In my open marriage, feelings of jealousy and rejection emerge in unexpected places, and point the way toward growth.
There I was relaxing after almost having an orgasm, four of us naked in a twin bed, when I was asked a question I’ve dreaded most of my life: “Do you play an instrument?”
“No” I answered, apologizing for my lack of musical talent. Maybe it was the heaviness of my tone, but the other female of the foursome said kindly, “Her body is her instrument.”
Not quite, I thought. I love dancing and I’ve dabbled in amateur burlesque and pole, but I wouldn’t say I’ve commanded the art of dance enough to call my body an instrument.
My husband and I opened up our relationship about a year prior to this moment. It was my idea, my need more than his. This was only our second experience with another couple. And it was the first time I’d watched my husband of 15 years gently kiss and nuzzle another woman, saying her name after making love to her. The first time I heard him moan, “It’s perfect,” as she sucked his cock. He came inside of her with a condom and her partner also came inside of her without one. No one came inside of me. I was lying on the twin bed processing that thought, already feeling a little left out, when my husband wanted to talk music.
He’s a drummer and the other man in the bed was a guitar player and singer-songwriter. The woman recently took up the violin and played piano as a child. I don’t play any instruments, but always seem to end up surrounded by people who do. I’d tried as a kid: took a few weeks of piano lessons, picked up a flute in grade school but never made a sound beyond my own breath, even attempted cello once in junior high because a guy I had a crush on played cello. As a young adult, after falling in love with the movie Harold and Maude, I decided to try banjo. A friend even bought me a banjo and I took a few lessons, but I didn’t have the discipline for it. I eventually gave the banjo away.
Growing up, my atheist parents put me in a church choir for some reason still unknown to me. As we rehearsed for the Christmas service, the choir director told me not to sing. He told me to mouth the words. Ever since then, I figured that music just wasn’t for me. The boyfriend I had before I met my husband played violin, his father piano, his brother and sister-in-law cello. They harmonized together on car trips. I kept quiet.
So when I met my husband, I was relieved that he wasn’t a musician. But that didn’t last long. At the age of 40, he took up drumming. Soon after, he—perhaps bought me an electric bass guitar. A drummer needs a bass player. Again a few lessons, but I was not dedicated enough to practice.
At the point when we opened up our marriage, my husband was more excited than ever about his drumming and looking for people to play with, whereas I thought we were only looking for people to sleep with. Suddenly he was inviting this couple over to our home for jam sessions. Sex was one thing—I could do that (although at this moment I was even questioning my expertise in that arena). But playing music together? Ugh. I could imagine it: me in the kitchen fixing drinks and snacks while they all bonded over their improvisations. Why couldn’t my husband let it go? Why couldn’t he see that I didn’t want to talk about music? After all of these years of marriage, how could he not know how vulnerable I was around this? When he brought up music post-coitus in the twin bed, I felt myself getting smaller and retreating into my head. And that was when the man, the same man who was unable to fuck me as he lost his erection with a condom, asked me, “Do you play an instrument?”
I told myself that he found me attractive and so did she. They had both said so. I told myself his erection issues were not about his lack of desire for me. As a sex educator, don’t I always teach people that there are so many ways to enjoy sexual pleasure and intimacy whether or not a penis is erect? Yes, of course, I do. And maybe I could have handled the fact that no one came inside of me—a mantra I seemed to be repeating in my head—and the fact that even as I sucked his cock, he didn’t achieve a full erection, and the incredible intimacy my husband seemed to be experiencing with the woman, if the conversation hadn’t turned to music.
That night at home, I was unable to voice my feelings to my husband.They were still too raw. He, on the other hand, was feeling great. I curled up, my back to him, and ended up finally in a fitful sleep. In the morning, I asked him, “How could you bring up that topic? Don’t you know how I feel about this?” I told him he could have the man over to play music, but not the woman. “It know it may sound be silly,” I said, “but I can’t handle that. Not right now.”
About two months later, I found myself making a bold move. I signed up for a private singing lesson. I needed to know if that choir director was right. Was I tone deaf? Was I a hopeless case? According to my singing teacher, I’m neither. I can hit the high notes and I’m improving. I’m not sure how long I’ll continue with lessons or whether I’ll ever feel confident enough to sing on a stage, but at least I know I’m trying for something I’ve always wanted—that my jealousy in fact pointed out an area where I need to grow. That I want to grow. And that maybe someday, my body could indeed become my instrument.
Maya Silver is the pseudonym of a sex educator living in Northern California.