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(37) Midlife Renaissance with Nora

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What’s a midlife renaissance? You’ll have to listen to find out – but I can tell you that it includes rule-breaking, and sex. Sometimes with people other than your spouse. It may sound scandalous, but Nora reveals why changing her marriage helped her achieve true happiness, growth, and radical acceptance. She also talks about breaking out of the “good girl” role, and how the loss of her father gave her unexpected clarity. So join us for today’s episode which looks at one woman’s choice between fulfilling her own deep needs and desires, or sticking with her status quo marriage.

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Brandy:          Hello, Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. On today’s episode, I talk with Nora, who is enjoying her midlife renaissance. What’s a midlife renaissance, you ask? You’ll have to listen to find out, but I can tell you that it includes rule breaking and sex – sometimes with people other than your spouse. It may sound scandalous, but Nora reveals why changing her marriage helped her achieve true happiness, growth, and radical acceptance for both herself and her husband. She also talks about breaking out of the “good girl” role and how the loss of her father gave her unexpected clarity. So, join us for today’s episode which looks at one woman’s choice between fulfilling her own deep needs or sticking with her status quo marriage.

Brandy:          We recorded this in the first week or so of the pandemic lockdown, so when we talk about wanting a change or a distraction from what’s currently going on, we’re referring to the constant news about the coronavirus that was bombarding us at the time, not the uprisings against police violence that have taken place across the world the past couple of weeks. We white people don’t need a break from that. Black lives matter. Onto the show —

Brandy:          Joining me today is an anonymous guest, and once you hear her story, you will understand a little bit about why. She is a brave friend of mine who, like many of the past guests, has stepped out of her comfort zone and gone against the grain in order to give breath to her authentic self. Nora is going through what she calls a midlife renaissance, and it has a lot to do with sex. {laughter} She is done being the good girl and wants the freedom to explore new territory and partners. Welcome to the podcast, Nora.

Nora:               Thank you, Brandy. I’m so excited to be here and talk with you about this fun topic. {laughter}

Brandy:          Yes. I’m excited because we’re recording this amid the pandemic, and I think both of us are looking forward to talking about something else for a change. Right? {laughter}

Nora:               Definitely. As I was preparing to connect with you today, I was looking through my journal and reading a little bit of poetry that’s been guiding me on my journey the past few years, and it felt so good just to go inward and to not be paying attention to all the noise of the world right now. It also felt a little bit — I guess I was judging myself for that. It felt a little selfish because I was thinking, “Oh, what am I missing right now? Should I be sending an email? Should I be connecting with someone and making sure they’re okay?” Often, when we’re women and mothers and caring for other people, we get drawn out because we have a lot of high expectations for what we should be doing in the world. I think this is, actually, a really beautiful thing for you and I to be doing today to just take a pause and talk about something else and think about something else and come back to our lives a little bit.

Brandy:          Yes, take us away, Nora. Take us away from everything. {laughter}

Nora:               Yes. {laughter}

Brandy:          I want to dive into this anonymity piece. I know that you went back and forth on this, right? I think there was a part of you that wanted to use your name because you wanted to erase the shame surrounding coming into your own, sexually. And then I thought that there was also a part of this that is a secret from your family; hence, the lack of name. So, tell us more about your thought process here.

Nora:               Yeah, and it’s not so much of keeping a secret from just my family. It’s more that I’m still really in the process, and I’m still figuring out what it means for me and how to share it with people that I’m intimately connected to but also with the world. I think there will be a time when I’m going to be sharing more of this with the world. I’ve been doing a lot of writing, and it’s going to happen. It’s just that I’m not quite in that place yet. Also, my professional life is important and valuable to me. There are just things that I have to consider around that.

Brandy:          For sure. Right.

Nora:               I think for now, I’m loving the opportunity to be able to share the story, and hopefully, help other parents, moms or dads, men or women, or anyone be able to realize that there is a place and a time for us to connect with what we really need in our lives and explore that and, maybe, give some courage for that. But, it’s not as important in this moment that it’s me and that it’s my name that’s doing that. I think getting the message out there is the most important piece.

Brandy:          Yeah, I got it. We met up for breakfast months ago – and by the way, if I ever meet you for breakfast out there, anybody, you’re probably gonna be on the podcast {laughter} because I feel like so many of these podcasts start with like, “We were at breakfast…”

Nora:               {laughter}

Brandy:          And maybe, there’s something about it where people are spilling the tea, and then I’m asking, “Hey, do you mind if we move the tea over here?” — and it’s always from a place of being in awe of people who are doing things that are outside of what they’ve always done. And then knowing the way that I react to people’s stories, I know my listeners would react the same way, and it’s like, “This is too good! I know that other people are struggling with this or questioning this, so it needs to get to more people.” So anyway, even though I know some of the listeners today will be like, “Whoa,” with what we’re going to talk about. I also know that the stories that you’ve shared with me over the years and the struggles and the insights about this new awakening you’ve had are so relatable at the core. And where it’s not relatable, it’s just fun as hell to listen to and imagine. {laughter} So, thank you so much.

Nora:               {laughter} You’re welcome.

Brandy:          So, okay. We’re going to get to all this today: your midlife renaissance, how your marriage did or didn’t weather it, some scandalous stories (hopefully), where this “new you” is headed, and what we can all learn from it. But first, what is something the listeners need to know about you?

Nora:               I think, probably to help create the context for this, something that they need to know about me is that I’m known as being the good girl. The one who always does the right thing. The one who has the answers oftentimes. The one who people can really depend on. {laughter} As I’ve been going through this, I’m just thinking of a newer friend a few years ago when I was right in the middle of things, and she said to me, “Oh. So, you’re actually a bad girl in good girl clothes.” {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter}

Nora:               I was like, “Well, I think the bad girl’s wanting to come out.” But I think what is important to know about me, and I think for a lot of us, is that I had certain ways of being in the world, perceptions about myself, and perceptions that other people had of me and I only knew how to keep up with those. I wasn’t really taught or conditioned on how to break out of them every once in a while and explore the other parts of myself. I was really good at doing what was expected, and at some point, that became not sustainable.

Brandy:          Yeah. So, are you saying because you were so in your good girl, then this bad girl inside was like, “If you’re not going to let me out every once in a while, I’m just going to come live at your house for a while?”

Nora:               Yes, and it’s not as dramatic as that. I mean, I’ve definitely explored and tried things sometimes that, maybe, somebody else wouldn’t. But yeah, the core and the foundation has definitely been being comfortable in who I was because of who other people thought I was supposed to be.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               The way that I describe it — and you know little bit about this because of what we share and other connections that we have — but my map and the way that I understand my midlife renaissance is as a Hero’s Journey, and as this call to go to a place within myself that I’ve never been or that I left behind at some point in my life or that I didn’t fully explore. And for me, it’s not all of me that I didn’t explore, but there was definitely the part of me that was a very sexual being that I left in the underworld and that I didn’t give as much reference to or respect as much or allow as much exploration because I thought that it wasn’t as important as some of these other parts of my being. I was taught that it wasn’t as important as other parts of who I was. So, I made decisions in my life that didn’t keep that in as high of value as some other parts of who I was. So, at some point, it became — and for listeners that don’t know what a Hero’s Journey is, it’s essentially this call to discover a place within ourselves that we have not explored or that we’ve left behind. When I hit around 40, the call was literally, like, some people call it a ‘Kundalini awakening,’ but it was like in my yoni. It was like, lighting up, and I mean, she was on fire every day. I was totally, sexually aroused all the time. I mean, it was unbelievable. {laughter}

Brandy:          And so, you became a Samantha from Sex in the City? {laughter}

Nora:               Yeah, exactly. I felt like, “Let’s do this. I’m turned on. Come on. Let’s have a good time.” And my husband was not. He didn’t have that same desire for sexual exploration that I had, nor did he ever. I always had a lot more than he did, but at this point in my life, it became like, “Okay, this fucking needs to happen, like, now. It’s not an option to try to resolve.” This need with getting more massages or going out dancing – I was trying to do all these things to take care of that part of myself without actually taking care of that part of myself. I literally felt like I was gonna explode.

