GAME OVER

Maxim - - CONTENTS - From the book the game of love: & how to play it, by Neil Strauss. Copy­right © 2015 by Neil Strauss. Reprinted by per­mis­sion of Dey Street Books, an imprint of Harpercollins Pub­lish­ers.

CAN NEIL STRAUSS, PICKUP GURU AND AU­THOR OF THE GAME, SUR­VIVE A STINT IN SEX RE­HAB?

WITH HIS IN­TER­NA­TIONAL BEST-SELLER THE GAME, NEIL STRAUSS BROUGHT THE MYS­TE­RI­OUS ART OF NO-FAIL SE­DUC­TION TO THE MASSES—AND BE­CAME THE MOVE­MENT’S TOP PRAC­TI­TIONER. THEN HE FELL IN LOVE. CAN THE WORLD’S MOST FA­MOUS PICKUP ARTIST SUR­VIVE A STINT IN SEX RE­HAB?

I AM NOT THE HERO OF THIS TALE. I AM THE VIL­LAIN. WHEN I LOOK BACK ON MY TEENAGE YEARS, I SEE A MAL­NOUR­ISHED NERD WEAR­ING CHEAP BLACK-RIMMED PLAS­TIC GLASSES TOO BIG FOR MY LIT­TLE FACE YET TOO SMALL FOR MY GI­GAN­TIC EARS. AND I SEE BROWN HAIR CHOPPED AWK­WARDLY SHORT—AT MY RE­QUEST. I HATED MY CURLS. EV­ERY­ONE ELSE HAD STRAIGHT HAIR, AND I WANTED TO FIT IN.

My los­ing ways con­tin­ued not just through high school—where my prom date left the dance with an­other guy—but through col­lege and my twen­ties. I even­tu­ally got a job tour­ing with rock bands as a mu­sic jour­nal­ist, yet even with an all-ac­cess back­stage pass dan­gling around my neck, the ad­ven­tures hap­pened to ev­ery­one else.

But one day, ev­ery­thing changed: I em­bed­ded my­self in an un­der­ground com­mu­nity of pickup artists, hop­ing to turn my los­ing streak around. Soon I found my­self trav­el­ing around the world with them, meet­ing women in bars, clubs, cafés, and streets. I be­came ob­sessed with mak­ing up for all the fun and adventure I’d missed out on. The Game, the book I wrote about my ed­u­ca­tion at the hands of th­ese un­likely lothar­ios, be­came so in­fa­mous that it eclipsed ev­ery­thing I’d done be­fore.

Then I found I couldn’t turn it off. Even af­ter I fi­nally snapped out of it, found a girl­friend, and shut the door be­hind me, I still couldn’t stop. The Game was like a dis­ease. Quite pos­si­bly an ad­dic­tion.

So it is with equal parts frus­tra­tion, re­morse, and irony that, five years later, I find my­self stand­ing in the park­ing lot of a Level 1 psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal*,

pre­par­ing to check in and un­learn ev­ery­thing I’ve spent so much time and en­ergy learn­ing.

There are peo­ple in this hos­pi­tal who will die with­out the in­ter­ven­tion. They’re go­ing to drink or snort or in­ject them­selves to death. Next to them I feel like an im­pos­tor. Be­cause I am here for a very dif­fer­ent rea­son: I cheated on my girl­friend.

I told you I was the vil­lain.

A HAIRY MAN IN GREEN NURSE SCRUBS TAKES MY LUG­GAGE, stretches a pair of la­tex gloves over his hammy fists, and starts search­ing for con­tra­band. “We don’t al­low books here.” The only other place I’ve been where books are con­fis­cated is North Korea. Tak­ing away books is a tac­tic of dic­ta­tors. Even in pri­son, in­mates can have books.

But this is my pun­ish­ment, I tell my­self. I’m here to be re­trained, to learn how to be a de­cent hu­man be­ing. I’ve hurt peo­ple. I de­serve to be in this hos­pi­tal, this pri­son, this asy­lum, this con­va­les­cent home for weak men and women who can’t say no.

