I'm sitting in a busy cafe on Nicola Street in the quiet big-treed neighbourhood of the West End. Seated across from me is Rachel, a strikingly beautiful young woman with long dark brown hair, refined features, and bright open eyes. This is the first time we've met, although I feel I know her well. Her husband is a regular client, who has been seeing me for sessions for over a year now.
Rachel tells me she has always known about and supported her husband's sessions with me. Intelligent, worldly and only in their early 30s, they are both ivy league graduates and highly successful executive professionals who have already lived and worked on several continents. They've been together for a decade and a year ago they decided to open their marriage and are in outside intimate committed relationships, both with other women.
I marvel at the courage and open-mindedness of their approach to sexuality beyond the tight box of heteronormative monogamy.
We're meeting this morning for coffee because she's considering booking a session with me, and so I ask what draws her to this idea. She says, "I've never had an experience where I totally immersed myself in my own erotic experience. I'm always thinking about the other person, and often using sex instrumentally as a way to connect or solidify the relationship, rather than a pleasure in and of itself, for myself. I'm curious about what I'd learn about myself, my body and what I actually like if I booked a session where it was all about me."
My eyes light up and my heart starts beating a little faster with excitement. I resonate with Rachel’s experience of being other-oriented in sex and I love the challenge and unknown possibilities of turning the tables, so to speak, and exploring her own inner world of erotic energy.
"That is a fantastic intention" I say, "there's so much we can learn about our own bodies and desires outside of the enmeshment and history of our primary relationships. All of which can help us bring more of ourselves back into our relationships, if we want, but is just so valuable as a way of knowing and loving ourselves for our own pleasure of being alive."
I know from her husband that she's been considering a session with me for a little while now, so I make a guess that there's more bubbling beneath or intertwined with her desire. "Do you have any fears in booking a session?" I ask, "Is there anything holding you back?"
She pauses and bites her lip. "Well, I've only ever been with two people. First with my husband, who I obviously married, and secondly with my girlfriend, who was a good friend of ours and who I thought I was just experimenting with at first. But then I fell in love with her and my whole life turned upside down" she explained, referred from their shift from a monogamous hetero relationship to a truly polyamorous open life.
"So my fear is, what if I fall in love? Can I really handle that? Sex for me has always been about love and relationship, and I'm just not sure I can have a sexual experience without that consequence."
I'm touched by her passion and vulnerability in revealing how loving she is, and I suddenly understand something of the significance of our meeting today. I say, “I love that you have such a big open heart."
And then I ask, "How can I best support you, knowing this, if you decide you want to book a session?"
She replied, "Maybe you can reassure me that people don't actually fall in love. That is is possible for me to just have my own sexual experience."
I pause. My automatic impulse is to supply the reassurances she's requested to ease the anxiety with simple unambiguous "yes". But I realize even before opening my mouth that I think the truth is more complicated. "Okay, yes, it's absolutely possible to experience intense pleasure and intimacy with someone and not fall in love with them. I imagine this is how it is for many of my clients and is often my experience as well. And, people do fall in love as well.” The truth is, I fall in love all the time. (I don't mention this but I think, when I'm with someone touching their whole body, seeing them in the fullness of pleasure and erotic feeling, being invited into these intimate moments of their being, it would be hard not to fall in love.)
Over the years, that has been one of the most beautiful and sometimes difficult parts of my job. And definitely one of the biggest surprises. At least it was difficult at first, when I'd come home after an intense session of deep pleasure and heart opening with a client, feeling completely overwhelmed, like I am a cup of water filled to the brim, with emotion and feeling. I'd feel confused, because I didn't understand why I felt "bad" or sad, after having such a wonderful experience. What I've realized is that it's hard to let go. When my clients leave, they go back into their lives and I do not follow them. I don't know if they'll ever come back and my job is to let go. It's an essential part of the deal."
Rachel leans in, nodding empathetically. "I can see how that would be difficult."
I go on, "But now that I recognize the pattern, I can make space for that part of myself. Usually, I know that I need a good cry, and I'll ask a friend or lover to hold me. I like that this how I am. I love very deeply, and I believe an essential part of love, and life, is letting go.
So I can promise you that container for whatever happens between us in a session. And I believe it's a worthy skill to learn. It's basically the art of heartbreak, love and letting go."
We've gone over the 30 minutes we planned to talk, and I bundle up to walk home in grey cold fall day. I'm inspired by her courage and the path of open loving she's choosing, and my heart is dancing a little, expanding with gratitude for the conversation and future possibilities. I feel a little taste of it already what we've just talked about, that I've fallen in love with her -- her willingness to speak so openly and vulnerably with a new person, to 'share' her partners in sessions with me, to reach out to connect. I feel a little yearning to be close and an opening of excitement combined with an ache in leaving, a contraction that says "don't feel that". I take a deep breath in says "it's ok to love. It's ok to let go".