Brandy:          Oh, gosh. Okay, so what happened next? I’m curious of the, sort of, overview for the listeners of your transformation and your story. You gave us an idea of where this awakening started. It feels like at 40, people take less shit and that people’s yonis are waking up. I feel like at 40, we all get some kind of a call. I think that’s interesting that it happened when you turned 40. When I turned 40, I had the shingles and a kidney stone. So, I would much prefer the yoni on fire than the urethra on fire. {laughter}

Nora:               Oh no. Yoni on fire is much better than urethra on fire. Oh, my gosh. {laughter}

Brandy:          Anyway, tell us the bird’s eye view overview of your story.

Nora:               It honestly, started with my father dying. So, I have a pretty typical midlife crisis, clinical story, or sort of, psychological story. If you look at the textbooks or you read anything about midlife, it was pretty classic. I was 39. My father died. I was finishing my master’s degree. I was doing another certification process. All these things were happening in the same year, and simultaneously at my work, I had met a man who really lit my fire. I mean, we were intellectually connected. We were creatively connected. We enjoyed talking about politics and spirituality and all kinds of things. I realized that I was also physically attracted to him. And for the first time — I had probably been married 13 or 14 years or so at that point — it was really the first time that that had happened to the level that I was nervous about it. I mean, of course, as a heterosexual woman, I can walk down the street and come across a man who I think, “Oh, he’s very attractive,” and I go about my day. No big deal. It doesn’t impact my everyday life and thinking.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               Or maybe, I’ll have a little fantasy or something. That’s nice, but it didn’t feel like it was threatening my marriage. For the first time in my life — I was grieving my father. I was trying to figure out who I was becoming professionally. My kids had gotten to a stage where they didn’t need me as much. They were more physically independent. They were off doing their own things. There wasn’t as much of that day to day nurturing care that needed to happen all the time. And so, it was, sort of just that classic midlife experience where I was being stimulated by this other human and realizing that there were things in my own marriage, in my own relationship, that I was missing out on and that I wanted to have in my relationship and I wanted to have with depth. I brought that to that relationship, and I expressed to him everything that was happening. I was very honest and transparent from the get-go.

Brandy:          You mean, with your husband?

Nora:               Yeah, with my husband. Exactly. I said, “Look, there’s this guy at work, and this is who he is. This is what’s happening for me, and it’s scaring the fucking shit out of me. I feel like this is a threat to our marriage, and what can we do about it? Will you help me, like, be here? What can we do?” At first, he was just a deer in headlights. I think he was shocked. He didn’t understand the intensity of what I was experiencing. He’s just a lot more neutral about the world in general, and I’m much more passionate. There’s that disconnect for us there. He didn’t really have a response. That’s what was so frustrating for me was there was no response at all. He didn’t seem to be worried or really doing anything about it. He didn’t try to engage with me. The metaphor that I sometimes have in my brain, or the visual, is like I was playing catch, and the other person was just standing there and not trying to even catch the ball or throw it back. I was like, “Hello? Can you can you open the glove? Can you give me some feedback?”

Brandy:          Oh, wow. Right. Like, it’s just hitting his chest and then dropping.

Nora:               {laughter} Exactly. Yeah. I became discouraged. I became infuriated, and I was everything, and all the emotions and just kept trying lots of different strategies. I love Esther Perel.

Brandy:          Yes, yes.

Nora:               I had been reading a ton of her and tried to give him things to read or watch. We signed up for her online course, which I highly recommend before you enter your midlife crisis. Do it! She has a really great course about love and sex and relationships.

Brandy:          Is that the rekindling desire one?

Nora:               Yeah, exactly.

Brandy:          I think I’ve seen that.

Nora:               Yep. So, good. She’s great. So, I read a ton of Kim Anami. She’s pretty well-known around your individual, sexual awakening, and she has online courses and stuff. I took stuff with her. I mean, when I am faced with a crisis, what I do is I try to learn and grow and figure shit out. And he was like {silence}. And I love him to death. I mean, we’re still married. That’s another reason why it needs to be anonymous is because we really haven’t even finished our process for our relationship. I love who he is and how he processes. At that point in my life, it was really frustrating for me because I wasn’t getting what I needed in order to be able to figure out what I was going through. And I wanted that in my relationship.

Brandy:          What was he doing? You would give him these things and be like, “We should take this class,” and then would he willingly be like, “Yeah,” and be excited about it? Or was he like, “I’m not really willing to do the work.” Like, where was he?

Nora:               The thing is he was neither.

Brandy:          So, like apathetic?

Nora:               Totally apathetic. Yeah, he was super flat about it. Honestly, if he had said, “No, I can’t do this,” it probably would have been easier because then it would have fucking sucked. I would have been sad, but I would have just gone like, “Okay, here’s the reality of the situation.”

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               So, he wasn’t in, and he wasn’t out. He was nowhere in between. I actually said to him — there was one night where we sat on the couch, and I mean, just tears — I don’t know how many hours and boatloads of tears I had, but there were a lot. It was intense. He wanted to be there for me. He just didn’t know how. I read a lot of poetry, and there was a quote by Diane Ackerman, and she says, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” And I said, “That’s where I’m at. I need you to understand that this is where I’m at right now.” And he said to me, “What if I just want to live the length of it?”

Brandy:          Oh, wow. I just got chills because that’s his truth.

Nora:               Yes.

Brandy:          That’s — gosh. That’s the thing. When you have two people who just, at the core, have a different way of being or what they want out of life, like what do you do with that?

Nora:               Yeah!

Brandy:          And I know you’re here to give us a take on what you guys did with that, but I’m in awe because everybody always talks about like, “Well, love can conquer all,” and it’s like, “Yeah, but what about stuff like this that’s just, legitimately, really different alignments in life?”

Nora:               Yeah, exactly. That was a few years ago, but still, it’s such a visceral experience. Thinking about it is super emotional because I love him so much. I love that he was able to say that that’s his truth.

Brandy:          Yes. Right.

Nora:               And also, he didn’t attack me for mine. He didn’t say, “Well, I need you to be — I need you to only live the length of it.” And I didn’t say to him, “I need you to live the width of it.” I said, “This is my truth.” And he said, “This is my truth.” And then we said, “What are we going to do?” In that moment, we didn’t have an answer outright to each other. I think, intuitively, we both knew that at some point, this was going to have to change and we were going to have to recreate our relationship and it was going to need to look different than it did. But we didn’t know the first step to take. For a while, we were in that space of like, “Okay, this is probably going to end, at least, in the way that we know it right now. And how do we do that with love, and how do we do it with taking care of our children?” And so, I know that that was happening for both of us, but it was still another couple of years, honestly, before we got to that place of being ready to make that decision.

Nora:               So, we continue to live our life. Months would go by where we wouldn’t really speak of it, but I was having my experience still. I was still really frustrated, and I still really wanted to have a lot of sex. We still would have some interactions. The thing is, too, an important piece of this is we had, I would call it, a borderline sexless marriage. I mean, it wasn’t. Sexless marriage is defined as, I think, less than 10 times in a year depending on what you read, maybe, once a month or less than once a month. So, there were times in our marriage where it was less than that. There were times where it was a little bit more, but I was always the initiator. I definitely have always been the one in the marriage that had the sex drive and that would initiate. Not just for sex, but I mean, touch in general. Touch is definitely my love language. So, I’ve always been like that. And my husband never — it was the opposite for him. There was a lot of shaming. He grew up Catholic, and masturbation was a sin.

Brandy:          I was just gonna ask, “He’s Catholic probably, right?”

Nora:               Yeah, exactly. I’m Protestant. So, I’m a good girl, but I’m a little on the edge. {laughter} Or I was Protestant. I’m not Christian at all anymore. But he would do it if I wanted to or I really pushed. It felt like I was pulling and tugging granite rock. {laughter} Like, “Come on. Let’s try.” There wasn’t any initiative on his part, and it was me dragging him along. God, that got really shitty after a while.

Brandy:          Yeah, I would imagine you can only take so much of that.

Nora:               Yeah. I felt pretty rejected because I felt like, “What the fuck is wrong with me? I am a beautiful human.” I mean, I’m not saying, necessarily, physically beautiful. But like, “I want to be adored.” {laughter}

Brandy:          You are.

Nora:               {laughter} Thanks.

