Photo: Rennie Solis
A few years ago, two dear friends got married in our living room. The bride wore white, a ragged dress last used in her gig as the Eight-Foot Bride, a living performance piece she did for cash in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when she was younger. The groom wore a traditional dark suit. My two youngest kids acted as flower girl and ring bearer, my daughter in a zebra-striped gown with a fuchsia cloche hat and a single lily, my son in white tie and tails bought at a quinceanera store and made from the same fabric as dryer sheets. We spent much of the night keeping him away from open flames for fear he'd go up like a magician's flash paper. Nothing about this affair was typical — not the accordion music that accompanied the bride down the aisle nor the taco-truck wedding feast. The only thing that made this wedding routine for me was the toast I offered.
For the last decade or so — since I found myself on The Oprah Winfrey Show staring down a cabal of vengeful mommies horrified by my claim that the key to my successful marriage was my insistence that my husband take precedence in my heart, even over our four children — I have been asked to make several wedding toasts. And each and every time, I say the same thing. I tell the bride and groom that as far as I can see, there is really only one thing that guarantees marital success. Only one thing that is sure to inoculate a couple against the sexless, passionless norm that is all too often the fate of contemporary marriages, especially once children arrive.
At this wedding in my living room, I raised my glass and gazed down the long table into the eyes of my beloved husband. I smiled at our four beautiful children. Then I turned to the flushed and joyful faces of the bride and groom and, from the vantage point of 18 years of happy marriage, gave them all the wisdom I had: "Embrace the quickie!"
Research tells us that sexual intimacy is an important component of marital happiness. It is the glue that holds you together, the way you reengage and reconnect. And when problems arise in the relationship, couples are often counseled to focus on foreplay — to take time, to linger and "play." I think this is terrible advice. I'm firmly of the belief that languid, intricate foreplay is the enemy of successful marital sex.
Don't get my wrong: I like a foot massage, maybe a back rub, French kissing and getting — ahem — serviced as much as the next girl. Cuddling rocks my world. But to use an analogy appropriate to our current food-obsessed culture, all that foreplay is like dinner at the French Laundry or Per Se or any of those destination restaurants that specialize in 15-course tasting menus heavy on the foam and all the things sous vide. It wows your palate, introduces you to tastes and sensations you've never experience before. You love every minute of it. But a meal like that takes five and a half hours and costs a thousand bucks, and by the end of it you are fit for nothing but a 10-hour sleep beneath 1,000-thread-count sheets. But dinner? Dinner happens every night of the week, and mostly you're perfectly happy with a nice roast chicken, a well-grilled pork chop, or a burger hot off the griddle.
If your demand of every sexual encounter that it rise to the level of a 15-course degustation, I promise that you will never get laid. Event sex is great, but when you and your new husband have returned from a long day's work only to confront the dog that needs to be walked, the laundry you didn't get to last weekend, and the stack of unwritten thank-you notes gathering dust on your new dining room table, it will be the last thing you have energy for. If sex is a production, then more often than not you'll just flake out on the couch and watch an episode of Game of Thrones or a rerun of How I Met Your Mother. I don't mean to imply that watching TV in companionable silence isn't one of the great pleasures of marriage. It is. But it can't be the only shared pleasure. Most women and virtually all men miss sex if it isn't a regular part of their lives. And most marriages suffer when physical intimacy is no longer part of the equation.
Here's my advice: Make the quickie your go-to formula. Tell yourself that you'll get to a fancy restaurant on the weekend, or on your next vacation, but tonight it's takeout. To be clear, by "takeout" I don't mean that as a women you forgo your pleasure. On the contrary, I'm committed to the belief that only the most occasional sexual encounters should end without both partners feeling fully satisfied. Since more women find it difficult from a purely anatomical standpoint to reach orgasm through intercourse alone, I say take control of your own orgasm. Embrace the efficient use of self-love with whatever tools you need. (A visit to the drugstore can prove instructive.) Even better, you can train your husband to help; most men are more-than-eager students.
Take the advice of a woman who, speaking from now more than 20 years together and despite having four children, a marriage with two busy careers, and all the normal anxieties and stress of contemporary life, still loves making love with her husband. Embrace the quickie. It will keep your marriage as exciting and sexually fulfilling on your 20th anniversary as it is on your wedding night. Although I think on your wedding night, if you're not too inebriated or exhausted, you should go for the tasting menu. All 15 courses.
Ayelet Waldman is the best-selling author of several books, including her most recent Love and Treasure. She is happily married to novelist Michael Chabon. They have four children, all of whom will turn shades of mortified red if they read this essay.
This article appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of BRIDES.