Af­ter he also con­fis­cates my ra­zor and nail clip­pers, a green-smocked nurse—rail-thin and sinewy, with sun-dam­aged skin—leads me to a pri­vate room and wraps a blood pres­sure cuff around my arm.

“We need to take your vi­tals four times a day for the next three days,” she says. Her eyes are dull, the words me­chan­i­cal. “Why is that?” “We get peo­ple with­draw­ing and we want to make sure they’re go­ing to be OK,” she ex­plains. She lets me know my blood pres­sure is high.

Of course it’s high, I want to say. You’re tak­ing away all my shit and treat­ing me like I’m about to die from lack of sex.

But I stay quiet. And I sub­mit. Like a good cheater.

She gives me a pager I’m told to wear at all times. Then she thrusts one form af­ter an­other in front of me. Pa­tients’ rights, li­a­bil­ity, a pledge not to com­mit sui­cide—and the rules. More damn rules. One para­graph for­bids me from hav­ing sex with any pa­tient, nurse, or staff mem­ber. The next says that pa­tients may not wear biki­nis, tank tops, or shorts—and must wear bras at all times. “So I have to put on a bra?” I joke. “It’s kind of silly,” the nurse con­cedes, “but we have sex ad­dicts in here.” The words leave her mouth with scorn and fear, as if th­ese sex ad­dicts are not nor­mal pa­tients but creepy preda­tors to be­ware of. She moves on to the next form. “What are you here for?” “Cheat­ing.” It sounds lame. I’m in a men­tal hos­pi­tal be­cause I couldn’t say no to new sex part­ners. So I add: “And to im­prove my re­la­tion­ship.”

There comes a time in a man’s life when he looks around and re­al­izes he’s made a mess of ev­ery­thing. He’s dug a hole for him­self so deep that he doesn’t even know which way is up any­more. And that hole for me has al­ways been re­la­tion­ships. When I’m sin­gle, I want to be in a re­la­tion­ship. When I’m in a re­la­tion­ship, I miss be­ing sin­gle. And worst of all, when the re­la­tion­ship ends and my cap­tor-lover fi­nally moves on, I re­gret ev­ery­thing and don’t know what I want any­more. You go through this cy­cle a few times, and one day you re­al­ize that, at this rate, you’re go­ing to grow old alone: no wife, no kids, no fam­ily. You’ll die and it will be weeks be­fore the smell gets strong enough that some­one finds you.

The nurse looks up to face me. It is the first time she’s made eye con­tact. I see some­thing soften. I’m no longer an ad­dict or a pervert. I’ve said the magic R-word: re­la­tion­ship.

Her lips part and moisten; her whole de­meanor is dif­fer­ent now. She ac­tu­ally wants to help me. “The first step,” she says, “is find­ing some­one to date who’s healthy.”

I think of In­grid, whose heart I broke, whose friends want to kill me, who never did any­thing wrong but love me.

“I found that per­son,” I say with a sigh. “That’s what made me re­al­ize it’s just me.” She hands me a red badge with a long piece of white string looped through it. “You’re in red two,” she says. “You’re re­quired to wear your badge at all times.” “What does red two mean?” “The tags are color-coded. Red is for sex ad­dicts. And the red two group is in ther­apy with”—she pauses and flashes a brief, un­com­fort­able smile—“gail.”

I can’t tell whether it’s fear or pity in her ex­pres­sion, but for some rea­son the name fills me with a crawl­ing dread.

TH­ESE ARE THE WAYS IN WHICH MY SEX­UAL AD­DIC­TION HAS hurt my life,” the man be­gins. He is skinny and blond, with a sweet, boy­ish face, ruddy cheeks, and the be­gin­nings of an oddly in­con­gru­ous pot­belly. His red name tag iden­ti­fies him as Calvin.