Nora:               But you know what I mean? I was like, “God, I have this body that’s working really well. She’s all juiced up. What’s wrong with me that my husband isn’t receptive to that? What am I doing wrong?” I kept going to that really dark place that there must be something innately wrong with me if I can’t get my husband to want to engage with me sexually to the level that I wanted and I desired. And so, it got dark, and I got sad. At the same time, I would go to work, or I’d go out dancing. I’d be like, “Yeah, I’m jazzed up,” and I’d be getting feedback from other men like, “Oh, this person wants to engage with me, and that person wants to engage with me.” Or they give me a compliment or tell me I’m beautiful or whatever, which I always — thankfully, I’ve never had anything negative happen to me in that way. It’s always been really just gentle and safe and complimentary which I appreciated because I wasn’t getting that at home.

Brandy:          You mentioned something about the adoration here, and I wanted to make sure that we talked about this because it was one of the pieces that blew me away when we were talking about it at breakfast. When you were talking about the loss of your dad and your dad’s role in your life, I remember you were saying that your dad was this figure who would see you and would come over and adore you, obviously, in a non-sexual way but in a “look at all that you do.” And he was just in awe of you. So, will you remind me and tell the story about that whole piece?

Nora:               Yeah, that has definitely been a significant part of my midlife journey or crisis or renaissance because I did have a good relationship with my dad. He, obviously, was a man in my life, and there was that element of this masculine/feminine, sort of, dynamic.

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               He was also a very capable. For me, he was the epitome of this divine masculine. He was artistic and articulate and intelligent, and he was an engineer. He could just do anything. He could fix things. He was a beautiful artist. So, I clearly — as often we do as girls and women who have good relationships with our fathers, we can hold them on pedestals. It’s typical. In many ways, I did. It took time to get to that place because when I was a little girl, the relationship was horrible because he was drinking a lot. He and my mother had an awful relationship, and they fought a lot. And so, there was this really bad place. And then there was this really good place that we got to, and he did adore me. He became the kind of person that was able to express that which he wasn’t able to do when we were little kids, but he definitely was able to do that when we were adults. He lived in another state, and when he would come to visit, I had this red chair in my kitchen. He would sit in the red chair while I would be cooking and taking care of the kids and spending my life in the kitchen as we do when we have young children. He’d cock his head to the side, and he had these big brown eyes, and just smile. He’d watch me and exude adoration for me and tell me with his words like, “You’re so beautiful. You’re so wonderful. You’re such a fabulous mother. How do you do what you do? Look at you. You’re amazing. How’d you whip that (whatever dish) up so fast?”

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               He was just the sweetest, and I received that from him. And I really became to depend on him for that in my life. He was not just the man, but the person who in my life gave me that adoration. I didn’t realize how valuable it was until he wasn’t there anymore. He died suddenly and very young. He was 67. I mean, of course, I had the initial grief, but over that year, after he was gone — David Whyte, who’s a beautiful poet who I love and who has helped me so much in these past few years with his writings, talks about the death of his mother, and he writes a farewell letter. And essentially, it’s the letter that she wrote to him after she died.

Brandy:          Oh, right.

Nora:               It’s him imagining what she would have said and writing it. It’s so darling. I did the same for my dad when I was visiting San Diego where he used to live. I sat and wrote his farewell letter to me (being inspired by David Whyte), but what he says about it is that when someone that we love dearly dies, we don’t realize what that relationship is until it’s not there anymore. It’s, maybe, a key element of that relationship, and we spend those first few years falling into that place that they held for us. We fall and we fall and we fall and we fall into that place that they held for us until we finally land and really realize what it is. And then he says, “The task is to find that within ourselves and within the world.”

Brandy:          Wow.

Nora:               I mean, my heart right now is just really feeling into that because it is such a journey, and I don’t always know exactly where to pull from for myself in my own adoration for myself and where sometimes to get it in the world. I think, initially Brandy, what happened for me is that when I realized that I wasn’t receiving that from my father and that he wasn’t there to give that to me and I felt the deep, deep loss of it, I turned to my husband. I wanted to get it from him.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               I even told him — I remember another time sitting on the couch — we have this little corner of the couch where we have had all these conversations, and I remember sitting and saying to him, “God, I’m craving men. I’m craving this masculine energy in my life. I’m craving someone to hold me.” I wanted to get on the back of a Harley and ride off into the woods or down the road. {laughter} I wanted him to be the one to do that for me.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               And I probably put a lot of pressure on him to do that because I didn’t know where else to go and how to do it for myself.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               But yes, that’s what my father provided for me, and my task now — I think one of the things that I want other women and all people to know when they are faced with exploring something that they’re scared about or that they don’t understand is that it often is a task to fall back in love with ourselves or to fall in love with ourselves. That’s when my husband and I did finally decide that we weren’t going to have the same format of relationship that we have or not be married and live in the way that we had been living and, kind of, readjust that. When we finally decided to do that, what I told him and what I realized is that, my journey is really about falling in love with myself. It’s not so much about trying to change something in him or even, necessarily, just about the relationship. It really has so much to do with me falling in love with myself and also being totally — what’s the word? I guess in that I think people refer to it as ‘radical acceptance’ of who he is as well, right?

Brandy:          Yes.

Nora:               So, like completely accepting who he is as a person, accepting who I am as a person, and really falling in love with who I am as a person instead of trying to force a relationship that isn’t lining up.

Brandy:          It makes me think, too, that when you lose somebody close to you in life, the relationships that you have, maybe some of those can be not totally fulfilling because you have this cast of characters that altogether fulfills you. But then when you lose people, you’re saying that loss and that hole is so obvious that, maybe what somebody else was lacking that this other person gave — all of a sudden, we’re switching our attention to, like, “I need for you to give this to me, to somebody else.” And if they’re not able to do that, that’s a tough situation. So, I wonder if other listeners have had situations like this where they’ve lost people — even more than one person where it illuminated some of the cracks in other relationships when you don’t have quite as big a cast of characters in your life anymore.

Nora:               Definitely. In especially parental loss because there’s so many layers there. We are, in many ways, still children when we’re with our parents, and so when they die, there’s the grief that we’re having internally as a child. There’s the grief that we’re having internally as an adult-child. There’s the grief we’re having internally as within the friendship in that relationship. So, there’s like all these layers of it.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               I think, especially for those relationships, if they’ve lasted into our adulthood — which I’m blessed that both of my parents — those relationships have lasted into adulthood for me. I think it’s important to do that, to look in other places, to find it elsewhere in the world, and also to explore the internal relationships that we have within ourselves. Like, “How do I also know that I am adored, and I don’t necessarily need to hear that from another human being? How can I remind myself that that is the truth regardless of whether somebody says it to me? That I am adored, and that I am valuable.”

Brandy:          That’s powerful.

Nora:               It is. I can’t say that I’m there, 100%. I know that it’s part of what’s happening for me is that I’m needing to explore that.

Brandy:          So, with your husband and this recreating of the relationship, take us back there. You know that you guys are not on the same page, and you’re starting to realize that he’s not going to give you what this part of you really needs. There’s the super hot dude at your work that you’re feeling very, like, “Uh oh” about. Bring us back there. What happened there? Did you end up making that choice and crossing that line? What happened?

Nora:               Yeah, that person at work, actually, ended up leaving and relocating to another city. We stayed in touch and texted and saw each other once in a while. He would be around, but we maintained it as a friendship. I, actually, had expressed my feelings for him and my concern and some of the things that I was struggling with in my life. He, at the time, was like, “Yeah, I know. I really just see it as a friendship.” And I was like, “Okay. Well, that makes it easier.” Later on, he ended up telling me that that wasn’t the case, but at any rate —

Brandy:          Wow. So, there’s still, like, games? Like, adult men still play games?

Nora:               {laughter} Yes.

Brandy:          That’s good to know.

Nora:               It’s ridonculous. {laughter} I’m sure women do too. Not me, though.

Brandy:          Yes. {laughter}

Nora:               But, no. So, I think that it came from a place of protection. Honestly, I think that he didn’t want to engage in that for a variety of different reasons, and that’s fine. I respect that. But simultaneously, I was doing my thing. One of the things that I would do that I thought was really helpful to activate this need in me to feel very sexual was going dancing. So, I was going out dancing with friends, and we would do this once or twice a month. Initially, my husband was super supportive of it because it was my time away and whatever. Again, I was at that stage of my life where I was finally getting to have a little bit of freedom from the kids.

