The bedroom tends to be a place of expectedness. Perhaps this is what makes the unexpected, when it happens in the bedroom, so striking – and sometimes, like in one of these featured stories, devastating.
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Close the door and dim the lights. Let’s talk. I’m Violeta Balhas and this is Season 1, Episode 2 of Pillow Talking – Stories about the stories we tell each other when there’s no one listening. In this episode, That’s not what I was expecting.
Lately I have implemented a new bedtime routine, and by “new” I mean I have actually implemented A bedtime routine in place of what used to be a haphazard series of events that somehow culminated in me collapsing unconscious in bed.
Rediscovering a bedtime routine after decades of bumbling my way to the bedroom, often mostly asleep, grabbing a Tim Tam on the way, has been revolutionary in improving the quality and restfulness of my sleep, and I’m proud to join the countless army of bedtime routiners. I’ll march for this one. Carry the flag, even.
Plus, there’s something so comforting about the bedtime routine. The unhurried brushing of the teeth. The getting into your sleepwear, or getting out of any wear whatsoever, the bliss of removing your bra (if you didn’t remove it when you got home), the contented flipping of the pages to find your bookmark, or tapping on subscriptions on YouTube to watch a video or two from your favourite channel.
Let’s face it – the bedroom tends to be a place of expectedness. Because unless your bedroom doubles as some kind of other room there’s usually a limit to what we do in there. In fact, sleep experts say that there are only two things you should do in bed.
Perhaps it’s this level of expectedness that makes the unexpected, when it happens in the bedroom, so very striking – sometimes jarring. That, or our vulnerability when we’re in bed – maybe both. As I’ve said before: it’s a place of literal and figurative nakedness.
The unexpected is also the reason why I got this podcast off the ground at all. I can’t speak for other creatives but I know that when you’re a writer, it’s impossible to act on every single idea or bit of inspiration you have. They’re always dropping into your consciousness, not as a flood, but as a constant drip feed. Like Seinfeld said about appetites, there’s always another one coming. This year has been my year of getting back into the storytelling space after years away literally taking care of business. This is the only time I’ve been been separated from my creative self in my life, and coming back was something I did slowly and cautiously. Even when I go to the beach on the hottest day of the year, I don’t just dive into the water, even though I know it’s going to be delicious and a blessed relief. No – I ease in slowly, eking forward bit by bit, gasping at the cold and partly giggling, partly threatening dismemberment at anyone who dares splash me while the water is still only up to my hips.
When I got the idea for Pillow Talking, I knew it was one of the ideas I wanted to pursue, but I approached it slowly. I was feeling my way back and I didn’t know what was going to happen. And as much as I was surprised and delighted by the stories that started coming in here and there, it wasn’t until I received one in particular, so unexpected that it shocked me out of feeling and into action. When I read it, I remembered my sense of responsibility to story, and I knew I had to dive in.
The artist and writer Erik Pevernagie said,
“The unexpected may remind us or surprise us. It may remind us when we are moved by things we think we recognise… It may surprise us when we find out things which open a new vision on the world and offer us an unforeseen experience.”
The four stories in this episode about things happening in a completely different way to what the pillow talkers were expecting. They definitely had the effect of either reminding or surprising, even while in one case, the one that got me to commit to Pillow Talking, being completely devastating. They all happened in the intimacy of the bedroom.
Ssh. Let’s listen.
I’m married to the most wonderful woman in the world. It’s been nearly 15 years now and she’s both the most familiar and surprising person in my world. But, 15 years ago, we were strangers.
At the time this particular conversation took place we had only just started seeing each other. This was very, very early in our relationship. So early we would not have considered, at the time, ourselves as “going out”. It was, in fact, our second date.
We had talked each other’s ears off on the first date and pashed – that’s passionately kissed – before going back to our lives. Not exactly without a second thought but neither would either of us have called it “love-at-first-sight”.
A week later, however, the second date moved a bit faster. A LOT faster.
I’m not sure if either of us had planned for it to happen – we’ve both spoken since of how we started our relationship “the wrong way” – but, after a nice lunch we decided it was time to revisit the pashing and BAM!, before we knew what was happening, we found ourselves in bed and things got very steamy indeed. But then this happened.
Hugging in the afterglow of some pretty mind-blowing sex we started talking. We were facing the wrong way in bed, just lying there holding each other – in itself lovely, no awkward silence, no struggling with the superfluous arm or needing to negotiate whose leg went where – we just lay in each other’s arms and … talked.
