I feel broken over my split with Alan, but in time I move past the pain and the regret, focusing instead on my future. I ask myself what I really love to do. What is my true passion?

I take out a student loan and enroll in culinary school.  I feel powerful, but in a different way among my classmates, ninety-five percent of whom are male. The instructors appreciate my careful, precise work. My test scores are at the top of the class and this only fuels my competitive spirit.

After graduation I take a daytime position as a pastry chef for a gourmet restaurant. The jobs that pay well in the industry are still tough for women to break into. Pantry or bake shop is usually where we end up in the hierarchy of the kitchen brigade and I supplement my income waiting tables on the weekends.

One summer night after work I get a call  from Alan. We haven’t spoken in three years. Do I want to have a beer sometime?

Although I’ve just started seeing someone new, this is inconsequential. I drop the nice young man named Parker, just like that. Sorry, Parker. We never even made it to second base.

Alan comes to my place a couple of times and we make out, try a few oral sex positions, but we don’t really connect. It’s not working.

Two years later, I spontaneously send him a birthday card signed ‘Mistress M’.  This time when we get together he is more open and talkative. He tells me that I have been on his mind for a very long time. That even though he’s had other girlfriends, even living with one for a spell, no one compares to me. Nothing compares to what we shared. And he tells me something else. That he had been a virgin that night, almost a decade ago. The night we first made love.

Although he seems a bit hollowed-out emotionally by the time that has elapsed, and although he hasn’t actually said as much, I still believe there is a chance that he is ready for a real relationship with me. I dive into the warm, familiar feelings that are still very much alive.

This time, I devise my own strategy to survive his ignorance of the common customs of relationships. To keep myself from getting hurt again, I see other people.

There is the young subordinate at work named Jon whom I seduced just before we got back together.  Brandon, my friend with benefits, knows about Alan, because I tell him everything.  He doesn’t understand what I see in either one of these guys.

When I am alone with Alan, my mind and my body click right back into the groove again. This time the games are  more intense and sustained. This time there is a satin blindfold and slippery implements purchased beforehand with intent, forethought and grave discretion. The satisfying snap of latex against my wrists, his pleasured gasps of surprise, sighs of surrender.

Nothing arouses me more than testing the limits of his sexual submission. The acts he performs and the things he allows me to do to him–skirt the boundaries of  humiliation. But he submits to my every pleasure without protest. Calls himself my slave. And I couldn’t love him more.

One afternoon over lunch at Abbey Road I blush with the heat of visual recall when I see the soft pink lace of my panties from the night before peeking just below the waistband of his shorts when he bends forward to retrieve a dropped napkin. Such a good boy.

Of course I adore him, and although we are still highly affectionate before and after,  we never quite reclaim that warm, sweet innocence we had in the beginning.

Within a few weeks I realize I am caught in a dysfunctional loop and losing myself in obsession again. I am working full-time as a restaurant manager now, attending community college as a half-time student, my kids are quickly moving into adolescence and I know the tension in my life is wound too tightly to be sustainable. I feel out of control.

I find Dr. Susan and make an appointment. At our first meeting I tell her that the one thing I am adamant about is staying together with Alan. Anything else can change except that.

Anything but that.

To be continued…