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.




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 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. ■

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