Brandy:          Yeah. Right.

Nora:               So, I’d go out and do that, and it’s so important. I know many of your other people that you’ve interviewed have discussed that as well when it comes to parenting and finally getting to that place where you can go out on a Friday night. It’s fine if both partners aren’t home to put the children to bed, and all that feels so good to get to that place.

Brandy:          So good. Yes.

Nora:               So, I was doing that and just meeting people — men and women and just having a good time and very casual — just people out dancing. There tends to be regulars when you start to do this, sort of, thing.

Brandy:          Okay.

Nora:               If you go out dancing and stuff, there tends to be the regular crowd that’s there that you connect with. So, I was doing that and definitely getting some positive feedback from men that I was meeting, and as far as them just being attracted to me and expressing that — again, that felt really good, but for a while, it still felt like it was containable, I guess. I wasn’t worried, but at some point, there was this threshold that I crossed that I really realized that I needed more. If I wasn’t gonna get it in my marriage, maybe I would need to have that outside of my marriage. Initially, I can’t even say that it was super conscious. I mean, thoughts would come and go, and I actually even spoke with my husband about having an open marriage. I didn’t even have the concept of that, honestly, until right around that time that my dad died. I had a few friends that were sharing with me about having open marriages and about being polyamorous and having different partners. I literally was like, “Oh. Ohhhh.” I mean, it was a concept, but it wasn’t anything that I thought people actually did that. I was like, “Wait. You can, actually, do that?” {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter}

Nora:               I just remember feeling like such a child. {laughter}. Like, “Oh. Oh, wow.”

Brandy:          Like, “But they let you do that?!”

Nora:               Yeah, exactly. Like, “People let you do this? You’re allowed to do this?” {laughter} I mean, my jaw must’ve just hit the floor. So, I started Googling it. I started watching TED talks about it. I started reading about it and bringing it to him, and he was like, “Are you fucking out of your mind?” He goes, “I could lose my job. I mean, there’s no way in hell.” He never even said like, “Well, I don’t want you to be with someone else,” or, “I really love you, and I don’t want to share you.” It was nothing like that. It was like, “I could lose my job. What are we going to say to the kids?” He wasn’t on board. So, I was like, “Oh, what am I gonna do with this?” One of the things that happened for me when I was going out is, I started drinking more. I had never been someone to drink or use drugs. I mean, I never even tried marijuana until I was around the age of 40. {laughter}

Brandy:          Perhaps, was I there? {laughter}

Nora:               You probably were.

Brandy:          I was. You maybe don’t remember it, but I do. It was the best. {laughter}

Nora:               Oh, my God. Yes. {laughter} I mean, hello? It’s just insanity, too. Just thinking about that, that was another good girl part of me was like, “No drugs. No booze.” I mean, I would drink here and there a couple glasses of wine, but even as a college student, I never partied. The professional track that I was on was very demanding, and I needed to get through those four years of school. I needed to do them successfully, and there was no way that I really had time for it. It’s just how it was at that point in my life. So, that was the other element around my midlife renaissance. It was letting loose in these other ways that I had never done before.

Brandy:          Yes, and in that moment when we were together, it was like Girls Gone Wild. The glow and energy that was coming off of you. You had just like cracked the door open on all this, and you were just like, “Yes! I’m saying ‘yes’ to everything. Fuck this old life. Fuck this old way of being. I’m saying ‘yes’ to life,” and it was so beautiful because it was like seeing this person for the first time really tap into that. And the amount of joy you had over it was just awesome.

Nora:               Thank you for reminding me of that. Thank you. That’s beautiful. I’m getting joy just thinking about it.

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               And I remember one of the pieces of that — I remember this when you and I were together and someone asked us a question of what are we seeking. It had to do with three or four different categories, and mine was oral sex. I was like, “I’m seeking oral sex.” And they’re like, “That’s in the love category.” {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter} So, then you were saying that you were drinking –

Nora:               Yeah, add a little drinking into that. And so, there was one night where a friend ended up having a party at her house after we had gone out dancing and stuff. And yeah, so that was the first time that another man touched me and was sexual with me for however many years. It had been a long time.

Brandy:          Wait. Real fast, when that happened, did you consciously think, “Okay, I know I want this to happen, and I know I’ve avoided this, but in this moment, I don’t care what happens. I’m just gonna enjoy this,” or was it so fast? Like, what was that initial crossing the line moment?

Nora:               Yeah, I had gotten to the place where I knew that I was setting myself up for the potential for it to happen. And I knew that I wasn’t doing anything to prevent that. So, I was conscious enough about that. I didn’t get to the point where I was like, “Okay, I’m going to do this with this person, and that’s how it’s gonna go down.” But there was a person that I had become more friendly with, and we were sharing things that were going on in our lives. Often times when this happens, there’s people who are both in marriages that are experiencing the same thing, lack of sex, or whatever.

Brandy:          Sure.

Nora:               They share that, and they get intimate about those things. They have that in common with each other.

Brandy:          Which fuels the whole thing.

Nora:               Yep, exactly.

Brandy:          When two people are like, “I’m trying not to do this, but I need this,” and the other one’s like, “Me too.” And then they’re like, “We’re doing this.” {laughter}

Nora:               Exactly. And then, “Let’s do it together.” Yeah. {laughter} But it was also really nice to be in a place where I wasn’t the initiator because in my marriage I was the initiator, sexually. And not just the initiator, sexually, I was the initiator for everything. Like you’ve talked about in many podcasts, as a mom, I initiate things around the children for their school. I initiate all of their health care. I make sure that we have the fucking groceries. I make sure that the bills are paid. I’m the one that’s thinking about vacations. I’m the one that’s begging my husband to take a vacation. Literally, every single category in our life that needs decision making, I’m initiating and I’m decision-making around it.

Brandy:          Right. Right.

Nora:               I mean, he’s going to work, and he’s doing his thing. He’s bringing home resources for us, which is beautiful. I’m very grateful, and it’s wonderful. He likes what he does, and he’s good at what he does. But every other fucking category was me. To be in a situation where I let myself not be in control and not be in charge, for a brief moment in time, was one of the most freeing experiences I’ve ever had. I had been having so much anxiety. My chest had been tight, my belly had been tight, and I had been having a hard time breathing. In part, because I was scared that this was going to happen; in part, because I knew that something needed to change my marriage; in part, because I had been overloaded with the stress of motherhood and working and all that stuff. I was a pot boiling over, literally. In that moment, he took me and loved on me and touched me in ways that made my body feel fabulous, and I completely let go of all of my thoughts and my anxieties and anything that I had been in charge of or in control of. It felt so incredibly fucking amazing, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, this definitely needs to happen.” I mean, there was zero guilt. Honestly, Brandy, to be completely transparent, I mean, I had none.

Brandy:          Well, I remember asking you. It sounds like, in that moment, you got that clarity you needed. This isn’t just about the sex and the touch. There’s something bigger here going on that needs to change

Nora:               Yeah.

Brandy:          It seemed like the clarity was worth that. And so, then you didn’t have the guilt attached because you now knew something that you couldn’t have known had you not done it.

Nora:               Exactly. That’s exactly right. Yep, and now that it’s a few years out, I look back and say, “Is there another way I could have gone about it and done it?” But hindsight is 20/20, and when we’re in it, we’re in it. I don’t know. I’m sure that there are many people who may listen to this and say, “Well, then you have a fucking character flaw, girl,” or, “You must be not a very good person,” or, “How dare you for not getting out of the marriage before you engaged in that.” But — I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that or what to say to someone who may say that to me. I guess for me, knowing that I had done everything that I could possibly do to that point in my marriage to help him understand what I needed and to be as transparent as I could possibly be with what was happening for myself — I mean, I told him, “I’m afraid I’m going to have an affair. What should we do about this? Help me.” We had gone to counseling and stuff. I was going to individual counseling. So, it’s not that we weren’t doing things. It’s not that I wasn’t being upfront with him and trying. I didn’t say that night when I left to go dancing “Oh, I’m probably gonna go fuck somebody else tonight.” That wasn’t my intention that night, but I also know that I wasn’t preventing myself from doing that. I think that, in many ways, it’s because I needed to have happen what happened. That is my journey, and it was needed just like whatever experiences we have, how we sometimes go look back and say, “Well, that was really hard, and I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen it that way, but now look what I have from it. Look at what’s going on, as a result, and look at all the awareness that I have.”

