If you’ve read all that, or, failing that, at least this, then you know at least a little about the years of miserable, soulless paid sex I had. There’s more to come in laying out that tale, and it will come, but I want to pause in the unfolding narrative to talk just a little about what was going on in my head while this all was playing out.
When this all began, I was single, between relationships. And it was well underway through at least one, and maybe two relationships prior to the one I had with my wife. As those relationships came and went, the main thing I told myself was, “Shit! I hope/expect this all stops soon.” I saw it as a sort of short-term solution to the horniness that comes from not having sex regularly. But I was a bit baffled: during those relationships, I was having sex regularly (or at least, during one of them I was – the other was essentially an unrequited love affair which I – in the complete absence of evidence – persuaded myself was “the one”). If I was having sex regularly, and/or in love with the one true love of my life, as I imagined, then why was I still traipsing involuntarily into dark rooms with strange women to have my cock rubbed? It just didn’t make sense.
So what did I tell myself? I guess I told myself that it felt good, and that I was learning, that I was doing a bit of exploration and discovery that would benefit my relationships, but that, for whatever reasons, I couldn’t (imagine one could) do within the context of my relationships. I think I genuinely believed this – that I was essentially a sort of particularly enlightened, liberated guy, doing a sort of iconoclastic but wise exploration for the benefit of me and my lovers.
At the same time, I knew that what I was doing was shameful. It’s hard to miss that, I guess. And, I knew that it required deception, of those other women first, and then, of T (my wife). And as I said, this was, more than anything, just baffling to me. I don’t think I had a sophisticated reconciliation of my twin senses – that, on the one hand, I was a brave, courageous adventurer, acting selflessly for the benefit of my partners, and ultimately, my marriage and, on the other, I was a pathetic loser of a guy paying for handjobs. Those feelings coexisted side by side, without reconciliation.
Somehow, it’s hard to talk about this all without at least telling one tidbit about my relationship with T, because it loomed so large in my developing understanding. This vignette takes place in the first months of our relationship, after we both had concluded that we were likely going to spend the rest of our days together, but before we’d done anything practical to advance that particular ball. One night, I got a hickey at the Harmony Theater. I wasn’t sure if the hickey was an act of ardor, hostility or both, but there it was: a giant, purple stain on my neck. T and I weren’t yet living together, but we had plans the following night.
What the fuck was I going to do?
I wasn’t creative – or deceptive – enough (yet) to lie. So I called her. “I have something sort of awkward to confess,” I said.
“Well…” and I explained. That there was this place I liked to go sometimes, that I got lap dances there, and that I had been that day, and that I had gotten a hickey. That she would see it if she saw me the next night.
There was a pause, and T said, “O.k.”
And then, I think, “Maybe we could go together some time?”
This wasn’t a welcome development at all. I somehow prized the solitude of my time at the Harmony Theater (and hadn’t/didn’t disclose the fact of the massages). I knew that this was a zone of shame, not connubial arousal. But I also knew that the right answer at that moment was, “Sure – that would be fun.”
Only it wasn’t.
I was in a jam: I wanted to go back to the Harmony Theater – I needed to go back. But I knew I couldn’t very well do that, now, without offering T the opportunity to join me. But I needed to. So I proposed a date. T managed to communicate her discomfort, her ambivalence, and yes, her judgment of this activity, putting off several times the day on which we would go together. Finally, one afternoon – a Saturday, as I recall – we had planned to go. Our conversations about this were extremely limited (she didn’t, for example, ask me what I liked about lap dances; I was relieved not to have to say). But this Saturday, we got as far as the Franklin St. stop on the 1 train, and were about to leave the station, when T had second (or third, or fourth) thoughts. “I don’t think I want to do this,” she said. “You go ahead.”
Now one can imagine a world in which T wasn’t judgmental, in which she was welcoming: “That sounds fun! Let’s go together!” But that wasn’t her reaction (and honestly, I suspect that if it had been, I would have been scared shitless and we’d never have gotten married).
I honestly don’t recall whether I did go ahead or not on that particular day, but that line – “I don’t think I want to do this, you go ahead” lodged in my head as a comprehensive free pass for all that came over the ensuing years. Without going into the details of our marriage, whether this was a justified conclusion on my part, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or whatever, it was an accurate description of what happened. And not just of what happened: of what I told myself she wanted to happen.
She didn’t want to do it; I went ahead.
The story in my head evolved over the years, of course. I still believed, then, that I was mostly embarked on a self-improvement project, and that T and I both would be the beneficiaries of it. I occasionally believed that it was working, that I was bringing lessons home for our mutual benefit. And I may even have been, to a certain extent. Sometimes, I had a darker, more resentful view: that I was working on our sex life, but that T wasn’t. I was aggrieved, resentful. We both said we wanted our sex life to change. I felt that I was alone in acting to make it be different. And I think, to be fair, that there may even be some truth in this – I was more devoted to improving our sex life.
Of course, I also was undermining it at every turn.
By the end of my twelve-year journey into the abyss of addictive/compulsive sexual behavior, I came home spent sexually almost every day, tired, having cum at least once, sometimes two or three times. I had lotion, or oil, or perfume on me, and recoiled from T’s touch, in fear of being discovered. And I’m sure I gaslit (gaslighted?) her on more than one occasion, suggesting that she was to blame for things, seeking to deflect attention from my own sins.
And through it all, I held fast to my story: I’m a sexually liberated, open-minded guy, seeking to develop and discover my sexuality for the benefit of my wife. I fantasized about, planned for, the day when a) I would be able to declare the search over, the journey complete, and then b) deliver to her the twin gifts, wrapped in a bow, of my greater sexual self-actualization and the news of my long-ago path to that actualization.
But as the years marched on, this story felt increasingly hollow, empty, implausible. I didn’t let go of it, but my grip became more tenuous.
And finally, one day, it became impossible for me to hold on to that story any longer. I hit my bottom.