I’m in a group ther­apy room, and there are 10 chairs pushed against the side and back walls, each filled with a bro­ken man. Against the front wall is a rolling chair, a desk, and a file cabi­net filled with the sins of count­less sex ad­dicts.

Sit­ting in that chair is a tall woman with a pear-shaped body and a tight bun of un­washed brown hair. She’s wear­ing a loose-fit­ting flow­ered top over brown slacks and flat shoes. The edges of her lips are pulled slightly down­ward. She looks the group over, care­ful not to make eye con­tact with any­one. What­ever the op­po­site of sex is, she em­bod­ies it. This is Gail. “I lost my house and my brother,” Calvin con­tin­ues. “I booked a trip

around the world with him and snuck away to see es­corts in al­most ev­ery city. I’ve spent a to­tal of $125,000 over the course of my life on es­corts.” “Are you count­ing ev­ery­thing you’ve spent?” “I think so.” He braces him­self as if he’s about to be at­tacked. “Did you in­clude your In­ter­net bill?” “No.” “Do you use the In­ter­net to find es­corts?” “Yes.” “Then in­clude your In­ter­net bill. And your phone bill, if you called any of th­ese women whose bod­ies you mas­tur­bated with. In­clude the money you spent on taxis to see th­ese women and the money you spent on con­doms and the en­tire cost of any trip where you saw them.” “OK, then, maybe it’s $250,000?” A quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars is still not enough for Gail. As she pushes him to add up ev­ery penny even pe­riph­er­ally in­volved in the pur­suit of sex, I think about how I’ve made my living off my so-called sex ad­dic­tion, writ­ing books about play­ers, porn stars, and deca­dent rock­ers. My sex ad­dic­tion pays for my phone, rent, and health in­sur­ance. It pays for break­fast, lunch, and din­ner; for movies, books, and the com­puter I’m writ­ing on; for socks, un­der­wear, and shoes. I couldn’t even af­ford to be here get­ting treat­ment with­out it.

Mean­while, Calvin is done. His head rolls down and he cov­ers his eyes with his palms as the tears spill out. Vic­to­ri­ous, Gail takes a ver­bal lap around the room, ask­ing pa­tients to re­port on what their sex­ual ad­dic­tion has cost them, break­ing down their de­fenses, strip­ping them of the last ves­tige of ego and pride they’ve re­tained from any af­fair or adventure or trans­ac­tion.

Ex­cept for Calvin, who’s never had a se­ri­ous girl­friend and is here be­cause he got a Brazil­ian hooker preg­nant, ev­ery other sin­ner was caught cheat­ing. And so they come here, try­ing to work off the sins of the flesh and hop­ing a mir­a­cle can save the fam­ily that is both their great­est achieve­ment and their great­est bur­den.

I’m here not just be­cause I cheated: I’m here as a pre­emp­tive strike against hav­ing a mar­riage like theirs. Ei­ther I’ll learn to have a com­mit­ted, in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with In­grid or give up and say, “Fuck it, this is my na­ture,” and avoid monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ships al­to­gether.

When we break for lunch, Gail stops me as I try to leave the room. “You need to sign some pa­per­work,” she in­forms me, with­out mak­ing eye con­tact. She turns to her com­puter and calls up a doc­u­ment. The bold print on the screen freezes my heart: celibacy/ab­sti­nence con­tract.

She reads it sternly: I will re­frain from the fol­low­ing: Mas­tur­ba­tion Im­plicit or ex­plicit porno­graphic ma­te­rial

Flir­ta­tious, se­duc­tive, ro­man­tic, or sug­ges­tive com­ments or be­hav­ior Se­duc­tive at­tire Sex­u­ally overt or covert con­tact with an­other per­son or my­self

Se­cre­tive sex­ual fan­ta­siz­ing: I will re­port ob­jec­ti­fy­ing, fan­ta­siz­ing, or ob­sess­ing to ap­pro­pri­ate staff mem­bers

And cross-dress­ing. “This con­tract is ef­fec­tive for 12 weeks,” she in­forms me. “But I’m only sup­posed to be here for four weeks.” She fixes her eyes on mine: They are brown and glassy, with as much em­pa­thy as a snail shell.