Brandy:          Well, when did you tell your husband? Was it immediate? Did you not tell him for a while? And then how did that go? And what happened after you told him, if you did?

Nora:               I didn’t tell him right away. I felt like I didn’t really need to. Honestly, I felt so justified because of everything that I had been trying to do and how transparent I had been with him. I was in a place of like, “Look, I’m putting in 99%, and you’re putting in 1%. So, this is what I need, and I’m gonna do it.”

Brandy:          Right. And like, “I told you, and you’re not checking in.”

Nora:               Yeah. And so, I was in that space, which isn’t great. You don’t want to be in that space in a marriage or in any relationship. You want to be transparent and let people know what’s happening and recreate the rules. But I was working to recreate the rules, and I wasn’t getting a whole lot of feedback on that. For a little while, honestly, it felt like sex with my husband got a little better. I felt a little bit more — it’s almost like it was marriage preserving. Esther Perel talks about this, too. I mean, everything that I’ve read from her — I’ll read, and I’ll say, “Oh, God, yes. That’s exactly how it was for me.” It feels like she’s the one person in the world who’s speaking to this experience in a really honest and authentic way that is not only shaming the person who has the affair. She really looks at it from this holistic mindset and says, “What’s going on in the entire relationship that’s causing this particular outcome or that’s causing this to happen? It’s not just a character flaw.”

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               There’s all these elements to it. She says that when somebody is engaging in a relationship outside of their marriage or outside of whatever relationship they’re in that they have rules around or agreements around — when they’re breaking those agreements in another relationship, she says that people are not so much looking for something outside of the marriage as they are looking for something within themselves. I’m paraphrasing, but something to that extent. That’s what I was looking for in myself was to awaken that sexual part of me and to not have that be left so behind or left out. And also, I was looking for that part of myself to not have to be in control.

Brandy:          Yes.

Nora:               So, I didn’t tell him, and for a while, it, actually freed me up to just feel like I had a little more in me to give to the marriage and the relationship and the family because this other need was being met. And so, that went on for a little bit. The other person and I would see each other like once a month or so, and it really felt like it was preserving. It was helping me feel sane. My anxiety was gone. I was feeling like there was a part of me whose needs were met in other ways that they hadn’t been being met for so long. And so, that freed me up to take care of other things without being so stressed out about it.

Brandy:          Right. Like you were really filling your cup how you wanted it to be filled.

Nora:               Yeah. Exactly. Right.

Brandy:          Gosh, that’s such a hard thing, though. I can imagine people listening and just even thinking about it as like, “Okay, so you’re getting your cup filled how you need it filled, which makes you a better wife and a mother, but it’s with somebody outside of your marriage.” Just the complicated nature of those things, which we’ll get into in a second, but this idea about monogamy and you have to choose between two things here. I guess what I’m getting at is that it sounds like you have a choice. You either have all these things coexist, or you have to choose between your marriage at the expense of your soul or then you have to choose your soul at the expense of your marriage. Unless all the people are on board with having some sort of blended, non-traditional open thing, how can this work if those are the needs and those are the costs?

Nora:               Exactly. And that’s what I would go around and around and around in my mind every day, and it really did feel for me, at some point, that it was a decision between my soul and my marriage. And not just the sex piece, but just who I was and being authentically who I was as a person.

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               Clearly, I wanted to be – again, it became so much more about — it wasn’t just about the sex. I wanted to be engaging with people who I could dive in with deeper conversations or explore the world with. My husband and I just didn’t have that part in our lives. We were very good parents together. We were really good at managing day to day stuff. We were great hosts for the rest of my family. When he and I first connected, the needs that we were meeting in each other were needs of people in their early and mid — he was in his late 20’s. I was in my early 20’s when we met. Those needs were very different than what our needs are now, as adult humans who’ve continued to develop, as we should, through our adult stages. And so, I was coming to know that I have these other needs and all these other desires and wants.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               The sexual piece was the stimulus. It was the thing that set me off on the journey, but ultimately, I became more aware of my whole self and all of me that really was needing to be explored and just stepping into who I really want to be for the rest of my life and in the world.

Brandy:          I remember you saying something about how, in your family, there had been a history of not great guys in some of the relationships. And so there was this thing that was downloaded into you about marrying a good guy. You totally did that, and then you realized, “If you marry the nice guy, you also have sex with a nice guy. You also do the rest of your life with a nice guy.”

Nora:               {laughter}

Brandy:          And so, I think there’s something so real about what you’re saying about our agreements around who we’re going to pick and the ages that we pick them, but then not even knowing, like, the 40-year-old Nora. Like, what does she want versus the 20-year-old, and what agreements are different? When those things don’t line up, having to really rectify that with both of you.

Nora:               Exactly. Yep. So, as a 20-something-year-old, I needed safety, and I needed security. I needed stability, and I needed somebody who was really grounded and just like, “I need loyalty.” I grew up in a home where my father had an affair. I decided, as a little girl at 10 years old, that I would choose a man who was going to be loyal and be safe and secure because in that moment, there was a lot going on. A lot of conditioning was happening, and a lot of me was taking in some really rigid rules and agreements around who I was supposed to be as a woman and as a mother. One of the most important ones was that I was not to be selfish. Selfish is bad, and taking care of other people is good. There really isn’t anything in the middle. It’s like this or that.  

Brandy:          Hmm. Right.  

Nora:               And so, yeah. I know so many of your guests have also spoken to that thread that, as women, we’re so conditioned to be givers and martyrs, really. I got to a place where I was like, “Okay, this does feel really selfish and awful, and I’m beating myself up for it. It’s important and good and needed. I’m figuring out who I am, and that’s not selfish. That’s self-development. I need to be doing this so that I can understand who I am in the world. And if I continuously leave these parts of myself out, who am I really serving? I’m not happy if I’m doing that, therefore, I’m not probably being the best mom that I can be. I’m not living in this body to the full extent that it can, and that’s beating me up.”

Brandy:          Yes.

Nora:               Our needs were really different at that stage, and I was working to understand the rules and agreements that I had been raised with and conditioned with. This need to be with a man who is very safe and secure and loyal was a need, and it’s not that it’s not anymore. It’s just that it’s more expansive now. I have other needs now. I mean, that is true. I don’t need as much security and safety, right? Like, I can provide for myself in many ways. I can take care of myself, and I recognize that there’s lots of things that I can do in the world to get all my needs met. I don’t have to just choose a man who meets these particular qualities.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               It can be more expansive. Not that that’s a reason to all of a sudden just blow up a marriage either. I don’t want it to make it sound like it was that simple because it’s not.

Brandy:          Yeah, right.

Nora:               We sometimes are becoming more aware of what our needs are as we grow. Sometimes those still line up with each other, and sometimes they don’t. I think that what I want for myself and for my children and when I talk to friends and what I would encourage other people to do is to check in with that. “Where are you at now in your life and in your relationship? Is what you needed still what you need now? Or is there something new and different, and can it happen together?” And it can. It happens all the time.

Brandy:          Yes, and having the conversation.

Nora:               Yeah, exactly. Just have the conversation, and sometimes marriages can do that. They grow together, and the needs and the ability to be able to meet the needs continue to morph and grow at the same time and in different ways like they do in so many relationships. So ultimately, I did end up telling him that I had an affair because I got to a place where I was like, “Look, this isn’t sustainable. I can’t. I’m not going to continue in a marriage and be with other people. The marriage either needs to be open or it needs to not exist in the same way that it does — or not be a marriage because this is something, clearly, that’s gonna happen in my life.” Also, it was like, “Well maybe I just need this one little thing, and then it’ll resolve.” That wasn’t happening either. This was not gonna go away.

Brandy:          Yeah. That was that clarity.

Nora:               It wasn’t. This isn’t just gonna go away. This is actually a journey that I’m just beginning, and it’s not gonna go away because I give it a little bit of attention. It needs a whole lot of fucking attention, and it needs it now. And I deserve that, and I want that. I was totally done with being not selfish. I was like, “Bring it on. I don’t want to get to the end of my life, and I’ve only lived the length of it.”

