My wedding night was to be the culmination of the wedding ritual; Concetta and I had lived apart for several months between our graduation and the nuptial date in late November. I don’t know why we set it so late, but it seemed right.
We hadn’t had sex before the wedding. I’d slept with Angeline in my only full previous sexual encounter. After that, I had “hooked up” with a young woman named Birdie in my Freshman year, with us making out until the sun rose in the lounge of my fraternity house, and her unsuccessfully trying to give me a hand job.
Concetta and I had been sleeping in the same room many nights a week during college, although we stopped short of moving in together. We had an idea of keeping up with expectations; we were leaders in the campus Christian community, and virginity was an unstated expectation of my mother’s conservative religious side of the family and the stated expectation of her family’s. More than that, I had seen the wreckage of the campus relationships around me, which tended toward unequal relationships, put-upon partners.
Our intimacy was limited to heavy foreplay; we would kiss, grind on each other, and I would use my hands and mouth to bring her orgasm. I would finish in my underwear, spontaneously, or she would use her hands. We felt guilty about this, but I felt like having sex with her before marriage would have been a violation of my ethics, my code of honor. As I reflect on it now, I wonder about why I adopted such an ascetic sexual code in college; as everything transpired with Angeline, I felt hurt and used, blamed and excluded from the pleasure of sex.
My parents had divorced when I was six, and I suspect any memories I have of physical affection between them were based on my own imagination. My mother had three serious boyfriends after she and my father broke up. The longest term boyfriend was Phil, who resembled George Constanza, and who was the polar opposite of my father. While my father was self sufficient to a fault and reserved, Phil was a user, “Esther, can you spot me a $20?”
They would have sex while my brothers and I were in the house, and I could hear my mother’s moans behind the locked door. When I was 12, my brothers and I went with my mother and Phil and his three children to Chicago, because the tickets were cheap. We all stayed in a single room in the Hampton Inn, and my Mom had too much to drink at dinner that night. There weren’t enough beds for everyone in the room, and my mother and Phil were in the bed. One of the kids turned the TV to porn. Phil started fucking my Mom in the bed, under the covers, and she giggled. I was by the doorway. I tried to sleep, but didn’t have a pillow or blanket. My older brother went to bed in the bathtub, and my younger brother was running around in the hallway and lobby with Mark, the youngest of Phil’s sons.
Phil’s snoring was keeping me awake. I had read that a person couldn’t snore sleeping on their back, and had tried the trick of rolling a sleeping person onto their back to stop the snoring before. Phil was spooning my Mom, and I took his arm and rolled him onto his back. He rolled out of the blanket, naked from the waist down, his cock still engorged and glistening. My mother slept on. I went back to my carpet square. We went to the Sears tower the next day, and flew home. My father was furious when he heard the story, and he eventually had my older brother testify about the events in the custody hearing.
When I think of how to be a man, an adult, sexual man, I consider my father Apollo to Phil’s Dionysus. My father was rational, orderly, reserved; my mother said that he was distant as a lover, and hardly ever touched her. He was lean, industrious, ascetic and independent. Phil was the plump, lazy, lusty parasite. I’ve vacillated between these extremes my entire adult life, living as Apollo until St. Patrick’s or some business travel when I’m traveling alone, and the Dionysus emerges.
All of this to say, when I thought about having sex with Concetta before marriage, it felt like a Phil move to me. So I thought I’d be the good guy. Even if everyone else was having sex and moving in together, I would be the Prince, so that Concetta could be the princess. When we first started dating, I resisted even kissing with tongue, because our christian community leader had established that “purity” was a pre-requisite to walking with Jesus. She pushed, I gave in, and I kept it up, even when I felt guilty about it.
With our extended foreplay and lack of other experience, we thought we’d nearly had sex already by the time our wedding came. Concetta’s periods were irregular, and she took a pregnancy test more than once, sure that at least one intrepid sperm had conquered the frontier of her panties to hop onto the monorail to her ovum.
On our wedding night, we were supposed to go to a hotel suite. I had booked it through Hotwire, and the name of the hotel was revealed only after booking. I had already booked suites there for my aunt and uncle, cousins, and grandparents. When we arrived at the hotel after the reception, we discovered there was no reservation for us. I found out later that, even though I’d booked the reservations consecutively, our hotel was actually five miles away from the one where my extended family was staying. While we were bickering with the hotel clerk, in tuxedo and wedding dress, my cousins and uncle came through; “One side, Simon, we’ve got to get him to a hospital, the old man won’t stop bleeding.” They hustled my uncle out the door, with a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop, probably from his anticoagulation medication.
I was confused, a little frightened about my uncle, and I felt really stupid; after everything we’d done for the wedding, we’d felt like stars, and now I’d somehow ruined this beautiful day that was supposed to live forever in Concetta’s mind, my beautiful, tiny princess.
She and I talked, and we decided that rather than try and determine what happened to our hotel reservation, we would just go to our apartment, which we’d already moved into and furnished, without staying there together. We went to the apartment, and I was really excited. I carried her over the threshold, and laid her on the bed.
There was special wedding-themed lingerie that she had on under her dress, but I rushed past it. I had her skirt down and her in her bodice and thong in minutes. I had my pants, vest, tie and shirt off instantly. We kissed, I went to enter her, and I … thought the vaginal introitus was higher than it was. I tried to mount, and was poking her urethra and clit. She laughed, not her girl’s giggle or fake “sheep laugh,” but a woman’s laugh, from her diaphragm; I liked it.
It wasn’t working. I was hard as a diamond, but the hose was off and the doors were locked, so to speak. I didn’t really understand lubrication or the coordinated muscular relaxation required for penetration, and neither did she. We tried taking a shower together, but between the small tub and shower combo and our eleven inch height discrepancy, it just made for wet sliding, instead of successful penetration.
Somehow, we made it. I penetrated, thrust for a few minutes, tried to give her pleasure, even as her adrenaline high from the wedding faded and her exhaustion set in. Eventually, I came; she had been coached to urinate after sex by her prior married friend. We fell asleep, the first night of what will be sixteen years of marriage this November. We worked on the sex at a small bed and breakfast where we took our honeymoon, and things got better, although it took years. Concetta and I had the expectation that sex was something that just happened, that it was something to be avoided, instead of a skill to be practiced, and a culmination of physical intimacy.
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians writes, “when I was a child, I spoke as a child, thought as a child, and understood as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This was a core passage of scripture for me when I was 22, but at 37, I view it as another false dichotomy. I was so driven to be perceived as an adult that I didn’t appreciate what was in front of me. Concetta was an unexplored country, still a stranger even after three years of dating, a girl living outside her house in a new city with a man she doesn’t know how to care for.
Sex is about entering a nearly pre-verbal, pre-conscious state of pleasure, moving in synchrony with another, with a thousand agonist -antagonist movements. A child-like openness and joy is nearly a pre-requisite for sex; the opposite is also true; sex is ruined by duty, compulsion, force. I think that Concetta and I can enjoy our lusts within agreed upon boundaries.