Asking for forgiveness during sex was the most intimate experience of my life.
I have a lot of guilt.
Some of it's garden variety girl-guilt: "I ate too much sugar and didn't work out." "I saw my friend was calling and let it go to voicemail."
Some of it is garden variety mom-guilt: "I said we could do a craft and totally forgot." "I sent them to school without making them decent lunches." "I let them go to bed without brushing their teeth." "I yelled at them when the bickered about something stupid."
Some of it is textbook Jewish guilt: "I do not deserve happiness because I have failed to achieve my potential and live up to the expectations of my community."
And some of it's plain old entrenched neurosis: "Everyone knows I'm a total phony and I have never lived an authentic moment in my life."
Most of the time, guilt is pretty easy to let go. Most of the time, ignoring it actually makes it go away.
Guilt is a weird hang-on kind of emotion. You feel bad for a minute, and then your brain moves on to other stuff — pressing things that you can accomplish, and then not feel guilty about.
Lately, though, I've had more guilt and less letting go. Overworking yourself will do that. Piling on too many commitments, including those to yourself, means, at some point, you're going to let things slide. And if you're like me, that means guilt. At first for a moment, but then, as more and more things pile on, crushing guilt.
There are a lot of reasons I let the guilt build up the way it did.
We moved, and that completely derailed my organization. My kids started a new school year and had birthdays all at the same time, which meant nothing went as well as I'd promised it would. The political climate heated up and I said things to friends and loved ones that were frankly callous.
The guilt got so bad, it was killing my sex life.
It's hard to feel sexy when you go to bed fretting about how many people you let down today, how much junk food you ate today, how much you didn't finish that now has to be done tomorrow. And even more, it's harder to feel sexy when that deep, neurotic, self-doubt kind of guilt sinks in.
I didn't want to have distracted, perfunctory sex. So when my husband tried to initiate, I started to apologize. "I'm sorry," I said, and before I could say what for, he kissed me and said, "I forgive you."
I knew he was just saying it to make me feel better, that he had no clue what I was apologizing for, but I felt the tension ease from my shoulders. He forgave me, and I felt better.
I pushed him back a few inches and apologized again.
"I'm sorry I didn't do the dishes," I said.
"I forgive you," he answered, and kissed me more.
Before I knew it, I was confessing everything I'd done wrong for weeks, everything that had bothered me, everything that I had let slip, everything I'd failed at, everything I hadn't even started.
He nibbled my ears and whispered, "I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you," and all my inhibitions vanished.
It wasn't just that it was such a relief to have the guilt off my chest, it was that telling my husband everything I'd done that I was ashamed of was so intimate. So much more intimate than saying, "I love you," for the four-billionth time. So much more intimate than nudity or even the sex itself.
He was listening to me confess everything from the petty forgetfulness of my days to my deepest secret self-loathing to my innermost imposter syndrome and the barely contained panic that I might only be a barely functioning sociopath.
He told me he loved me and he forgave me, and I felt forgiven in a way I never have before. I felt seen and understood, and in profound orgasmic relief, the guilt was gone.
Not forever. A single amazing night of confession and coitus could never be enough to undo the thirty-something years of internalized guilt that walks around with me every day.
But now, when I shame myself through my actions, I don't feel the same gnawing dread that I can never make amends. Now, I whisper in my husband's ear in the dark, "I'm sorry," and it doesn't matter what for.
He's happy to help me overcome my angst in screaming, shuddering orgasm anytime.