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               So, I finally shared it with him, and he was devastated and sad and angry and all the things that you would expect. We explored a little bit more about an open relationship. I think he really wanted to do it for me. He wanted to, which I admire, but I needed him to buy in for himself. I needed him to be okay with it because, otherwise, it would have just been me trying to convince him of it for the rest of my life. That didn’t feel okay either.

Brandy:          Yeah. And knowing that that wasn’t his thing, but he was bending so far. It’s like, “No, I want you to enjoy this too.”

Nora:               Yeah, and he didn’t even go that far really. We’ll just be honest. {laughter} He wasn’t totally like, “I want this for you.” It was more like, “Oh, God, I sort of have to do this.” You know what I mean? It was like, from that energy which just did not feel good because I did not want to be dragging him along.

Brandy:          Yes. Right.

Nora:               And so, then there was another relationship that I was engaging in.

Brandy:          Did you guys separate, though, real fast, after that happened? Was he like, “Well, then we should separate?”

Nora:               No, it was another good year that we were still together, and again, just trying to figure things out. We’d talk about it, and then we’d go three months without talking about anything and just living our lives like people do and taking care of the kids.

Brandy:          Then when you’d go out, would he know? Would he be like, “Ah, I know what’s gonna happen here,” or was he in avoidance of it?

Nora:               Yeah, I mean, it would shift. He would kind of want to do open relationships. He would agree to talk to somebody about it or go to counseling, and he’s like, “Yeah, I’m looking for a counselor.” And then three months would go by, and I’d be like, “So, did you find the counselor?” “No, I didn’t look into that.” That kind of thing would happen all the time with everything. I remember, at one point, a counselor saying to him with me there, “What do you think it is that’s preventing you from doing any of this — like, taking the next step or learning something or making an appointment or whatever it is?” And he was like, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” So again, I think, he’s the kind of guy that just wants to live a really simple life. He wants to come home and watch ESPN and play a couple games with the kids and have dinner and do his things and go to bed and get up and run the rat race again. He’s content doing that. It’s okay. Again, it’s fine. It’s just not what I can do with my life. I’ll shrivel up and die. {laughter}

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               So, I ended up having another relationship with someone that I had known for a long time. That one really was the catalyst for me. It lit my fire to say, “I need to get out of my marriage, or we need to separate at least, physically.”

Brandy:          What was it about that?

Nora:               Oh, God. It was like the relationship that I had had with the man at work in that it was very stimulating in all areas, and then it also became sexual on top of that.

Brandy:          Yeah. Ok.

Nora:               So, it covered all the checkboxes, and I started wondering, “Boy, do I really want an open relationship or to be poly, or do I just want this level of depth?” Clearly, I was in a place of needing to explore all this, and I couldn’t do it while I was in my marriage. It wasn’t fair to him, and it wasn’t fair to me. It just wasn’t lining up.

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               So, that was a little over a year — it was a year ago, Christmas time, that we decided finally that we would separate. It was devastating. I mean, I mostly did a lot of the crying, and he wasn’t particularly heartbroken. Or maybe he just doesn’t have that level of emotion that I have. Or maybe, he just had already come to terms with himself. I’ve really only seen him get emotional — even when his own dad died, I don’t even really remember him crying. He’s not super in touch with all that part, or he just never learned how to express it, or it’s not okay for him to express it because of his conditioning. I mean, I don’t know. But he also isn’t willing to explore that.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               So yeah, I had some dark days, and there were nights that I just would go to work. My job was 90 minutes away, and I would just cry, literally the entire time in the car on the way home feeling like I was losing everything. “What the fuck could I have done?” But also knowing that there wasn’t a way out and that there wasn’t an alternative.

Brandy:          Right. You couldn’t stay like that. It seems so obvious to you that like, “I cannot live like this,” but also the destruction of everything had to be so hard.

Nora:               Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And being scared from my extended family because they depend on us so much, and what’s it gonna do for them and the kids and all those things. I also am just super aware, while I’m going through this, that so many people, women and men and all people, might be experiencing this inner turmoil and don’t have a way out and don’t have an alternative decision to make. How fucking grateful I am that we are in this place where we can decide what’s best for our life and how to line that up for ourselves. And part of me struggles with that, because then I have guilt like, “Well, other people have to stick it out. You should do.”

Brandy:          Hmm. Right.

Nora:               I go to that place, but I think, ultimately, it’s like, “Okay, if I’m doing the thing that is the most fulfilling for my life, then I can be the best I can be for other people and continue to help the world in the best way that I can.” So maybe, that’s me rationalizing it, but that’s the approach that I take.

Brandy:          I remember you saying something about how you — and this is what one of my other guests said on a podcast was, “I feel like it’s worse for kids to grow up with an unfulfilled mom than to have you stay and stick it out, and nothing changes for them, but you’re like dead inside.”

Nora:               Yeah. And I’ll add to that and say that I think that it’s not great for kids to grow up in a situation where the adults in their life are not being authentic with who they are.

Brandy:          Yes, right. Yes, yes, yes.

Nora:               Right? I’m, actually, a great mom. {laughter} I’ve been able to, through my own shit, somehow I’ve been able to be really present for them. I’ve been able to do what I need to do for them. I never, actually, felt like it was negatively impacting my ability to be a good mom. I have my moments. I mean, God, I’m not saying that I’m perfect, but that part of my life, actually, feel really friggin’ solid about. Thank God. {laughter}

Brandy:          Yeah. Right.

Nora:               Part of it, I think, is because I am fulfilled in so many other ways. I’ve always had my professional life, and I’ve done other things for myself. I think they see me being who I am in the world, and so that does help. But as my kids are teenagers now and embarking on a romantic relationship of their own and thinking about sex and casual sex and monogamy and marriage and all these things, my most important thing for them is that I want them to be able to move through all relationships, but especially intimate relationships, with authenticity and with open communication and not have to feel like they are — I don’t know, responsible or obligated to another person’s happiness in any way.

Brandy:          Ah. Right. Yeah, such a good point.

Nora:               Yeah. So, I think that I wanted them to see that. I wanted them to see that he and I could find a way to figure this out in a way that was loving and compassionate for each other and true to who we were individually. Our world is just so messed up when it comes to relationships needing to change. I think that sometimes they just need to fucking change. They need to not be what they were 10 years ago. Why is that a problem? It’s only a problem because our conditioning tells us it’s a problem because Christianity tells us it’s a problem or because our social structure tells us it’s a problem. It’s not, actually, a problem. The problem is the rules that we have around it. I want my kids to move from a place of understanding that those are rules that come from conditioning and from social structure, not from what it means to be a human being.

Brandy:          Yeah, for sure.

Nora:               So, when we made the decision, we brought it to the kids, and really simply, he stated that we weren’t going to live together as a married couple anymore. That was pretty much what we told them.  We tried not to use a lot of words or go into detail.

Brandy:          And then what was their reaction? Were they shocked? Had they seen it coming at all?

Nora:               We don’t fight, so I don’t think they were really ready or thought that it was going to happen. We did go to family counseling, and the counselor asked them if they were surprised. They both said that they weren’t surprised that it happened. They just didn’t think it would happen as soon as it did.

Brandy:          Oh, that’s fascinating that they knew.

Nora:               They’re both pretty introspective kids, actually. They’re really mature. They definitely saw that we were really, really, really different in so many ways and that we had the pretty separate lives in a lot of ways. I think that they probably wondered like, “Hmm, how’s this gonna go?” And so, they weren’t really surprised. I worked in afternoon/evenings quite a bit when they were younger, and so we’ve always been in that divide and conquer mindset with the kids where it’s like we’re ships passing in the night.

Brandy:          Yes. Right.

Nora:               And so, they’ve always been really used to spending lots of time just with him and lots of time just with me and then some time with all of us together. And the time with all of us together is like, “Okay, it’s fine.” We have had family vacations that we really enjoy and stuff like that. But honestly, they seem to really enjoy the time that they have just with him and just with me. It’s always been that way. So, it also was natural for our family as we made the shift, even though he was in a different physical space and, certainly, there were challenges with that — again, as some of your other guests have spoken about — but there was a little bit of an element for us that it was already just part of how we were functioning, so it wasn’t as huge of a shift as it might be, maybe for some other kids whose environments are different.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               And then we’ve really done a good job at keeping them doing family things together still. We’ve hosted all the family holiday things with the extended family for the past year here at the house. We wanted to keep that first year pretty status quo and not really change up a lot of the traditions and things like that. He and I can be together. We have dinners together. Especially now, with the pandemic, and not having dance class and not having baseball and not having all those things that we would normally be dividing and conquering for, we’re together. There are a few nights a week that we’ll have dinner together, or I’ll bring dinner over to his house, or he’ll come here. It’s fine. We are a loving family, and we’re still a family. Our marriage has changed, but our family is still a family.

