Married, Not Dead

A wedding ring shouldn't mean the end of a happy sex life—though it usually does.

I am standing in the dressing room of Forever 21 enjoying myself. Even though the absurdity of shopping at Forever 21 for an outfit to wear to the Kleinman bar mitzvah is not lost on me. Nor is the ridiculous fact that I am psyched about going to the bar mitzvah. Who gets excited about a bar mitzvah? A woman with three little kids, that's who. I will leave my house. There will be liquor. I will talk to grown-ups. I can't help it. I have three children. I don't get out much. "Mrs. Shelley?" I turn around to see my 17-year-old babysitter towering over me, all five foot eight of her lithe frame. We are wearing identical dresses. Black, knit, clingy, thigh-skimming numbers. It looks fabulous on her, while I look like my great-grandmother when she arrived from the old country.

"Uh, hi, Alli. So nice to see you. How are things?" I notice her dress has a white skull strewn across the chest. I look down at my own chest, and I am mortified. How did I miss the skull?

"Everything's good. Fantastic dress, right?"

Illustration by Hugh Syme


Editor's note: This week, the Voice introduces our new sex columnists, Nora Shelley and Essie Carmichael, two married women raising kids, living in Brooklyn, and still hoping to get lucky—preferably with their husbands.

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Tune in: Interview with the authors

"Yes," I say, "fantastic." What is a 42-year-old woman doing shopping at the same store as her teenage babysitter?

"So we'll see you on Saturday night?"

"Yes, definitely. Do you think you'll be home by 11ish? I'm going out afterward."

"I can't imagine we'll be home much past 10." I haven't been out past 11 in 10 years. When did I get so old?

"The dress looks great on you. You should get it." It's sweet the way Alli gropes for something complimentary to say about what is obviously a huge fashion disaster. What lovely manners. I hope I can instill that kind of compassion in my own children if and when they run into a middle-aged neighbor dressed wildly inappropriately at a store for girls half her age. I make a mental note to give Alli a pay bump on Saturday night.

"Thanks, Alli. But I think it's more your speed. You should get it. I can't wear it nearly as well as you." I no longer feel the buoyancy I felt this morning when I left my office to meet Essie Carmichael for lunch and shopping, and I am desperate to get this dress off my body. "Well, enjoy your shopping, and we'll see you Saturday night."

I retreat to my dressing room and stare at my reflection in the mirror and ask myself, for the third time today, if I finally look my age. This is not a question a woman my age likes asking herself, especially at a store called Forever 21.

I leave the dressing room and search for Essie Carmichael. She's still not here. I pick through the piles of merchandise. Turns out everything has skulls on it. I can't help thinking that maybe I should go back on the Zoloft when I see Carmichael approaching. She is 45 minutes late. Typical. What is not typical is that her usually stressed-out stride is relaxed. In fact, she's got a shit-eating grin on her face. Did she sneak in a yoga class? Get a facial? Something looks different. Maybe she changed her meds. She rushes over and gives me a hug.

"I just had sex with E.L.," she blurts out. I am speechless. She is my best friend. And she had sex. With her husband. I feel like I've been stabbed in the back. I am tempted to throw one of us off the nearby balcony.

"Morning sex?" I manage. It comes out more hostile than I plan, though Carmichael barely notices. Why should she? She just had morning sex.

"Oh my God, yes! Morning sex. Like a high school senior. It is too incredible. I had sex with my husband and I liked it." I stare at her, incredulous. I haven't had sex, morning or otherwise, in three months. Neither had she. I trusted her. I know it's a free country and people have sex in it. Apparently even my best friend. But still. How dare she?

"We're back, Nora. We're back. I can't believe it. Don't be mad."

"I'm not mad," I lie. "I'm happy for you."

"You and J.P. will have sex soon. Don't be so hard on yourself." I want to scream in her face, "I don't need your pity. You giant, awful bitch." But I don't. I can't. I'm like a deer caught in the headlights. I vow to find new friends. Better friends. Ones that don't have sex with their husbands. And then, sensing I can no longer be in a store called Forever 21, Carmichael takes me by the arm and leads me toward the exit. "C'mon, let's go to City Bakery. I'll buy you a cold hot chocolate."

We cross 14th Street and I'm still mad, but if sex really happened, I sort of need to hear about it.

"OK, Carmichael," I say. "Where? When? How? Why?"

"Well, it'd been months, you know. I was so off my game I couldn't even deal with it. Do you know what it's like when you're off your game?"

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