Monotony always follows monogamy, at least in the dictionary. Is the same true of real life? Award-winning columnist Marjie Killeen answers the question on Thursday, October 18, when she brings "Monogamy Monotony: Heating Up A Long Term Relationship" to the Wilmette Theatre. The program is the second in her three-part series, "Sex & the Suburbs," based on her award-winning column in the magazine, Make It Better.
But the evening is more than a discussion. True, it features a panel of experts followed by an audience "Q and A." And raffle prizes. Probably not your typical ones. There will also be a pole dancing demonstration. All memorable, but the evening is really about a lot more. Those looking forward to - or fearing - something salacious, will be disappointed and relieved, respectively.
The evening and the entire series is about re-claiming the joys of coupledom and defeating the stress and fatigue that choke romance like so much kudzu. The discussion is serious, but there are a lot of laughs. It is both relaxed and respectful. There has never been anything quite like it. Says Killeen, "we are creating something unique and beneficial."
But what if you, like me, can't even discuss sex in the bathroom mirror, let alone in a theater? And the closest I'll ever get to pole dancing is tripping over a floor lamp. True, I do read and enjoy Marjie Killeen's "Sex & the Suburbs" column. Maybe (secretly), it's even the first thing I read when Make It Better arrives. But I still thought I might have to conduct this entire interview in a whisper.
So I'm happy to report that speaking with Killeen - about anything! - is easy. She is one of those rare people who can put one interviewer or an entire audience at ease with empathy, sensitivity, humor and good information. And judging from the reaction of audiences so far, Killeen and her panelists are providing a positive and life-changing experience. (For a taste of the first show's highlights, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_M_brYFGWKY&feature=plcp.) And if you're already amongst the lucky getting lucky, Killeen promises that everyone will benefit from hearing the many different points of view.
So, to the bashful and the bold, whether your love life is smoldering or a-moldering, this program is for you. Killeen kindly spoke with me about what makes the evening a great idea for a couple's night out.
Q: Please tell us about an especially memorable moment during the series' September premiere.
A: Something special was created in the theater that night. At one point, I went out into the audience to take questions and I just had this feeling that this was a discussion people were longing to have, an adult discussion about this important thing in our lives that we don't often get to communicate about.
I give so much credit to my panelists. They were diverse, they were interesting. They were great listeners and so helpful that it made it a safe, fun and welcoming place to ask questions. I wasn't sure if anyone would ask a question at all. But both men and women were bringing insightful, honest, open questions and I thought that was great.
The audience was mostly women, which was how it was billed, a "Ladies' Night Out." But the men who were there were equally as engaged and even more so. They were dying to talk about it. Not in a crude way, but in a real way. One woman said to me, "I wish I had brought my husband. We would have had so much to talk about." So I made a video about why men should come. (To see the video, go to http://www.wilmettetheatre.com/events/.)
Q: How did you become comfortable talking about sex so publicly?
A: It's been a process. I went back to school in my forties to get my Masters in Written Communication from National Louis University. For my thesis project I wanted to write a column. The easiest way was to write a blog. So I started blogging for credit. My blog Forty Fabulous was about the surprising and unexpected joys of life after forty.
As part of that, I started writing about relationships and sex. About three years ago, I started following around a group of divorced women who called themselves "The Posse" and were having these incredible sexual experiences. They were women in their forties, like me, who were rediscovering sex all over again after having really sad or angry or horrible ends to their marriages.
People reading my blog couldn't get enough of hearing about these women and what they were up to. Sometimes it was, "I'm glad that's not me," or "This isn't me, but I like hearing about women like me who are experiencing things like that." So I began to find this language for writing about sex. I'm not crude or explicit. As far as sex columnists go, I am pretty PG or PG13. Then Make It Better launched their magazine and I was writing for them a bit about other things and it just developed from there.
Q: Your column last month about body image really resonated.
A: It resonates with all of us! How many times does a woman say, "I just don't feel good enough about myself to have sex." We talked about that a lot in the first show. We're bombarded with media images of "sexy" being these young, sexy girls and then as we get older, we not only no longer look like those young women, but we don't look like the young women we were, either.
A: That's an adjustment. You have to come to terms with it. You need to bring your best self into a relationship or else your partner won't see you that way, either. There was a woman at the show last time who stood up and said, "It's not my husband. My husband wants me. It's me. I'm my own worst enemy because I'm having a hard time with [self-image]." And she looked great, by the way.
My hope is that women in middle age and beyond consider themselves as vital and feel as good about themselves now or better than they ever have. Really, sex is just a part of that.