“It takes three months for your brain to re­turn to nor­mal af­ter all the dam­age caused by the high of sex!” “So I can’t even have sex when I leave?” “Not if you want to re­cover.” I sign the con­tract. Like a good cheater.

AS I WALK THROUGH A DRAB HALL­WAY TO THE CAFE­TE­RIA, I feel a pain in my groin, a psy­cho­log­i­cally in­duced ache. I’ve sold my soul to Gail and turned my dick into an ap­pendage, doomed to dan­gle des­o­lately be­tween my legs, wait­ing for an oc­ca­sional piss.

I join Charles, a sad but dig­ni­fied-look­ing sex­a­holic with Bill Clin­ton hair, in the food line. “Let me ask you,” I say, giv­ing him a nudge. “Do you think it’s male na­ture that makes us want to sleep with other peo­ple, or is it re­ally an ad­dic­tion?”

“It’s def­i­nitely an ad­dic­tion,” Charles says au­thor­i­ta­tively. “And the day I fi­nally ad­mit­ted I was pow­er­less over it was the hap­pi­est day of my life. Af­ter that, if I was at­tracted to a beau­ti­ful woman on the street, I knew it wasn’t my fault. I just looked away and said, ‘This is a dis­ease and I’m pow­er­less over it.’”

At a ta­ble near the caf­feine-free cof­feemaker—they don’t al­low sugar or caf­feine here—i spot a woman with a red tag. She’s the first fe­male sex ad­dict I’ve seen. So of course I sit next to her.

She’s a tall, at­trac­tive, dark-haired busi­ness­woman in her late thir­ties. Her name, ac­cord­ing to her tag, is Naomi.

Charles re­fuses to sit with us. “We signed a con­tract,” he ad­mon­ishes me. “We’re not sup­posed to talk to fe­male pa­tients.” “Says who? That’s not even in the con­tract.” “You’re threat­en­ing my so­bri­ety,” he warns. Naomi laughs as Charles walks off. As we eat, I ask Naomi about her story. She says she cheated on her hus­band 17 times. “I re­mem­ber the first time I slept with some­one else. I got my first client at work and my boss took me out to congratulate me. We started drink­ing, and he leaned over and made out with me. That ac­cep­tance was a big high. My head was spin­ning. I’ve cheated since then, look­ing for that same high, and it’s al­ways the same sit­u­a­tion: want­ing ac­cep­tance from pow­er­ful men.”

The thought oc­curs to me be­fore I can stop it: This is a great place to meet women. Naomi is di­vulging the ex­act strat­egy to se­duce her.

Shit, now I def­i­nitely broke the con­tract. Maybe Charles was right. I need to fol­low the rules here with­out ques­tion­ing them.

As I walk along the path to the dorms af­ter the meal, an­other pa­tient in my group spots me and mo­tions me over sur­rep­ti­tiously.

“Your last name is Strauss, right?” he asks when I join him on the lawn. He’s thin and laid-back, with thick dark hair and black designer sun­glasses. His name tag reads troy. He’s a cer­ti­fied sex ad­dic­tion ther­a­pist who cheated on his wife with an im­port model he found on a Web site for women seek­ing sugar dad­dies. “I read your book.”

“Do me a fa­vor: Don’t tell any­one who I am,” I plead. “It’s just too ironic: The guy who wrote the book on pick­ing up women is be­ing treated for sex ad­dic­tion.” “So why are you here, man? I thought you’d be out living the life.” “I was. But at some point I want to be in a healthy re­la­tion­ship and be a dad, so I have to learn how to shut it off.”