I don’t remember how the conversation started but I’ll never forget how it ended up.
Somehow, as we spilled forth various snapshots of our individual potted histories, we wound up talking about our deceased parents. How they each had died, how we had felt at the time, how their deaths had affected us as we moved on and how we continued to remember and celebrate the people who had contributed to who we had become, for good and for ill.
And there we were, two people who had been total strangers just a week earlier, lying naked, wrapped in each other’s arms, sobbing our hearts out as we opened them completely to each other, without guardedness, without holding back. For both of us, that conversation presented a cathartic release – an outpouring of stuff that we had held inside for decades – like a blockage suddenly cleared.
It was the most natural thing at the time but, over the years since that second date, I have noted more than once that we would have had to have been complete idiots not to have seen where this was headed, right from the get-go. OK, we have been idiots more than once and, at various times, been close to the point of throwing in our respective towels but, remembering that second date always reminds us that this is a precious thing not to be wasted.
We’d been married for 13 years, together for 18, two kids and a mortgage. A lot of history, good and bad because marriage.
We hadn’t had sex for a long time. I think it would have been three months, easy. And he seemed absent. There, but not there. Recently I learned a new word at work, “presenteeism”, which is when someone turns up at work physically but in their mind they’re just not there, and they’re not really putting the work in, just going through the motions. He was my presentee husband and I was confused and hurt and didn’t know what to do about it.
When our pillow talk happened I’d just tried, unsuccessfully, to make love to my husband. It was humiliating, but only on hindsight. At the time I was concerned and worried about him, and about us. So I tried to talk to him. I told him I loved him, and he didn’t say anything. I hated myself for asking but I asked him anyway: “Do you love me?’ He looked at me finally and said, “I love you… but I’m not IN LOVE with you.”
I felt a mixture of devastated and confused. First because I didn’t understand the difference between loving and being in love, and second because although I didn’t understand the difference I knew this was a bad thing. It felt like a bad thing. And it was, because he ended our marriage. He was out within the week.
Although the year to come would be horrible, the worst part about this particular conversation came the days and weeks after when I found myself in an online forum – I think it was called Marriage Builders. I wanted to understand. I wanted to work it out. And I thought that this ‘I love you but I’m not in love with you’ thing was my experience. But when I posted about this devastating thing that had happened to me the people who replied said that he’d given me ‘the speech’. I explored the forum and there it was over and over again. It actually was a cheap damn cliche, so common they called it the speech or I-L-Y-B-I-N-I-L-W-Y, said like a word: ILYBINILWY. And 99% of the time it happened when there was an affair going on. I didn’t want to believe it and it turns out they were right, but before I found out about the affair what made me furious was finding out that ILYBINILWY was a cliche. I deserved better. After nearly 20 years, after giving him two awesome kids, after supporting him through college, after putting his business first, after putting up with his horrible parents I DESERVED BETTER and all I got was this meaningless cliche speech. I was still devastated but that anger propelled me.
This pillow talk changed my life. That first year I was convinced it was because he’d destroyed it, and while he certainly destroyed that part of it, eventually it changed for the better. Not because of him, but because of me. It took a lot of hard work, as little contact with my ex-husband as possible, and the pursuit of the things I feel that I – and every other decent person – deserve.
I don’t know if all of your listeners will get this because it involves Celsius instead of Fahrenheit but here goes anyway.
I used to be into all the high drama with my relationships. Like – all the crap that you love in your teens because it makes you feel like you’re a character in Home and Away or whatever, it hung around well into my twenties and I used to wonder why it was following me around like a curse, until it occurred to me when I was about 27 that maybe the problem was me, and my choice of men.
There was a guy, let’s call him Adam, that I knew from tennis. He was always extra nice to me and I thought he liked me. And I liked him too, although I never got the butterflies when I saw him or anything like that. He was totally different to any guy I’d even gone out with. The one that everyone at the club liked, but a little quiet, with a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour. And he was a lot older than me – 39. But I’d had this epiphany about maybe going out with different kinds of guys so I started subtly letting him know that I was interested, and eventually he asked me out. He was a nice guy and it was a nice date, although again, no butterflies or fireworks, but it was nice enough for me to go on a second and then a third date. On the third date we ended up in bed, and OMG, the 1812 Overture, fireworks, cannons, the works, and I thought, “Hmmm. Maybe there’s something to this.”