Q: What should people expect on Thursday?
A: The show is about long-term relationships and how to keep things interesting and exciting and intimate over the years. The research shows that the longer people are in relationships and the longer they're in marriages, the less sex they have over time. It's not just because they're older and not physically up for it, it's also because of the duration of the relationship. Monogamy is not necessarily monotonous, but it can be because people get busy with other parts of their lives and they have a harder time making it a priority.
Q: Who will be on the panel?
A: I have Andee Harris, who is a co-founder of a company called "The Bedroom Chemist," which is geared towards helping couples heat up their love lives. David Klow is a marriage and family therapist based in Evanston and is wonderful at representing the guys' perspective. Emily Harrell is a sex therapist and co-founder of the Center for Mindful Living. [Dr. Harrell trained under Dr. Laura Berman, the Oprah Show's lead sex and relationship expert and became the lead clinician at the Berman Institute before starting her own practice].
After the panel discussion, we'll have a demonstration from some of the instructors at "S Factor," a pole dancing workout place in Chicago. And then we're going to have some raffle prize winners and will open things up for "Q and A" with the audience.
Q: What are the benefits of being there?
A: I think the benefit of being there is realizing you're not alone. However you feel about your sex life, whether it's great or whether you struggle or whether it's just been put on the back burner, sex can be scary. It's intimate. You feel very vulnerable. All those feelings are normal and okay.
It's also fun and refreshing to hear different points of view about sex. This show is going to be more practical than the last show. This is going to be a little bit more how-to. Here are the specific things you can do or consider to heat up your sex life. It's not only going to be theoretical.
Q: Can you give us an example?
A: One thing is making time alone. A lot of people have told me that when you're scheduling a date night, instead of going to a restaurant, go to a hotel. One friend calls it a "sleep-under" where you don't actually have to stay the night. You can still be home in time for the babysitter to get home, but it gives you privacy and time to relax. That's one thing that a lot of couples don't get.
Another thing: often we are in that mode with our husbands where it's all about the business of marriage. "Now you're going to run the carpool and I'm going to call that guy about fixing this and we need to pay the bills and have you sent your mother a birthday card?" When you're "getting things done," you're not in the space to feel erotic.
Andee Harris' company, "The Bedroom Chemist," is scientific about the whole thing. She's identified three different stages of desire and she makes recommendations for each. Her company is not a sex toy company. It's all about time and mood. We'll have discussion about those things and about some of the problems and barriers and why two people who really do love each other and care about each other have a hard time connecting that way.
Q: Sometimes I'm ok with boredom and routine. It's nice when things are running smoothly, but I guess the flip side of "routine" is monotony. Does the degree of routine and monotony predict divorce?
A: I think that comfort and familiarity and trust are some of the awesome benefits of being married, so I'm not against that. But I read the statistic that the divorce rate overall is down except for couples over fifty. Boomers are getting divorced at a higher rate than ever. The reason for that is they've put their marriage on cruise control for years. Then their kids leave the house and they're not really sure what they have left. So I do think that being complacent and not paying attention and not tending to your relationship in a way that is romantic, which includes sex, can be a problem because you need to pay attention to your husband. You need to pay attention to your wife in a special way. Writing about sex has re-emphasized that point for me.
Q: Monotony can gradually become a mindset without thinking about its larger implications for marriage and life.
A: Right. We get into patterns and oftentimes, there's the standing assumption that the husband or the man wants to have sex all the time and the woman wants to have sex less of the time and then it becomes up to the woman to dispense it or decide when is a good time and everybody gets a little disgruntled with that. The man feels hurt and rejected and resentful and the woman feels guilty and angry, but that it's her responsibility.
Q: Just one more responsibility.
A: One more responsibility. And maybe nobody is really taking the time to make it worthwhile anyway. So I think it's worth elevating the conversation. There is always ebb and flow in marriages. There are always going to be periods where things aren't working as well for many reasons because of kids or because of jobs or because of travel or because of health problems, family problems. Things are not consistent over the years. They rise and fall. That's normal.
Q: What are the warning signs of monotony setting in?
A: Well, if you've fallen into a routine that isn't satisfying to you, or if you're losing interest, or if you're fantasizing about things outside your marriage instead of trying to bring those things inside your marriage, or if you're just kind of pissed off at each other.
Q: Which can become chronic, too.
A: It's all related, especially for women. Sex is very contextual. How you feel about a lot of things affects your desire. Stress and lack of sleep are terrible things. They affect your libido more than anything. Then it becomes kind of a circle because then when do you ever feel like it?
Q: How do you break that cycle?