“I’ll tell you some­thing,” Troy whis­pers con­spir­a­to­ri­ally. “As a sex ther­a­pist, I’ve heard ev­ery story out there. And af­ter 15 years in this job, I don’t know if I be­lieve in monogamy.”

I clap him on the back and breathe a sigh of re­lief. I’ve found ei­ther an ally in truth here or a part­ner in crime.

I’VE BEEN SIT­TING IN THIS ROOM WITH GAIL FOR THREE STRAIGHT days now and I’ve barely spo­ken a word or learned a thing. To­day, Calvin is in trou­ble for fan­ta­siz­ing about a fe­male in-pa­tient. “Go ahead, Calvin,” Gail says icily, “tell us all how you porni­fied Car­rie.” “I don’t know. I just no­ticed that she had rid­ing boots on, and she was talk­ing about how she liked horses, and I do, too. So I was fan­ta­siz­ing about rid­ing away on a horse with her and get­ting mar­ried.”

I al­ways thought that sex ad­dicts fan­ta­sized about de­viance, not, like, find­ing a woman who shares their in­ter­ests and get­ting hap­pily mar­ried.

When I tune back in to the room, Charles and Troy are bickering about pro­nouns. Gail asks them to sit in chairs op­po­site each other and talk us­ing the “com­mu­ni­ca­tion bound­ary.” She holds up a big poster board read­ing:

Charles tries it: “When I heard you say that ‘we’re not monog­a­mous by de­sign,’ the story I told my­self about that was that it’s not true for me. I’m here to get bet­ter. And I feel an­gry. So I would like to re­quest that in the fu­ture, you use I to re­fer to your­self in­stead of we.”

Lan­guage is a big deal here. The day be­fore, Troy was dis­cussing a girl he had an af­fair with, and Gail spent 15 min­utes lec­tur­ing him on the use of the G-word. “As a ther­a­pist, when I hear the word girl, I have to au­to­mat­i­cally as­sume that you’re talk­ing about a mi­nor. And I’m obliged to re­port that.”

“I’m a sex ad­dic­tion ther­a­pist also,” Troy replied. “I’ve been prac­tic­ing for 15 years. And I have never heard that in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the word girl be­fore in my life.”

Gail raised her head, like a co­bra ready to strike: “If you use that word again, I will re­port you. And you won’t make it to your 16th year as a CSAT.” Troy shut up. Now I look around the room in frus­tra­tion: This has been a com­plete waste of time so far. No one’s prob­lems are be­ing dealt with. They’re go­ing to leave re­hab the same as they walked in, just with more guilt and an awk­ward way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing. I can’t take it any­more. My voice cracks: “How is this help­ful to us?” “The way that we’re com­mu­ni­cat­ing in here is how peo­ple should be com­mu­ni­cat­ing with their spouses,” Gail re­sponds coolly. “And that’s go­ing to stop them from sleep­ing with other women?” It’s a se­ri­ous ques­tion, but ev­ery­one laughs. Gail’s face trem­bles for a mo­ment, as if she’s ner­vous that she’s about to lose con­trol of the room. Then she re­gains her com­po­sure and an­swers, “You learn to love your­selves by learn­ing to be re­la­tional, in the mo­ment, with each other.” “And that’s go­ing to stop us from cheat­ing?” “What I’m say­ing is that if you have true in­ti­macy with your part­ner, you won’t need to seek sex out­side the re­la­tion­ship.”

In the hall­way af­ter the ses­sion, Troy and my room­mate, Adam—a God­fear­ing, pa­tri­otic Amer­i­can man clipped right out of a 1950s af­ter­shave ad—are wait­ing for me. “Hey, man, I like the way you stood up to Gail,” Troy says un­der his breath. “We all have those ques­tions, you know, and it’s cool you’re ask­ing them.” “Thanks.” “Don’t give in to her,” he en­cour­ages me. “She’s go­ing to try to break you. But you have to stand up for us.” “Why don’t you guys just speak up for your­selves?” “You know, we just want to make it through to the end of the pro­gram.” They ex­change glances. “Gail, she doesn’t for­get. And when our wives come for fam­ily week, we don’t want her mak­ing things any more dif­fi­cult for us, if you know what I mean.”

