The Art of Getting Apart

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Betty Dodson

Breaking up is hard to do and yet it happens to most of us. Statistics show that half of all marriages end in divorce and many people remarry to repeat the pattern again- and again. Add to that the number of couples living together without benefit of marriage along with couples in committed relationships and we're talking about a major portion of the population. Instead of receiving any useful information on how to begin and end a relationship, I was given a romantic love story that promised passionate sex in marriage with a happy life ever after. That myth was one grand departure from reality.

As a result of marital vows, society continues to insist that all couples practice sexual exclusivity also known as monogamy. We ignore the many couples who agree to open relationships, have a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, or enjoy extra-marital affairs on the sly. Unfortunately, we'll never uncover sexual reality as long as we continue to insist that sex is a private matter. Well, private until a politician or celebrity gets caught cheating. Then sex becomes public at the expense of the exposed person. Very often our victim was simply enjoying a little harmless romantic dalliance with another consenting adult outside marriage. However, once caught, they are punished with public shame and humiliation while the press has a heyday.  Meanwhile, we the people gloat salaciously over every sexual detail gleaned from the media. The story becomes America's current porn.

As a Ph.D. sexologist and educator, I'm here to tell you that human sexuality is one of the most political subjects of the century. I'm all for establishing a cyberspace sex school where people can get some useful information to help us understand the dynamics of pairing off, what it takes to share your sexlife and how the hell to bail out when necessary. People would flock to a course called "Hooking-Up 101" and "The Art of Getting Apart 102." Or a maybe a seminar called "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover."

Paul Simon's song always makes me smile: "Just slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan Stan. You don't need to be coy Roy. Just get yourself free." Maybe it was that easy for Paul, but I was always concerned about hurting a lover's feelings when I wanted out. In my fertile twenties, when I had a series of "mini-monogamies," there were dramatic tear-filled breakups and those fueled by anger. Like the first time I thought I was pregnant and my boyfriend said, "How do I know it's mine?" The best breakups were when one of us moved away and passionate love letters followed. The worst two breakups took place when I thought I wanted to get married: the first one was my handsome doctor moved back to Spain while the wedding invitations were at the printers. The second was the mutual fund salesman who accused me of entrapment with my "so-called" accidental pregnancy. After I had my third and final abortion, I slipped out the back, Jack.

At twenty-nine, I married an advertising executive. By the second year I knew I wanted out so I stopped partying and boozing to get my life together. I was determined to avoid a future of dinner parties and hangovers with a premature ejaculator. Instead of confronting the situation, I disappeared into my art studio and painted around the clock. Although it was marvelous to paint full time, I'll admit I was concerned about becoming a compulsive masturbator. The solution appeared the seventh year of marriage when my husband announced that he'd fallen in love with his secretary. We drew up our own separation agreement, had a civilized divorce and remained good friends. That was my first conscious artful getting apart.

Enter Grant, my first post marital lover that turned into a forty-three year collaboration and devoted love/hate friendship; an alternative kind of marriage in my lifetime. The fact that we never lived together is probably why it lasted so long. We shared America's sexual revolution as lovers and all the while he kept encouraging me to write. Unable to make a living as a painter, I gradually left the art world to become a sex teacher and eventually an author. Grant was my English teacher who edited my first feminist manifesto, "Liberating Masturbation." When it came to self-publishing the book, I told him I wanted to write it without his help. Although he claimed to understand, I was convinced it was over between us. I ended our relationship in an artful way: no hysteria, fights or arguments, just a thoughtful conversation- but it was far from over.

Fed up with the inherent power struggle in heterosexuality, I became involved with Shelia, my first ongoing woman lover. We called ourselves "Sex Buddies" because we agreed not to go steady. After three delightful years of being high-profile sex-promoting feminists, she moved into my building and became a business partner. That's when our relationship turned into a kind of marriage. Within two years, she turned moody and silent. When I questioned her, she claimed nothing was wrong but I knew better. I set up a time for us to meet where I happily announced we were getting apart. She was actually relieved because sex wasn't her main interest. When she left, I missed her terribly, but we are still friends to this day. That was another artful getting apart.