Brandy:          Gosh, that’s such an important piece right there. Wow.

Nora:               Yeah, it is. And I’m having a good time. I’m having fun, and I have lovers. {laughter}

Brandy:          Yeah, let’s talk about that for a minute.

Nora:               You’re gonna cut all the rest of this out, and it’ll just talk about that. {laughter} You’ll be like, “Chop all the rest of it.”

Brandy:          {laughter} Well, there’s so much to this. There’s all that real, logistical family agreements — how you got there, and then there’s this scintillating part which is like, “What the hell is it like to have been –”

Nora:               So yummy.

Brandy:          Okay, you already said it. I was gonna say, “What is it like to be a dutiful wife and mother for over a decade, and then, all of a sudden, you have these lovers in different areas – you’ve got hoes in area codes?” {laughter}

Nora:               {laughter}

Brandy:          So, walk us through that a little bit so people can get this fantasy trip that they’re here for. {laughter}

Nora:               The new Nora.

Brandy:          Yes.

Nora:               So yeah, it’s wonderful. It’s really wonderful, and I feel so whole. I currently have, I guess, maybe five lovers or maybe four. I dumped one or broke up with one recently. {laughter} It had to do with his voting record, really. I just couldn’t.

Brandy:          Yeah. That was a smart choice by the way.

Nora:               Thanks. {laughter}

Brandy:          How do you even juggle five, though? Like, I know that they don’t all live in the same area, but that seems like a lot of management.

Nora:               {laughter} Well, yeah. There’s one who is literally on the other side of the country, so that’s only happened a few times. So, there’s that. And then there’s occasional texting and things like that and just keeping in touch. I’m on dating sites. I’m on ways to meet people, obviously. But some of them have just — initially, it happened more fluidly just because I knew new people from being out or whatever. The initial few relationships were with people that I had known for a while in my life that then became sexual relationships. So, that was a nice and safe way for me to start because I knew them.

Brandy:          Yeah, dip your toes in.

Nora:               I knew people who knew them. Yeah. I already felt connected to them and safe and things like that. As I’ve progressed in the past year, I’ve had situations that were super casual — meet, go to dinner, have sex, and never see you again. There’s been, like, three of those.

 Brandy:         Is that something where on the app, it’s just very clear? Like, when you’re swiping — I don’t know how this works, but when you’re swiping people — I know that there’s swiping involved–

Nora:               {laughter}

Brandy:          And then when you make the match, then you chat, are you like, “Hey, are you DTF?” And then the person’s like, “Great. I’m so stoked you are too. I was hoping you weren’t somebody who wanted something more.” And then you’re like, “I’ll see you at wherever. I’ll see you at Applebee’s at 5:00pm.” Like, how does that part go down? Is it clear who’s there to just like booty call? Or is it not clear?

Nora:               {laughter} I mean, some apps are more for booty call than others. I’ve never been on Tinder, but I hear that that one is a little more geared for that. Some people are really upfront about it on their profiles. Other people, you start chatting, and then you ask, “So, what’s your intention here?” I’m really over the whole one-night, hooking up and having sex thing. I mean, it was a good thing to do because, again, as a young person, I never did that. Part of my good girl way of being – that was definitely not part of it all.

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               That would have been in the slut category, and I was not going to be a slut.

Brandy:          {laughter} Not until later.

Nora:               Now, I’m like, “Yeah. Bring on the slut.”

Brandy:          And I say that in an endearing way, of course.

Nora:               Totally, and I actually refer to myself in that way. I have a couple of friends that I share my journey with, and one of them I had told a couple years ago, like, “You know, I think I’m going to take some lovers.” {laughter} She was like, “You’re going to take some lovers, are you? Okay?” I was like, “Yes. What do you think about this?”

Brandy:          “Excuse me?” {laughter}

Nora:               It’s really wonderful. Taking lovers is a wonderful thing. I think that there have been times in human history and there are places around the world where this is just okay and normal. And again, why it’s not in our culture is because of our conditioning. I have to be safe. I need to be careful. I need to know who the humans are. I always get a name. I always Google them. I get a phone number. I tell my friends, or at least a friend, if I’m meeting someone for the first time and I’ve never met before.

Brandy:          Oh, nice.

Nora:               So, I do all those things to keep myself safe. But then, also, I have a really good time, and I trust my instincts.

Brandy:          So, is this filling up your cup? Is this doing the thing that you had hoped?

Nora:               Oh, my God, it’s so yummy. It totally is, and I’m not going to say it doesn’t come with challenges. It certainly does. Especially, right now in the pandemic. I’m having less sex in the last few weeks than I’ve had in the last year and that fucking sucks. {laughter}

Brandy:          Yeah. Pandemic for you is a bummer because you’re isolated with no one. {laughter}

Nora:               But I have beautiful lovers. I have a man who’s a filmmaker in LA who’s just so creative and artistic, and I love hearing about his world and what he’s doing and his work. I got to see his work recently, and it was amazing. I have an Italian man who is this amazing father in the state adjacent to mine, and he grew up in Italy. He cooks for me, and he’s just so fabulous. He’s in an open marriage.

Brandy:          Oh, wow.

Nora:               That’s my first relationship where the other person is in a marriage. Everybody else that I’ve been engaging with is either single or just is poly and has this upfront about having multiple partners.

Brandy:          Oh, wow. So, will you meet his spouse? Or is this like they each get to do separate things, and then they come back together at the end of the day without those people?

Nora:               I don’t know. He’s teaching me a lot about being poly because he has been for a long time, and he’s also been married for about eight years. And she’s not. She’s monogamous. And so, there’s some asymmetry there in that relationship that he has to be really mindful of. He seems to be really good with it.

Brandy:          Oh, interesting.

Nora:               She doesn’t have the desire. She doesn’t want to be. Their kids are little. They’re aged like 10 months to 6 years, which is insanity. For me, I’m like, “How can you even engage when there’s all these needs with your family?” And he hasn’t for a long time, actually. He hadn’t had any relationships for a while and is just getting back into wanting to have another relationship because he’s been doing what he’s been doing as a dad. He’s a great dad, and he’s been really wanting to be around and be mindful. They made the decision together that — and she’s okay with it, so I’m like, “Okay.” It makes me feel a little like, “I’m not so sure about this.” But he said that she may be open to that in the future. I don’t know. I mean, it’s just a whole new world. He calls it “Kitchen table poly” where people have relationships and partners, but they also might be friends with their partner’s wife or whatever.

Brandy:          Oh, wow.

Nora:               Or you help each other with your kids, or you become like an auntie. Yeah. So, it’s like this whole new world that I think is, to me, just freakin’ cool. Like, people can live however they want, and as long as everybody who’s engaging is giving consent for it and is okay with it, then what the fuck does the rest of the world care what they do?

Brandy:          That’s how I always feel. My husband and I will sometimes see something on Netflix or watch a show and then get into a conversation about it. He has this take on it that he thinks every open marriage ends with somebody getting bludgeoned and somebody getting murdered or something. I’m like, “How is this — if both people are open to this, and then all the people involved — why can’t this happen?” But I think the thing that we always come back to when we talk about it is that you don’t know until you’ve gone too far, which I think is the scary part.

Nora:               Yeah.

Brandy:          You could be like, “Well, I want to get some clarity, so I’m going to go off with this other person, and my spouse is okay with it.” And then what if that changes everything? I think that that’s the fear for people. Like, you can’t unscramble an egg. Once it’s done, it’s done. I think that that is the huge risk for people, and what people are scared about.

Nora:               Yeah, and I get it. And I also see that if you don’t ever do it, then what? There’s a negative potential there too, right?

