Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lawyers and Anxiety, Part 2: Let’s Talk About Sex

*** Warning:  This post contains some adult content. ***
Photo courtesy of
I met my husband almost nine years ago, before law school (and well before law school debt).  At the beginning of our relationship, I was at the tail end of my college career and didn’t really have a care in the world. 

Sex was easy.  Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights were spent out at the bars with friends, and then we’d stumble home after post-bar time pizza or burgers (“hangover sponges” as we called them).  Even drunk and full of greasy, toxic waste, we’d still find a way to get it on.  I recall one time, after an all day pub crawl, I was freezing cold when my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I got home, so I jumped into the shower with my clothes on.  The water warmed me up and – possibly feeling inspired by a foreign film I’d recently seen at the independent cinema near campus (was it the bathtub scene in The Dreamers?) – I jumped into bed, wet clothes still on, and we proceeded to have one of the hottest sexual encounters I can remember.  I recall different positions, scattered bottles of lube, and waking up wearing his tee-shirt and my high heels from the night before.   

A couple years later when I started law school, our freewheelin’ sex life slowed down as I became more concerned about grades, summer internships, and the parol evidence rule.  My taste in movies and books changed, too.  During undergrad, I was into foreign films and I gobbled up anything from the Everyman’s Library.  In law school, on the other hand, the stack of books on my nightstand collected dust and I didn’t even blink when I walked past the independent cinema on my way to the library to study Evidence instead.  I rationalized these changes in my life as the natural transition from the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” years of a liberal arts education, to the “get a haircut and find a real job” philosophy of professional school.  I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to graduate so life would be less stressful and I could get back to being the real me, a person who loved art, literature and politics.  Oh, and plenty of sex.  

I thought the persona I had to put on in law school was just temporary.  Sort of a bandage I wore while growing a thicker skin underneath in preparation for the challenges of a litigation career.  I promised my then-fiancéthat once I got a job and had a more regular schedule, the old, sexy me would surely return.  We could go back to watching dirty movies on a (somewhat) regular basis and jokingly contemplating a potential threesome in Vegas someday.  The frigid woman staring back at me in the mirror who dressed like a penguin during her summer internships (black suit, white shirt) would someday be a distant memory.

But that woman didn’t go away.  Instead, her colorless wardrobe only expanded.  I remember going shopping with one of my non-lawyer girlfriends one day to buy shoes.  I put on a pair of shiny red pumps and posed in front of a full-length mirror.   

“Wow, you look hot!”  My girlfriend marveled.   “You need to get those.”

“Mmmm…”  I replied, studying my reflection while my heart grew heavy.  I could never buy them.  Who would take me seriously wearing shoes like that?  I bought some sensible, thick-heeled, black clods instead. 

I also gained seven pounds, which didn’t exactly make me feel sexy.  I tried going to the gym as often as I did pre-law career, but I didn’t have the strength to log as many hours on the treadmill as I used to. I also ate lunch at my desk, which consisted of a lot of sandwiches.  Too many carbs and not enough movement equaled extra poundage that made me feel bloated and old.  I longed for my college days, when I could eat a bag of chocolate chip cookies for lunch and then go run ten miles to make up for it.  ‘Twas a simpler time indeed.  

The frequency of sex with my husband dwindled to about once a month, and I resigned myself to the ostensible realities of life in the “real world.”  Less sex, bigger clothes, and no art in sight.  Sex, health, and creative expression had become aspirational, and I only had time for the practical (deadlines, clients, and keeping the partners happy during a shaky economy).  

The nadir of my sexless anxiety/depression phase came on a weekend when I was to travel a couple hundred miles for a friend’s baby shower.  That Friday afternoon, a sentencing hearing went rather badly, and I needed to just veg for a while when I got home.  My husband and I drank wine and watched a movie called Two Lovers.  I watched Gwyneth Paltrow’s character dance, have sex, and seduce Joaquin Phoenix, while heaviness gripped my heart again like that day in the shoe store with my girlfriend.  It wasn’t that I admired the actions of Gwyneth Paltrow’s character.  I admired the fact that she still got to make mistakes, a luxury most attorneys feel they cannot afford.  Like the red shoes, sex and fun were distractions that had no place in my life as a lawyer.  

Early Saturday morning, I drove to my girlfriend’s shower and was greeted by her parents.  I’ve known them since I was a kid, and I consider them to be the mom and dad I never had. Her father asked me how I was doing.

“Ok, I guess.  I had kind of a rough week.” I looked down and took a sip of the beer I’d been handed shortly after walking in the door.

“A rough week?  Isn’t that what you said the last time I saw you?”  His brow furrowed in concern.

“Did I?”  God, my misery was actually getting repetitive.  “I guess that’s the life of a lawyer.”  I laughed and tried to think of something more positive to say about my life, but I couldn’t.  Instead, I gushed about how great the nursery was looking.

After I quit law, I thought I’d immediately bounce back and reclaim my sexuality once again, but it didn’t happen right away.  At first, I felt lost and depressed, and missed having an impressive job title to shield me from having to explain the emptiness of my existence to the people in my life.  I began thinking defeatist thoughts, too.  The fact was, I was starting to look like a middle-aged mom, although I was only 32 and had no children.  Maybe I was just doomed to becoming overweight and sexless.  Maybe each year, I’d put on five or ten pounds.  Maybe eventually I’d become a shapeless blob who looked the other way when her husband frequented strip clubs and internet chat rooms in a desperate attempt to hold onto sex in whatever limited form he could.

And then eventually, I began to think more about what I wanted for my future.  I realized that since I had very little to be anxious about anymore (no more deadlines looming over my head, no more clients and partners demanding the impossible), I now had everything to be anxious about.  After all, we only have so much time on this earth.  I’d already wasted six years of it in law.  I couldn’t waste anymore.  

So I started reading again, and exercising.  My body started looking more like its pre-law condition, and I decided to make sex more of a priority.  I could finally afford to, since most of my days ended by six o’clock and I could leave work at work.  I found that when you don’t have a job title that gives you an entire identity, you start to cultivate an actual personality, and you care more about maintaining important relationships.  

I also started thinking about all the dreams I had when I was a naïve undergrad.  Maybe I’ll never realize all of them, but wouldn’t it be silly not to try?  Maybe I’ll never become a real writer.  Maybe my husband and I will never be as care-free as we once were. Maybe rock star sex is a thing of the past. But dammit, why go gently into that good night?  Why not write a book, even if it is terrible?  Why not stay out late on Saturday night and make a few memories?  Why not try new things sexually, even if it’s no longer effortless? 

I ordered a copy of The Dreamers the other day.  I know it wasn’t in the budget, but it was fairly cheap, and I think it will ultimately be good for me.  It’s possible that I’ll watch it again and wonder what I ever saw in it.  Or maybe the theme of the movie - the inevitable loss of youth and idealism that happens to all of us – will make me sad.  But it’s also possible that I’ll watch it and wake up the next morning wearing nothing but my husband’s tee-shirt and a pair of shiny red heels.  

There’s only one way to find out.

*** Warning: This video, and the movie itself, are wildly inappropriate for anyone, but especially those under 18.***