All my other women assistants were part-time so they naturally moved along at some point. No emotional problems presented themselves when we weren't romantically involved. A lesson I seemed unable to learn. At the end of the seventies, I embarked on a hot three-way affair with a couple I was crazy about. We were going to mount a show of my art in SoHo so I could return to being an artist again. When we met with their lawyer to set up Betty Dodson Inc., I picked up the pen but couldn't sign the contract. They would own half of my art collection after investing only $5K to put on one exhibition. I wanted us to do the show first to see how we liked working together and then incorporate- to kiss before we fuck. For them it was, "No contract? No deal," so I was left holding down the gallery alone. Although I suffered terribly through the process of making that decision, I'd say that parting was also artful. Our love affair ended and the friendship drifted, but we occasionally see each other from time to time.

As I entered the 1980's, I collaborated with Grant again to write a sexual memoir. He promised this book would solve my financial problems which constantly plagued me. Over the next four years I wrote in long hand while he tapped away on his beloved Selectric rotating ball typewriter eventually amassing two thousand single spaced pages. After shopping several edited chapters and an outline of the book, I received a series of rejections and remained poorer than a church mouse. We had a monstrous blow-out and I fired him during a screaming match that was ugly bordering on violent. That parting was completely artless.

The best part about the eighties was running my Bodysex groups and hanging out in the women's SM community. For the first time I learned about the inherent exchange of power in all sexual relationships. There was always a top and a bottom. Although I never mastered any elaborate bondage or spanking techniques, it was fun to dress up in black leather, especially after I went blonde. I bought a few new sex toys and began to explore "the scene" with other like-minded queer women and gender benders. It kept me entertained until I became a video artist.

At the beginning of the nineties I started working with my first video partner Jorjana. She wanted to be equal partners but I didn't think it was fair to split the proceeds 50/50. I'd been running my masturbation workshops twenty-some years. Her two days of shooting followed by two years of painful drawn-out editing due to all her family problems wasn't worth half of what I would make on the video. Instead, I offered her a fair percentage that I pay her to this day. At the time she was happily married so our relationship was never sexual. Still, we ended up in a lawyer's office to get apart amidst tears and hurt feelings. Our separation was difficult but we ended our collaboration quite artfully and we have remained good friends.

Grant returned in 1992 to help with the distribution of the video. I'd already surrendered to the fact that he would be in my life until one of us dropped dead. In my office one day, he had a major stroke that left him with aphasia. I was his only support system. After intensive rehab, he asked to set up a website for me to further retrain his brain with HTML. I agreed and miraculously went online in '98. Since we both worked at home, I pretty much gave him free rein. It made this collaboration much easier because I really didn't understand cyberspace and had no idea what a website was about. For the next ten years our love/hate relationship flourished with its usual periodic arguments that grew less passionate as his speech was limited and we were both growing older.

In 1999, I entered into a relationship with Eric who was twenty-two and I was sixty-nine. This time I knew our age difference would determine an end to our living together at some point. We lasted longer than I ever expected. We were never sexually exclusive and I encouraged him to enjoy sex with other women. At the end of our seventh year, I explained that although I adored him, I wanted to stop having partnersex on a regular basis. This was in preparation for our eventual separation. I'm committed to the concept that love has the capacity to let go. Otherwise our relationship would be just another co-dependent pair-bondage instead of the special mentor/apprenticeship we've shared since the spring of ‘99.

The other compelling fact was how partnersex had become problematic for me. Eric loved the sounds I made during my big O that begin to cause performance anxiety in me. Approaching the end of my seventies, I was not able to pull off a big O every time we had sex. Several times I even caught myself neurotically thinking that each big orgasm might be my last! After all, I'm in uncharted territory with no support system or information about how long an older woman can remain sexually active with a young stud.

The other problem I had with the ubiquitous big O was when I'd occasionally say, "Honey, I'd love to have sex, but this is for your orgasm. I'll masturbate for mine afterward." Each time Eric would agree and then together, we'd try to create my big O. Only occasionally did I simply tell the truth by asking him to go about his business while I finished off alone. After all, fucking can be the ideal preparation for a hot masturbation session. Let's face it, many of us seniors are more likely to want or need to be alone so we can focus on our sexual fantasies to get off. Besides, it was more fun to have partnersex after we agreed not to. Living and working together under the same roof created a kind of numbing predictability.