I liked him a lot. He was so nice, so thoughtful, so funny and quirky, and he balanced out my manic tendencies. The only issue I could see after a few weeks was that he was a little self-conscious about our age difference. He didn’t make a big deal out of it, it was just little things he said, like when I mentioned going to a new nightclub that had just opened he said, “I think that’s one for you and your friends”. Or a couple of times when he wanted to stay in and chill he asked, “Sure you want to hang out with an old bloke?” That kind of thing. But it didn’t matter, we still had a great time together and lots of things in common, plus all of those awesome fireworks, and without the roller coaster drama this time.
The night that our pillow talk happened was after we’d been watching the Australian Open on television. That day was the first mild day after a horrible heatwave (which I hate, by the way). It had been so hot the previous days that we’d had tennis players fainting and throwing up. But that day was perfect. We were at Adam’s place and he’d made a pitcher of sangria and a grazing platter and we lounged around and watched the tennis for hours. And the weather was perfect. Sunny, with a light breeze, and in the mid-20s: remember that. We went to bed afterwards and didn’t fool around or anything, we just lay there cuddling and I was so content. I had this warm, lovely feeling that everything was just right. And Adam was just right. He was like the day: in the mid-20s, not too hot, not too cold, just right. And I was filled with love for my fellow sisters around the world and I thought, “Every woman needs an Adam in her life, a mid-20s guy.” That’s what was in my head and it made perfect sense to me in the context of the day. But what I actually vocalized to Adam as we lay there, out of the blue, was: “I THINK A GUY IN THE MID-20s IS JUST PERFECT.”
I immediately realised what I said and when I looked up he had this funny look on his face so of course I backpedalled as fast as I could, but the more I explained my thought process the more insane and unlikely it seemed, even to me. He was cool though, so I dropped it. Next day was fine. But just that. Something had changed and we hadn’t been going out long enough for me to make a deal out of fixing it. The relationship just sort of petered out.
To this day I don’t know if the writing was already on the wall when this happened, or whether it happened because of what I said, or whether I imagined that it changed things, and I’m a little sorry because I really did like Adam. The one thing that stuck with me though was the feeling I had when I was with him. It pretty much cured me of my addiction to drama, and although I haven’t gone out with someone that much older than me ever again, I have gone out with guys who are more emotionally mature and sort of steady. Mid-20s guys, metaphorically speaking, although I’ve been careful not to ever use that term again.
We were engaged, making plans for our wedding, and I had just returned from a girls’ holiday.
While on holiday I suffered a miscarriage, but I’d had no idea I was pregnant. I was having coffee with a girlfriend and my niece, when I felt something ‘pass’. I went to the loo and knew immediately what it was. I panicked, I was terrified, but wrapped it in tissue and threw it in the bin.
In hindsight it was a kneejerk reaction. I wish I’d done it differently.
I flew in from the holiday, he picked me up from the airport. I was quiet and withdrawn, didn’t want to be touched, didn’t want to talk to him, look at him but still wanted him around.
We got home, settled in.
In bed he asked me what was wrong. I was crying. Eventually told him I had miscarried while I was away. He started crying and held me tight; it was the first time since seeing him that I wanted him to touch me.
All I can remember is saying how sorry I was for letting him down, for disappointing him. He told me through his tears that it was OK.
A few weeks later, in bed, talking about everything and nothing, he told me he blamed me for losing our baby. I was stunned.
He said my drinking and smoking was the cause and he totally blamed me for killing our baby.
I told him I had no idea I was pregnant, but that didn’t matter: I was to blame.
I told him I wanted him to leave, to go back to his own house. I got out of bed, put on my robe, went to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of wine.
I heard him come into the kitchen, a look on his face I’ve never seen before. Then the first punch connected.
Pillow Talking is produced, narrated and edited by me, Violeta Balhas, from stories by you, the listeners and pillow talkers. Music is by Radovan Jekic. This episode’s stories were:
We Would Have Had to Have Been Idiots by Nick
ILYBINILWY by Betrayed but Better
Mr. Celsius by Sou Hakiadakis
He Blamed Me by anonymous
And in case you’re wondering and didn’t go Googling in the middle of Sou’s story, Mid-20s in Celsius is between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
This podcast wouldn’t exist without people choosing to share their intimate conversations. If you’d like to submit yours, please go to www.pillowtalkingproject.com. I’d love to hear from you.
If you liked what you heard, please subscribe – share with your friends far and wide! Or near. Maybe even the person in bed with you.
On the next episode on Pillow Talking, Kissy boys: stories about bedroom conversations featuring men who are all about the private displays of affection and other warm-and-fuzzy stuff. Until then, please take care of yourselves. And each other.