I’ve heard other guys here men­tion fam­ily week like it’s the equiv­a­lent of an IRS au­dit, so I ask them about it. Dur­ing the third week here, they ex­plain, par­ents and wives visit so your ther­a­pist can help heal your en­tire fam­ily sys­tem. For sex ad­dicts, the process in­cludes some­thing called dis­clo­sure, which re­quires com­ing clean with a part­ner about past af­fairs and trans­gres­sions. Ide­ally, once th­ese wounds heal, the cou­ple can build a new re­la­tion­ship from a place of truth and in­ti­macy. With a ther­a­pist who’s not tact­ful, though, or one who has an agenda, dis­clo­sure can quickly turn into dis­as­ter—and the next time the ad­dict sees his wife will be in court.

ONE OF THE OTHER THER­A­PISTS TELLS ME THAT THE MALE SEX ad­dicts have been talk­ing to a fe­male sex ad­dict,” Gail says as our af­ter­noon ses­sion with her be­gins. “I told her that it couldn’t have been my guys. But then”—she raises her eye­brows in feigned shock— “I was told by a mem­ber of this group yes­ter­day ex­actly what hap­pened and who was re­spon­si­ble.” I flash Charles a dirty look and feel Gail’s glare heat­ing my face. “As a con­se­quence of your be­hav­ior,” Gail con­tin­ues, “I’m go­ing to have to take more ex­treme mea­sures with all of you.”

She holds up sev­eral slips of pa­per bear­ing the words males only. “I’m re­quir­ing all of you to wear this, dis­played promi­nently at all times. From this mo­ment, you are not al­lowed to even say hi to a woman.”

“What about you?” Charles asks. “You’re a woman. Are we al­lowed to talk to you?”

And that’s the last straw for me. I’m not like Charles. I can’t just blindly obey. The method needs to make sense to me. So far, this pro­gram is as ef­fec­tive at teach­ing monogamy as prisons are at teach­ing moral­ity.

“Is the un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ple of all this the idea that if we have true in­ti­macy in our re­la­tion­ship, we won’t seek out­side sex?” I ask Gail, re­peat­ing her words from ear­lier. “Yes,” she says, with sat­is­fac­tion that I fi­nally ap­pear to be get­ting it. “I have this thing that’s been go­ing through my head all day. Is it all right if I ask it?” “Please.” The word drips with dis­dain. “Can I use the black­board?” I don’t know an­other way to ex­plain it. Her back stiff­ens. She senses some­thing un­pre­dictable may hap­pen. She shoots me a stern look, try­ing to melt my re­solve.

I write her words on the board: if true in­ti­macy, then no out­side sex.

“That’s your the­ory,” I say. “Boil it down to the ba­sic idea, and what you get is this…” if true x, then no out­side y. “And the prob­lem is, this equa­tion just isn’t true.” In school, I never thought I’d ac­tu­ally have to use algebra in real life. I was wrong. “Let’s say that your wife is the best cook in the world. Then ac­cord­ing to what you’re say­ing, you’ll never want to eat any­where else. But that’s just not true. Some­times you want to go to a restau­rant.”

Gail is quiet, rat­tling me with her lack of re­ac­tion. The guys are watch­ing in­tently. Calvin is on the edge of his seat. Troy has a big smile on his face. Charles’ brow is deeply

fur­rowed. “So let’s go back to your orig­i­nal premise: ‘If true in­ti­macy, then no out­side in­ti­macy.’ But you seek in­ti­macy with your fam­ily and your friends, right?”

The guys are star­ing open­mouthed now, big dopey grins on their faces—ex­cept for Charles, who’s look­ing at Gail im­plor­ingly. I must be in­ter­fer­ing with his re­cov­ery again.