In February 2008, Grant died at eighty five and I went into complete denial. Two months later, Eric became obsessed with a new girlfriend. It was a double whammy. Even though I had encouraged Eric to spend time with Ms. Tantra, there were days I was convinced he'd chosen her just to piss me off and get even with "mother." He said he wanted to learn if the Tantra approach to sex was real. I said it was similar to any religion that required "faith" instead of proof. Reeling from Grant's death with all the attendant details, I quickly got sick and tired of hearing her name a hundred times a day. From my viewpoint, Eric was oblivious to my feelings as he carried on about all the New Age Spiritual information he was learning through her that often sounded to me like re-packaged Christianity.

Last year I promised the Associated Sexual Energy Professionals (ASSEP) that I would no longer bad mouth Tantra since I received their first award. Nonetheless, I cannot agree with teachers who place more emphasis on the g-spot than the clitoris and the confusion caused when they talk about energy orgasms versus physical orgasms especially to people who have had neither one. I'm also not crazy about using all those Sanskrit terms for body parts and sexual activity. However, I wish the community well because America needs all the help it can get in the sexuality department. A lot of what is taught in the Tantra community is very worth while and offers people a different venue for sexual healing.

While it's true that in the past I've had fun reading the Tarot cards, communing with spirit guides, visiting a few psychics and getting my astrology chart done, it was never the whole of my life. When I practiced Yoga and did sessions with re-birthing, I experienced what the Tantra community calls "energy orgasms" when I didn't touch my sex organ while my body pleasantly shook all over. I've always been interested in the esoteric but when it comes to teaching sexual skills, I insist on keeping my information basic and focused on the physical body. Meanwhile, I support Eric's concept of combining sexual skills with energetic concepts.

The sadness of losing Grant's long term friendship along with planning Eric's departure would have been far more devastating without Carlin entering my life. Although I love her dearly, we have agreed not to complicate our business relationship with any kind of romantic sex. She has a wonderful live-in lover who is a very successful marketing professional. I've learned a lot from him and we've enjoyed sharing several vacations together. Another nice aspect of their relationship is that he travels a lot. These separations help them to appreciate one another more when they're together. Finally, the lesson has been learned. Too much togetherness is deadly.

Looking back I realize how amazing it is that Eric and I sustained the degree to togetherness we've had all these years without killing each other. We've had some incredible times filled with a wealth of sexual pleasures. Even though I've known our parting was inevitable, I had no idea I'd be so angry at what I considered his poor choice in a girlfriend. That's when I completely understood the parental role where a mother helplessly watches a child make mistakes that are inevitable in the process of growing up. After all, I foolishly married a man who was sexually incompatible. So, Eric must make his own bed and then lie in it. The only way any of us learn anything is by making mistakes. Ms Tantra ended up ddumping him.

In this difficult process of letting go of Eric, I've had feelings of abandonment which caused a series of angry outbursts that included jealousy on my part due to the loss of his affection. He claims to feel trapped between my original statement of support for his joining with a woman his age professionally and sexually that he later perceived I gave him hell for. Although I disagree with his assessment, I must honor it nonetheless as we weather the emotional storm of separation. Throughout all this, I remain committed to manifesting the art of getting apart. We are now discussing the best way to do this. Our intention is to remain friends and perhaps even work together.

Neither one of us has any regrets. Spending the youth of my old age with Eric was for the most part pure delight. Our relationship allowed me to realize why pairing off is so desirable. Having a significant other has a lot to offer like having a built-in sex partner and social escort, daily companionship, and the ongoing continuity of sharing each others successes and failures. Since our society comes in twos like Noah's Ark, being half of a couple allowed me a taste of comfort that comes with conformity. This was quite a contrast to all my years of being a committed single, a lifestyle that requires a strong sense of self and special friends that make up my support system.

One thing I know for sure is that partnersex has always had a limited shelf-life for me. Some of us have to face the truth that we are not cut out to be life-partners with anyone but ourselves and our creative projects. I am currently madly in love with the new website,, and our global outreach to empower women one orgasm at a time. While I'm busy teaching sexual skills in cyberspace, I'm leisurely considering the qualities I want in my next Sex Buddy, so send in your résumé's.

Just remember, no one moves in with me until I'm ready for assisted living and need help throwing the switch on my electric vibrator.

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