There’s a reason this month’s number one relationship podcast has experienced such unbridled popularity.
Alone: A Love Story is like a heart-wrenching, Eat Pray Love-esque audio memoir. The events and the relationship we become swept up in are anything but fiction; an intimate dissection of the love story of Michelle Parise and her now ex-husband.
It’s a story about love and betrayal, and that perilous place in between.
It’s confronting – not just because we hear the gravelly reality of having your heart splintered by the man you trusted most, but because Parise does nothing to conceal how she coped with her ex-husband’s affair. The many bottles of alcohol she drank, the uncontrollable crying, the rage, the sleeping pills, the comfort she found in having a man’s body rest on top of her own.
Sometimes, these bodies were unfamiliar ones – ones she gravitated towards in bars late at night, when her daughter was away in another home, living the other half of her life.
Often, though, the body in Parise’s bed wasn’t strange at all.
“Sometimes that someone else is the husband, the ex-husband I mean,” the radio journalist says in the CBC podcast.
“We still sleep together, a lot, for a long, long time after we separate and divorce. Yeah, I know.”
It’s a rather startling interruption to the typical story of cheating and heartbreak; where a wronged woman can barely look at her unfaithful husband, let alone share a bed with him. But the stories of women like Parise, who have sex with their exes long after the divorce, are common.
Most women just don’t tell them.
“The day we moved out, and ended our 12-year relationship, it didn’t really end that day. It will never really end, maybe,” Parise explains, telling listeners her husband invited her to stay in his apartment the very first night they moved out.
“He tells me to come spend the night at his place, and I do… Here we are, spending the first night of our separation, together.
“Over time, we’ll make two new homes for our separate lives, and for our now divided daughter. But we’ll still keep finding ourselves in each other’s beds, for years, our legs like our lives – still wound together. I know, it’s not the empowered woman’s clean break you were hoping for, but it’s us.”
Continuing to have sex with an ex-husband years after the marriage disintegrates is something Dr Nikki Goldstein, who has a Doctorate of Human Sexuality, sees regularly.
“I understand it. I completely understand why it’s popular,” Dr Goldstein tells Mamamia.
“If the betrayal is in the trust of a relationship, it doesn’t mean that the sex is the problem, the deceitfulness is. If you both had really great sexual chemistry, but know that you are never going to have that same emotional connection, it’s a good situation – it’s casual, it’s not risky, it’s not a random stranger. A relationship is not an option, and maybe that is a perfect situation for you.”
While some women may respond to cheating by shutting down all sexual advances, and consider the prospect of future sexual contact with the man who betrayed them revolting, others go the opposite way, Dr Goldstein says.
“When someone cheats on you, it knocks your ego and sense of self worth. Women will ask themselves, ‘Was I not good enough, not good enough in bed? … because if I was all those things, why would he have sex with someone else?’
“Lots of people need to be reminded by somebody that they’re desired, that they’re attractive. Sometimes, that person is the exact one who cheated on them.”
Of course, the situation between Parise and her ex-husband is not faultless.
“This sort of arrangement can keep old wounds open,” Dr Goldstein says. “If you’ve got them in your life on that level, there’s a good change you might have something there for them. It’s also going to continually remind you of what they did, and can perpetuate the pain.”
Another problem with having sex with an ex-husband years after the divorce is you’re effectively “taking yourself off the market”.
“If you were another guy, and heard this on a date, you’d run a mile,” Goldstein says. “Although your sexual needs are being met by sleeping with an ex, it doesn’t mean your other needs are.”
And then comes the scariest roadblock of them all: “What will happen if you sleep with your ex husband and you get pregnant?”
“I think it sounds like in this context, she’s got that safety, and there’s no risk of a relationship. If you were to get pregnant, during that situation, you would then have to consider going back to that relationship? Many people believe children will fix a relationship, but it’s not the case.”