“Peo­ple are un­der the log­i­cal fal­lacy that when their part­ner wants sex out­side the re­la­tion­ship, it’s harm­ful to their in­ti­macy to­gether,” I con­clude. “Per­haps in­stead of re­train­ing us to ac­cept a re­la­tion­ship on our part­ners’ terms, we could just as eas­ily re­train them to ac­cept the re­la­tion­ship on our terms.”

The room is com­pletely si­lent. It’s like a chess match. Ev­ery­one’s won­der­ing if it’s check­mate.

“I think you’re in­tel­lec­tu­al­iz­ing to be able to con­trol the over­all ad­dic­tion,” Gail says as I re­turn to my seat.

That’s all she’s got? To tell me to stop us­ing my brain? “That’s what dic­ta­tors like Pol Pot and Hitler and Stalin say. They burn books and kill in­tel­lec­tu­als so no one can ques­tion them.”

I don’t mean to sound so con­fronta­tional. “So help me,” I add, be­seech­ingly. “I want to be wrong. I want to re­cover. But I need to rec­on­cile this con­tra­dic­tion. What you’re teach­ing us needs to ac­tu­ally make sense.”

“This is your ad­dict fight­ing against re­cov­ery and not let­ting go,” she says sharply. She looks at the clock and rises. “You’re all late for din­ner.”

She walks to the desk and starts gath­er­ing pa­pers, hold­ing her head high as if she’s pre­vailed. Yet ev­ery­one, pos­si­bly even Charles, is aware that she not only failed to de­fend her the­sis but quite pos­si­bly couldn’t.

AT DIN­NER WE ALL SIT TO­GETHER, THE DEMONS OF THE ROUND ta­ble. We are bonded now in brotherhood, in celibacy, in shame, in sick­ness, in pun­ish­ment, in victory, and by the fact that we’re all wear­ing signs that read males only around our necks. If the guys could carry me on their shoul­ders, they would. I am their white knight, their sac­ri­fi­cial lamb, their dick in shin­ing la­tex.

“You know, I’ve been think­ing about how Gail made me add up all the money I spent,” Calvin says. “Most was worth it. I was with a porn star from Ser­bia once. She was a 10. Cost $1,000—and she worked me over. It was the best ex­pe­ri­ence of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for any­thing.” He pauses and re­flects. “I’ve prob­a­bly wasted more money on bad food.”

Troy flashes a big grin. “We’re guys. We like sex. Ev­ery­where you turn, you’re shown pic­tures of gor­geous women who look like they want to cater to your ev­ery de­sire. And then what? If you think about sleep­ing with them, sud­denly you’re sick and un­healthy?”

Sud­denly Charles slaps the ta­ble, as if try­ing to snap us out of a trance. “This is your dis­ease talk­ing right now, guys. Don’t trust your thoughts. Your ad­dic­tion will say any­thing so it can keep con­trol­ling you.”

“I’ll tell you hon­estly,” Adam says. “I like sex that’s ex­cit­ing and some­times a lit­tle rough. But my wife, she just lies there, like once ev­ery three months, and ba­si­cally lets me have sex with her.”

A vi­sion forms in my head. I grab a pen and sketch it for the guys:

It’s a hor­ri­ble thing to write or even think. No one could ever say this in regular so­ci­ety. They’d be de­stroyed for it. But it seems to be the rea­son most of th­ese mid­dle-aged guys are here.

Charles jumps out of his seat and an­nounces, “This is not good for my re­cov­ery.” He walks away, look­ing for an­other ta­ble with­out women.

The coun­selor su­per­vis­ing a ta­ble for pa­tients with eat­ing dis­or­ders turns and scowls, so we whis­per. We’re re­hab in­sur­gents plot­ting a revo­lu­tion.

“Want­ing va­ri­ety is nat­u­ral,” Troy says qui­etly as the guys lean in. “Look at porn: Guys don’t watch the same girl ev­ery time.”