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               Either road has its things, and you don’t know. Like again, David Whyte, he always has so many words of wisdom for me, but one of the poems that he writes talks about the road that’s seen and then unseen. No matter which path you’re taking or whatever it is you’re choosing, you don’t know exactly. I mean, you might think if you’re in a monogamous relationship and in a marriage that if you just keep choosing that, that you’re gonna see the path, but that’s naivete, too. Right? That’s just us believing that what the world has sold us is the truth. Anything can happen tomorrow or today.

Brandy:          Right. Yes.

Nora:               A point being what we’re living through right now. We just don’t know.

Brandy:          Exactly.

Nora:               Whatever people decide, choose it from that place in your heart right now that’s telling you what to lean into. Which one feels more open and joyous and bringing you space and excitement? For me, anyways, that’s the one where I’m gonna move from. And if it’s feeling constricted and it’s feeling rigid and it’s feeling fearful, then that probably isn’t the road that I want to go down. Either one, I don’t know what’s going to happen.

Brandy:          Right.

Nora:               That’s how I try to discern it, and I think with this particular thing, with being poly, if people are exploring that or wanting to explore having an open relationship, yes, there’s unknown. There’s risk. There’s risk to getting up in the morning. There’s risk to getting in our car. There’s risk to bring a baby into the world. There’s a risk to doing everything that we do. My relationship, my marriage is not what I thought it would be at the outset at this point. I mean, certainly, I didn’t go into it intending for it to not be what it was. We’re still married, but what that relationship is, even if we do end up getting divorced, it’s authentic. It’s he and I loving each other for who we are, and that’s what I want to choose. That’s what I want to choose.

Brandy:          Wow. And that goes back to the point that you made about the marriage changes, but the family doesn’t.

Nora:               Yeah, we’re still a family.

Brandy:          I just think that those two things, people think they go hand in hand. I think you’re such a great example of how, “No, these things can be separate.” So, do you think you’ll get bored with — I mean, I don’t know that you’ll ever get bored with all the fabulous sex, but do you think you’ll ever get bored with having lovers? And do you think you’ll ever want commitment or marriage ever again? How do you foresee that going?

Nora:               I mean, right now, I definitely feel like I won’t want marriage ever again, but I do think that I may move into a space where I want more of a primary relationship. I may want to have someone that I live with, and that’s a primary relationship that I can engage with really deeply in that is my regular thing because on some levels, I do miss that.

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               But I don’t need it right now. I don’t want it right now. There are other things that I’m trying to explore in my life, like my professional being and who I am. I feel like engaging in a relationship like that would just be taking up a little bit too much time and energy, and I don’t really want to be focusing on that. So, this is really working for me beautifully right now. To be learning about other humans, and again, it’s not just the sex. That’s a huge, beautiful, wonderful part of it, but especially — I mean, I’m learning about Italy and Italian food. I’m learning about filmmaking. I have another lover who’s a coach, like a professional. He does leadership stuff, and we have great conversations. I’m in this place of exploring, and I want to meet people. I want to do it not just in friendships, but I like the intimate part of it. I like the physical connection if that fits for us. I like this actual piece. So, the few people that I’m engaging with right now, I think are all — I’m feeling, finally, at a place — like, this past year was like going to a buffet. {laughter} Like, “Oh, yeah. This is good. Nope, that’s not. I don’t like that.”

Brandy:          Yeah, It’s like you’re in a library. I was getting this image of you in a library, and that you’re like, “I’m learning all these things. I pick up this book about Italians, and then I get to have sex with it, and then it teaches me about Italian cooking. And that’s a great book.” {laughter} It’s like you are a member of the sex library.

Nora:               {laughter} It’s so good, and I’m learning about my body. I mean, it’s being brought to places that I never imagined. I knew that my body and sexually that I had this potential to experience pleasure. It was always there, but it was never tapped. Now, it’s being tapped.

Brandy:          Yeah.

Nora:               And I hope that, at the very least, that there are people in the world who can see that exploring the sexual well-being within ourselves is super interconnected to our whole self. It’s not like I just went on this journey about sex. It led me to all these other huge awarenesses. It led me to being able to be really honest with myself about a lot of things and explore the beauty of who I am as a whole being. And also, it doesn’t have to be — you don’t have to do it in with my map, and you don’t have to do it with a monogamous Christian map. You can make your own. You can find your way that works for you, and the way that I’m doing it isn’t necessarily the way that everybody should be doing it. But it’s also okay that it’s happening for me and my life.

Brandy:          Yes. Right. It’s like everybody can be doing the thing that feels most fulfilling to them, but the whole point is to figure out and be authentic and truthful about what is fulfilling to you and not leaving that that part of you to wither and die.

Nora:               That’s right. Yes.

Brandy:          Whatever is an important part of you, acknowledge it and figure out and have a conversation about, “Hey, how do I get this part back that I really need that’s really integral to my entire being?” I think that’s such a powerful piece, and I so appreciate you coming here and being so open and sharing with us about all of this because I think it speaks to so many of the listeners, and what they do with this information is their own their own choice. Like all of the podcasts, I feel like they give little seeds for people, seeds of conversation, seeds of thought to explore these things within themselves and then, also in conversation with maybe their partner or spouse.

Brandy           Nora, I’m really grateful for you for being open to talking about this. When I said, “Would you ever want to come on the podcast?” I didn’t know if you would feel comfortable sharing, but I’m so appreciative that you did because I think more people need to be talking about these things so that women at home aren’t just wondering, “Am I the only one that feels this way? Am I the only one feels like I’m lacking in this spot?” And then, “What do I do, and what does it look like for other women who’ve made choices that maybe I’m scared to make?” “Okay, well maybe, I don’t want to make that choice.” “Maybe, I do.” So, you’re giving some — your personal stories are giving a face or at least a voice to this. So, thank you for that.

Nora:               Thank you, I’m really happy to do it and to give the message that you can do it in your way, and it doesn’t have to be how you’ve seen it already happen in the world or how you see it on TV. You can write your own story.

Brandy:          Coincidentally, while I edited this episode, I was reading Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed, and there was so much crossover between that book and what Nora was saying here on the podcast. I wanted to read a passage from Glennon’s book that so closely ties into what Nora and I have been talking about. So, this is from page 128:

As I looked deep into my own eyes, the woman in the mirror and I had a reckoning. I asked myself, “Is the decision to continue abandoning yourself really what your children need from you?” Mothers have martyred themselves in their children’s names since the beginning of time. We have lived as if she who disappears the most loves the most. We have been conditioned to prove our love by slowly ceasing to exist. What a terrible burden for children to bear to know that they are the reason their mothers stopped living. What a terrible burden for our daughters to bear to know that if they choose to become mothers, this will be their fate too. Because if we show them that being a martyr is the highest form of love, that is what they will become. They will feel obligated to love as well as their mothers loved after all. They will believe they have permission to live only as fully as their mothers allowed themselves to live. If we keep passing down the legacy of martyrdom to our daughters with whom does it end? Which woman ever gets to live? And when does the death sentence begin? At the wedding altar? In the delivery room? Whose delivery room? Our children’s or our own? When we call martyrdom love, we teach our children that when love begins, life ends. This is why Jung suggested: “There is no greater burden on a child than the unlived life of a parent.” What if love is not the process of disappearing for the beloved but of emerging for the beloved? What if a mother’s responsibility is teaching her children that love does not lock the lover away but freeze her? What if a responsible mother is not one who shows her children how to slowly die, but how to stay wildly alive until the day she dies? What if the call of motherhood is not to be a martyr but to be a model? Right there on the floor, I looked deep into my own eyes. I let the knowing rise and stay. My children do not need me to save them. My children need to watch me save myself.

Brandy:          Yeah. So, there’s that part of the book. {laughter} And I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for everyone to go blow up their lives or marriages. This isn’t a push to divorce your spouse but more an awakening about feeding yourself rather than only feeding everyone else. That can be done in marriages that are built on mutual respect and willingness to learn by both people. Or perhaps the rules need to change. I’m not specifically talking about the “who we have sex with” rules, but the rules we create in each of our specific family and marriage cultures. Instead of moms solely thinking about the family members’ needs, mom’s livelihoods need to be a priority too.

Brandy:          Hey! Hi, if you like what you hear, don’t forget to subscribe, leave a rating, or better yet, a review. As always, thanks for listening.

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.