Self

How I Learned To Feel Hot Again After 3 Kids And 7 Years Of Marriage

Photo: Phil Halfmann / Shutterstock
confident woman in bikini at beach

Recently, my friend Catharine told me about a book her friend wrote based on her blog, "Formerly Hot" — a phrase, I thought, that aptly described me. Well, maybe "Hot" is a stretch. But after three kids and seven years of marriage, I'd come to categorize myself as "Formerly Good Enough."

It wasn't that I'd passed 40 as the blog and book author; it was that my tricks for attraction, like half shirts, no longer sat right on my newly pillowy midriff and had found a new home at Goodwill. My ability to be demure was supplanted by my desire for help, and a lot of it: bedtimes, night wakings, feedings, and fits.

I missed that raw chemistry that once had existed between my husband, Matt, and me.

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Your chemistry is part of what pulls your desire for one another through those effects aging has on your body: the wrinkles, the grays, the slight bulge of baby fat time, and exercise do nothing to shrink.

But Matt and I knew too much of each other now. We brought so much into our shared moments: our hopes, our fears, our resentments, and a slew of what-ifs. We'd lost the ability to get lost in a moment, become over-swept by euphoria, and allow some primal urge to bring our bodies together.

couldn't separate how I felt about Matt's parenting from how I felt about him. And some days I felt he saw an undone task list before he saw me.

And then, one day, a friend gave me a picture she'd taken before I'd had a chance to wake up. In it, I wear an old sweatshirt that had belonged to my mother, and I'm eating out of a bowl while standing up. My hair is parted down the middle. I look awful. So horrible, in fact, I put it straight into my garbage. And stomped it down.

What she gave me was a snapshot of my life. I realized what bothered me weren't the physical aspects of my appearance in the photograph: the uncombed hair, the shapeless sweatshirt, and the inability to sit down for a full meal while raising three children. Those are parts of yourself you show when living together. Unfortunately.

It was that I lacked energy, fire, focus, and direction. I was worn down and run out. And I didn't know how to feel alive again in the most human of ways.

Because I wasn't the person I was before children, physically or mentally. I'd shed those romantic notions of helplessness and vulnerability I'd had while single. But it's tricky to reinvent yourself while in a relationship; you can only hope your marriage is strong enough to sustain it.

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First, I had to free myself, to realize it was okay to put myself first sometimes, that I had a right to life too. "Can you watch the kids tonight?" I'd ask Matt, slipping on earrings, off for a night out with girlfriends.

Soon I started dressing better during oppressive Minnesota winters; thinking more; feeling engaged mentally even when I wasn't. As my peer group stretched, I got support, ears to listen, and voices that identified; I didn't depend solely on Matt for validation or appreciation. And through that, I found my voice.

But to keep it I had to use it to stand up for myself, to create boundaries between Matt and me, and, painfully at first, my children and me.

"I can't go grocery shopping today," I'd say to Matt, and, if he fussed, I refused to let it get to me: he could go just as well as I could. And for our children, I mandated outdoor time. Strict bedtimes. Places I could come up for air. My days began to take shape in a way they hadn't before.

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Soon, I began liking myself more.

My energy came back. I played chess with our 6-year-old, poisonous killer cheetahs with our 4-year-old, and, when I needed a break, sprawled out on the couch while our 2-year-old lovingly brushed my hair. For the most part, my resentments towards Matt ceased because I knew I had a choice: I could acquiesce, or push back.

Before I was too afraid to take a stand: afraid of not being a good wife, afraid of not being a good mother, and most afraid, perhaps, of losing him. But fear gets you nowhere. Standing on your own two feet does.

One night, thanks to my newfound friends, Matt and I went to a lakeside party. A cool breeze whipped over us. Music sounded and we followed it to a dance floor lit with a strobe light. We put down our glasses of wine.

As our bodies folded together, I remembered how much I'd always loved Matt's arms; he held me like a football. And I knew we were back. We'd learned how to live in a moment, to create a moment, to demand a moment. Because sometimes that's all you can do when you're a parent.

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Jennifer Jeanne Patterson is a writer, freelance journalist, and author of '52 Fights: A Newlywed’s Confession.' Her work has been featured in the Washington Post, CityLab, Glamour, Star Tribune, and more. Visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

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