I hoped it would be healing. In fact, it was dysfunctional.
When my husband filed for divorce in 2013, I thought it was pretty safe to assume he’d never want to have sex with me again. After all, our marriage was a train wreck. He’d found out I’d cheated on him. And he’d made it clear he wanted nothing to do with me.
For a week, we continued to live together, chain-smoking in separate rooms to cope with the tension. Our apartment smelled like ash. Empty whiskey bottles littered the carpet. The laundry basket was overflowing and our bed was unmade — though neither of us had slept in it for days. We barely ate. Neither of us spoke. He left the TV on to drown out the silence.
Part of me wanted to get down on my knees and grovel. But given my betrayal, I also knew that would be pointless. My husband hated me, and I deserved his disgust. There was no way he’d ever touch or talk to me again. I just had to hold in my grief until I got the keys to my new place … right?
The night before my departure, I looked up from the couch to see my husband leaning against the door frame, watching me. I could tell he was seething and drunk. His eyes were chasms of hatred. I didn’t know whether I should feel sorry for him — or afraid.
Then it happened. He stumbled forward. He kissed me hard on the mouth. And he started to take off my clothes.
Have you ever heard of the fiery limbo? It’s what psychologists call the desire you experience for someone you’re about to lose. It’s common, but in my opinion, it’s not a feeling that should be acted on. Especially if your relationship is disintegrating for a very good reason, like mine was.
Of course, I wasn’t so clued up back then. I just knew someone I loved was coming on to me, and I was desperately craving connection. So that night, seven years ago, when the man who was divorcing me took me to bed … I allowed myself to hope he was just seeking connection, too.
Sadly, it wasn’t that simple. We humans are paradoxical creatures. Did you know some people are inclined to use sex as a way to get over their partners? Yep. Some people use the act to take back power and feel better about themselves. In some cases, people even bed their exes as an expression of anger and hatred. I never got the memo about hate sex being hot — my mind just doesn’t work like that. But I learned the hard way that my ex-husband’s does.
The whole thing was over pretty quickly. And immediately afterward, I knew it had been a mistake. I felt ten times worse than before. Few things make you feel as detestable as seeing the post-coital loathing in your (soon-to-be-ex) husband’s eyes.
What gets me is that I was so trusting. I couldn’t separate sex from emotional intimacy. Naively, I took my ex-husband’s advances for a peace offering … reconciliation … forgiveness. Looking back now, and realizing what motivated him, my actions seem foolishly blind.
Of course, I can’t speak for everyone. In fact, I’m hoping most people who engage in breakup sex aren’t driven for dark reasons like my ex. You might be reading this, thinking, “I like to make love to end things on a high note. It works out fine for me!”
If that’s true, then I’m genuinely happy for you. I’m not denying those experiences are possible. Even some therapists say breakup sex can be beautiful in the right circumstances. If your relationship ended amicably, sex can be a way of celebrating the amazing connection you had together… one last time.
But if one of you is holding a grudge, breakup sex can also be a sick, twisted form of punishment. That’s what it felt like for me. And I’m damn near convinced that last-minute sex can’t save a relationship that’s on its way out.
It’s different if both of you are ready to let go. But don’t risk it if one of you is hoping to hold on. When you’re already hurting, adding sex and false hope to the mix will only lead to more pain.
So whatever you choose to do, do it considerately, and consciously. Because breakup sex may not give you the beautiful ending you’re hoping for. In my case? It was real ugly.