Sex Is Not Just About Filling Holes – Or Is It?

“I don’t want to do this, but I have to,” he said.  “Maybe at least you’ll get a book out of it”…

I was numb, silent and unmoving.  He held me tight for a minute, and then the taxi arrived.  I watched him roll his suitcase down the driveway, greet the driver, get in the backseat.  With the interior light on, I could see his strong profile, resolute, staring straight ahead.  The light went off and I couldn’t see him anymore.  I wondered if, in the safety of darkness, he allowed himself to turn and have one last look at me.  I wondered what he saw if he did – a woman standing in her nightgown in an open doorway at 1 a.m.  Hollow eyes, wet cheeks, arms hanging limp at her sides.  A woman he loved?  A woman he hated?  A woman he already felt no connection to anymore?  The car started to roll, I could hear the sound of the engine become more faint, and through the leafy oleander bushes I could see the white taillights begin to disappear down the street.  At any moment I thought they might turn red as he said, “Stop!  I changed my mind.”  But they continued out of view.  At any moment I thought the sound of the engine might grow louder as he said, “Turn around please!  I’ve decided not to go.”  But the night was silent except for lonely calls of birds, and the only light was the vast ceiling of tiny stars in the sky.  Stars that have seen it all.

I’m a teacher.  I teach health and human sexuality.  In my human sexuality class that week, we’d studied Erick Erickson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development.  We discussed how the things that happen in our childhoods can impact us for the rest of our lives.  How the unmet needs for safety, attachment, industry and self-esteem can leave us so damaged that we are unable to succeed in life, or unable to form healthy bonds.  The worst of it is, we have relationships anyway.  And if we come to our partners with the voids left by those unmet needs, the relationships are likely to either continue horribly, or end terribly, compounding the wreckage.  It’s amazing any of us makes it out alive.  And the truth is, none of us does.

The message of Erickson is that at each stage there may be attributes that we didn’t get, tasks that we couldn’t master.  Because our parents weren’t perfect, because they did it the way it was done to them.  They had holes in their development that were already visited upon them and which they visited upon each other and us, however much they didn’t mean to.  Raw, sore holes with jagged edges and unhealed infections.  And then we inherit their wounds and bring them to our lovers and children.  ‘Gifts’ that keep on giving.

It sounds hopeless.  But I have to believe that there is hope.  The only solution I know involves work.  The work of healing ourselves, filling those holes.  The work of tending to those sore, ragged tags of emotional gangrene.  It hurts.  And it can be ugly.  It can mean picking off scabs, making them bleed again, sometimes letting the poison pus out.  Magic can’t do it.  Only work.

Work can mean different things.  Counseling, and sometimes medicine.  Spirituality.  Meaningful labor.  Volunteering for those less fortunate.  Choosing good people to be our friends and lovers.  Healthy care of our bodies.  Nurturing touch.  Talking.  But the healing has to fit the trauma.  If one did not attach properly with his mother, then throwing himself into work is not going to fill the hole where that very first of loving bonds should be.  If one were abandoned by her father, then ministering to others is not going to give her the sustenance she has most needed throughout her life.

My lover, who left just last week for the final time, is very smart.  But he is not smart enough to know that he needs to do the work.  He runs.  Even when he stays here.

I’m no genius.  But I will be heading back to counseling.  Because learning and then trying are what have brought me the farthest in my quest to be a better self, friend and partner.  This was the second time we tried to make our relationship work.  I’m not proud of how I handled things the first time.  But this time I studied my own injuries more carefully, tended to them a bit more mindfully, and made conscious choices.  I think I did my best.  And I have to live with the outcome.  Because calling him back again when he hasn’t done the work would only end in the same way.

It still hurts, though.  Just like in the songs, everything reminds me of him.  The restaurants we ate in, the house projects we worked on.  Nightclubs, camping trips, hikes, pets.  Earthquakes and rainy days.  His laughter, his anger.  The bed we slept in.  His voice in my ear, my soft moans.

I know it will take time, but eventually the hurt will fade, molecule by molecule, like the lights of his cab slowly driving away.

I know because the stars that have seen everything tell me it is so.

Stars and sadness

        In Licking the Spoon, my book in progress about food, sex and relationship, I discuss how the wounds of childhood sabotage our intimate connections, as well as how to find  pathways to recovery.





120 thoughts on “Sex Is Not Just About Filling Holes – Or Is It?

