reading a scene from my own life, only without the children as a distraction from deeply hidden fears about my perception of my own worth.
    I have felt alone in this particular quandary, but then again perhaps some of the problem is that we start to believe everything we think regardless of facts.
    How does this happen in the face of such loving overtures? When we know that a discomfort looms somewhere inside us regardless of how we would like to feel, and express. It makes little sense when speaking of love, but exists just the same.
    Thank you to both you and your husband for opening up such a delicate issues. I needed to hear, to know and to understand that both sides of a this intimate story are not just my own.

  21. This struck me to the core. I find myself rarely relating to anything I read on marriage/relationship blogs because they either center around marriages with children, or are faith-based in advice. Neither of which apply to us.

    However, this was bittersweetly spot-on. Deep down I knew I wasn’t the only one out there with these moves, and my reasoning isn’t the same as yours – but that makes little difference in how it affected me and made me analyze my own behavior. Thank you for putting into words what plays out in our kitchen as well! He’s the last person on Earth I would want to hurt, and this was a very powerful reminder of how destructive a flinch can be.

    • I can’t tell you how much your comment meant to me. I feel very much the same with regard to faith based advice or simply advice that is written from a perspective that feels incredibly out of line with who I am or how I live. Wishing you so much luck!

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