A: I think couples with good sex lives make it a priority. They add variety to make it fresh and exciting. I did a piece called "Seven Naughty Ways to Have More Fun in Bed" and one thing I heard from a lot of the women was that they used role play to get them out of being just themselves. Instead of being "I'm Jane and you're Joe and here we are in the suburbs," they pretend they don't know each other or they read stories to one another before bed time. They use creative ways to feel differently about themselves and their partner.
Q: It might take a leap, too, if you're not feeling positive about each other. How do couples put aside negative feelings?
A: Maybe it's too much pressure. If you're not communicating well outside of the bedroom, maybe it's too hard to say all of a sudden, "Ok, I am furious with you most of the time, but now I'm going to put on the French maid's outfit." I'm not really suggesting that. It may be time to give your relationship more breathing room by doing other things together so you can reconnect in a way that you feel more affection towards one another.
Q: It sounds like going to the show on Thursday might be a good place to start.
A: I think it would be!
Q: I have to ask you about the pole dancing. I know women have started using pole dancing as a work out. I tried to ask my husband why men like it and honestly, I could not get past the words "pole dancing" before he would shout, "Woo hoo!" Although he was joking, what is it about pole dancing that appeals to men and makes it a good tool in a marriage?
A: It's got a slutty, dirty connotation. I wrote about it because I took a group of moms and we took an intro class. There are a lot of pole dancing classes out there, but "S Factor" has a philosophy that goes beyond working out and performing for your guy, although you certainly can if you want to. But it's about how you feel about yourself.
I was surprised that when you go into the studio at "S Factor," there are no mirrors. The lights are dim. There's no right or wrong. It was really about embracing your own femininity through movement. The pole is kind of fun and kind of naughty and it is a good frame for a woman's body and for the visuals, but it was not slutty in any way. I think people will be surprised at how powerful and beautiful it is and that's why the founder, Sheila Kelley, of "S Factor" founded it. She's an actress who was playing a pole dancer in a movie and was enamored with the movement, how beautiful it was and how she felt doing it.
Q: This week, the Chicago Tribune's Sunday magazine featured a Fifty Shades of Gray Halloween costume on the cover. What does that book's popularity say about our culture?
A: I've read two of the three Fifty Shades of Gray. It's a terribly written book. I resent that the female, the girl in it is a twenty-one year-old virgin because I don't think that's mommy porn. I think what it shows is that technology is affecting the way women are accessing erotica, as well as men. Women prefer a story and a context and something that unfolds. Women really want to be desired and the character, the guy is just obsessed with that woman and that's a theme a lot of women respond to. It definitely broadens the range of possibility for women. There's a whole bunch of new stuff, new to most women that they might never have considered and may never consider, but it makes branching out a little more okay. And also, it gives women a common dialogue to talk about sex. Maybe they're not talking about their own sex lives, but they can say, what did you think when they … There's a new language or reference point and an expanded view of sexuality because everybody's read that book.
Q: Do you think men should read it, too?
A: No. I wouldn't necessarily recommend that anyone read it because I think they're kind of stupid books. I found them really poorly written and hard to get through. There are some themes in there that women respond to that are good to think about for themselves. I don't know if it's really something that men need to read.
Q: I've wondered about that. Is the book going to give them a false idea about women? Maybe it will just confuse the conversation even more.
A: Yeah, it's fantasy. If a woman has read that book and something about it appeals to her, I would say she should talk about it with her husband. It would be fun and exciting and something new they could pursue together and I think that would be great. I haven't talked to too many women who were interested in taking it as far as the book.
Q: Since you started writing your column, have you found people coming up to you to ask for advice?
A: I have a lot of fun conversations at parties because people feel very comfortable talking to me about sex.
Q: It's great that you're making it comfortable. I think that people have a lot of questions and there's just nowhere to go with them, but now there is.
A: It's ironic when you think of how sexualized our society is.
Q: It's great that you're bringing it back to the level of reality and making it special, but also normal and a day to day thing in the way that it should be. With the way women and sex are portrayed in the media and the movies, it's so nice to have it translated into a language that we can relate to.
A: Make It Better has been super supportive of that, I have to say. They have been really fantastic because they believe it's a healthy, normal, great part of a woman's life and deserves attention.
Sex & The Suburbs is on Thursday, October 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave. Tickets are $20. For tickets, call 847-251-7424 or visit http://www.wilmettetheatre.com/events/.
On November 29, the third installment of "Sex & the Suburbs" will focus on "Bridging the Male/Female Divide: How to Get What You Really Want for the Holidays."