  1. Very beautiful entry! I personally never been through this type of pain, but I do know some who have been. It is very sad to see people hurt and feel like they are nothing because of losing someone they love. The best thing I can say to people who feel hurt is that there is hope, that you will find someone who will love you unconditionally and will help fill those holes.


  2. This is probably my favorite post. It is extremely relatable and something I’m sure we’ve all dealt with at one point or another. Glad you found the strength to move forward with life. You can always be the “crazy cat lady” lol I’m joking!


  3. Although relationships and pasts experiences leave us hurt or saddened or sometimes scared, therapy and counseling can help a lot. Going through the same experience, not having anyone to talk too scared that someone will judge you. A therapist or counselor is the best person to go to. They hold your secrets and won’t judge you like your friends or family. They will help you to move on and become a better person. Just know that we build from these events. We learn from them and they help us become a better more stronger person, always look on the bright side it is just the beginning of a new journey.


  4. aww this made me a little sad! I completely understand what you are talking about. And even though we sometimes want to ignore it, we can’t. We just have to keep plugging away at those wounds to try and heal them. I have been at that door a couple times before, and if it happens again after the relationship I have been in for so long, I dread the whole it will create.


    • If you don’t want those holes to mess up the relationship you’re in, keep trying to heal with all your might. And hopefully your partner is doing the same. Incidentally, this old love and I are seeing each other again, so maybe some holes have gotten filled up! I hope!


  5. This story brings back memories of what once happened to me. It is very painful when a relationship ends but having a positive attitude and seeking counseling can really help with the healing process. Thank you for sharing this story.


  6. You’re such a strong and wonderful woman, and I applaud you for staying strong through the toughest of times. This is really inspiring to me; wounds can’t be left open, they must be treated and healed properly with much love and attention. Thank you for sharing this with us!


    • This was a tough time, and it’s not over because I still love the man. But I really believe what I say about filling holes. We all have them, and they don’t just go away on their own; we have to work for it. Guess what though? I won a writing contest with this essay! I’m pretty proud of that!


  7. Wow this self improvement post is great, although I could not relate to the pain the post does stick out to me. It is true that we all have to do work in order to become a better version and live to our full potential.


    • We all usually face relationship pain at some time. I don’t wish it for you, but I hope you’ll be prepared to survive.


  8. It’s true. Our parents have a big psychological impact on us, even if we deny it. Everything that we have experienced in our childhood is reflected in the relationships that we create with others. My boyfriend lost his mother when he was younger, and therefore loves to be nurtured and taken care of by me. My mother was cold and seemingly intolerant of me growing up, and not only do I find myself feeling lonely at times for no reason at all, but I also catch myself growing cold in my own relationships, just like my mother. Being in a relationship is all about vulnerability, and vulnerability means exposing yourself to your partner and trusting that they’ll love you regardless of who you are. You’re open to judgement, criticism, and of course, the danger of the other falling out of love with you. I did the same thing you did after my first breakup. I sought counseling and watched numerous psychology videos, trying to find a way to better my relationships, basically finding a way to shake off my mom’s subconscious influence on me. It’s still an ongoing process, but it works. We just all have to deal with our own demons in order to know how to get rid of them.


    • What a profound response! You show a lot of psychological maturity, and I commend you for working on your demons.


  9. It’s always a tough process to go through the end of a relationship, mainly because we begin our healing process by blaming ourselves, wondering what we could have done better. I’ve felt that the environment that I was raised in has a lot to do with the way I deal with relationships, mainly because my parents have never been the affectionate type towards each other, which I feel skewed the way I perceive the way that I should act towards my partner. While we can’t change the way that we were raised, we can try and heal by, as you said, trying to fill the holes where we feel that we did not experience the love and bonds that we should have felt.


    • You are not alone: most of us are a product of our environment when it comes to relationships. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn and change and grow!


  10. This is not at all what I expected when I first clicked on the article. But I’m so glad you shared this experience, and the fact that you are getting the help you need. The healing part is definitely the hardest part of a breakup but after you get past it, you grow so much from it.


    • I like the fact that the story is different from what the title implies. And yes, getting to the healing after a breakup is very important. I still miss that man, though (sigh).


  11. My childhood experience really affected me tremendously. My father was a veteran. He was only strict with me and not tolerant. This made me think men should treat themselves cruelly. When I grew up, I knew it was wrong . My relationships lack love and tolerance.


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