(Not) Sleeping with the Enemy
A Woman's Musings On The Boys In Her Bed
By Samantha Dunn
It's 3 a.m. and, as has been my habit for most of my adult life, I'm awake. My reasons for this nocturnal alertness have nothing to do with insomnia. Years ago, it was because I was in clubs, reviewing rock bands for indie magazines. During what I now think of as my “virtuous” phase, I was up because I traveled to a Buddhist zendo to sit zazen at daybreak seeking Nirvana. But it turned out that sitting and doing nothing, and doing it well, was really pretty hard.
In the (glorious) recent past, I was awake in the middle of the night because my hot boyfriend and I couldn't keep our hands off each other. So incendiary were our nights that we couldn't imagine spending our days apart, and that's how my hot boyfriend turned into my smolderingly intense husband.
Which leads me to the current situation. I'm awake because I'm sandwiched between the now-snoring husband and our 15-month-old son, who transforms into a creature composed only of elbows, feet, sharp teeth and hard forehead when he sleeps. We thought we'd be progressive parents and do the “family bed” routine, which we imagined would be a cuddle-fest of joy each night.
What we didn't factor in was sleep. And so, I don't get much. But this allows me hours wrapped in darkness, time to consider the unlikely circumstance that is now my life.
For most of my 40-some years on the planet, I have been trying to solve The Man Problem. What does a man want? How do you get a man? What do you do with a man once you get him? My grandmother was the first divorced woman in her small East Coast town, and my mom was a single parent way before “sperm donor” was applied in polite conversation. No dads, anywhere. Pretty sparse on the uncle front, too. There were the occasional boyfriends of my mom's, but they never seemed to stick around very long.
I learned to approach men the way I imagine Jane Goodall first approached chimps. Men were like us in many ways, but remained a potentially dangerous species that I needed to observe from a safe distance, make notes about. Then, for years after I had divorced one and dated more than a few others, it's fair to say I approached men the way the Pentagon approaches Al Qaeda: destroy the enemy. Heart, mind, wallet: all legitimate targets.
I might have continued this way — forever acting like one of those insect species where the female bites the head off the male after they mate — had it not been for one morning five years go. It was around the holidays. Everybody I knew was either with family or doing something family-like; but I was alone, with no one expecting me. The air was cold. I poured a cup of coffee and sat on the love seat in my fluffy robe, staring at the walls for a while. I distinctly remember looking at my shelves full of books, some bearing titles with my name running down the spines, and thinking, “Great as they are, they will never put their arms around me and tell me they love me.”
Something shifted then. I wish I could describe what, exactly — provide a blueprint or a checklist of “to do” success strategies. It was more a laying down of weapons, maybe like the moment when Jane Goodall left her notepad in the tent and walked alone into the jungle.
I started saying “no” and “yes” in different proportions. “No” to offers of casual whatevers; “yes” to saying exactly what was on my mind and “yes” to earnest attention from men I'd never considered. Not to make this sound like voodoo; but, by the next spring, arms were wrapped around me, attraction and devotion flowing in equal measure. All coming from the land of men — and a tattooed Republican one at that. As a needle-avoiding Democrat, he was (is) definitely not one of my species.
Yet, more surprising was the totally unexpected addition of our son a couple years later. Now I have the opportunity to witness men in their larvae state and find that this one was born with a complete range of emotions and the capacity to express them fully. (Love and happiness foremost among them.) When I think about the possibility of that ever fading from him, a fierce protectiveness flares inside me, a wanting to keep him from whatever could rob him of the tenderness and openness he owns.
I find myself making my home in what was enemy territory. It helps that I know now some of what men want — breasts and warm milk, kisses, dry pants, cuddles, a good laugh and quiet time. (And that's just my husband.) If Nirvana is defined as a release from the wheel of painful patterns, I might have found it. That's not to say the path is comfortable — there's still snoring and the elbow in my ribs.
To read more from Samantha Dunn, please visit her author page on Amazon.com.
Oftentimes, the guys we picture as "the ones" growing up aren't the ones we curl up next to when we settle down.Shutterstock