“You know who the best girl­friend would be?” Calvin in­ter­jects, his eyes lit up. “That mu­tant from X-men who can turn into any­one she wants. I’d never get bored with her! You could have sex with Megan Fox one night and Hil­lary Clin­ton the next.” “Hil­lary Clin­ton?!” Troy asks for all of us. “Why not?” Calvin says. “Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it.” None of us has.

SHE IS TOO PURE FOR THIS PLACE.

She stands in the nurses’ area, wear­ing a fit­ted plaid but­ton­down shirt that’s open to re­veal a tri­an­gle of flaw­less skin, and black jeans that stop just above her high heels. No one wears high heels in here. It’s not healthy for the frag­ile li­bidos.

She stiff­ens as she sees me and ev­ery­thing comes up at once in her face—the love, the hate, the de­sire, the fear, the hope, the hurt—and pushes through the scab cov­er­ing it all.

The words Oh, my God es­cape from her mouth. Then the tears roll. When we hug, it’s like she’s dis­solv­ing into me. A sense of un­wor­thi­ness sweeps over me. Here I am, lust­ing af­ter fe­male sex ad­dicts and ar­gu­ing against monogamy, while she’s come all this way with so much hope that I’ve changed. “What are you think­ing about?” In­grid asks. “I’m just happy you’re here.” We walk to the cafe­te­ria to eat. “Miss, you’re go­ing to have to but­ton your shirt higher,” the dining-hall coun­selor and anorexic-feeder barks when he sees her, as if the sex ad­dicts are go­ing to break into spon­ta­neous public mas­tur­ba­tion when they see that ex­tra inch of cleav­age.

We grab plates of fla­vor­less chicken parts over soapy rice and walk to the sex ad­dict ta­ble. Troy claps me on the back and says, id­i­ot­i­cally, “You didn’t tell us how hot she was.” Maybe that coun­selor was right af­ter all.

In­grid asks each guy in the group about his story. She then tells them her fam­ily’s story: Her grand­fa­ther cheated on her grand­mother, her fa­ther cheated on her mother, and now she ends up with a cheater her­self.

“Maybe that’s the fe­male dilemma,” Troy in­ter­rupts. “A woman mar­ries some­one who’s giv­ing her love and ro­mance, but over time she gets taken for granted or turned into a do­mes­tic robot or be­comes a baby fac­tory or gets cheated on. Then her hus­band has the nerve to com­plain that she’s not sex­ual or at­trac­tive when he’s drained all the life out of her.”

Af­ter din­ner, the anorexic-feeder curtly tells In­grid that vis­it­ing hours are over. As we head back to re­cep­tion, a pa­tient who’s here for post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der falls into step with us. As we talk, he slowly be­comes aware of In­grid’s pres­ence and asks if she’s my girl­friend.

I turn to­ward In­grid and our eyes search each other’s for an an­swer. “Yes,” she tells him. “I am.”

Waves of re­lief flow through me. I’m done fan­ta­siz­ing about women here and non­monog­a­mous deca­dence out­side. I’ve been given a sec­ond chance to not per­pet­u­ate the multigenerational pat­tern of cheat­ing men and the women who love them. The sins of the par­ents are the des­tinies of their chil­dren—un­less the chil­dren wake up and do some­thing about it. “Thank you for be­liev­ing in me,” I tell her. Af­ter she leaves, I sit on a bench and tears come to my eyes. In­grid seems to love me un­con­di­tion­ally, but I fear that I love her con­di­tion­ally. I look at her some­times and won­der if I’ll still be able to make love to her when she’s fat and wrinkly. I pick apart her fea­tures, look­ing for im­per­fec­tions. Of course, I have plenty of my own: I’m short, bald, bony, and big-nosed, with huge greasy pores. I’m lucky to be with her again. Still, I won­der: Am I even ca­pa­ble of love? I can’t tell whether my tears are for the beauty of her love or the tragedy of my own fail­ure to feel wor­thy of it. ■

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.